GThom: The Relic.
- Peter Kirby to Frank.....
"While I understand that one might use the -contents- of these fragments and the Coptic manuscript to argue for a particular date of Thomas' original composition, I am a little confused as to why the -mere existence- of third and fourth century witnesses to Thomas allows us to date the Gospel of Thomas any earlier than the first external reference (or fragment), since you have advocated that dating a document at any time before its first appearance "can be said to be pure speculation."
Relevant to the idea that we have a relic which can be dated to around 200 CE, is what it says about its own history. This goes way beyond the normal limits of archeology and history. William G. Dever in his book, "What Did the Biblical Writers Know & When Did They Know It," (2001) outlines how he thinks relics and history should be compiled together. (He ain't Jean Aule) Dever outlines ways artifacts can be read and judged to align with ideas of artifact and written history, in regard to creating a better picture of that history.
We have an artifact which is a written work that reflects a reasonable time frame which can be judged by other events known in history. Perhaps we do not have an original text but the fact there is more than one copy proves its extended use in early Christianity. The date of our earliest copy -relic- is not a proper marker for dating the first development of Thomas, or would it be a good marker for how long it lasted in Christian history. It's still 'kickin.'
If we actually had the original document we would still suspect it had to be composed from root texts, probably written from oral traditions, from those that knew Jesus. But there is the marker in the Thomas text that indicates that some sayings where included to explain the decisions of the first Apostolic Council, 41 CE. These are those sayings in Thomas that refer to the Pauline era arguments on Jewish Law such as, GThom No. 6.
There could be an argument for saying 12 to be past the 41 CE date of the First Ap. Council( This is in regard to who James the Just or Jacob the Righteous was), and the argument that 114 could be an add on. However, there is no historic or artifact marker for 114 or 12 which relate an incident or recorded known event to correlate with the time frame of Thomas outside the 41 CE date. Its just a possibility.
This leaves most of the sayings of the GThom as known sayings also recorded in other Gospels. It is no small matter that Thomas is a Gospel. This gives our relic another very important marker beyond its time, which relates to its purpose. Its purpose is to relate an understanding of the GThom which prevents the taste of death (No.1), which we take to mean an understanding that would give the power of life after death. No small matter.
Because we have a history of use for the document, both in artifacts and written history, another important aspect of the document is the power it promises. I think looking for the Holy Grail and finding it is an appropriate analogy describing the GThom's possible value to early Christians, and some current ones. It is this value that makes the history of the text most likely to have originated in the earliest of times. After all it was the aim of the early evangelists to pass on knowledge of the Holy Spirit, and message of Jesus.
And it is for this reason during the first secular rifts in Christianity that Thomas would have become guarded, just as we know it was in the times of the actual relics we have. From before the time of Ignatius (120 CE) people where at odds with each other which caused independent secularism .
Thomas had to be the most dangerous document in Christianity then, if it did not become so during the Pauline rifts, before and after 41 CE. We must consider how the early Christians would have seen Thomas as an object as well as a text. Its possession would mean being able to implement the spiritual afterlife, and how to deal with the one your in now. It is an instrument of the Holy Spirit, (the Light), the soul, and the body, all mentioned in the sayings themselves, therefor implements of avoiding the taste of death.
The value (social economy) of Thomas to early Christians makes me suspect that it was both faithfully copied from copy to copy for four hundred years, and after it first appeared Christians believed it could do what it says it can. This would include Pachomus who founded the monastery in Nag Hammadi (Circa mid 300 CE.)
It seems very logical to me that any time after 100 CE Thomas helped build the Eastern churches in Christianity. The Western Church wrote Corinthians, and Romans 1:24 to 1:31 and other behavioral propaganda, but they rejected Thomas, early. Irenaeus (130-202 CE) and Tertullian (160-220 CE) did it by lying about its authenticity as a 'Gospel' in their works on heresy. However they thought themselves to be "spirit bearers."
To claim Thomas heresy would be almost worthless for anyone who used the GThom as "Wisdom Literature" then as well as now. If you have some familiarity with the NT Gospels, Thomas just can't seem to depart that far from them because of the many parallel sayings. (I'm speaking here from my own experience as Thomas was the first Gospel I ever read. I simply do not see any basis for calling Thomas heresy, then or now. I even know where modern Thomists hang out in Texas. Thomas is alive today as a Gospel. Go figure.)
If you did not have Thomas, and you saw it as a threat, you(a sacerdotalist), would discredit it in order to keep your own following from being attracted to what amounts to the Holy Grail. It is logical that a sacerdotalist like Irenaeus would try to discredit it for many other reasons, especially if he could not use it.
By the time of Pochomus at Nag Hammadi, those who could be killed or converted by Western Christians where. But when Theodosius declared his Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire, (380) this made almost anything not condoned by the state religion heresy. If you had Thomas, and regarded it as the 'real deal' it would be advantages to always hide it, but when the state sponsored killing started I think it really became its most dangerous.
We know that Eastern churches expanded east far more than historians knew before the works of Palmer. ("The Jesus Sutras") and others. Modern archeology shows us new information about a Christian history in the east, India and China, which can be linked with Syrian Christian expansion. The Jesus Sutras reflect a far greater understanding of spirit than Western works. Tatian's "Letter to the Greeks" also reflects this trend.
The GThom from its origins must have been regarded as a very powerful instrument for those that had it and very dangerous for those that knew about it, but did not have it. This is so likely that I think it makes a case for Thomas at its earliest to have been a secret document, and this could have been its intention with the words, "These are the hidden words of Jesus......." Meaning they are to be kept hidden. From the beginning of the GThom it is logical its design and intention was for it to remain secret with those that had it.
There is one more factor of great importance that makes Thomas as a relic or instrument very dangerous to the non-Thomas church, starting before the era of Cyprian. Long before Cyprian (202-258 CE) the trend of the Western church was to imply the power of spirit was the domain of the ministry. Thomas advocates that knowledge will facilitate salvation or life after death, which amounts to building the church within men, and not in structured followings of the Western Churches. The Western Church had to reject Thomas.
We must not forget that the belief in the Holy Spirit was a primary motivation for early converts. Paul lists several gifts of the spirit in 1 Corinthians 12, Gal. 3:22-23, and Romans 12:3-8. In other words the 'Holy Spirit' and becoming one with it was believed in the earliest of Christian times to create new human abilities. It also offered protection in and after life. However by the time of Tertullian the Western Church was starting to use the Bible in place of daily guidance of the Spirit. He wrote, "They have shut the Holy Spirit in a book." (See Lang, "!001 Things You Always Wanted to Know About the Holy Spirit." 1999, Nelson Publishing.)
Peter 'damned' Simon Magus for thinking access to the Holy Spirit could/should be bought and sold. Those who were thought to be 'spirit bearers' or those in communion with the Holy Spirit were referred to as "pneumatophori." I think Thomas No.1 could read: "Become a pneumatophori and you will not taste dearth."
Thomas is meant as a guide to this end. Perhaps if we go through Thomas and use 'Holy Spirit' in place of 'light,' the all, and the Kingdom we would see Thomas align better to its indented purpose, evangelism.
The GThom in respect to the early beliefs of spirit reflect that it is common to the earliest practices and beliefs of the first Christian era. No saying puts it outside the first era past 41 CE that I can see.
Platter Flats, OK
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