Metalogos: The Gospels of Thomas, Philip and Truth

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Metalogos:
The Gospels of Thomas & Philip & Truth
.
Ecumenical Coptic Project
t.mnt.son77m.pe.xristos
. www.metalog.org
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Printed IV.92, Uploaded I.98, Revised I.12

Wonder at what is present!’—The Traditions of the Apostle Matthias

Introduction

In December of 1945 two Muslim Egyptian farmers, Muhammad ‘Alí al-Sammán and his brother Khalífah ‘Alí, found over 1100 pages of ancient papyrus manuscripts buried by the east bluff of the upper Nile valley. The texts were translations from Greek originals into Coptic, the Hellenistic stage of the ancient Hamitic language of the Pharaohs (Gen 10:6). This evolved after the invasion of Alexander the Great in 332 BC, and was subsequently replaced by Arabic as the Egyptian vernacular following the Muslim conquest of 640 AD. Coptic was thus the tongue of the primitive Egyptian Church, and remains its liturgical language unto the present day.

The site of this discovery, across the river from the modern town of Nag Hammadi, was already famous as the location called in antiquity ΧΗΝΟΒΟΣΚΕΙΟΝ (‘Goose-Pasture’), where in 320 AD Saint Pachomius founded the earliest Christian monastery. Less than a half-century later in 367 AD, the local monks copied some 45 diverse religious and philosophical writings—including the Gospels of Thomas, Philip and Truth, as well as part of Plato's Republic (588A-589B)into a dozen leather-bound codices. This entire library was carefully sealed in an urn and hidden nearby among the rocks, where it remained undetected for almost 1600 years. These papyri, first seen by scholars in March of 1946,1 have since 1952 been preserved in the Coptic Museum of Old Cairo. The earliest photographic edition of the manuscript of the preeminently important Codex II was edited by Dr Pahor Labib (Cairo: Government Antiquities Dept, 1956). (photo of papyrus page)

The author of the Gospel of Thomas is recorded as Thomas the Apostle, one of the Twelve. The text is a collection of over one hundred sayings and short dialogues of the Savior, without any connecting narrative. A few Christian authors in antiquity quoted from one or another of its logia as Scripture—for example Sayings 2/22/27/37 by Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-211 AD) in his Stromata (Patches)but without explicit attribution to Thomas. Then 100 years ago at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt, there were discovered a few fragments of what we now know to be a prior Greek version of Thomas, datable by paleography as follows (these are linked from the respective logia in Thomas):

PapOx 1(a)(b)

Th 26-33 & 77

200 AD

PapOx 6542 (a)

Th Prolog & 1-7

250 AD

PapOx 655 (abc)(d)

Th 36-39

250 AD

see Biblio.11. The more recent discovery of the Sahidic (S) Coptic version of Thomas has finally made this Gospel available in its entirety. Yet further evidence, such as the asyndeton in logion 6, reveals an underlying Semitic source document (see Guillamont, Modern Scholarly Comments). As indicated in the press release, almost all biblical scholars who have been studying this document since its first publication have now concluded that Thomas should be accepted as an authentic fifth Gospel, of an authority parallel to John and the Synoptics. It is particularly to be noted that several of the logia in Thomas (12/24/28/37) are evidently post-resurrection sayings.

The Gospel of Philip—as can be inferred from its entries 51/82/98/101/137was composed at least in part after 70 AD by Philip called the Evangelist (not the Apostle), who appears in the Book of Acts 6:1-6/8:4-40/21:8-14. There is no known previous reference to or citation of this complex scripture, which is a Sahidic (S) translation of an elegant series of reflections on the Abrahamic tradition, on Israel and the (incarnate) Messiah, whilst elaborating a metaphysic of Spiritual Idealism. (Typeset page from Philip)

The Gospel of Truth was composed in about 150 AD by Valentine, the famous saint of Alexandria (born circa 100 AD). A continuous interwoven meditation on the Logos, it was scarcely mentioned in antiquity—and until its discovery at Nag Hammadi (in the Subakhmimic dialect, A²), not even a phrase from this noble composition was known to have survived. (The opening five sections are online in audio format. Also online is a preliminary version of another sublime text from the Nag Hammadi library, which may also be by Valentine: The Supremacy.)

In the early years following the discovery of these documents, and before they could be given sufficiently careful scrutiny by scholars, it was commonplace for them collectively to be labeled ‘gnostic’ (see e.g. Grant & Freedman [1960], in Modern Scholarly Comments). This has always been a generic term for the Mediterranean mixture of anti-sensory mystery cults of the early centuries AD. Gnosticism’—whether oriental, platonic, mystery-religion or theosophical—by definition considers the perceptible universe, including our own incarnate lives as well as all human history, Biblical or otherwise, to be inherently illusory and/or malignant. On the other hand, the unequivocal view in the Old Testament and the canonical Gospels is that this universe is neither unreal nor evil, but rather divinely created and good: so, among countless examples, Gen 1:31 (‘everything that He had made ... was very good’) and Lk 24:39 (‘flesh and bones as ... I have’). It is most unfortunate that all of the diverse Nag Hammadi writings have been so commonly described as gnostic documents. Careful investigation shows quite clearly that neither Thomas nor Philip nor the Gospel of Truth is at all gnostic in content, as they each explicitly affirm the sacred reality of human incarnation in its historic ambiance (see Commentary 1).

The New Testament canons of the Western (Catholic/Protestant), Eastern Orthodox, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopian and Syrian/Nestorian Churches all differ significantly from one another—and even these were under dispute within the various branches of Christianity until many centuries AD; previously there were only widely diverse opinions recorded by various individuals well after the Apostolic era, regarding not only today's commonly accepted works but also such writings as the Epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Gospel of the Egyptians, the Gospel of the Hebrews (in which Christ calls the Sacred Spirit his Mother), the Traditions of Matthias, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Didakhê, and the Acts of Paul. Thus the Codex Sinaiticus of the mid-4th century includes both Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas, while the Codex Alexandrinus of the early 5th century contains I and II Clement as well as the Psalms of Solomon. There was no church council regarding the NT canon until the Synod of Laodicea (363 AD), which indeed rejected John's Apocalypse or Book of Revelation. Twelve centuries later (!), the Western Canon was finally settled by the Council of Trent (1546 AD), which designated the present 27-book listing as an article of Roman Catholic faith (although episcopal councils have wisely never claimed to be infallible; the vote at Trent was 24 to 15, with 16 abstentions—as if the original Apostolic Community had been a democracy rather than a kingdom3); this listing was subsequently accepted by the various Protestant sects. The sundry Eastern Churches have equally complicated records on establishing their respective NT canons: thus, the Armenian canon includes a Pauline III Corinthians; the Coptic NT contains I & II Clement; the Syrian/Nestorian Peshitta excludes II & III John, Jude, and Rev/Ap; and the Ethiopian Bible adds books called the Sínodos, the Epistle of Peter to Clement, the Book of the Covenant, and the Didascalia. (see Biblio.32)

Notably, however, the Gospels of Thomas, Philip and Truth were evidently not known to any of those traditions at the time of their attempts at establishing a NT canon, never being so much as mentioned in their protracted deliberations—and hence were never even under consideration for inclusion in their respective listings. In any case, the concept of a canon was certainly never intended to exclude the possible inspiration of any subsequent textual discoveries or isolated agrapha (Lk 1:1 & Jn 21:25).

Precisely what transpired during the first 3½ centuries AD, prior to the earliest ecclesiastical attempts at canonization, is notoriously obscure, as the original Gospel Messianics were eventually supplanted by the Pauline ‘Christians’ (Ac 11:25-26). Thus the Epistle of Barnabas (late first century) remains unacquainted with the historical Gospels, whereas Justin Martyr (mid-second century) shows no awareness of Paul's writings—indicating an ongoing schism between the Petrine and the Pauline traditions. Clement of Alexandria and Irenaeus of Lyon, at the end of the second century, are the first authors explicitly to quote from both the Gospels and from Paul. I have attempted to analyze the basis of this rift in ‘The Paul Paradox’. Essential reading on that formative period is Walter Bauer's pioneering study, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (Tübingen 1934, Philadelphia 1971).

The subsequent divisions within Pauline Christianity may be summarized as follows. The Oriental Orthodox Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, as well as many other Eastern Elders, refused to accept the new doctrine of Christ's ‘two natures’ (human and divine), decreed by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD; thereupon (1) the Oriental Orthodox Churches separated from (2) the Eastern Orthodox and (3) the Roman Catholic Churches. Several centuries later, in 1054 AD, the latter two in turn separated from one another, in the ‘filioque clause’ schism (see Comm.2). Then, starting in the early XVI century, (4) the Protestant Churches began subdividing off from the Roman Catholic hierarchy. The Oriental Orthodox Churches (#1) today include the Coptic, the Armenian, the Syriac, the Ethiopian, the Eritrean, and the Thomasite Malankara of India. They are referred to by outsiders as ‘monophysite’ (‘single nature’); however, they themselves describe their Christology as ‘miaphysite’ (‘unified nature’).

In his prologue, Joshua ben Sirach (II-century BC) wrote an appropriate slogan for any comparable work of translation: ‘What was originally expressed in Hebrew does not have exactly the same meaning when translated into another language.’ With such admonition in mind, I have prepared the following versions as literally and as lyrically as I could. Historically they have passed from Aramaic (in the case of Thomas) thru Greek (Philip and Truth) to Coptic and only then to English! The complex process of interpreting such ancient documents has been well summarized by John R. Donahue SJ:

The English term ‘text’ is from the Latin texere, meaning ‘to weave’. A text is an interwoven network of meanings that gives rise to the ‘hermeneutical circle’; that is, the meaning of a text must be determined as a whole, but study of the individual parts is necessary to arrive at the meaning of the whole. Reading texts involves ‘an expanding contextual analysis’, in which one studies the immediate context of a passage, what follows or precedes its immediate context, and the larger context of the document as a whole.4

and indeed, regarding the Coptic Gospels, this larger context must include the canonical scriptures themselves (see the innumerable parallels to both the OT and NT noted thruout).

Any grammatical irregularities encountered in the translations are in the Coptic text itself (e.g. the verb tenses in Th 64). Plausible textual reconstructions are in [brackets], while editorial additions are in (parentheses). ‘[...]’ indicates places where it is not possible to interpolate the deterioration of the papyrus manuscript. The Greek Oxyrhynchus variants to Thomas are within {braces}. As distinguishing the second-person singular from the plural is essential to the sense, ‘you’ and its cognates will represent the plural, ‘thou’ and its cognates the singular (but generally with the modern verb-form—a justifiable hybrid, I believe). Footnotes to each logion are indicated by superscript numbers¹, endnotes are hyperlinked via the symbol° (e.g. Sabbath°). The scriptural cross-references listed are essential to an understanding of the saying in its biblical context, and the reader is urged to refer to them in every case; explicit parallels to Thomas in the Synoptics are separately marked with an equal sign=, to spare the reader looking up what is already well-known. In antiquity, of course, there were no lower-case letters, and thus in order to represent the Hebrew, Greek and Coptic scripts I have not here used their subsequent cursive letters but rather their classic forms, which are easier for the non-scholar to read. In turn, in translating such ancient texts to modern languages, it is virtually impossible to capitalize in a consistent and adequate manner; I ask the reader's indulgence in this regard. Thruout, ‘P…’ are links to paragraph numbers in Plumley's Grammar, ‘C…to page numbers in Crum's Dictionary (Biblio.5+6). Lastly, since the standard internet browsers do not correctly read the Coptic font's overlines (P023), I have used underlines instead (e.g. 6n t.mnt.ero); this occurs solely in Coptic script, and so will not be confused with the underlining of the hyperlinks. The inessential Coptic dieresis (e.g. ï), also not read correctly by browsers, has been omitted altogether.

I have also included, in the footnotes to the individual logia, occasional quotations from eminent persons across the centuries who have expressed a related idea. In some such cases—but not all—this similarity is directly due to the influence of a parallel canonical text. But in each instance a clarifying insight is provided into the meaning of the saying, giving a thoughtful reformulation of its essential content by a noteworthy person in another context.

In place of the Greek form, Jesus (ΙΗΣΟΥΣ), I have used the original Aramaic: Yeshua ((w#y) meaning ‘Yahweh Savior’, i.e. ‘He-Is Savior’ (Ph 20a). Hyphenated ‘I-Am’ represents the divine self-naming from Ex 3:14: Hebrew hyh) (ahyh), Greek ΕΓΩ ΕΙΜΙ, Coptic anok pe (Th 13, P306).

Lastly, I have appended five essays as commentary: (1)Are the Coptic Gospels Gnostic?, a formal demonstration that they cannot be so categorized; (2) ‘The Maternal Spirit’, re the feminine gender in the Semitic languages of #dqh xwr [rúakh ha-qódesh, Spirit the-Holy]; (3) ‘Theogenesis’, on the intimation in Philip that the original human transgression consisted in claiming to produce children, rather than accepting them as begotten by God alone; (4) ‘Angel, Image and Symbol’, regarding these three primary concepts as found in the new scriptures, together with their underlying metaphysical framework of an apparent Spiritual Idealism; and (5) ‘The Paul Paradox’, a philosophical analysis of the evident discrepancies between the Gospels and the theology of Saul of Tarsus, together with a survey of similar critiques by many pre-eminent individuals across the centuries.

In searching out the sense of these new writings, I have had the benefit of extended conversations across the years with many friends and colleagues, especially Bob Schapiro, Chris Wesson, Crosby Brown, Luz García and Pedro Chamizo. My long-term thanks are also due to two of my undergraduate instructors: the poet Robert Frost, for his advice to partake only in what is worthy of one's time; and Prof William E. Kennick, for his example of the highest standards in philosophical analysis. To Bertrand Russell, while I was studying in London and had the opportunity to demonstrate with him in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, I am indebted for his fearless example in confronting the Establishment—whether political, military or religious—for the sake of the truth. Much of the present edition was prepared while I was a guest of numerous universities both state and private, as well as seminaries and religious communities both Catholic and Protestant, thruout Latin America; and also of the faculties of philosophy, of orthodox theology and of informatics at the University of Athens—for their fraternal hospitality I am profoundly grateful. Internet technical advice has been kindly provided by Ioannis Georgiadis of the Athens University Computer Center.

The canonical Gospels must be the paradigm in assessing any newly-discovered ‘Gospel’. That is to say, our criteria for evaluating such a text must be both its internal consistency with, and its external provenance relative to, the four texts which provide the ostensive definition of the very term ‘Gospel’ to begin with. So: are Thomas, Philip and Valentine theologically harmonious with the Synoptics and John? Do they all come from the same general historic context and archaeological ambiance in antiquity? Are the new texts, upon analysis, both conceptually and empirically coherent with the four canonical Gospels? Do they, all in all, seem to be of the same Logos? Sufficiently careful scrutiny, I have concluded, yields an affirmative answer to all of these questions. Thus the intent of this present edition, together with the online Coptic texts, dictionary and grammar (Biblio.1), is to provide the reader with the resources to carry out a thorough assessment of these extraordinary scriptures for him/herself.

It has often been suggested that these new writings are basically concoctions produced by a series of unknown somebodies long after the events they purport to concern. However, the simplest explanation here (by William of Ockham's famous Principle of Economy: ‘Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily’) is not lengthy oral tradition followed by numerous written redactions; the simplest explanation is that these three scriptures were composed by the Apostle Thomas, Philip the Evangelist and Valentine of Alexandria, and come to us basically intact and well translated from the original languages into Coptic. There is absolutely no reason to propose a more complex hypothesis here. Thus, following the example of Aristotle's Metaphysics,5 I have called this collection of new scriptures ‘Metalogos’—that is, ‘More Logos’.

p.ixqus 5.euxariste.k!

Thomas Paterson Brown, BA (Amherst), PhD (London)
Monasterio Benedictino La Resurrección
Cobán, Guatemala, All Saints Day 2011
edit
<a>metalog.org

Bibliography

(RNS) An ancient document composed of sayings of Jesus has generated a recent spate of scholarly articles, along with strongly held opinions that the document, known as the Gospel of Thomas, deserves a much wider audience. According to scholars, the 114 quotations in the Gospel of Thomas are as valuable as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John for gaining understanding of the man Christians worship as Messiah.

In a recent telephone interview, Helmut Koester of Harvard Divinity School, the new president of the Society of Biblical Literature (USA), said nearly all biblical scholars in the United States agree that Thomas is as authentic as the New Testament Gospels. In an article that appeared in Bible Review in April 1990, Koester and his co-author Stephen J. Patterson wrote, ‘the Gospel of Thomas must be given equal weight with the canonical Gospels’ in any effort to reconstruct the beginnings of Christianity.

Yet, despite excitement over the work for several decades, ‘nobody's heard of it except the scholars,’ says Paterson Brown, a former professor of the philosophy of religion who has written on Thomas for the journal Novum Testamentum (article online).

Thomas was discovered in 1945 in Egypt along with more than 50 other ancient Christian, Jewish and pagan works that make up a collection known as the Nag Hammadi Library. The documents, which date from the 4th century BC to the 4th century AD, were written in Coptic, the language of early Egyptian Christians. The library, including Thomas, has been translated into English and published in several scholarly editions. But many scholars feel that Thomas should be made available in a separate volume. ‘I think it's urgent that Thomas be published alone in a paperback edition,’ said Brown.

Unlike the other Nag Hammadi volumes, Thomas contains teachings of Jesus, which scholars believe would be particularly valuable for Christian readers. Many students of the Gospel of Thomas believe that its material is potentially of more interest to the general public than the much-ballyhooed Dead Sea Scrolls—except that it is not as well known.

Many quotations recorded in Thomas are similar to those in the Gospels that make up what is known as the New Testament canon—the writings of the early church that eventually came to be accepted as authentic and authoritative texts for all Christians. For example, Saying 90 in Thomas, ‘Come unto me, for my yoke is easy and my lordship is mild, and you will find repose for yourselves,’ bears strong resemblance to a familiar passage in Matthew 11:28-30.

Modern Scholarly Comments


1Jacques Schwarz & Charles Kuentz, Codex II, in a Cairo antiquities shop.

2On display in the John Ritblat Gallery of the new British Library at St Pancras, London; high resolution image.

3The Apostles did not choose Iscariot’s successor (Ac 1:12-26) by majority vote—much less a divided one, which would seem absurd in the context—but rather by drawing lots to ascertain the divine will. Are we to suppose that only the plurality of 24 who prevailed at Trent were inspired, whereas the 31 opposed or abstaining lacked heavenly guidance? Why not the reverse conclusion, rejecting the proposed canon, since the overall majority were not in favor?

4Guidelines for Reading and Interpretation’, The New Interpreter's Study Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003).

5Thus afterward titled by the Peripatetic Andronicus of Rhodes.

6A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, II.3.b (1919³, included in Biblio.29): Comparative grammarians speak of isolating, agglutinative and inflectional languages. In the isolating tongues like the Chinese,... the words have no inflection and the position in the sentence and the tone in pronunciation are relied on for clearness of meaning.... Agglutinative tongues [such as Coptic] ... express the various grammatical relations by numerous separable prefixes, infixes and suffixes. [In] inflectional languages,... while a distinction is made between the stem and the inflectional endings, the stems and the endings do not exist apart from each other. There are two great families in the inflectional group, the Semitic ... and the Indo-European.