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Hearing Thomas?

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  • Stephen C. Carlson
    ... Allow me to decline the obvious synoptic problem bait and turn the discussion round to the reception of Thomas. It is true that most folk back then heard
    Message 1 of 6 , Nov 16, 2009
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      On Nov 16, 2009 10:48 AM, stevandavies <stevandavies@...> wrote:
      >I try to keep in mind the fact that most folks back then *heard* books
      >rather than *read* them. And that there weren't very many books in the
      >first place what with scribal copying being an expensive process. I am
      >quite certain that Luke heard Matthew although Luke owned Mark and Q.
      >Luke, having heard Matthew, realized what Matthew had done and decided
      >to do the same thing, only better. So there is actual copying from Mark
      >to Luke, but only a basic idea from Matthew to Luke. Similarly, it might
      >be reasonable to think that John heard Mark and, having gotten the idea
      >of a certain sort of narrative biography from Mark, John went off and
      >wrote his own book from his own sources.

      Allow me to decline the obvious synoptic problem bait and turn
      the discussion round to the reception of Thomas. It is true
      that most folk back then heard books read aloud. Justin gives
      some evidence of this in Christian circles in the mid 2d century.

      I wonder about Thomas, though. Is the kind of text that would be
      read aloud in a communal setting? Or--given its emphasis, right
      at the beginning, of disclosing hidden/secret sayings of the living
      Jesus--is the kind of text that was read in more private settings?
      I wonder if Thomas was the kind of text that was used in small
      classes or groups of around 2-5 people, where a teacher would read
      aloud from the text a saying or two and the rest of the people in
      the group would discuss its interpretation. Sort of like a modern
      seminar.

      The actual use of Thomas in antiquity fascinates me more than what
      meaning it is attempting to convey. In fact, I would suggest that
      understanding how it was used is an important clue to understanding
      what it meant.

      Stephen

      --
      Stephen C. Carlson
      Ph.D. student, Religion, Duke University
      Author of The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark (Baylor, 2005)
    • Michael Grondin
      ... I couldn t agree more on both points, Stephen. What I find curious is that the Coptic version has certain features which couldn t have been perceived from
      Message 2 of 6 , Nov 16, 2009
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        > The actual use of Thomas in antiquity fascinates me more than what
        > meaning it is attempting to convey. In fact, I would suggest that
        > understanding how it was used is an important clue to understanding
        > what it meant.

        I couldn't agree more on both points, Stephen. What I find curious is that
        the Coptic version has certain features which couldn't have been perceived
        from hearing it - such as the numerically-based chiastic structure of the
        prologue. One might even quite easily miss that - as modern scholars have
        done - if the words were right there in front of you. Does this mean that
        the Coptic version was a special, perhaps commemorative, edition? Or did
        other versions of GosThom have something of this same aspect to them?
        The former seems more likely (given lack of support for the latter in the
        Greek fragments), but in that case, doubts arise as to whether our main
        exemplar of GTh was ever used in an instructional setting, even if other
        versions might have been.

        Regards,
        Mike
      • Bob Schacht
        ... Does this not lead us back to the old idea that Thomas is Gnostic ? i.e., intended as secret knowledge for the initiated, rather than public knowledge for
        Message 3 of 6 , Nov 16, 2009
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          At 01:48 PM 11/16/2009, Michael Grondin wrote:
          >
          >
          > > The actual use of Thomas in antiquity fascinates me more than what
          > > meaning it is attempting to convey. In fact, I would suggest that
          > > understanding how it was used is an important clue to understanding
          > > what it meant.
          >
          >I couldn't agree more on both points, Stephen. What I find curious is that
          >the Coptic version has certain features which couldn't have been perceived
          >from hearing it - such as the numerically-based chiastic structure of the
          >prologue. One might even quite easily miss that - as modern scholars have
          >done - if the words were right there in front of you. Does this mean that
          >the Coptic version was a special, perhaps commemorative, edition? Or did
          >other versions of GosThom have something of this same aspect to them?
          >The former seems more likely (given lack of support for the latter in the
          >Greek fragments), but in that case, doubts arise as to whether our main
          >exemplar of GTh was ever used in an instructional setting, even if other
          >versions might have been.
          >
          >Regards,
          >Mike

          Does this not lead us back to the old idea that Thomas is "Gnostic"?
          i.e., intended as secret knowledge for the initiated, rather than
          public knowledge for the multitudes?

          As I recall the Received version of the conflict between the
          established church and the Gnostics (perhaps I'm influenced by Pagels
          here), one of the reasons for the canonical NT is that the
          established church wanted to say, "Here's everything that is
          necessary and sufficient for salvation. You don't need anything else
          but these books." Whereas, the Gnostics were accused of having secret
          books that would only be revealed to the Elect.

          I'm oversimplifying, of course, but isn't this essentially the basic
          difference in how the different factions "read" their sacred literature?

          Bob Schacht
          Northern Arizona University



          [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
        • Ian Brown
          Bob, you wrote, ... I don t think that the presence of secret knowledge forces us to assume a document is gnostic. Both Michael Allen Williams (Rethinking
          Message 4 of 6 , Nov 16, 2009
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            Bob, you wrote,


            >Does this not lead us back to the old idea that Thomas is "Gnostic"?
            >i.e., intended as secret knowledge for the initiated, rather than
            >public knowledge for the multitudes?

            >As I recall the Received version of the conflict between the
            >established church and the Gnostics (perhaps I'm influenced by Pagels
            >here), one of the reasons for the canonical NT is that the
            >established church wanted to say, "Here's everything that is
            >necessary and sufficient for salvation. You don't need anything else
            >but these books." Whereas, the Gnostics were accused of having secret
            >books that would only be revealed to the Elect.

            I don't think that the presence of "secret knowledge" forces us to assume a document is gnostic. Both Michael Allen Williams (Rethinking Gnosticism, 1996), and Karen King (What is Gnosticism?, 2003) have illustrated quite nicely the problem with using "Gnosticism" as a catch all term (one of the things it used to catch was "secret knowledge). Indeed by arguing that secret knowledge leads to Gnostic interpretations denies other discourses in which "secret knowledge" was valued. Here I am thinking of certain versions of aestheticism, entraticism, mysticism, and even Middle-Platonism.
            Without hazarding a guess as to how Thomas uses "secret knowledge," I would argue that there are many non Gnostic interpretations that can and should be considered before we decide "secret knowledge" is not a useful category of description.

            ian


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            [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
          • Bob Schacht
            ... Ian, Thanks for your reply. Let me take this sideways a little. Do we know anything about what Valentinian thought of GTH? Or any of the other well-known
            Message 5 of 6 , Nov 16, 2009
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              At 04:43 PM 11/16/2009, Ian Brown wrote:

              >Bob, you wrote,
              >
              > >Does this not lead us back to the old idea that Thomas is "Gnostic"?
              > >i.e., intended as secret knowledge for the initiated, rather than
              > >public knowledge for the multitudes?
              >
              > >As I recall the Received version of the conflict between the
              > >established church and the Gnostics (perhaps I'm influenced by Pagels
              > >here), one of the reasons for the canonical NT is that the
              > >established church wanted to say, "Here's everything that is
              > >necessary and sufficient for salvation. You don't need anything else
              > >but these books." Whereas, the Gnostics were accused of having secret
              > >books that would only be revealed to the Elect.
              >
              >I don't think that the presence of "secret knowledge" forces us to
              >assume a document is gnostic. Both Michael Allen Williams
              >(Rethinking Gnosticism, 1996), and Karen King (What is Gnosticism?,
              >2003) have illustrated quite nicely the problem with using
              >"Gnosticism" as a catch all term (one of the things it used to catch
              >was "secret knowledge). Indeed by arguing that secret knowledge
              >leads to Gnostic interpretations denies other discourses in which
              >"secret knowledge" was valued. Here I am thinking of certain
              >versions of aestheticism, entraticism, mysticism, and even Middle-Platonism.
              >Without hazarding a guess as to how Thomas uses "secret knowledge,"
              >I would argue that there are many non Gnostic interpretations that
              >can and should be considered before we decide "secret knowledge" is
              >not a useful category of description.
              >
              >ian


              Ian,
              Thanks for your reply.
              Let me take this sideways a little.
              Do we know anything about what Valentinian thought of GTH? Or any of
              the other well-known Gnostics who were for a time accepted members of
              the Christian establishment?

              Bob Schacht
              Northern Arizona University

              [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
            • Jeff
              ... Hi Stephen, I think that Gthom, ever since its second version (the period when the first editions were made on the kernel sayings), was used as a
              Message 6 of 6 , Nov 22, 2009
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                "Stephen C. Carlson" wrote:

                > The actual use of Thomas in antiquity fascinates me more than what
                > meaning it is attempting to convey. In fact, I would suggest that
                > understanding how it was used is an important clue to understanding
                > what it meant.

                Hi Stephen,

                I think that Gthom, ever since its 'second' version (the period when the first editions were made on the 'kernel'sayings), was used as a 'meditation gospel', to be 'read' and contemplated maybe one logion per day.


                regards,
                Jeff
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