[gthomas] Re: Parables
On Jan 6, 2000 you wrote:
> In which case, the Good Samaritan is indeed an effective parable for
> showing, inter alia, how good Samaritans are.
Maybe I did not word myself clearly. Here is my position now.
A parable is effective when it conveys meaning, values, judgments, and evokes such in the respondent.
A parable originates out of a cultural circumstance which is relevant to that cultural circumstance (your point).
A parable to exist as meaningful for others not in the originating circumstances of the parable must have an internal message or meaning which connects to universal issues which transcend specific cultural circumstances.
The external originating circumstances of the parable do not necessarily explain why the parable was created. The writer could be responding to external circumstances or to internal circumstances, or both.
Your inference from your "originating external circumstances theory" seems to be that the parable originator was devising the parable to make a cultural statement. (the majority of Samaritans are good and the majority of priests are bad) This is then excellent political advertizing, to use a modern context. But the conclusion must be then that Jesus, or another writer, did make cultural-polictical statements in parable form.
What I like about your method here which is new for me is that you analyze literary productions, such as this Samaritan parable, to discover history. I think this a ligament technique. But wait!
If in fact this parable has universal application different from its originating circumstances then the story form must also indicate other meaning which applies to issues common to the human condition in general.
Could we not also say the Samaritan here represents one who lives from immediate response to someone in need while the priest here represents someone who is so encrusted in personality values that they cannot respond to immediate human need? One puts the person in greater need first and the other puts himself first over someone else in greater need. This is the universal meaning embedded in the parable as a literary device and the only thing that makes this parable last through various cultures and become part of the value system of a religion called Christianity, which I know nothing about of course. I don't think Christianity explains the meaning of the parable but the parable meaning helps explain the meaning of Christianity.
A modern example: Did the pope of world war II come out against Nazi Germany and in support of the Jews? Apparently not, and today's pope as I understand it has made a public apology. But the basis of the apology would have to be that the Church of world war II did not then act from its Good Samaritan principles and wants to do so today. I think it valid to substitute for the wounded man the Jews of world war II and that once again the priest in the form of the pope was more interested in himself than in helping the downtrodden. I make no judgments here in an absolute sense but I do use the parable to evaluate certain personal and political behavior wherever it occurs. And I feel justified in doing so because such a parable is indeed a value system. It's primary meaning is not as you might like to say - that Samaritans are good - but that a fundamental human issue and condition is that of deciding when to meet the needs of others before our own if we have the resources to do so.
When people originate a religion they are dealing primarily with originating a consistent set of values for which all the adherents of that religion can practice living from. This parable is then primarily a religious teaching artifact and not a cultural-political artifact though you might like it to be the latter.
If you concede the importance of this parable as a religious artifact, and which has been put to good use in evaluating human behavior for hundreds of years, then you might also be willing to concede that a religious teacher rather than a politician originated such a parable, howbeit using as the colors of his brush some of the cultural-political prejudices of the day.
I find this point effective and important, for the ground I am defending, not by statements of belief or faith, is that in fact Jesus was a wisdom teacher capable of originating such parables that no other person of the time could so originate, such are their strong insights and values regarding the universal human condition.
So when you argue for cultural context no one can prove you false based on your data but at the same time you cannot prove that yours is the central point and explanation for the parable's effectiveness as a vehicle of meaning which transcends that particular culture.
I would give far more weight to the universal meaning of the parable because it illustrates pretty directly a universal human issue already stated above.
And, wait, I would draw one more conclusion from this bit of discourse. I would strongly suggest that too much of New Testament scholarship is going into cultural analysis studies of the time of origins for these texts. Mack and Crossan and others. My focus still remains on the person of Jesus as a wisdom teacher with a universal mind who sees things not just in terms of his particular culture (by the way, which culture? Jewish, Galilean, Roman, Greek, or all of these?) but also as universal human issues to be dealt with everywhere using a universal value system, universal because it responds to universal issues common to people everywhere, including los indios of the New World which Jesus could not have known about then. Hundreds of years later we know they did respond to such a value system as Christianity brought them.
Yours on the road to Samaria,
- At 11:47 AM 1/7/00 +0100, Strephon Williams wrote:
>A parable to exist as meaningful for others not in the originatingI could simply dismiss this as irrelevant to our discussion -- the
>circumstances of the parable must have an internal message or meaning which
>connects to universal issues which transcend specific cultural
reception of a parable in post-ancient settings is not our concern here. But
even aside from this, I think the observation is wrong. What determines what
is meaningful to any particular grouping of people has to do with the way it
is transmitted and received. Take language, as a very basic example. When I
say "cat" to other English speakers, they think of the same animal that I
mean to denote. Had I said this word 300 years, the same is likely to be
true. This is not because the internal force of this agglomeration of sounds
relates in any way to the specific animal in question, not because cats or
attitudes toward them are universal, but because this word has been handed
down from speaker to speaker in English with this precise meaning attached
On a different scale, and more problematically, the same goes for
cultural products. We are told that the Good Samaritan parable is important,
we are told more or less what it means, and so on. The parable has no
universality or currency apart from the very specific cultural baggage
associated with Christendom.
But this is getting pretty far afield.
>If in fact this parable has universal application different from itsI see no reason to assume that it has any such universal application. The
>originating circumstances then the story form must also indicate other
>meaning which applies to issues common to the human condition in general.
human condition in general, for instance, does not include intrinsic
knowledge of what Samaritans or Levites are.
>practice living from. This parable is then primarily a religious teachingThe two cannot be separated.
>artifact and not a cultural-political artifact though you might like it to
>be the latter.
>years, then you might also be willing to concede that a religious teacherAgain, I don't see any basis for this distinction. Both "religion" and
>rather than a politician originated such a parable, howbeit using as the
>colors of his brush some of the cultural-political prejudices of the day.
"politics" pertain to human interactions, and as far as I can tell, the
ancients themselves did not seem to make this distinction.
>would strongly suggest that too much of New Testament scholarship is goingThat's impossible! How can you do "too much" cultural analysis when what
>into cultural analysis studies of the time of origins for these texts. Mack
you're looking to do is precisely ANALYZE these cultural products?!
William Arnal wea1@...
Religion/Classics check out my web page, at:
New York University http://pages.nyu.edu/~wea1/
- There are several questions about the nature of the parables to consider. Are the parables of the GThom thematically related, and if they are, how? If we can give the Mustard Seed parable an evil glint, can we do it with the rest of them? Might be fun for October.........(My particular evil mustard seed grows roots in the plumbing and snatches children off toilets)
I have a tendency to think the GThom is based upon the "divine spark theory" that gives rise to the belief that there is power within us to be a person of 'light,' as mentioned in the GThom. I also see this same analogy to how the GMary works. If we look at the parables we see this same possibility. We also see that they are directed at the concepts of social presentation, building your storehouse, evil and otherwise, plus whatever categories we might list. Any suggestions?
I don't think we are going to see building the evil scenario into the parables as realistically meant for the GThom. Consider how Mark and Luke conger the story of Mary Magdalene and the seven demons.
Mrk16- 9. Now when he was risen early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons."
Luke 8-2. "and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary that was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,
3. and Joanna the wife of Chuzas Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, who ministered unto them of their substance.
4. And when a great multitude came together, and they of every city resorted unto him, he spake by a parable:" ( J always spoke to the multitudes in parables)
Mary confirms this fact that there were seven demons. There is one real important difference between what Mark and Luke are talking about and what the GMary describes. Mark and Luke, are talking about the demons of Abraham, Isahiah, and Moses, that really show up in the corporeal world. Ones like 'Legion' who drowned with the swine, we hope.
What the GMary is talking about is more of what we could call a psycho-drama. The demons are far more realistic and they are intrinsic to the psyche rather than being separate entities.
10) And desire said, I did not see you descending, but now I see you ascending. Why do you lie since you belong to me? 11) The soul answered and said, I saw you. You did not see me nor recognize me. I served you as a garment and you did not know me. 12) When it said this, it (the soul) went away rejoicing greatly. 13) Again it came to the third power, which is called ignorance. 14) The power questioned the soul, saying, Where are you going? In wickedness are you bound. But you are bound; do not judge!
15) And the soul said, Why do you judge me, although I have not judged? 16) I was bound, though I have not bound. 17) I was not recognized. But I have recognized that the All is being dissolved, both the earthly things and the heavenly. 18) When the soul had overcome the third power, it went upwards and saw the fourth power, which took seven forms.
19) The first form is darkness, the second desire, the third ignorance, the fourth is the excitement of death, the fifth is the kingdom of the flesh, the sixth is the foolish wisdom of flesh, the seventh is the wrathful wisdom. These are the seven powers of wrath.
20) They asked the soul, Whence do you come slayer of men, or where are you going, conqueror of space?21) The soul answered and said, What binds me has been slain, and what turns me about has been overcome, 22) and my desire has been ended, and ignorance has died. 23) In a aeon I was released from a world, and in a Type from a type, and from the fetter of oblivion which is transient.
24) From this time on will I attain to the rest of the time, of the season, of the aeon, in silence."
Compare the above to what Jesus presents in the parables and it is easy to see that the parables are communicating to a different class of listeners. The readability level even shows the parables are written at a lower level than the rest of the body of the GThom. This shows special utility.
We have to consider that the GThom is based upon the 'divine spark' inside. This is where the GMary is putting demons, inside yourself, which correlates lots more with the GThom than Luke's corporeal demons. I think it would be difficult to explain to a first century crowd that corporeal demons are not the root cause of things. (It can be hard in Oklahoma to explain this)
The GThom parables don't have demons they have people, in life settings, with problems within their environment. In the GThom you are of the 'darkness' or the 'light.' Darkness is the only punishment, and I think if you go through the GMary demons above that will explain evil darkness how the GThom would. Hell must be like being stuck (your soul) in the following:
"The first form is darkness, the second desire, the third ignorance, the fourth is the excitement of death, the fifth is the kingdom of the flesh, the sixth is the foolish wisdom of flesh, the seventh is the wrathful wisdom. These are the seven powers of wrath." (And that is only wrath, add Lukian Demons at your own risk)
GThom logic would suggest that wearing your soul bonded into the 'pnuemataphori' with the Holy Spirit is a matter of finding that divine spark, or the inner light. The parables must have a connection to this idea. Any ideas?
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- Hi All,
In a prior post I postulated that the parables where of a nature that revealed 'Hylic' nature in humanity. The 'hidden' message in the parables, especially saying 64, and 65, where about faulty human failings, "armatolos" in a social context. I both cases, regardless of social class, the phenomena was related to the concept of apanoia. Aponoia: "Unreason" like the misuse of thought. This is different than simply not having thought, as the inability to "put things together" can be worse than not even knowing they do in fact fit. (This state is exemplified by the parable in the Gospel of Thomas about the 'man who owned a vineyard,' saying 64.)
Clement reinforces what the Apocryphon of James and Pistis Sophia say about the parables, see below.
Parable: Stories with a point that Jesus is believed to have spoken to the multitudes around Galilee. (See the Gospel of Thomas, Sayings 8, 9, 20, 57, 63, 64, 65, 76, 96, 97, 98, 107,109. According the the "Apochryphon of James" and "Pistis Sophia" the parables are passages which relate or are intentional mysteries. In Greek (parabole), meaning comparison, or similitude, placing beside or together. Clement of Alexandria writes:
"Wherefore the holy mysteries of the prophecies are veiled in the parables -- preserved for chosen men, selected to knowledge in consequence of their faith; for the style of the Scriptures is parabolic. Wherefore also the Lord, who was not of the world, came as one who was of the world to men. For He was clothed with all virtue; and it was His aim to lead man, the foster-child of the world, up to the objects of intellect, and to the most essential truths by knowledge, from one world to another.
Wherefore also He employed metaphorical description; for such is the parable, -- a narration based on some subject which is not the principal subject, but similar to the principal subject, and leading him who understands to what is the true and principal thing; or, as some say, a mode of speech presenting with vigour, by means of other circumstances, what is the principal subject." (Stromata, Bk VI, et sec.)
Earlier, Clement writes:
"The apostles accordingly say of the Lord, that "He spake all things in parables, and without a parable spake He nothing unto them;" and if "all things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made," consequently also prophecy and the law were by Him, and were spoken by Him in parables."
Clement seems to quote Matthew on the above point.
MT. 13-34. "ll these things spake Jesus in parables unto the multitudes; and without a parable spake he nothing unto them:"
It may be real interesting to see if an early or different Matthew has parables written from a source which make them like Thomas, but there is no question that the above description of 'mystery' fits the Thomas parables.
As to the statement: "His aim to lead man, the foster-child of the world, up to the objects of intellect, and to the most essential truths by knowledge, from one world to another." This seems to correspond to the perspective that we look at things in the kenoma, and see the ills in accordance with agnosia, and how this fits in unison with the pleroma.
Am I out of the box in suggesting that the parables are from a pedagogical standpoint the first lessons in understanding the Gnostic perspective of being "trimorphic?"
Trimorphic: Meaning to be transformed in the state of "triple headedness," as described in the text "Trimorphic Protennoia" Refers to the state in Gnosis where one learns to perceive oneself in the sense of being in the psychic, kenomic, and pleromic state. (See also Pneumatic, and "Gospel of the Egyptians")
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- Mike Says,
"Assuming that "being trimorphic" was in fact "THE Gnostic perspective", is there any evidence that the parables were used as you suggest?"
You say that Clement doesn't count but I think we have precious little besides his work that explains at least in part 'the Gnostic perspective.' We have almost nothing but a hint about Apolutrosis; "secret 'redemption" and the process of epinoia. So, there is little but speculation concerning these matters.
I agree with Andrew that Clement's work is highly unlikely in many parts, but in others he may provide valuable insight in some respects. "Pistis Sophia," "The Apocryphon of James," and the "Gospel of Matthew" all agree with Clement on the point of the parables being 'mysterious,' and where used in special context by Jesus.
There seems to be one common thread to the parables and that is to reveal the 'harmatolos' or fatal flaw of humanity, pitfalls of the kenoma. That leaves the pleroma, and the psyche in respect to the trimorphic schema. Speculative as it may be, I bet everyone on this list could parallel the sayings 64, and/or 65, to the flaws of those they have come into contact with, in there life, today. And, benefit from the knowledge these parables impart to the understanding of kenomic pitfalls.
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- Hi Mike,
Andrew did only mention one passage and I did stretch what he said into a generality, sorry. I think he would agree that there are more than a few flaws in Clement's work. So do you, and I.
To answer your question on where I am getting these 'fancy' terms..... Our unofficial secret glossary, that needs to become the 'Light in the Abyss' for the rest of this, and the other Thomas groups. Or, I'll have to keep the thing and do what Clement says with his Stromata, "The Stromata will contain the truth mixed up in the dogmas of philosophy, or rather covered over and hidden, as the edible part of the nut in the shell. For, in my opinion, it is fitting that the seeds of truth be kept for the husbandmen of faith, and no others."
"For I do not mention that the Stromata, forming a body of varied erudition, wish artfully to conceal the seeds of knowledge. As, then, he who is fond of hunting captures the game after seeking, tracking, scenting, hunting it down with dogs; so truth, when sought and got with toil, appears a delicious thing. Why, then, you will ask, did you think it fit that such an arrangement should be adopted in your memoranda? Because there is great danger in divulging the secret of the true philosophy to those, whose delight it is unsparingly to speak against everything, not justly; and who shout forth all kinds of names and words indecorously, deceiving themselves and beguiling those who adhere to them. "For the Hebrews seek signs," as the apostle says, "and the Greeks seek after wisdom." (Bk 1)
I'm trying to be amusing here, but if I am benefiting from the glossary, I am sure others will.
"....unless one wants to define a "Gnostic perspective" so wide that it includes virtually everything."
"Heck," that is one of the very prime aims of Gnosis.
Thank you for pointing out, "Look, you've got to establish first who you're going to include as having
this "Gnostic perspective", then you've got to show that this three-state
theory was unique to this group of folks. You haven't done either of those
One of the best assets of this group is that I can learn from some of the best, on exactly how to do that. Compared to some of the academic credentials in this group I am a mere, 'hylic plop' who lives in a cow pasture. I'm learning but I need a little more guidance in doing what you suggest above.
"And why do you use 'pleroma' and 'kenoma' for two of the three "states"? Wasn't it psychic, hylic, and pneumatic?"
Generally speaking in both the Valentinean, and Sethian schools of thought, using a different vocabulary, it is the pleroma (heaven), kenoma (earthly), and the abyss (hades). On earth, all are in the hylic state except the pneumatic who has through Gnosis risen above the trapping levels of the kenomic state. In the body all are still in the hylic state, as is the pneumatic as long as he/she lives.
The different schools, Sethian, and Valentinean see the kenoma or earthly state, as the imperfect realm of hylics. Hylics are classified as the saklas (fools and the agnosia), some are beasts, ("Contender"), and there are the choikas, sarkic, and the particularly distasteful apanoia.( Th 64,65) The station above this is the psychic. The pneumatic is one who has the ability to use his intellect (nous), i.e. psychic ability, to perform gnosis, and be one with the "Light," Sophia, the Logos, the Pleroma, WISDOM.
The Gnostic state (perspective) is to transcend by elevating yourself by realizing that all these places and things are in the same place and time, see Thomas sayings 3, and 77. The importance for the psychic state is referred to in Thomas 70. ("Know thy self," to paraphrase Th.) Somewhere after that are the psychic processes of "metanoia," "epinoia," and "Apolutrosis" practiced in different Gnostic sects to achieve Gnosis.
I am sure that Iranaeus is going to classify the above as Hylic Plop! Is it? Or, does it grasp the Gnostic perspective? Perhaps the above perspective is from my recently reading the "Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown, and I simply got too excited about what it is I think 'we' do.
Perhaps as I study Clement I am learning his kind of scholarship, and miss the mark entirely. Or, I spill the beans on his Gnostic secret to be kept away from unsavory types, no doubt like myself. ( He knew about Theophrastus. So, he knew about types, and that is what I see as the important aspect of the parables. Being able to see the hopelessness of the kenoma in the lower hylic states.) Then, this trimorphic perspective of the kenoma is to be somehow understood in terms of the pleroma, and I mean pleroma in terms of the "All." The Pleroma in the perspective of GThom sayings.
I would appreciate it if you could cite some of the material from the sources you mention on their version of the act and processes of Gnosis. I'm not done grasping Clement by the scruff of the neck and shaking the secrets out of his stuff.
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