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Re: [GTh] Becoming little

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  • Michael Grondin
    Maurice, You ve raised a number of interesting issues in your latest note. If you don t mind, however, I d like to work my way backwards from your last
    Message 1 of 1 , May 27, 2003
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      You've raised a number of interesting issues in your latest note. If you
      don't mind, however, I'd like to work my way backwards from your last
      paragraph (which comments on 101), and bring in the "brother" logion 55 for
      comparison purposes. Parenthetically, I will, as usual, avoid assuming that
      Jesus himself said any of these things. I take that to be a separate
      historical question.

      > ... I believe that there are other
      > examples of possible doctrinal dichotomies in the Gospel of Thomas which
      > may make the point a lot better ... the example which quickly comes to
      > mind is Thomas # 101 where those to whom Jesus is speaking are asked to
      > both "love and hate" their fathers and mothers (presumably at the same
      > time and despite the 4th Commandment), although in this particular case
      > I sense that most translators are perhaps too quick to assign the
      > meaning "hate" to the Coptic word "sanah" whereas its secondary meaning
      > of "leave behind" or "separate (from)" is, in a doctrinal sense at any
      > rate, seemingly more fitting. That is, logion #101 should likely be
      > translated as:
      > "Whosoever does not leave behind his father and his mother as I do
      > cannot become a disciple to me. And whoever does (not) love his father
      > and his mother as I do cannot become a (disciple) to me ... etc, etc."

      I don't have a problem with using "leave behind" or "set aside", etc, in a
      footnote to the English translation, on the grounds that the Greeks and/or
      Copts misunderstood the supposed underlying Aramaic word 'sanah'. The Coptic
      word, however, is MOSTE/MESTE-, which apparently doesn't carry the secondary
      meaning of "set aside". So not only are we assuming that there WAS an
      underlying Aramaic original for this saying, but we would be apparently
      understanding the saying differently than the Greeks and/or Copts did.
      Should we not translate it as the Copts understood it, even if their
      understanding was incorrect? A difficult problem perhaps best resolved by
      showing BOTH how the Copts _actually_ understood it, and how they _ought to_
      have understood it?

      At any rate, the main thing I want to say about 101 is that it *doesn't*
      strike me as an unresolvable doctrinal dichotomy of the kind I was getting
      at. All we really need to do is read on a little further in 101 to see that
      the author is contrasting one's *natural* mother with one's *spiritual*
      mother. The "etc, etc" in the translation above is thus all-important:

      "For my mother [brought me forth], but my true [mother] gave me Life."

      The dichotomy between love and hate (or setting aside) is thus easily
      explainable: the disciple should set aside his natural parents and love his
      "true" (spiritual) parents. This seems to me quite straight-forward. I now
      want to suggest, however, an interpretation of 101's brother saying 55 which
      isn't so straight-forward and which, indeed, has tonight occurred to me for
      the first time. While 55.1 is the same as 101.1 (except that 101.1 adds "in
      my way"), 55.2 is entirely different from the remainder of 101. After saying
      that the disciple must hate (or set aside) his parents, 55 goes on to say:

      "And hates his brothers and his sisters, and takes up his cross
      IN MY WAY, he will not become deserving to me."

      Note that 55.2 includes the phrase "in my way" that logion 101 has in its
      first sentence. Secondly, note that the Coptic has a special word for
      'cross'; the Greek loan-word 'stavros' is abbreviated to 's$os', where '$'
      is special symbol combining the 'T' and 'R'. I think this must be
      significant. It's the only special symbol used in GTh, and the form of the
      expression is that of a nominum sacrum. So it seems to me that 55.2 should
      seriously be regarded as invoking the suffering and/or martyrdom of Jesus,
      in spite of the fact that that isn't mentioned elsewhere in the text, except
      arguably 71 ("I will destroy this house..."). In the overall context of the
      work, however, it can't be actual physical martyrdom that's being
      recommended, and so it seems that the abnegation of the world and one's
      physical desires is being taken as a metaphorical equivalent of J's actual
      physical martyrdom. Thus, although 55 and 101 veer off in seemingly
      different directions from their near-identical first sentences, the two
      endings do seem to be related - "loving" one's spiritual parents amounts to
      "taking up [one's] cross in my way". Furthermore, if the "brothers and
      sisters" mentioned in 55 but not 101 are fellow-Christians of the
      non-ascetic variety, this may indicate a self-perceived separation of the
      GThomists from their more lenient (and centralized) brethren.

      A tangential observation: there's more than one place where the Coptic
      authors seemingly go out of their way to make two parallel statements just
      _slightly_ different from one another - as in 55.1 and 101.1. Whether this
      means anything, or what it might mean, I have no idea, but it does strike me
      as curious.

      Turning now to the subject matter proper of your note, I have to mention
      first that I made a slip about #107 - it's the shepherd, not Jesus, who's
      said to love the large sheep best. Furthermore, the implications are
      ambiguous - does the shepherd love the large sheep best because he went to
      such trouble to find him, or did he go to such trouble to find him because
      he loved him best?

      At any rate, I'm fairly well satisfied with your analysis of the great/small
      thingy, as far as it goes. I think, however, that it might be fruitful to
      bring to bear a couple of logia which mention duality:

      62.2: "That which you right will do, let not your left realize what it is."
      39.3: "Be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves."

      In 22, Jesus is made to say that the suckling infant is LIKE those who will
      enter the kingdom, but "like" perhaps only in innocence. For he goes on to
      give a number of requirements evidently BEYOND that of simply having
      childlike innocence. These additional requirements may be what makes the
      difference between the "small" and the "large" - or rather, what makes the
      "small" grow into the "large". Equating the "right" with "innocence" and the
      "left" with "shrewdness" in the above two sub-sayings suggests that
      "largeness" may consist in making these "two into one". This fundamental
      dualism may account for many (if not all) of the apparent conceptual
      inconsistencies - assuming that the authors had a coherent philosophy, that
      is. If, however, they were merely writing down a lot of stuff that they
      themselves didn't understand very well, that's a different story.

      We should also recall that the Greek fragments contain a relevant addition
      to #36: "Who might add to your stature? He it is who will give you your
      cloak." Assuming that the implication is that one "becomes large" by
      converting others who are "better" than oneself to the movement, it seems to
      me probable that a basic difference of philosophy between the Coptic and
      Greek authors best explains the difference in texts at that point. Perhaps
      the Greek version was less internally-oriented?

      Mike Grondin
      The Coptic Gospel of Thomas, saying-by-saying
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