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[GTh] Re: Inter-Christian Polemic in GJn?

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  • jmgcormier
    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
    Message 1 of 25 , Aug 11, 2009
      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 ?

      Maurice ...
    • Michael Grondin
      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
      Message 2 of 25 , Aug 11, 2009
        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
        the issue.

        > ... 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"...

        DeConick implies that a number of Coptic experts think that 68.2 is
        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 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 ... "will find" no place (future tense).

        I don't see any problem with two adjacent sentences having different
        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.

        Regards,
        Mike
      • Michael Grondin
        ... Insofar as there may be evidence of a Syriac community founded by the apostle Thomas, I d withdraw my recommendation. But Riley doesn t seem to use that
        Message 3 of 25 , Aug 19, 2009
          About ten days ago, I wrote the following:

          > 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 ...

          Insofar as there may be evidence of a Syriac community founded
          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
          Antonio (19th-24th).

          Best to all,
          Mike Grondin
        • Christopher Skinner
          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
          Message 4 of 25 , Aug 19, 2009
            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.

            Regards,

            Chris Skinner


            [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
          • Michael Grondin
            Thanks, Chris. I look forward to more discussions after I get back from San Antonio and get a chance to read your book. Best wishes, Mike
            Message 5 of 25 , Aug 19, 2009
              Thanks, Chris. I look forward to more discussions after I get
              back from San Antonio and get a chance to read your book.

              Best wishes,
              Mike
            • Michael Grondin
              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
              Message 6 of 25 , Aug 27, 2009
                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)
                haven't read.

                http://www.amazon.com/Voices-Mystics-Academic-Paperback-Deconick/product-reviews/0567081281/ref=dp_top_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1

                Mike Grondin
              • Michael Grondin
                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
                Message 7 of 25 , Aug 27, 2009
                  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.)

                  Mike G.
                • ianbrown6796
                  Michael, 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
                  Message 8 of 25 , Aug 28, 2009
                    Michael,

                    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.

                    Ian
                  • Michael Grondin
                    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
                    Message 9 of 25 , Aug 28, 2009
                      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
                      my interest:

                      > ... 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.

                      Yes, I see that DeConick dates both references to Thomas (viz., the
                      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 in
                      > the study of early Christianities, I think that comparisons based on
                      > social, rather than theological, characteristics are more helpful.

                      To me, the two go hand-in-glove, both historically and analytically.
                      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.

                      Regards,
                      Mike
                    • ianbrown6796
                      Hi Mike, Thanks for the reply. ... I agree with you that is possible (even likely) that the Thomasine community attributed their gospel to the disciple Thomas
                      Message 10 of 25 , Aug 28, 2009
                        Hi Mike,

                        Thanks for the reply.

                        You wrote:
                        > 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.

                        I 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.

                        You wrote:
                        > To me, the two go hand-in-glove, both historically and analytically.
                        > 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".

                        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.

                        You wrote:
                        > 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.
                        > 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.

                        I 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,

                        > 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.

                        I 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."

                        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.

                        Ian
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