Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cautionary Note 5: DeConick on Methodology

In Perrin's chapter on my work, there is one criticism lodged by Perrin that raises a good question (pp. 65-66). Have I inconsistently applied my methodology in terms of sayings that contain characteristic vocabulary since there is language in the accretions that I don't identify as characteristic?

The goal of my method was to identify later material (accretions) that entered the Gospel of Thomas and worked to reinterpret older sayings. Here are two older posts about this. Post 1 and Post 2.

It is accurate that there is language in the accretions that I didn't (and don't) identify as characteristic. And for good reason. If we were to identify all language as characteristic, then we would reduce our argument to nonsense - words like "the" and "and" would have to be identified. This is why I use the word "characteristic" to the Gospel of Thomas, excluding plain language or overly general ideas.

Moreover, the presence of the word or phrase in the accretion is not enough to identify it as characteristic. To identify characteristic terminology on this basis would be nothing more than parallelmania. The terms and phrases that I identified were done so with explicit reference to the pattern of there usage (Recovering pp. 72-77). For instance the word petonh ("the one who is living") is understood as characteristic vocabulary when it is used as a Name of God or as a cognate designation for the believer. The word alone can never be enough, because meanings for words vary depending upon context and community hermeneutics. We must always be conscious of this.

For these reasons, I did not (and would not) identify as characteristic the terms that Perrin himself suggests. Let me take each one in turn.

Perrin: Inside/outside contrast (Gos. Thom. 3.3, 22.4, 89.2). Not only are these words common words but their usage across these sayings is not the same, and the terminology in Coptic is not the same in all three cases identified by Perrin. 3.3 (sempetenhoun auo sempetenbal) speaks of the Kingdom being inside and outside a person. 22.4 (psa nhoun enthe empsa nbol) talks about making the exterior person like the interior person. 89.2 (empsa nhoun...empsa nbol) addresses the purity laws in terms of the inside of the cup and the outside of the cup. According to Jesus, the inside of the utensil determined the purity standards of the whole cup (against the Pharisaic position of the school of Shammai who argued that the vessel should be immersed to remove any contaminants prior to use).

Perrin: "one and the same" (Gos. Thom. 4.1, 22.5 and 23.2) are accretions. "But this makes it hard to explain why the only other use of the phrase (Gos. Thom. 4.3) occurs in Stage 1 [Perrin's word for my Kernel designation]" (Perrin, p. 65). On this point Perrin errors completely since indeed I have clearly designated this phrase as an accretion, not a Kernel saying (as Perrin states) (Recovering pp. 70-71). I have also clearly identified this portion of the saying as 4.4 in order to include in the numbering system 3.3 from the Greek papyrus "and the last will be first."

Perrin: "There will be days" (79.3, 38.2). This was (and is) taken by me to be plain language. Its usage does not suggest anything that would qualify it as "characteristic" to the Gospel of Thomas. If Perrin wishes this to be so, then he needs to make a case for it.

Perrin: "entering the kingdom" (22.5, 3, 114.3=accretions). What about 39.2, 99.3 and 64.12, Perrin asks? First, the sayings he identified do not contain this expression. Saying 3 does not contain the phrase "entering the kingdom," at all in the Coptic, and only in a lacunae in the Greek does it have "will enter it." 22.7 has "will enter the Kingdom" where Kingdom is in the lacunae; 22.3 has "Will we enter the Kingdom as little babies?". 114.2 has "will enter the Kingdom of Heaven." Second, 64.12 is also an accretion, and it too does not have the expression "entering the Kingdom", but "entering the places of my Father." 39.2 is in the Kernel but does not have the expression "entering the Kingdom." In fact the word Kingdom never even occurs in this saying. Here Perrin's memory of the Matthean version appears to be bleeding over into the Thomasine. 99.3 contains the expression "will enter the Kingdom of my Father." In my opinion, there is no characteristic phrase to identify across the sayings Perrin lays out. If we were to argue it on terms of a characteristic theme, I think here we would falter as well since the idea of "entering the Kingdom" is so common to early Christian literature generally it would be hard to maintain an argument that it represents secondary development in the Gospel of Thomas.

Perrin: "The poetic 'taste death' occupies two separate stages of composition (Gos. Thom. 18.3=Stage 3; Gos. Thom. 1.1, 19.4, 85.2=Stage 4)" (p. 66). Both of Perrin's "Stages" are accretions. So there is no inconsistency. 18.3 may be our earliest accretion of the lot Perrin identifies, but this doesn't mean that I have applied my methodology inconsistently. Certainly we would expect characteristic vocabulary to accrue gradually over time in this gospel. It is not at all clear to me why Perrin demands that all sayings with similar vocabulary must enter the gospel at exactly the same moment. According to my hypothesis, this is a document being preserved by particular Christians with particular theology and language that accumulates in an ongoing fashion.

Perrin: "as does the typically Syrian metaphor 'bridal chamber' (Gos. Thom. 104.3=Stage 1; Gos. Thom. 75.1=Stage 4)" (p. 66). The usage of the metaphor, however, is not consistent in these two sayings. 104.3 (Kernel) uses the metaphor to refer to the Jewish custom that weddings are days of feasting, not fasting. Jesus may have been identified as the bridegroom who leaves the bridal chamber (= the world); in Jesus' absence Christians now fast. 75.1 (Accretion) says that the celibate person is the one who will enter the bridal chamber (=Kingdom).

Perrin: there are marcarisms in both Kernel and the accretions. True. But again this appears to me to be such common language attributed to Jesus in early Christianity, it would be impossible to maintain that it represents secondary development in the Gospel of Thomas.

Perrin: the language of "worth" and "being worthy" (Gos. Thom. 56.2, 85.1, 114.1=accretions), but also in Gos. Thom. 55.2 and 62.1=Kernel. Perrin's remark misses entirely the actual phrase I identified which is "the world does not deserve" (or "the world is not worthy"), a phrase that does not occur in 55.2 and 62.1 (Recovering pp. 72-73).

Perrin: as for Perrin's statement that the "rest" sayings were split between the Kernel (86.2, 90.1, 61.1) and the accretions (50.3, 51.1, 60.6). First, the sayings that Perrin identifies do not use consistent terminology in the Coptic to refer to "rest" which is the English translation. Nor do these sayings understand the concept consistently. In 61.1 and 86.2 emton is used to indicate being satisfied, relieved, at ease, perhaps even drifting off to sleep. In 90.2 (Perrin wrongly has 90.1) anapausis is used to indicate relaxation from labor. It is only in the accretions 50.3, 51.1, and 60.6 that anapausis is found and used in a Hermetic sense, although 50.3 speaks of this rest in cosmic terms while 60.6 in interiorized personal terms. 51.1 is problematic because anapausis probably was not the original word at all, but more likely anastasis (=resurrection). Scribal error may have been responsible for the slight change in word. At any rate, for these reasons, I did not identify anapausis as "characteristic" nor use it as a factor to determine the accretions. It is interesting, however, if I had done this, the accretions that I had already identified would be the ones that contain anapausis with a Hermetic usage of that word!

The long and short of this is that I was very consistent in my application of method. I did not, as Perrin accuses me, lead us where I wanted us to go (p. 66). I had no idea where the method was going to go. Once I was finished I was as surprised as anyone given the Koester-Robinson model, that the earliest sayings in the Gospel of Thomas were apocalyptic and imminently eschatological with a Jerusalem orientation, while the accretions represented a form of mystical and encratic Christianity common to Syria in the second century. Quite honestly, I was hoping that the mystical form was our earliest Thomas, given my prior work on Thomas. But once I worked consistently through the text identifying the secondary material, this turned out to be wrong. Although there was an early mystical dimension to Jesus' teaching, the early apocalypticism in Thomas did not focus on it, but instead on the eschatological and the coming of the Kingdom and judgment. It only shifted to the mystical later, once the Kingdom didn't come as expected.

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