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Design of the Coptic Prologue and Title

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  • Michael Grondin
    In light of the findings in my previous note, I ve checked the Prologue of Thomas in P.Oxy. 654 and the title of the Coptic manuscript. The former contains 66
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 14, 2006
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      In light of the findings in my previous note, I've checked
      the Prologue of Thomas in P.Oxy. 654 and the title of the
      Coptic manuscript. The former contains 66 letters as
      reconstructed, but I don't see any particular pattern to it.
      This is consistent with the view that the intricate design of
      the Coptic version was unique to them - though it doesn't
      prove that, of course. With respect to the Coptic title,
      there's something a little more interesting. Written on two
      lines, it contains 21 letters, just as does each of the three
      segments of the Prologue mentioned in my last note.

      Taking certain liberties in transliteration, it's as follows:

      P-EVANGELION (11 letters)
      P-KATA-QWMAS (10 letters)

      Those familiar with Coptic will notice that the 'P' on the
      second line is semantically superfluous, though it does
      appear also in similar position in the title of the Gospel
      of Philip. I'm not quite sure what to make of this, because
      there's so few titles using the word 'KATA' among the
      NH texts, and fewer where KATA is in the same position
      as here, but the second 'P' is certainly necessary to make
      _this_ title come out to 21 letters.

      What we have, then, is that the Coptic sayings are framed
      at beginning and end by lines of length 21 - which would
      have presumably been of symbolic importance both as
      triple-7, and as one-tenth the numerical value of the
      sacred-name 'IS'. (There is ample evidence elsewhere
      that some early Christian writers found significance in
      "the number of the name".)

      What this framing suggests to me is that the Coptic
      authors had saying 18 in mind when they framed the
      sayings: "... he who will stand in the beginning will
      know the end ..." How so? Because all the elements
      of the end-title are connected with the Prologue -
      'gospel' being that which is spoken and written, and
      Thomas being the titular author of this particular work.
      So someone who knows the Prologue knows the title.

      Yet another semantic connection exists between the
      sayings of CGTh and the name DIDYMOS IOUDAS
      QWMAS in the Prologue. As stated previously, when
      the length of these three names is multiplied together
      (7x6x5), the result is the same as the numerical value
      of the sacred name. This isn't gematria - wherein words
      with the same numeric value were regarded as related -
      but it would surely have been taken as reflecting the
      textual relationship between Jesus and Thomas (as
      prototype) stated generally but indirectly in saying
      108 ("Whoever drinks from my mouth will become
      like me") and implied specifically for Thomas - who
      has become drunk on J's words - in 13.5.

      Whether we like it or not, this kind of interplay between
      syntax and semantics is unavoidable. The evidence clearly
      suggests what is common-sensical anyway - that whatever
      syntactical features were built into the design of the text were
      almost certain (in some cases at least) to reflect ideas from
      the text itself. Even the numerical value of 'IS' (210) can be
      seen as reflected in the phrase "one in a thousand and two
      in ten-thousand".

      As to the invisible structure of the thing as a whole, I can
      only hope that this current work on the prologue and title
      will - when considered along with my previous work on other
      sections of the text - serve to point to what must be regarded
      as an unmistakeable "tip of the iceberg" by any reasonable
      standard. Even that limited result, however, has required a
      substantial investment of personal time and energy. Of
      what it would take to identify the extent of what still lies
      unknown below the surface, I shudder to think.

      Mike Grondin
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