Re: [GTh] Re: Inter-Christian Polemic in GJn?
- Hi Paul,
If you don't mind, I think it best to forego a response to your analysis
of the Peter-vs-BD stuff in GJn. As interesting is that is to me, our main
focus is the same as the focus of Chris' book, which is the analysis of
the anti-Thomas stuff. With respect to that, I'm not sure that Chris would
agree with you that there was a Thomas group in operation when GJn
was written. Pending Chris' response, you might want to consider how
you would go about proving that (although I'll stipulate to it here for the
sake of seeing what inferences might follow from that assumption.)
The question your analysis poses for me is whether, given that there
was a Thomas group in existence as you surmise, does the different
treatment of Thomas between Jn.20 and Jn.21 indicate that they (or
some of them) had returned to the good graces of the Johannine
group? Well, of course, it's always possible that some of them did,
but it's apparent from all three Thomas writings that the group was in
very strong disagreement with Johannine Christians in two areas:
(1) That the resurrection wasn't "in the flesh"
(2) That the death of Jesus didn't have the theological meaning
that the Johannines ascribed to it.
Based on the textual evidence of Thomasine writings, I'm not persuaded
that the Thomas scene in Jn.20 accurately reflects historical reality. That
is to say, I don't think that the bulk of the Thomasines (again, assuming
that they were around then) DID come to accept the _physical_
resurrection of Jesus. Rather, I think that it was a piece of wishful
thinking on the part of the Johannines. Which is not to say that the
Johannines never got the Thomasines to say "My Lord and my God!"
about Jesus. Maybe they did, but that's a different matter, since even
if the Thomasines had accepted such a declaration, their attitude toward
physical bodies would have precluded them from associating such a
declaration with a physical body, as John has them do in ch.20.
If all this is so, then why the apparently-positive reference to Thomas
in Jn.21? Well, I don't have a knock-down answer at the ready, but
I think it may have something to do with the fact that the group that
includes Thomas sets out to do some fishing. I'm serious. Mind you,
it isn't normal fishing that's being referenced; rather, it's an allusion
to missionary work - "fishing" for Christians, as it were. That given,
the group of folks mentioned by name in 21:2 are apparently those
Christians (or groups) that the Johannines believed to be or have
been prominent in missionary work - whether in Judaea or elsewhere.
(Though the Johannine redactors apparently tell these missionaries -
through the character Jesus - where to "fish" for converts - off the
"right side" of the boat - which may be a recommendation to seek
recruits from Jews of the diaspora.)
- Back on July 27th, when I introduced this topic, I quoted from
Michael Bird's blog in parte in re Chris Skinner's book:
"In this volume Christopher Skinner contests the notion that the Fourth
Gospel was composed as a polemic against Thomasine Christians or
the Gospel of Thomas due to certain readings of John 20.24-28 which
are said to reflect [an] inter-community conflict."
I didn't pay especially close attention to the wording of this sentence
at the time, but some offlist discussions I've had since then have
indicated that some clarification may be in order. As far as I know,
no one has suggested that "the Fourth Gospel was composed as a
polemic against Thomasine Christians or the Gospel of Thomas" if
that means (as it seems to) that such a polemic was the primary or
even a major reason for composing the Fourth Gospel. What Bird
was apparently trying to say was that Riley et al have argued that
Jn 20.24-28 (and a couple other verses, but certainly not the whole
of the Fourth Gospel) was an anti-Thomasine polemic.
What I'd recommend in this discussion is to drop the suggestion
of a Thomasine community at the time of GJn. There's simply no
evidence for that, and so Chris is quite right to call it 'speculation.'
If that premise is insisted upon, we'll surely come to loggerheads
before we even get started. The good news is that it isn't even
logically necessary to establish or assume that. As I see it, the
crux of the matter is the question of whether the attitudes and beliefs
attributed to Thomas in GJn reflect Thomasine thinking, as evident
in writings titled in that name. In this view, the real issue is whether
Jn 20.24-28 may have been written with certain Christians (or
Yeshuines, if you will) in mind whose theological ideas were similar
to those in evidence within the Thomasine corpus (i.e., The Gospel,
Book, and Acts of Thomas). To my mind, talk of a "Thomas
Community" of the time just distracts attention from that issue.
- In a recent post on the above subject, Mike Grondin makes reference to Michael Bird's "Euangelion" Blog wherein a commentary / summary is made of Christopher Skinner's recent book "John & Thomas - Gospels in Conflict" ...
Having said that, Bird's Blog also makes an interesting commentary / summary of yet another recently published book (called "The Gospel of Thomas: Original Text with Commentary" by Uwe-Karsten Plisch)which seems to make an interesting point about Thomas logion # 68 (one of my all time favorite seemingly muddled Thomasene sayings ...)The point made is that that "Plisch is very circumspect about dating and though he recognizes that logia 68 is post-Bar Kochba revolt etc, etc" ...)
I, too, am very circumspect about dating and am left wondering if anyone on the list has read Plisch's book and might be kind enough to share the dating logics which lead the author to this conclusion about logion #68 postdating the Bar Kochba revolt. Indeed, as a late dater myself I agree with the conclusion but am lost as to how logion 68 can show support for this view.
Coming back to logion 68 itself (Jesus said, "Blessed are you when you are hated and persecuted. Wherever you have been persecuted they will find no Place." ) and its seeming "muddledness", could anyone fluent / proficient in Coptic offer comments on the seemingly corrupt verb tenses in this logion and also corroborate if the oft translated word "wherever" might not better be translated as "whenever"... viz: the last sentence of the logion is not given in the same tense as the first sentence. That is, ("when you are hated" /present tense, or possibly in a figurative sense "future" tense) versus "you have been" persecuted (past tense) and they (unknown / the Romans / the persecuted ????) "will find" no place (future tense). Also, of particular interest, the "wherever" seems out of place, as the reader would seem to expect "whenever" instead (i.e. a "time" statement as opposed to a "place" statement.
Is anyone else dumbfounded by these seeming anomalies ?
- Hi Maurice,
I'm not a Coptic expert, but I guess I'm the closest thing we've got
to one here, so I'll try to clear up some of the questions you raise
about L.68. Let's start with the sentence you quoted from Bird:
"Plisch is very circumspect about dating and though he recognizes
that logia 68 is post-Bar Kochba revolt, it does not mean that the
whole document is."
Bird used the wrong word here. By saying that Plisch "recognizes" that
L.68 is post-Bar Kochba, he's implying that it's an agreed-upon fact
that L.68 is post-Bar Kochba. Of course, it's no such thing. According
to DeConick (TOGTT, p. 222 - get this book), H.M. Schenke believed
it to be so, but others - DeConick included - date it to the Jewish revolt
of the 60's, when the Christians fled to Pella. I think that the reason why
it's believed that L.68.2 is related to one of these two revolts is that
Jerusalem is assumed to be a place of persecution for Christians,
and in both revolts Jerusalem was left in ruins. After the Bar Kochba
revolt it was in fact renamed, and Jews were forbidden to enter it.
Perhaps that could be seen as favoring the later revolt, since there
was no longer any place called 'Jerusalem', but that hasn't settled
> ... could anyone fluent / proficient in Coptic offer comments on theDeConick implies that a number of Coptic experts think that 68.2 is
> seemingly corrupt verb tenses in this logion and also corroborate
> if the oft translated word "wherever" might not better be translated
> as "whenever"...
corrupt, but not because of the 'wherever'. Although 68.1 says
"You're blest WHEN you're hated", 68.2 has no temporal words in
it. It uses Greek TOPOS and the Coptic equivalent MA - both
designating place, not time.
As to who the 'they' is in "they hate you" and "they persecute you",
these are passive constructions. Since there was no true passive
in Coptic, the passive was expressed by using an unreferenced
'they'. It should be read as "you're hated" and "you're persecuted",
respectively. (There's notes to this effect in my interlinear for L.68)
> ... the last sentence of the logion is not given in the same tenseI don't see any problem with two adjacent sentences having different
> as the first sentence. That is, ("when you are hated" /present tense,
> or possibly in a figurative sense "future" tense) versus "you have been"
> persecuted (past tense) and they ... "will find" no place (future tense).
tenses. I'm pretty sure I could find a lot of examples like that in just
about any written work. Reading it as follows may help:
"Don't worry when you're hated. Remember that wherever you've
been persecuted in the past, that place no longer exists."
Might be a little felt oddity, but not all that badly muddled, I think.
- About ten days ago, I wrote the following:
> What I'd recommend in this discussion is to drop the suggestionInsofar as there may be evidence of a Syriac community founded
> of a Thomasine community at the time of GJn. There's simply no
> evidence for that ...
by the apostle Thomas, I'd withdraw my recommendation. But Riley
doesn't seem to use that evidence, if there be any. Instead, he seems
to assume that the Gospel of Thomas was around at the time of GJn,
therefore a Thomasine community was around. Point for Skinner.
On the anti-Skinner front, I've looked at the use of the character
Philip in GJn. To my mind, it doesn't compare in negativity with
the use of Thomas. "Uncomprehending character" (Skinner's phrase)
is one thing, but "unbelieving character" is another. Riley observes
that although Gos.John uses the verb "to believe" over 90 times,
the word 'apistos' ('unbelieving'/'unfaithful') is used only of Thomas.
What the Johannine writers did to John the Baptist may be relevant.
That there _was_ a JB community around at the time seems certain.
Yet the Johannines put words into the mouth of JB that he never
uttered, and which his followers would have strongly disavowed.
Similarly, I doubt whether those nominal Christians who didn't believe
in physical resurrection were much moved or pleased by the "doubting
Thomas" scene. Annoyed and insulted is probably more like it.
All in all, I think the John-Thomas debate is a good one. It has many
interesting facets to it that will no doubt be explored as we proceed,
probably well into September. The most important background
reading seems to be Riley's and Skinner's books, but we'll get
together a more comprehensive list when I get back from San
Best to all,
- Mike wrote: "To my mind, it doesn't compare in negativity with the use of
Thomas. "Uncomprehending character" (Skinner's phrase) is one thing, but
"unbelieving character" is another. Riley observes that although Gos.John
uses the verb "to believe" over 90 times, the word 'apistos'
('unbelieving'/'unfaithful') is used only of Thomas."
Again, I want to point out that such data, taken on its own can seem
impressive in favor of the community-conflict hypothesis. But, when we
undertake a more thorough examination of the Fourth Gospel, this point seems
less weighty. While I can appreciate the significance of this being the only
explicit use of the word "apistos" applied to a character in the Fourth
Gospel, Thomas is not the only character to display "unbelief." In fact,
embedded in my use of the phrase "uncomprehending character" is a given
character's consistent failure to grasp the Fourth Gospel's presentation of
Jesus' message and mission as revealed, initially, in the Prologue (1:1-18)
and built upon thereafter. This means that even though other characters are
not explicitly referred to as "unbelieving,' the overall presentation of
uncomprehending characters includes an element failing to exercise what is
deemed "proper Johannine faith." This is true of disciples and even
non-disciples like Nicodemus (who confesses Jesus as a "teacher from God")
and Martha (who confesses, "I have always believed [intensive perfect of
Greek *pisteuo*] that you are the Christ, the son of God, coming into the
world). Thus, my point is this: it is not necessary for every
uncomprehending character to be called "apistos" for the reader to
understand that those characters have not exercised proper belief (that is,
belief according to Johannine standards).
I hope that at least clarifies my position a little better.
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- Thanks, Chris. I look forward to more discussions after I get
back from San Antonio and get a chance to read your book.
- Came across a couple of interesting reviews of April DeConick's
_Voices of the Mystics: Early Christian Discourse in the Gospels
of John and Thomas and Other Ancient Christian Literature_.
According to the more negative of the two reviews:
"DeConick argues that "the Johannine author creates the Synthetic
End Point, faith mysticism, in response to vision mysticism promoted
by the Thomasine Christians" (p 127). This makes sense to her, does it?
The Johannine author had to invent faith as a way to fight back against
the Thomas group? No one had heard of faith before in Paul's time, say?"
Of course, once one looks at this criticism carefully, it becomes
apparent that its superficial effectiveness is based on the fallacy of
equivocation - in this case, of equating "faith mysticism" with "faith"
simpliciter. The reviewer (who is obviously not sympathetic to
DeConick) gets some other things wrong as well, but still his review
and the other one (which is more positive) are worth reading, I think,
to get some feel for what DeConick wrote in a book which is relevant
to the Riley-Skinner debate, but which most folks (including myself)
- Sorry, it's not the fallacy of equivocation. It's another fallacy which
is related to it by being the opposite side of the same coin. The
fallacy of equivocation is the use of the same word (or phrase) in
two different senses in the same argument. The fallacy that the reviewer
committed is the use of two different words (or phrases) in the same
argument as if they had the same meaning, when in fact they don't.
(This is a common form of fallacious argument, but I don't know the
technical name of it.)
I have followed this thread with great interest for the past few weeks and am happy to have the opportunity to contribute something that may hopefully be of some use. DeConick's 2007 Thomas monograph and her 2008 commentary are what really got me interested in GosThom, so when I was still on my DeConick bender I also read _Voices of the Mystics_ (VoM). While I have since drifted away from the theoretical position DeConick takes in the book, I think it is still well worth the read (and isn't too expensive, around $25 used on amazon). For the most part I agree with the way she approaches intertextuality and diversity in early Christianities, even if I don't agree with her conclusions. In my eyes VoM does not draw on a sufficient amount of evidence to conclude that the Gospel of John was not only aware of, but was written as a polemic against, the Gospel of Thomas. The doubting Thomas scene functions just as well as a rhetorical example within the Gospel of John, and there doesn't seem need to posit an inter-gospel dialogue to explain it. Additionally, if we understand the attribution of the Gospel of Thomas to Thomas (and therefore the prologue) as being a relatively late accretion (which DeConick herself does, dating it as late as 120 CE, see _Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas_ page 98) then we begin to encounter difficulties with the relative dating of John in relation to Thomas. Dating aside, my biggest issue with DeConick's thesis revolves around the rhetoric of Thomas as opposed to the rhetoric of John. I understand Thomas along similar lines that William Arnal and John Kloppenborg understand Q: a document of scribal origin whose rhetorical polemic is aimed primarily against the changing economic relationships that have been brought on by Roman economic expansion. I conclude in agreement with Arnal's 1995 essay, "The Rhetoric of Marginality," arguing that "there are grounds, then, for comparing the Gospel of Thomas and Q [or in our case, John] on the basis of their social characteristics rather than their literary or theological features" (494). Thus while I agree with DeConick that intertextuality is very important in the study of early Christianities, I think that comparisons based on social, rather than theological, characteristics are more helpful.
- Hi Ian,
I hope you won't hesitate to send your further thoughts to the list.
There's always something in what an informed person writes that
sparks others to think and respond. A couple of things that piqued
> ... if we understand the attribution of the Gospel of Thomas to ThomasYes, I see that DeConick dates both references to Thomas (viz., the
> (and therefore the prologue) as being a relatively late accretion (which
> DeConick herself does, dating it as late as 120 CE, see _Recovering
> the Original Gospel of Thomas_ page 98) then we begin to encounter
> difficulties with the relative dating of John in relation to Thomas.
Incipit and L.13) to 80-120. I'm not sure of the import of this. On the
one hand, it might seem that the work could hardly have been called
"The Gospel of Thomas" when it was (supposedly) at a stage where
Thomas wasn't mentioned, but on the other hand we do have gospels
(Luke, Mark) where the attributed author isn't mentioned in the text.
Maybe what DeConick was thinking was that the original kernel of
Thomas was already associated with that name, even though the
text didn't yet contain any references to him.
> ... while I agree with DeConick that intertextuality is very important inTo me, the two go hand-in-glove, both historically and analytically.
> the study of early Christianities, I think that comparisons based on
> social, rather than theological, characteristics are more helpful.
To my way of thinking, theology is/was the hand-maiden of socio-
political considerations. Making a heavenly necessity out of earthly
longings, as it were. One of the intellectual slogans of the time was
"as above, so below", but the actuality seems to have been rather
that "as (we want it to be) below, so (it must be) above".
The problem for us, however, is that the theology of a given group
is explicit in its texts, but the socio-political status usually isn't. So
what do we do? Try to read the latter through the prism of the former,
or turn to some external tool like "the social approach"? One of the
problems I see with that approach is that it focuses (of necessity) on
large groups, so that the kind and scope of socio-political generalities
it typically produces may very well not apply to smaller groups in special
circumstances. In particular, the perceived status of small text-producing
groups - which is exactly what we're interested in. So while the "social
approach" might be helpful if it worked, I tend to think of it as a rather
clumsy macro-tool that doesn't work well at the micro-level needed.
- Hi Mike,
Thanks for the reply.
> Maybe what DeConick was thinking was that the original kernel ofI agree with you that is possible (even likely) that the Thomasine community attributed their gospel to the disciple Thomas before the gospel was so named. I guess what I was trying to convey was that the point you raise should have been more clearly defended, rather than relying on the Gospel's name-sake.
> Thomas was already associated with that name, even though the
> text didn't yet contain any references to him.
> To me, the two go hand-in-glove, both historically and analytically.To this I would respond that yes, I agree that theology and social situations are intimately tied to each other, but I think there is a limit to its usefulness. For example: when we are looking at the theology of GosThom alongside the theology of GosJohn I don't see this approach being as helpful, specifically in the way DeConick utilizes it. When the argument is raised that two documents share certain theological inclinations, we can pursue that argument by asking what the social conditions may have been that made these theological claims attractive to that group. Conversely if the argument is raised that two documents exhibit contradictory theological inclinations (as is argued for GosThom and GosJohn) then we can go on to ask whether or not the social conditions that made opposing the theological claims attractive to each groups may well have been opposing social conditions. I don't think this is the case with GosThom and GosJohn. Here it seems to me that the theological differences can be better explained by analyzing the social conditions of each group, rather than by hypothesizing an inter-gospel debate over proper soteriological understanding of Jesus.
> To my way of thinking, theology is/was the hand-maiden of socio-
> political considerations. Making a heavenly necessity out of earthly
> longings, as it were. One of the intellectual slogans of the time was
> "as above, so below", but the actuality seems to have been rather
> that "as (we want it to be) below, so (it must be) above".
> The problem for us, however, is that the theology of a given groupI would have to disagree. I don't think we can excavate anything explicit from the Gospels. While I appreciate the fact that biblical studies has many wonderful tools with which we can use to analyze our primary sources, the fact of the matter is these tools barely scratch the surface of the world in which these texts were produced. I my mind we need external tools such as: literary criticism, post-colonial theory, critical theory, sociology, archaeology, feminist theory, and so on in order to shed new light on these texts. I share your concern that essentializing groups along theoretical lines set by us in the present isn't helpful, but I would argue that categorization and some degree of generalization can be very helpful in making new insights into ancient texts. Perhaps you could clarify for me your below statement,
> is explicit in its texts, but the socio-political status usually isn't.
> Try to read the latter through the prism of the former,
> or turn to some external tool like "the social approach"? One of the
> problems I see with that approach is that it focuses (of necessity) on
> large groups, so that the kind and scope of socio-political generalities
> it typically produces may very well not apply to smaller groups in special
> In particular, the perceived status of small text-producingI don't think you are saying that the Thomasine community is so utterly unique that we cannot use any other tools to examine it and its gospel. But it does seem to me that you are limiting your tools of analysis, whereas my philosophy would be "the more tools the better."
> groups - which is exactly what we're interested in. So while the "social
> approach" might be helpful if it worked, I tend to think of it as a rather
> clumsy macro-tool that doesn't work well at the micro-level needed.
Sorry I quoted so much of your last post, but it was very thought provoking and I wanted to treat each part of it as fairly as I could.