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Origen and Thomas 4: Quoting Thomas 82

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  • Stephen C. Carlson
    In this excerpt, we are looking at one of the places where Origen quoted the Gospel of Thomas. The next excerpt will be on Thursday. ... Perhaps the clearest
    Message 1 of 1 , May 11, 2009
      In this excerpt, we are looking at one of the places where
      Origen quoted the Gospel of Thomas. The next excerpt will
      be on Thursday.

      --- Begin Excerpt ---
      Perhaps the clearest example of Origen's use of the Gospel
      of Thomas occurs in one of his homilies on Jeremiah. This
      homily, which has survived only in Jerome’s Latin translation,
      covers Jer 50 [LXX 27]:23-29, which begins with the exclamation,
      "How was the hammer of the whole earth broken and crushed?"
      About halfway through the homily, Origen got to v.25: "The
      Lord opened up his treasure and brought forth the vessels of
      his wrath." Origen’s mind naturally went to Rom 9:22, which
      includes the phrase "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction."
      After a digression on the meaning of the Lord's treasury and
      an exploration of the existence of vessels even less than the
      "vessels of wrath," Origen’s mind eventually returned to Rom
      9:22, and it is in this connection that Origen used the Gospel
      of Thomas:

      >I have read somewhere as if the Savior was speaking—and I
      >question whether it was someone who was a figure for the
      >person of the Savior or if it appended in his memory or if
      >this may be truly what he said—the Savior there says,
      >"Whoever is near me is near fire; whoever is far from me,
      >is far from the kingdom." For just as "whoever is near me
      >is near" salvation, thus he "is near fire." And whoever
      >hears me and once having me has done a transgression, is a
      >vessel of wrath prepared for destruction, when "he is near
      >me, he is near fire." Since "he who is near me, is near
      >fire," if anyone being on his guard becomes "far from me"
      >and fears he is "near fire," let him know that that such a
      >person will be "far from the kingdom." (tr. John Clark Smith)

      The saying, "Whoever is near me is near fire; whoever is far from
      me, is far from the kingdom" (qui juxta me est, juxta ignem est;
      qui longe est a me, longe est a regno), is not found anywhere in
      the New Testament. It is found, however, in the Gospel of Thomas
      as saying 82:

      >Jesus says, "Whoever is near me is near the fire. And whoever
      >is far from me is far from the kingdom."

      In fact, this saying is found in various forms, but the form that
      Origen exhibited is closest to that which is found in the Gospel
      of Thomas. Didymus the Blind's attestation of the saying in Greek
      is probably dependent on Origen. Two later texts, the Gospel of
      the Savior 69-72 and Pseudo-Ephrem, An Exposition of the Gospel 83,
      feature the saying, but in which the word "kingdom" is replaced by
      "life." There is even a version found in Aesop: "Whoever is near
      Zeus is near the lightening." Despite the popularity of this
      saying and the various forms it took, Origen's formulation is
      closest to that of the Gospel of Thomas, raising the presumption
      that it is indeed the source of the saying for Origen.

      The information gleaned from Origen's disclaimer in quoting this
      saying of the Savior fits the Gospel of Thomas. For instance,
      Origen’s "I have read somewhere" (legi alicubi) indicates that his
      source is written, not oral. Origen's first scenario for the
      written source that someone could have impersonated the Savior (sive
      quis personam figuravit Salvatoris) reflects the general feeling
      among Origen’s co-religionists that texts such as the Gospel of
      Thomas are not genuine. His second scenario, that the saying could
      have been misremembered (sive in memoriam adduxit) implies that the
      author would have been an eyewitness to Jesus, as, for example, in
      the incipit to the Gospel of Thomas: "These are the hidden words
      that the living Jesus spoke. And Didymos Judas Thomas wrote them
      down." According to John 24:20, Thomas called Didymus was a member
      of the Twelve, who conversed with Jesus. Origen's final scenario
      (an verum sit hoc quid dictum est) seems to be the one he favored,
      that the saying really was said by Jesus. After all, Origen not
      only continued to quote it as if Jesus said it (ait autem ipsi
      Salvator), but he went on to construe its components, e.g. "near
      the fire," as if he felt it had a similar authoritativeness.
      --- 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)
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