Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Apostolic Tradition as "living literature"

I love it when I come across the work of scholars in entirely different areas that intersect with my own. That has happened today as I am beginning an intensive period studying Valentinian practices in order to prepare a paper for the International Theological Conference on the Orthodox Teaching on Sacraments to be convened by the Russian Orthodox Church to take place on November 13-16th, 2007 in Moscow.

I have come across the work of Marcel Metzger on The Apostolic Tradition. He develops an idea put forward earlier by Jean Magne and by Alexandre Faivre that this ancient church order is not only not authored by Hippolyptus, but that it is not the work of a single author or editor. Rather it is a piece of "living literature." Why? Its lack of unity, its lack of logical progression, the presence of many incoherences, doublets, and contradictions. The work is a composite work according to Metzger and later Paul Bradshaw, a collection of community rules from different traditions, probably not even representing a single Christian community. The only way to really understand the text is to examine the various individual elements and layers of which the text is made up.

Well, here we are, back to the type of model that I have been promoting for the composition of the Gospel of Thomas. I love the phrase "living literature" and wish I had known about it when I wrote Recovering, for surely I would have used it!

By the way, being invited to present a paper on gnostic ritual by the Russian Orthodox Church is very much an honor for me. I am delighted that there is enough interest in the Orthodox Church about these old gnostic traditions that an invitation was even sent to me in the first place. Since I can't be in San Diego at SBL/AAR and Russia at the same time, my paper will be distributed in my absence. But I hope to show in that paper how important gnostic witnesses are to ancient Christian ritual patterns and practices.

1 comment:

Geoff Hudson said...

If it was 'living literature', what kernal ideas (whether oral or written) did it grow from? Interestingly, there is reference to an oblation of water. In Judaism, the oblation of water poured out at the Feast of Tabernacles symbolised the descent of the Spirit. And spirit language features strongly in the document.