The Great Thomas Breakthrough
- Hello all
Sometimes I sense that it is good idea to look over one's
shoulder and look at the "road one has traveled" in order to better
gauge the "lie of the land" which is likely to greet us just ahead.
Over the last several weeks, always in an effort to better
understand Thomas, this list has courted talk ranging
from "polyphonic characteristics" and "prosodic structures"
(Hubbard, Post 6864 et alia), to the issue of "Gnostic redaction in
Thomas" (Arbuckle, Post 6865), to issues related to the "Q
tradition" and the "Synoptic problem" (McCoy, Post 6868), to using
the "Square of Opposition" methodology and the like in one's
research (Saunders, Posts several), and yet a number of other
related subjects. My impression is that there are a number of
important realities to be gleaned from this interesting salad of
discussion topics two of the more important ones being that no
doubt in people's quest to understand Thomas (whatever that may
objectively mean) researchers and students of GoT are likely to
accept or reject future findings about Thomas based largely
on "where they are coming from" rather than on the actual
destination they will eventually arrive at and second, that there
are seemingly no universally accepted criteria "out there" to tell
us when we have indeed arrived at our (Thomas, eureka!) destination.
Regrettably it seems to me that as researchers, we are perhaps very
ill-equipped and ill-prepared as colleagues in research to even be
on our journey in quest of the Gospel of Thomas because we will
possibly never agree on "when we have arrived".
I recall someone posting an article by April DeConick some time ago
(Post 5081) on this list, concerning what she thought future
research on the Gospel of Thomas should contain in order to meet her
own expectations. Most of it appeared pretty reasonable to me, but I
would be interested in knowing just what the "minimum expectations"
of the list members herein might think will constitute "the great
Thomas breakthrough". . e.g. will it suffice to simply elucidate
the sayings according to a particular religious confession ? will
it suffice to explain the sequence of the sayings or the errors of
the scrivener ? will it suffice to expose and explain the
hermeneutics of the non-canonical logia? etc. etc.
Again, on the other hand, at what point will we all sense that we
have arrived at our "destination" and what will we accept as
being "unexplainable", possible "criteria for exceptions to the
rule" and "canonicity variances" ?.
Thoughts anyone ? Indeed, what is the minimum (sine qua non)
acceptance test for what we are all searching for ?
- Is it, or should it be the goal of the Historian
to achieve a "Eureka Moment"? Rather than search
for an all inclusive dogma; the Scholar refines
history. That's enough. IMO.
- Maurice Cormier writes:
> ... I would be interested in knowing just what the "minimum expectations"You might better ask what "breakthrough" members would consider most
> of the list members herein might think will constitute "the great
> Thomas breakthrough".
important, Maurice, since there's a number of important questions that
Thomas scholars are trying to answer, and so I doubt if anyone envisions
just one "great breakthrough". One primary area of interest for just about
everyone would surely be the question of origination and development - i.e.,
where and when and by whom was it originally composed, and how did it
develop over time in various languages and locales? This is related also to
the question of who used it, and for what purpose?
But since you asked for a personal response, I'll add that of special
interest to me are questions specifically related and confined to the Coptic
version of the GTh - this being the only one we have in its entirety. It's
widely assumed that this version was but a straight translation from another
language - either Greek (as most believe) or Syriac. But there are
significant differences between the Coptic version and even the sparse
content of the Greek POxy fragments that seem to belie the "straight
translation theory" - at least as related to Greek. Nor do I think it likely
that there was ANOTHER Greek version different from the POxy fragments which
was translated in a straightforward way into Coptic, for the Coptic bears
signs of intentional design - which presumably would not be found in a
Let me give just one example: my own syntactical analysis (results available
at http://tinyurl.com/4apg4) demonstrates that the Coptic text contains
exactly 500 occurrences of Greek words and names. That's rather startling,
but one could respond that there's at least a 1% chance of the number of
such words being evenly divisible by 100. OK, except that there's an
additional syntactical feature which must remove any doubt we might have
about intentional design - namely, that these 500 word-tokens are composed
of exactly 2400 Greek and Coptic letters. There's not a chance in hell that
this extraordinary pair of interlocking syntactical features could be the
random result of straight translation. One has to conclude, I think, that
the Copts took an enormous amount of time and trouble to design their
version; it was evidently not just a straightforward translation from any
other language (though an other-language text no doubt served as the
_basis_ for it). So my own main area of interest is the more-limited
subset of questions: "What did the Copts do to the text and why
did they do it?"