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Re: [GTh] GTh 76 and Babylonian Jewish Silk Merchants

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  • fmmccoy
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 26, 2002
      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
      luxury item..

      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?

      Frank McCoy
      1809 N. English Apt. 17
      Maplewood, MN USA 55109
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