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The rule of the Shepherds - part 2

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  • Stephen
    The second part of the Shepherds essay - this concerns the evidence in Thomas for the link with the Shepherds myth. Stephen Peter ... The Shepherds myth and
    Message 1 of 1 , May 24, 2004
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      The second part of the Shepherds essay - this concerns the evidence in Thomas for the link with the Shepherds myth.

      Stephen Peter

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      The Shepherds myth and the parable of the vineyard owner

      The central importance of the Shepherds to Christianity is evident in the parable of the vineyard owner. The version in the Gospel of Thomas is saying 65 -

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      He said: A good man had a vineyard. He gave it to husbandmen that they might work it, and he receive its fruit from their hand. He sent his servant, that the husbandmen might give him the fruit of the vineyard. They seized his servant, they beat him, and all but killed him. The servant came (and) told his master. His master said: Perhaps they did not know him. He sent another servant; the husbandmen beat the other also. Then the master sent his son. He said: Perhaps they will reverence my son. Those husbandmen, since they knew that he was the heir of the vineyard, they seized him (and) killed him. He that hath ears, let him hear. (Thomas 65)
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      This parable is derived from the same myth as the Book of Enoch. The parable takes place at the divine level as can be seen from the list of characters -

      - The good man is Yahweh.
      - The husbandmen are the Shepherd angels.
      - The servants are the angel-men Noah and Moses
      - The son is Jesus, the Son of God.

      The vineyard parable moves on from the Book of Enoch by replacing the Messiah, who in Enoch is a sheep and hence a man, with the divine Son of God. In the vineyard parable the son is killed while in Enoch the Messiah is triumphant.

      It is important to note that all the characters are divine. This suggests that the action does not take place on earth but in a higher heaven.

      There are several separate pieces of evidence that link the parable to the dream vision in the Book of Enoch -

      - There is a clear and striking parallel between (i) the man giving his vineyard into the charge of husbandmen who then refuse to give him the proceeds, and (ii) the Lord of the sheep giving his flock into the hands of shepherds who then proceed to abuse it.

      - There is an explicit link between the Shepherds and the vineyard in Jeremiah in a line spoken by Yahweh -

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      Many shepherds have ruined my vineyard, they have trampled down my field; They have made my desirable field become a wilderness, a desolation. (Jeremiah 12:10)
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      - The two servants in the Thomas story gave the gospel writers a problem in their version of the parable because they were interpreted as being prophets and there were more than two prophets. Yet it is explained by the dream vision in which there are two and only two men who change into angels.

      - In the Coptic Thomas manuscript there is a superlinear stroke over the two servants. This indicates divine status and shows that the two were indeed believed to be angels.

      - Interpreting the servants as Noah and Moses leads to a deeper meaning of the parable since Noah, Moses and Jesus represent the three successive covenants between Yahweh and man.

      The same parable of the vineyard is also found in the gospels of Mark, Mathew and Luke. The earliest of the Gospel versions is that of Mark -

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      And he began to speak to them by parables. A certain man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge about it, and digged a place for the wine vat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country. And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard. And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty. And again he sent to them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled. And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some. Having yet therefore one son, his wellbeloved, he sent him also last to them, saying, They will reverence my son. But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours.' And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others. And have you not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner: This was the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? (Mark 12:1-11)
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      The Mark version adds details from the analogy of the vineyard in Isaiah 5. The Thomas version is simpler and this is the first clue that the Thomas version is earlier than Mark. More importantly the Thomas version has the structure of three rising to a climax that would be expected in an original parable - the two servants who are beaten followed by the son who is killed. This same underlying structure is also evident in the Mark version although it has been corrupted by the insertion of extra servants in the confused phrase "and again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some". Even before the Gospel of Thomas had been discovered it had been deduced that the Mark version was derived from an earlier parable that only had two servants!

      Mark has extra servants because the person who wrote the Mark version did not understand that the two servants were supposed to represent the men-angels Noah and Moses. He thinks that they represent the prophets. But there were many more prophets than two and some met with death as well as physical abuse. So the author tries to improve the parable to make it more closely reflect what he thinks it should mean.

      Mark ends his parable by adding a conclusion not found in the Thomas version. The husbandmen will be destroyed and the vineyard shall be given to others. He goes on to add the saying about the cornerstone that is taken from Psalm 118. The question is why does Mark add this cornerstone saying to the parable? It does not appear to have any direct relevance to what has gone before. Both Mathew and Luke also add the cornerstone quotation at this point but then they are both copying Mark.

      Thomas also has a cornerstone saying and in the Coptic manuscript it also comes directly after the vineyard owner's parable -

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      Jesus said: Teach me concerning this stone which the builders rejected; it is the corner -stone. (Gospel of Thomas 66)
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      So it may be that Mark has simply followed the Thomas ordering. However it is more likely that this association of the two sayings in Thomas has itself been derived from the gospels. The version of the Gospel of Thomas that has come down to us has been heavily edited in the centuries between the gospels being written and the manuscript being buried in the desert. We cannot assume that the current ordering of the sayings reflects the order in which they would have circulated before Mark was written.

      Yet there is a justification from Jeremiah for placing the cornerstone saying exactly where Mark does place it. In Jeremiah the Shepherds are the Babylonian kings. There is a reference about the destruction of Babylon which includes the prediction that no cornerstone will be taken from the destroyed Babylon -

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      And I will render unto Babylon and to all the inhabitants of Chaldea all their evil that they have done in Zion in your sight, says the LORD. Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain, says the LORD, which destroyed all the earth: and I will stretch out my hand upon you, and roll you down from the rocks, and will make you a burnt mountain. And they shall not take of you a stone for a corner, nor a stone for foundations; but you shall be desolate for ever, says the LORD. (Jeremiah 51:23-26)
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      In the proto-gnostic Midrash on Jeremiah, Babylon stands for the rule of the angels. So this passage would be interpreted as meaning that the Shepherds would be destroyed and would not leave so much as a corner stone. But this is equivalent to the ending of Mark which tells us that the husbandmen will be destroyed and that the true cornerstone is the stone that the builders rejected!

      The book of Jeremiah contains the promise of the redemption of the chosen people. They will return to Jerusalem after the seventy years have expired. The promise of redemption is symbolised by the curious purchase of the field by Jeremiah from the son of his uncle. This purchase of the field also features in Thomas -

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      Jesus said: The kingdom is like a man who had in his field a [hidden] treasure about which he did not know; and [after] he died he left it to his [son. The] son also did not know; he took (possession of) that field and sold it. The man who bought it came to plough, and [found] the treasure. He began to lend money at interest to whomsoever he chose. (Gospel of Thomas 109)
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      The Gospel of Thomas does not simply copy the proto-gnostic myth. Proto-gnosticism is the starting point to which Thomas Christianity adds a spiritual depth not seen in the Book of Enoch. This spiritual depth is apparent in this saying. The promise of redemption has been spiritualised in the form of a pearl hidden in a field. Jeremiah's uncle has become a man who has died and who has left the field to his son. We are not told in the book of Jeremiah that the uncle has died but we can deduce that this is the case. Jeremiah would be an old man at this time and his uncle would be older. Jeremiah buys the land from his cousin Hanameel who must have legal possession of the family land so that his father must already be dead. In the Gospel of Thomas there is a treasure buried in the field that is unknown to both the man who dies and his son. In the Thomas Midrash on Jeremiah, Hanameel and his uncle Shallum represent the people of the covenant of Moses whereas Jeremiah represents the new covenant. The sale of the land is symbolic of the passing of the promise of redemption from the old chosen people to a new elect. Redemption shall not apply to the Jews as a people but only to the few who plough the field and find the hidden treasure. These few may include gentiles as well as Jews.

      The passing of the old covenant is also symbolised in another Thomas saying which may be linked to the dream vision in Enoch -

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      Jesus said: I will des[troy this] house, and none shall able to build it [again]. (Gospel of Thomas 71)
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      In the dream vision the house symbolises the tabernacle. The Lord of the sheep destroys the house at the time of the Babylonian invasion. The sheep later attempt to rebuild the house and the tower but their worship is not successful because they are blind. Eventually the Lord of the sheep rebuilds it at the time of judgement.

      It is significant that in Thomas the house will not be rebuilt. The importance of the tabernacle is that it embodies the covenant of Moses. After Yahweh first gives his law to Moses, the Israelites ignore it by worshiping the golden calf. In his anger Yahweh declares that he will desert them and leave them to find their own way in the wilderness. Moses begs Yahweh to reconsider and it is at this point that Yahweh gives Moses the new covenant. Because of the covenant Yahweh will continue to dwell with the Israelites in the tabernacle that Moses is to build. So the destruction of the tabernacle is also the destruction of the second covenant - Yahweh will no longer dwell with his chosen people.

      If the Thomas saying is inspired by the Enoch myth then it is not a prophecy of the destruction of the temple by the Romans but a spiritual destruction symbolised by the story of the Babylonian conquest. Jesus destroys the tabernacle because he brings the new covenant that replaces the old. God will no longer dwell in a tent or building of stone, but now, in the form of Jesus, he will dwell directly within the hearts of his followers.

      By the time the Gospel of Mark is written political events have overtaken the original interpretation. The Jerusalem temple has been physically destroyed by the Romans and this saying is regarded as a miraculous prophecy. Although emphasising the prophetic nature of the saying the Gospel of Mark hints at the earlier meaning in a passage that equates the resurrected Jesus with the new temple -

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      We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands. (Mark 14:58)
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      But in another place in Mark we have the destruction of the temple in literal terms that recall the uncompromising nature of the Thomas saying -

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      And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! And Jesus answering said to him, See you these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. (Mark 13:1-2)
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      Another saying in Thomas that may be linked to the dream vision is the Samaritan carrying the lamb -

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      They saw a Samaritan carrying a lamb going into Judaea. He said to his disciples: Why does he carry the lamb? They said to him: That he may kill it and eat it. He said to them: So long as it is alive he will not eat it, but if he kill it and it become a corpse. They said: Otherwise he will not be able to do it. He said to them: You also, seek for yourselves a place within for rest, lest you become a corpse and be eaten. (Gospel of Thomas 60)
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      The link with Enoch is that in the dream vision people are represented by sheep and lambs and are eaten by the Shepherds. Thomas has interpreted this spiritually. To be eaten by the Shepherd angels is to be consumed by demons. To avoid this fate the disciples must not be corpse-like but 'alive' by having the living one within.


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