Saturday, June 03, 2006

Gos. Thom. 114 and Mary

Simon Peter said to them, "Make Mary leave us, for females don't deserve life." Jesus said, "Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven." (trans. Stephen Patterson and Marvin Meyer)

See the string of comments and posts at Early Christian Writings

What I find incredible is the claim that this logion was added by orthodox persons in order to discredit the Gospel of Thomas by making it sexist. There are several reasons why this is unlikely.

(1) There is no mss to my knowledge where 114 does not occur. It is certainly in the Nag Hammadi version. This is a gnostic collection, not an orthodox collection and we have no reason to think that orthodox scribes have tinkered with Thomas' textual tradition.

(2) If an orthodox scribe were to get a copy of Gos. Thom. I think that he (or she) would be more inclined to destroy it than to edit it. But let's say that the scribe was a bibliophile and couldn't bring himself to burn any codex or papyrus. If he did want to correct the document he would be more likely to add a comment decrying one of the gnostic distinctives about gnosis or God. He might also insert a remark about the incarnation or of christology that was uncompromisingly orthodox and was opposed to gnostic understandings of the person of Christ.

(3) Other gnostic writings such as Pistis Sophia 1.36 and the Gospel of Mary 9.1-10 include negative remarks about Mary by Peter and the other disciples. Derogatory remarks against Mary as in Gos. Thom. 114 are not unique to Gos. Thom. Given that in many gnostic writings that Mary was the gnostic par excellence (she is called the "the pleroma of pleromas" in Pistis Sophia 1.19) these conflict stories are most likely symbolic of the persecution of gnostics (represented by Mary) by the orthodox church (represented by Peter).

(4) The concept of salvation by androgyny (i.e. by becoming male) was not unknown in gnostic writings. First Apocalypse of James 41.15-19: "The perishable has gone [up] to the imperishable, and [the] element of femaleness has attained to the element of this maleness." Hippolytus (Ref. V. 8. 44.) says of that the Nassenes believed that "spiritual beings will come to 'the house of God'; there they will cast off their garments and all of them will become bridegrooms, having been made male by the virginal Spirit." Gnostics could renounce all gender distinctions as in Gos. Thom. 22 and the Nassenes (somewhat akin to Gal. 3.28) or else associate becoming "a living spirit" with maleness.

(5) I am hesisitant to try to "deconstruct" certain peoples motives, but I suspect that the rationale for making Gos. Thom. 114 an orthodox interpolation is perhaps more cultural than textual. Some people like the spirituality and religion of the Gos. Thom. but don't like the apparent denigration of femaleness in 114, therefore, they plead "interpolation" and attribute this sexist remark to the orthodox church.


J. B. Hood said...

Mike, who is it that makes the claim that this is an orthodox interpolation?

Michael F. Bird said...

Jase, I read it somewhere (can't remember exactly) and I've also heard it in conversation with others.

danielbradley said...
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