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Sayings GospelsProclaiming the Wisdom of Jesus
The Sayings Gospel GenreCf. Greek gnomologia (e.g., sayings of Epicurus)Cf. Jewish logoi sophon (e.g., Proverbs)A sub-type of the wisdom literature genre
Features of Sayings GospelsSayings are presented sans commentarySimply listed seriatum (e.g., Gospel of Thomas)orCollected into thematic units (e.g., Q)Little to no narrative tissue connects the sayingsImage borrowed from http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/q.html
Jesus in the Sayings GospelsUse of this genre betrays understanding of Jesus, above all else, as a wisdom-teacherImage borrowed from Stevan Davies The Gospel of Thomas homepage.
The Sayings GospelsYale Papyrus Fragment from the Nag Hammadi Gnostic Library Codex III, containing The Dialogue of the Savior (Yale Beinecke Library)The Apocryphon of James (or Secret James)
QDate:Ca. C.E. 50Provenance:Judea or GalileeAudience:Itinerant disciples of Jesus and the householders who support themExtant mss.:NoneWitnesses:There are no explicit witnesses; Q is an hypothetical construct derived from the canonical Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke)
The Gospel of Thomas
Date:ca. C.E. 70130Provenance:found in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt Extant mss.:Oxyrhynchus papyrus; Coptic translation of the Greek version, in the Nag Hammadi LibrarySee The Gnostic Society Library: The Gospel of Thomas Collection
Q // Thomas Parallels (GThos version)QLk 10:21 // 4a The person old in days won't hesitate to ask a little child seven days old about the place of life, and that person will live.QLk 12:2 // 6b. For nothing is hidden that shall not be revealed and nothing is covered that shall that shall remain without being revealed. [Also in Mark].QLk 10:8-9 // 14b. When you go into any region and walk about in the countryside, when people take you in, eat what they serve you and heal the sick among them.2QLk 12:51-53 // 16 Perhaps people think that I have come to cast peace upon the world. They do not know that I have come to cast conflicts upon the earth: fire, sword, war. For there will be five in a house: there'll be three against two and two against three, father against son and son against father, and they will stand alone.2QLK 12:39 // 21b If the owner of the house knows that the thief is coming, he will watch before he comes and will not let him break into his house of his Kingdom and carry away his goods.QLk 6:41-42 // 26 You see the sliver in your friend's eye, but you don't see the timber in your own eye. When you take the timber out of your own eye, then you will see well enough to remove the sliver from your friend's eye.QLk 12:3 // 33a What you will hear in your ear, in the other ear proclaim from your rooftops.2QLk 11:33 // 33b No one kindles a lamp and puts it under a basket, nor does he put it in a hidden place, but he sets it on a lamp stand so everyone who comes in and goes out will see its light. [Also in Mark]QLk 6:39 // 34 If a blind person leads a blind person, both of them will fall into a hole.QLk 12:22 // 36 Do not fret, from morning to evening and from evening to morning, [about your food--what you're going to eat, or about your clothing--] what you are going to wear. [You're much better than the lilies, which neither card nor spin. As for you,when you have no garment, what will you put on? Who might add to your stature? That very one will give you your garment.] (inclusions from Oxy. Pap. in Gk, lacking in Coptic)
Q // Thomas Parallels (GThos version)2QLk 11:52 // 39a The Pharisees and the scholars have taken the keys of knowledge and have hidden them. They have not entered nor have they allowed those who want to enter to do so.2QLk 19:26 // 41 He who has in his hand, it shall be given to him;and he who does not have, even the little he has shall be taken away from him. [Also in Mark]QLk 6:44-45 // 45 Grapes are not harvested from thorn trees, nor are figs gathered from thistles, for they yield no fruit. Good persons produce good from what they've stored up; bad persons produce evil from the wickedness they've stored up in their hearts,and say evil things. For from the overflow of the heart they produce evil.2QLk 7:28 // 46a From Adam to John the Baptist, among those born of women, no one is so much greater than John the Baptist that his eyes should not be averted.Qlk 16:13 // 47b A slave cannot serve two masters, otherwise that slave will honor the one and offend the other. QLk 6:20 // 54 Congratulations to the poor, for to you belongs Heaven's kingdom.QLk 14:26-27 // 55a Whoever does not hate father and mother cannot be my disciple, and whoever does not hate brothers and sisters, and carry the cross as I do, will not be worthy of me.2QLk 14:15-24 // 64a A person was receiving guests. When he had prepared the dinner, he sent his slave to invite the guests.The slave went to the first and said to that one, "My master invites you." That one said, "Some merchants owe me money; they are coming to me tonight.I have to go and give them instructions. Please excuse me from dinner."The slave went to another and said to that one, "My master has invited you." That one said to the slave, "I have bought a house, and I have been called away for a day. I shall have no time."The slave went to another and said to that one, "My master invites you." That one said to the slave, "My friend is to be married, and I am to arrange the banquet. I shall not be able to come. Please excuse me from dinner."The slave went to another and said to that one, "My master invites you." That one said to the slave, "I have bought an estate, and I am going to collect the rent. I shall not be able to come. Please excuse me."The slave returned and said to his master, "Those whom you invited to dinner have asked to be excused." The master said to his slave, "Go out on the streets and bring back whomever you find to have dinner.QLk 6:22 // 68a Congratulations to you when you are hated and persecuted.
Q // Thomas Parallels (GThos version)QLk 6:6:21 // 69b Congratulations to those who go hungry, so the stomach of the one in want may be filled.QLk 10:2 // 73 The crop is huge but the workers are few, so beg the harvest boss to dispatch workers to the fields.QLk 12:33 // 76b Seek his treasure that is unfailing, that is enduring, where no moth comes to eat and no worm destroys.2QLk 7:24-25 // 78 Why have you come out to the countryside? To see a reed shaken by the wind? And to see a person dressed in soft clothes, [like your] rulers and your powerful ones? They are dressed in soft clothes, and they cannot understand truth. QLk 9:58 // 86 Foxes have their dens and birds have their nests, but human beings have no place to lay down and rest. 2QLk 11:39-40 // 89 Why do you wash the outside of the cup?Don't you understand that the one who made the inside is also the one who made the outside?2QLk 12:56 // 91 They said to him, "Tell us who you are so that we may believe in you."He said to them, "You examine the face of heaven and earth,but you have not come to know the one who is in your presence, and you do not know how to examine the present moment." QLk 11:9-10 // 94 One who seeks will find, and for [one who knocks] it will be opened.QLk 6:34-35 // 95 If you have money, don't lend it at interest. Rather, give [it] to someone from whom you won't get it back. QLk 13:20-21 // 96 The Father's kingdom is like a woman. She took a little leaven, [hid] it in dough, and made it into large loaves of bread. Anyone here with two ears had better listen! QLk 15:4-6 // 107 The Kingdom is like a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. One of them, the largest, went astray. He left the ninety-nine and looked for the one until he found it. After he had toiled, he said to the sheep, 'I love you more than the ninety-nine.'
The Apocryphon of JamesA.k.a. Secret Book of James, Secret Letter of James, Epistula Iacobi ApocryphaDate:ca. C.E. 100150Provenance:found at Nag Hammadi, EgyptExtant mss.:one Coptic translation of a Greek original, in Codex I of the Nag Hammadi Library (the Jung Codex)
The Dialogue of the Savior
Date:ca. C.E. 100150Provenance: found at Nag Hammadi, EgyptExtant mss.:one Coptic translation of a Greek original, in Codex III of the Nag Hammadi Library
The Gospel of MaryDate:ca. C.E. 100150Provenance:Egypt (acquired in Cairo)Extant mss.:two fragmentary textsthe Berlin Papyrus (5th-century Coptic copy of a Greek text)Rylands papyrus 463 (early-third-century Greek fragment of the text, found at Oxyrhynchus )See Jason Jeffreys page on The Gospel of Mary
What is the Wisdom of Jesus?Discerning the message of the Sayings GospelsEvaluating historicityEvaluating the value of their theology
Q (or The Q Gospel)The Gospel of ThomasThe Apocryphon of James (or Secret James)The Dialogue of the SaviorThe Gospel of Mary
Concluding passage of the Dialogue of the Savior (95-96), a Gnostic dialogue between Jesus and his disciples; Yale Beinecke Library papyrus collection p. CtYBR inv. 1784. A Coptic translation of a lost Greek original. This unique fragment joins and completes Nag Hammadi manuscript Codex III (p. 145) in the Coptic Museum in Cairo, Egypt. The manuscript was copied in the fourth century A.D., but the Dialogue must be much older, reflecting a very early stage of Christian literature and theology. The work's relationship to the canonical gospels and their sources is a matter of keen interest. The ancient Nag Hammadi "library" was a hoard of thirteen heretical manuscripts, buried in a pot for safe keeping in the Egyptian desert perhaps around A.D. 400, when the orthodox Christian establishment was actively rooting out heretics and their writings. The Nag Hammadi hoard-often loosely called the "Gnostic gospels"-has opened up entirely new vistas on early Christian scripture and thought, presenting great challenges for scholars of ancient Christianity. Yale faculty members have played a major role in the reconstruction, publication, and interpretation of these manuscripts, authoring editions, translations, and commentaries of seventeen works from the Nag Hammadi collection. What is the Gospel of Thomas? The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of sayings attributed to Jesus of Nazareth. Unless it is merely a collection of materials that mainly were drawn out of the Biblical gospels, as seems unlikely for most if not all of Thomas' sayings, then Thomas is the most important historical source for knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth that exists outside of the Bible. It is the most significant manuscript ever found for the history of earliest Christianity. When was the Gospel of Thomas written? This is a question hotly debated by scholars. Many scholars say that it was written at about the same time, even perhaps somewhat before, the gospels in the bible. Their argument is that most of the sayings in Thomas show no signs of having any dependence on, or knowledge of, the Biblical gospels and so Thomas' sayings derive from oral tradition and not from written Biblical texts. This doesn't seem to have been possible after the end of the first century when the Biblical texts began to be authoritative in Christianity. Other scholars find bits of evidence that indicate that Thomas was indeed dependent, in part, on Biblical texts, and surmise that the author of Thomas must have edited out almost all indications of the particular styles and ideas of the Biblical authors. Those scholars date Thomas in the mid second century A.D. Who wrote the Gospel of Thomas? No one knows. The four canonical gospels and Thomas and other gospels such as the Gospel of Philip (found at Nag Hammadi) were given their names some time in the second century. Scholars of the New Testament generally agree that none of the gospels were written by people who had ever met Jesus of Nazareth during his lifetime. But at a later date names were assigned to them that were associated with famous individuals in the earliest church. The name of the person who supposedly wrote the Gospel of Thomas is given in the first lines of the text as "didymos Judas thomas." The word "didymos" is Greek for twin and the word "thomas" is Aramaic for twin. The individual's name was Judas, and his nickname "the twin" is given in two languages. The canonical gospels mention a man named Thomas and John calls him didymos thomas. There are also several individuals named Judas mentioned in the canonical gospels in addition to Judas called Iscariot. The bottom line is that we do not know who wrote the Gospel of Thomas and we cannot be sure which Judas mentioned in the New Testament also was nicknamed Thomas. Where was the Gospel of Thomas found? Portions of Greek versions of the Gospel of Thomas were found in Oxyrhynchus Egypt about one hundred years ago and these can be dated to about 140 A.D. or somewhat before. A complete version in Coptic (the native Egyptian language written in an alphabet derived from the Greek alphabet) was found in Nag Hammadi Egypt in 1945. That version can be dated to about 340 A.D. The Coptic version is a translation of the Greek version. Thus most, if not all, of the Gospel of Thomas was written prior to 140 A. D. Is the Gospel of Thomas Gnostic? It all depends on what you mean by Gnostic. If you mean by Gnostic the belief that people have a divine capacity within themselves and that they can come to understand that the Kingdom of God is already upon the earth if they can come to perceive the world that way then Thomas is Gnostic. But if you mean by Gnostic the religion upon which the Nag Hammadi texts are based, a religion that differentiates the god of this world (who is the Jewish god) from a higher more abstract God, a religion that regards this world as the creation of a series of evil archons/powers who wish to keep the human soul trapped in an evil physical body then no, Thomas is not Gnostic. This differentiation is very important, because some scholars reason that if Thomas is Gnostic (in the first sense) then it is Gnostic (in the second sense) and, as they believe,Gnosticism (in the second sense) is a second or third century heresy, they conclude that the Gospel of Thomas is heretical, late in date, and without very much historical value in regard to Jesus of Nazareth. What is the basic perspective of the Gospel of Thomas? It is that the Kingdom of God is spread out upon the earth now, if people can just come to see it; and that there is divine light within all people, a light that can enable them to see the Kingdom of God upon the earth. Further, the perspective of Thomas is that the Image of God in the beginning (Genesis chapter One) still exists and people can assume that identity, an identity that is neither male nor female. The image of God is differentiated from the fallen Adam of Genesis chapter Two. The Gospel of Thomas advocates that people should restore their identities as the image of God now, and see the Kingdom of God on earth now. Thomas reads the first two chapters of Genesis in a straightforward way, there were two separate creations of mankind; the first is perfect, the second flawed. Rather than waiting for a future end-time Kingdom to come, Thomas urges people to return to the perfect Kingdom conditions of Genesis chapter one. For Thomas Endzeit (the final culmination of things) already existed in the Urzeit (the primordial creative time of the past). Does the Gospel of Thomas reflect the views of Jesus? Maybe. There was once a Q gospel and a Mark gospel. These were revised and combined into a Matthew gospel and a Luke gospel. So there were four interrelated texts that testify to a single view of Jesus; that he was a man who predicted the early end of this world and its violent replacement by a future Kingdom of God. If these texts have it right, then Thomas is divergent from Jesus' own perspectives. But there is also a John gospel testifying to the present reality of God's Kingdom and the presence of the divine in the world. John's gospel, like Thomas' gospel, focuses on the actuality of the divine in the present. So one must decide for oneself whether the John/Thomas perspective reflects Jesus' own ideas or whether Q/Mark and then subsequently the revised versions called Matthew and Luke do so. What is Q and what does it have to do with Thomas? If you realize that Matthew and Luke are revised versions of Mark you will see that an extended set of sayings are in Matthew and Luke that do not occur in Mark. Those sayings, it is generally agreed in scholarship, were taken by both Matthew and Luke from a mid-first century document that consisted of a list of Jesus' sayings. That document, which German scholars called "Quelle," has come to be known as Q. It does not exist any longer, but it can be recovered by analysis of Matthew and Luke (simply put, Q was the written list of sayings that we find both in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark). Q was nothing more than a list of sayings. The Gospel of Thomas is also nothing more than a list of sayings. Many of the sayings are the same, but most of the sayings in Thomas are not in Q. Thomas is the same sort of thing as Q was but Thomas is not Q. Probably Thomas and Q circulated separately in the middle or the later part of the first century. Their points of view are quite different, Thomas stresses the presence of the Kingdom of God now. Q insists that the Kingdom of God will arrive at some future time. How Many of the Sayings in the Gospel of Thomas come from Jesus? Who knows for sure? If you take the set of sayings that are in Thomas and that are also in the gospels of Mark or Matthew or Luke (no sayings in Thomas are also in John) then you have a set of sayings that rather reliably come from Jesus. Scholars commonly are so influenced by biblical texts that they assume that any sayings in Thomas that don't sound like sayings in Matthew/Mark/Luke are therefore not sayings of Jesus. However, it is quite possible that Thomas retains sayings that the biblical gospels don't retain and, indeed, that Thomas is more reliable as a guide to the sort of thing Jesus said than the biblical gospels are. Matthew/Mark/Luke give by and large the same point of view regarding Jesus as a teacher. Thomas (and to some extent John) gives a somewhat different point of view. Perhaps Thomas' point of view derives from Jesus himself. Or, perhaps, not. Why isn't the Gospel of Thomas in the bible? We don't know how the texts in the bible were chosen. Whatever happened occurred principally in the middle of the second century. However the choices were made, it could well have been that Thomas was unknown to those who made them. Or there might have been elements of Thomas that were distasteful to them. Or, given a preference for narrative biographical gospels, Thomas might have been thought irrelevant. We know hardly anything about the process of canonical gospel choice.[2QLk means that the saying is classified as Q2 by John Kloppenborgin his book THE FORMATION OF Q, all others are Q1.]From http://www.misericordia.edu/users/davies/thomas/thq.htmThe Secret Book of James is preserved in a single Coptic copy found in Codex I of the Nag Hammadi codices (known as the Jung Codex from the Nag Hammadi library). The MS is a Coptic translation of a Greek original, though the author claims to have written in Hebrew.
The Apocryphon (Secret Book) of James is probably the earliest example of a long-standing Gnostic tradition that the risen Jesus delivered secret teachings to his disciples. The gospel is framed within the format of a letter from James, the brother of Jesus, to a recipient whose name cannot be determined due to the fragmentary condition of the first page of the papyrus codex.
Jesus speaks of the importance of being "full" of the Spirit, for with it comes the knowledge (gnosis) of God's kingdom necessary to achieve salvation. After the revelation to James and Peter, James sends the apostles off to their missionary destinations, then travels to Jerusalem. Peter is given secondary importance in the dialogue, possibly representative of the developing conflict with the orthodox Church.Secret James shows a familiarity with the known parables of Jesus, including a list of seven that exist in Matthew and/or Luke. Yet the text betrays no knowledge of the details of the passion accounts, even claiming Jesus to have been buried "in the sand" following his crucifixion. Thus, the body of Secret James likely dates back to the beginning of the second century when, like the Gospel of John, the early Sayings traditions were developed into discourses and dialogues. The narrative framework, consisting of the first two and last two chapters, is most likely a secondary development designed to utilize apostolic authority; the use of the term "Savior" in these chapters dates them slightly later than the body of the work.
The most extensive study on the Secret Book of James is that of Ron Cameron, Sayings Traditions in the Apocryphon of James (HTS 34; Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press 1984). The most important result of that study is the conclusion that the sayings tradition preserved in this document is independent of the canonical gospels. A more accessible study is provided by Helmut Koester in Ancient Christian Gospels, pp. 187-200.
In his introduction in The Complete Gospels, Donald Rappe notes the following on the unity of Secret James: "There are abrupt changes and inconsistencies between major sections of Secret James. Three theories, all of them plausible, have been advanced to explain this feature of the book. The first regards the letter (1:1-7) and the secret book as originally separate. The unity of the two sections, therefore, would be the work of a redactor, who in the process of editing embellished the material by enhancing the position of James. Another considers the passages on martyrdom (4:1-5:6) and prophecy (6:1-4) as secondary additions; their omission leaves a conceivably earlier document consisting of shorter sayings. A third theory views the document as the work of one author, for both the letter segment and the secret book use a rare grammatical feature, the beatitude with the verb in the future tense (1:4; 7:3; 8:3, 9). However, this could also be the work of a redactor attempting to harmonize the two sections."The Gospel of Mary comprises the first part of the so-called Berlin Papyrus. This manuscript was acquired in Cairo by C. Reinhardt, and has been preserved since 1896 in the Egyptology section of the national museum of Berlin.
This copy of The Gospel of Mary, reports Jean Yves-Leloup, "was made in the early fifth century... The scribe wrote down twenty-one, twenty-two, or twenty-three lines per page, with each line containing an average of twenty-two or twenty-three letters. Several leaves are missing from the document: pages 1 to 6, and 11 to 14. This renders its interpretation particularly difficult.
As to the dating of the original text upon which the copy was based, it is interesting to note that there exists a Greek fragment - the Rylands papyrus 463 - whose identity as the precursor of the Coptic text has been confirmed by Professor Carl Schmidt. This fragment comes from Oxyrhynchus and dates from the beginning of the third century. The first edition of the Gospel of Mary, however, would likely be older than this, that is, from sometime during the second century. W. C. Till places it around the year 150. Therefore it would seem, like the canonical gospels, to be one of the founding or primitive texts of Christianity.
The Gospel of Mary can easily be divided into two parts. The first section (7,1-9,24) describes the dialogue between the risen Christ and the disciples. He answers their questions concerning matter and sin.
"Christ teaches that sin is not a problem of moral ignorance so much as a manifestation of imbalance of the soul," says James Robinson, Professor Emeritus of Religion at Claremont Graduate University. [2.] "Christ then encourages the disciples to spread his teachings and warns them against those who teach of spirituality as an external concept rather than as an internal, Gnostic experience," says Robinson.
After he departs, however, the disciples are grieved and in considerable doubt and consternation. Mary Magdalene comforts them and turns their hearts toward the Good and a consideration of Christ's words.
The second section of the text (10,1-23; 15,1-19,2) contains a description by Mary of special revelation given to her by Christ. At Peter's request, she tells the disciples about things that were hidden from them. The basis for her knowledge is a vision of the Lord and a private dialogue with Him. Unfortunately four pages of the text are missing here so only the beginning and end of Mary's revelation are available.
Commenting on the text, Karen King writes: "The first question Mary asks Christ is how one sees a vision. The Christ replies that the soul sees through the mind which is between the soul and the spirit. At this point the text breaks off. When the text resumes at 15,1, Mary is in the midst of describing the Christ's revelation concerning the rise of the soul past the four powers. The four powers are most probably to be identified as essential expressions of the four material elements. The enlightened soul, now free of their bonds, rises past the four powers, overpowering them with her gnosis, and attains eternal, silent rest.
This fragment of the gospel describes Mary's vision of the soul's ascent beyond the "powers" including the powers of fear. For the Gnostics, these "powers" are the Archons which act as cosmic prison wardens, attempting to prevent souls ascending to the True God. "It (the soul) has to overcome the powers of fear and the powers that threaten it as it proceeds into a life beyond death," Prof. Elaine Pagels explains.
After Mary finishes recounting her vision to the disciples, Andrew and then Peter challenge her on two grounds. First of all, Andrew says, these teachings are strange. Secondly, Peter questions, would Christ really have told such things to a woman and kept them from the male disciples. Levi admonishes Peter for contending with the woman as against their adversaries and acknowledges that Christ loved her more than the other disciples. He entreats them to be ashamed, to put on the "perfect man", and to go forth and preach as Christ had instructed them to do. They immediately go forth to preach and the text ends.
This confrontation between Mary and Peter is well documented in a number of Gnostic scriptures. Mary exposes the small mindedness and superficiality of Peter and Andrew who find it difficult to comprehend, let alone accept, the deeper spiritual understanding Mary acquired through her personal experience and closer relationship with Christ.
James Robinson observes: "Indeed Peter and Andrew seem to prefer the very thing against which Christ warned them - a religion based on arbitrary ideas (in this case represented by Peter's male chauvinism and Andrew's ignorance). And yet many of their ideas have shaped modern Christianity while, paradoxically, Mary Magdelene's spirituality, which here seems more consistent with the teachings of Christ, is unheard of today.
From Jason Jeffreys page on The Gospel of Mary