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Origen and Thomas 6: On Thomas 74

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  • Stephen C. Carlson
    In this excerpt, we are looking at a bit from the Gospel of Thomas that Origen rejected. ... Another example of Origen s use of the Gospel of Thomas is so
    Message 1 of 3 , May 18, 2009
      In this excerpt, we are looking at a bit from the Gospel of
      Thomas that Origen rejected.

      --- Begin Excerpt ---
      Another example of Origen's use of the Gospel of Thomas is so
      close that his quotation was used to correct a scribal error
      in the Coptic text of the Gospel of Thomas. The text of
      Thomas 74 as presented in Codex II of the Nag Hammadi library
      reads:

      >He said, “Lord, there are many around the drinking trough
      >(JWTE), but nothing is in the illness ($WNE).”

      The last clause does not make good sense, so the original editors
      of the Coptic Gospel of Thomas considered this text to be corrupt.
      Taking inspiration from a saying recorded in Origen, Contra Celsum
      8.15 and 16, the editors concluded that there is a scribal error
      in the last word, in which the word $WNE, "illness," had been
      written instead of $WTE, "well."

      The form of the saying recorded by Origen first occurs in a passage
      in Contra Celsum, a refutation written toward the end of his life
      of a polemical work against Christianity by a pagan philosopher,
      Celsus. In 8.15, Origen set forth an argument by Celsus that
      Christians worship the father of Jesus rather than the Creator:

      >After this Celsus says: To show that I am not wide of the mark in
      >forming this opinion, I will quote their own words. For in one
      >place in the heavenly dialogue they speak there in these words:
      >'If the Son of God is mightier, and the Son of man is his Lord
      >(and who else will overcome the God who is mighty?), how is it
      >that many are round the well and no one goes into it? [PWS
      >POLLOI PERI TO FREAR, KAI OUDEIS EIS TO FREAR;] Why, when you
      >have come to the end of such a hard journey, are you lacking in
      >daring?'—'You are wrong, for I have courage and a sword.' Thus
      >is not their object to worship the super-celestial God, but him
      >whom they suppose to be the Father of Jesus who is the central
      >object of their society. They want to worship only this Son of
      >man, whom they put forward as leader under the pretence that he
      >is a great God. . . . (tr. Chadwick)

      One obstacle for recognizing Origen's use of the Gospel of Thomas
      for the "in the well" saying in this case is that Celsus did not
      identify the saying as coming from that gospel at all. Rather,
      Celsus quoted it as coming from some other document called the
      "Heavenly Dialogue." This document is not the Gospel of Thomas
      because it is quoted as containing material foreign to that gospel.
      Moreover, it is evident from the following discussion that Origen
      had never heard of it before:

      >Here again he takes these notions from some unknown and very
      >undistinguished sect, and bases on them an objection to all
      >Christians. I say 'very undistinguished' since it is not clear
      >even to us who have often taken part in controversy with heretics
      >which is the opinion from which Celsus has taken these ideas—if,
      >at least, he did take them from some source, and did not invent
      >them or add anything as an inference of his own. . . . (tr. Chadwick)

      Accordingly, Origen argued that this source for Celsus must have
      come from a sect so “undistinguished” that Origen had not ever
      come across them before in his disputes with other Christian sects.
      Yet, according to his first homily on Luke, Origen had already
      known and studied the Gospel of Thomas. In fact, Origen's knowledge
      of the saying in the Gospel of Thomas enabled him to make another
      counter-argument to Celsus's attack (Cels. 8.16):

      >Then I think he muddles things again from another sect the
      >following: How is it that many are round the well and no one
      >goes into it? . . . We who belong to the church named after Christ
      >alone say that none of these things is true. He seems to be
      >attributing sayings which are nothing to do with us in order to
      >be consistent with what he said earlier.

      Origen's counterattack thus accuses Celsus of "muddling things . . .
      from another sect." This charge indicates that Origen was able to
      recognize some of the content of the Heavenly Dialogue, though not
      the actual document itself as belonging to another sect. Given
      Origen's study of the Gospel of the Thomas, the basis for Origen's
      recognition would have to have been his knowledge of a very similar
      saying found at Thomas 74. Unlike the "near the fire" saying, which
      Origen found useful in his homilies on Jeremiah and Joshua, Origen
      rejected the saying, which he knew from the Gospel of Thomas, as
      not true and as having "nothing to do with us." Accordingly, the
      saying's inclusion in a source that Origen had relied upon in
      another context for an authentic saying of Jesus meant little to
      Origen when he wanted to marginalize the argumentation of one of
      his pagan opponents.
      --- End Excerpt ---

      Stephen Carlson


      --
      Stephen C. Carlson
      Ph.D. student, Religion, Duke University
      Author of The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark (Baylor, 2005)
    • jmgcormier
      ... Hello again Stephen .... Interesting that the original editors (???) of Coptic Thomas would seemingly find $WNE to be a probable corruption. Do we have
      Message 2 of 3 , May 18, 2009
        --- In gthomas@yahoogroups.com, "Stephen C. Carlson" <scarlson@...> wrote:
        >
        > In this excerpt, we are looking at a bit from the Gospel of
        > Thomas that Origen rejected.
        >
        > --- Begin Excerpt ---

        > Another example of Origen's use of the Gospel of Thomas is so
        > close that his quotation was used to correct a scribal error
        > in the Coptic text of the Gospel of Thomas. The text of
        > Thomas 74 as presented in Codex II of the Nag Hammadi library
        > reads:
        >
        > >He said, “Lord, there are many around the drinking trough
        > >(JWTE), but nothing is in the illness ($WNE).”
        >
        > The last clause does not make good sense, so the original editors
        > of the Coptic Gospel of Thomas considered this text to be corrupt.
        > Taking inspiration from a saying recorded in Origen, Contra Celsum
        > 8.15 and 16, the editors concluded that there is a scribal error
        > in the last word, in which the word $WNE, "illness," had been
        > written instead of $WTE, "well."

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

        Hello again Stephen ....

        Interesting that the "original editors" (???) of Coptic Thomas would seemingly find $WNE to be a probable corruption. Do we have irrefutable proof that the Nag Hammadi version of Thomas was not scribed by someone who may have known both Coptic and (say) Hebrew, Aramaic or perhaps even Greek ... and accordingly have meant "illness" ??? ... and perhaps more importantly that perhaps the "illness" and "pool" connection in Thomas is not somehow inspired from (say) the John 5.2 reference to the "illness" and "pool" connection in the healing of the paralytic ???? (Well, at least for us late daters who would embrace the idea that John preceeded Thomas ... )

        Maurice
      • Stephen C. Carlson
        ... By original editors I mean the scholars who first published the Coptic text in the late 1950s. The reason why scholars think the text is corrupt is that
        Message 3 of 3 , May 20, 2009
          On May 18, 2009 6:07 PM, jmgcormier <cobby@...> wrote:
          >Interesting that the "original editors" (???) of Coptic Thomas
          >would seemingly find $WNE to be a probable corruption. Do we have
          >irrefutable proof that the Nag Hammadi version of Thomas was not
          >scribed by someone who may have known both Coptic and (say) Hebrew,
          >Aramaic or perhaps even Greek ... and accordingly have meant
          >"illness" ??? ... and perhaps more importantly that perhaps the
          >"illness" and "pool" connection in Thomas is not somehow inspired
          >from (say) the John 5.2 reference to the "illness" and "pool"
          >connection in the healing of the paralytic ???? (Well, at least
          >for us late daters who would embrace the idea that John preceeded Thomas ... )

          By "original editors" I mean the scholars who first published the
          Coptic text in the late 1950s.

          The reason why scholars think the text is corrupt is that it does
          not make sense as written -- a circumstance, by the way, that is
          not uncommon among ancient manuscripts in general.

          If you're interested in "irrefutable proof," then you probably
          shouldn't be doing ancient history. We are often forced to make
          judgments on evidence and arguments far short of "irrefutable proof."

          I don't see how supposing a scribe's knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic, or
          Greek helps us with the problem that the "illness" reading does not
          make sense.

          In John 5, the paralytic was in the pool, not in the illness. Aside
          from the concepts of pool and illness, I don't see any connection between
          Thomas 74 and John 5. Thus, the relative priority of John and Thomas
          would not be helpful, here.

          Stephen Carlson



          --
          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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