Re: [GTh] The Origin and Spread of the Thomas Community
- Dave H.
You ask me:
> Why would you say they were "most prone" [to write and
Well, I guess it is the impression I get that the Jews
of Egypt were the least skilled in Hebrew. But I suppose
there must have been all sorts of Jewish writers who were
not skilled in Hebrew as well.
But to address the question at hand, the "gnostic" tendencies
of Egypt are quite pronounced. The New Testament refers to
a "Messianic" fellow nicknamed "The Egyptian".
And the "New Kingdom" entourage of Jesus seemed to be
VERY prone to using the Septuagint version of the Bible
instead of the Hebrew... which seems odd for a group that
is conventionally seen as a PALESTINE-ONLY group.
I would certainly want to hear the reasons for why you
so confidently believe that the Egyptian Jewish community
has been stricken from the list of possibilities as to the
source of the Thomas community.
Perhaps this is just an overly scrupulous view of the world.
I am inclined to think Egypt is the source of Jesus's
group.... and maybe the Thomas community is being perceived
as DISTINCT from Jesus's?
>>I would certainly want to hear the reasons for why you soconfidently believe that the Egyptian Jewish community has
been stricken from the list of possibilities as to the
source of the Thomas community.<<
Well, *I* don't discount Egypt, but as far as I know the
consensus centers around a place of origin somewhere in
Syria or the Parthian frontier, not Egypt. I guess the
"know-yourself" motifs have a stronger affinity with the
east than the west. I agree that the Coptic translation has
a few phrases that are related to Egyptian Gnosticism, but I
tend to think that they are editorial additions to the
original "eastern" text by the Egyptian users of the gospel.
>>Perhaps this is just an overly scrupulous view of theworld. I am inclined to think Egypt is the source of Jesus'
group.... and maybe the Thomas community is being perceived
as DISTINCT from Jesus'?<<
You would not be the first to wonder whether there is a
possible direct connection between Jesus and Egypt, and such
speculation is not restricted to fringe scholars. This is
mainly due to the NT's almost complete lack of reference to
Christian expansion into Egypt (Alexandria). It seems
unlikely that a movement that progressively moves into
Syria, Asia Minor and Rome would completely bypass
Alexandria, where a sizable Greek-speaking Jewish population
That doesn't necessarily mean that Jesus or his early
following had a strong Egyptian orientation or origin. The
implication is that the kind of Christianity that flourished
there was not acceptable to the Christians elsewhere. The
form that Christianity assumed in Egypt may not have been
the same as elsewhere (that is, it differed in some
fundamental way that was out of synch with the form it was
assuming in the rest of the Roman empire). My favorite
critic of the development of Egyptian Christianity (Birger
Pearson) is of the opinion that it was Gnostic in
Or are you suggesting that Jesus was a Gnostic? Why are you
"inclined to think Egypt is the source of Jesus' group"?
Cleveland, Ohio, USA
----- Original Message -----
From: "FMMCCOY" <FMMCCOY@...>
Sent: Friday, November 23, 2001 1:12 PM
Subject: Re: [GTh] The Origin and Spread of the Thomas Community
Rick Hubbard says:
> > As a practical matter, the situation in Galilee must have been
> > Greek was the predominant language. Aramaic continued to be used for
> > interpersonal communication, but anyone who wished to function in the
> > society used Greek out of necessity, not because they were Hellenized.
> > (Ultimately, this also means that it is very, very likely that Jesus
> > Greek as well as Aramaic.
We have to look at language usage not as a general population-wide feature
but instead in cultural and socio-economic "pockets." My 50 years of study
convinces me that Aramaic was the
commonly spoken language among the am haAretz or Jewish agrarian and
rural population, most of whom were illiterate. Hebrew was the language
of the written word and used by religious or nationalistic zealous groups
sufficiently to be a lingua franca in certain communities that still
outside of their communities in Aramaic. I would agree that a family that
earned a living as artisans and builders in a satellite village of Sepphoris
had better have some competence in Greek. It is difficult, however, to
on the historicity of those accounts, like the conversation with Pontius
where Jesus would almost certainly be speaking Greek.
> >Similarly, efforts to recover purely Aramaic
> > artifacts from primitive Xtn texts are as Quixotic as the search for
> > elements of Hellenistic thought in the same literature).
Here we differ. Aramaic interference in the Greek of Yeshuine sayings
source material and in some narrative material is far from
having survived transition to Coptic from Greek in GThom.
Frank McCoy says:
> What you say sounds plausible, but it appears that the "hard" evidence
> suggests otherwise.
> In Archaeology History and Society in Galilee (pp. 170-71, Richard A.
> Horsley states, "In the villages of Upper Galilee, as archaeologists have
> pointed out, only a few Greek inscriptions have surfaced, in contrast with
> many in Aramaic and/or Hebrew. That strongly suggests that little Greek
> spoken in that more mountainous area further from the cities. Yet once we
> remove inappropriate evidence such as the numerous Greek ossuary
> inscriptions at Beth Shearim from the pool of evidence pertaining to the
> villages of Lower Galilee, and particularly if we consider separately the
> sites close to Tiberias, there is much less of an indication that Greek
> an everyday language in the rest of Lower Galilee. Pidgin Greek may have
> been common, but a bilingual situation seems unlikely given the evidence
Having read 80 septiquadrillion ossuarial inscriptions (slight hyperbole
I am of the opinion they are irrelevent to common usage. As you are aware
Hebrew does not appear in 2nd temple ossuarial use except..as far as I
can think..one time..the Ben Hazir tomb.
When scholars discuss 1st century Palestinian language usage
and literate vs illiterate ratios among the general population, they
appear to me to neglect what I believe was an even wider class
than the literate (estimated about 5% of population). This would
be the minimally, semi- or quasi-literate which probably constituted
a larger percentage of that designated "illiterate" portion of the
In supporting a position for Aramaic as the common spoken language
of 1st century Palestine, one cannot appeal numerically to written
texts which will be in larger percentage in the literary language
(Hebrew). This is supported by the DSS. My approach has been
to look for examples where the "lower-literate" render their spoken
language in an unsophisticated hand where poor grammar, orthography
and spelling exemplify this class. My position is that these features
point to the common spoken tongue rather than the literate
language of the educated, "spell it right" literati.
I find the names hurriedly scrawled on ossuaries to represent this
category and that 2nd temple ossuarial and funerary inscriptions and
graffiti are generally in Aramaic, i.e the funerary inscription of
Uzziah, Jason's tomb, the tomb of Simon, the temple builder,
the tombs of Abba and Caiaphas to name a few. I suspect,
therefore, that there was a class of funerary workmen who
performed such functions as the "gathering in" of the bones of
the deceased for the family.
> Also, (although this regards Judea rather than Galilee) does not the
> evidence of the Dead Sea scrolls (only a small percentage of which were
> written in Greek) indicate that few Jews in Palestine spoke or wrote in
No. It only shows that the "Yahad" of the DSS community spoke and used
> Rick Hubbard also wrote:
> > With a certain amount of equivocation, I am not even certain that it is
> > proper to characterize the residents of the Q community as "Jews." It
> > to me that they had rejected what we conventionally understand as
> > (as had the folks who seem to have written Thomas).
The key here is "what we conventionally understand as Judaism" which is not
applicable to the 2nd temple period when the "Yeshuine" community of Jews
that originally wrote down these sayings were just a form of a subset of
Judaism based on the Daniel-Enochian literature and legend base...as were
the DSS people.
> This is an interesting idea. Could you expand on it? Do you think that
> Q and Thomas communities rejected conventional Judaism in a similar
> or do you think that they each rejected it in a unique way? Is a "Jew"
> someone who observes conventional Judaism or is it someone who belong to a
> certain Semetic ethnic group or is it someone belonging to a third
My take is that Jesus' "sayings" first written down...perhaps even during
public life..by an ear-witness (Papias says by the disciple Matthew) in
was the translational basis in a trajectory to "Q" and GThomas. It is my
that there was an Aramaic "Q" used by the Aramaic competent Luke and a Greek
"Q" used by the Greek competent Matthean scribe. "Conventional Judaism" has
prior to Yabneh (IMHO).
Thanks for the post. You bring up some interesting points. It seems to me
that you are probably right when you assert that there was a large segment
of the 1-2 CE population in Palestine that was only marginally literate.
Their ability to read-write **either** Aramaic OR Greek was likely very
restricted. They almost certainly stood at a considerable distance (socially
and intellectually) from the literati who demonstrated high competence in
writing. The question of how that gap was bridged is itself an intriguing
question, but one that need not be considered quite yet.
On the other hand, illiteracy does not necessarily imply that these folk
were not able to **speak** the same languages they were unable to write.
Indeed, they were effectively able to communicate verbally in either
language. This phenomenon is present even in our society. There are many
people who can speak English fluently enough to be understood, but who are
virtually incapable of either reading or writing that same language (a
criticism that may be directed at more people than one might initially
Then there is something of an opposite situation. It is not completely
impossible for people to be literate (in the sense that they can read a
language tolerably well), but who are at the same time almost completely
unable to speak that language (for instance, I can read German reasonably
well, but it's not a pretty thing when I try to carry on a conversation in
Just as a suggestion, I wonder how much of this same kind of situation was
present in 1 CE Palestine? If the situation was similar, then one might
conclude that that there were many people who could communicate orally in
one or more languages (e.g., Greek and Aramaic) but who were not necessarily
able to read and write those languages. In fact, if the literacy rate in 1
CE Palestine was indeed only 5%, then this may have been the norm rather
than the exception.
Clearly, you are a tireless and articulate advocate for the position that
there is an Aramaic substrata beneath the written Jesus tradition. I tend to
agree with you to the extent that I concur that there is evidence of Aramaic
influence present in the written form of that tradition. I am not, however,
yet convinced that this evidence supports the conclusion that there was any
kind of Aramaic "proto-gospel." Instead, it seems equally probable that the
Aramaic influence that is present may be nothing more than the normal kinds
of linguistic artifacts that seem to cross over in most multi-lingual, but
non-literate, social groups. I'll spare you from a recitation of modern, and
therefore anachronistic, examples.
[As an aside, since 1 CE Palestine was a predominantly non-literate society,
it is equally implausible that the 95% of the population that could not read
or write either Greek or Aramaic, was substantially deeply influenced by
sophisticated literary compositions (e.g., those by Philo). The distance
between Galilee and Alexandria was almost too far to travel, in more than
the spatial sense].
My own position is that the material which eventually formed the written
gospel tradition was a collection of reminiscences about Jesus of Nazareth
that were passed along in the ordinary language of the region. This ordinary
language was an amalgam of Aramaic and Greek. This material was first
committed to writing in Greek, not in Aramaic. Aramaic and Greek were both
widely spoken in the region, but Hellenistic Greek was the dominant literary
language. Literary Aramaic was an anomaly. None of this excludes the
likelihood that Jesus spoke Greek. Jesus probably was, like his peers,
multi-lingual. It may even be that when he spoke he moved freely from one
language to the other (as happens in many multi-language settings).
Therefore **some** of the indisputable Aramaisms in the gospels may have
originated with Jesus himself, not with the transmitters.
Humble Maine Woodsman
" My favorite critic of the development of Egyptian Christianity
(Birger Pearson) is of the opinion that it was Gnostic in
> orientation."And then you ask:
"Or are you suggesting that Jesus was a Gnostic? Why are you
> "inclined to think Egypt is the source of Jesus' group"?"Good questions. While this group is discussing GThomas,
I have always thought that if GJohn is an accurate presentation
of Jesus and the rhetoric he used, then Jesus was most likely
I am also a supporter of the idea that the role model Jesus
follows most closely to is as a "magi" of the Egyptian mold.
There was a belief in the "equality" of the performer of magic
with the godhead. Now I can't rightly say that this is unique to
Egyptian magic, I further "inform" my views with the New
Testament references to the upbringing of Jesus in Egypt (which
is a "history fragment" that cannot simply be disposed of), and
the reference to a Messiah called "The Egyptian" (and thus probably
to a Messianic community in Egypt).
In terms of gnosticism in general, while I read the "ebb and
flow" of disputation that gnosticism came from Hebrew vs.
Christian vs. "East" vs. "West"..... from what I have read of
Egyptian texts.....long before there was even an Exodus.... the
Egyptian mind was "gnostic" for a millenium before the first
Christian gnostic ever emerged.
Your mention of Birger Pearson's work intrigues me. I think
the "thumbnail" analysis that the Egyptian form of Christianity
was probably objected to by the rest of the Christian world fits
in fairly well with my view of the "Kingdom of God" movement
being a hunted and hounded organization before it evolved enough
to go "mainstream".