Re: [GTh] GTh 76 and Babylonian Jewish Silk Merchants
----- Original Message -----
From: "Jim Bauer" <jbauer@...>
Sent: Friday, December 27, 2002 10:50 AM
Subject: Re: [GTh] GTh 76 and Babylonian Jewish Silk Merchants
> > Let us look at GTh 76, "Jesus said, 'The Kingdom of the Father is like
> > merchant who had a consignment of merchandise and who discovered a
> > That merchant was shrewd. He sold the merchandise and bought the pearl
> > alone for himself. You too, seek his unfailing and enduring treasure
> > no moth comes near to devour and no worm destroys."
> > 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.
> > 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
> > suggestion is correct, then it increases the probability that there is
> > influence of Indian thought on the Thomas tradition.
> > What do you think of this suggestion?
> It seems to me that both the "pearl" & the "merchandise" may be
> metaphorical, & not at all linked to Tyre or Indian trade routes. It
> certainly is true that much of the scriptures--from whatever religion--is
> intended to be taken symbolically. However, symbolic analyses often run
> into problems with individual bias: a Freudian & a Jungian will come to
> radically different understandings of the same image.
> The pearl as a symbol appears in both Gnostic & Christian literature--"do
> not throw your pearls before swine" pops into my mind immediately. So my
> question is, could the pearl mentioned here be part of the same tradition
> that gave us the "Hymn of the Pearl" & the pearl mentioned in the Acts of
> Thomas? Would this make of Thomas a Gnostic document? What does the
> _mean_ as a symbol? Could the "moth" & "worm" which consume also be
> of speech? More importantly, could these latter 2 acts of destruction be
> just a common idiom, & not at all intended to refer to the "merchandise"?
I analyzed this parable of the Kingdom strictly in terms of its literal
text, arguing that, in it, the envisoned scene is that of a Babylonian
Jewish silk merchandise who finds a pearl in some merchandise that has been
consigned to him. This sort of analysis does not get into the meaning the
A much simpler version of this parable is found in Matthew 13:45-46, "Again,
the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on
finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought
Because the Matthean version of the parable is simpler, I think it likely
that it is a more primitive version of the parable. If so, then the
elaborations to the Thomas version of it (that turn the merchant into what
appears to be a Babylonian Jewish silk merchant) probably occurred in a
place where there were Babylonian Jewish silk merchants.
This is not to deny that the parable has an inner meaning. Indeed, I'm sure
that it has one.
As for the pearl, it is explicitly said, in GTh 76, to represent "His
unfailing and enduring treasure".
I take this to mean that the pearl represents Wisdom: who, in Wisdom of
Solomon 7:14, is said to be "a treasure unto men that never faileth."
Similarly, the pearl apparently represents Wisdom in the Matthean parallel
as well--see Matthew 13:44-46, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure
hid in a field, which a man found and and covered up; then in his joy he
goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the Kingdom of
Heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one
pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it."
Initially, the Kingdom is likened to a hidden treasure in a field that a man
found (by digging it up). This appears to identify the Kingdom as being
Wisdom: for Wisdom can be likened to a treasure uncovered by digging. So,
in Deus (91-92), Philo relates, "On the other hand, it is a common
experience that things befall us of which we have not even dreamt, like the
story of the husbandman who, digging his orchard to plant some fruit-trees,
lighted on a treasure, and thus met with prosperity beyond his hopes....For
when God delivers to us that lore of His eternal Wisdom without our toil or
labour, we find in it suddenly and unexpectedly a treasure of perfect
Next, the Kingdom, which we now know is Wisdom is, I think, likened to a
pearl of great price. So, ISTM, the pearl of great price symbolizes the
spiritual treasure of Wisdom.
In this case, then, the point of Matthew 13:44-46 is that the Kingdom (i.e.,
Wisdom) is so priceless a spiritual treasure that one ought to do whatever
is necessary to obtain her--even if this requires you to forsake all your
In any event, the bottom line is that, in both the Thomas and Matthean
versions of the parable of the merchant, the pearl appears to represent the
Kingdom (i.e., Wisdom).
I am not familiar with the Hymn of the Pearl. Could you cite the document
and passage where it is found? Or, better yet, if it is a short hymn, could
you copy it down in a posting?
Jim, you also ask whether the "moth" and "worm" might be figures of speech.
In terms of the inner meaning of GTh 76, I think that they symbolize the
forces of destruction that make all material things perishable, with the
intent being to emphasise the superiority of the spiritual treasure of
Wisdom to material treasure because Wisdom is imperishable, while everything
material is perishable.
1809 N. English Apt. 17
Maplewood, MN USA 55109
> (Frank McCoy)
> I am not familiar with the Hymn of the Pearl. Could you cite the document
> and passage where it is found? Or, better yet, if it is a short hymn,
> you copy it down in a posting?Frank,
The best source to find it in is Hans Jonas' _The Gnostic Religion_. Since
it takes up most of a chapter, I'd be reluctant to copy-&-paste it into a
posting. You might also want to try the search engine at www.gnosis.org.
> The best source to find [The Hymn of the Pearl] is Hans Jonas' _TheGnostic Religion_.
"The Hymn of the Pearl" is embedded in the Acts of Thomas. It can be found
in several sources, including Bentley Layton's _The Gnostic Scriptures_ and
Willis Barnstone's _The Other Bible_. I've always felt it was highly
relevant to understanding the "Thomas tradition".
Mt. Clemens, MI