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DeConick on the Mother Sayings

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  • Michael Grondin
    April DeConick s book _The Original Gospel of Thomas in Translation_ has been out in paperback for a couple of months now, and I was at long last able to
    Message 1 of 5 , Feb 5, 2008
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      April DeConick's book _The Original Gospel of Thomas in Translation_
      has been out in paperback for a couple of months now, and I was at long
      last able to afford it and its companion volume, the earlier _Recovering
      the Original Gospel of Thomas_. Still not cheap (about $35 each on
      Amazon), but these are masterful books that no serious Thomas scholar
      can be without. Having said that, however, the purpose of this note is to
      set forth some reasons for preferring my own long-held interpretation of
      logion 105 as against April's (OGTT, pp. 283-284).

      Leaving aside the IS portion, here is a literal rendition of L.105:
      "He who *will* know the father and the mother
      will be called 'the son of (the?) harlot'."

      (I have emphasized the first occurrence of the word 'will', because
      April's translation changes the verb to the present tense. I have
      employed '(the?)' because there is no article at that point, definite
      or indefinite. The definite article 'P' may have been dropped due
      to the fact that the Greek word for 'harlot' begins with a 'P', and such
      occurrences of double-P were sometimes shortened to one. I have
      also wondered whether the lack of an article might be a way to express
      'harlotry'. But in any case, April chooses neither of these; she inserts
      the indefinite article 'a'.)

      While it might seem from the above that I'm quibbling, I'm really not.
      The translation supports the interpretation, and April's interpretation
      is radically different from mine. I see the phrase 'the father and the
      mother' as referring to divine personages; April sees it as referring
      to earthly personages. As a result of this difference, I see L.105 as
      an ironic statement, roughly (with implications filled in):

      "Isn't it ironic that a person who knows the heavenly Father and
      Mother should be called 'the son of (a/the?) Harlot'?"

      April sees L.105 as a plain statement of fact, roughly:

      "A person who knows his earthly father and mother will be called
      'the son of a harlot' - and rightly so!"

      -------------------------------

      As can be seen, I've jumped a little ahead of the game here in order
      to make clear at the outset what I see as the essential interpretational
      difference. I now turn to a presentation of April's interpretation, which
      is comprised of a translation, a translational note, and an interpretative
      comment.

      AD's translation:
      > Jesus said, 'Whoever is acquainted with one's father and mother
      > will be called, "the child of a prostitute'".

      (MG note: I don't quibble with 'acquainted with' instead of 'know',
      or 'prostitute' instead of 'harlot'. I do draw attention to the fact that
      the main verb is present tense here, instead of future.)

      AD's translational note:
      > I have understood the definite articles preceding 'father' and
      > 'mother' to be signalling a specific 'father' and 'mother', namely
      > the subject's Father and Mother. Thus, my rendering 'one's'.

      (MG comment: This is contrary to normal Coptic practice, which
      would be to use the possessive pronoun 'his' if such a reading
      were desired. On the contrary, the definite pronoun is often used
      in such _unqualified_ expressions to indicate capitalization, as in
      'the God' or 'the Man'.)

      AD's interpretative comment:
      > This saying polemicizes against marriage, understanding it to
      > be an institution of prostitution. This opinion [that marriage is an
      > institution of prostitution] also is held by the Alexandrian encratic
      > Christians described by Clement of Alexandria. They appear to
      > have said that even the virgin bride who engaged in marital sex
      > was a prostitute (_Strom._ 3.18.108)
      >
      > The saying in its present form reinforces the position already
      > garnered in L. 55 and 101, that the Christian should separate
      > himself or herself from his or her biological parents. If the person
      > remains attached to his or her parents, he or she is a child of a
      > prostitute rather that a child of Man as the next logion indicates
      > (see L. 106).
      >
      > This logion appears to have accrued in the Gospel sometime
      > between 80 and 120 CE, attaching itself to L. 104 in order to
      > reinterpret the wedding reference so that the hearer would
      > understand Jesus to be speaking against marriage rather than
      > supporting it.

      ----------------------------

      While the above reasoning has a certain persuasive power in terms
      of April's overall theory (else she wouldn't have adopted this
      interpretation of L.105), nevertheless portions of the reasoning
      are problematic. With respect to L.104, she says above that it
      might have been understood as "Jesus ... supporting [marriage]".
      But in her interpretative comment about L.104 (which she says is
      about fasting, not marriage), she writes,

      > It also may be possible that the early Thomasine Christians
      > identified Jesus with the bridegroom in this logion. In this case,
      > the early Thomasine Christians would have understood this
      > saying as a _promotion_ for fasting in the absence of Jesus,
      > the bridegroom. This interpretation is quite plausible given the
      > fact that it seems to be the way in which the saying was under-
      > stood in its Synoptic variations ... [OGTT, p. 281]

      Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it's not entirely true
      that L.101 supports her position on L.105. In particular, L.101
      refers to a "true Mother" that gave (spiritual) life to Jesus. According
      to April's account (see OGTT, p. 277-278), this accretion occurred
      in the same time period (80-120 CE) and also expressed encratite
      views:

      > The saying [L.101] would have had special meaning for an
      > encratic community which hated the world and its perpetuation
      > while loving the heavenly world. They would have supported
      > 'hating' their biological origins while 'loving' their spiritual.

      Further:
      > The final clause develops the early Christian tradition that the
      > Holy Spirit was Jesus' mother ...

      I agree with this identification, and suggest that 'the Mother'
      mentioned in L.105 is just this Holy Spirit, not one's earthly
      mother, and that hence L.105 should be read as irony, not
      as an approving statement of fact. It may reflect charges of
      illegitimacy against Jesus, as well as reflecting the dual meaning
      of PNEUMA as both life's 'breath' and wandering 'wind'.

      Mike Grondin
      Mt. Clemens, MI
    • Ron McCann
      Hi Mike. For what it s worth, I much prefer your characterization of this logia as Irony, and think your take is the more correct. For me the statement is
      Message 2 of 5 , Feb 5, 2008
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        Hi Mike.

        For what it's worth, I much prefer your characterization of this logia as Irony, and think your take is the more correct.

        For me the statement is supposedley Jesus being self referential and laying down a defense against charges that he himself was illegitimate- just as you suggest.

        Some have read into the Gospels glosses intended to suppress that such charges were ever directed at Jesus during his lifetime. That may or may not be true. What is more certain however is that towards the end of the first century we have the first appearances of Jewish polemical writings directed against Jesus and the nascent Christian Movement containing allegations of illegitimacy as part of their arsenal. (The Pandera or Panthera story.)

        In my view this logion was not original to Thomas and was likely penned in the 90-120 CE period as a defensive response to such attacks, reflecting the Sitz of the Church at that time. This is one of about 6 other logions, added at this time, that seem to have been inserted to address the Sitz of the Church then, and they help us to arrive at an approximate date for what I consider to be the major redaction/ revision of the original core Thomas which I think occurred- circa 90-110 CE (probably in Alexandria). This may have been the first Greek Edition of an expanded Gospel of Thomas similar to the one we know to-day. ( P.Oxy version).

        Ron McCann
        Saskatoon, Canada


        ----- Original Message -----
        From: Michael Grondin
        To: gthomas@yahoogroups.com
        Sent: Tuesday, February 05, 2008 2:16 PM
        Subject: [GTh] DeConick on the Mother Sayings


        April DeConick's book _The Original Gospel of Thomas in Translation_
        has been out in paperback for a couple of months now, and I was at long
        last able to afford it and its companion volume, the earlier _Recovering
        the Original Gospel of Thomas_. Still not cheap (about $35 each on
        Amazon), but these are masterful books that no serious Thomas scholar
        can be without. Having said that, however, the purpose of this note is to
        set forth some reasons for preferring my own long-held interpretation of
        logion 105 as against April's (OGTT, pp. 283-284).

        Leaving aside the IS portion, here is a literal rendition of L.105:
        "He who *will* know the father and the mother
        will be called 'the son of (the?) harlot'."

        (I have emphasized the first occurrence of the word 'will', because
        April's translation changes the verb to the present tense. I have
        employed '(the?)' because there is no article at that point, definite
        or indefinite. The definite article 'P' may have been dropped due
        to the fact that the Greek word for 'harlot' begins with a 'P', and such
        occurrences of double-P were sometimes shortened to one. I have
        also wondered whether the lack of an article might be a way to express
        'harlotry'. But in any case, April chooses neither of these; she inserts
        the indefinite article 'a'.)

        While it might seem from the above that I'm quibbling, I'm really not.
        The translation supports the interpretation, and April's interpretation
        is radically different from mine. I see the phrase 'the father and the
        mother' as referring to divine personages; April sees it as referring
        to earthly personages. As a result of this difference, I see L.105 as
        an ironic statement, roughly (with implications filled in):

        "Isn't it ironic that a person who knows the heavenly Father and
        Mother should be called 'the son of (a/the?) Harlot'?"

        April sees L.105 as a plain statement of fact, roughly:

        "A person who knows his earthly father and mother will be called
        'the son of a harlot' - and rightly so!"

        -------------------------------

        As can be seen, I've jumped a little ahead of the game here in order
        to make clear at the outset what I see as the essential interpretational
        difference. I now turn to a presentation of April's interpretation, which
        is comprised of a translation, a translational note, and an interpretative
        comment.

        AD's translation:
        > Jesus said, 'Whoever is acquainted with one's father and mother
        > will be called, "the child of a prostitute'".

        (MG note: I don't quibble with 'acquainted with' instead of 'know',
        or 'prostitute' instead of 'harlot'. I do draw attention to the fact that
        the main verb is present tense here, instead of future.)

        AD's translational note:
        > I have understood the definite articles preceding 'father' and
        > 'mother' to be signalling a specific 'father' and 'mother', namely
        > the subject's Father and Mother. Thus, my rendering 'one's'.

        (MG comment: This is contrary to normal Coptic practice, which
        would be to use the possessive pronoun 'his' if such a reading
        were desired. On the contrary, the definite pronoun is often used
        in such _unqualified_ expressions to indicate capitalization, as in
        'the God' or 'the Man'.)

        AD's interpretative comment:
        > This saying polemicizes against marriage, understanding it to
        > be an institution of prostitution. This opinion [that marriage is an
        > institution of prostitution] also is held by the Alexandrian encratic
        > Christians described by Clement of Alexandria. They appear to
        > have said that even the virgin bride who engaged in marital sex
        > was a prostitute (_Strom._ 3.18.108)
        >
        > The saying in its present form reinforces the position already
        > garnered in L. 55 and 101, that the Christian should separate
        > himself or herself from his or her biological parents. If the person
        > remains attached to his or her parents, he or she is a child of a
        > prostitute rather that a child of Man as the next logion indicates
        > (see L. 106).
        >
        > This logion appears to have accrued in the Gospel sometime
        > between 80 and 120 CE, attaching itself to L. 104 in order to
        > reinterpret the wedding reference so that the hearer would
        > understand Jesus to be speaking against marriage rather than
        > supporting it.

        ----------------------------

        While the above reasoning has a certain persuasive power in terms
        of April's overall theory (else she wouldn't have adopted this
        interpretation of L.105), nevertheless portions of the reasoning
        are problematic. With respect to L.104, she says above that it
        might have been understood as "Jesus ... supporting [marriage]".
        But in her interpretative comment about L.104 (which she says is
        about fasting, not marriage), she writes,

        > It also may be possible that the early Thomasine Christians
        > identified Jesus with the bridegroom in this logion. In this case,
        > the early Thomasine Christians would have understood this
        > saying as a _promotion_ for fasting in the absence of Jesus,
        > the bridegroom. This interpretation is quite plausible given the
        > fact that it seems to be the way in which the saying was under-
        > stood in its Synoptic variations ... [OGTT, p. 281]

        Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it's not entirely true
        that L.101 supports her position on L.105. In particular, L.101
        refers to a "true Mother" that gave (spiritual) life to Jesus. According
        to April's account (see OGTT, p. 277-278), this accretion occurred
        in the same time period (80-120 CE) and also expressed encratite
        views:

        > The saying [L.101] would have had special meaning for an
        > encratic community which hated the world and its perpetuation
        > while loving the heavenly world. They would have supported
        > 'hating' their biological origins while 'loving' their spiritual.

        Further:
        > The final clause develops the early Christian tradition that the
        > Holy Spirit was Jesus' mother ...

        I agree with this identification, and suggest that 'the Mother'
        mentioned in L.105 is just this Holy Spirit, not one's earthly
        mother, and that hence L.105 should be read as irony, not
        as an approving statement of fact. It may reflect charges of
        illegitimacy against Jesus, as well as reflecting the dual meaning
        of PNEUMA as both life's 'breath' and wandering 'wind'.

        Mike Grondin
        Mt. Clemens, MI






        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      • StKilda@comcast.net
        Hi Ron, L105 He who *will* know the father and the mother will be called the son of (the?) harlot . There is the possibility that what is being addressed
        Message 3 of 5 , Feb 5, 2008
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          Hi Ron,

          L105 "He who *will* know the father and the mother
          will be called 'the son of (the?) harlot'."

          There is the possibility that what is being addressed here is the nature of God. Jesus maybe saying that God is both masculine and feminine; that the "sacred feminine" is a part of God and he is their "son"?

          The sacred feminine is nowhere recognized in the Canonical texts. In Proverbs 8 "Wisdom" is feminine and in the Tanakh the Shekinah is also feminine. But nowhere in the Tanakh is God feminine; even though there is such a teaching in Kabalah.

          The theologians of Jesus day would view a claim to be the son of a divine father and divine mother as wickedness, i.e. "the son of a harlot". They may have accepted that God is masculine, but they would not have accepted that God is also feminine, a mother.

          Those theologians supported a patriarchy and edited the Tanakh accordingly.

          Toli

          [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
        • Ron McCann
          Hi Toli, There is of course, reference in Jewish writings to the Shekina- the presence of God in a kind of light display or glory- said to have departed from
          Message 4 of 5 , Feb 7, 2008
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            Hi Toli,

            There is of course, reference in Jewish writings to the Shekina- the presence of God in a kind of light display or glory- said to have departed from the Temple of Jerusalem just before the Romans destroyed it.( "There is your temple, forsaken by God!"). The Shekina was a Feminine aspect of the divine or of the divine power dating back to some of the manifestations of Moses day. So I think a feminine element in God's nature was recognized by the Jews of Jesus' day, and not only as personified Wisdom. In either the Gospel of the Egyptians of the Gospel of the Hebrews, Jesus is made to expressly allude to "My mother, the Holy Spirit", and I think Thomas is in lock-step with the notion that the Holy Spirit- whether personified Wisdom or not, is feminine. here. What may be new to Judaism is the notion of the Holy Spirit as Mother to someone.

            That aside for the moment-
            What really intrigues me is that "will" in the Logion, where Jesus seems to be referencing a future time when his legitimacy will be called into question. It's possible our saying-fabricator is not so much intending that this be read as an ironic saying or some teaching-statement of Jesus or even a statement where he is defending himself him from present time attacks in his day, but was intended by our writer as a prophecy of Jesus - Jesus prophesying the coming of a time in future (our saying-fabricator's day, of course!) when Jesus legitimacy would be attacked. I think Mark used much the same "stick-words-in- Jesus'- mouth" gambit when he had Jesus prophesy the throwing down of the great stones of the Temple which happened in Mark's day 40 years later; and just as that questionable "prophecy" story can be used to date Mark to post AD 70, so also this logion might be useful in helping us us put a 90-110 CE date on a large and comprehesive redaction of the Gospel of Thomas into it's expanded present form.

            Ron McCann
            Saskatoon

            ----- Original Message -----



            [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
          • Ron McCann
            Sorry. I accidentally chooped the last part of my post of fwhen I was editing out Toli s post. The last line should read at the end - comprehensive redaction
            Message 5 of 5 , Feb 7, 2008
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              Sorry. I accidentally chooped the last part of my post of fwhen I was editing out Toli's post.

              The last line should read at the end - "comprehensive redaction of Thomas."

              And the closing paragraph was:-

              "Of course, my conclusions here are speculative and depend on "Whoever knows the Father and Mother" being used self- referentially by Jesus or to refer to Jesus- which, admittedly, is a bit of reach."

              Ron McCann
              Saskatoon





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