Friday, May 11, 2007

More About the Kernel Thomas

Mark Goodacre has posted a series of fabulous questions about the Kernel Thomas that I would like to respond to in this post.

Mark Goodacre
In what way is "Kernel Thomas" appropriately labelled Kernel Thomas? In other words, what is it about this hypothetical collection of sayings that makes it Thomasine? The character Thomas appears in the Incipit and Logion 13, but both of these are among DeConick's accretions. Looking at the character of the accretions, it is also clear that Kernel Thomas is a different kind of entity from the Gospel of Thomas, which focuses the question further.
My response
I use the expression Kernel Thomas only in practical terms, to refer to that text which became the Gospel of Thomas. It is not used by me to indicate a theological orientation that we call "Thomasine." By the way, I do not understand the Thomasine theological orientation to be unique or derivative of a church who only uses the Gospel of Thomas. The theology represents early Syrian Christianity, and is most likely associated with Edessian Christians. They did not just produce the Gospel of Thomas, or know only it. They produced and knew many other pieces of early Christian literature including other gospels.
Mark Goodacre
How do we know that the author or community producing the Gospel of Thomas was directly continuous with the author or community who used Kernel Thomas as their storage site for Jesus' sayings? Could it be that the Gospel of Thomas author or community had no direct relationship with the author or community behind Kernel Thomas?
My response
My analysis of the content of the earliest sayings, the Kernel, suggests to me that the Kernel came from the Jerusalem mission. I don't ever argue for a continuity of communities - that the Kernel and the Gospel of Thomas were created by the same group of people. The Kernel looks to me to have been produced in Jerusalem. Somehow it got to Edessa. I think this most likely happened as the result of mission work from Jerusalem, but there may be other possibilities. The Christians in Edessa develop the text. The text reflects shifts in Christianity there, so it reflects an ever-changing community of Christians and the issues that they faced. This is what I mean by dynamic growth. One group of people have not controlled everything that happened to this text. Even within the Thomasine (or better?: Edessian) community there were shifts and changes in membership and orientation. I tried to get this across in terms of the gradual accrual of the accretions, and the shift in hermeneutics that I see taking place in this accretive material.
Mark Goodacre
Is Kernel Thomas the core of the Gospel of Thomas in the same way that the Gospel of Mark is the core of the Gospel of Matthew? Or to put it another way, would we be content with thinking of the Gospel of Mark as "Kernel Matthew"?
My response
I rather like this comparison, although I would be afraid that the analogy would be taken too far by other scholars, especially in terms of what the consensus view is about the composition of Matthew as a literary assimilation and redaction of written sources. This is exactly the model of production that I am arguing against. My model is one in which oral consciousness dominated the production - which is not the same thing as saying that I think its creation relied solely on oral sources or orality. This would be a total misunderstanding of my position. I argue quite loudly for a rhetorical model, for an organic process of written and oral texts moving in and out of oration, and for the setting down of what was significant in writing so that it could be preserved.

7 comments: said...


Do you consider the frequently used expression 'Jesus said' to be a later accretion?

Geoff said...

I have two more questions:

Not having read your books, I am wondering what percentage of the total text you consider the Jerusalem kernal represents? My guess is less than 15 percent.

Thirdly, I would like to know why this book is called the Gospel of Thomas after Didymus Judas Thomas when both Didymus and Thomas mean twin?

So did Judas have a twin brother, Matthias may be? And as twins run in families, did Judas have twin sons James and Simon, sons of Zeus may be? said...

Having at the start, told his readers that 'these are the secret words that the living Jesus spoke', the writer then goes overboard to repeat the words 'Jesus said' before each of the subsequent statements. Now if that doesn't smack of overselling a lie, I don't know what does. To me, the repeated use of the expression 'Jesus said' is a later interpolation. This raises the spectre of no mention of Jesus in the kernal. And thus the kernal was not the sayings of a person as such, but words that Judas wrote down as revealed to the prophet by the Spirit. In this case the writer of the kernal would have started it with something like 'these are the words which the living Lord spoke which Judas the prophet wrote down.' Thus I also consider the so-called sayings of the NT as prophetic writings.


Alan Gregory Wonderwheel said...

Geoff Hudson said this, "Having at the start, told his readers that 'these are the secret words that the living Jesus spoke', the writer then goes overboard to repeat the words 'Jesus said' before each of the subsequent statements. Now if that doesn't smack of overselling a lie, I don't know what does."

Sorry, but to me that conclusion doesn't follow at all and actually sounds somewhat silly.

First, saying that these are the esoteric or hidden words of Jesus simply means that they are the sayings that have an esoteric meaning. That is what the next line means when it says you must fall into the meaning to not take the taste of death.

Remember, it is even remarked on occasion by Jesus that his 12 showcase disciples didn't understand his use of parables and sayings. So though many of the sayings were said publically and not said in secret, their meaning remained esoteric or hidden, because it takes a "mystic" experience to know what it means "to fall into the meaning" just like it takes an emotional experience to know what it means to "fall in love". That experience of falling into the meaning of these sayings is beyond simple logical thinking and explanation, just like falling in love is beyond logical explanation.

Second, there is nothing "overboard" by the introduction of "Jesus said/says this.." at the beginning of each saying. This is simply the common and virtually universal method of relating discreet sayings like these in seriatum format. If there were a narrative between the sayings the "Jesus said" before each instance of what he said would not stand out at all.

By having the "Jesus said" before each saying, the sayings stand out as independent items for consideration, and there is no confusion about taking them that way as there would be if they were presented without separaters. Remember, the sayings are not even numbered and there are no paragraph breaks or even extra spacing between the sayings, so only the "Jesus said this" marks the end of one saying and the beginning of the next saying. That is completely practical and not "overboard."

The only alternative to "Jesus said,..." would have been to have numbered the sayings or iserted someother kind of marker and as far as I know that was not a common practice at that time and place, certainly not in this type of text. Someone else might clarify this question about the use of numbers in the historical context of writings like these.

Alan Gregory Wonderwheel said...

And of course of most importance we should remember that the sayings were first transmitted orally and the use of "Jesus said this.." to seperate the sayings also provides the necessary verbal cue for both cadance and memory to set each saying into its own setting. said...

I am suggesting that the kernal of the Gospel of Thomas made no mention of Jesus. I believe the same was true about kernals of New Testament documents. I would further suggest that the only person mentioned in the kernal of the Coptic Gospel of Thomas was Judas who the writer says wrote the words (Thomas and Didymus each mean twin).

If you take the Dead Sea Scrolls as a standard, many of its texts are written as though they are the words or commands of God without the repeated use of God or the Lord said or says. That they are the words of God is understood. The same is true of much of the OT. And there is plenty of esoteric material in both the DSS and the OT. So I say the repetition comes from secondary writers with their own agendas wanting to convince readers that it was actually Jesus who said the words the writer says he spoke.

I wonder if any scholars have attempted to recover kernals of New Testament documents as April has done for the Gospel of Thomas?

Geoff said...

Thus, following on from my earlier comments, scholarly ideas of orality in relation to kernals are wrong. Kernals were written by prophets as scripture - the words or commands of God or the Spirit. Later that they were converted into so-called sayings sources.