[gthomas] Re: Counter-cultural?
- I'm not defending 'counter-cultural' as a term of analysis - not without
much clarifying explanation, but the idea that early christian 'ascetics'
were 'recluses' who 'cleared off' to the desert and never had anything to do
with anyone else - is very wrong. As I understand it, at least in Egypt
earliest christian asceticism is evidenced in the context of urban life. In
the fourth century, again in Egypt, those who had 'withdrawn' to the
'desert' - were, from time to time, seriously, and sometimes, violently,
invoved in the civil and ecclesiastical politics of, say, Alexandria. In
Palestine, the Judean monasteries were sufficiently close to Jerusalem that
monks were a significant force in ecclesiastical politics at least up to the
But if we want to discuss this - and I believe it is an interesting question
in reation to the Gospel of Thomas - maybe we should think about what we
mean by asceticism. Is it the disciplines of privation (eg fasting)? Is a
discourse of self formation (Foucault, Peter Brown, Valantasis)? The way we
answer this question will prepare the ground in coming to a judgement about
whether the Gospel of Thomas is ascetic.
> -----Original Message-----[edited]
> From: Robert Tessman [mailto:tess0006@...]
> Sent: 10 September 1999 00:28
> To: The Gospel of Thomas
> Subject: [gthomas] Re: Counter-cultural?
> Mike wrote:
> >What's counter-cultural about GThom is that it's ascetic. Asceticism was
> >and is counter-cultural.
> I guess we are going to have to define what is 'counter-cultural.' If the
> word 'counter' derives from the French 'contre', "to oppose", then we have
> a thing that is 'against, or antagonistic to' culture. I do not see
> asceticism possessing this type of relationship with its contextual
> culture. A better way of describing such movements would be to call them
> 'acultural' rather than 'counter-cultural.'
> If the ascetics sought to upset or in anyway oppose the the
> status quo they
> would not resort to a reclusive or private lifestyle. A group
> must possess
> an actualized and self-acknowledged relationship with a larger
> 'culture' if
> they are to run counter to that culture. But ascetic communities withdrew
> so that they would have no relationship at all with their culture. Now
> whether it is psychologically possible to withdraw entirely from one's
> original culture is another matter completely. But the relationship
> ascetics sought was not a contrary relationship but a non-relationship.