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RE: [GTh] On the Net: The Dick Harfield Story, pt.2

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  • David C Hindley
    Mike, Two words: Nicholas Perrin In Thomas and Tatian: The Relationship between the Gospel of Thomas and the Diatessaron (SBL, 2002), Perrin proposes that
    Message 1 of 5 , Feb 18, 2011
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      Mike,
       
      Two words: "Nicholas Perrin"
       
      In Thomas and Tatian: The Relationship between the Gospel of Thomas and the Diatessaron (SBL, 2002), Perrin proposes that the GOT was originally written in Syriac in the late 2nd century, borrowing from the Diatessaron of Tatian. So, the sequence would, in Perrin's view, be Syriac original (with the Syriac Diatessaron influencing the sayings of Jesus), then translated into Greek. The Coptic could then be a translation from either the Syriac original or the Greek translation. See the RBL review at:
       
      Regardless of whether Perrin is on track about his reconstructions of the Greek translation and Syriac original of the GOT or the redating of the Oxyrhynchus fragments of GOT into the late 2nd or even early 3rd century, keep in mind that Bently Layton has related that many scholars have proposed that, on the basis of the Acts of Thomas (which place the area of his activity in "Greater Syria" and was probably composed in Syriac), and the 4th century travel chronicle of Egeria (which mentions his tomb in the city of Edessa), the traditions about him originate in either Syria or northern Mesopotamia (Gnostic Scriptures, 1987), radiating from there into predominantly Greek, Coptic and Latin speaking regions.
       
      I suppose it is possible to then hypothesize from this that the Greek or Coptic translations brought the sayings closer to the forms found in the canonical gospels.
       
      Respectfully,

      Dave Hindley
      Newton Falls, Ohio USA

       


      From: gthomas@yahoogroups.com [mailto:gthomas@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of M.W. Grondin
      Sent: Friday, February 18, 2011 1:10 AM
      To: gthomas@yahoogroups.com
      Subject: [GTh] On the Net: The Dick Harfield Story, pt.2

      Story time, folks. This little story, which is all true (to the best of my knowledge),
      involves GTh, IGT, the site Answers.com, and the individuals Tony Burke (as
      he is now known, having dropped the 'Chartrand' from his name), the esteemed
      Andrew Criddle, yours truly, and one Dick Harfield.
       
      Who is Dick Harfield, you ask? Well, it turns out he's a supervisor at Answers.com,
      with a ranking of 946 compared to my, uh, zero. Heedless of his Goliath status, I tangled
      with him last fall, reporting on the not-unfriendly encounter to the list on September 12th,
      under the title "At WikiAnswers" (link below). It seems that Harfield had answered a
      question and I didn't much like part of his answer. The question was "What Gospels
      were not included in the Bible?" In the course of his answer, Harfield wrote as follows:
       
      > The Gospel of Thomas, although originally of Gnostic origin, was
      > apparently modified for use in the proto-Catholic-Orthodox Church ...
       
      What I questioned about this was Harfield's assertion that GosThom was
      "modified for use in the ... Church". I wondered where that idea came from.
      Andrew Criddle suggested that it might have come from the (online) 1907 edition
      of the Catholic Encyclopedia, which confused GTh (whose contents were largely
      unknown at the time) with IGT. Seems that the editors (and other scholars of the
      time) thought that IGT was GTh. Since they had a few excerpts from the real GTh
      (from Hippolytus, e.g.), and since they knew that it had a reputation for being
      gnostic, but since they also realized there was nothing like that in IGT, they
      theorized that GTh had been expurgated of its gnostic elements. (Fortunately,
      such scholarly gaffes are a thing of the past :-)
       
      Tony Burke's 2001 thesis on IGT puts it this way:
      > "Upon IGT's discovery scholars immediately identified the text as the
      > "Gospel of Thomas" mentioned by a number of early Church writers and
      > frequently associated with gnostics. The absence of anything remotely
      > gnostic in the text led to the creation of an expurgation theory which holds
      > that gnostic discourses must have been removed from the text by a Catholic
      > reviser. With the publication of the Gospel of Thomas from Nag Hammadi in
      > 1956 both the association with Gnosticism and the expurgation theory should
      > have come to an end; yet many scholars continue to claim that gnostic sayings
      > have been removed from the text."

      Now I don't know how many questions there are on Answers.com (and comparable
      sites like Yahoo Answers) having to do with the Gospel of Thomas. I've never attempted
      to survey them, but I did happen to run into another one the other day, and the answer
      involved the same Dick Harfield, and the same assertion. (To be fair, Harfield wrote his
      answer on 3 Mar 2009, long before our encounter. On the other hand, he didn't change 
      it after our encounter.) In this particular Q-and-A, the question was "What is the Gospel
      of Thomas About?" Harfield's answer included the following:
       
      > "Scholars believe that the Gospel of Thomas was originally more clearly a Gnostic
      > Christian gospel, but that it was modified by orthodox Christians in order to make
      > it acceptable to their church."
       
      I fear to speculate how many times Harfield has repeated this misinformation in
      various answers to various questions. This time, however, I was able to counter it
      with Andrew's info, coupled with the above quote from Burke's thesis. The results
      can be seen (at the present time, anyway) in the "Discuss Question" section of:
       

      (Message over 64 KB, truncated)
    • M.W. Grondin
      ... Well, the hypothesis in question is that GTh was significantly de-gnosticized at some point in time. Seems clear that the kinds of changes arising from the
      Message 2 of 5 , Feb 18, 2011
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        [Dave Hindley]:
        > I suppose it is possible to ... hypothesize
        from [Diatessaronic or other Syriac
        > origin] that the Greek or Coptic translations brought the
        sayings closer to the
        > forms found in the canonical gospels.
         
        Well, the hypothesis in question is that GTh was significantly de-gnosticized
        at some point in time. Seems clear that the kinds of changes arising from the
        process of translation alone wouldn't be enough to support that suggestion.
        Furthermore, any portion of GTh based on the Diatessaron wouldn't have
        required any de-gnosticizing changes, since the Diatessaron was itself a
        conglomeration of the Greek canonical gospels translated into Syriac.
         
        Mike
        p.s.: To correct a mistake in the postscript to my last note, the mentioned
        voting is on Yahoo Answers, not Answers.com. There are a number of significant
        differences in the way these sites handle Q-and-A's. Among other things, there's
        only one answer given on Answers.com (where I've interacted with Dick Harfield),
        and that answer can be modified or replaced without time limit, whereas on Yahoo
        Answers, there's a bunch of answers given by individuals, and a time limit on
        giving answers and then voting for the best one.
         
      • David C Hindley
        Mike, I can see how a Christian apologetics website could say something like that. Layton discusses the Myth of Origins (pg 360) in the Thomas tradition:
        Message 3 of 5 , Feb 18, 2011
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          Mike,
           
          I can see how a Christian apologetics website could say something like that.
           
          Layton discusses the "Myth of Origins" (pg 360) in the Thomas tradition:
           
          "Despite these parallels [esp. with the Valentinian school] the Thomas literature shows no unmistakable signs of being Valentinian or classically gnostic. Instead, it presupposes only an uncomplicated Hellenistic myth of the divine origins of the self ...
           
          According to this myth, the individual true self (spirit, soul, living element) 'has come from' or 'has been sent from' the 'kingdom of light' in the East, i.e. belongs to the spiritual world. It [i.e., the true self] now resides resides within a realm, i.e. a state, of 'sleep, drunkenness, darkness, and death,' whose rulers are malevolent authorities ... By the will of the 'king' or 'father' a savior (Jesus), or a personified message, is sent to awaken , sober up, illuminate, and vivify the self, which learns to recognize itself [for what it is] and to distinguish between light and darkness. The saviors message causes the self to return to its proper home (the kingdom), i.e. to its proper state ...
           
          The myth of the soul is to some extent compatible with more complex systems like the gnostic or Valentinian myth ..."
           
          Not every critic agrees what "gnostic" was supposed to look like. Some see it as an either-or thing: You are either a Gnostic (i.e., wrong) or Orthodox (i.e., right thinking), there is no middle ground.  Others are not so convinced that the Latin or Arabic forms of the Diatessaron accurately translates the Syriac, which has not fully survived, simply because it was compiled by Tatian, who was said by Irenaeus "(Haer., I., xxvlii. 1, Ante-Nicene Fathers, i. 353) that after the death of Justin, he was expelled from the church for his Encratitic (ascetic) views (Eusebius claims he founded the Encratitic sect), as well as for being a follower of the gnostic leader Valentinius" (so Wikipedia). To these folks, the Latin and Arabic versions of the Diatessaron, and perhaps even the Syriac ones that were used in the 3rd & 4th centuries, have been made more orthodox to remove Tatian's own views.
           
          Per Wicki,
           
          "The starting-point of Tatian's theology is a strict monotheism which becomes the source of the moral life. Originally the human soul possessed faith in one God, but lost it with the fall. In consequence man sank under the rule of demons into the abominable error of polytheism. By monotheistic faith the soul is delivered from the material world and from demonic rule and is united with God. God is spirit (pneuma), but not the physical or stoical pneuma; he was alone before the creation, but he had within himself potentially the whole creation.

          The means of creation was the dynamis logike ("power expressed in words"). At first there proceeded from God the Logos who, generated in the beginning, was to produce the world by creating matter from which the whole creation sprang. Creation is penetrated by the pneuma hylikon, "world spirit," which is common to angels, stars, men, animals, and plants. This world spirit is lower than the divine pneuma, and becomes in man the psyche or "soul," so that on the material side and in his soul man does not differ essentially from the animals; though at the same time he is called to a peculiar union with the divine spirit, which raises him above the animals. This spirit is the image of God in man, and to it man's immortality is due.

          The first-born of the spirits fell and caused others to fall, and thus the demons originated. The fall of the spirits was brought about through their desire to separate man from God, in order that he might serve not God but them. Man, however, was implicated in this fall, lost his blessed abode and his soul was deserted by the divine spirit, and sank into the material sphere, in which only a faint reminiscence of God remained alive.

          As by freedom man fell, so by freedom he may turn again to God. The Spirit unites with the souls of those who walk uprightly; through the prophets he reminds men of their lost likeness to God."

           
          So, say a Syriac GOT was more in line with the myth as found in the Hymn of the Pearl or Tatian, which would fly in northern Mesopotamia, and it is being transmitted to areas where this kind of myth might not be so warmly received, but still has elements to admire, translators may file off the rough edges, to bring it back into conformity with Orthodoxy.
           
          However, I think you may well be right and Harfield simply thinks the IGT is the GOT, based either on the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia article or on the ANF intro for the (Infancy) Gospel of Thomas. The ANF was published in 24 subscription installments between 1867-1872 from Edinburgh Scotland. The American edition, which is what one will find online, had new introductions and was condensed into 10 volumes, again published in subscription installments between 1885-1896.
           
          Respectfully,

          Dave Hindley
          Newton Falls, Ohio USA

           


          From: gthomas@yahoogroups.com [mailto:gthomas@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of M.W. Grondin
          Sent: Friday, February 18, 2011 2:09 PM
          To: gthomas@yahoogroups.com
          Subject: Re: [GTh] On the Net: The Dick Harfield Story, pt.2

          [Dave Hindley]:
          > I suppose it is possible to ... hypothesize from [Diatessaronic or other Syriac
          > origin] that the Greek or Coptic translations brought the sayings closer to the
          > forms found in the canonical gospels.
           
          Well, the hypothesis in question is that GTh was significantly de-gnosticized
          at some point in time. Seems clear that the kinds of changes arising from the
          process of translation alone wouldn't be enough to support that suggestion.
          Furthermore, any portion of GTh based on the Diatessaron wouldn't have
          required any de-gnosticizing changes, since the Diatessaron was itself a
          conglomeration of the Greek canonical gospels translated into Syriac.
           
          Mike
           
        • M.W. Grondin
          Further developments on this front: At YahooAnswers, my answer to the question of whether GTh has anything apocalyptic in it has been chosen best answer by a
          Message 4 of 5 , Feb 19, 2011
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            Further developments on this front:
            At YahooAnswers, my answer to the question of whether GTh has anything
            apocalyptic in it has been chosen best answer by a landslide - 100% to 0%.
            (OK, there were only three votes, one of which was mine, but hey, a win's a win.)
             
            Over at Answers.com, I decided to try to give myself a "trust point". It worked:
            "We're writing to let you know that your contributions on Answers.com are appreciated.
            A fellow contributor has recommended you with a trust point, thanking you for your
             
            "Fellow contributor" indeed. Something's wrong with the system, I'd say.
            But hey, I now have one "trust point". Only 953 to go to match Harfield.
             
            Seriously, though, I've had a few exchanges the last couple days with Harfield.
            I mentioned our group, so he may be browsing these messages at some point.
            The latest disagreement I have with him is over his answer to the question
            "Why is the Gospel of St. Thomas dismissed by the Vatican as heresy?"
             
            Harfield's answer was this:
            "It is an accident of history that the Gospel of Thomas was not included in
            the New Testament. It was originally written in the Gnostic milieu, but was
            modified and widely adopted in the proto-Catholic-Orthodox branch of Christianity. 
            Thomas initially had much support for inclusion in the Bible, but Ireneus insisted that
            there must be only four gospels and that those were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
            Thomas is not in the New Testament and is therefore heresy."
             
            Having already swapped a few introductory messages on our Answers.com message
            boards, I wrote him a short response to each claim in the above answer, as follows:
             
            (1) "It is an accident of history that the Gospel of Thomas was not included in the New Testament." 
            Your basis for this claim seems to be what Ireneus said, but I think you've misinterpreted that. See below. 

            (2) "It was originally written in the Gnostic milieu, but was modified and widely adopted in the
            proto-Catholic-Orthodox branch of Christianity." 
            As far as I know, it was not "widely adopted" and was not de-gnosticized. 

            (3) "Thomas initially had much support for inclusion in the Bible ..." 
            I'm unaware of any evidence for this claim. GTh seems to have been little-known,
            and those writers who knew of it didn't like it. 

            (4)" ... but Ireneus insisted that there must be only four gospels ..." 
            I think this is generally understood among scholars as Ireneus making a virtue of necessity. He didn't in fact "insist" 
            that there only be four gospels. There were generally agreed to be four and he presented the fait accompli as being
            divinely fore-ordained. If there had been general agreement on five, he would have come up with some other rationalization why THAT was divinely inspired. 

            (5) "Thomas is not in the New Testament and is therefore heresy." 
            Not true. There are other books (e.g., Shepherd of Hermas, Epistle of Barnabas) not included in the canon, but not
            considered to be heretical, either. It's the other way 'round - it was considered heretical and therefore isn't in the NT. 
             
            For the full context of this and other messages, see:
             
            I'm interested in what you all honestly think about Harfield's answer above, and my response
            to it. Were my responses historically and/or interpretationally correct? Are there a better ones?
            Or was Harfield right about some of these five points? How should the original question be
            answered?
             
            Best,
            Mike
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