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Origen and Thomas 2: Homily on Luke I

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  • Stephen C. Carlson
    This next excerpt concerns the what Origen explicitly had to say about Thomas. ... The only place where Origen mentioned the Gospel of Thomas by name occurs in
    Message 1 of 3 , May 4, 2009
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      This next excerpt concerns the what Origen explicitly had to
      say about Thomas.

      --- Begin Excerpt ---
      The only place where Origen mentioned the Gospel of Thomas
      by name occurs in his first homily on Luke. In this homily,
      Origen was expounding on the preface to Luke's gospel, paying
      particular attention to the words POLLOI EPEXEIRHSAN in the
      very first verse: "Inasmuch as many have set their hand
      (POLLOI EPEXEIRHSAN) to compiling an account of the matters
      that have been fulfilled among us." Although modern scholars
      usually translate POLLOI EPEXEIRHSAN neutrally as "many have
      undertaken," perhaps because of the wide-spread acceptance
      that the canonical Mark was a source for Luke, Origen saw a
      negative implication in those words:

      >You should know that not only four Gospels, but very many,
      >were composed. The Gospels we have were chosen from among
      >these gospels and passed on to the churches. We can know
      >this from Luke’s own prologue, which begins this way:
      >"Because many have tried to compose an account." The words
      >"have tried" imply an accusation against those who rushed
      >into writing gospels without the grace of the Holy Spirit.
      >Matthew, Mark, John, and Luke did not "try" to write; they
      >wrote their Gospels when they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
      >(trans. Joseph T. Lienhard)

      Thus, Origen made a distinction in Luke’s choice of wordin
      between those gospels which were written with the Holy Spirit
      and those which were not, but merely attempted. Origen went
      on to give specific examples of which gospels fall in the
      latter categories, and it is here that he names the Gospel of
      Thomas:

      >The Church has four Gospels. Heretics have very many. One
      >of them is entitled According to the Egyptians, another
      >According to the Twelve Apostles. Basilides, too, dared to
      >write a gospel and give it his own name. "Many have tried"
      >to write, but only four Gospels have been approved. Our
      >doctrines about the Person of our Lord and Savior should be
      >drawn from these approved Gospels. I know one gospel called
      >According to Thomas, and another According to Matthias. We
      >have read many others, too, lest we appear ignorant of anything,
      >because of those people who think they know something if they
      >have examined these gospels. (trans. Joseph T. Lienhard)

      Of the five "unapproved" gospels that Origen had in mind, only
      the Gospel of Thomas has survived in a form that is substantially
      complete. The Gospel of the Egyptians probably referred, not
      to the Sethian tractates in the Nag Hammadi library also entitled
      "The Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit," but rather to the
      "Gospel of the Egyptians" that Clement of Alexandria quoted about
      a dozen times. The Gospel of Basilides, an immense twenty-four
      volume commentary by an early second-century teacher in Alexandria,
      only survives in a few quotations. If the Gospel of Matthias
      can be identified with the work that Clement of Alexandria called
      the "Traditions," then there would be just three fragments of it
      left. As for the Gospel according to the Twelve Apostles, almost
      nothing about it is known.

      Despite our ignorance about the nature of these works, except for
      the Gospel of Thomas, Origen's own opinion of these texts in this
      passage seems fairly clear. He distinguished them from the four
      gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; only these four are
      "approved" by the church. He also told us about their reception
      in the third century: they were popular among "those people who
      think they know something” (eos, qui se putant aliquid scire), a
      sarcastic description of those called "gnostics."
      --- End Excerpt ---


      --
      Stephen C. Carlson
      Ph.D. student, Religion, Duke University
      Author of The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark (Baylor, 2005)
    • jmgcormier
      ... snip ... ... Hello Stephen .... Could you please clarify a bit of a puzzle (for me, at least) re Origen, his Homily on Luke, and the dating of Nag Hammadi
      Message 2 of 3 , May 15, 2009
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        --- In gthomas@yahoogroups.com, "Stephen C. Carlson" <scarlson@...> wrote:

        snip ...
        >
        > The only place where Origen mentioned the Gospel of Thomas
        > by name occurs in his first homily on Luke.



        Hello Stephen ....

        Could you please clarify a bit of a puzzle (for me, at least) re Origen, his Homily on Luke, and the dating of Nag Hammadi Thomas.

        Origen lived from c.185 C.E. to c. 254 C.E. As I recall (from memory ... so please bear with me) ... his Homily on Luke was written c. 233 C.E. (... so far,so good ...)

        Having said the above, Nag Hammadi Thomas is usually pegged (paleographically) at somewhere close to c. 333 CE.

        Clearly, then, if Origen wrote his Homily in 233 C.E. how could he comment on a gospel (Nag Hammadi Thomas) which is essentially dated 100 years later ? (i.e. in c.333) Is it not more likely that Origen was commenting on an earlier (or a largely very different) version of Thomas' gospel than the Nag Hammadi one ... such as the c. 200 C.E. - 250 C.E. "Greek" version often advocated by Marvin Meyer ... and which is clearly different than the Nag Hammadi version.

        Maurice Cormier
      • Stephen C. Carlson
        On May 15, 2009 9:35 PM, jmgcormier wrote ... The Nag Hammadi Thomas is not the Gospel of Thomas per se, but a witness to a Coptic
        Message 3 of 3 , May 16, 2009
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          On May 15, 2009 9:35 PM, jmgcormier <cobby@...> wrote
          >Could you please clarify a bit of a puzzle (for me, at least)
          >re Origen, his Homily on Luke, and the dating of Nag Hammadi
          >Thomas.
          >
          >Origen lived from c.185 C.E. to c. 254 C.E. As I recall (from
          >memory ... so please bear with me) ... his Homily on Luke was
          >written c. 233 C.E. (... so far,so good ...)
          >
          >Having said the above, Nag Hammadi Thomas is usually pegged
          >(paleographically) at somewhere close to c. 333 CE.
          >
          >Clearly, then, if Origen wrote his Homily in 233 C.E. how could
          >he comment on a gospel (Nag Hammadi Thomas) which is essentially
          >dated 100 years later ? (i.e. in c.333) Is it not more likely
          >that Origen was commenting on an earlier (or a largely very
          >different) version of Thomas' gospel than the Nag Hammadi one
          >... such as the c. 200 C.E. - 250 C.E. "Greek" version often
          >advocated by Marvin Meyer ... and which is clearly different
          >than the Nag Hammadi version.

          The Nag Hammadi Thomas is not the Gospel of Thomas per se, but
          a witness to a Coptic translation of it. Yes, the Nag Hammadi
          manuscript was penned a century after Origen, but the date of a
          manuscript is not necessarily the date of the text's composition.
          Origen was indeed commenting on a Greek copy of Thomas earlier
          than the Nag Hammadi Coptic manuscript. As to whether it was
          "very different," we have no way of knowing. True, there are
          some differences (in order and to some extent in content) between
          the Greek fragments of Thomas found at Oxyrhynchus and the Coptic
          version found at Nag Hammadi, but all ancient works feature some
          differences among their various copies. All we can say is that,
          for purposes of this analysis, Origen's Greek copy of Thomas does
          not seem to differ from the Nag Hammadi copy in any material respect
          (aside from language), though one must always keep that possibility
          in mind.

          Stephen

          --
          Stephen C. Carlson
          Ph.D. student, Religion, Duke University
          Author of The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark (Baylor, 2005)
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