Thomas Healing 3: LL. 54, 56, 58, 70, 74, 75 and Seams
- I am adding one saying, L.70, to the list of asocial and ahierarchical
sayings presented in the first two posts (#8592, #8595) of this
series. After reviewing sayings 54, 56, 58, 70, 74, and 75, I argue
that noticeable seams exist between these sayings and their neighbors,
and that on grounds of historical plausibility these 20 healing
sayings in Thomas constitute an earlier stage of composition, one that
may reflect the earliest stratum of Thomas.
The complete list is now: 1-5, 10, 14, 17, 27, 31, 32, 34, 42, 49, 54,
56, 58, 70, 74, 75. Here are the last six, followed by the discussion
on historical plausibility.
54. Blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.
COMMENT: This saying announces the consequence of renouncing social
hierarchy: poverty. Money measures social standing.
56. Whoever has come to understand the world has found (only) a
corpse, and whoever has found a corpse is superior to the world.
COMMENT: Here the corpse symbolizes true knowledge of worldliness:
spiritual death. One who knows this is free from attachment to social
58. Blessed is the man who has suffered and found life.
COMMENT: Renouncing social hierarchy brings suffering: poverty,
alienation, powerlessness. This is spiritual life.
70. If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will
save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do
not bring forth will destroy you.
COMMENT: Acting on inner truth heals (saves).
74. There are many around the drinking trough, but there is nothing in
COMMENT: Social life does not nourish.
75. Many are standing at the door, but it is the solitary who will
enter the bridal chamber.
COMMENT: Spiritual life is solitude.
The numbering of these last six sayings identifies two clusters that
appear to be sequences broken by later insertions. These are 54, 56,
58 (broken by insertions 55, 57) and 70, 74, 75 (broken by insertions
71-73). Does this make sense?
I believe it does. Sayings 55 introduces a "true believer" doctrine
("take up his cross in My way"). Saying 57 elaborates on this by
cautioning against removing false believers ("weeds") too early. Both
sayings suggest a simple hierarchy of two levels (true believer /
false believer). L.57 suggests the true believers have the power to
eject false believers from their community. Moreover LL.55 and 57 are
longer than LL.54, 56, 58. The appearance of a nascent hierarchy here
suggests a natural historical progression, one in which solitary
seekers form a social community that eventually becomes hierarchical.
At this point sayings 55 and 57 are inserted into the contiguous
sayings 54, 56, and 58.
Likewise it makes more sense to conclude sayings 71-73 were inserted
between sayings 70 and 74. Saying 71 seems to prophecy the Roman
destruction of either Judea or the Jerusalem Temple. In Saying 72
Jesus himself has become the hierarchical authority with subordinate
disciples. And in Saying 73 "the Lord" is a hierarchical authority to
whom one can pray for support in numbers. Each is antithetical to the
asocial and ahierarchical themes that comprise the strata of healing
sayings in Thomas. Likewise it seems more likely that solitary seekers
formed a social community that later developed hierarchical authority.
I think the progression from solitary to social is plausible, while
the reverse is not. In the former case it can be envisioned that
asocial and ahierarchical teachings were superceded by social
teachings developed in communities that formed after the First Jewish
War. The latter case requires individuals leaving a community setting
and then developing asocial and ahierarchical teachings. This was
probably far more difficult to do after the War, when community
formation was probably essential for survival of displaced refugees.
Moreover the example of John the Baptist, a an ascetic hermit
contemporary with Jesus, suggests that solitary existence was
practiced before the formation of nonhierarchical churches (Grk.
ecclesia, "gatherings") in Paul's day, followed by full hierarchical
communities after the War.
The arrangement of the earlier healing sayings presented (1-5, 10, 14,
17, 27, 31, 32, 34, 42, and 49) seems to follow a similar pattern. The
insertions are not as clear as those just discussed, however in saying
6, "disciples" indicates hierarchy. And sayings 8-9 both suggest the
"false believer" theme of LL. 55, 57 (although other interpretations
are certainly possible. The next group of insertions, LL. 11-13,
include two with "disciples" (LL.12, 13) and one in which a later
gnostic theme (one versus two) seems evident. Again, other
interpretations are possible.
One more case, LL.33, here seen as an insertion between LL.31-32 and
L.34, is discussed briefly. As the saying advises preaching "from the
housetops," it likely refers to a later stage of community
development, one in which community members openly and actively sought
converts. This would appear to contradict, and thus succeed
historically, an earlier stage of solitary (asocial) life.
I am thinking it may be possible to reconstruct several historical
layers of Thomas community development, basing that reconstruction on
the assumption that the stratum of asocial and ahierarchical sayings
comprise the earliest layer of Thomas healing sayings. To this
earliest stratum, succeeding hierarchical and social teachings were
layered. One of the final layers would have included the addition of
"Jesus says" to provide a hierarchical boundary between all sayings.