Monday, June 9, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 6-9-08

When Salome asked when the things would be known that she asked about, the Lord said, "When you have trampled on the garment of shame and when the two become one and the male with the female is neither male nor female."

Gospel of the Egyptians, quoted by Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 3.13.92

1 comment:

Richard James said...

The relationship between this quotatian by Clement of Alexandria of an Egyptian Gospel and the Gospel of Thomas 22 and 37 is an interesting puzzle. The first part of the quotation parallels Thomas 37 while the second part parallels Thomas 22. So what's going on here? I think there are several possibilities and I haven't really made my mind up on this one yet.

Clement of Alexandria is writing somewhere in the late second century and mentions that "we do not find this saying in the four Gospels handed down to us, but in the Gospel according to the Egyptians." This Gospel often gets dated to the early second century although some argue for an even earlier date. We really don't have much to go on in terms of a more precise dating.

The first to suggest a relationship between the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of the Egyptians was Gilles Quispel. He proposed that the Gospel of Thomas was dependent on two apocryphal Gospels, the Gospel of the Hebrews and the Gospel of the Egyptians. This proposal was criticized for a number of reasons. One of the major problems is that we only have fragments of these two Gospels and therefore the thesis remains quite speculative. It is also questionable whether these Gospels actually predate the Gospel of Thomas. In response to this criticism Quispel later backed off a little, but maintained that Thomas was dependent on two written texts, a Jewish-Christian (Palestinian) Gospel and an Alexandrian Gospel. Thus, Quispel no longer identified the former as the Gospel of the Hebrews and the latter as the Gospel of the Egyptians. This takes care of at least some of the criticism, but it remains unclear whether Thomas is dependent on written apocryphal Gospels (April is one of the scholars who have criticized such a literate model).

So although we cannot exclude the possibility that the Gospel of Thomas is dependent on the Gospel of the Egyptians there might be other ways of accounting for the similarities between between these Gospels (and this saying quoted by Clement of Alexandria and Thomas 22 and 37 in particular). Although most scholars place the origin of the Gospel of Thomas in Palestine or Syria the Gospel went to Egypt at some time. We know this for a fact since the earliest fragment of Thomas was found in Egypt and was written around 200 CE. When the gospel first came to Egypt we really don't know. Could it have found its way to Egypt early enough to influence the Gospel of the Egyptians?

Another possibility is that the saying originated in Alexandria in some form and that this saying as well as several others that are now in the Gospel of Thomas made their way to Palestina or Syria (orally or already in a collection of written sayings) and were there integrated with other sayings. This is similar to Quispel's revised proposal although we are keeping open the possibility of oral traditions. At some time in the early second century the Gospel of the Egyptians was then composed. Although it is possible that this Gospel was in some way a response to one of more of the Canonical Gospels (interestingly there are traditions linking Mark with Alexandria) this Gospel would then have incorporated some sayings already known in Alexandria, such as this one quoted by Clement of Alexandria.

In any case, these are just some of the possibilities for this interesting parallel between the Gospel of the Egyptians and the Gospel of Thomas. I'd be interested to hear what others think of this relationship.