James the Just in the gospel of Thomas.

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Ben C. Smith
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James the Just in the gospel of Thomas.

Post by Ben C. Smith »

Remember Joe the Plumber? I do. He was a guy who asked Obama a question in 2008 about business taxes, after which he became, as Wikipedia puts it, "a metaphor for middle-class Americans," especially for the McCain campaign. After this metaphor became "a thing," candidates would be asked, "What will you do for Joe the Plumber?" Obama once retaliated against McCain's use of this trope, IIRC, by suggesting that McCain was not interested in helping Joe the Plumber; rather, he was interested in helping Joe the Hedge Fund Manager.

You get the point. Nobody was literally wondering how electing either Obama or McCain was going to help Joe the Plumber as an individual. The target was always: working class people like Joe the Plumber. This man was being treated as a surrogate or a representative of an entire class.

What I am wondering is whether James the Just might not be a surrogate or a representative for an entire class of people, as well, in his brief but shining appearance in the gospel of Thomas:

Thomas 12.1-2: 1 The disciples said to Jesus, “We know that you will depart from us. Who will be leader over us?” 2 Jesus said to them, “Wherever you have come from, you shall go to James the Just, for the sake of whom heaven and earth came into being.”

As a statement about James, the last clause comes off as somewhat absurd. I admit, my default way of reading this text has long been to assume that James himself is the topic of discussion; but now I have a different idea, because this sort of thing was a trope that I have managed to stumble upon a time or two before finally taking it seriously and seeking it out deliberately, consulting some commentaries and the like (of which Gathercole's proved the most useful in this respect):

Testament of Moses 1.11: 11 So says the Lord of the world. For He has created the world on behalf of His people.

2 Baruch 15.7: 7 And as regards what you said regarding the just, that on account of them has this world come, so also again that which is to come shall come on their account.

4 Esdras 6.55-59: 55 “All this I have spoken before you, O Lord, because you have said that it was for us that you created this world. 56 As for the other nations which have descended from Adam, you have said that they are nothing, and that they are like spittle, and you have compared their abundance to a drop from a bucket. 57 And now, O Lord, behold, these nations, which are reputed as nothing, domineer over us and devour us. 58 But we, you people whom you have called your firstborn, only begotten, zealous for you, and most dear, have been given into their hands. 59 If the world has indeed been created for us, why do we not possess our world as an inheritance? How long will this be so?” / 55 Haec autem omnia dixi coram te, Domine, quoniam dixisti quia propter nos creasti primogenitum saeculum. 56 residuas autem gentes ab Adam natas dixisti eas nihil esse, et quoniam salivae adsimilatae sunt, et sicut stillicidium de vaso similasti abundantiam eorum. 57 et nunc, Domine, ecce istae gentes quae in nihilum deputatae sunt dominari nostri et devorare nos. 58 nos autem populus tuus quem vocasti primogenitum, unigenitum, aemulatorem, carissimum, traditi sumus in manibus eorum. 59 et si propter nos creatum est saeculum, quare non hereditatem possidemus nostrum saeculum? usquequo haec?

4 Esdras 7.11: 11 “For I made the world for their sake, and when Adam transgressed my statutes what had been made was judged.”

Talmud, Sanhedrin 98b: 98b .... Rav says, “The world was created only for the sake of David, by virtue of his merit.” And Shmuel says, “It was created by virtue of the merit of Moses.” And Rabbi Yoḥanan says, “It was created by virtue of the merit of the Messiah.” ....

Sifre Deuteronomy 47.7 (on Deuteronomy 11.21): 7 Variantly, “as the days of the heavens upon the earth.” [The just] will live and endure forever and ever. And thus is it written, “For as the new heavens and the new earth that I will make will remain before Me, says the L-rd,” and the rest (= Isaiah 66.22). Now does this not follow a fortiori, namely, if the heavens and the earth, which were created only for the honor of the righteous, will live and endure forever, how much more so the righteous themselves, for whose sake the world was created?

Sifre Deuteronomy 47.9a (on Deuteronomy 11.21): 9a R. Yehoshua b. Karchah says, “‘A generation goes and a generation comes, and the earth stands forever’ (= Ecclesiastes 1.4). What was created for what? The earth for the generation. It should be written, thus, ‘The earth goes and the earth comes, and the generation stands forever!’”

Sometimes it is explicitly "the just" (or "the righteous") for whom the world was created; at other times it is the people of God, which can often amount to the same thing, since "the just" are those who have followed God's precepts and will get to inhabit the new heaven and new earth in the age to come. The rabbis playfully nominated individual figures (David, Moses, the Messiah), and this little game strikes me less as a way of suggesting that the individual so named was literally the reason for the creation of the world than as a way of suggesting that the individual so named was simply the best representative, in the mind of the rabbi proposing him, of the class of people known as "the just," or the best surrogate for the people of Israel as a whole. I could be wrong about that, and maybe it is Moses or David who are specifically in view, but, even if so, it remains the case that "the just" as a collective group are often put forward as the reason for the earth having been created.

So perhaps James the Just is not being nominated in the gospel of Thomas because he is James, any more than Joe the Plumber rose to prominence because he is Joe. Perhaps, rather, James is being nominated because he is so righteous that he can even be called "the Just," and is thus perceived to be a good representative for just people as a class, much in the same way that Joe became famous because he was a plumber (who happened to be in the right place at the right time, of course), and was thus considered a good representative of working Americans.

If this reading is correct, then the sense would be that the world was created for the sort of person for whom James the Just makes a very good surrogate. It would not make him a Messiah figure or a demigod or an archangel or something; it would just make him a good example of a particular class of people.

What do you think? Is that possible? (I almost hope that there is a fatal flaw in this reasoning, since I have had some ideas percolating which are helped along, at the very least, by James the Just being considered in some circles to be almost a divine figure; if those ideas have to be put to rest, though, so be it.)

Ben.
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Re: James the Just in the gospel of Thomas.

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To add to your proposition, albeit perhaps obliquely, "that the individual so named was simply the best representative, in the mind of the rabbi proposing him, of [a] class of people ... the best surrogate for the people of Israel as a whole", I wonder, following on from other posts, comments, discussions, etc., on this forum over the recent week or so, if the main character in Thomas - IC- is not the Christian Jesus but a pre-Christian character based on the Hebrew/Judaic Yeshua/Joshua/Ἰησοῦς, which might also fit with your analogy of a surrogate for the people of Israel as a whole.

After all, that passage - Thomas 12.1-2, and the rest of Thomas - show a resurrected Christ (at the right hand of God) is not part of the theological narrative of the community the Thomasine author was part of, and perhaps not yet part of a wider narrative.

Moreover, "If this reading is correct, then the sense would be that the world was created for the sort of person for whom James the Just makes a very good surrogate. It would not make him a Messiah figure or a demigod or an archangel or something [which David, Moses, and Yesua/Joshua had also not been]; it would just make him a good example of a particular class of people" as David, Moses, and then Yesua/Joshua had been.
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Re: James the Just in the gospel of Thomas.

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I quicker think it has something to do with the righteousness statements in the Mishnah - where the world is made or held together for/by the righteous:

וְלִתֵּן שָׂכָר טוֹב לַצַּדִּיקִים שֶׁמְּקַיְּמִין אֶת הָעוֹלָם שֶׁנִּבְרָא בַעֲשָׂרָה מַאֲמָרוֹת

cf. Lamed Vav Tzadikim
“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”
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Re: James the Just in the gospel of Thomas.

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Secret Alias wrote: Thu Sep 03, 2020 4:46 pm I quicker think it has something to do with the righteousness statements in the Mishnah - where the world is made or held together for/by the righteous:

וְלִתֵּן שָׂכָר טוֹב לַצַּדִּיקִים שֶׁמְּקַיְּמִין אֶת הָעוֹלָם שֶׁנִּבְרָא בַעֲשָׂרָה מַאֲמָרוֹת

cf. Lamed Vav Tzadikim
"And to give a good reward to the just ones who sustain the age created by ten utterances."

Would/could that not be kind of the other side of the same coin?
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Re: James the Just in the gospel of Thomas.

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MrMacSon wrote: Thu Sep 03, 2020 4:34 pm To add to your proposition, albeit perhaps obliquely, "that the individual so named was simply the best representative, in the mind of the rabbi proposing him, of [a] class of people ... the best surrogate for the people of Israel as a whole", I wonder, following on from other posts, comments, discussions, etc., on this forum over the recent week or so, if the main character in Thomas - IC- is not the Christian Jesus but a pre-Christian character based on the Hebrew/Judaic Yeshua/Joshua/Ἰησοῦς, which might also fit with your analogy of a surrogate for the people of Israel as a whole.
If the main character in Thomas is not the Christian Jesus, then how would you know he was based on Yeshua/Joshua/Ἰησοῦς? What are the clues?
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Re: James the Just in the gospel of Thomas.

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Would/could that not be kind of the other side of the same coin?
Sure. It just came to mind because it was so influential on rabbinic Judaism.
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Re: James the Just in the gospel of Thomas.

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Secret Alias wrote: Thu Sep 03, 2020 5:31 pm
Would/could that not be kind of the other side of the same coin?
Sure. It just came to mind because it was so influential on rabbinic Judaism.
Got it. Good point. :cheers:
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Re: James the Just in the gospel of Thomas.

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Ben C. Smith wrote: Thu Sep 03, 2020 5:15 pm
MrMacSon wrote: Thu Sep 03, 2020 4:34 pm To add to your proposition, albeit perhaps obliquely, "that the individual so named was simply the best representative, in the mind of the rabbi proposing him, of [a] class of people ... the best surrogate for the people of Israel as a whole", I wonder, following on from other posts, comments, discussions, etc., on this forum over the recent week or so, if the main character in Thomas - IC- is not the Christian Jesus but a pre-Christian character based on the Hebrew/Judaic Yeshua/Joshua/Ἰησοῦς, which might also fit with your analogy of a surrogate for the people of Israel as a whole.
If the main character in Thomas is not the Christian Jesus, then how would you know he was based on Yeshua/Joshua/Ἰησοῦς? What are the clues?
The lack of core tropes of / narratives about the Christian Jesus: the lack of baptism; no reference to Galilee, Judea, or Jerusalem; no Passover/Last Supper meal (and no account of his crucifixion or death, other than essentially the Parable of the [Wicked] Tenants in (65); and, no resurrection (Thomas 12.1-2 essentially denies it)).

Some commentators have noted saying 13 depicts Peter and Matthew as unable to understand the true significance or even the identity of Jesus -

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."

Perhaps 14.1-2, "Jesus said to them, "If you fast, you will give rise to sin for yourselves; and if you pray, you will be condemned; and if you give alms, you will do harm to your spirits"."

But there are other sayings that are very Christian, and 13 of its 16 parables are in the synoptic gospels; but that doesn't mean gThomas as based on the Synoptics, as you will be well aware.
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Re: James the Just in the gospel of Thomas.

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April DeConick, 2006, -
1.2 A Late Gospel?

... There appears to me to be the desire in many scholars' works, particularly those working in North America, to see Thomas as a church document, but one that reflects a very early form of Christianity, a sapiential Christianity unadulterated by cross theology or apocalyptic thinking ...

1.2.1 The Kernal Gospel of Thomas

This Kernel Gospel, as I call it, was composed of at least five speeches of Jesus and has affinities with Quelle. ...

What I discovered while compiling my research in Recovering is that the Gospel of Thomas is neither early nor late, but both ...

1.2.1 Later accretions in The Gospel of Thomas

It appears that this Kernel Gospel was taken to Syria very early in the mission of the Jerusalem Church. These words of Jesus left with the Syrian Christians quickly developed within an oral environment of reperformance. Between the years 50 and 120 CE, the Kernel was adapted during oral performances to the changing needs, demands and ideologies of the Christian community in Syria. Accretions gradually entered the speeches of Jesus and served to reconfigure older traditions and hermeneutics no longer relevant to the experience of the Syrian community.

https://gnosis.study/library/%D0%93%D0% ... lation.pdf
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Re: James the Just in the gospel of Thomas.

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MrMacSon wrote: Thu Sep 03, 2020 6:08 pm
Ben C. Smith wrote: Thu Sep 03, 2020 5:15 pmIf the main character in Thomas is not the Christian Jesus, then how would you know he was based on Yeshua/Joshua/Ἰησοῦς? What are the clues?
The lack of core tropes of / narratives about the Christian Jesus: the lack of baptism; no reference to Galilee, Judea, or Jerusalem; no Passover/Last Supper meal (and no account of his crucifixion or death, other than essentially the Parable of the [Wicked] Tenants in (65); and, no resurrection (Thomas 12.1-2 essentially denies it)).
Superman undergoes no baptism, and there is no references to Galilee, to Judea, or to Jerusalem, and so on. Is that how we know that Superman is based on Yeshua/Joshua?

I truly do not understand. How do we know a character is based on Yeshua/Joshua just by a list of tropes that character does not display?

(Also, Judea is referred to in the gospel of Thomas.)
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