Origen, the gospel of Thomas, and James the Just.

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Ben C. Smith
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Origen, the gospel of Thomas, and James the Just.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Fri Nov 08, 2019 8:25 pm

While skimming through Origen this evening, I noticed the following:

Origen, Homilies on Joshua 4.3: 3 .... But remember that it is written, “Those who draw near to me, draw near to fire” (= Thomas 82). ....

Origen, Homilies on Jeremiah 27.3.7: 7 I have read elsewhere as if the Savior was speaking — and I question whether it was someone who was a figure for the person of the Savior or if it was appended in his memory or if this may be truly what he said — the Savior there says, “Whoever is near me is near fire; whoever is far from me, is far from the kingdom” (= Thomas 82). For just as “whoever is near me is near” salvation, thus he “is near fire.” And whoever hears me and once having heard me has done a transgression, is “a vessel of wrath prepared for destruction” (= Romans 9.22), when “he is near me, he is near fire.” Since “he who is near me, is near fire,” if anyone, being on his guard becomes “far from me” and fears he is “near fire,” let him know that such a person will be “far from the kingdom.” An athlete, who having not enrolled in the competition, neither fears the whips nor waits on the crown. Yet once he has entered his name, if he does not win, he is flogged and rejected, but if he wins, he is crowned. Just so, he who has entered the Church — O catechumen, attend — he who accedes to the word of God, he has enrolled in nothing other than in the contest of religion, and once enrolled if he does not battle with integrity, he is struck with whips with which these others, who have not indeed enrolled in the beginning, are not flogged. If, however, he fights with courage to avoid the lashes and the reproaches, not only will he be freed from the wrongs, but he will receive the “incorruptible crown of glory” (= 1 Corinthians 9.25).

This saying about drawing near to Jesus and being therefore near the fire is extant in the gospel of Thomas:

Thomas 82: Jesus said, “He who is near me is near the fire, and he who is far from me is far from the kingdom.”

Yet the gospel of Thomas is numbered among the heretical gospels elsewhere in Origen, if Rufinus' translation is to be given credence:

Origen, Homilies on Luke 0 (prologue): For Matthew and Mark and John and Luke did not take in hand to write, but wrote the gospels full of the holy spirit. Many, therefore, took in hand to order a narrative of these matters which have most manifestly been made known among us. The church has four gospels, heresies very many, of which one is written according to the Egyptians, another according to the twelve apostles. Basilides also dared to write a gospel and to entitle it by his own name. Many, therefore, took in hand to order a narrative of these matters which have most manifestly been made known among us. The church has four gospels, heresies very many, of which one is written according to the Egyptians, another according to the twelve apostles. Basilides also dared to write a gospel and to entitle it by his own name. Many have taken in hand to write, but four gospels only are approved, from which the dogmas about the person of our Lord and savior are to be derived. I know a certain gospel which is called according to Thomas, and one according to Matthias, and many others we read, lest we should be seen as ignorant on account of those who suppose they know something if they have knowledge of those.

So does Origen not know that the saying he actually comments on in his Homilies on Jeremiah and on Joshua comes from this heretical gospel? Or does he care about heresy in some contexts or not in others? Or is this same saying found in other gospels (no longer extant, but still extant in Origen's time) besides that of Thomas?

In connection with that last possibility I note that the gospel of Thomas probably has (at least) two layers. For one thing, one of the Greek Oxyrhynchus fragments (papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1) inserts saying 77b of the Coptic version in between sayings 30 and 31. For another, the following pair of sayings is rather intriguing:

Thomas 12-13:

12 The disciples said to Jesus, “We know that You will depart from us. Who is to be our leader?” Jesus said to them, “Wherever you are, you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.”

13 Jesus said to His disciples, “Compare me to someone and tell Me whom I am like.” Simon Peter said to Him, “You are like a righteous angel.” Matthew said to Him, “You are like a wise philosopher.” Thomas said to Him, “Master, my mouth is wholly incapable of saying whom You are like.” Jesus said, “I am not your master. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated by the bubbling spring which I have measured out.” And He took him and withdrew and told him three things. When Thomas returned to his companions, they asked him, “What did Jesus say to you?” Thomas said to them, “If I tell you one of the things which he told me, you will pick up stones and throw them at me; a fire will come out of the stones and burn you up.”

Why does James the Just receive such unequaled praise in saying 12 but Thomas receive such unequaled praise in saying 13? One hypothesis is that a collection of sayings originally circulated under the authority of James later came to be circulated under the authority of Thomas instead. Perhaps saying 82, the one which Origen cites and comments on, was part of the original Jacobian collection, thus explaining why Origen did not know it as a saying from the gospel of Thomas.
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Re: Origen, the gospel of Thomas, and James the Just.

Post by Giuseppe » Fri Nov 08, 2019 9:58 pm

Perhaps saying 82, the one which Origen cites and comments on, was part of the original Jacobian collection
that saying may be interpreted as an apocalypticist formula. I remember a Talmudic passage where Jesus is said to be "close to the Kingdom".

But the fire may be a reference to the light of gnosis (see the incipit of proto-John), so the saying may be seen as gnostic.
Nihil enim in speciem fallacius est quam prava religio. -Liv. xxxix. 16.

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Re: Origen, the gospel of Thomas, and James the Just.

Post by davidmartin » Fri Nov 08, 2019 10:48 pm

probably it was in the GoT known to origen but also in some other source he trusted more, like gospel of Hebrews or Papias's collection or something like that. also James and Judas Thomas are both 'brothers'?

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Re: Origen, the gospel of Thomas, and James the Just.

Post by andrewcriddle » Sat Nov 09, 2019 1:31 am

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Fri Nov 08, 2019 8:25 pm
While skimming through Origen this evening, I noticed the following:

Origen, Homilies on Joshua 4.3: 3 .... But remember that it is written, “Those who draw near to me, draw near to fire” (= Thomas 82). ....

Origen, Homilies on Jeremiah 27.3.7: 7 I have read elsewhere as if the Savior was speaking — and I question whether it was someone who was a figure for the person of the Savior or if it was appended in his memory or if this may be truly what he said — the Savior there says, “Whoever is near me is near fire; whoever is far from me, is far from the kingdom” (= Thomas 82). For just as “whoever is near me is near” salvation, thus he “is near fire.” And whoever hears me and once having heard me has done a transgression, is “a vessel of wrath prepared for destruction” (= Romans 9.22), when “he is near me, he is near fire.” Since “he who is near me, is near fire,” if anyone, being on his guard becomes “far from me” and fears he is “near fire,” let him know that such a person will be “far from the kingdom.” An athlete, who having not enrolled in the competition, neither fears the whips nor waits on the crown. Yet once he has entered his name, if he does not win, he is flogged and rejected, but if he wins, he is crowned. Just so, he who has entered the Church — O catechumen, attend — he who accedes to the word of God, he has enrolled in nothing other than in the contest of religion, and once enrolled if he does not battle with integrity, he is struck with whips with which these others, who have not indeed enrolled in the beginning, are not flogged. If, however, he fights with courage to avoid the lashes and the reproaches, not only will he be freed from the wrongs, but he will receive the “incorruptible crown of glory” (= 1 Corinthians 9.25).

This saying about drawing near to Jesus and being therefore near the fire is extant in the gospel of Thomas:

Thomas 82: Jesus said, “He who is near me is near the fire, and he who is far from me is far from the kingdom.”

Yet the gospel of Thomas is numbered among the heretical gospels elsewhere in Origen, if Rufinus' translation is to be given credence:

Origen, Homilies on Luke 0 (prologue): For Matthew and Mark and John and Luke did not take in hand to write, but wrote the gospels full of the holy spirit. Many, therefore, took in hand to order a narrative of these matters which have most manifestly been made known among us. The church has four gospels, heresies very many, of which one is written according to the Egyptians, another according to the twelve apostles. Basilides also dared to write a gospel and to entitle it by his own name. Many, therefore, took in hand to order a narrative of these matters which have most manifestly been made known among us. The church has four gospels, heresies very many, of which one is written according to the Egyptians, another according to the twelve apostles. Basilides also dared to write a gospel and to entitle it by his own name. Many have taken in hand to write, but four gospels only are approved, from which the dogmas about the person of our Lord and savior are to be derived. I know a certain gospel which is called according to Thomas, and one according to Matthias, and many others we read, lest we should be seen as ignorant on account of those who suppose they know something if they have knowledge of those.

So does Origen not know that the saying he actually comments on in his Homilies on Jeremiah and on Joshua comes from this heretical gospel? Or does he care about heresy in some contexts or not in others? Or is this same saying found in other gospels (no longer extant, but still extant in Origen's time) besides that of Thomas?

In connection with that last possibility I note that the gospel of Thomas probably has (at least) two layers. For one thing, one of the Greek Oxyrhynchus fragments (papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1) inserts saying 77b of the Coptic version in between sayings 30 and 31. For another, the following pair of sayings is rather intriguing:

Thomas 12-13:

12 The disciples said to Jesus, “We know that You will depart from us. Who is to be our leader?” Jesus said to them, “Wherever you are, you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.”

13 Jesus said to His disciples, “Compare me to someone and tell Me whom I am like.” Simon Peter said to Him, “You are like a righteous angel.” Matthew said to Him, “You are like a wise philosopher.” Thomas said to Him, “Master, my mouth is wholly incapable of saying whom You are like.” Jesus said, “I am not your master. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated by the bubbling spring which I have measured out.” And He took him and withdrew and told him three things. When Thomas returned to his companions, they asked him, “What did Jesus say to you?” Thomas said to them, “If I tell you one of the things which he told me, you will pick up stones and throw them at me; a fire will come out of the stones and burn you up.”

Why does James the Just receive such unequaled praise in saying 12 but Thomas receive such unequaled praise in saying 13? One hypothesis is that a collection of sayings originally circulated under the authority of James later came to be circulated under the authority of Thomas instead. Perhaps saying 82, the one which Origen cites and comments on, was part of the original Jacobian collection, thus explaining why Origen did not know it as a saying from the gospel of Thomas.
Hi Ben

I think you are possibly misunderstanding Origen. I don't think he is claiming that all the apocryphal gospels he mentions are heretical in origin. Some clearly are regarded as written by heretics such as Basilides, but this does not seem to be true in all cases.

I think Origen's point is that the orthodox only recognise four gospels as canonical whereas there are a large number of gospels treated as authoritative by at least one heretical group. Origen is not declaring that the Gospel of Thomas (or Matthias) is heretical in the sense of explicitly teaching false doctrine, but only that it is not authoritative and that only marginal groups regard it as canonical.

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Re: Origen, the gospel of Thomas, and James the Just.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Sat Nov 09, 2019 6:59 am

andrewcriddle wrote:
Sat Nov 09, 2019 1:31 am
I think you are possibly misunderstanding Origen. I don't think he is claiming that all the apocryphal gospels he mentions are heretical in origin. Some clearly are regarded as written by heretics such as Basilides, but this does not seem to be true in all cases.

I think Origen's point is that the orthodox only recognise four gospels as canonical whereas there are a large number of gospels treated as authoritative by at least one heretical group. Origen is not declaring that the Gospel of Thomas (or Matthias) is heretical in the sense of explicitly teaching false doctrine, but only that it is not authoritative and that only marginal groups regard it as canonical.
Yes, you may be right; I may have been unduly influenced by the line, "four gospels only are approved, from which the dogmas about the person of our Lord and savior are to be derived," the second clause of which, however, is extant only in the Latin translation (sed quatuor tantum evangelia sunt probata, e quibus super persona domini et salvatoris nostri proferenda sunt dogmata) and is not in the Greek (τὰ δὲ τέσσαρα μόνα προκρίνει ἡ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐκκλησία, according to codex Venetus 28).

Origen does make a qualitative distinction (not just a quantitative one) between the canonical four and the others insofar as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John "did not take in hand" (οὐκ ἐπεχείρησεν) to write, but rather wrote "by the Holy Spirit" (ἐξ ἁγίου... πνεύματος). It is also interesting to me that Origen does not list the gospel of the Hebrews in this context, given that elsewhere he holds out the possibility that his readers "may admit the gospel according to the Hebrews" (προσιῆται τὸ καθ' Ἑβραίους εὐαγγέλιον); Eusebius lists this gospel among his nothoi, but he rather cushions its landing by saying nothing worse than that "some indeed catalog also the gospel according to the Hebrews among these." There appears to me to be a gradation, both for Origen and for Eusebius, from the canonical four (at the top, considered inspired) through the gospel of the Hebrews (in the middle, considered useful) and to the rest (at the bottom). In the Latin (which, again, I may have mentally privileged), Origen gives the impression that he reads the other gospels only "lest" he should "appear ignorant" (nequid ignorare videremur).

The upshot of all of this is that, to me, it still appears unlikely that Origen would preface a statement which he knows only (and consciously) from the gospel of Thomas with "it is written" as he appears to do in the homily on Joshua. Either he forgot that it came from Thomas or he knew it from some other source which, like the gospel of the Hebrews, he was more inclined to view favorably. Does that sound fairer as an assessment?
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Re: Origen, the gospel of Thomas, and James the Just.

Post by andrewcriddle » Tue Nov 12, 2019 11:25 am

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Sat Nov 09, 2019 6:59 am
andrewcriddle wrote:
Sat Nov 09, 2019 1:31 am
I think you are possibly misunderstanding Origen. I don't think he is claiming that all the apocryphal gospels he mentions are heretical in origin. Some clearly are regarded as written by heretics such as Basilides, but this does not seem to be true in all cases.

I think Origen's point is that the orthodox only recognise four gospels as canonical whereas there are a large number of gospels treated as authoritative by at least one heretical group. Origen is not declaring that the Gospel of Thomas (or Matthias) is heretical in the sense of explicitly teaching false doctrine, but only that it is not authoritative and that only marginal groups regard it as canonical.
Yes, you may be right; I may have been unduly influenced by the line, "four gospels only are approved, from which the dogmas about the person of our Lord and savior are to be derived," the second clause of which, however, is extant only in the Latin translation (sed quatuor tantum evangelia sunt probata, e quibus super persona domini et salvatoris nostri proferenda sunt dogmata) and is not in the Greek (τὰ δὲ τέσσαρα μόνα προκρίνει ἡ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐκκλησία, according to codex Venetus 28).

Origen does make a qualitative distinction (not just a quantitative one) between the canonical four and the others insofar as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John "did not take in hand" (οὐκ ἐπεχείρησεν) to write, but rather wrote "by the Holy Spirit" (ἐξ ἁγίου... πνεύματος). It is also interesting to me that Origen does not list the gospel of the Hebrews in this context, given that elsewhere he holds out the possibility that his readers "may admit the gospel according to the Hebrews" (προσιῆται τὸ καθ' Ἑβραίους εὐαγγέλιον); Eusebius lists this gospel among his nothoi, but he rather cushions its landing by saying nothing worse than that "some indeed catalog also the gospel according to the Hebrews among these." There appears to me to be a gradation, both for Origen and for Eusebius, from the canonical four (at the top, considered inspired) through the gospel of the Hebrews (in the middle, considered useful) and to the rest (at the bottom). In the Latin (which, again, I may have mentally privileged), Origen gives the impression that he reads the other gospels only "lest" he should "appear ignorant" (nequid ignorare videremur).

The upshot of all of this is that, to me, it still appears unlikely that Origen would preface a statement which he knows only (and consciously) from the gospel of Thomas with "it is written" as he appears to do in the homily on Joshua. Either he forgot that it came from Thomas or he knew it from some other source which, like the gospel of the Hebrews, he was more inclined to view favorably. Does that sound fairer as an assessment?
Yes; I don't think Origen would deliberately say "it is written" when citing Thomas.

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Re: Origen, the gospel of Thomas, and James the Just.

Post by Secret Alias » Tue Nov 12, 2019 12:30 pm

Who knows. We have texts that have been rewritten three or four times just to make sure that there was no contact with anything controversial. Who knows.
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