Thursday, February 22, 2007

What About Saying 71?

I want to address the presence of saying 71 in the Kernel Thomas (=the earliest written form of the Gospel of Thomas that I think can reasonably be recovered using historical-literary critical methodology). I'd like to draw attention to the fact that my understanding of the development of the Gospel of Thomas is within a rhetorical environment, in which a written text moves freely in and out of its literary format. This environment fosters a compositional platform that includes oral reperformance and continual reinterpretation, as well as occasional rescribings of the text for storage purposes.

Saying 71
Jesus said, "I will destroy [this] temple, and no one will build it [...8-9 letter spaces...]."

Isn't this a late reference, post-70 CE? If it is present in the Kernel, why do I date the Kernel to 50 CE (or earlier)?

The date of the Kernel was determined upon examination of the eschatology and the christology of the speeches, which reveals pre-Quelle traditions matching those that can be reasonably reconstructed and are indicative of the early Jerusalem church. The eschatology is such that the End is inaugurated and urgent with no sense yet of a delay. The christology is that of prophet and exalted angelic judge prior to the introduction of the title Son of Man. All of this is reconfigured (and rewritten) in the Gospel of Thomas over the ensuing decades, as the delay becomes realized and retrospective thinking about Jesus blossoms.

Saying 71 has always appeared to me to be a straightforward reference to the fate of the Temple at the End of time. The opinion that such a saying could only be explained in a post-Jewish war context is nonsense, and does not take into consideration the rich Jewish expectations about the Temple at the End of time - its destruction, either temporary or permanent.

Saying 71 is ticky though because we simply do not know how it ended because of the fragmentary nature of the manuscript at this point. All attempts so far at possible reconstructions have been for naught. It is impossible to know how it ended, although rebuilding it in three days cannot fit the letter space.

I see no reason, however, to think that a "prophetic" saying of this type could not have originated with Jesus himself, given the political and religious climate of the time and the "known" fate of the Temple during turbulent periods. I never like to speculate about Jesus' own words, but the "authenticity" of this particular saying is about as good as it gets. Bear in mind how Matthew, Mark, and John labor to revise it in light of Jesus' death, suggesting that the saying referred to Jesus' body, its entombment in the earth for three days, and its resurrection on the third day, NOT the actual destruction of the Temple.

I think that the canonical reference to rebuilding the Temple in three days smacks of Christian theological revision of a saying that either embarrassed the Christians or was unpopular. Since the Temple did indeed fall, the account that Jesus predicted its fall certainly would not have been embarrassing, but it very well could have been unpopular. Although the Jews and Christians toyed with the possibility that the Eschaton might bring the destruction of the Temple with no hope of restoration, this idea was not the favored expectation. It remains even within contemporary Judaism and some forms of Christianity that the destroyed Temple will be rebuilt.

So it may be that the Gospel of Thomas is preserving the oldest, harshest, and least popular remembrance of this saying, that the Temple would be destroyed unconditionally. The antiquity of its unconditional destruction appears to me to have been known to Luke too, who refers to the tradition twice but does not quote the saying itself (Luke 21:5-6; Acts 6:14).

These reflections can be found on pages 226-227 of The Original Gospel of Thomas in Translation, the commentary created as supporting documentation for Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas.

16 comments:

Mike Grondin said...

Isn't it "no one can [or will be able to] build it", rather than "no one will build it"?

As to the ending, what about 'AN N-KE-SOP"? ("no one can build it up another time" [with redundant negation], i.e., "no one can rebuild it")

Mike Grondin said...

Oops, I neglected to thank you for another very fine posting. I read this blog religiously (:-) and have publicized it on my Thomas website.

Mike

April DeConick said...

Mike,

Also "be allowed to". I just translated the auxillary "sh" with the force of the future, as in it won't be possible.

The problem with this reconstruction is the P at the end ([an nkeso]p). The P doesn't exist on the manuscript as far as I can see. It is a reconstruction Guillaumont suggested long ago, and makes use of the available space, except that last letter.

April DeConick said...

Mike,

I wanted to e-mail you and tell you that Wade keeps me posted about what is going on in your list-serve. I would like to join it, but honestly I can't make the time to discuss all the issues even though I would like to. If I spend much more time on the web, I won't finish the Judas book!

Benjamin said...

71. Jesus said, “I will destroy [this] house, and no one will be able to build it […].”

You are assuming that the temple is the physical temple. One could imagine that the temple represents the illusory Demi urgic "world." That Christ will destroy it, and it will be unable to be built.

This ties in with the idea that the holy land is not Israel but the entire "earth" itself. Thomas states "heaven is before you."

Another take is that YOU are the temple, the temple not built with hands. This would certainly ring true with the idea of not being able to rebuild the false temple if Christ is within and has destroyed the "old temple."

It is a shame that a scholarly approach such as yours leaves this out; and only deals with "solid" things. Which is a bit strange considering what you are commenting about. Benoit Mandelbrot has a good quotation on this very theme...but there.

This could relate to the Essene hatred for the temple as well of course...

Mike Grondin said...

I really hate to be a bother, but I'd like to be clear about your view of Guillaumont's suggested filling-in of the lacuna. I agree that he was wrong not to include the final P within the brackets, but other than that, is it that there are other equally-plausible candidates?

April DeConick said...

Michael,

You are not a bother at all! Honestly, I don't like any of the reconstructions that have been suggested, including my own.

The P is a problem because it is not there on the manuscript, not even the tiniest hint of it as far as I could tell. And there is no room for it in the space if all the other letters are also there.

nkesop ("again")is taken up now by Bethge's edition ; but it is too short; it would only work if there were a blank space left after it. Any of the reconstructions with 6 letters just don't work, at least I don't think so after I have physically seen the manuscript myself. I know that there are areas that are sometimes left blank, sometimes at the end of a line or if the area of the papyrus is eroded before the scribe got it. There is such a spot in the Thomas manuscript (p. 32 line 18). It looks like the scribe avoided about a two inch area were one layer of the papyrus is effaced. The horizonal papyrus is missing. The papyrus was in this condition before the scribe coped the Gospel on the page because the 3rd letter on line 17, the r, has its tail copied over the effaced area slightly. But to argue for this type of thing at the end of saying 71 would be pure conjecture on my part, and certainly I am not suggesting it.

Thanks for taking the time to read the blog, and keeping the Thomas list serve going. I'll try to chime in your discussions when I can.

Geoff Hudson said...

April,

I would suggest that the origin of saying 71 along with its parallels in the NT has nothing to do with the destruction of the temple, although that is how it was made to appear by later editors. The references were originally concerned with the destruction of the altar for burnt sacrifices. This altar was constructed with loose unhewn stones which could easily be dismantled, so that 'not one stone would be left on another'. An actual such event was garbled in the writings attributed to Josephus. I am referring to the pulling down of the so-called 'golden eagle' erected by Herod 'over the the great gate of the temple' (Ant.17.6.2,3). In fact Herod had raised the level of of the altar in front of the large doors to the santuary. And who was there leading the assult, but our old friend Judas along with a Matthias. The prophets objected to this altar having pre-eminence over the santuary where they offered their own sacrifices at the altar of incense in the presence of God.

Geoff

Loren Rosson III said...

April wrote:

Since the Temple did indeed fall, the account that Jesus predicted its fall certainly would not have been embarrassing, but it very well could have been unpopular.

It’s the part about rebuilding which was embarassing/unpopular, since it never happened. If Thomas’ version -- which lacks any reference to the rebuilding -- were original, how did the embarassing idea of rebuilding enter the tradition to begin with, necessitating the damage control in Mark/Matthew (where it’s denied) and John (where it’s spiritualized to refer to Jesus’ resurrection)? Doesn’t it make more sense that Jesus predicted the temple’s destruction and rebuilding, and that Thomas’ version controls the damage as much as Mark/Matthew and John?

Bear in mind how Matthew, Mark, and John labor to revise it in light of Jesus' death, suggesting that the saying referred to Jesus' body, its entombment in the earth for three days, and its resurrection on the third day, NOT the actual destruction of the Temple.

As I understand it, Mark and Matthew do no such thing. They simply deny that Jesus predicted that he (God, more likely original) would “destroy the temple and rebuilt it in three days” by placing the prophecy on the lips of false witnesses. (Mk 14:55-58/Mt26:59-61; Mk 15:29-30/Mt 27:39-40). Only John revises the prophecy by applying Jesus’ resurrection to it (Jn 2:19-22).

The opinion that such a saying could only be explained in a post-Jewish war context is nonsense, and does not take into consideration the rich Jewish expectations about the Temple at the End of time - its destruction, either temporary or permanent.

There wasn’t much precedent in Jesus’ day for the temple’s destruction without being rebuilt. You call attention to many passages involving rebuilding (Jub 1:29, 23:21; I En 14:8-25, 71:5-6, 89:73, 91:13; II Bar 4:2-6, T Levi 5:1, 18:1-14; 4Q266 3:20-4:3), but only one where it is not (T Moses 5-10), in Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas (p 142). But even in the last, the temple's actual destruction isn't made plain.

So it may be that the Gospel of Thomas is preserving the oldest, harshest, and least popular remembrance of this saying, that the Temple would be destroyed unconditionally.

I don’t mean to imply that Jesus was slavishly unoriginal; he was capable of manipulating his traditions in many cases. But in this case, for the above reasons, doesn’t it seem rather likely that he predicted the temple’s destruction and its rebuilding, and the latter half was later denied (Mk/Mt), revised (Jn), and dropped (Thom) on account of post-70 embarrassment?

April DeConick said...

Loren,

On this we will have to disagree. There is every reason to think that Jesus, given his Jewish apocalypticism, could have said that the Temple would fall and never be rebuilt.

Wade said...

Loren,

You reply to April's statement:

"Bear in mind how Matthew, Mark, and John labor to revise it in light of Jesus' death, suggesting that the saying referred to Jesus' body, its entombment in the earth for three days, and its resurrection on the third day, NOT the actual destruction of the Temple."

By replying that:

"As I understand it, Mark and Matthew do no such thing. They simply deny that Jesus predicted that he (God, more likely original) would “destroy the temple and rebuilt it in three days” by placing the prophecy on the lips of false witnesses. (Mk 14:55-58/Mt26:59-61; Mk 15:29-30/Mt 27:39-40). Only John revises the prophecy by applying Jesus’ resurrection to it (Jn 2:19-22)."

It seems to me that all three apply the resurrection to it. Note that in both Matthew and Mark the "false" allegation made against Jesus is that he will destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. The reference to the three days clearly is a reference to the resurrection of Jesus. Presumably the reference to "false" testimony is to the falseness of the interpretation, not the actual statement. In other words Mark and Matthew are saying that Jesus was accused of saying he would tear down the temple and rebuild it when those who understand and believe in the resurrection will understand that he wasn't talking about the temple at all, but was talking about himself. They may not say that explicitly, but it seems implied by the reference to the three days.

So, presumably the interpretation of the destruction of the temple as being actually about him gets added quite early, before the destruction probably. This would make sense in that after Jesus is killed they needed to deal with an unpopular saying of Jesus in some way and implying that it was about his resurrection was one way to do that.

It makes little sense to me that Jesus would have predicted the destruction and rebuilding and that the rebuilding would have been the embarrasing part. I mean if Jesus said around 30 that the temple would be destroyed and rebuilt, and folks waited around 40 years for the destruction part to be fulfilled why would they be so quick to be disappointed that the rebuilding didn't happen instantly? Wouldn't they be more likely to say "See folks, it took a while, but it was destroyed just like He said it would be, so just wait for a bit and he will rebuild it!" (Unless you really believe that Jesus said he would rebuild the temple in three days which seems a bit unlikely. Surely the three days part, at least, follows the resurrection story.)

The most likely scenario to me seems to be that the saying about the destruction got interpreted as a reference to the resurrection early on and by the time the temple was destroyed it was too ingrained in the tradition to reinterpret. (But it might have become a bit more "politically incorrect" a metaphor after the actual destruction perhaps explaining why Mark and Matthew don't explicitly state it.)

Loren Rosson III said...

Wade wrote:

Unless you really believe that Jesus said he would rebuild the temple in three days which seems a bit unlikely.

It may be more likely than not. I'm persuaded by Paula Fredriksen's suggestion that Jesus stepped up the apocalypse's timetable from "soon" to "now" in his last Jerusalem visit, and in line with this he may well have predicted the swift destruction/rebuilding of the temple by God "in three days".

April DeConick said...

Loren,

I think "three days" is highly unlikely, and I doubt that Paula would push that far although I have never talked to her about this directly.

"Three days" is a liturgical phrase for the early Christians and signals for them Jesus' resurrection. It is all over the literature, not just in these few references we have been talking about in re: to the Temple.

Alan Gregory Wonderwheel said...

I'm not persuaded that saying #71 has anything to do with being a prophetic saying.

To me the saying is about the awakening process of destroying the "house" that is and contains the self-image. This is the same as the saying in which Buddha says, "I see you, oh Housebuiler. You will not build the house again. The rafters are broken and the ridgepole is shattered."


Thus saying #71 is neither historical as a reference to the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem, nor is it apocalyptic in the future tense or prophetic sense. It is apocalyptic only in the psychological sense that all apocalyptic literature is about the dissolution and destruction of the world-view of the self-image that occurs in the awakening process, not about a historical future of a literal world ending.

Gary Hudson said...

r

Gary Hudson said...

(70)We are told that what we have within us, the Presence of God, will save us from psychological suffering if we manifest or become centered (sheltered) in it.
If we lose that Presence, even though we are unaware of it, we will die. It is the source of life within us.

(71)The house that Jesus ,as a metaphor for awareness, dissolves is the man made containment (structure of self) that separates us from that life source. Once destroyed awareness is reseated (enthroned) at the source and we are made whole. The individual house of self cannot be rebuilt.

I realize that I am talking to academics here but you guys need to hangout with mystics more often.

Gary W. Hudson
Integralchrist.org