The Pope and non-canonical sayings

Michael Peppard (Fordham University) has written a fun piece in the online Commonwealth Magazine on the Pope's recent reference to a non-canonical saying.  Take a look HERE.
Thanks to Fr. Imbelli for drawing our attention to the Pope’s homily from Easter Vigil (full text here). I am always enriched by Pope Benedict’s utilization of early Christian texts and traditions in his explication of Catholic faith and practice. The Vigil is the perfect time to recall the centrality of “illumination” (photismos) in the early Church. For contemporary listeners, ideas of illumination or enlightenment might sound more at home in Buddhism or even “new age” spirituality, but in fact, they were at the heart of early Christian initiation, especially in the east (Egypt, Palestine, and Syria). For example, when Cyril of Jerusalem describes those preparing for initiation, he often calls them “those about to be illuminated/enlightened” (photizomenoi). Moreover, the “light from light” image was so indispensable as a symbol of the idea of undiminished giving that it can rightly be thought of as the foundational image of Nicene Christology (cf. Jaroslav Pelikan’s little gem of a book, The Light of the World: A Basic Image in Early Christian Thought, 1962). 

But what caught my attention even more is the quotation of Jesus with which Fr. Imbelli’s excerpt concludes. The Pope said: “‘Whoever is close to me is close to the fire,’ as Jesus is reported by Origen to have said.” It’s true that this is one of the so-called agrapha from the early Church, things which early Christian writers said that Jesus said, but which the New Testament does not record. And it’s true that Origen said that Jesus said this, and Jesus certainly might have said this.

But another true way of reporting the quote would be: “‘Whoever is close to me is close to the fire,’ as Jesus is reported by the Gospel of Thomas to have said.” (It’s logion #82, for those interested.) MORE...

Aeon Byte Interview

Miguel Connor of Aeon Byte interviewed me recently about the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas. He has a website where downloads are available HERE. If you scroll down, you will find at the bottom a menu of all his shows and his many guests. This is quite a resource that Mr. Connor has put together over the years! His website contains downloads of shows featuring a variety of well-known scholars discussing their ideas about the ancient world on everything from Hermetism to Gnosticism to Mysticism. Thank you Miguel for caring so much about esotericism in the ancient world, making these interviews available to all.

Apocryphote of the Day: 2-19-09

"He who seeks will find me in children from seven years onwards. For there I am found, who am hidden, in the fourteenth aeon."

Hippolytus of Rome, quoting from the Naassene's version of the Gospel of Thomas, Refutation 5.7,20

Commentary: I have no doubt that the Naassenes had their own version of the Gospel of Thomas. Much of their system is based on certain ideologies present in the Gospel of Thomas, such as the encratic lifestyle (=celibacy), and the primal hermaphodite Man as the original image of God and goal of human existence. They used altered versions of certain sayings in the Gospel of Thomas to support their own Gnostic ideologies and rituals. Fascinating how a Syrian encratic gospel of Jesus' sayings becomes adapted by a later Gnostic Christian group in Rome (?). Its use by these sorts of groups may be one of the reasons that it was not a favored gospel in Roman Christianity and did not manage to make the big "4".

Apocryphote of the Day: 10-13-08

[Judas (Thomas)] said, "Tell me Lord, what is the beginning of the way?"
He said, "Love and goodness."

Dialogue of the Savior 142.5-7 (Syrian Christian encratic text, early second century)

Commentary: Judas Thomas (The Twin in Johannine gospel) is the hero of early Syrian encratic Christianity. Here he asks a question very similar to John 14:5: "Lord we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" to which Jesus responds, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me." When we compare these two texts, it is fascinating how the Syrian text frames Thomas' question in a positive sense, while the Johannine author does not. Also, look at the difference in answers. In Syrian Christianity, it is a personal ethics that is the beginning of the spiritual journey (as it is in Jewish Christianity). Not so in Johannine gospel which promotes here salvation through the work of an intermediary figure, Jesus. I have made the argument in the past (in my book VOICES OF THE MYSTICS) that the Johannine gospel is responding to a form of Syrian Christianity (represented by the Gospel of Thomas) which it does not approve. The Dialogue of the Savior is a text coming from the same Christian tradition as the Gospel of Thomas, and reveals a continuation of the conflict between encratic Syrian Christianity and that promoted by the Gospel of John.

Novgorodian icon of the Apostle Thomas, 1350 - 1370 CE

Apocryphote of the Day: 9-22-08

Jesus said, "Do not be anxious from morning until evening and from evening until morning, neither about your food and what you will eat, nor about your clothing and what you will wear. You are far better than the lilies which neither card nor spin. As for you, when you have no clothing, what will you put on? Who might add to your stature? He will give you clothing."

Gospel of Thomas, P. Oxy. 655.i.1-17 (reconstructed)

For photo and MORE GO HERE
Photo by Dave Rossman for the Houston Chronicle
Parishoners arrive for in the dark for mass at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church on 9-21-08

Robin Parry's new blog and review of Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas

Robin Parry has started his own blog on theological musings called "Theological Scribbles." Welcome to the blog world! He is the editor for Pasternoster, a theological press in the UK. His says that his blog is his own, not affiliated with the press he runs.

I learned about his blog because several people have written me with a link to a review that he posted of my book, Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas. His review is very kind! He writes:
Whilst I have read the enigmatic, so-called 'Gospel' of Thomas I have not read many books about it. It is most certainly a topic WAY out of my zone of knowledge. But one of the books that I did read I found to be absolutely exhilarating. It was April D. DeConnick's Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas: A History of the Gospel and its Growth (T&T CLark, 2005).

I love the sheer iconoclasm of her work. Almost everyone seems to think that Thomas was an early, non-eschatological document from a proto-Gnostic Christian group that saw Jesus in the mode of a philosophical Sage. But DeConnick says, in brief, "Rubbish! It is rooted in the mission of the early Jerusalem Church and, in its earliest versions, it was thoroughly eschatological!"
Continued HERE

Finishing the Male-Female Apocryphote Series

On 6-3-08, I started a series of apocryphotes that were related to saying 22 in the Gospel of Thomas. I have been trying to post a new one each day (minus the weekends). I finished yesterday.

What have we learned? That versions of this saying were very popular, going back to our oldest extant source - the letters of Paul. It was well-known probably because it was part of the early baptismal liturgy in Antioch and probably also in Jerusalem. Most of the sources where we find versions of it preserved are from Syria, and even more, eastern Syria. Hermeneutically it was connected to Genesis 1-5, and rectifying the separation of the androgynous man into male and female beings. Either celibacy (Syrian encratites) or marriage (Valentinian Gnostics) were thought to restore, in practical terms, the primal androgynous man.

Hermeneutically this saying also became intertwined with bits of other Jesus sayings, particularly those in which he spoke of the coming together of opposites like the inside and the outside, the right and the left, and the above and the below. All of these bits meant to explain how the primal human could be restored. So we also see bits about a new man or a new creature being formed, eyes in place of eyes, hand in place of hand, and foot in place of foot. The image of little children amalgamates because the person is being rebirthed and is again a child in the Garden. These sayings, along with their early hermetic equivalents, become very important for the later Hermetic and Alchemical movements which were all about the birthing or transformation of materials into some perfected or divine substance.

How difficult it becomes to speak of intertextuality and literary dependence. The model I prefer is that of intertraditions, where these ideas and practices are a well-known part of the Christian landscape, and they erupt in the literature not because one person is copying from another person, but because our authors are part of this common landscape. The sayings of Jesus remain important jumping off points hermeneutically. But not any hermeneutic was permitted. The hermeneutic had to make sense to the already existing landscape, and what was already known to be true about that particular saying. Bits and pieces of other saying were intertwined from memory, as the person worked to explain and teach within this landscape.

Is there evidence for an Aramaic substratum for the Gospel of Thomas

As many of you know who have read my two books on the Gospel of Thomas (Recovering, and The Original Gospel of Thomas in Translation), I have spoken about the fact that over many years several scholars have published references to Semitisms in the Gospel of Thomas. I went about collecting them in my commentary and in the end came up with quite a list. In some cases the Semitisms are explained as references to Syriac, in other cases as references to Aramaic, and in other cases as either. So scholars have been reluctant to accept an Aramaic substratum because linguistics alone is inconclusive, because many times the Semitisms can be explained with reference to either Aramaic or Syriac since Syriac and Aramaic are related.

Is there any way to figure this out? This is the question that I faced as I looked at all the evidence I gathered in my commentary. I had the thought to lay out the Semitisms and compare them with the accretions and the Kernel sayings. So I followed through, not really expecting anything. What I found surprised me. With the exception of two, the sayings in which scholars had identified Aramaisms as possible were all located in the Kernel sayings, including those sayings that may point to a pre-synoptic Aramaic substratum.

Now some people might find this to be coincidence, but I found it compelling, especially when paired with the fact that the content of the Kernel sayings points to a Jerusalem origin. So I concluded based on the big picture that a plausible scenario was that the Kernel was from Jerusalem, written in Aramaic. It was brought to Edessa, Syria, where it moved into Syriac as the Syriac-speaking Christians used it, reperformed it, and added to it. I don't doubt for a minute that in this compositional process sayings in the Gospel of Thomas took on some of the form and vocabulary of Syriac versions of those sayings from other circulating gospel literature. In other words, in the "real" environment of antiquity where orality and memory dominant, what might have begun as an independent version of a saying may not end up that way sixty years later. In fact, we must expect the sayings to take on the character of other circulating materials.

This is the argument that I set forth in both my books.

Unfortunately, this argument seems to have been lost in Nicholas Perrin's recent paper (it is in the poorly edited volume on Thomas that I mentioned in my previous post which also includes my mysticism paper) in which Perrin criticizes me for suggesting a possible Aramaic substratum when Syriac can explain some of these sayings as well and the linguistic evidence is inconclusive. Since he is trying to defend an argument for Thomas being a Diatessaron-dependent gospel, he concludes that the evidence although inconclusive linguistically (the Aramaisms could still be possible he says) points to Syriac.

But I never made the argument that Thomas has an Aramaic substratum because there are possible Aramaisms in Thomas. Professor Quispel and Guillamont were criticized for this back in the 60s. My analysis included much more than linguistic evidence, trying to get us out of this deadlock by looking at the document from a different perspective. For some reason it seems that scholars who try to get out of the box are constantly being shoved back into the box and all the old arguments that they are trying to transcend. This is frustrating to say the least.

My argument was and remains that the vast majority of possible Aramaisms lie in the Kernel sayings, and this suggests to me that it is quite likely from Palestine. This argument is part of a bigger analysis of the Kernel whose content in terms of eschatology and christology also points us to an early form of Jerusalem Christianity.

There are many reasons why Diatessaron-dependence has not been convincing. I am not going to rehearse them all here. The biggest hurdle is our physical manuscript evidence. I am not going to even begin to sort out here the problems of reconstructing the Diatessaron. It is worse than Q. Scholars can't even agree if the original language was Syriac or Greek.

But I can speak briefly to the Greek manuscript evidence for the Gospel of Thomas. P. Oxy. 1 has been determined on paleographic analysis to a date no later than 200 CE. Let's say that this was the autograph, the original manuscript written of Thomas, then that means that it is written as almost as a contemporary to the composition of the Diatessaron (150-170 CE). But remember this copy is in Greek and it is not the original. Perrin says the gospel was composed in Syriac. So this pushes Thomas' composition back even a bit earlier, unless one were to argue that a translation into Greek was almost immediately done in Egypt which is highly unlikely since it takes some time for gospels to become celebrities enough to merit copy and translation and distribution.

Furthermore, P. Oxy. 1's composition was dated by Grenfell and Hunt to no later than 140 CE because the internal evidence for such a dating is compelling. I know that Perrin does not like this argument having said in his first book that most scholars haven't bothered to probe this issue. This is a false statement. Grenfell and Hunt's dating has been generally accepted by scholars because it is compelling based on comparison with other early Christian literature which puts the form and content of this text in the early second century.

Book Note: Das Thomas-Evangelium: Entstehung, Rezeption, Theologie (ed. Frey, Popkes, and Schröter)

This morning a surprise book came in the mail to me. A couple of years ago, I participated in a conference on the Gospel of Thomas in Eisenach, Germany. I remember turning in my paper to the conference organizers, but never received proofs for any volume nor information to expect its publication.

Well this morning the mystery is solved. Here is the conference volume, and here is my paper in it. As I read it over I am disappointed with the amount of printing errors including the loss of some indentations at the beginning of a few paragraphs. Apparently the editors weren't able to catch them, and I certainly didn't because I never had any proofs to make corrections and had no idea it was being published! This has never happened to me before, and I find it disconcerting. It is terribly upsetting when an author's work is published without allowances for the author to read and correct the typeset version which always contains mistakes due to the transfer process from the author's files to the press's files. I'm just grateful that this particular piece does not include extensive Coptic or Greek!

The book details: Jörg Frey, Enno Edzard Popkes, and Jens Schröter (eds.), Das Thomasevangelium: Entstehung, Rezeption, Theologie (BZNW 157; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008).

Anyway, it is an interesting mixture of papers from both authors who gave papers at the conference and authors who didn't. Most are very standard form- and redaction-critical papers mainly written by the German contributors. But then there are some papers that move forward the discussion methodologically.

My paper is called "Mysticism and the Gospel of Thomas."

UPDATE 6-19-08: Well I have received a response from Jens who says that files were e-mailed to the authors last year. When I didn't turn in any corrections, he assumed that I didn't have any. It has always been my experience as a book editor (and I have edited many) that if I don't hear back from an author with corrections, something is wrong. Either the author didn't receive the proof, or has been on vacation, or has been ill. I am extremely upset about this because it makes me look careless, when in fact I never received a proof to correct nor any correspondence from the editors. We should never assume that authors receive things we sent electronically, especially since university systems have tough SPAM filters, and servers go down.

Apocryphote of the Day: 6-10-08

His disciples said, "When will you appear to us? When will we see you?"

Jesus said, "When you strip naked without shame, take your garments, put them under your feet like little children, and trample on them. Then [you will see] the Son of the Living One and you will not be afraid."

Gospel of Thomas 37

Commentary: Want a complete analysis of this saying? Go to this page on my website HERE<<<, scroll down to 1991 and click the pdf file of my older article "Stripped Before God." There's a lot about mysticism in this saying, and it was the investigation that launched my dissertation which was published in 1996 with Brill, Seek to See Him: Ascent and Vision Mysticism in the Gospel of Thomas.

Apocryphote of the Day: 6-4-08

Jesus said, "When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female into a single being with the result that the male is not male nor the female female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, and an image in place of an image, then you will enter the Kingdom."

Gospel of Thomas 22.4-7

Commentary: It appears that the Galatians passage quoted yesterday was based on words of Jesus similar to what we find in the Gospel of Thomas. They were used in liturgy, at baptism, if Paul's testimony is correct, which I think it is. This was an extremely popular saying among the first Christians, and some version of it predates Paul and had become part of the baptismal liturgy at Antioch. The saying has been developed in the Gospel of Thomas to support encratic ideals. Over the next few days, we will explore just how popular this saying was, and what some of its perforations were.