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Re: [GTh] Paleo-Thomas

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  • Michael Grondin
    ... Giving my short answer first, I think that the differences were largely due more to adaptation than anything else. Adaptation to the time and place of its
    Message 1 of 12 , Dec 14, 2002
      > Can you determine as to why scribes would make alterations?
      > What were they trying to do with these differences?

      Giving my short answer first, I think that the differences were largely due
      more to adaptation than anything else. Adaptation to the time and place of
      its retranslation, that is. Let's say, for example, that a Syriac version of
      Thomas found its way to Alexandria, and fell into the hands of someone
      skilled in both Syriac and Greek. One thing such a person _might_ have done
      was merely to translate the text from Syriac into Greek, more or less
      faithfully. But the limited evidence we have doesn't seem to support that
      scenario. What it seems to show is that the earlier text, though left much
      the same, was nevertheless significantly altered to fit the needs and
      interests of the group which had received it and now claimed it as its own.

      In addition to the differences between the POxy fragments and the Coptic
      version, consider the saying which Hippolytus attributed to the Naassenes,
      in the first known reference to a gospel 'according to Thomas':

      "He who seeks me will find me in children of seven years upward, for there,
      hidden in the fourteenth aeon, am I revealed."
      (Hennecke/Schneelmelcher, _New Testament Apocrypha_, v.I, p.280)

      Assuming that Hippolytus' quotation was substantially correct, the part
      about "hidden in the fourteenth aeon" must have been meaningful and
      important to the Naassenes, but not to others who handled this gospel. We
      don't know, of course, whether the Naassenes added it to some earlier
      version in another language, or whether it was dropped when and if the
      Naassene version was translated into other languages - or both. What we do
      know is that similar significant differences turn up between the Greek
      fragments and the Coptic version. It seems likely that there must have been
      cases of faithful translation from one language into another, but we don't
      have one, and we don't know whether that's a statistical fluke due to the
      small number of extant texts, or not.

      I'm not sure whether a _scribe_ could have made such alterations. I guess I
      tend to think of a scribe as a copyist, and it seems that copyists would not
      have had the freedom to make alterations. So I'll take the question to be:
      "Why would a translator/redactor ('T/R') make alterations (to the source
      text)?" In the first place, I think we have to assume that the T/R would
      have seen a great deal in the source text that he liked, and that he would
      thus have preserved the core meaning of the text, as he understood it. If
      there were, however, details that he didn't like, or which weren't relevant
      to his own community, he may well have left them out. Similarly, he may have
      taken the occasion to add material, for a variety of reasons, not least to
      tack on certain ideas that were important to his own community, but weren't
      addressed in the text. So why would a T/R change the text? Trying to collect
      all the possibilities under one heading, I would say: in general, to adapt
      it for the use he had in mind for his own community.

      The situation can be contrasted with the distribution of the NT. There is
      one class of texts that were apparently tightly controlled, as they show
      little difference between one exemplar and another. On the other hand, the
      so-called "Western" class of texts show quite a bit of variation. Which of
      these patterns would we likely find for Thomas, if we had more exemplars?
      Well, its own ideology seems to count against its having been
      tightly-controlled by a central authority, and that is borne out by the
      limited evidence available to us, so I would say that it would be likely to
      exhibit the "Western" tendency. I'm also reminded of the comment of Papias
      (as quoted by Eusebius) that everyone translated the logia of Matthew (which
      I take to be a sayings-source) "as best they could". I think what's _behind_
      that comment - i.e., what Papias likely actually observed - was simply that
      there were versions of this Matthean sayings-source in different languages
      that had significant differences in content. He may have _assumed_ that the
      reason for this was the difficulty of translation, but it seems more likely
      that it was due to differences between the using environments. Had Papias
      considered this possibility, he might have been loathe to admit it in any
      case. So I take his statement to be reflective of an actual historical
      situation, but his suggested cause of that situation to be unlikely in

      All of which doesn't exactly answer the question, because we don't know the
      exact answer to the question. We would have to know what the source text
      looked like, to determine what changes were made to it by the T/R in
      question. But we don't know, for example, whether the POxy fragments
      represent the source text from which the Coptic T/R was working, and we
      don't know what the source text for the POxy fragments looked like. In order
      to begin to determine _why_ a given T/R did what he did, we first have to
      determine _what_ he did, but that's exactly what we don't know for any
      individual case. About the only thing we do know is that there were
      significant (but not extreme) differences between versions of the text in
      different languages - thus that its transmission must have allowed for a
      significant (but not extreme) degree of translational/redactional freedom
      from one community to the next.

      Mike Grondin
      Mt. Clemens, MI
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