Re: [GTh] GTh 76 and Babylonian Jewish Silk Merchants
- Let us look at GTh 76, "Jesus said, 'The Kingdom of the Father is like a
merchant who had a consignment of merchandise and who discovered a pearl.
That merchant was shrewd. He sold the merchandise and bought the pearl
alone for himself. You too, seek his unfailing and enduring treasure where
no moth comes near to devour and no worm destroys."
I suggest that the image is that of a merchant of a very expensive fabric
that came to him by ship.
The merchandise appears to be a fabric because it can be eaten by moths and
worms (i.e., caterpillars). It appears to be expensive because, with the
commission from selling it, the merchant could afford to buy a pearl--a
The presence of a pearl in the merchandise suggests that it came to the
merchant by sea: with the person caring for the merchandise during its
sea-voyage either finding the pearl himself or else buying it in a port
where the boat was temporarily moored and then hiding it in the merchandise.
As for the sitz im leben of this parable, I suggest that it is Tyre. It was
a port city. Further, as a Phoenician city, it was a center for the trade
in silk--a very expensive fabric. In Hellenistic Civilisation (p. 257),
W.W. Tarn states that "there must already have been a large silk industry in
Phoenicia (which worked up 'Arabian' imports), for silk became so common
that in 91 (BCE) the women at Messene had to be prohibited from wearing
transparent dresses during initiation."
Indeed, we know that there were Babylonian Jewish silk merchants residing in
Tyre. So, W.H.C. Frend, in The Rise of Christianity (p.31), states, "Tyre
on the Mediterranean coast and Edessa in the upper valley of the Eupharates
were two cities which contained groups of Babylonian Jewish silk merchants."
So, I suggest, GTh 76 likely has a has a Tyrian sitz im leben, with the
merchant assumed to be a Babylonian Jewish silk merchant residing there. In
this case, the merchandise on consignment was silk from "Arabia" (note:
there was a wild silkworm in Western Asia), probably come from the Arabian
peninsula largely by boat, i.e., a leg by boat up the Red Sea and another
leg by boat from Egypt to Tyre. The buyers would have been other Tyrians
who worked the silk into garments and likely dyed some of these garments
Tyrian purple so as to get a higher price for them. The finished garments
would then have been shipped by Tryian traders elsewhere, particularly Rome,
for sale as luxury items.
In support of this suggestion, GTh 76 appears to come from the postulated
Pre-Thomas: which, as I have pointed out in some previous posts, reflects a
Jewish orientation. So, that the merchant would be a Babylonian *Jewish*
silk merchant fits well with the apparent placement of 76 in the Jewish
stratum of GTh.
Now it is noteworthy that a group of Babylonian Jewish silk merchants also
resided at Edessa. So, if some of the Babylonian Jewish silk merchants
residing in Tyre had become members of the Thomas Church, then the
expectation is that they had proselytized their comrades in Edessa.
So, if Edessa had become a major center of the Thomas tradition, then this
would provide support for this suggestion.
Indeed, this is the case!
So, in The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics (p. 140), Jean Doresse
states. "Now, this precise district (round Edessa) seems to have given rise
to swarms of various kinds of apocryphal works; and on the subject of
Thomas, it is remarkable that they seem to spring from the same tradition as
that found in the *incipit* of our Coptic gospel and more clearly still in
our *Book of Thomas*. For example, they call him by the same peculiar and
reptitive name, 'Didymus Jude Thomas'. He is already given the double name
of 'Jude thomas' by authors as closely linked to Edessa as Tatian, Ephraem,
the fictitious correspondence of Abgar king of Edessa with Jesus, or the
*Doctrine of the Apostles*. In the apocryphal *Acta* devoted to him (and
which were written at Edessa, in Syriac, in the third century), he is also
currently called 'Jude Thomas', and, in the first chapter, also 'Jude Thomas
Didymus'. Further, in Chapter 39 of these apocryphal *Acts of Thomas*, we
find the phrase: 'Twin of Christ, apostle of the Most-High, thou who art
also initiated into the hidden teaching of Christ and hast received his
secret words!': which corresponds exactly to the claims made by our *Gospel
According to Thomas* and by our *Book of Thomas written by Matthias*.
Moreover, these same *Acta* contain a precise reference to a characteristic
passage of the new Gospel--the three words which the Saviour said to the
Apostle and which he could not reveal..."
So, I suggest, the Thomas community at Edessa was founded by Babylonian
Jewish silk merchants living there who had been converted to Thomas
Christianity by some of their Tryian brethern.
A further thought: From Edessa, two major trade routes ran to India--one
going south and east to the Red Sea and from there eastwards through the
extreme northen Indian Ocean, the other going mainly east over land. Along
these trade routes, ideas might have flowed from India to Edessa. These
ideas, in turn, might have been picked up by the Babylonian Jewish silk
merchants at Edessa and then spread to their brethren in Tyre, So, if this
suggestion is correct, then it increases the probability that there is an
influence of Indian thought on the Thomas tradition.
What do you think of this suggestion?
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