Wednesday, June 4, 2008

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.

5 comments:

JMS Providence said...

This is a wonderful passage, Dr. D. Thanks! And may I say, to say that men and women are equally qualified to fulfill the job of a priest does not deny their obvious distinctions as male versus female, rather it embraces them (like the Ying and Yang), so as to balance the equation otherwise known as the human being.

José Solano said...

This passage has little in common with Gal. 3:23 and neither of them has anything to do with priesthood. GT 22 starts with Jesus seeing infants being breast-fed and states that they are like those who enter the kingdom. I can’t imagine that Jesus is saying that infants could be ordained as priests.

This passage has to do with Christian innocence and relates more to Mt. 18:3 and Lk. 18:17. Much of it is a confounded mish-mash of disparate bits and pieces and lends itself well to cryptic fantasy deciphering. Take any five scholars attempting to figure it out without consulting each other and you’ll get five different interpretations. There seems perhaps to be a faint echo to Mt. 5:29 and Mk 9:43.

I await further information on this passage but I doubt that you're referring to GT 22 when talking about early baptismal liturgy unless it’s the very first section on suckling infants.

Richard James said...

Thank you for this interesting post Dr. DeConick! After reading your work on Thomas I have wondered about how you see the relation between Galatians 3:23 and Thomas 22:4-7. You see Thomas 22:4-7 as an encratite accretion to Thomas, but isn't it quite plausible that the return-to-the-androgyn soteriology of this saying (as well as some others that you place later) goes back at least to the 50s and already influenced the Corinthian community (as some scholars have suggested). Here I am leaning very much towards the views of Stevan Davies and I cannot convince myself that this saying was added as late as you suggest. I also find it plausible that Mark knew this saying (in some form) and did his best to interpret it in his own way in Mark 9:42-10:9 (and not just 9:42-48 as suggested by Stevan Davies; note the way the idea of two becoming one reminds Mark of Genesis 2:24, which becomes the basis for his "teaching about divorce"). I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue.

lightseeker said...

Richard, thank you for your post, I so agree with you. I had not connected GT 22 and the verses from Mark 9 before. You make great points, and it makes sense.

I believe the kernel or core of many GT sayings may go back to Jesus, although due to their complexity, they (Jesus' original sayings) may have been misunderstood - and altered/adapted by some groups (later Gnostics), and possibly even discarded by other groups (the proto-orthodox?) - perhaps why they may be absent from canonical versions as we today have received them....

If one understands that Jesus was teaching a return to the ideal of Adam and Eve in the Garden as his concept of God's sovereign rule on earth, with the understanding that Adam was *first* created in the IMAGE of YHVH, in an androgynous state, then these sayings, including Jesus' teachings about marriage, begin to make sense, especially in light of Paul's understanding of these concepts (received from Peter?), as evidenced in Gal 3:23 (Paul certainly had his own ideas, but he also may have received certain teachings and concepts, such as this one, directly from Peter and James and Jesus’ original disciples). The essence of and key to the Kingdom of God is spiritual unity unpinning or upholding the physical world rather than solely the dualism/polarity experienced by the five senses in the physical world (male/female; good/evil; black/white, etc.).

Why is it that Judaic law (not to mention Islam!) forbids mankind to create images or idols of God? Because God is ineffable and cannot be recreated or portrayed in 2- or 3- dimensional art. Why or how do a man and wife become one flesh? It's a spiritual union ("what God hath joined") that transcends the physical joining. How is it that in Mark 12:25, in the next life/God's Kingdom, "they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven"? Because Jesus was teaching an understanding that humans' true nature, beneath the gendered flesh we see and feel, is androgynous, eternal spirit.

Jesus may have believed in the continuity of life after death, not some distant, future physical resurrection as most Jews believed. Jesus was teaching a radical new way to perceive, a perception that transforms a person from the inside out. The Kingdom was already here, now, unseen in peoples' midst AND within them. "Seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be opened to you." The doorway to the Kingdom was not to be found somewhere “out there,” it was within oneself: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (This is a mild/moderate form of gnosis, BTW, vs. later extreme forms of Gnosticism!) Jesus understood that God's (symbolic) rule on earth would come, but it would need the catalyst of the Israelites taking the initiative to repent and purify their hearts and minds and transform themselves first (as a shining example to all other nations) - a tipping point, if you will. Jesus was teaching and leading the Israelites to bring about this catalyst/tipping point in the sense of “God helps those who help themselves.” It’s a partnership, this covenant – people have to make righteous choices and do their part (“works”) to transform Jerusalem (center stage) and the earth into a new world (new era) into which God’s peace and blessings flow abundantly without end.

I believe Jesus was teaching people how to see within that eternal aspect of themselves as which God created them initially in His ineffable image as Spirit. This is the transformative way of perceiving oneself anew (being reborn in Spirit) which is illustrated by GT 22 and possibly Mark 9:43-47 (but may have been misunderstood or interpreted with a physical, grim apocalyptic twist per the beliefs of the Markan community). Later, the concept of how one actually was reborn in spirit may have come to be understood differently from one Christian group to another (for instance, spirit coming to indwell a person vs. a shift in perception of a spiritual hand in place of a physical hand). For Jesus, the how may not have been as important as the what - just becoming aware of it in the first place. The important point Jesus was attempting to teach was awareness of the unseen (spiritual) reality of God’s Kingdom that is always present along with the seen/physical reality of the world, and that included the unseen aspect *within* each person, as well. This was a huge new paradigm for most in the ancient Jewish world to comprehend – the sort that takes an epiphany to shatter the old beliefs and turn the light on, so to speak.

Jesus' teachings were often difficult - because I believe he meant to jolt the listener to move beyond what he/she then currently understood from the old paradigm. Jesus was not a hard-line, conservative Pharisee, nor was he an ascetic separatist like the Essenes. Although once a disciple of John the Baptist, Jesus seemed to have parted ways with the Baptist and his asceticism and perhaps also discarding John's apocalyptic, gloom & doom vision of God's judgment day for a more pacifistic, transcendent vision of the coming of the Kingdom. He certainly eschewed violence of the rebels/Zealots/sicarii as a means to bring about the Kingdom. Jesus and his earliest followers certainly seem to have been influenced by many of the Hebrew writings (canonical and apocryphal) from the 1st and 2nd centuries BCE, which also may have contained certain mildly gnostic and Hellenistic concepts regarding spirituality (e.g., references to Light, being children of the Light, etc.). The earliest Jewish-Christian groups' beliefs were mildly gnostic (refer to my paragraph above) - where did that come from? Perhaps from Jesus himself and his disciples such as Mary Magdalene, Didymus Judas Thomas and the unnamed "beloved disciple"? The wisest, most enlightened religious/spiritual teachers take the middle path; they are less rigid and more open-minded; they learn and grow by incorporating new concepts which they discern as spiritual truths (e.g., an eternal soul/spirit which lives on after physical death) and discard/ignore what is not (e.g., polytheism). We know Jesus got into trouble sometimes because he bent the Law or was more lax in regards to the Sabbath, enjoying life/wine and food, and mixing/consorting with Gentiles or others considered sinners, outcast or unclean, and yet he was considered by many to be divine or divinely chosen. One could still be a devout, Torah-observant Jew while expanding one's perception of God, the cosmos and one's place in God's creation, even if some of those ideas seeped into Jewish consciousness from the Greeks.

Jesus was reforming Judaism, alright, breaking through the ceiling of the box, introducing a new paradigm shift in spiritual reality that may have been difficult for most Jews to perceive and comprehend (and impossible for others who were unwilling to change the status quo). Radical indeed! It’s why Jesus died for teaching what he did (seeing himself as, and/or being seen as or labeled by others as the Messiah - God’s anointed, earthly leader-king of the Jews), and why so many variations and understandings of Jesus’ teachings sprang up (polydoxy!) and grew in so many different directions among early Christian groups.

Peace, Love and Light

Richard James said...

Thanks for your thought-provoking comments lightseeker. There are two things I must say in response to your suggestion that Jesus taught a return to the ideal of Adam and Eve in the Garden.

First, I think the return-to-Eden ideal in early Christianity is not so much a return to Adam and Eve in the Garden, but a return to the androgynous Adam, before Eve was created.

Second, I am quite heistant to accept the idea that Jesus taught anything like this. Even if the return-to-the-androgynous-Adam soteriology was there in Christian communities as early as the 50s it is still quite likely that it does not come from Jesus. Some scholars have suggested that these ideas came from Alexandrian Judaism. They also point to the activity of Apollos in Corinth who supposedly came from Alexandria. Of course, it is hard enough to know much about the views of the Corinthians on the basis of Pauls letters, but it is even harder to know what influence Apollos had there. Nevertheless, it is certainly possible that Alexandrian Jewish wisdom speculations affected the Corinthians through Apollos. I should add to this that I am quite sceptical about our ability to deduce much about the historical Jesus from our sources. I truly think the creativity of early Christians, the authors of the Synoptic Gospels in particular, is typically underestimated. I think we all want to imagine our favorite sayings going all the way back to Jesus, but how can we really know?