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Gnostic Ideas Concerning "Eating"

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  • Horace Jeffery Hodges
    Frank McCoy wrote me a message off-list concerning one of my papers, but since the scheduled paper for this week s discussion did not appear, I d like to post
    Message 1 of 4 , Apr 3, 2001
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      Frank McCoy wrote me a message off-list concerning one
      of my papers, but since the scheduled paper for this
      week's discussion did not appear, I'd like to post his
      message and my reply here:

      FRANK NOTES: In your first paper, you write:

      "Suppose that Gnostic substance dualism[9]
      characterizes The Gospel of John. What would one then
      expect in the encounter between Jesus and the world?
      Based upon what we know of Gnosticism, the world would
      attempt to gain control over Jesus in order to obtain
      his spiritual power, but Jesus would attempt to avoid
      falling captive to the world.[10] How would the world
      attempt to gain control? By trying to mix matter with
      spirit.[11] Gnostic texts often describe this mixing
      in terms of eating, perhaps the most appropriate means
      of conceptualizing the mixing of matter and spirit,
      given that eating effects a boundary transgression
      resulting in a mixing of the most immediate, intimate,
      and
      recognizable kind. The Acta Archelai, for instance,
      recounts the Manichaean pre-cosmic myth describing how
      matter consumed the spiritual substance from the realm
      of light and thereby trapped it.[12] Being eaten-or,
      more characteristically, eating[13]-would thus
      constitute a grave threat that the Gnostic revealer
      must constantly guard himself against."

      This illustrates an area where I perceive a weakness
      in your two papers. That is, when discussing Gnostic
      ideas about "eating", you seem to heavily rely on
      rather late Gnostic texts, i.e., Mandaean and
      Manichaean texts.
      These were likely written centuries after John, so
      their applicability to interpreting 19:28-30 is highly
      questionable. I think that Piet van Valduizer was
      hinting at this weakness in his question to you about
      the dating of the Mandaean texts and their
      relationship to John.

      JEFFERY REPLIES: I think that your point about the
      dating of sources would only be a debilitating
      weakness if I were trying to argue for John's Gospel
      having been written as a response to Gnosticism (such
      as Bultmann does), but I am not doing that. Rather, I
      am presenting a contrast of John and Gnosticism as
      religious systems.

      Anyway, I don't only use late texts. I also cite
      (among other texts) "The Apocryphon of John", which is
      generally considered a relatively early example of
      Classic Gnosticism.

      FRANK ADDS: Also, I suspect that these late Gnostic
      ideas about matter "eating" spirit and the reverse do
      not reflect Gnosic and proto-Gnostic thought that
      was in existence in the late first century and early
      second century CE. In particular, I fail to see it in
      the Gospel of Thomas. . . . [Cf.] saying 7. "Blessed
      is the lion which becomes man when consumed by man;
      and cursed is the man whom the lion consumes, and the
      lion becomes man.", and the last part of GTh 11, "In
      the days when you consumed what is dead, you made it
      what is alive. When you come into the light, what
      will you do? On the day when when you were one you
      became two. But when you become two, what will you
      do?"

      JEFFERY REPLIES: Well, how Gnostic is the Gospel of
      Thomas? A lot of scholars think that it fails to
      qualify as full-fledges Gnosticism. As for
      "proto-Gnosticism", I consider that a rather dubious
      category because it's difficult to demonstrate any
      clear timeline in the development of Gnostic thought.
      Still, even if there was proto-Gnosticism in the late
      first century, it doesn't much concern me in my two
      papers since I'm contrasting John with Gnosticism, not
      with proto-Gnosticism.

      At any rate, if you look at the spectrum of genuinely
      Gnostic writings, you will see that "matter" (hyle)
      constitutes an enormous problem for Gnostics. This
      follows from Gnosticism's understanding of good and
      evil as grounded in substance dualism. Material food
      thus poses a problem for Gnostics.

      Thank you very much for your interest.

      Jeffery Hodges

      =====
      Assistant Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges
      Department of English Language and Literature
      Hanshin University (Korean Theological University)
      447-791 Kyunggido Osan-City
      Yangsandong 411
      South Korea

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    • Horace Jeffery Hodges
      Since this is a week off from discussion of papers, perhaps people can help supply me with a bibliography -- and this will be a rather broad request (so
      Message 2 of 4 , Apr 9, 2001
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        Since this is a week off from discussion of papers,
        perhaps people can help supply me with a bibliography
        -- and this will be a rather broad request (so
        interpret it broadly).

        As you know if you have read my two articles (and will
        learn now if you haven't), I am interested in
        combining work done in the sociology and anthropology
        of religion with Johannine exegesis (well, not only on
        John, I've also written on Mark) -- especially with
        respect to the symbolic function of food/drink for
        issues of sacred/profane, pure/impure, dualisms of
        various kinds, movement across boundaries separating
        various binarisms of good/bad, etc.

        I've focused upon food (and drink) because these play
        a real and symbolic role on different levels:

        1) food/drink as life -- they bring life

        2) food/drink as gifts -- they presuppose reciprocity

        3) food/drink as communal -- they forge bonds

        4) food/drink as ritual -- they can be sacramental

        Of course, food/drink can bring impurity (cf. 4) and
        death (cf. 1), and rejecting food/drink or not
        offering food/drink in return can bring alienation
        (cf. 2 and 3). In fact, this ambiguity of food and its
        functions is what fascinates me -- especially in John
        (and in Gnosticism) -- because it relates to those
        issues of sacred/profane, pure/impure, dualisms of
        various kinds, movement across boundaries separating
        various binarisms of good/bad, etc that I have
        referred to above.

        I'd appreciate bibliographic suggestions. I'd be
        especially interested in knowing what has been written
        on the development of the eucharist in New Testament
        Christianity as well as upon the ideas of purity and
        impurity, holiness and the profane in the movement
        from Jewish to Christian views in New Testament
        Christianity.

        Beyond this, any sociology or anthropology of religion
        studies of sacred and profane, pure and impure --
        especially with respect to New Testament Christianity
        -- would be helpful.

        Naturally, those works focusing upon John or of
        interest to Johannine scholars would be the most
        helpful.

        Jeffery Hodges

        =====
        Assistant Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges
        Hanshin University (Korean Theological University)
        447-791 Kyunggido Osan-City
        Yangsandong 411
        South Korea

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