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