This is a lightly edited transcript of a discussion carried on the list
Ioudaios-L in mid-December of 1995. Lines beginning with a carat ">"
are quotations from previous parts of the discussion. The full discussion
can be obtained from the Ioudaios-L archive at ftp.lehigh.edu.
William Arnal (Centre for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto) wrote:
I think that there are two main issues that need to be looked at independently
of one another: the date and sources of Thomas, and the intentions of the redactor.
It seems to me that these two issues are far too often conflated, and that a
Gnostic Thomas is assumed to be a late and dependent Thomas; thus even
the proponents of an early Thomas get sucked into this assumption and are
forced to defend a non-Gnostic reading of Thomas, which, valiant efforts
notwithstanding, is I think a pretty difficult task.
In my opinion, the best treatment of the issue of Thomas'
dependence or independence of the synoptics is by Patterson, _The Gospel
of Thomas and Jesus_ (1993), where several hundred pages are spent
demonstrating the various ways in which Thomas FAILS to show knowledge of
demonstrable synoptic redaction, and hence cannot confidently be shown to
have used the synoptics as sources. Patterson offers a date for Thomas
around 70; Stevan Davies, _The Gospel of Thomas and Christian Wisdom_,
suggests an even earlier date (50-ish), arguing that Thomas reflects early
Christian, wisdom-oriented, baptismal catechesis. Both Patterson and
Davies spill a lot of ink arguing that Thomas is not Gnostic (Davies does
this more than Patterson), presumably in part as a way of supporting their
early dates. This does not strike me as necessary unless one assumes a
tradition-historical trajectory whereby Gnosticism in any developed (=
mythological?) form does not intersect with Christianity until quite late
-- maybe, second century; this begs the very question raised by the
Gospel of Thomas and contradicts the evidence of John, Col and Eph, and
(I hesitate to say it) 1 Corinthians. By the way, Davies' website, which
is really worth checking out, does of course reflect his views on these
issues, at least when preliminary/introductory statements about Thomas
So I think that the trend (n.b., I do NOT say "consensus") toward
regarding Thomas as independent of the synoptics is CERTAINLY correct;
and I think the tendency to date it early is possibly correct (Thomas
could very be second-century and still not use the synoptics as sources).
The alternative, I think, would be set Thomas within a context of
second-century Jewish-Christian wisdom. I really do think Davies is quite
correct to identify Thomas as interested in and influenced by
Jewish-Christian wisdom; this is true of its forms, some of its mythology,
its general content, and so forth. But that hardly requires the very early
date Davies offers. A related issue is the question what we MEAN when we
refer to Thomas. Davies, if I recall correctly, adduced saying #114 as a
late addition to the text, to which his early dating does not apply. If
Thomas is a generally stratified document (i.e., if more than this one
saying was added at a later date), and I think it is, and if, given that
we only have one complerte copy of the text, there will have been some
serious scribal emendation, which I think there was, it is necessary to
specify what portions or stage of Thomas we mean when we assign a date. My
own view (analogous to that of Koester) is that Thomas is comprised of A) a
VERY early (mid-first-century?) "wisdom" document which represents a
strain of the Jesus people similar to those who produced Q, although not
quite as tightly-knit, followed by B) a late-first-century or
early-second-century redaction of that document from a developed Gnostic
perspective. The trajectory from a wisdom-oriented group to developed
Gnostic mythologizing is easy to conceive.
Finally, I think that such a hypothesis has implications for understanding
the content of Thomas and the intentions of its author(s). The primary
layer is comprised of the same kind of inversionary wisdom that
characterized the synoptic tradition, and should probably be interpreted
similarly: some form of subcultural ethos is being endorsed in the
document (the details of which I leave to the speculation of others). The
later redaction of Thomas, which not only adds new sayings to this
original document, but emends sayings already present, serves as a
hermeneutical control on the earlier matter, investing it with the same
esoteric and Gnostic interpretation as the new material. The document as a
whole, now, is to be understood via mythological extratextual points of
reference, and is only accesible to those who are already "in the know."
The view is still subcultural, but has now been invested with, and thus
legitimated by, a cosmic significance which the earlier matter did not
have, at least not explicitly. I would venture that this rather more
forceful effort at legitimation arose as whatever group was responsible
for Thomas felt itself, for whatever reason, under seige.
Stevan Davies (Misericordia University) wrote:
Isn't this still an assignment of dates to materials based on the
assumption that Gnostic materials are ipso facto chronologically
later than other material and, hence, calling forth my and Patterson's
responses? Could we not say, as Q scholars tend to, that if it is
admitted that Thomas1/Q1 have Gnostic/Eschatological sayings added to
them, it does not follow that those sayings were themselves
chronologically later in their origins than Thomas1/Q1?
I don't think the redaction of sayings in the text and the addition
of sayings to an earlier version of the text (if any) were
necessarily done at the same time or for the same reason.
Incidentally, I do maintain my postion that the hellenistic/platonic/enigmatic
sayings in Thomas ought not be labeled "Gnostic."
> The primary layer is comprised of the same kind of inversionary wisdom that
> characterized the synoptic tradition, and should probably be interpreted
> similarly . [material deleted] The
> later redaction of Thomas, which not only adds new sayings to this
> original document, but emends sayings already present, serves as a
> hermeneutical control on the earlier matter, investing it with the same
> esoteric and Gnostic interpretation as the new material.
I'm not sure that the synoptic tradition should be privileged in
this way. Although that would be the result of applying the
criterion of muliple attestation (including Thomas). One ends up,
though, with a lowest common denominator that excludes both the
eschatological (a la Kloppenborg) and the "gnostic" (a la Arnal).
How do I construct a list of Thomas1 sayings separated from Thomas2
sayings other than by assigning canonical parallels to the first set and
nearly all other sayings to the second set (except for a couple that
look like synoptic sayings). Something about this procedure seems
wrong to me, but I'm not exactly sure what.
A problem might be that while Kloppenborg has excluded the
eschatological sayings in Q through a methodology that is NOT
circular, he is often accused of being circular, i.e. excluding the
eschatological simply from the assumption that eschatological sayings
are secondary. But with Thomas you (and Koester, and others)
are, I think, being circular. The assumed history of the text governs
the severing of the text into stages (in the case of Thomas) while
Kloppenborg first works out how the text's stages evolved and from
that postulates a history of the text. Koester, unlike Kloppenborg,
doesn't argue for the existence of a Thomas1 and Thomas2 so much as
postulate their existence.
In the case of Thomas one might
just as well postulate that there existed a list of "gnostic"
sayings to which, at a slightly later date, a set of synoptic-style sayings
were added, or is there some reason why this is out of the question?
William Arnal wrote:
> Isn't this still an assignment of dates to materials based on the
> assumption that Gnostic materials are ipso facto chronologically
> later than other material and, hence, calling forth my and Patterson's
> responses? Could we not say, as Q scholars tend to, that if it is
> admitted that Thomas1/Q1 have Gnostic/Eschatological sayings added to
> them, it does not follow that those sayings were themselves
> chronologically later in their origins than Thomas1/Q1?
Yes, we could say that, and I would. The initial comments I made, indeed,
assumed that one could NOT make the equation: Gnostic = late. If it
should turn out that the more Gnostic-leaning material in Thomas
represents later additions to the text, this neither a)provides us a date
for that later redaction, nor b)indicates that Gnosticism is necessarily
tradition-historically "secondary" to whatever material derives from the
> I don't think the redaction of sayings in the text and the addition
> of sayings to an earlier version of the text (if any) were
> necessarily done at the same time or for the same reason.
Not necessarily, but the thematic correspondences between entire sayings
which appear to be late additions (# 114, e.g.) and glosses made to
materials which we can determine had a pre-Thomas history (e.g., #4b:
"many of the first will be last" [= tradition; cf. synoptic parallels]
plus "and will become a single one" [= Thomas redaction, for a variety of
reasons, I think]) is pretty telling in this regard. There are
exceptions, and we should assume a measure of desultory scribal glossing,
but for the most part, emendations seem to cohere stylistically,
vocabularically, and thematically with the sayings I would tend to
identify in their entirety as late additions.
> I'm not sure that the synoptic tradition should be privileged in
I misspoke myself a little here: I meant, the kind of inversionary wisdom
that [also] characterizes the earliest strata of the synoptic tradition.
I also should have made it clear that this statement represents a
conclusion, rather than a criterion. I agree that it is circular to
assume that synoptic parallels to inversionary themes in Thomas
necessarily make that material earlier. And your earlier point is
relevant here: even IF Thomas' earliest material is, like the earliest
material in Q, of a more or less "sapiential" variety, that does not make
the theme/motif necessarily the only early or reliable Christian
tradition. We can easily assume (although it would be useful to invoke
some evidence at this point) the parallel existence of oral traditions
which evince an apocalyptic or Gnostic perspective as well.
> A problem might be that while Kloppenborg has excluded the
> eschatological sayings in Q through a methodology that is NOT
> circular, he is often accused of being circular, i.e. excluding the
> eschatological simply from the assumption that eschatological sayings
> are secondary. But with Thomas you (and Koester, and others)
> are, I think, being circular. The assumed history of the text governs
> the severing of the text into stages (in the case of Thomas) while
> Kloppenborg first works out how the text's stages evolved and from
> that postulates a history of the text. Koester, unlike Kloppenborg,
> doesn't argue for the existence of a Thomas1 and Thomas2 so much as
> postulate their existence.
Kloppenborg works out how the text of Q developed by looking for
correspondences of perspective (or form) in the various emendations that
can be determined, on form-critical grounds, to have been made to
individual sayings and clusters thereof. Overarching thematic and formal
correspondences are indicative of successive redactions. These redactions
can be dated vis-a-vis one another by looking for one redaction's control
of or interference with material from another redaction. I.e.,
Kloppenborg can determine that the polemical/apocalyptic material is a
later addition to Q by noting that glosses from this perspective are made
into blocks otherwise controled by a sapiential orientation.
The same procedure, I think, can be applied to Thomas, if
anything, rather more easily than with Q. One need not use synoptic
parallels as a criterion, but simply examine individual sayings
form-critically, seek overarching correspondences in the perspective of
late additions to individual sayings, and coordinate these
chronologically. This avoids the circularity you describe.
> In the case of Thomas one might
> just as well postulate that there existed a list of "gnostic"
> sayings to which, at a slightly later date, a set of synoptic-style sayings
> were added, or is there some reason why this is out of the question?
No 'why it's out of the question' -- it isn't. But if we apply the method
described above, what emerges is that an esotericizing (is that a word?)
tendency -- a tendency NOT evinced in one strand of thematerial in
Thomas -- dominates and heremeutically controls the document as a whole,
by virtue of the addition to the beginning of the document of the incipit
and sayings ##1-2. Presumably, if Thomas were secondarily redacted from a
non-esoteric perspective, this material could not have remained in the
position it now occupies.
William Arnal wrote:
[The quotations are from a contribution by Ian Hutchesson]
> Stevan Davies stated his doubt about listing "Thomas1" sayings on the basis
> of those sayings found in the canonical gospels. This is understandable.
> Imagine GMark being found only 50 years ago -- the young man running away
> naked would be thought a strange later addition; the Herodians would be
> thought a quirk of the editor, etc. Basing the choice of "Thomas1" sayings
> on the redactional decisions made by the canonical gospel editors negates
> the possibility that any of the other GThomas sayings were also available to
> them but not used.
As I said in my last posting -- by way of clarification -- I also doubt
that the mere existence of synoptic parallels is a useful criterion for
assigning material to an earlier, rather than later, stage of Thomas.
Your last sentence above suggests the main reason for this -- we do not
want to confuse the point at which a tradition was incorporated into the
document with the age of that tradition itself. Not only is it possible
that synoptic authors had available to them Thomas(1) traditions which
they chose not to use, it is equally possible that Thomas(1) had
traditions which appear in the synoptics which he chose not to use, but
which were incorporated later. A case in point might be saying #101,
which appears to have synoptic parallels, but which I would assign to a
later strand of Thomas.
> It's only probable that these sayings were gathered over time, but why do we
> want to divide it? What coherent criteria can be supplied for dividing the
> text -- if in deed we can divide it? Can we say in what state the particular
> strand of the wisdom tradition that is behind GThomas stood when the
> collection was formed? Was it necessarily the strand that contributed to
> gnosticism? Or did the gnostics find the whole text acceptable (though not
> directly of their tradition) and started using it?
I would NOT say that the text of Thomas (or of any sayings collection)
should prima facie be assumed stratified, but it is one of the literary
phenomena we should look for, since where present it will affect both our
understanding of the document and of the traditions that comprise it. In
the case of Thomas, there IS some evidence that the docuemnt is
stratified: in particular the presence, as I read it, of two quite
distinct sets of thematic interests (which I would CHARACTERIZE as
"sapiential" and "Gnostic", but without making these labels the criteria
for distinguishing between them), two quite distinct heremenutical
strategies, and so forth. If the docuemnt were the result of one single
redaction, we could expect greater consistency; were it the result of
desultory aggregation, we would expect LESS consistency. As criteria for
distinguishing them, the point is not to invoke a prioris about what
constitutes "wisdom" (or whatever), or what is likely to be late -- this
would be circular. Rather, if we examine each saying, try to isolate its
main themes, and particularly try to isolate the themes reinforced by
what appear, on form-critical grounds, to be the latest additions to that
particular saying (e.g., saying # 6 "for there is nothing hidden," etc.
is a late addition to a saying which is probably from the first stratum
of the document: hence helpful for determining the redactional
perspective of this stratum), and then attempt to coordinate themes, we
emerge, I think, with sets of different redactional interests
communicated by different sayings -- these can be grouped fairly easily,
as I said above, into two main groups. The relative age of the groups can
be determined by looking for instances in which the redactional
perspective of one interferes with sayings from the other group.
Re. your earlier question regarding "Gnosticism", I do imagine Thomas to
be the product of fully-developed Gnosticism, replete with the
mythological constructions normally associated with second-century
Gnostics. Sayings ## 3, 11, 13, 15, 18, 19, 22, 28, 30, 48, 49-50, 59, 60,
61, 83-84, 100, 101, 105, 114 all evince some aspects of this
perspective, so far as I can tell.
Stevan Davies wrote:
I think I understand the method you (W.A.) are proposing to use
to sort out Thomas sayings:
A. identify redactional elements in synoptic parallels
B. figure out the perspectives of those elements
C. find sayings that share those perspectives.
Thus if making the two into one is
found in redactional stuff (as it is) then sayings speaking of making
the two one are from the redactional Thomas2 level. That has great
promise as a plan of attack
> Re. your earlier question regarding "Gnosticism", I do imagine Thomas to
> be the product of fully-developed Gnosticism, replete with the
> mythological constructions normally associated with second-century
> Gnostics. Sayings ## 3, 11, 13, 15, 18, 19, 22, 28, 30, 48, 49-50, 59, 60,
> 61, 83-84, 100, 101, 105, 114 all evince some aspects of this
> perspective, so far as I can tell.
Let's look at a few:
28 Jesus said, "I took my stand in the midst of the world, and in
flesh I appeared to them. I found them all drunk, and I did not
find any of them thirsty. My soul ached for the children of
humanity, because they are blind in their hearts and do not see,
for they came into the world empty, and they also seek to depart
from the world empty.
But meanwhile they are drunk. When they
shake off their wine, then they will change their ways."
Here we have the clear specification that Jesus appeared in the flesh,
which is not a prominent Gnostic motif, to be sure.
30 Jesus said, "Where there are three deities, they are divine.
Where there are two or one, I am with that one."
Here we have the idea that where there are "two OR one" Jesus will
be present, which does not denigrate "the two" in favor of "the one"
as the redactional "make the two into one" motif does. I will be
amazed and delighted if you can tell me without much ambiguity what
saying 30 means. I've no clue.
48 Jesus said, "If two make peace with each other in a single
house, they will say to the mountain, 'Move from here!' and it will
Here we have, I think, a reference to the custom of a Christian
showing up at the house of another person who, in this case, is
also a Christian; the one offers peace to the other and
it is accepted. Hence the frequently attested reward of
faith is given them. Cf. Luke 10:5-7 for the contrary situation when
the two do not make peace in a single house.
I'd note that the "make the two into one" motif is redactional in
saying 61, from your list. Saying 100 adds Jesus to the list of folks
who are entitled to receive money, an idea that common sense should
prefer to take literally rather than to spiritualize metaphorically.
Saying 114 contradicts the make the two into one motif of 22 re: sex.
There being neither male nor female (22) is not at all the same thing
as making the female into a male (that's one reason I consider 114 to be
a later addition).
So. . . I would like a bit more clarity
on how it is that your Thomas2 list is what you say it is (see
quotation from you above).
William Arnal wrote:
I rather peremptorily listed some sayings from Thomas which I thought
reflected developed gnostic mythology, and was challenged on a number of
these by Stevan Davies, who argues that several of those I listed appear,
at least when read straightforwardly, to refer to other issues
altogether. I cannot justify in detail the claim for each and every one
of the sayings I listed -- I just threw them out as something to chew on.
However, I can at least clarify how it is that I saw Gnostic mythology in
a couple of the sayings Davies has highlighted.
First, though, two general points. Thomas sayings should NOT be read
staightforwardly -- if we have alternative readings of a single saying --
one which is "straightforward" and one which is "spiritual", we should
almost inevitably prefer the latter. Thomas itself -- in the incipit and
sayings ##1-2 -- tells us so. The way I understand this esotericizing
heremeneutic (and here I think there is probably considerable room for
different interpretations), it points to extra-textual references; such
that those already "in the know" will have little trouble reading INTO
Thomas the mythology they already know, and thus confirm for themselves
their own "esoteric" insights -- hence the apparently deliberate
obscurity of much of the material, the tendency to separate
thematically-related sayings, etc. The second point that while I think
Thomas ASSUMES Gnostic mythology, I did not necessarily mean that the
sayings listed were about that mythology -- they just reflect it, often
ancilliary to making other points.
Thus: sayings #100, which, I agree, is about something straightforward
like giving money (or allegiance, or whatever) to Jesus, reflects, in my
view, a distinction between Jesus (and his "Father") and the demiurge.
The term _NOUTE_ is only used for "God" in Thomas here and at saying #30
(in which latter instance it clearly does not refer to "God"); elsewhere
it is always EIOT. What's interesting in #100 is the structural
parallelism between the phrases describing dues to "God" and to Caesar
(TI NA etc.), which stand in marked contrast to the phrase describing
dues to Jesus (PETE POEI PE MATNNAEIF) -- I think that here Jesus is
being contrasted to the "powers of this world", of whom God, apparently,
Saying #48: The two making peace in a single house, I think, is a
reference to the dichotomy of "flesh" and "spirit" (or something like
this; cf. #112) within a single being. Cf. "I will destroy this house."
Saying #30: Yeah, I think this is pretty enigmatic myself. A guess: it is
really just an endorsement of the divinity of those who follow Jesus (cf.
I do think the dearth of textual data for
Thomas makes it much more difficult to locate and fix an "original" (1st
or second century) text which might then be stratified somewhat more
confidently. But I think we have to work with what we have. I have little
doubt that the ordering and wording of several of the sayings was
probably probably altered/corrupted/assimilated to the synoptics as late
as the actual MS we have. The task then would be not only to isolate main
redactional strands, but additionally to locate, where possible and
obvious, desultory later additions/corruptions. Two things make it
possible in my opinion to stratify Thomas even given the likelihood of
such intervention: 1.The main redactional strands are fairly obvious
(that is, there is a preponderance of marked and distinctive material
from each); 2.Unlike Q, the redactional analysis of Thomas does not (and
cannot) depend much on the ordering of the sayings. Judging from the
Oxyrhynchus fragments, this was one of the most significant ways the text
was emended. But Thomas does not appear to use juxtaposition (at least
not much) to convey its point.
Stevan Davies wrote:
[Quoting William Arnal:] "First, though, two general points. Thomas sayings should NOT be read staightforwardly -- if we have alternative readings of a single
saying -- one which is "straightforward" and one which is "spiritual", we
should almost inevitably prefer the latter. Thomas itself -- in the incipit
and sayings ##1-2 -- tells us so. The way I understand this esotericizing
heremeneutic (and here I think there is probably considerable room
for different interpretations), it points to extra-textual references;
such that those already "in the know" will have little trouble reading
INTO Thomas the mythology they already know, and thus confirm for
themselves their own "esoteric" insights -- hence the apparently deliberate
obscurity of much of the material, the tendency to separate
thematically-related sayings, etc. The second point that while I
think Thomas ASSUMES Gnostic mythology, I did not necessarily mean that the
sayings listed were about that mythology -- they just reflect it,
often ancilliary to making other points."
Oh my goodness. I feel like I've been fighting against this sort of
argument my whole life. Around 1960 a series of books (Grant, Wilson, Turner,
etc.) viewed Thomas in this way. Their authors gave their interpretations of
Thomas sayings based on the methodology "If I were a second century
Gnostic then I would do an exegesis of these sayings as follows. Since I can do
that exegesis it follows that Thomas was intended to make such an exegesis
possible." I tried the best I could to explain that the fact that scholars today
can do what they think is a Gnostic exegesis (invariably without bothering to
explain what sort of Gnosticism they are talking about) it does NOT follow that
Thomas was created to allow this sort of exegesis to happen. See my
1983 chapter on the subject "The Gospel of Thomas and Gnosticism" on
the Gospel of Thomas Homepage.
The beginning of GThomas is as follows:
--These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and
Didymos Judas Thomas recorded. 1 And he said, "Whoever discovers
the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death. 2 Jesus
said, "Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find,
they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will
reign over all. [And after they have reigned they will rest. (oxy. pap.)]"
First, the hermeneutic required is not said to be "gnostic." We do
not know what hermeneutic the incipit/saying1 author had in mind if
indeed he had anything more in mind than urging that people try
to understand the sayings of the living Jesus. The text of Q could have begun with
saying 1, after all. Further, the incipit/saying1 covers all of the synoptic material
in Thomas which no one thinks was designed to hold secret gnostic meanings.
Saying 2 reflects a common seek and ye shall find theme found throughout
Thomas (and proverbs and the NT). It does not carry a clear gnostic mea
ning. [for example, Jesus' disciples are supposed to be judges over
all in Q] and indeed I don't know of any gnostic text that concludes that
people who "find" will "reign over all." As I understand
it they become absorbed back into the pleroma.
The line of thought that concludes "Thomas sayings should NOT be
read staightforwardly -- if we have alternative readings of a single
saying -- one which is "straightforward" and one which is "spiritual", we
should almost inevitably prefer the latter." seems to me to be the only
line that will give us a Gnostic Thomas. The text is assumed not to
mean what it says straightforwardly but to mean something else entirely. That
something else is, in turn, assumed to be gnostic even though a
straightforward reading does not reveal much of anything that
like the gnosticism we do know about from Irenaeus (etc) and Nag Hammadi.
Therefore, "The second point that while I think Thomas ASSUMES
(sic) Gnostic mythology, I did not necessarily mean that the sayings listed
were about that mythology -- they just reflect it, oft
en ancilliary to making other points" But who is it who ASSUMES
Gnostic mythology? The author of a few of the sayings?
The compiler of Thomas? William Arnal? Of these the only one we can be
sure of is the latter. Why on earth doesn't Thomas ever give us unambiguous
Gnostic mythology? The Nag Hammadi library is full of materials that do this,
Gnostics weren't trying to hide anything. To see what a Gnostic sayings gospel
looks like, simply read the Gospel of Philip.
What do you suppose would be
the response of scholarship to someone who argued that the Gospel of Mark
does not mean what it seems straightforwardly to mean.
That, in fact, one should always do a "spiritual" exegesis so as to
discover that it has a Gnostic meaning. Further, if it is objected that
Gnosticism is not to be found in the Gospel of Mark, the objection might be
granted, but given the response that Mark ASSUMES
Gnostic mythology, which point is demonstrated by the fact that one's
"spiritual" exegesis of Mark (based on the presupposition that it is Gnostic)
reveals "spiritual" gnostic meanings. I don't think that argument would be
taken seriously at all. But poor old Thomas is interpreted thusly all the time.
W.A. wrote that, ""those already "in the know" will have little
trouble reading INTO (sic) Thomas the mythology they already know,
and thus confirm for themselves their own "esoteric" insights""
--- My conviction is that this sentence is absolutely true, but that
it applies to only to scholars in 1960-1995 and not to anyone connected
with Thomas in 60-95.
William Arnal wrote:
I think that I may venture to say that Stevan Davies and I at least do
agree that the Gospel of Thomas does not, on the surface or explicitly,
promote or elaborate on, a Gnostic theology/mythology. That was the point
of the capital letters in my now-several-days-ago post on the topic. Yes:
you must read mythology INTO Thomas if you hope to find it there. Here I
concede Davies' point wholeheartedly, and am always a little surprised
when people claim, without any attempt at justification, that Thomas is
self-evidently Gnostic (apparently just because it was found with a bunch
of other "Gnostic" writings, which happen to include Plato's Republic,
The Sentences of Sextus, and The Teachings of Silvanus -- by the same
criterion, all Gnostic!).
Where Davies and I differ, is that I would argue that the redactor (or,
more cautiously, A later redactor) of Thomas has added sayings to an
already-extant collection, and emended sayings already there, with a view
to creating a subtext of sorts -- a redactional rereading which promotes
or assumes some form of Gnostic mythology (and note that I use "Gnostic"
here as a convenient tag -- I've never thought that category was a
particularly useful one for designating a group with hard-and-fast
borders; the term seems to have been used in antiquity in polemical or
apologetic contexts, and is as impossible to define sharply as "Jew" or
"Chrsitian" or "heretic" or whatever), including a) the rejection of
materiality; b) the belief that some human beings have spiritual matter
locked up within their shabby materiality; c) the belief that cognizance
and cultivation of this spiritual element will bring salvation, part of
which includes eternal life; d) that the powers of this world -- which
include earthly figures, the demiurge, and even archons (!) aim to
inhibit this salvation; e) that the "Father" who sent Jesus into the
material world is distinct from the (creator?) "God"; f) that divine
Sophia, a figure guilty of some (unspecified) sexual misconduct, is
partly implicated in Jesus' revelation and the salvation of the believer.
Two points about this list: First, none of its elements (except perhaps
"e") would be alien to esoteric wisdom traditions. But it seems to me
that arguing over whether to call Thomas "esoteric wisdom" or
"Gnosticism" is mere semantic quibbling. If anyone will concede to me my
little list, but want to call Thomas "sapiential" instead of "Gnostic",
I'll agree readily enough. Gnosticism is in part a product of the wisdom
tradition, so it's something like arguing whether someone is a Protestant
or a Christian. Second, none of these elements lie of the surface of the
text. But there is sufficient warrant to find them under the surface. In
addition to the incipit and sayings ##1-2, which essentially flag for the
reader that the text is NOT to be read straightforwardly, a large number
of the sayings are deliberately obscure and fail to indicate what their
points of reference are -- this is accomplished by (deliberately) failing
to provide objects, contexts, referents, etc. The reader is left to
supply them on his/her own. This in itself is an indication that the
redactor expects us to read INTO the text (even understanding the text as
baptismal catechesis, for instance, which is a very compelling argument
[at least for a number of the sayings], requires one to read into the
text, or read under its surface; baptism is no more explicitly mentioned
than is gnostic mythology). It is what we are expected to read into the
text that is contentious, and far from obvious. Yet the ease with which
Gnostic, let us say, exegesis, illuminates otherwise obscure sayings, and
fits well with nearly every saying in the document (perhaps I'm
overstating here?), suggests that it was precisely this which the
redactor had in mind.
Examples: saying #100, already discussed; sayings ##49-50, understood as
passwords for defeating the archons (there is an almost exact parallel to
this saying in the first Apocalypse of James 32.28-34.20); saying #7's
reference to the lion as an image for the demiurge (cf. ##11, 56, 60);
Once again: I apologize if I have said or implied that Thomas is
OBVIOUSLY Gnostic; it is not. But it is PLAUSIBLY Gnostic in the form in
which we possess it.
William Arnal wrote:
[The following quotation is from a letter by Robert Webb]
> Responding to Bill Arnal's helpful posting:
> Bill, you distinguish between straightforward and spiritual readings of
> the logia in GThom and argue for the latter as preferred. Given that
> these logia could be read in that way (and with a Gnostic slant), would
> you explain this collection of logia which can be so read:
> 1. as the result of GThom's editor redacting sayings so that they could
> be read in this way.
> 2. as the result of GThom's collector choosing sayings which lend themselves
> to being read in this way.
> 3. as a combination of the above, or
> 4. as due to something else entirely.
I would say it is due to a combination of the above, with a third added:
the redactor's fabrication of sayings which express his (!) perspective.
Since I do think there was a sub-stratum to Thomas, I am assuming that he
already had a body of sayings collected for him, with which to work. I
incidentally think this plausible enough: given what I understand to be
standard practices for "publication" in antiquity most documents'
circulation would be restricted to the grouping out of which they arose
-- there would at any rate be some sociological continuity between the
composers of a writing and its later tradents. That suggests to me that
the wisdom-types responsible for the initial collection of Thomas are
somehow socially/historically continuous with the folks who later
redacted it (I'd guess, by the way, a date for final-Thomas roughly
contemporary with the Gospel of John). Hence the "Gnosticization" of the
"original" sayings would really just be an effort to invest with greater
legitimacy/significance what was already community tradition. We are
talking about interpretation of revered tradition, not appropriation by
"outsiders" for their own sinister uses. Incidentally, it's precisely
because of Thomas' esoteric hermeneutic that so many of the original
sayings can be "reinterpreted" with very little actual emendation --
that's what makes Thomas so good a source for the ancient sayings
tradition, while John, e.g., is so bad for it. At the same time, though,
analogous to the redaction of Q (a la Kloppenborg), the addition of a new
stratum of material included not only emendations to existing sayings +
redactional wholesale fabrications of sayings, but also the importation
of congenial materials not of the redactor's device which were not
present in the original. This is probably most demonstrable when
secondary materials with (vague?) synoptic parallels appear in Thomas
(perhaps saying #22???).
Stevan Davies wrote:
William Arnal defined Gnosticism as
> a) the rejection of materiality;
> b) the belief that some human beings have spiritual matter
> locked up within their shabby materiality;
> c) the belief that cognizance and cultivation of this spiritual element will bring >salvation, part of which includes eternal life;
> d) that the powers of this world -- which
> include earthly figures, the demiurge, and even archons (!) aim to
> inhibit this salvation;
> e) that the "Father" who sent Jesus into the
> material world is distinct from the (creator?) "God";
> f) that divine Sophia, a figure guilty of some (unspecified) sexual misconduct,
> is partly implicated in Jesus' revelation and the salvation of the believer.
> If anyone will concede to me my little list, but want to call Thomas "sapiential" > instead of "Gnostic", I'll agree readily enough.
I don't think anyone would call that little list "sapiential." But it
does appear to me to be a perfectly good and useful lists of traits
that are properly called "Gnostic." However, you do have to have
about all of them to be gnostic. I think your first three could be
found in a whole host of philosophies and religions of the ancient
world. The latter three are more specific to Gnosticism. I'd agree
the first three can be found here and there in Thomas (and in most
of later platonism? and elsewhere). Doesn't Plotinus, author of
"Against the Gnostics" share those traits? But again I'd have to point out
that the last three are absent from Thomas, unless one does a "spiritual"
gnostic exegesis of the text. But one could do a "spiritual" gnostic exegesis
of about any text at all.
For example, in regard to the following:
> Once again: I apologize if I have said or implied that Thomas is
> OBVIOUSLY Gnostic; it is not. But it is PLAUSIBLY Gnostic in the form in
> which we possess it.
Do not we have here a clear dichotomy between the OBVIOUS and the
PLAUSIBLE, to be understood as the MANIFEST and the UNMANIFEST, the
latter an emanation of the pleromatic Truth? This is reminiscent of
Thomas 83/84 where the manifest and obvious likenesses that people see are
contrasted unfavorably with the true, the plausible, images that they
hope to see. This inference is backed up by the clear reference to
the unreliability of forms, for "the form in which we possess it" is
evidently only a reflection of its the true and heavenly form, a
point made earlier by Larry Hurtado. The reiteration of apologies,
(a possible liturgical confessional formula) "once again I apologize" reminds
one of the reiterated descents of pronoia found at the end of the Apocryphon
of John the humbling of Knowledge and
Remembrance as it enters realms of darkness. In speaking of our
possession of Thomas the text reminds one of saying 108 where the
Savior possesses Thomas (interpreting 108 through 13) in identifying
Himself with him: "He who drinks from my mouth will be as I am, and I
will be he and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him."
The Gnostic proclivity of the theme: revelation of hidden things needs no
elaboration and testifies to the Gnostic nature of the theme that
while the Gospel of Thomas manifestly is sapiential and platonic its
plausible gnosticism is only revealed to the eyes of those spiritually
aware enough to know. I'd date the text discussed here as a mid to late
second century Gnostic addition to Arnal's original posting.
Just kidding. ;-)
William Arnal wrote:
[The following quotations are from a letter by Ian Hutchesson]
> I think, Bill, you are finding what you want to find in GThomas and not
> necessarily what's there. You seem to want to read too much into the incipit
> and sayings 1 & 2 and that sets your approach to the other sayings. The
> incipit says that these sayings are secret: does that indicate anything more
> than that they were not common knowledge just as the explanations of the
> "parables" weren't? Saying 1, which has a slight embellishment in Coptic
> "finds interpretation of these sayings" for the Greek "hears these words",
> doesn't suggest that you have to find a more difficult interpretation, just
> "the" interpretation -- which suggests basically one interpretation -- it
> doesn't exclude the possibility that some are far easier to interpret than
> others. Saying 2 starts familiarly (seeking & finding) then turns more
> difficult (troubled by what is found etc): it is a saying ostensibly about
> persistence, but how does it necessarily help your point of "NOT reading
What's interesting is that all three of these statements are clustered
together at the very start of the document. I would regard a statement
that the sayings are "secret" (or "hidden") by itself as not very
probative for establishing a "hermeneutic of penetration" -- but combined
with a statement that the sayings REQUIRE interpretation, followed by an
exhortation to intellectual labour with a list of the benefits to be
gained thereby -- well, this combination is suggestive to me. I don't
think that it's POSSIBLE to make to much of an introduction in which an
author identifies the very purpose of his work and the technique by which
that purpose is to be realized.
I really do not think that the individual sayings in Thomas, by
themselves, require any sort of Gnostic, or esoteric, or whatever,
treatment (at least not most of them) -- each, taken by itself, yeilds a
perfectly plausible sapiential drift, as I think Steven Davies has
demonstrated very convincingly. (Similarly, each of the individual
sayings in the opening to Thomas is not particularly illuminating of
esotericism on its own.) But we are looking at something put together as
a documentary unity, and if we wish to understand that unity, in addition
to and in distinction from, its constituent parts, we cannot restrict
ourselves to an analysis of individual sayings but must look at the way
the document as a whole is put together, and the motives which might have
guided this construction. Here the comparison you offer with the parables
is instructive: individual parables, so far as I can tell, do not have
secret referents but obvious ones -- their effect is lost if the hearer
is not able -- analogous to the reception of enthymemes -- to fill in the
blanks him/herself. But it is obvious that for Mark (and thus fairly
early in their history of transmission), the parables serve as allegories
which are to be filled in with the EXTRATEXTUAL details of
salvation-history as understood by Mark. I am proposing something for
Thomas almost identical.
By the way, I am not sure how one can get a simple exhortation to "hear"
from saying #1: the wording refers explicitly to FINDING and to an
INTERPRETATION -- the Coptic here is HERMENEIA, which is obviously a
Greek loan word (so might we assume the same word stood in the Greek
text?), *hermHneia*, which means "interpretation," "explanation," or even
"translation" (maybe that's what the Coptic translator thought he was
getting out of his labour!). When the author wishes to say "hear",
presumably to render *akouW*, he has the perfectly servicable Coptic CWTM.
> Everyone agrees that some sayings are more difficult than others. As it
> stands, your further step of wanting to second read the "easier" sayings
> seems unjustified. Perhaps I've missed something?
> Has anyone done a complete study of the differences between the Greek
> fragments and the Coptic?
Doesn't Fitzmyer do something like this? At any rate, there are Greek
fragments extant for the first three sayings, which appear to be worded
almost identically to the Coptic, but with lacunae right in the most
important places ("secret", "discovers the interpretation", etc.).
I don't think I'm guilty of
homogenizing the "wisdom" tradition (see my comments in my last post).
I'm just using "wisdom" and "gnostic" as short-hand descriptive tags -- I
don't really think that they correspond to any stable actual entities out
William Arnal wrote:
[The following quotations are from a letter by Ian Hutchesson]
> Layton's ("The Gnostic Scriptures", Anchor, 1987) -- along with the
> Oxyrhynchus fragments where appropriate (1-6,27/8,30-2,36/7). Oxyrhynchus
> saying #1 uses "hears these words" where the Coptic has "finds
> interpretation of these sayings" and so I would want to water your
> forcefulness down a little.
As I said in an earlier post, the POxy fragments have lacunae just where
they're most interesting -- precisely "hears these words" OR "find the
interpretation" etc. is missing in the fragments. I have not looked at
photographic facsilimies, so I have no idea which of the two readings is
more plausible in light of the space of the hole. If Coptic didn't borrow
SO much of its vocabulary from Greek, I'd argue that the use of
*hermeneia* in the Coptic suggests this was the word originally used in
Greek -- but the argument would be specious. The "these words" is in the
genitive, I think, in the POXY, but that doesn't help either: *akouo*
takes the genitive too. Aggghh.
> I don't have access to Fitzmyer, but comparing the Oxyrhynchus texts with
> the Coptic (in translation) I notice a number of differences that could
> point to their being two different recensions, although there is not enough
> of the Greek to be conclusive. This might support your GThomas1 and 2
> although it would be later than you would like. Note the differences in
> saying 2:
I don't think the differences are sufficient to posit a different
redaction behind the Coptic. Instead, we have an instance of a relatively
unstable text, just like the NT texts. This is not what I meant by
Thomas1 and Thomas2. It's impossible to deny that textual corruption has
taken place -- of course, there's no good reason to prefer the POxy
fragments to the Coptic text *a priori*. In NT textual criticism,
versional evidence is accorded some weight. What impresses me is that
etent of the agreement between POxy and Coptic Thomas: considering the
texts are in different languages and a couple hundred years apart, they
show surprising agreement. In general, I would say, we are pretty much
forced to shelve the textual issue unless and until we actually have
decent MSS evidence.
As for saying #2, I don't think either the Coptic or the POxy reading is
more or less esoteric. One can equally translate the Coptic "rule over
all" or "over THE all" -- in any case, the point is that in general a
herenmeneutic is being endorsed which implies a fairly strenuous process
of assimilation of the material. And the use of "rest" in POxy fits with
Thomas redaction in which *anapausis* is a cipher or metaphor for slavation.
> One of your biggest problems is a "sloppy" use of the idea "gnostic": using
> Irenaeus and the majority of the texts from Nag Hammadi, one can come up
> with a reasonably clear idea of "gnostic" as a label we can employ (that
> doesn't apply in my eyes to GThomas and a few other texts from NH). It is
> not that which you use. Perhaps you could elucidate?
How is your use of "gnostic" different from mine? If the two really are
different, perhaps our dispute is merely terminological rather than
substantial. In an earlier post I offered a list of theological
characteristics *I* saw in Thomas which impelled me to call it Gnostic. If
those features are not, to your mind, sufficient indication of
Gnosticism, I'm happy to retract the label, especially if someone can
suggest something more accurate. But if you dispute the accuracy of that
list for characterizing Thomas' theology, then we really DO disagree.
In any case, the stratification of Thomas does not really hinge on the
labels assigned (rightly or wrongly) to the strata.
Stevan Davies writes:
To anyone who has read through all of this, if you have ideas and comments
regarding the matters discussed here, send them to me via e-mail and
I'll probably be able to add them to this discussion on the Thomas Homepage.
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