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Psalms and the Coptic Thomas (1)

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  • Michael Grondin
    About a year ago, I was ruminating onlist about what might be the importance of the number 42. It seemed to me that it must have been important, because IS42
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 6, 2006
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      About a year ago, I was ruminating onlist about what might be the importance
      of the number 42. It seemed to me that it must have been important, because
      IS42 (the 42nd occurrence of IS) occurred on line 280, the only one-line
      saying in CGTh, but I didn't know why. Fellow list-member Mike McLafferty -
      with whom I'd had several productive discussions - searched for and found
      Laura Joffe's paper _The Answer to the Meaning of Life, the Universe and the
      Eloistic Psalter_ (JSOT 27.2 (2002) 223-235), for which I hope never to
      forget to credit and thank him, though I haven't heard from him in some

      Joffe's paper contains the following sections:
      1. Introduction
      2. Numbers as an Organizing Principle in the Psalter
      3. The Number 42, the Divine Name and the Curse
      4. The Psalms and 42
      5. The Doxologies
      6. The Psalms and 72
      7. Conclusions and Further Speculations

      For those who haven't read it, herewith sections 3 and 4 (sans most
      footnotes, and apologies in advance for any typos):

      3. The Number 42, the Divine Name and the Curse

      The idea that seven and its multiples were significant numbers in the
      ancient Near Eastern world is not new. A lengthy list of the appearance of
      seven in the Hebrew Bible can be found in the _Encyclopedia Judaica. [15]

      [Footnote 15: _EncJud, XII, cols. 1257-58. Attention is drawn to the
      'innate, mystical power of 7', with the examples of Josh. 6; Judg. 16.13,
      19; 2 Kgs 4.35, 5.10, 14. Multiples of seven, according to _EncJud, add
      emphasis, e.g. Lev. 12.5 (14 days for a girl), cf. v. 2 (seven days for a
      boy); Num. 29.13 (14 lambs), and finally 1 Kgs 8.65. Here the context of the
      next verse requires us to understand the actual number of days as seven,
      with the multiple, 14, as a literary device meaning that these were very
      great days - days 'worth twice their length'. From the New Testament, see
      Mt. 1.17 and 18.21-22, where the 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus are
      grouped into three phases of 14 generations each. From Sop. 2.6 comes the
      ruling that in a Torah scroll, the number of lines allowed per column are
      42, 60, 72, or 98, according to the size of the handwriting. 42 is said here
      to correspond to the 42 stations of the Exodus in Num. 33.2.] --end footnote

      In the Hebrew Bible, 42 is a number of disaster and ill-omen. 42,000
      Ephraimites are slain for not being able to say 'shibboleth' in Judg. 12.6.
      In 2 Kgs 10.14, the 42 relatives of Ahaziah are killed by Jehu. The
      Chronicles parallel of this incident is instructive. While the Chronicler
      does not specify how many relatives were killed (2 Chron. 22.8), he does
      alter the age at which Ahaziah came to the throne from 22 years (2 Kgs.
      8.26) to 42 (2 Chron. 22.2). Japhet notes of this:

      "As this is the only instance in Chronicles where chronological information
      of this kind deviates from the source material, there seems to be no doubt
      that 'forty-two' is a textual error... Obviously, if Jehoram was forty years
      old at his death (21.5, 20), his son was not forty-two at that time." [16]

      We can improve on Japhet's explanation of this unusual deviation. The
      Chronicler wanted to maintain the link between the ominous number 42 and the
      ill-fated Ahaziah. [17]

      Particularly relevant to my case is 2 Kgs 2.24. Here Elisha curses _in the
      name of Yahweh_ the children who had been taunting him (...). Two bears then
      come out of the wood and kill 42 of them. Note the artificial
      (providential?) nature of the number in this incident - rather than having
      42 children taunt Elisha, 42 of a larger group are slain by bears who,
      presumably, can count. This instance incorporates the three elements which
      are central to my case: cursing, the name of _Yahweh_, and the number 42.

      Turning to the New Testament, Rev. 11.2 gives the period of rampage to be 42
      months (or put differently, 1260 days in Rev. 11.3; 12.6). In Revelation 13,
      a beast with blasphemous names on its head (v. 1) spends a period of 42
      months (v. 5) blaspheming against God _and his name_ (v. 6). Thus while 42
      clearly has a larger, diabolical tradition, we have in Rev. 13.1-5 a
      restatement of the triad: blaspheming [18], the name of God, and the number
      42. [19]

      [Footnote 19: Before moving on in history, it may be worthwhile to take a
      step back to the Egyptian _Book of the Dead_, Spell 125, in which the
      deceased protects himself from the 42 gods who are waiting to eat his heart
      by warning them that he knows their _names_. ...] -- end footnote

      The number 42 resurfaces in Jewish tradition in the form of a 42-lettered
      name of God, which is well-attested from the Talmud to the present day. Also
      pertinent to my case is the 72-lettered name of God. It often appears
      alongside the 42-lettered name, or in similar contexts, and I shall argue
      that the number 72 is also used in the structure of the Psalter. As both the
      42-lettered and the 72-lettered names have already been well-documented
      [20], the following survey will be as brief as possible.

      The earliest reference to the 42-lettered name is in the Talmud (b. Qid.
      71a.), while the 72-lettered name appears in _Genesis Rabbah.[21] We learn
      more about them in a responsum of Hai Gaon [22] in which he denies that the
      42-lettered name has the power, for example, to calm the sea. However, in
      'The Sword of Moses', [23] Hai invests the name with all the magical and
      protective powers which he had denied it in the responsum.[24] As for the
      name of 72 letters, Hai tells in the responsum that it is the result of a
      combination of letters in three verses (Exod. 14.19-21), but denies any
      knowledge of the precise details. [25]

      The 42- [26] (and to a lesser extent the 72- [27] letter names are well
      represented through the ages, expecially in Jewish magic and Kabbalah. They
      survived well into the modern period, as attested by their use in Jewish
      amulets [28] where they were valued in their protective function, especially
      in childbirth.

      4. The Psalms and 42

      That the Elohistic Psalter consists of 42 Psalms, beginning at Psalm 42, is
      without doubt. What remains to be decided is whether the coincidence of the
      number 42 in the biblical tradition (number of ill-omen), the post-biblical
      tradition (name of God), and in the Elohistic Psalter is a _mere_
      coincidence, or whether it is significant. Here I would like to suggest that
      the Elohistic Psalter was commissioned in order to ward off the curse of 42,
      to turn it into a blessing. The work involved in its creation was a tribute
      to God, intended to bestow protection and good fortune on the redactor, the
      benefactor who paid him, or possibly on the whole community. Nevertheless,
      it is not entirely obvious how a collection of Pslams can be regarded as a
      'blessing'. Perhaps in order to drive the point home, or perhaps for other
      reasons, the Elohistic editor inserted an 'extra blessing' within his work -
      namely, Ps. 72.19. I shall now turn my attention to justifying this latter
      claim on independent grounds.


      At which point, we must leave off from Ms. Joffe's paper. (Footnotes
      not included here can be furnished on request.) As can be seen,
      she also is confronted with the alternatives of coincidence and scribal
      error, which frustrate the design-theorist due to the impossibility of
      ruling them out deductively. But on to 72 and 42. As to the number
      72, that's the number of the "divider saying", which occurs at a
      particularly important textual division - being the first saying of the 2nd
      group of 12 sayings-blocks. As to the number 42, is it connected with "ill
      omen" in CGTh? I suggest that it is, for the single-line saying 42
      (containing IS42 and itself being the whole of sayings-block 6) connects
      back via the keyword PARAGE to saying 11.1, which can be equally divided (in
      Coptic) into two lines ending with PARAGE:

      IS-10 says: "This heaven will pass away,
      and she who is above her will pass away."

      Furthermore, the immediately preceding saying - which begins sayings-block
      2 - refers to Jesus (IS9) casting fire on the world and watching over it
      until it blazes. Yet the multiple presence of the number 70 (including the
      combined size of L42 and L11.1) cannot but be a good thing, I think, and so
      we seem to have in CGTh both the good side and the bad side of the number
      42, just as Ms. Joffe finds in the Elohistic Psalter. (Particularly
      pertinent here also is April DeConick's theory that GTh was originally
      heavily apocalyptic, but that over time it evolved away from that.)

      Mike Grondin
      Mt. Clemens, MI

      p.s.: If anyone has access to Larry Hurtado's paper 'The Origin of the
      _Nomina Sacra_: A Proposal', JBL 117 (1198), pp. 655-73, I'd appreciate
      either a review of it or information as to its possible availability online.
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