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RE: [GTh] GTh as a Soteriological Catechism

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  • Rick Hubbard
    RESPONSE TO FRANK MCCOY’S QUESTIONS [Rick Wrote: (6/28)] “FIRST, the Gospel of Thomas represents a de-mythologized articulation of gnosis that focuses on a
    Message 1 of 3 , Jul 1, 2001
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      [Rick Wrote: (6/28)]
      “FIRST, the Gospel of Thomas represents a de-mythologized
      articulation of gnosis that focuses on a redemptive process that
      is initiated by inviting an altered understanding of the
      conventional structures of reality through alternative modes of

      [Frank Wrote:]
      “Please briefly outline the original mythologized articulation of
      gnosis that is being de-mythologized in GTh. Please also
      describe the nature of the redemption that is the goal of the
      "redemptive process". What are "the conventional structures of
      reality" and how do they differ from unconventional structures of
      reality? What are the "alternative modes of cognition", how do
      they differ from the standard mode(s) of cognition, and what are
      the general categories into which they can be classified? I would
      greatly appreciate this additional information from you because
      it would be of great use for me in trying to correctly grasp your
      intended meaning for this sentence.”

      The questions you ask are legitimate. They go to the very heart
      of the proposition I am trying to develop. Regrettably, however,
      it is nearly impossible to “briefly outline” what is so tightly
      packed into this sentence. What I say here may do more to confuse
      than to clarify, but I will do my best.

      First, what follows must be read against the backdrop how the
      current definition of Gnosticism (and the understanding of the
      nature of gnosis) evolved over the last 200 years or so. Remember
      that, up until the eighteenth century, Gnosticism was almost
      universally perceived as an aberration of Christianity. This was
      primarily due to a scarcity of primary texts and an over-reliance
      on the writings of the Church Fathers as a source of information.
      These early Christian writers were hardly objective in their
      analysis of Gnosticism. On the contrary, they were
      extraordinarily biased against it, for obvious reasons.
      Nevertheless, the pious sensibilities of scholars during that
      period did not question the credibility of their sources of

      Similarly, in order to comprehend the variety of ways in which
      Gnosticism is currently understood, and, moreover to understand
      why there is a division of opinion about whether Thomas is
      gnostic, some “background” is necessary.

      Critical research into the nature and origins of Gnosticism began
      in the early 1800’s and may be divided into at least four
      distinct phases, each of which took a fairly distinctive approach
      to the subject.

      STAGE I
      Contrary to the view that Gnosticism was a “Christian heresy,” in
      1835 F. C. Bauer argued that Gnosticism should be understood as a
      philosophical movement with origins outside of Christianity in
      Platonism and Judaism [Die Christichle Gnosis oder die
      christliche Religions-Philosophie in ihrer geschichtlichen
      Entwicklung]. He concluded that the gnostics were the originators
      of the Christian philosophy of religion.

      STAGE II
      Adolph von Harnack introduced the idea that Gnosticism should be
      studied from within the context of church history and as such
      should be regarded as the “acute Hellenization of Christianity”
      [Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschicte, 1886]. Harnack’s view has
      exercised tremendous influence and persists in some circles
      (apparently) even today.

      Wilhelm Bousset, [Hauptprobleme der Gnosis, 1907] successfully
      moved research into gnosis and Gnosticism away from the church
      history-Christian philosophy approach of Harnack and Bauer into
      the so-called History of Religions School
      (Religionsgeschichtliche Schule). This approach postulated the
      origins of Gnosticism in the Oriental religious traditions of
      Babylonia and Iran. It also, by coincidence, brought the study of
      Gnosticism into contact with the study of the New Testament
      through the work of one of the most prominent scholars of the
      History of Religions School, Rudolph Bultmann.

      STAGE IV
      Hans Jonas, a pupil of Bultmann (and incidentally, also of Martin
      Heidegger) published his book (or a least part-one of it),
      “Gnosis and spataniker Geist” in 1934. In 1958, Jonas published
      an expanded English version: Jonas, Hans. _The Gnostic Religion_.
      ( Boston: Beacon, 1958). Jonas’ achievement was that he, for the
      first time, analyzed the gnostic phenomenon on its own terms, and
      not through the optics of dogma, church history, or the History
      of Religions methodology. It seems to me that Jonas’s approach,
      especially that part of which is outlined in the last part of the
      work cited is crucial for unraveling Gnosticism in general, and
      the Gospel of Thomas in particular.

      Kurt Rudolf offers a more detailed description of the four stages
      of development of the study of gnosis. _Gnosis_.
      (SanFrancisco:HarperSanFrancisco, 1987 [pp 30-34]), The foregoing
      was extracted from his book. Also, see [Jonas, Gnostic Religion]
      which provides a good description of the progress of research.
      For a good description of the History of Religions School,
      consult Kummel, Werner George. _The New Testament: A History of
      the Investigation of its Problems. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1972
      [206-309]). In addition, cited in Rudolf’s book is his own
      extensive investigation of gnosis scholarship in (“Gnosis und
      Gnosticizmus” Wege der Forshung, CCLXII).

      It is my opinion that, in addition to the four stages of research
      characterized by the approaches of Bauer, Harnack, Bousett and
      Jonas, there are three other seminal developments that have, in
      concert with these varying approaches to the study of Gnosticism,
      influenced the way in which the relationship between the Gospel
      of Thomas and Gnosticism is understood. At first glance these
      developments may seem unrelated to the issue at all. At this
      juncture I will not try to describe the contributions they have
      made. Instead I will simply mention them in passing.

      First, the modern “Quests for the Historical Jesus,” inaugurated
      by Albert Schweitzer at the turn of the nineteenth century, and
      that continue now have, it seems to me, had a significant impact
      on the way that the Jesus Traditions are understood. Not the
      least is the way that some of the Thomas logia have been
      pronounced “authentic Jesus sayings.”

      Second, the Messina Colloquium on the Origins of Gnosticism in
      1965, and the publications of its proceedings _Le Origini Dello
      Gnostocismo_(Leiden:E.J. Brill, 1966) was largely responsible for
      precipitating the “standard five-part definition” of Gnosticism
      that is regularly restated in modern dictionaries, encyclopedias
      and monographs. One consequence of this definition is that when
      the Gospel of Thomas is held up against that definition, it
      becomes very difficult to classify it as “gnostic.”

      Third, James M. Robinson’s essay, “LOGOI SOPHON,”(Robinson, James
      M. and Helmut Koester. _Trajectories through Early Christianity_
      [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971]), has had an enormous influence on
      restricting the understanding of the Gospel of Thomas to the
      gattung of Christian Wisdom literature (a view expressed also in
      Koester, _Ancient Christian Gospels_. [Philadelphia/London:
      Trinity Press International/SCM Press Ltd., 1990]; Kloppenborg,
      et al. _Q Thomas Reader_ [Sonoma, CA: Polebridge, 1990]).

      My purpose for offering the above brief discussion is not to
      suggest that any of these approaches, or events, are somehow
      deficient. In other words, I am not disposed, nor am I
      necessarily qualified, to challenge their respective conclusions
      or premises. Rather, I suggest that without understanding these
      elements, it is virtually impossible to understand why I have
      begun to construct this particular argument.

      Now, having said far too much, I’ll attempt to answer the
      original questions, although in a somewhat different order than
      they were asked.

      [Frank asked:]
      “Please briefly outline the original mythologized articulation of
      gnosis that is being de-mythologized in GTh.”

      A “Demythologized articulation of gnosis” means simply that,
      while the Gospel of Thomas is nearly devoid of the specific
      terminology normally associated with Gnostic cosmogony,
      anthropogeny, and soteriology (e.g., Aeons, the Pleroma, Archons,
      Ascent of the Soul, and the like), it nevertheless uses language
      in ways that express similar concepts without resorting to
      identical imagery.

      A popularized, working definition, of “mytholgogy” is “the use of
      imagery to express [or describe] the otherworldly [the
      transcendent] in terms of this world [conventional structures of
      reality] and the divine in terms of human life.” In other words,
      Mythology can be defined as a description of the other side in
      terms of this side [Bultmann, Ruldolph. “New Testament and
      Mythology” np10. Bartsch, Hans W. ed. _Kerygma and Myth_. (New
      York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1961).

      There is a historical precedent to this suggestion that was
      introduced by Rudolf Bultmann more than five decades ago.
      Bultmann proposed to “demythologize” the New Testament. The essay
      in which he advanced the proposition is found in the work cited
      above, pages 1-44.The essence of Bultmann’s essay is that modern
      humans no longer accept the pre-scientific “mythological” view of
      the cosmos that is presupposed by the New Testament writers. He

      “Man’s knowledge and mastery of the world have advanced to such
      an extent through science and technology that it is no longer
      possible for anyone to seriously hold the New Testament view of
      the world…” p4, ibid.

      Bultmann provides a catalog of untenable New Testament mythical
      views, including the three-storied universe (with a Heaven and a
      Hell), good and evil spirits (devils and demons), mythical
      eschatology (the Parousia and an apocalyptic eschaton), the idea
      that death is the punishment of sin, the doctrine of the
      atonement, the miracles, and the resurrection of Jesus. It is not
      enough, he says, to accept some mythical elements, but to reject
      others. It all has to go.

      Yet, in spite of this radical rejection, and its iconoclastic
      consequences, he insists on the validity of the Kerygma!

      It goes without saying that Bultmann’s proposal was met with
      fierce criticism (some of which can be read in the responses that
      follow his essay in the work cited). It is also not surprising
      that his proposal was not widely adapted by many churches, but in
      spite of that, his approach may be useful as a paradigm for
      understanding the Gnosticism.

      If Bultmann’s description of myth in the New Testament applies
      equally to myth and mythological language in gnosticism, then
      these precepts should be studied carefully:

      1. “Myth speaks of the power or powers which man supposes he
      experiences as the ground and level of his world [conventional
      reality] and of his own activity and suffering.” p.10
      2. “ Myth is an expression of man’s conviction that the origin
      and purpose of the world in which he lives are not to be sought
      within but beyond it…” p.10
      3. “Myth is also an expression of man’s awareness that he is not
      lord of his own being. It expresses his state of dependence, not
      only within the visible world, but more especially on those
      forces which hold sway beyond the confines of the known
      [conventional reality].” p.11
      4. Finally, myth expresses man’s belief that in his state of
      dependence he can be delivered from the forces within the visible
      world [conventional reality]. P. 11

      But most importantly, for the purposes here at least, Bultmann
      identifies the *purpose* of myth, which is “to speak about a
      transcendent power which controls the world and man. He notes,
      however, myth’s *purpose* is defeated by its own language. It is
      “impeded and obscured by the terms in which it is expressed.” P.
      11. It seems to me then, that texts that are not burdened by
      mythological language may be less resistant to understanding. The
      implications for understanding Thomas should be obvious.

      Therefore, when I say, “Thomas represents a de-mythologized
      articulation of gnosis” I mean only that Thomas exhibits an
      understanding of existence, of the origin and purpose of the
      world, of dependence and salvation that are not shrouded in the
      same imagery of mythology as it expressed elsewhere in gnosticism
      (it also means that if such terminology is absent, we should not
      try to “restore” it).

      [Frank Asked:]
      “Please also describe the nature of the redemption that is the
      goal of the "redemptive process.”

      Standard definitions of Gnosticism invariably concede that it is
      a religion of redemption. In the conventional mythological
      language of most Gnostic systems, the redemptive process
      involves, first of all, the recognition of one’s divine nature.
      That nature is almost invariably described as a “spark” which is
      an artifact from some primal event involving supra-mundane
      beings. Secondly it postulates that, upon the death of the body,
      the Divine Spark separates from the World and winds its way
      through a maze of Aeons and Archons until it is reunited with
      that from which it came. This is expressed, preeminently, in
      mythological language in most gnostic texts. It is mythological
      redemption of the same caliber as the dieing-rising savior of
      Hellenistic Christianity.

      Obviously little, or none, of such mythological reflection exists
      in Thomas. That does not mean, however, that there is no
      soteriology, or redemptive scheme, present in Thomas. Indeed, the
      de-mythologized equivalent of one’s divine nature is made
      manifest through cognitive mechanisms that bring the eternal
      (Divine) character of humanity into a disruptive tension with the
      World (or with the “conventional structures of reality”).

      That which is manifest is one’s own Being (Dasein). Redemption
      begins by bringing to consciousness the tension between that
      Being and the impermanence of the world [conventional structures
      of reality] expressed as existential anxiety. It is nothing else
      than cognitive dissonance at the most elemental level. The
      elimination of existential anxiety (aka cognitive dissonance) by
      reconciling Being with authentic existence IS redemption and it
      happens throughout Thomas.

      [Frank Asked:]
      “What are ‘the conventional structures of reality’ and how do
      they differ from unconventional structures of reality?”

      The “conventional structures of reality” should not necessarily
      be contrasted with UN-conventional structures of reality.
      Instead, when one’s understanding (via HERMENEUEIN) of
      conventional reality is altered, one understands the absurdity
      and transitory nature of social norms, fate (HEIMARMENE) and even
      (or perhaps especially) the claims of institutional religion.

      Conventional reality can also be called “the conditions of
      existence.” In mythological terms, “conventional reality” is the
      presence and power of the powers that control the cosmos (e.g.,
      Archons, Aeons and the Demiourgos).

      [Frank Asked:]
      “What are the ‘alternative modes of cognition,’ how do they
      differ from the standard mode(s) of cognition, and what are the
      general categories into which they can be classified?

      This is an exceedingly complex question, which virtually
      impossible to answer in many pages, much less in a few
      paragraphs. Nevertheless….

      One may come to understanding through several complex processes
      of cognition. In some ways it is a transition from Ignorance
      (AGNOSIS) to Knowledge (GNOSIS). The pathway of transition from
      one pole to the other is interpretation (HERMENEUEIN, which is
      another, and even more complex issue). The journey (finding) may
      be as important as the destination (meaning).

      Cognition is one of three basic functions of consciousness (along
      with conation and emotion). Cognition, in general, may be defined
      as the assimilation of mind and object. There are however,
      multiple modes of cognition. Quidditative cognition is that by
      which apprehends the ordinary. When one, for example, reads (or
      hears) the word “stone” and is able to assimilate the word with
      the species-object to which the word refers, one exercises
      quidditative cognition. Therefore, when one reads a text or hears
      a speech, one may comprehend quidditatively.

      One of several other modes of cognition is abstractive cognition.
      In abstractive cognition, as I understand it, one does not come
      to understanding by executing an expression such as (word +
      object = thing). Instead the formula is more like (thing1 +
      thing2 = another-thing-altogether). Clear as mud, right? Perhaps
      some illustrations will help (or not).

      Next to where I am writing there is a piece of paper with some
      snippets of Visual Basic code that I received by email. By
      reading this code, as it is printed on the paper, I am cognizant
      of what the code means and I understand what results I can expect
      when I type it into my code editor, compile it, and execute it.
      That is quidditative cognition.

      On the other hand, merely by reading the code, I do not know with
      certainty how this code will interact with other routines
      existing in the same program. Does it need to execute at a
      particular point? What happens if it executes at someplace other
      that where it should? What will happen if I execute it twice? If
      it performs differently in each of those scenarios, then what I
      know about the code I will have understood through the mode of
      abstractive cognition (Thing1 + Thing2 =

      The topic under discussion here, however is not computer
      programming or cognitive theory. It is how alternative modes of
      cognition “works” in the Gospel of Thomas. So, lets try another

      Gth 8. Here the story is told about a fisherman who casts a net
      into the water and retrieves a large catch. The image of the
      fisherman was likely to be familiar to first century residents of
      Palestine, most particularly to those who lived near bodies of
      water, such as the Sea of Galilee. But in any case, the audience
      who heard the story understood this part of it through
      quidditative cognition (word(s) + object(s) =thing). Such things
      as large catches of fish happened from time to time, I’m certain.
      When it did, it was an occasion for joy and celebration. Reason
      dictates that the fisherman should have kept the fish, and, after
      at least a brief celebration, should have tried to catch some
      more. When, however, the story gets to the point of explaining
      how the fisherman threw the entire catch back in the water in
      favor of a single fish, its like sticking a wet fork in the
      cognitive toaster. Quidditative cognition fails altogether here!
      Those who hear this story and refuse to shift to another mode of
      cognition, will undoubtedly pronounce the fisherman insane,
      ridicule the story teller and go on with life (or they will try
      to revise the story so that in coheres with their perceptions of
      the structures of ordinary reality by allegorizing it, as the
      Matthean evangelist did in his/her version of the tale). On the
      other hand, those who listened and heeded the advice at the end
      of the story,( “Whoever has ears, etc.”), would have shifted to
      an alternative mode of cognition, the abstractive mode (Thing1 +
      thing2 = another-thing-altogether), in order to come to

      The general structure of this story, in the form in which it
      preserved in Thomas, makes it evident that the hearer was
      expected to find his or her own meaning (HERMENEUEIN) to the
      story. At the story’s conclusion, the audience is left with a
      choice. Those who persist in literal mindedness and refuse to
      shift modes of cognition are destined to misunderstand. Those who
      make the shift, come to the unmistakable conclusion that things
      are not as they seem to be. The conventional understanding of
      reality has altered. Redemption has begun.

      Rick Hubbard
      Humble Maine Woodsman
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