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Re: [GTh] Lost Christianities

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  • sarban
    ... From: fmmccoy To: Sent: Tuesday, February 10, 2004 5:30 PM Subject: Re: [GTh] Lost Christianities ...
    Message 1 of 9 , Feb 11, 2004
      ----- Original Message -----
      From: "fmmccoy" <FMMCCOY@...>
      To: <gthomas@yahoogroups.com>
      Sent: Tuesday, February 10, 2004 5:30 PM
      Subject: Re: [GTh] Lost Christianities


      >
      >
      > Hi Andrew!
      >
      > Thanks for the tip on this research paper by Lasse Collman. I wonder if
      he
      > was named after Lasse Viren, who won gold in the 5K and 10K at both the 72
      > and 76 Olympics.
      >
      > As respects the context of 50, he lists four possible scenarios:
      > 1. A catechism paradigm
      > 2. Community dispute
      > 3. Interrogations of the soul at death
      > 4. Interrogations during mystical ascents.
      > Besides these four, I am aware of another one as well, i.e., a missionary
      > briefing (a suggestion made by Hugh Montefiore and H.E.W. Turner in Thomas
      > and the Evangelists (p. 86)).
      >
      > He thinks the second (i.e., community dispute) is unlikely. However, we
      > certainly know that there were disputes between the Thomas people and the
      > scribes and Pharisees (39 and 102). Also, judging by 13, where Matthew is
      > found wanting and so is the hero of Matthew's gospel (i.e., Peter), there
      > were disputes between the Thomas people and the Matthew people. So, I am
      > inclined to see the "they" of 50 as being opponents of the Thomas
      > people--most likely, Pharisees and/or Matthew people.
      >
      The questions asked appear unilkely IMO to be ones
      literally asked by human religious opponents.

      > The one he selects as most likely is the fourth one, i.e., interrogations
      > during mystical ascents. However, there apparently are no other sayings
      in
      > Thomas that regard mystical ascents, so I think this unlikely.

      I think it is at least as likely to be an ascent after death
      as a mystical ascent during life
      >
      > He notes that heavenly ascents before death are spoken of in Jewish
      > apocryphal literature, in Jewish Hekhalot literature, and in the Mithras
      > Liturgy.
      >
      > However, he then oversteps by appealing to Praem (43), where Philo states,
      > "These no doubt are truly admirable persons and superior to the other
      > classes. They have as I said from down to up by a sort of heavenly ladder
      > and by reason and reflection happily inferred the Creator from His works."
      >
      > Regarding this passage from Philo, he states (Ibid.), "This parallel is
      > extremely remarkable. Besides it gives us proof that motif of a heavenly
      > ladder is also known in Greek philosophy, it gives us additionally proper
      > proof that at the time of Philo (15BCE - 50 CE) already such a mystical
      > tradition similar to the Merkovah - mysticiesm of our Hekhalot literature
      > existed."
      >
      > However, Philo isn't referring to a literal heavenly ladder, nor is he
      > speaking about a mystical ascent into heaven. Rather, he is referring to
      > those who, noting how well-ordered and beautiful the Cosmos is, have
      > inferred from this the existence of God and His care for what He has
      > created. So, he states in 42 (which immediately precedes the citation
      from
      > 43 above), "Struck with admiration and astonishment they arrived at a
      > conception according with what they beheld, that surely all these beauties
      > and this transcendent order has not come into being automatically but by
      the
      > handiwork of an architect and world maker; also that there must be a
      > providence, for it is a law of nature that a maker should take care of
      what
      > has been made."

      I absolutely agree with you that Philo is not relevant at all here

      >
      > Then, he notes, in the Jewish apocryphal literature and in the Jewish
      > Hekhalot literature, it is common for one making a heavenly ascent to be
      > confronted by angelic beings whose job is to keep the unworthy out of the
      > heavenly realm. Various techniques are used to get passed them, e.g.,
      > showing them a seal, having a heavenly escort, outwitting them with magic,
      > speaking the password, and (perhaps relevant to 50) having the proper
      > answers for questions they ask you.
      >
      > Looking at this literature, it appears to me that most (if not all) of it
      is
      > second century CE or later. This raises questions, IMO, as to its
      > applicability to GTh 50.
      >
      > Next, he turns to the Mithras Liturgy. This appears to be horribly
      > mis-named for, judging by the citations he makes from it, it is a
      > hodge-podge of Egyptian religious and magical beliefs into which a little
      > Hellenistic and Jewish thought is sprinkled. It does mention a
      > Helios-Mithras, but, in Mithraism, Helios and Mithra(s) are separate
      > deities. Mithra(s) is the Kosmokrator, who controls the celestial sphere
      of
      > the fixed stars, while Helios rules the inner sphere of the planets.
      >
      > He states that it is third to sixth century CE, but appears to contain
      much
      > earlier material.

      The papyrus containing the Mithras liturgy is usually dated to
      the fourth century CE
      >
      > In any event, the conceptual universe of the Mithras Liturgy is so alien
      to
      > the conceptual universe of the Thomas community, that I do not think that
      > the Mithras Liturgy has any bearing on how to interpret 50.
      >
      > Next, he turns to 2 Cor 12:1-4, where Paul speaks of how a man was
      > transported, whether in body or not is uncertain, into the third heaven.
      > This is very important, for it established that, in Jewish thought, the
      > concept of a heavenly ascent while one is still alive was in existence in
      > the first part of the first century CE. However, this person apparently
      > didn't have to confront any angelic powers in his ascent, so the relevance
      > of this to 50 is highly unlikely.
      >
      > Next he turns to the Apocalypse of Paul, where Paul, in his ascent through
      > the heavens, is confronted by an old man who asks Paul questions and
      expects
      > the right answers. He does not date this text, so I am uncertain as to
      > whether it is earlier or later than Thomas. If it is earlier than Thomas,
      > then it might be relevant to 50. However, I suspect that it is later than
      > Thomas..

      The apocalypse of Paul is usually dated to the fourth century CE
      Its exact date is uncertain but as you suspect it is later than Thomas
      >
      > Next, he turns to the Gospel of Mary, where the soul is asked questions
      and
      > must give the right answer. He notes that it is third century CE, so it
      is
      > considerably later than Thomas. Consequently, I doubt that it has any
      > relevance to 50.
      >
      > Then, after a brief summary, he notes that there are two texts, the
      > Apocalypse of Paul and 3rd Enoch, in which one making a heavenly ascent is
      > asked three questions. They represent, he suggests, close parallels to
      50,
      > which involves three questions.
      >
      > As already mentioned, he doesn't date the Apocalypse of Paul.
      >
      > As for 3rd Enoch, he dates it (sort-of) later in this paper. He included
      it
      > in the Hekhalot literature, which he dates c. 200-700 CE and then includes
      > it in a list of Hekhalot literature he dates to 2/3 century CE. However,
      > how can any of this literature be 2nd century CE when the earliest such
      > literature is c. 200 CE? Since it appears to date to c. 200 CE or later,
      it
      > appears to be older than Thomas, so that its applicability to 50 appears
      to
      > be improbable.

      The Hekhalot literature is IMO 4th century or later. However it
      includes numerous alleged quotations from 2nd century rabbis.
      If these quotes are authentic (which is unlikely IMHO) then the
      core of the material would go back to the 2nd century.
      >
      > Next, he raises the question of whether 59 relates to mystical ascents.
      It
      > reads, "Take heed of the Living One while you are alive, lest you die and
      > seek to see Him and be unable to do so."
      >
      > Sure, it's conceivable that "seek to see Him" means "seek to ascend into
      > heaven to see Him", but I find it highly unlikely. I suspect that, the
      > Thomas community believed, God resides within His Kingdom, which is both
      > inside you and outside you (3) and spread out on the earth (110). So, I
      > think it *highly* unlikely that, they believed, to see God one must ascend
      > up into some heavenly sphere outside of the Cosmos, meeting angelic powers
      > along the way to which one must give the proper answers to questions
      asked.
      >
      > Next, he turns to a discussion of the Hekalot literature--which discussion
      > involves the dating discrepencies mentioned above. He states that it
      > "describes the so-called Jewish Merkavah mysticism."
      >
      > He also notes that, while heavenly ascents in the Jewish apocryphal
      > literature frequently involve some sort of aid, e.g., lifted up by an
      angel
      > or by a whirlwind, heavenly ascents in Merkavah mysticism do not.
      >
      > He describes the requirements for one to able to make a mystical ascent
      and
      > they include such things as study of the Torah, obedience to the Law,
      > fasting, ritual washings, praying, etc.. In short, the requirements are,
      > basically, the sorts of things that people are told *not* to do in Thomas.
      >
      > He ends by noting that there are some differences between heavenly ascents
      > in Gnostic thought and in Merkavah mysticism, e.g., the angelic powers who
      > confront the ascending person tend to be evil in Gnostic thought, but not
      so
      > in Merkavah mysticism.
      >
      > I seriously doubt the relevance of the Hekalot literature to 50. Not only
      > is the literature later than Thomas, but the whole conceptual mind set of
      > the Hekalot literature (study the Torah, obey the Law, fast, ritually wash
      > oneself, pray, etc.) is utterly alien to Thomas thought.

      You make some very good points. On the other hand one could
      argue that the presence of heavenly ascents in the third and fourth
      centuries in such diverse sources as the Mithras liturgy and the
      Hekhalot literature implies an origin for such ideas in much earlier
      times.
      Both may be somewhat alien to the world of Thomas but they are
      even more alien to each other.
      To some extent it depends on the date of Thomas and Logion 50.
      I would agree that a date in the 1st century CE makes reference to
      mystical ascents unlikely, whereas I would have no problem if the
      date is 150 or later.

      >
      > Here, as I perceive it, are some weaknesses in the argument that 50
      regards
      > a meeting with angelic powers by someone making a mystic ascent into a
      > heavenly realm populated by God and the angelic hosts:
      > (1) there is a failure to establish that the idea that one making a mystic
      > ascent into heaven will be confronted by angelic powers who will ask
      > questions for which one needs the right answers to proceed existed in the
      > first century CE. As a result, there is a serious question as to whether
      > the application of this idea to 50 is anachronistic in nature.
      > (2) there is a failure to establish that, in Thomas thought, there is a
      > heaven literally above us where dwells God and the heavenly hosts. It is
      > noteworthy that, in Thomas, the Kingdom is said to be both the Kingdom of
      > God and the Kingdom of Heaven. So, I would think, in Thomas thought, the
      > heavenly realm where dwells God is the Kingdom--which is both within us
      and
      > invisibly spread over the earth. If so, then the Thomas community didn't
      > even believe in a heaven literally above us where dwells God and the
      > heavenly hosts, much less try to mystically ascend to such a place.
      > (3) there is a failure to establish that any other passage in Thomas
      regards
      > mystical ascents. 59 conceivably might, but, as mentioned, this appears
      to
      > be *highly* unlikely.
      > (4) Almost all of the literature cited appears to be later than Thomas,
      > which raises serious questions as to its applicability to 50.
      > (5) the Mithras Liturgy is a horribly misnamed collection of primarily
      Pagan
      > thought, much of which regards magical techniques, and the Merkavay
      > mysticism is based on a zealous for the Law type of Judaism, so it seems
      > that they are too alien to Thomas thought to have any impact on 50.
      > (6) the Jewish Apocryphal literature might have some bearing on 50, but
      the
      > failure to date the cited literature leaves one in the dark as to whether
      > any of it is early enough to be Pre-Thomas. Indeed, I suspect, all the
      > quoted works (i.e., 3rd Enoch, Gem r (Bavli Hagigah), Apocalypse of
      Abraham,
      > and Ascension of Isaiah) are later than Thomas.

      If Thomas is 2nd century then Ascension of Isaiah might be
      contemporary I agree all the others are considerably later.

      > (7) there are some hints in this paper that there is evidence of
      > mystical ascents in the Dead Sea scrolls. I presume the reference is to
      > works like Songs for the Holocaust of the Sabbath (4Q400-407, 11Q17,
      Masada
      > 1039-200). However, hints won't do. We need to have the evidence laid
      out,
      > so it can be critically examined.

      I share your doubts whether the Qumran material is relevant
      IMO it is more about men on earth sharing in Angelic worship
      than about mystical ascent.

      The general issue as mentioned above is the diversity of witnesses to
      heavenly ascents from at least 300 onward. IMO this makes it an idea
      which is developing in the 2nd century among esoteric thinkers. If
      Thomas in its present form dates from the 2nd century it could witness
      to an early form of this idea. If Logion 50 dates from before AD 70
      I would agree it would be unlikely

      Andrew Criddle
    • rusty
      ... ... ... to ... witness ... If I may be so bold, ISTM that the concept of mystical ascents arose at least by the 5th Century BCE. I would
      Message 2 of 9 , Feb 14, 2004
        --- In gthomas@yahoogroups.com, "sarban" <sarban@s...> wrote:
        <snip>
        > I would agree that a date in the 1st century CE makes reference to
        > mystical ascents unlikely, whereas I would have no problem if the
        > date is 150 or later.
        >
        <snip>
        > The general issue as mentioned above is the diversity of witnesses
        to
        > heavenly ascents from at least 300 onward. IMO this makes it an idea
        > which is developing in the 2nd century among esoteric thinkers. If
        > Thomas in its present form dates from the 2nd century it could
        witness
        > to an early form of this idea. If Logion 50 dates from before AD 70
        > I would agree it would be unlikely
        >
        > Andrew Criddle

        If I may be so bold, ISTM that the concept of mystical ascents arose
        at least by the 5th Century BCE. I would offer as an example
        Parmenides Proem as pre-Socratic evidence.

        When you say "developing in the 2nd century among esoteric thinkers"
        do you refer to the Ophites for example?

        Rusty
      • sarban
        ... From: rusty To: Sent: Saturday, February 14, 2004 1:40 PM Subject: Re: [GTh] Lost Christianities
        Message 3 of 9 , Feb 14, 2004
          ----- Original Message -----
          From: "rusty" <delightmaker1950@...>
          To: <gthomas@yahoogroups.com>
          Sent: Saturday, February 14, 2004 1:40 PM
          Subject: Re: [GTh] Lost Christianities


          > --- In gthomas@yahoogroups.com, "sarban" <sarban@s...> wrote:
          > <snip>
          > > I would agree that a date in the 1st century CE makes reference to
          > > mystical ascents unlikely, whereas I would have no problem if the
          > > date is 150 or later.
          > >
          > <snip>
          > > The general issue as mentioned above is the diversity of witnesses
          > to
          > > heavenly ascents from at least 300 onward. IMO this makes it an idea
          > > which is developing in the 2nd century among esoteric thinkers. If
          > > Thomas in its present form dates from the 2nd century it could
          > witness
          > > to an early form of this idea. If Logion 50 dates from before AD 70
          > > I would agree it would be unlikely
          > >
          > > Andrew Criddle
          >
          > If I may be so bold, ISTM that the concept of mystical ascents arose
          > at least by the 5th Century BCE. I would offer as an example
          > Parmenides Proem as pre-Socratic evidence.
          >

          I'm not sure that Parmenides's allegorical account of his passage
          from the realm of night to the realm of day counts as an ascent
          narrative at all.
          However, I entirely agree that there are a number of pre-Christian
          ascent narratives, eg some of the myths in Plato's dialogues, some
          early apocalyptic (I Enoch), the 'Dream of Scipio' etc.
          What I meant by the idea of heavenly ascents is when such ascents
          become a standard form of spiritual experience to be sought after by
          specific spiritual exercises.
          I egard this concept as something that arises in the 2nd century CE

          > When you say "developing in the 2nd century among esoteric thinkers"
          > do you refer to the Ophites for example?
          >
          The Ophites according to Celsus according to Origen would be one
          example. Some of the Nag Hammadi texts would also be relevant.
          (A good example is the Hermetic Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth
          also see the treatises Zostrianos and Allogenes)
          The Pseudo-Chaldean Oracles are another good example.

          Andrew Criddle
        • fmmccoy
          ... From: sarban To: Sent: Wednesday, February 11, 2004 6:31 PM Subject: Re: [GTh] Lost Christianities ...
          Message 4 of 9 , Feb 15, 2004
            ----- Original Message -----
            From: "sarban" <sarban@...>
            To: <gthomas@yahoogroups.com>
            Sent: Wednesday, February 11, 2004 6:31 PM
            Subject: Re: [GTh] Lost Christianities


            >
            > ----- Original Message -----
            > From: "fmmccoy" <FMMCCOY@...>
            > To: <gthomas@yahoogroups.com>
            > Sent: Tuesday, February 10, 2004 5:30 PM
            > Subject: Re: [GTh] Lost Christianities
            >
            >
            > > The one he selects as most likely is the fourth one, i.e.,
            interrogations
            > > during mystical ascents. However, there apparently are no other sayings
            > in
            > > Thomas that regard mystical ascents, so I think this unlikely.


            > I think it is at least as likely to be an ascent after death
            > as a mystical ascent during life


            Hi Andrew!

            If 50 regards a meeting with angelic powers while ascending, I think that it
            most likely involves an ascent after death.

            The reason is that, while (to the best of my knowledge) there is no first
            century CE example of the idea of a mystical ascent during one's life that
            involves meeting angelic powers who bar the way unless one says the proper
            thing, there is an apparent first century CE example of the idea of an
            ascent after death that involves meeting divine beings who bar the way
            unless one says the proper thing. This is in Mithraic thought.

            When I speak of Mithraism, I am referring not to original Mithraism as
            practiced in its homeland but, rather, to the Hellenized version of it that
            initially spread through the Hellenistic states and then, later, through the
            Roman Empire.

            One of the important areas in which it was Hellenized was in respect to
            cosmology. In particular, it embraced a new cosmology, based on
            Eratosthenes' measurements of shadows at different latitudes proving that
            the earth is round (although the theory that the earth is round was perhaps
            first made by Pythagoreas). In this new cosmology, it was posited that
            cosmos consists of a number of spheres, the innermost one being the earth.

            Three basic spheres were posited: (1) the innermost sphere of the earth, (2)
            an inner heaven sphere consisting of the seven planets, and (3) an outer
            heaven sphere consisting of the fixed stars. Philo mentions the two
            heavenly spheres in Cher (23), "One of the (two) Cherubim then symbolizes
            the outermost sphere of the fixed stars. It is the final heaven of all, the
            vault in which the choir of those who wander not move in a truly divine
            unchanging rhythm, never leaving the post which the Father who begat them
            has appointed them in the universe. The other of the (two) Cherubim is the
            inner contained sphere, which through a sixfold division He has made into
            seven zones of regular proportion and fitted each planet into one of them."

            Further, as Philo hints at above, the inner heaven sphere was, itself,
            divided into seven sub-spheres--one for each of the planets. So, the total
            number of spheres, not counting the earth, was eight.

            The totality of the cosmos, though, was conceived to be one sphere, whose
            surface is identical to the surface of the outer heaven sphere
            consisting of the fixed stars. This was called the cosmic globe and it was
            frequently depicted with two crossed circles, one being the circle of the
            zodiac and the other the circle of the celestial equator.

            When Mithraism embraced this new cosmology, it posited that human souls
            reside in the outer sphere of the fixed stars, that they descend from there
            to earth, and that they return to their homeland in the fixed stars after
            the death of the body by ascending up a cosmic ladder with eight gates, one
            for each of the seven spheres of the planets and one for the eighth sphere
            of the fixed stars.

            So, in The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, David Ulansey (p. 87) states,
            "According to Celsus, in the Mithraic mysteries 'there is a symbol of the
            two orbits in heaven, the one being that of the fixed stars, and the other
            that assigned to the planets, and of the soul's passage through these. The
            symbol is this. There is a ladder with seven gates and at its top an eighth
            gate.' In addition, the Neoplatonist Porphyry attributes to Mithraism a
            complicated conception of the soul's celestial descent and ascent into and
            out of incarnation...."

            Further, it appears that each gate was guarded by an angelic being and that
            one had to know the appropriate formula to say to each in order to proceed.
            So, in The Mysteries of Mithra, Franz Cumont (pp. 144-145) states, "The
            (inner) heavens were divided into seven spheres, each of which was conjoined
            with a planet. A sort of ladder, composed of eight superposed gates, the
            first seven of which were constructed of different metals, was the symbolic
            suggestion in the temples, of the road to be followed to reach the supreme
            region of the fixed stars. To pass from one story to the next, each time
            the wayfarer had to enter a gate guarded by an angel of Ormazd. The
            initates alone, to whom the appropriate formulas had been taught, knew how
            to appease these inexorable guardians."

            The realm of souls in the fixed stars, from which human souls came and to
            which they returned, was a realm of light. Cumont (p. 145) states, "It
            (i.e., the soul) was naked, stripped of every vice and every sensibility,
            when it penetrated the eighth heaven to enjoy there, as an essence supreme,
            and in the eternal light that bathed the gods, beatitude without end."

            All this might relate to 50, "If they say to you, 'Where did you come
            from?', say to them, 'We came from the light, the place where the light came
            into being on its own accord and established [itself] and became manifest
            through their image.' If they say to you, 'Is it you?', say, 'We are its
            children and we are the elect of the Living Father.' If they ask you, 'What
            is the sign of your Father in you?', say to them, 'It is movement and
            repose.'"

            In this case, we have, in 50, souls/spirits who have originated in the light
            of the outer heaven of the fixed stars and who become incarnate in human
            beings and who, upon the death of the body, are seeking to return from
            whence they came. Further, in this case, the "they" are the angelic powers
            who bar each of the eight gates through which these these souls/spirits must
            pass. Finally, in this case, the three answers are three of the formulas a
            soul needs to get past each of the eight angelic gate-keepers and ascend up
            the cosmic ladder back to its original home in the light of the outer sphere
            of the fixed stars.

            Despite the good "fit" that can be made between the Mithraic belief system
            and 50, I have serious reservations about the hypothesis that 50 ought to be
            interpreted in terms of this Mithraic belief system.

            In the first place, I find it noteworthy that the only two named sources on
            Mithraism in the quotations above are Celsus and Porphry. Celsus wrote c.
            170 CE and Porphry wrote almost a century later. As a result, if Thomas
            dates to 150 CE or earlier, then the Mithraic belief system described above
            is the Mithraic belief system as it was later than the writing of Thomas.
            So, this is not necessarily the same Mithraic belief system in place when
            Thomas was written.

            More seriously, I suspect that there is a rejection of this Mithraic belief
            system in the first part of GTh 11.

            There is one part of this Mithraic belief system that I haven't mentioned
            yet, but does need to be discussed before turning to the first part of GTh
            11 because it appears to be alluded to in 11.

            In this Mithraic belief system, there are two celestial twins, Cautes and
            Cautopates, who are torch-bearers. Further, these two celestial twins who
            are torch-bearers were equated with another set of twins, i.e., the Dioscuri
            (Castor and Pollux). As a result, in Mithraic artwork, one sometimes finds
            the two Dioscuri instead of (as expected) the two torch-bearers.

            For example, in Backgrounds of Early Christianity, Everett Ferguson (p. 295)
            states, "The seven degrees of initiation (into the Mithraic mysteries) thus
            corresponded to the order of the seven planets in astrology. The initiate
            who had passed through all degrees could, on his death, pass through the
            planetary spheres to paradise. The Ostia mosaic shows before the seven
            grades a large vase, thought to refer to some preliminary purification by
            water and the helmets of the Dioscuri (who were often understood as
            symbolizing the two celestial hemispheres)."

            The two Dioscure, however, did more than just symbolize the two celestial
            hemispheres. Rather, each was one of the two celestial hemispheres. So, in
            Dec (56), Philo declares, "So too in accordance with the theory by which
            they divided the (outer) heaven into two hemispheres, one above the earth
            and one below it, they called them the Dioscuri and invented a further
            miraculous story of their living on alternate days."

            Underlying this belief is a variant of the legend of the Dioscuri in which
            Castor was a mortal who was killed and that the other Dioscuri bestowed half
            of his immortality on Castor, making each mortal in one respect, yet
            immortal in another As a result, they alternate being dead and alive.

            The upshot: In Mithraic thought, the two twin torchbearers were equated with
            the Dioscuri. As the Dioscuri, they are the two hemispheres of the outer
            heaven of the fixed stars and they alternate being dead and alive.

            Now, let us turn to 11a, "This heaven will pass away, and the one above it
            will pass away. The dead are not alive, and the living will not die."

            "This heaven will pass away, and the one above it will pass away." That is
            to say, the sphere of the inner heaven, the realm of the seven planets with
            its seven sub-spheres, will pass away and the sphere of the outer heaven,
            the realm of the fixed stars, will also pass away. So, I see this as a
            denunciation of the Mithraic idea that the eternal realm of light, from
            which human souls originate and to which they seek to return, is to be found
            in the outer sphere of the fixed stars. Rather, this outer heaven is, like
            the inner heaven of the planets with its seven sub-spheres, something that
            will someday cease to exist.

            "The dead are not alive, and the living will not die." The idea that the
            two hemispheres of the outer heaven are the two Dioscuri and that they
            alternately die and come to life is false. One who is dead remains dead,
            and one who is immortal will not die. Hence, Castor cannot be restored to
            life nor, if his twin brother is immortal, can he be subject to death. So, I
            see this as a denunciation of the Mithraic idea that the two torchbearers
            are the Dioscuri and that they are, as such, the two celestial hemispheres
            and are alternately dying and coming again to life.

            So, I think, the Thomas community was aware of this Mithraic belief system.
            However, I see, in 11a, a rejection of this Mithraic belief system.
            Therefore, despite the fact that 50 is readily interpretable in terms of
            this Mithraic belief system, I think it highly unlikely that it ought to be
            interpreted in terms of this Mithraic belief system.

            Still, simply because they apparently were aware of this Mithraic belief
            system, it could be that, even though they rejected it, they still were
            influenced by it.

            For example, take the notion, in 50, that human souls/spirits originate in a
            place of light. This Thomistic notion might have arisen due to the the
            influence of the Mithraic belief that human souls originate in a place of
            light of the outer heaven of the fixed stars. However, if so, then the
            Thomas community, as they believed the outer heaven of the fixed stars to be
            perishable, assigned this place of light to a different location.

            Indeed, in 2 Cor. 12:1-4, Paul speaks of a man who ascended into the third
            heaven, which Paul calls Paradise.

            So, I think it possible that the Thomas community, under Pauline influence,
            transferred the place of the light, from which human souls/spirits
            originate, from the second outer heaven of the fixed stars to a postulated
            eternal third heaven above it and gave this postulated third eternal heaven
            the name of Paradise. If so, then, in Thomas thought, the place of light,
            from which human souls/spirits originate, is mentioned in 19b, "For there
            are five trees of life for you in Paradise,..".

            Again, it could be that the Thomas community was influenced by the Mithraic
            notion of gates and gate-keepers and of the need of the soul/spirit to have
            the necessary response for each gatekeeper in order to ascend back to whence
            it came in the place of light, but reduced the gates to three: (1) a gate
            into the inner heaven sphere of the seven planets, (2) a gate into the outer
            heaven sphere of the fixed stars, and (3) a gate into the third eternal
            heaven called Paradise. In this case, in 50, the "they" are the three
            gatekeepers for these three gates and the three answers one ought to
            memorize are the three necessary responses (one for each of the three
            gatekeepers) that the soul/spirit needs to give in order to successfully
            ascend back from whence it came in the place of light within the third
            eternal heaven called Paradise.

            The bottom line: Although the Thomas community apparently rejected
            this Mithraic belief system, they apparently were aware of it and it might
            have influenced their thought. For example, they might have been
            influenced by the Mithraic notion that human souls/spirits originate in a
            place of light before descending to earth into bodies, but have changed the
            location of the place of light from the second heaven of the fixed stars to
            Paul's eternal third heaven called Paradise. Again, they might have been
            influenced by the Mithraic notion of a system of gates and gate-keepers and
            necessary responses, but modified it into a system with one gate and
            gate-keeper for each of the three heavens and one response to memorize for
            each of the three gatekeepers.

            This is all highly speculative, so I think it unlikely. Still, this is
            within the realm of possibility and it does give a comprehensive explanation
            of GTh 50--including an explanation as to why there are exactly three
            answers to be memorized.

            Frank McCoy
            1809 N. English Apt. 15
            Maplewood, MN USA 55109
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