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Gthomas "Premises" [?]

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  • Rick Hubbard
    Following is a summation of conclusions that have emanated from the indefatigable scholarship of Helmut Koester about the Gospel of Thomas, many of which are
    Message 1 of 2 , Jun 5, 2001
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      Following is a summation of conclusions that have emanated from the
      indefatigable scholarship of Helmut Koester about the Gospel of
      Thomas, many of which are now regarded by many as “Basic Premises” in
      Thomas studies. This summary of Koester’s observations has been
      extracted from Cameron, Ron. “The Gospel of Thomas and Christian
      Origins.” B. Pearson, ed., _The Future of Early Christianity_.
      Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991 384-389.

      Please note that here, “I am only the messenger,” and do not
      necessarily either embrace or reject any of these premises. I bring
      them to the list simply to suggest some thought-provoking topics for
      discussion. For starters, I recommend that this summary should be read
      in conjunction with S. Davies remarks at:

      http://www.miseri.edu/users/davies/thomas/two.htm

      1.
      Gth is an example of a literary genre called a “sayings collection.”

      2.
      Gth represents a stage in the transmission of Jesus’ sayings that is
      older than the canonical gospels and that may be comparable to the
      sources used by the authors of the NT gospels (e.g., Q).

      3.
      Because Gth:
      A. Has no narrative elements;
      B. Lacks any mention of cross and resurrection;
      C. Shows no evidence of dependence on the canonical gospels.
      It derives from a stage of the Jesus sayings tradition that is both
      independent from, and earlier than, the Synoptics.

      4.
      Gth is a collection of sayings assembled by a compiler, not a literary
      work written by an author.

      5.
      Where there are parallels to Gth in the Synoptic gospels, they are
      most often located in blocks of text that have been identified as
      independent sources that were appropriated by the Synoptic evangelists
      (i.e., Q and SpLk).

      6.
      Based on the observation that the sayings found in both Gth and the
      Synoptics are either:
      A. Wisdom Sayings or;
      B. Prophetic Sayings.
      I may be concluded that what is unique about Jesus’ utterances is
      “wisdom teaching.”

      7.
      Jesus’ teaching was interpreted as “revealed wisdom” during the very
      earliest period of the Christian movement.

      8.
      Gth does not portray Jesus as a futuristic, eschatological,
      “preacher.”

      9.
      Gth may be differentiated from Q because it does not does not include
      apocalyptic expectations about the Son of man found in Q, but that
      does mean that Gth is a primitive version of Q.

      10.
      “Therefore, ‘if the genre of the wisdom book was the catalyst for the
      composition of sayings of Jesus into a “gospel,” and if the
      christological concept of Jesus as the teacher of wisdom and the
      presence of heavenly Wisdom dominated its creation [THEN] the
      apocalyptic orientation of the Synoptic Sayings Source [Q] with its
      Christology of the coming of the Son of man is due to a secondary
      redaction of an older wisdom book.’

      11.
      The apocalyptic expectations that characterize Q emerged as part of an
      effort to minimize the influence of the ‘gnosticizing proclivities’
      inherent in the “words of wisdom,” of which Gth was representative.

      12.
      The theology of Gth is that the presence of divine Wisdom is “the true
      destiny of human existence” and that the teacher is present in the
      word of wisdom which he as spoken.

      13.
      The words of wisdom in Gth were understood by the compiler to have
      been spoken by the “Living One” who gave life through them.
      [Here also Cameron says, “By providing ‘a distinctive reinterpretation
      of originally eschatological sayings,’ this gospel presents an
      ‘elaboration of Jesus’ most original proclamation.’’]

      14.
      Gth is neither a random collection of Jesus sayings, nor a
      harmonization of the canonical gospels. It instead claims formal
      authorship and was written/assembled with specific theological
      interests in mind. [?]

      15.
      Gth was written at a time in the period of the development of
      Christianity when *apostolic authority* was essential for guaranteeing
      the reliability of the tradition.
      16.
      Gth is pseudepigraphic (not written by the person to whom authorship
      is attributed).

      17.
      Gth, the formative stage of Q, and “the Corinthian Wisdom Movement”
      shared a common religious perspective.

      18.
      Gth was composed, in its earliest form in Edessa during the first
      century and represents the earliest form of indigenous Christianity in
      eastern Syria.

      [End Summary]

      To kick things off, here is what Davies has to say with respect to #18
      (see link above):

      "The Gospel of Thomas' original compilation is usually dated ca. A.D.
      140 and located in Edessa in Syria. These convenient tags are, in my
      judgment, unproven hypotheses."
      Rick Hubbard
      Humble Maine Woodsman
    • mgrondin@tir.com
      ... an ... What I get from trying to put these thoughts together is this: 1. J s original proclamation was a non-apocalyptic eschatology 2. GTh reinterpreted
      Message 2 of 2 , Jun 7, 2001
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        > 11.
        > The apocalyptic expectations that characterize Q emerged as part of
        an
        > effort to minimize the influence of the `gnosticizing proclivities'
        > inherent in the "words of wisdom," of which Gth was representative.

        > 13.
        > The words of wisdom in Gth were understood by the compiler to have
        > been spoken by the "Living One" who gave life through them.
        > [... Cameron says, "By providing `a distinctive reinterpretation
        > of originally eschatological sayings,' this gospel presents an
        > `elaboration of Jesus' most original proclamation.'']

        What I get from trying to put these thoughts together is this:
        1. J's original proclamation was a non-apocalyptic eschatology
        2. GTh reinterpreted this as a different (lesser) eschatology
        3. In response, Q escalated the eschatology to apocalypticism

        This is probably in line with Crossan's three varieties of
        eschatology, but what I want to draw attention to is not that, but
        rather #1, because that seems to be a 500-pound gorilla behind the
        scenes of this seemingly innocent scenario. Fairly recent books by
        Paula Frederikson and Bart Ehrman have re-asserted Schweitzer's
        classic judgement that Jesus was an APOCALYPTIC prophet. Ehrman in
        fact asserts that this is the majority opinion among scholars. But
        the Jesus Seminar seems to look upon Jesus as a "laconic sage", on
        the order (so they say) of Elijah and Elisha. Can he have been BOTH,
        or are we confronted with an irresolvable difference of opinion?
        Interestingly, GTh itself seems to refer to a similar difference of
        opinion in its own day - between Matthew and Peter in Th13:

        Matthew: J as wise philosopher
        Peter: J as "righteous" angel/messenger

        If, as I think, (and I believe Koester suggests this also), Th13
        indicates the existence of two diverse strands of Jesus material
        PRIOR to GTh having been written, then what might have been the
        relationship between those strands? "Matthew" as Syrian/Hellenic
        and "Peter" as Hebraic? But which came first - or did they arise
        in different locations around the same time? And which (if either)
        approximates most closely to the original voice of Jesus? This
        question, or some form of it, seems to me to be one of the most
        important and divisive questions in NT scholarship today. I'd be
        most interested in knowing whether other folks see it the same way.

        Mike
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