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Re: [GTh] The evil mustard seed

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  • Michael Grondin
    ... But as you yourself observe elsewhere in this note, the same word can have been used literally in one saying, metaphorically in another. Why, then, should
    Message 1 of 14 , Oct 13, 2003
      Stephen Peter writes:

      > ... we can read [63] completely differently if we use the 'Thomas code'.
      > Riches are the kingdom of heaven.

      But as you yourself observe elsewhere in this note, the same word can have
      been used literally in one saying, metaphorically in another. Why, then,
      should we think that the concept of "riches/wealth" is such that it cannot
      have a literal meaning in this or any other saying? What gives it the
      privileged status of being part of some supposed "Thomas code" that would
      constrain the authors from ever using the term literally therein? I would
      think that parity of reasoning would suggest that "riches" could be
      sometimes literal, physical riches and sometimes metaphorical, spiritual
      riches.

      Mike Grondin
    • sarban
      ... From: Stephen To: GThomas Sent: Friday, October 10, 2003 3:38 PM Subject: [GTh] The evil mustard
      Message 2 of 14 , Oct 14, 2003
        ----- Original Message -----
        From: "Stephen" <stephen@...>
        To: "GThomas" <gthomas@yahoogroups.com>
        Sent: Friday, October 10, 2003 3:38 PM
        Subject: [GTh] The evil mustard seed


        > The parable of the mustard seed has long been puzzling. The comparison of
        the kingdom of heaven to the weed like mustard bush seems curiously
        inappropriate. Could it be that the real interpretation is to turn the
        parable around completely and take it as a warning about losing the kingdom
        of heaven?
        >
        <SNIP>
        >
        > 20) The disciples said to Jesus: Tell us what the kingdom of heaven is
        like. He said to them: It is like a grain of mustard-seed, smaller than all
        seeds; but when it falls on the earth which is tilled, it puts forth a great
        branch, and becomes shelter for the birds of heaven.
        >
        > It does not read like a negative saying - but then it has been translated
        more than once by people who doubtless believed that the mustard seed
        represented the kingdom of heaven.
        >
        > However the mustard bush is a fast growing noxious weed on tilled ground.
        In the parable of the sower the weeds stop the seed from growing. Also in
        the parable of the sower birds are negative agents or thieves of the seed.
        This suggests that the negative interpretation is the correct one.
        >
        > In this negative interpretation the mustard seed is a small element of
        evil that enters into the heart. If it is allowed to remain it will grow
        rapidly and eventually cause the person to lose the kingdom. This meaning
        is similar to that of other sayings - be ever vigilant against the forces of
        evil and do not permit them the smallest foothold in the kingdom.
        >
        I found this interesting, (though not IMHO necessarily convincing),
        partly because there is a minority tradition of interpretation of the
        canonical parable of the mustard seed, where the parable represents
        not the victory of the Kingdom but its corruption by the forces of this
        world.

        Andrew Criddle
      • Stephen
        Tom, To reply to some points in your post - ... and bounty for the birds as the parable describes. (We know this due to the work of Jack Kilman.) I think
        Message 3 of 14 , Oct 15, 2003
          Tom,

          To reply to some points in your post -
          >
          > The mustard plant of the area is a black mustard plant that supplies shade
          and bounty for the birds as the parable describes. (We know this due to the
          work of Jack Kilman.) I think that seeing the "evil mustard seed' is not
          the intention of the parable.
          >
          It seems to me that there are two aspects to a good parable -

          1. It should be a realistic description of something within the direct
          experience of the people it is aimed at, and
          2. It should give a deep similitude to the religious or mystic concept it
          is trying to express.

          The fact that the mustard bush does give benefits to the birds enhances 1
          but tells us nothing about 2.

          On a personal note I have this year been trying to seed some areas of my
          garden and suffered the frustration of watching the pigeons eat up my hard
          work! I can only imagine what those living by primitive farming methods on
          the thin dividing line between survival and starvation must feel when the
          birds descend to eat the seed. I don't think that they would consider a
          plant growing on tilled land that gives cover to birds to be something to be
          admired.


          > Saying 98 is a parable that I have used in studying martial technique.
          The sword and the wall is actually a meditative device well known by some
          (it was kept a secret for a long time) that enables you to put sights on the
          movement of the sword. You simply visualize the wall, and draw imaginary
          lines from the corner of the wall to the tip of the sword. This enables you
          to use this space as a target matrix for offense and defense.
          > (I hope to have an article published soon on this very thing)
          >
          > Using the Devil as the target for 98, I think is minimal and idealistic in
          the sense it might justify assassination. However, I don't think this is the
          intention of the parable.
          >

          Thank you for this very interesting information. However if it turns out
          that swordsmen really did use their house walls for sword practice does it
          not enhance the realism of the parable without necessarily telling us what
          it means? I do not feel the conventional 'trial of strength' interpretation
          exhibits a deep similitude to the parable - which would mean that the
          parable writer was incompetent, one thing I do not think the original author
          of Thomas is.

          Stephen Peter
        • Achilles37@aol.com
          Stephen - ... Your translation uses possessions here, but Lambdin uses money and Mike Grondin translates riches. The idea seems to have been that he
          Message 4 of 14 , Oct 15, 2003
            Stephen -

            You write:

            > Our reading of 63 is conditioned by the
            > version we have all grown up with in Luke.
            > The Luke story is a nice little morality
            > tale about the consequences of concentrating
            > on plans for wealth rather than God. But
            > is this what the story originally meant?
            > To repeat the Thomas 63 -

            > Jesus said: There was a rich man who had
            > many possessions. He said: I will use my
            > possessions that I may sow and reap and
            > plant, and fill my barns with fruit, that
            > I may have need of nothing. These were
            > his thoughts in his heart. And in that
            > night he died. He that hath ears, let him
            > hear.

            > We can see that this works less well than
            > the Luke version in terms of the meaning
            > Luke assigns to it. The rich man does not
            > seem to be a farmer yet he uses his
            > possessions to 'sow, reap and plant' which
            > is odd.

            Your translation uses "possessions" here, but Lambdin uses "money" and Mike Grondin translates "riches." The idea seems to have been that he would use his wealth to fill his storehouses so that he would "lack nothing."

            > Moreover if the man is a farmer then there
            > does not seem anything wrong with his
            > behaviour - after all what else are farmers
            > supposed to do if not 'sow reap and plant'?

            We are not told that he is a farmer but that he is a rich man. The emphasis in the first line is on the fact that he is wealthy both in the description of the man and in the comment about the "riches" he had. Then the emphasis is on his thoughts, which do not involve either God or his fellow man. From there the story shifts to his sudden demise and the counsel to hear what is being said.

            > Yet we can read this completely differently if we
            > use the 'Thomas code'. Riches are the kingdom of
            > heaven. The processes of sowing and reaping is
            > bringing about the kingdom in others. This gives
            > us the interpretation of a man in possession of
            > the kingdom of heaven who has plans to convert
            > others and help them to the kingdom but who has
            > not actually commenced doing this before he dies.
            > The moral of the story is that a person with the
            > kingdom of heaven must start to 'sow reap and plant'
            > immediately and not put it off until tomorrow.

            So he is really an altruistic person who dies before being able to accomplish his benevolent work of sharing the kingdom? That interpretation is difficult to reconcile with the fact that the story explicitly tells us his innermost thoughts revolved around arranging things so that he himself lacked nothing. Neither God nor fellow man are mentioned in his intentions. So I think it is difficult to defend such a reading.

            It also seems to me that there is another text which tends to confirm the idea here that the man is not someone in possession of the kingdom and thinking about sharing it but, instead, is someone entrenched in the riches of this world without a thought for God. The text I am referring to is James 4:13-15.

            James 13-15 ~
            13Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." 14Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."

            I think that James' point here is the same as the point being made in Thomas 63. I think that Luke's version is making the same point, but that it has been expanded to include, among other things, an actual appearance by God (in which God calls the man a "fool") and a generalizing conclusion ("So is he that lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."). Now the tendency to put in a moralizing conclusion may have arisen from a version in which the conclusion was not already drawn for the listener/reader, such as Thomas 63. So I do agree with you that the Lukan version may have ultimately been dependent on such a version as Thomas 63, though our reasons for believing this are different.

            > In 78 the 'powerful ones' are intended to be
            > taken literally whereas in 98 the meaning
            > is clearly metaphoric - that is unless you
            > believe that Jesus was really intending his
            > followers to commit murder!

            No, I don't think Jesus is encouraging assassination here any more than I think he is encouraging robbery in GTh 35.

            But I am glad that you are willing to admit that the "powerful ones" are not always to be simply equated with those in possession of the Kingdom. Neither, I would argue, are the "rich." When Jesus says in the synoptics that it is harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom, clearly this "rich man" is not in possession of the kingdom.

            While I grant you that entering into the reign of God can be represented as becoming (spiritually) rich, (note that in GTh 3 the opposite of the Kingdom is "poverty"), not every rich man we encounter in Thomas can automatically be assumed to be in possession of the Kingdom and the rich man of GTh 63 is a case in point.

            > The conventional reading about 98 does not explain
            > the very powerful image of the man putting the sword
            > through the wall of his own house. If the
            > assassin is a demon damaging his own house, the body,
            > in order to prove his strength then this powerful
            > image becomes central.

            I suppose I tend to favor what you are calling the "conventional" interpretations here: that the strong man in saying 35 represents the adversarial force you are trying to overcome as does the powerful man of saying 98. I think that we are supposed to focus on the act of preparation in both cases - binding the stong man's hands in GTh 35 and putting the sword through the wall in 98. To go further, as you do, to say that "If the assassin is a demon damaging his own house, the body, in order to prove his strength then this powerful image becomes central" is not, in my opinion, warranted by the text. The act of preparation is central to either reading of the story and making the assassin out to be the adversary rather than the powerful man does not change the fact that the assassin tests his strength before attacking. When you make the assassin's "house" into the demon's "body" so that his test of strength involves some form of self-mutilation, you begin to wander outside a strict reading of the text and, at that point, all bets are off.

            Regards,

            - Kevin Johnson
          • Tom Saunders
            Hi Stephen, I agree with your contention about parables: 1. It should be a realistic description of something within the direct experience of the people it is
            Message 5 of 14 , Oct 15, 2003
              Hi Stephen,

              I agree with your contention about parables:

              1. It should be a realistic description of something within the direct
              experience of the people it is aimed at, and
              2. It should give a deep similitude to the religious or mystic concept it
              is trying to express.

              One realistic description of experience we can apply to the early Roman Empire is how they trained with swords. You were given a wooden sword and a shield weighing twice the actual weight and after you
              sunk a poll in the ground you spent six hours a day pounding your sword against that stake, sometimes for months.

              Orientals trained a little differently but just as grueling. Whether its the poll or the wall, that becomes your field or battle grid. It becomes the vision by which you must work. So in that respect the wall or stake becomes the storehouse of martial technique which would correspond to the mystic concept the act of practicing the sword in the wall, is trying to express.

              Tom Saunders
              Platter, OK

              [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
            • Michael Grondin
              ... I know that martial arts is your field of expertise, Tom, and so that is what you see in logion 98, but in my view this is barking up the wrong tree.
              Message 6 of 14 , Oct 15, 2003
                Tom Saunders wrote:
                > ... the wall or stake becomes the storehouse of martial technique
                > which would correspond to the mystic concept the act of practicing
                > the sword in the wall, is trying to express.

                I know that martial arts is your field of expertise, Tom, and so that is
                what you see in logion 98, but in my view this is barking up the wrong tree.
                There's no indication that the assassin is interested in martial arts for
                its own sake - still less that he's a soldier (who would not have had to
                practice in his own home); rather, the implication is that he takes up the
                sword simply because he wants to kill somebody. He wants to make sure that
                he can go through with it, and this implies that up to the moment he decides
                to kill the 'megistanos', he hasn't used his sword much, if at all. In
                short, he's an amateur.

                Who was the parable addressed to? Roman soldiers? Eastern martial arts
                practicioners? I feel sure that both of these are unlikely, and that we
                ought to look instead to the few spots in the NT where some of J's disciples
                are said to possess swords. Most folks are familiar with the mention of a
                disciple drawing his sword and cutting off the ear of the servant of the
                high priest during the arrest in the garden. The synoptics don't name this
                disciple, but according to GJn, it was Peter, of all people! Then again in
                Luke, there's an odd little passage (22:35-38) indicating (to my
                sensibilities) that, immediately before going into the garden, Jesus
                _ordered_ his disciples to carry at least a few swords (when someone says,
                "Here's two!" he responds "That's enough.") so as to fulfill Isa 53:12 ("And
                he was numbered with transgressors.") Since neither Mark nor Matt mentions
                this "prophecy", however, the accounts may have derived from a tradition
                that some disciples _did_ carry swords, at least on occasion. If this is so,
                there would have been some in J's entourage to whom the parable would have
                been meaningful, and we need not suppose that they were either Roman
                soldiers or Eastern martial arts enthusiasts. They may have been just
                ordinary men who happened to carry swords for self-protection.

                Mike Grondin
                Mt. Clemens, MI
              • Michael Grondin
                Stephen- I m confused about deep similitude . It sounds good, but the your use of it is rather perplexing. You say at first that a parable should give deep
                Message 7 of 14 , Oct 16, 2003
                  Stephen-

                  I'm confused about "deep similitude". It sounds good, but the your use of it
                  is rather perplexing. You say at first that a parable should "give deep
                  similitude" to the concept it's trying to express, and then later that you
                  don't think that a certain interpretation "exhibits a deep similitude" to
                  the parable in 98. These are two different things, I would think. Bearing in
                  mind that 'similitude' simply means 'similarity', these two statements seem
                  to be substantially equivalent to:

                  1. A parable should be very similar to the concept it's expressing, and
                  2. An interpretation should be very similar to the parable it's
                  interpreting.

                  I suppose what you're trying to say is that the parable-maker in this case
                  could hardly have chosen such an image as an amateur assassin to illustrate
                  what the Kingdom is like. So here and also with the mustard-seed, you think
                  that the image might have been intended to invoke evil. (BTW, the swordsman
                  thrusts his sword _into_ the wall, not _through_ it.) But perhaps the
                  intended lesson of some of these parables is that the initiation of the
                  Kingdom - like childbirth - isn't pretty.

                  BTW, 98 ties in rather nicely with the saying about the kingdom being both
                  internal and external.

                  Mike Grondin
                  Mt. Clemens, MI
                • Tom Saunders
                  Hi Mike, Thank you for your response. I agree completely that the parable of the sword and the wall is aimed at what you refer to as ordinary people, and
                  Message 8 of 14 , Oct 16, 2003
                    Hi Mike,

                    Thank you for your response. I agree completely that the parable of the 'sword and the wall' is aimed at what you refer to as ordinary people, and not trained fighters. However the act of practicing with a sword to use it qualifies as an interest in the practice of martial arts, we'll call it technique.

                    When you use the visualization of the wall as a target, you are doing a form of meditation that lets you use the 'vision' to evaluate both offensive and defensive moves. Using this visualization in actual combat or the act of assassination gives you a higher level of understanding how the sword can be used. It also lets you experience the commitment to the meditation, and turning that into a reality. Very mystical.

                    Saying 98, is a key to using the tool of a 'vision' and I think the other parables can be reasoned the same. Think about the 'passage of the soul' against the seven demons of wrath in Mary. To paraphrase the GMary..... "Put the vision between the soul and the spirit in the mind, then fight 'your' demons, by becoming a person of light."

                    Also, "Thank you Mike Mazina.......

                    Tom Saunders
                    Platter, OK


                    [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                  • George Duffy
                    Mike, In regard to Th98, I want to go back to something you wrote in reply to Frank McCoy in a message dated 6/7/2001. At the time, I was so intrigued by the
                    Message 9 of 14 , Oct 16, 2003
                      Mike,

                      In regard to Th98, I want to go back to something you wrote in reply
                      to Frank McCoy in a message dated 6/7/2001. At the time, I was so
                      intrigued by the implications of your remark that I saved it in my
                      documents folder with the idea of asking you about it sometime later.
                      Unfortunately, I neglected to do so, and you, as far as I know, never
                      brought it up again.

                      In the message, you were suggesting a connection between the meaning
                      of Th98 and Th97; that looking at Th98 in a different way might begin
                      to answer the problem of Gth97. Gth98 reads:

                      "Jesus said, 'The kingdom of the father is like a certain man who
                      wanted to kill a powerful man. In his own house he drew his sword and
                      stuck it into the wall in order to find out whether his hand could
                      carry through. Then he slew the powerful man.'"


                      Mike Grondin wrote on 6/7/2001:

                      "One little word may be crucial - the word 'TOTE'.
                      Normally, it's translated 'then', but it seems to have a temporal
                      dimension as well - as in 'at that moment' or 'just then'. What a
                      difference it makes if we read Th98 as saying at the end, "At that
                      moment [i.e., when he stuck the sword in the wall], he slew the
                      powerful man""!


                      Yes indeed, accepting that the word 'TOTE' may be translated as 'at
                      that moment' makes a big difference in how we might understand this
                      saying. Let me try to give you my take on the saying as a whole,
                      while employing your translation suggestion.

                      My feeling is that Jesus here is not describing an external event, but
                      an internal event. I feel the same way about TH9, the saying about
                      the man and the lion, bent on consuming each other. I don't think
                      that that saying is any more about real lions than this one is about
                      real swords. The kingdom of the father, the realm of truth and
                      enlightenment, is revealed to the one who can overcome *internally*
                      his baser or worldly nature and allow his divine nature to shine
                      through. Gth98 is a symbolic depiction of this epic struggle that
                      endlessly goes on in the minds of human beings.

                      In Gth98 the assassin is the seeker who has had his fill of the world
                      and wants to be free, psychologically and spiritually free. He knows
                      that half measures won't work. The realm of the world is both a
                      prison and a force that is so powerful that both the realm of God and
                      the worldly realm can't coexist together in peace. So in Th47 we
                      read, "it is impossible for a servent to serve two masters; otherwise,
                      he will honor the one and treat the other contemptuously." In Th35
                      the strong man must be bound before his house can be ransacked, again
                      I think, representing the internal bind or be bound struggle between
                      man's worldly nature and his divine.

                      So knowing that half measures won't work, the man decides to eliminate
                      the powerful man, a symbol representing the part of himself he must be
                      free of. I don't believe that the powerful man here represents the
                      body, as an external thing to be eliminated. That wouldn't do the man
                      much good. But the *idea* of the body, as his identity, as something
                      separate from God and separate from everything else, that's the part
                      of his thinking that he want's to eliminate from his mind altogether.

                      Now since this struggle is internal, the man can only destroy his
                      allegence to and identity with the world by cutting his connection
                      with it internally. He has to stop believing it has any real power
                      over him, stop trusting it, stop feeding it with whatever ego
                      enhancers he has at hand. In short, he must totally align himself
                      with its opposite, which Thomas identifies as the kingdom of the
                      father, one or union.

                      But our boy is scared. Who wouldn't be, facing such a formidable foe.
                      So he cautiously cuts into the wall of his house to test his nerve.
                      This "house" is also a symbol. It's not a real house. It represents
                      the *structure* of his world-dominated belief system. It's this house
                      that I think Jesus refers to in Th71, when he says, "I shall [destroy
                      this]house, and no one will be able to build it [...]" Destroying
                      this structure of thinking is basic, I think, to the purpose of these
                      sayings.

                      Now this is where I return to what you said, Mike, about "TOTE". The
                      saying deliberately employs a word that can be used in two ways.
                      That's what makes this saying so damn clever. It rewards those
                      willing to probe deeper into this little maze. It seems to be saying,
                      "after that, he slew the powerful man." But what I think it's really
                      saying is that when the man assaults the wall of the house, the very
                      structure of his world-dominated belief system, *at that very moment*
                      the powerful ego-driven nature is slain. An internal problem is fixed
                      with an internal solution. This understanding of Th98 seems to me to
                      be totally consistent with the gospel as a whole. It repeats the
                      theme of learning to know who we really are.

                      Thanks,

                      George Duffy
                    • Michael Grondin
                      ... That may be so, but I doubt whether the prospective audience would have understood the surface details of the parable in this way, thus I doubt that this
                      Message 10 of 14 , Oct 16, 2003
                        Tom Saunders wrote:
                        > When you use the visualization of the wall as a target, you are doing
                        > a form of meditation that lets you use the 'vision' to evaluate both
                        > offensive and defensive moves. Using this visualization in actual
                        > combat or the act of assassination gives you a higher level of
                        > understanding how the sword can be used. It also lets you
                        > experience the commitment to the meditation, and turning that into
                        > a reality. Very mystical.

                        That may be so, but I doubt whether the prospective audience would have
                        understood the surface details of the parable in this way, thus I doubt that
                        this was the intended interpretation.

                        Mike Grondin
                      • Stephen
                        Mike, A parable is a way of expressing some theological or mystical concept A in terms of a story B . By deep similitude I meant that there should be some
                        Message 11 of 14 , Oct 17, 2003
                          Mike,

                          A parable is a way of expressing some theological or mystical concept 'A' in
                          terms of a story 'B'. By deep similitude I meant that there should be some
                          mapping of A onto B so that the important features of the story B correspond
                          to important features in the explanation A.

                          To apply this to 98 - the most striking (no pun intended!) feature of the
                          story is the image of the man putting the sword into the wall of his own
                          house. If we were to interpret the story as just a trail of strength before
                          slaying the devil then there is no explanation of why this trail of strength
                          takes this form. So I would reject this simple 'trial of strength'
                          explanation as being inadequate. If however the explanation was that the
                          trial of strength was some mortification of the flesh before going on to
                          slay the devil then this would give an explanation of the sword being struck
                          into the persons own house. You could say that the interpretation has
                          passed this test - although it may still not be the correct one!

                          The second problem with the 'trial of strength interpretation is indeed that
                          the assassin is evil and I believe is more likely to represent an evil force
                          rather than a person seeking the kingdom.

                          Personally I still favour the explanation that the house is a person's body,
                          the powerful man is a person's spirit. I take the state of being possessed
                          with the spirit as being the same as the kingdom of heaven, the imperial
                          rule of god. A demon attempting to destroy the spirit will first strike at
                          the body, his own house. I do not think the Gnostics would have had many
                          problems with seeing the physical body as belonging to the devil. If the
                          demon wins this trial of strength at the bodily level he will go on to slay
                          the spirit.

                          Stephen Peter


                          ----- Original Message -----
                          From: Michael Grondin <mwgrondin@...>
                          To: <gthomas@yahoogroups.com>
                          Sent: Thursday, October 16, 2003 1:17 PM
                          Subject: Re: [GTh] The evil mustard seed


                          > Stephen-
                          >
                          > I'm confused about "deep similitude". It sounds good, but the your use of
                          it
                          > is rather perplexing. You say at first that a parable should "give deep
                          > similitude" to the concept it's trying to express, and then later that you
                          > don't think that a certain interpretation "exhibits a deep similitude" to
                          > the parable in 98. These are two different things, I would think. Bearing
                          in
                          > mind that 'similitude' simply means 'similarity', these two statements
                          seem
                          > to be substantially equivalent to:
                          >
                          > 1. A parable should be very similar to the concept it's expressing, and
                          > 2. An interpretation should be very similar to the parable it's
                          > interpreting.
                          >
                          > I suppose what you're trying to say is that the parable-maker in this case
                          > could hardly have chosen such an image as an amateur assassin to
                          illustrate
                          > what the Kingdom is like. So here and also with the mustard-seed, you
                          think
                          > that the image might have been intended to invoke evil. (BTW, the
                          swordsman
                          > thrusts his sword _into_ the wall, not _through_ it.) But perhaps the
                          > intended lesson of some of these parables is that the initiation of the
                          > Kingdom - like childbirth - isn't pretty.
                          >
                          > BTW, 98 ties in rather nicely with the saying about the kingdom being both
                          > internal and external.
                          >
                          > Mike Grondin
                          > Mt. Clemens, MI
                          >
                          >
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