The Tone of a Mythicist-Agnostic Debate

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by Neil Godfrey

Some of us may be interested in a somewhat objective attempt to measure the tone of the discussion on the question of Mythicist-Agnosticism as raised on the Religion Prof’s blogsite:

Current Debate Jesus Agnosticism/Mythicism – Raphael Lataster and James McGrath

The measure is from a text analysis program, the LIWC (Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count). From the How It Works site:

Basically, it reads a given text and counts the percentage of words that reflect different emotions, thinking styles, social concerns, and even parts of speech. Because LIWC was developed by researchers with interests in social, clinical, health, and cognitive psychology, the language categories were created to capture people’s social and psychological states.

See the site for more details and Interpreting LIWC Output for a description of the areas measured.

I don’t include any commenters who posted fewer than 700 words. I would be especially cautious about the two I have included that posted fewer than 1000 words.

Name of blog commenter

and number of words used

(quotations of the words of others are not included)

Analytic thinking

— the degree to which people use words that suggest formal, logical, and hierarchical thinking patterns

— when people reveal themselves in an authentic or honest way

— the relative social status, confidence, or leadership that people display through their writing


— the higher the number, the more positive the tone

JM’s Original Post on B&I (3043 words)
74.07% 28.08% 55.08% 39.90%
James McGrath’s Discussion (1116 words) 56.82% 55.72% 48.92% 43.75%
Tim O’Neill’s Discussion (1155 words) 51.18% 47.37% 71.04% 20.52%
Leigh Sutherland’s Discussion (1046 words) 72.07% 48.3% 44.3% 72.33%
David (778 words) 65.19% 30.06% 59.65% 39.56%
Gary (708 words) 51.67% 68.37% 61.68% 19.45%

Congratulations to Leigh for his positive contribution to the overall level and especially the tone of the discussion.

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94 thoughts on “The Tone of a Mythicist-Agnostic Debate”

  1. O’neill has a comment in that thread.


    In his mind, the slam dunk “evidence” is that Paul mentions the “Brother of the Lord”, and that Josephus mentions some version Of Jesus in two passages. I don’t know O’neills background, but he seems to be giving way too much credence to 20th century apologists acting as scholars. To my knowledge, the passages in Josephus were considered complete forgeries until fairly recently. The “Brother of the Lord” passage has always had s disputed meaning, even within Christian circles, but it’s been used for evidence, yes. Snd that’s it. That”s the slam dunk evidence. Anyone who thinks otherwise must be a moron.

    1. O’Neill has given many indications that he believes it is arrogance for a person outside the academy to question the scholarly “consensus position” on the historicity of Jesus. Accordingly he repeats the core claims of the academy and responds to any questioning of the assumptions and logic behind those claims with insult, vitriol, ridicule, etc. — The idea of questioning the consensus of academics is simply a sign of arrogance in his view. It’s a “tall poppy syndrome” thing — cut down anyone you think is getting above themselves.

      (But of course scientists and others in other disciplines are not so coy about mocking some of the nonsense that passes for serious scholarship among certain biblical scholars — the assumptions and question-begging are so obvious. I am addressing just this on issue, of course: as any reader of this blog knows I have high regard for lots of the work by many “biblical scholars”.)

      The irony here is that I am not the only mythicist-sympathizer to have come to question the “academic consensus” as a result of seeking answers from scholars to questions raised by authors like Earl Doherty and being met with “less than scholarly” (even less than civil) responses.

      Then one saw that the very methods by which they established historicity were logically flawed and were specifically rejected by historians of ancient history. (See posts here on Moses Finley).

      I put “academic consensus” in quotation marks because the question is not addressed by biblical scholars. Historicity is assumed.

      The bottom line is that Ehrman was quite correct when he admitted that it seemed no biblical scholar had ever methodically and seriously investigated the historicity of Jesus until he attempted it. Historicity has always been an assumption that has been justified by ad hoc rationalizations. The clearest evidence for this is that biblical scholars who have seriously questioned it have had to wait till retirement to “come out” or avoid the issue — as a growing list of names demonstrates.

      1. Hi Neil, it was certainly a very frustrating experience trying to converse with certain persons who were constantly making a strawman argument against the thrust of what I was trying to convey. I got the usual “it is not their area of expertise” statement, when actually addressing what was said by the scholars listed was the issue at hand. Staying polite and respectful was a bit tricky at times, but returning rude and obnoxious comments with a dose of your own only adds to the eventual discussion becoming a slanging match.

      1. Well that’s the other thing. We don’t have any degree of certainty, really, on any of these writings. We don’t have any historical confirmation of Paul, or any of the “disciples”. We don’t know what “Paul” originally wrote, or how it was changed later. Not a clue. All we can do is try to peer through the darkness and figure out what he believed through a cloud of Christian apologetics.

    1. I’m glad you started that discussion. I was also intrigued by Gary’s comment on the Valentinian interpretation of the Romans passage re Jesus being from the seed of David. It sent me back to Elaine Pagels’ book, The Gnostic Paul, but that has sent me looking for Excerpta ex Theodoto from Clement of Alexandria’s Stromata and Sagnard’s discussion of them. I’m still not clear on what was being said but hope to work it out.

      1. From the LIWC website, they said,
        “Don’t be fooled. LIWC, like all text analysis tools, is a relatively crude instrument. It makes many errors in identifying and counting individual words, especially words in isolation.”

        That said, my comments were primarily quotes from references. So deleting those, my own words probably decreased from ~700 words to more like ~70. Sample size of original words, not quoted words, should only be counted. I’m not so sure this program takes that into account. Wonder what the program would say about the actual text of Nag Hammadi.

        1. Hi Gary. I removed the Nag Hammadi quotes to bring your text down from 1034 to 708 words. But that is too few a number of words to tell us very much — apart from the suggestion that your comments were following the general tone of the others — and that is something we all find ourselves doing, even when we don’t want to, all too often. I should emphasize (as I suggested in a previous comment) that I did like your contribution there. I especially found myself in sync with your words, “What Gnostics believed, and what Christians believe, doesn’t have much to do with whether a historical Jesus existed.” From one perspective that is certainly true.

          A better question would be, What accounts for the nature of the evidence or documents that we have? After all, how can anyone be sure what the author or first readers of the Gospel of Mark actually “believed” about any of the characters in that gospel? Or, how can anyone truly know what the author of Romans 1:3-4 actually “believed” about the words he penned? A historian works with and seeks to explain the hard evidence before him or her. As another historian (Seth Sanders, From Adapa to Enoch) I am reading at the moment writes, we can never have access to an author’s mind and subjective states behind the text.

          (The site you quoted from also lists a number of works that are worth reading in order to understand the rationales underlying the machine analyses. The analysis is culture and language bound so I think would have little relevance to an ancient text unless detailed studies were carried out on the broader cultural factors related to the language, and we probably have way too little relevant data to carry out any such exercise on the Nag Hammadi texts.)

    2. I do not believe there were any Valentinian mythicists.

      Quoting Elaine Pagels,
      “Paul characterizes in 1:3, then, the psychic preaching of the savior “according to the flesh,” as son of the demiurge (“David”); But in 1:4 the pneumatic proclamation of Christ “according to the spirit” as “one designated son of God” – of the Father

      Without the “psychic” part of Valentinian belief (earthly, limited knowledge, “bad”), as opposed to the “pneumatic” part (spiritual, secret knowledge, “good”), it wouldn’t be Valentinian. And the “psychic” part, is the belief that Jesus (as seed) walked the earth. Thus, no Valentinians would believe that Jesus didn’t actual exist, and walk the earth. Thus, no Valentinian would/could be a mythicist.

      1. As I understand, at least some Christians held that an angel entered a woman’s womb at the time of conception and incarnated a baby from the semen found therein. It goes without saying that normally a woman with a womb full of semen was not considered a virgin—not because of this—but rather in consideration of how the semen got there in the first place.

        Tim O’Neill appears to assert that—without a word by word exact description—it is implausible that an angel would import (vintage 970 BCE) Davidic semen into a woman’s womb and incarnate a baby. Or even the more practical method of skipping: a trip to Earth with the semen; finding a virgin womb; incarnating a baby —and just incarnating an adult human body, on the spot, in the celestial realm.

      2. Are you so sure?
        The animal and carnal Christ, however, does suffer after the fashion of the superior Christ, who, for the purpose of producing Achamoth, had been stretched upon the cross, that is, Horos, in a substantial though not a cognizable form. In this manner do they reduce all things to mere images — Christians themselves being indeed nothing but imaginary beings!

        If the Valentinians are reduced to be “imaginary beings” by Tertullian in virtue of their “superior” Christ crucified in heaven on a cosmic stauros (not on earth), then even so their Christ is an imaginary being. These are words of Tertullian.

        1. Gary, even if the Valentinians believed in a Jesus crucified in Judea, you should recognize that they believed ALSO in a Christ crucified in outer space. See my post above (that was addressed to you).

        2. I guess the question is “who would you believe. Tertullian or Valentinus?”

          “Against the Valentinians”, a Tertullian polemic against Valentinus.

          “The Gnostic Gospels”, Elaine Pagels

          “Tertullian traces such arrogance to the example of their teacher Valentinus, who, he says, refused to submit himself to the superior authority of the bishop of Rome. For what reason? Tertullian says that Valentinus wanted to become bishop himself. But when another man was chosen instead, he was filled with envy and frustrated ambition, and cut himself off from the church to found a rival group of his own.56
          Few historians believe Tertullian’s story.”


          “The Gospel of Truth”, who most think was written by Valentinus or one of his followers,

          “For this reason, the merciful, faithful Jesus was patient and accepted his sufferings to the point of taking up that book, since he knew that his death would be life for many.”…
          “For when they saw and heard him, he let them taste him and smell him and touch the beloved Son.”…
          “For he came in the likeness of flesh, and nothing blocked his way, for incorruptibility cannot be grasped.”

          Conclusion, Jesus was alive at one time, and walked the earth, according to Valentinus followers.
          Here again, not proof of historical Jesus, but, I think, proof of what Valentinus believed.

          1. Gary, I would correct the your last proposition so:

            Here again, not proof of historical Jesus, but, I think, proof of what Valentinus APPARENTLY believed.

            Since it is too much clear that they believed ALSO that a Christ was crucified in outer space. It is strongly expected, under mythicism, that, after the invention of the Gospel Jesus, the same sect had both an earthly crucified Jesus and a celestial crucified Jesus, especially when the first is said to be “mere image” of the second (who therefore has more degree of reality than the first).

          2. Per “10.1353/earl.2004.0059” Paula Fredriksen review of Hurtado Lord Jesus Christ:, “Valentinians with their graduated pleromas and superfluity of divine figures . . . “downplayed” the Old Testament and its narratives (530), they emphasized redemption from bodily existence as the index of salvation (47), and their Christology was docetic.”

      3. Given that Valentinus separated Christ into three figures: the spiritual; the psychical; and material.

        The question at hand is, were did the semen for the incarnation of a material Christ originate from and who was in custody of it?

      4. Garry wrote, in part, “And the “psychic” part, is the belief that Jesus (as seed) walked the earth. Thus, no Valentinians would believe that Jesus didn’t actual exist [as entirely human, I presume you mean], and walk the earth. Thus, no Valentinian would/could be a mythicist.”

        It wouldn’t be as simple as that. The theology of those days (& to a large extent since) has a significant supernatural aspect and combines supernatural / celestial propositions with human, earthly aspirations and activities.

        Two texts associated with the Valentinians are (1) the Treatise on the Resurrection, aka “The Letter to Rheginos”, about survival after death with a main message that Christians should consider themselves already resurrected in a spiritual sense, and that the resurrection is real and not just a metaphor, eg. –

        What is the resurrection? It is the revelation of those who have risen. If you remember reading in the gospel that Elijah appeared and Moses with him, do not suppose that the resurrection is an illusion. It is no illusion. It is truth! It is more proper to say that the world is illusion, rather than the resurrection that is because of our lord the savior, Jesus the Christ.

        and (2) the Gospel of Philip, which reflects Gnostic views of the origin and nature of mankind and the sacraments of baptism, unction and marriage. It emphasizes the sacramental nature of the embrace between man and woman in the nuptial chamber, which is an archetype of spiritual unity. Jesus is said to have come to crucify the world, taking them all by stealth, for he did not appear as he was, but in the manner in which they would be able to see him. He appeared to the great as great. He appeared to the small as small. He appeared to the angels as an angel, and to men as a man.

        Jesus tricked everyone. He did not appear as he was but in a way not to be seen …

        You saw the Spirit, you became spirit. You saw Christ, you became Christ …

        Adam came into being from two virgins, from the Spirit and from the virgin earth. Christ therefore, was born from a virgin to rectify the Fall which occurred in the beginning.

        Also in the Gospel of Philip, –

        The lord rose from the dead.

        He became as he was,
        but now his body was perfect.

        He possessed flesh,
        but this was true flesh.

        Our flesh isn’t true.

        Ours is only an image of the true.

        1. Obviously the Gnostic texts are full of myth. I guess the question here is, “did the writers believe there was a Jesus walking around on earth?”
          “The Treatise on Resurrection”,
          “How did the Lord live his life? While he was in flesh and after he revealed himself as Son of God, he went about in this world where you live and spoke about the law of nature, which I call death.”
          My Nag Hammadi book talks about Eastern and Western Valentinian soteriology, so my ability to follow it breaks down pretty fast. So yes, I agree, it is not very simple. I don’t have the Gospel of Philip, so don’t know. But suspect it is also complicated.

          1. Re “did the writers believe there was a Jesus walking around on earth?”

            For me question is did the eventual NT books arise out of a milieu of gnostic stories (rather than the common assertions that the gnostic stories arose out of and supposedly after the NT books had circulated).

            1. I don’t think there were any Gnostic stories per se. It appears that there was belief in an eternal heavenly Jesus (Joshua) who would judge the world at the end of days, and that’s about it.

              Then the first Gospel was written, and then what see most often in the so-called 2nd century+ later heresies are attempts at reconciling the pre-Gospel heavenly Jesus with the Gospel stories. I think the pre-Gospel Jesus was explicitly immaterial, and much of the Gnostic struggle was in how to reconcile an immaterial Jesus with the Gospels narratives.

              1. RG Price, I see that you describe the “Gnostic struggle in how to reconcile an immaterial Jesus with the Gospels narratives” as a struggle that was never fully resolved. Ok, logically it can’t be resolved, but we have evidence of the fact that the Valentinians resolved that contradiction by believing in two crucifixions: one in Judea and the other in outer space.

                The animal and carnal Christ, however, does suffer after the fashion of the superior Christ, who, for the purpose of producing Achamoth, had been stretched upon the cross, that is, Horos, in a substantial though not a cognizable form. In this manner do they reduce all things to mere images — Christians themselves being indeed nothing but imaginary beings!

                Note the reference to the celestial crucifixion in a “substantial form”. This say us that the celestial crucifixion was a concrete fact according to them. While the earthly Jesus was merely the “image”, the “delineation” of what was happened in outer space.

              2. Re: Giuseppe
                Very interesting indeed. I had not seen that before. Thanks for pointing it out. Yeah, I think this goes along with Dohety’s interpretation of Paul. It would appear to be another case of reconciling the pre-Gospel view with the Gospels.

              3. I don’t think the Gospels are as early as Christians, you or Richard Carrier think or propose they are. Nor the Pauline epistles, for that matter.

                Plenty of Gnostic scholars have produced cogent or even sound arguments that the widespread “Gnostic theology and texts are a reaction to ‘orthodox’ Christian texts” tropes are wrong; such tropes being due to almost everyone following the misrepresentation/shade that Irenaeus put/threw on Gnostic theology and texts [it explains why Irenaeus spends as much if not more time dissing Gnostic stuff – the synoptic and other so-called orthodox stuff is unlikely to have been as prominent or clear-cut in Irenaeus’ time).

                Robert M Price and Hermann Detering are likely to be right about 2nd century dates for most of (or even all) the texts attributed to Paul, and Jason Beduhn, Markus Vinzent and Mattias Klinghardt are likely to be right about the synoptic gospels being a reaction to texts like Marcion’s ‘Euangalion’.

                Such dates bring Carrier’s proposals about the role of ‘Ascension of Isaiah’ in shaping the early Christian theology into play.

                And it brings the Gnostic scholars arguments into play.

                As well as arguments that the gospel writers used the texts of Josephus.

                It doesn’t diss your arguments, either.

                [it may mean Marcion may not be as relevant as Beduhn, Vinzent, Klinghardt, and others, propose, though, ie. other texts and theologies may be as much if not more in play]

            2. I would like to think oral stories generated Gnostic believed very early, before any NT texts. Makes sense. But I have not seen any proof of that. This Q (oral version) or Gospel of Thomas sayings may lend credence to this, since a good reason for Q and Thomas to be erased from the records later on. But no proof, just conjecture.

              1. Gnostic scholars have provided good cogent or even sound arguments that Gnostic theology and texts were earlier – in relation to the eventual orthodox Christian theology – than is commonly asserted.

                They say the widespread “Gnostic theology and texts are a reaction to ‘orthodox’ Christian texts” tropes are wrong; such tropes being due to almost everyone following the misrepresentation/shade that Irenaeus (+/- others of around his time) put/threw on Gnostic theology and texts.

                And, mixed, competing Gnostic theologies before Irenaeus explains why Irenaeus spends as much, if not more, time dissing Gnostic stuff – the synoptic and other so-called orthodox stuff is unlikely to have been as well-developed, clear-cut, or prominent in Irenaeus’ time.

              2. Well, there is no Q, Q is just make-believe. Thomas is clearly a very late product, perhaps as late as the 3rd century. Thomas contains passages from all four canonical Gospels. It was produced after all of them had been.

                Whatever Gnostic narratives may have existed, we seem to have no evidence for any that resemble the canonical Gospels in any way. There is no indication that any Gospels derive from any prior narratives, Gnostic or otherwise. Mark, clearly is a self-contained invention of a single person who invented his own narrative, and everyone else copied from him like a laser beam.

              3. The Gnostic narratives don’t have to resemble the canonical Gospels or vice versa. Any relevance of Gnostic theology and Gnostic texts would be to the development of Pauline theology, upon which the Gospel attributed to Mark seems to be partly based (and to why the likes of Irenaeus uses so much ink discussing them).

              4. To add to my immediately-above comments: Another NT book that resembles eccentric* -if not Gnostic- theology is the Book of Revelation (* eccentric relative to most other Christian theology).

                Margaret Barker thinks

                “Temple mysticism is the key to understanding Christian origins … how the early Christians understood their new faith (or rather, their recovery of the old faith) and how they expressed this in their worship.”

                Barker, Margaret. Temple Mysticism: An Introduction (p. 13). SPCK.

                She has noted that Jesus is said to have received “visions in the manner of temple mystics, and that these form the core of Revelation, is important for recovering temple mysticism and for establishing its key role in the early Christianity. [The Gospel attributed to John implies] Jesus had received visions before he began his public ministry: ‘He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony’ (John 3.31–32).

                “[G.John] also implies that there will be more revelation in the future:

                “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16.12–13) “

                Temple Mysticism: An Introduction (pp. 24-25). SPCK.

                Barker had previously noted,

                “All the letters [attributed to John] show that temple mysticism was the common framework for early Christian discourse: eating from the tree of life, conquering the second death, eating the hidden manna and receiving a new name, being appointed as the Morning Star, wearing white garments, opening eyes with holy oil, and sharing the heavenly throne (Rev. 2.7, 11, 17, 28; 3.5, 12, 18, 21).” [p. 13]

                Elaine Pagels’ Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation has an interesting take on it as a prophecy about God’s judgement on the pagan Roman empire in the wake of the Jews defeat in the Roman-Jewish war and the desecration of the Temple.

              5. My terminology preferences:

                Christianity: second-god died and rose soteriology of Paul’s cultus.

                Christianity Precursor: Logos/Redeemer worship/reverence; Temple mysticism/Merkabah mysticism; Middle-Platonic religious syncretism; putative-Gnosticism; Dead Sea Scrolls/Counterculture Judaism; Temple Cosmology; etc.

            3. “The Nag Hammadi Scriptures”, The Gospel of Thomas Introduction by Marvin Meyer, pg 137,
              “Sayings in the Gospel of Thomas also seem to be transmitted in a form that is earlier than what we have in the canonical gospels. Such may be noted, for instance, in parables, where Thomas preserves parables of Jesus simply as stories, but the New Testament gospels may append allegorical interpretations to the parables in an effort to explain them and apply them to new situations.”

              1. The Gospel of Thomas, is likely a redaction of Matthew and Luke. Cf. Goodacre, Mark (2012). Thomas and the Gospels: The Case for Thomas’s Familiarity with the Synoptics. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 9780802867483.

              2. Gospel of Thomas is a list of sayings. Most are early. A few were added later. The later ones are used to “try” to date it as late. However, there is no doubt that the majority are oral sayings that are early (earlier than the NT Gospels). And, as oral sayings, are even earlier than the actual writing of the texts in Thomas.

              3. Do we have any evidence to suggest that the sayings were oral traditions prior before being written down in the Sayings Gospel of Thomas?

              4. There is no basis at all for claiming that any piece of Thomas pre-dates any canonical Gospel. It is impossible to look at a string of text and determine how old it is. The idea that certain writing styles or word arrangements are “more primitive” or “earlier” is just nonsense from theologians trying to make stuff up about how they can “determine” what sayings go back to “the real Jesus”.

                Thomas contains nothing old, it’s just a collection of quotes and paraphrases from the canonical Gospels. And furthermore, we have to be very wary of works like Thomas because in fact there were forgers working quite diligently at this time to produce fake ancient writings. Indeed there was actually a huge market for these types of works throughout the period of classical Rome. This wasn’t just a Christian thing. Literally thousands of fake documents that were crafted to be passed off as authentic writings or accounts of prophets and heroes, and Thomas bears hallmarks of such a document.

                The intro to Thomas, “These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down,” is a classic trope of these types of writings. Similar such works were produced for Orpheus, Bakis, various Sibyls, and countless other supposed ancient prophets. It was all forged. These documents were sold for good money on semi-underground markets, and indeed several religions were also formed around such documents, such as the Orphic Hymns, which were forged documents purported to have been written by Orpheus himself. These works were the centerpiece of Orphic mystery cults.

                And this is something that many people today still don’t fully grasp. Trying to “determine the age” of a document by writing style or whatever, is impossible for works of this type from this period because there were actually sophisticated forgers who intentionally produced works that were intended to look older than they really were.

                And when we look at stuff like the Gospel of John, it also bears these hallmarks, because John says stuff like, “I swear I saw this with my own eyes”. That’s a deliberate lie, intentionally put into the work to make it appear like an authentic first-hand account. Something like this would have been done to increase the market value of the work. What I’m saying is, I think the Gospel of John was produced for the purpose of selling it for money and the writer intentionally produced it in such a way as to make it appear older than it was, despite having left signs that we now know date the work to likely the early 2nd century. But, he did succeed in fooling 2nd century Roman scholars… Thomas is just another such work, crafted for the market in prophetic writings.

              5. Gary,
                If we do not have any ancient manuscripts of documents that narrate Jesus’s life or recount his sayings that are commonly seen as having been written earlier than the gospels. Then how is it possible to establish that the Gospel of Thomas, included among the seven narratives about Jesus—presented by Ehrman as independent—are not just embellished redactions of the earliest: Mark?

  2. How could there be a Christian God ? To leave us in such confusion does not evidence a Christian God but the lack of one. The corollary to me is that those in control of the Christian church grossly and deliberately distorted history and destroyed the evidence. This makes me very cynical towards the Roman Catholic Church leadership. I’m on the way out of Christian studies and want to concentrate more on tennis, music and grandchildren. To me, love is God.

  3. And note that there are no doubts about the fact that the cosmic cross called Horos is a “physical” place localized between the upper heavens and the lower spheres:

    In order, then, that the shapelessness of the abortion might not at all manifest itself to the perfect Aeons, the Father also again projects additionally one Aeon, viz., Staurus. And he being begotten great, as from a mighty and perfect father, and being projected for the guardianship and defense of the Aeons, becomes a limit of the Pleroma, having within itself all the thirty Aeons together, for these are they that had been projected. Now this (Aeon) is styled Horos, because he separates from the Pleroma the Hysterema that is outside. And (he is called) Metocheus, because he shares also in the Hysterema. And (he is denominated) Staurus, because he is fixed inflexibly and inexorably, so that nothing of the Hysterema can come near the Aeons who are within the Pleroma.

  4. Neil said “Do we have any evidence to suggest that the sayings were oral traditions prior before being written down in the Sayings Gospel of Thomas?”

    Concerning oral origins…
    We all have our favorite experts. I claim no expertise in the subject. That said, my favorite author on Gnostics, and in this case, Thomas, is Marvin Meyer. So proof, no. But opinions of experts I side with:

    From the same “Nag Hammadi Scriptures”,

    “The interactive nature of the Gospel of Thomas and the sayings in the Gospel of Thomas is underscored by Richard Valantasis in his book “The Gospel of Thomas”, when he calls the theology of the Gospel of Thomas “a performative theology.” He says that “the theology emerges from the readers’ and hearers’ responses to the sayings and their sequence and their variety.” At the very end of his book Valantasis writes:
    “Knowledge emerges from an act of interpreting. The collection of sayings under the authorship of Jesus and editorship of Didymos Judas Thomas demands a performance to unlock their individual and collected meaning. It requires work and toil to perform these and to discover (note it is not to learn) the interpretation… Whereas a narrative defines carefully the actors and their actions, sayings simply float meaning without careful definition or careful control. This Gospel proclaims the priority of living voice over narrative, of textualized presence over narrative definition. The Gospel remains performative.”

    To me, “performative” means oral origin. But maybe I am reading too much into it.

    “The Gospel of Thomas”, Richard Valantasis,
    “…in that the layers show the stages of the tractate’s development…”

    “There are seven layers at least. First, there are the original sayings of Jesus that probably circulated orally and were repeated by various followers of Jesus in their own ministries. These sayings constitute the original field of possible sayings from which those in this particular gospel could have been selected. Second, there is the author of this particular collection of the sayings of Jesus who collected and then wrote the sayings down and published them….”

    I wish I could write more, but they are not copy and paste, so copying is a laborious task.

    Might check this out

    1. The scholarship on the Sayings Gospel of Thomas is varied and one can find experts who argue for contradictory dates, early and late. So I’m reluctant to be dogmatic.

      Just take as one example, the parable of the sower. It is argued by some scholars that in the Gospel of Thomas it appears in a more primitive form than in the Synoptic Gospels. But we see other criticisms that assessments of primitivity are often circular, grounded in untestable assumptions. It is just as easy (I think even easier) to argue for the sparser form of the Thomas parable to be secondary to that of the Synoptics. Why? Because the Gospel of Thomas functions as a set of mysterious sayings or sayings with hidden meanings that only the spiritually minded can grasp. So it is reasonable to see “the author” of the Gospel of Thomas removing the explanatory commentary from the Synoptic parable. Besides, I see in the publications on Thomas that the same parable is so replete with similarities of wording to the parable in the Synoptics that it is virtually impossible to imagine it being an independent source or derived from a source independent of the Synoptics.

      As for the performative character of the sayings, I think it is even more plausible to think that such sayings did not have an oral tradition beginning, but were especially written or edited for the occasion. Oral traditions — despite what some of the theoretical discussion of some biblical scholars suggest — do not pass on a string of one-liners or short aphorisms without context. If you have heard someone give a brilliant sermon and you want to talk about it with friends long after it was delivered, do you all just reduce it to a few one-liners? You recall the setting, the speaker, the context, and there are many variants of what was said. The stability of, for example, the parable of the sower, and its close matching the Synoptic wording, and even its potential performative function, all arguably (no-one can be dogmatic) point to relative lateness and written origin.

      1. “Besides, I see in the publications on Thomas that the same parable is so replete with similarities of wording to the parable in the Synoptics that it is virtually impossible to imagine it being an independent source or derived from a source independent of the Synoptics.”

        Of course, an immediate response is “Q”. No one said “an independent source”. “Q” could be a source for both Thomas and the Synoptics. Or Thomas could be a partial source for the Synoptics, if you accept the fact that Thomas is earlier than the Synoptics. Also, I realize that “Q”, or early oral sayings of Jesus would rather spoil a Jesus myth scenario. So all rests on opinion. Not fact.

        1. Why add another hypothetical? Why not simply a direct borrowing/adaptation? Nothing is gained in explanatory power of any of the similarities (or differences) by introducing a hypothetical when what we have before us suggests a perfectly simple and direct explanation.

        2. When evaluating what anyone says about Thomas, first see what they say about Q. Q is really total nonsense and its much easier to make a definitive case against it. Anyone claiming that they can identify “multiple layers of Q” is full of it. Likewise, people claiming they can identify “multiple layers of Thomas” are also full of it.

          As Neil said, why create an untestable, unprovable explanation built on hypothetical unseen sources when we have a perfectly valid explanation that complies with 100% of the evidence and involves 100% known sources? It’s like putting a puzzle together where every piece fits and then saying, but maybe this isn’t the right solution and there are missing pieces that would result in a different puzzle solution.

          The only reason theologians are doing this, trying to make the puzzle fit together in a different way that requires missing pieces, is because they don’t like the solution that you get when you use the existing pieces.

          1. Ooh! Ouch!!! 🙂 — I do prefer to go a little easier on those who endorse the Q theory. It is not nonsense. It is a legitimate hypothesis that attempts to reconcile not just the similarities but especially the divergences among the Synoptic Gospels.

            And once one has a Q text hypothesized from that analysis, then the different layers of it really do start to come together. I rather object to those apologists (they are mostly apologists though I admit not all are) who scoff at the idea of three layers of Q once Q is somehow identified, however murkily.

            I prefer a hypothesis that dispenses with Q. I can see the arguments against Q and I do prefer those. But at the same time I cannot dismiss completely the possibility of the alternative.

            1. I’d say Q “was” a reasonable hypothesis, but not that it still is. The evidence against it is quite significant, even beyond Goodacre’s case. And once we see that Q is a separate source or set of sources, but rather just Luke’s integration of Mark and Matthew, its clear that there are no “layers” of it. Thus, it demonstrates that all of the talk of layers was a mirage to begin with and much of the methodology of trying to identify layers is hokum.

          2. “Likewise, people claiming they can identify “multiple layers of Thomas” are also full of it.”…

            Didn’t say anything about multiple layers of Q, which would be quite hard, since no one has found a copy of Q. I really didn’t say anything about multiple layers of Thomas – only quoted Meyer writing about it. 7 layers – but only quoted his saying 2 layers. Obviously to me, 2 layers exist, since the document exists (layer 1 author who wrote it down), and layer 2 (oral source). The defining point of our difference is “Is there an oral source or not?” It would be rather hard, I think, for anyone to prove with hard evidence, that there was no oral “story”, of oral “sayings”, of Jesus. So it is rather useless for us to argue the point.

            “why create an untestable, unprovable explanation built on hypothetical unseen sources when we have a perfectly valid explanation that complies with 100% of the evidence and involves 100% known sources?”

            The real problem is assuming you are complying with 100% of the evidence with 100% of the KNOWN sources, when you KNOWN that the copies of surviving documents probably represent a minuscule amount of evidence – if we are pre-1948, we wouldn’t even be discussing Thomas, since we woudn’t know it existed. So, you have built your perfectly valid explanation upon quicksand, with 100% of a minuscule amount of data. That, I think, is called conjecture. I have absolutely no problem with you having your opinion. However, I also have no problem with my opinion, in my mind, being just as valid as yours 🙂

            1. “It would be rather hard, I think, for anyone to prove with hard evidence, that there was no oral “story”, of oral “sayings”, of Jesus. So it is rather useless for us to argue the point.”

              It’s not so hard actually, because if you can account for literary sources for all of the material then you have in essence proved that there are no oral sources. That’s basically the approach I take in Deciphering the Gospels.

              What I show in DtG is that the entirely of Mark can essentially be accounted for as having been sourced from Paul and the Jewish scriptures, and that the whole narrative hinges around the First Jewish-Roman War. If the narrative is built around the First Jewish-Roman War and the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, then of course its not based on “oral traditions” from prior to the war.

              So really most of DtG is about making the case against oral traditions or the use of any other prior narratives or source documents, showing that the writer of Mark was the inventor of the first narrative and that everything is just copied from Mark, with additions coming either from the imaginations of the later writers or other unrelated sources, such as Josephus or Philo, etc.

              I address Thomas, showing that multiple elements of Thomas derive from scenes in Mark that were invented either in relation to letters of Paul or Jewish scriptures.

              Is it possible to isolate narrow passages from among the Gospels that an underlying scriptural or Pauline source can’t be identified for? Sure, there are a few random sentences that neither I, nor anyone else I know of, has been able to point to plausible literary sources for, but to look at a writing that has really over 50%, perhaps as much of 75%, of the material identified as sourced from known sources and then claim that, “Look, here’s a sentence that you can’t trace back to a source, so maybe its from an oral tradition!” really just defies credulity. I mean obviously, in order to be able to construct a coherent narrative you have to invent some material yourself to make it all work, especially when that gap-bridging material fits into the narrative that is constructed from piecing together literary sources.

              I find no evidence that any narrative pre-dates the Gospel of Mark, nor do I find any evidence of any sayings or teachings being attributed to Jesus prior to the Gospel of Mark, the pre-Gospel epistles being star witnesses in such a case.

              1. How about another hypothetical! 🙂

                IF you assume Jesus existed (alright, I know, you don’t believe it, and therefore all your assumptions are based upon that);

                But IF he existed, you have to admit the majority, if not all, of the people that were around him, were illiterate. Therefore, any and all repeated stories about him or his sayings, were originally oral. Since no one was around to write anything down. No note-taking allowed. This is pretty much true of all events that were eventually written down. I bet Josephus, who wrote about the 66-70 AD wars, told stories about his experiences many years before he wrote about them. If he died before he wrote Jewish Wars (75AD), and he had a cultist following, more than likely they would tell oral stories about Josephus’ War experiences (maybe by family members). If fanatical enough, one of the people who heard the stories would eventually write some of Josephus’ experiences down. And more likely, exaggerate the experiences!

              2. The issue of literary is interesting, because so much of even the earliest accounts of Jesus worship involve significant knowledge and analysis of scriptures. So clearly, knowledge of the scriptures, which implies literacy, was important in the movement. Indeed when we look at the writing from Qumran, it appears that the Qumran community was quite literate indeed and Qumran is the closest model we have to the early Christian community. So, no, I don’t think one can make any assumptions about literacy.

                It’s also interesting to note that the Jesus of the Gospel is depicted as a literate person, indeed he would have to be a scriptural savant. And if we are to use the Gospels as our guide, the accounts of Jesus would had to have been observed and transmitted by people with a deep knowledge and appreciation of the scriptures.

                On top of that, all of the Gospels, copying from Mark, state that scribes were constantly present at every turn in public scenes. And of course, for the private scenes, like the Last Supper, the walking on water, or the desertion of Peter, only a few insiders are present who could have relayed any information. So, if one wants to talk about the Gospels being “reliable” the information from those scenes would had to have been relied by the people in question, which mostly leaves Peter as the only possible person who could have relayed all this. But the Gospel of Mark is a polemic against Peter, that makes Peter out to be a total fool who eventually betrays and deserts Jesus. So even though Peter is really the only character present in most of the scenes, he’s hardly a likely source for a story that makes him out to be second only to Judas in his betrayal of Jesus.

                So there is no coherent model for how a meaningful oral tradition that goes back to real events could exist. And, as I said, really according to the Gospels themselves, Jesus would have been literate and surrounded by literate people.

                There are all manner of hypothetical possibilities, but fortunately, there are so many literary references across the Gospels that its actually relatively easy to piece together the sources and how they were written. It certainly could have been the case that the account was all original invention with no literary dependencies at all and in that case it would have been very difficult to prove anything about it one way or another.

              3. Qumran was like the Harvard of Israel. A cult-like gathering of scribes who were anti-temple. Jesus and his pals were from Galilee, laborers and fisherman. Besides, who carried around papyrus when you’re itinerant?

              4. Reliability is not an issue. No one said the stories were reliable. And the sayings are the teachings of Jesus. So the stories probably grew into tall tales. The sayings, I don’t think, would have any motive to be exaggerated. But, who knows? Nobody, for sure. But an oral origin of all this is the only reasonable start. Even if Jesus is myth, the origin is probably oral. I don’t see some author, sitting down at his desk, and writing the fictional “The Jesus Story”, around 30AD, to be published in the lobby of the local synagogue, for easy reading. And only the big shot rabbi’s can read it, since the average Joe in the congregation was illiterate.

              5. “No one said the stories were reliable.”

                “Jesus and his pals were from Galilee, laborers and fisherman.”

                If the stories are not reliable, why do you think that Jesus was from Galilee with associates who were laborers and fishermen?

                The only source of that information is the Gospels, the very Gospels that are not reliable…

                As for fishermen, the idea that Peter, James and John are fishermen comes from a scene that is based directly on a literary reference to the scriptures that refers to a passage about how God is going to send agents of destruction to catch people like fish and slaughter them. The reference implies that Peter, James, and John are harbingers of destruction, alluding to the First Jewish-Roman War, and indeed Peter, James and John are portrayed as betrayers in the story.

                We have to acknowledge that all the figures in the Gospels are fictional characters, created by the writer, to serve symbolic purposes in his narrative.

                So this idea that we can have Gospels that aren’t reliable, but also that we can use them as our guide is highly problematic.

              6. Gary, see: “Arthur F. Holmes. A History of Philosophy, ep. #18. Middle and Neo-Platonism”. YouTube. wheatoncollege.

                Holmes presents some of the philosophical tenets that IMO Philo fused with the Septuagint’s cosmology. Philo was not making a cookie cutter Christ from pagan parallels, but rather finding a “better” pre-existant All-Father (first-god) and son (second-god) that was always part of Judaism but previously unrecognized, yet superior to pagan parallels.

                • Understanding the difference between “Middle Platonism” and “Platonism” is crucial, they are not the same. “Middle Platonism” is an eclectic mix of Stoicism, Neo-Pythagoreanism, and Platonism!

              7. “If the stories are not reliable, why do you think that Jesus was from Galilee with associates who were laborers and fishermen?”

                Ok – you got. You are right.
                However, in being unreliable, I was thinking more along the lines of resurrection, and healing.

              8. @Gary: This subject is mind bending. It takes a while to really get a grasp of the topic, I know. So many things that seem like obvious facts or safe assumptions end up not being and that’s what makes it so tricky. Took me years to wrap my head around some of this, so it’s all good.

            2. All knowledge is provisional. That goes without saying. We work with the evidence we have. And we are always conscious that our views may well be overturned by new evidence if and when it surfaces. That’s just standard operating procedure for historians.

              What is speculative is that we imagine sources that we cannot see and imagine what they were like and imagine how they connected with what we do see — and then base our views on that. Now that’s speculation.

              It is not speculative to go no farther than the data before us. The incomplete state of the data obliges us to be humble about our conclusions, understanding their provisional or tentative nature. It requires us to reject dogmatism.

  5. A summary of the argument for different layers within Q was encapsulated well by Earl Doherty in Jesus Neither God Nor Man, pp. 311-312:

    Layers Within Q

    Once the elements comprising Q were identified and mapped out, it became evident that Q included different kinds of material. Two broad types are obvious. The first is found in several clusters of sayings with a common atmosphere, style and purpose. They focus on ethics and discipleship and closely resemble the genre of Jewish “wisdom” collections, as in the Book of Proverbs, attributed to Solomon. There were pagan collections as well, such as that attributed to the 6th century BCE Solon of Athens. (Attributions of both were generally legendary.) Such collections offered sage advice on how to survive the vicissitudes of existence, be successful in life, and relate to divine forces in the universe. Such advice might be aimed at the governing class or the common person.

    The wisdom sayings in Q, though somewhat different in character from the general type, include the famous Beatitudes, several pithy sayings and parables, along with some of the most prized of the Gospel ethics—none less so than the lines spoken by Jesus in Luke/Q 6:27-28:

    “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your cloak do not withhold your coat as well.” [RSV]

    Scholars refer to this as the wisdom or “sapiential” layer of Q. The second type, again in clusters, stands side by side with the first, but the atmosphere and sentiments of these sayings are as different from the others as night and day.

    “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to hell!” [Lk./Q 10:13-15, RSV]

    Such sayings contain none of the wisdom quality, but instead are “prophetic” in nature, even apocalyptic. They condemn the outside world for its hostility and rejection, they look to a future upheaval and accounting. The figure of the Son of Man appears in several sayings, one who shall arrive at the End-time to judge the world. (This figure is ultimately derived from the apocalyptic scene in Daniel 7, as discussed in chapter 5.) Here, too, we encounter John the Baptist, styled as a forerunner to the Q preachers, prophesying a great retribution at the hands of a coming one who will baptize with fire. He seems to be speaking of the coming Son of Man and not a human figure already on earth. Also in this group are the two miracle stories in Q: the healing of the centurion’s servant (Luke/Q 7:1-10), and the Beelzebub controversy (Luke/Q 11:14-20).

    How are we to relate two such vastly different groups of sayings and anecdotes? Could they have come from the same man, or even the same community? The wisdom sayings are tolerant, often enlightened (whether or not they are always practicable). They possess insight and even touches of humor; they embrace a world one is attempting to peaceably change and find a place within. The prophetic material, on the other hand, tends to be narrow-minded, fulminating, world-denying; its speakers look for no compromise with those who have failed to heed them.

    It seemed to modern liberal scholars that both types could not be assigned to a single source, that they may not even have been contemporary in time. Led by an influential Canadian scholar named John Kloppenborg (The Formation of Q, 1987), they identified the wisdom sayings in Q as comprising a separate stratum of material and labeled it Q1. These were assigned to the earliest stage of the document and judged by some (such as the Jesus Seminar) to be essentially the product of the “genuine” historical Jesus and the early community. The prophetic stratum was labeled Q2 and assigned to a later stage, when new sayings were incorporated into the document reflecting the preaching community’s reaction to their failure to win over wider segments of society. These sayings were, again by some, seen as unrelated to sentiments expressed by the earlier ‘genuine’ Jesus and judged not to have been his product. The odd saying within Q2 has been regarded as possibly authentic to Jesus, such as the Beelzebub controversy and criticism of the Pharisees. The addition of the Q2 sayings to the Q1 sayings, possibly with some reorganization and “redaction” (changes or additions that reflect the interests of the editor), was performed at an unknown time.

    This left a few elements in Q which appear to represent a further advance on both earlier stages, such as the Temptation Story (Q 4:1-13) and the saying about the Son who knows the Father (Q 10:22). These went into a Q3 stratum seen as reflecting more advanced thinking about Jesus, showing stirrings of a biography and even giving him a touch of divinity. Scholars may differ on exactly which units they allot to a Q3, and occasionally there will be disagreement over the choice of Q1 or Q2 for a given saying. Again, further redaction was probably performed on the collection as a whole when later insertions were made.

    Note that the designations Q1, Q2, Q3 do not represent separate documents, but indicate different strata of material within the reconstructed totality of Q used by Matthew and Luke. Such designations also refer to the surmised state of the document at each of those stages of development, although this must be seen as the simplification of a reality in which numerous little additions and revisions were no doubt made to the document between a couple of extensive overhauls, over a period which may have been a few decades.

    1. Reminds me of how the Montgolfier brothers added extra items like old shoes to their balloon fire, to produce the “densest smoke” possible. Until it was realized that a hot air balloon works just as well without all the extra garbage. 🙂

    2. Yeah, well, this just reinforces my point I think. There is no Q, there are no layers. What they were navel gazing over was the fact that “Q” comes from a story that was copied from a story that includes all of those types of material, and that story includes all of those types of material because that story is derived from the Jewish scriptures, which also contains all of those types of material.

      This is an easy answer in search of a complex solution. The Gospels are derived from scripture. Scripture is produced by many different people over a long period of time, with many different styles of writing, and includes complex, and at times incompatible, ideas.

      I’ve come to the conclusion that biblical scholarship is so f*ed up because of the way theology works and the fact that the field is dominated by theologians. Theology literally is a field where you are taught how to think illogically and backwards. All theologians are trained to be irrational.

      To be a theologian you have to be trained to rationalize fundamentally impossible and illogical ideas. You are taught that the trinity makes sense, yet of course the trinity is entirely nonsensical. You are taught to be able to rationalize how an all loving, all powerful, all knowing god can be the god of the Old Testament and currently preside over our world that is full of strife, suffering and injustice. You are taught to come up wit logical proofs for things that are impossible.

      This is what it means to get a degree in theology. So once your mind has been warped in such a way, you can’t possibly tell up from down or put together a sensible explanation for anything. And so what we see among theologians, across all fields of study, is totally nonsensical Rube Goldberg thinking, where they construct vastly over complicated logical proofs that meander through all kinds of loops and turns to get to a result.

      And my point is, this is in fact exactly how they are trained to think.

      And this is the thing. Biblical scholarship is not rocket science. I think many people struggle with the idea that it has to be hard because why else would it be that the “experts” arrive at such complicated explanations and can’t get to agreement. But the difficulty is not with the problem at hand, the difficulty is that the people who have proclaimed themselves the experts are trained explicitly not to follow scientific processes.

      What the field of theology is all about is starting with an assumption (known truth) like “God is real and he loves everyone on earth” and then working backwards from that assumption to build a case that supports your starting position. This is EXACTLY how biblical scholars have approached the study of the NT. They start with the Christian assumption of what these texts mean and record, and then they work backwards to develop proofs to support those assumptions.

      This IS what “biblical scholarship” really is. That’s what people don’t understand. “Biblical scholarship” by and large, is not an unbiased investigation of the origins and development of the texts of the Bible, it is a justification of the Christian interpretation of those texts. “Biblical scholarship” is about providing “supporting evidence” for the Christian interpretation of the texts. That is how 90% of biblical scholarship proceeds and that is what determines the “consensus”.

  6. And a summary of the argument for layers in the Gospel of Thomas per J. D. Crossan, The Birth of Christianity, pp. 252-254

    Gospel of Thomas

    Leaving aside, for here and now, that brief, initial, biographical introduction (Q3), the two major layers in Kloppenborg’s stratification of the Q Gospel are the sapiential (Q1) and the apocalyptic materials (Q2). William Arnal has suggested a somewhat similar two-step process for the Gospel of Thomas, but in his approach the successive layers are not sapiential and apocalyptic but sapiential and Gnostic. (I let that designation Gnostic go for the moment but return to it for more detailed discussion below.)

    It is, Arnal argues, “the formal and thematic inconsistency of each of these two main strands [the sapiential and the Gnostic] that suggests a stratification rather than a unitary or aggregation model for the document’s composition. It is evidence of an effort to impose redactional consistency on the document as a whole that allows us to discern the hand of the redactor and distinguish it from the remains of the earlier collection which he modified” (476). Each strand, in other words, is a consistent whole, and it is the Gnostic that has been imposed on the sapiential rather than vice versa.

    The first of those two main strands or strata “may be characterized, like the materials in Q, as wisdom sayings, both in form and content” (476). This strand includes parables, beatitudes, and aphorisms as well as imperatives with or without motive clauses. It uses “argumentative comparisons, explicit or implicit … and observations about and appeals to nature, ordinary experiences, and common sense” (476). But just as Kloppenborg’s sapiential layer in the Q Gospel contains not regular but radical wisdom—contains, as it were, a counterwisdom to common sense and ordinary attitude—so also here. “All, or nearly all, of the observations made in this vein are inversionary (without being esoteric) while they also appeal to common sense and wise observation” (476). Arnal calls this “inversionary wisdom” (479) and cites these 32 units as the clearest examples of this stratum: the Gospel of Thomas 3, 5, 6, 9, 14, 16, 20, 26, 31, 34–36, 42, 45, 47, 54, 55, 57, 63–65, 74, 76, 86, 89, 95–98, 107, 109, 110 (478 note 17). Here is an example:

    Jesus said, “Let one who has found the world, and has become wealthy, renounce the world.” (Gospel of Thomas 110)

    The second of the two main strands is imposed on that former stratum. “In contradistinction to the sapiential layer, another body of sayings in the Gospel of Thomas is characterized by a gnostic orientation, manifested most trenchantly in their invocation of gnostic mythological motifs” (478). Inversionary or radical wisdom has now become esoteric or Gnostic wisdom. Arnal places 20 units most securely in this stratum: the Gospel of Thomas 11, 13, 15, 18, 21–22, 27–28, 49–50, 51, 60, 61, 83, 84, 101, 105, 108, 111, 114 (479 note 32). Here is an example:

    Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are alone and chosen, for you will find the kingdom. For you have come from it, and you will return there again.” Jesus said, “If they say to you, ‘Where have you come from?’ say to them, ‘We have come from the light, from the place where the light came into being by itself, established [itself], and appeared in their image.’ If they say to you, ‘Is it you?’ say, ‘We are its children, and we are the chosen of the living Father.’ If they ask you, ‘What is the evidence of your Father in you?’ say to them, ‘It is motion and rest.’” (Gospel of Thomas 49–50)

    That is the strongest indication of Gnosticism in the Gospel of Thomas. Those questions derive, presumably, from the archons, those hostile powers guarding the successive spheres of the heavenly cosmos and seeking to prevent the soul’s return to the Living Father whence it came. The Gnostic is told how to answer their questions and so pass safely on its way home. . . .

    1. This makes a little more sense. A case can be made that Thomas has two layers: the stuff copied directly from the Gospels and Paul and stuff that wasn’t. The stuff that wasn’t sources from the Gospels and Paul is essentially of unknown origin and could be from any time or source.

      This makes more sense than Q, because Q by definition only contains material of a shared origin, whereas Thomas contains material that is unique to itself.

  7. The point is that the identification of layers in both Q and Thomas is not forced or fanciful but even most evident once one is alert to issues in the text. I could have quoted much more from Crossan in which his discussion of the layers in Thomas is directly paralleled to the discernment of layers in Q. Yes, it assumes Q existed, and yes, if Q existed and was a source for both Matthew and Luke then it follows we have some idea of what some of it looked like. And from there the identification of layers is directly parallel to their identification in Thomas. Sapiental interspersed with apocalyptic in one, sapiental interspersed with gnosticism in the other.

    My basic concern is to try to acknowledge genuine and valid scholarship. The primary underlying reason for the development of the Q thesis was the assumption that evangelists were more reliant upon cut and paste than being genuinely creative authors in their own right. There have been reasons for that assumption. And yes, there is certainly ideological bias. But that is not always incompatible with decent scholarship. It should be exposed at the right time but without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    Mythicists need to beware of not opening themselves to accusations that they think of biblical scholars as mostly fools. People like Doherty and Price and others do the right thing insofar as they engage with the scholarship, demonstrate an understanding and respect for it, and so forth, while also arguing against some of it where appropriate. Yes, there are some scholars who are less than intellectually honest and guilty of a host of sins, but some ways of addressing these (if we bother to at all) are smarter than others…

    1. Mythicists need to beware of not opening themselves to accusations that they think of biblical scholars as mostly [plagued by many] fools.

      I can strike “mostly”, but stand firm on “many”, especially after reading the following:

      Litwa, M. David (2019). “Jesus Myth Theory – Richard Carrier”. How the Gospels Became History: Jesus and Mediterranean Myths. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-24263-8.

      Whatever Carrier’s motivations, if his claims are to be opposed, it must be on the level of careful argument. In the present discussion, I focus on his academic book On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Have Reason to Doubt (2014). . . . I cannot address all the material in the volume (a hefty 618–page tome); instead, I select some of his major arguments for individual treatment. —(p. 35)

      Litwa addresses Carriers OHJ under four topics:
      • The Hero Pattern
      • The Sky Daimon Hypothesis
      • Dying and Rising Gods
      • Nonexistent Heroes

      1. Another one for me to read! Kindle version costs $A90! I’ll add it to my “to get around to” list and hopefully when I’m ready I’ll have access to a lest costly version.

        1. The Introduction and first bit of Chapter one is available as a free preview via Amazon, on Kindle & probably via ‘look inside’ on the Amazon page. And if there it may be available via Google Books.

          Those sections are worth a read.

    2. I would disagree with that. Q is a case where we can see that there are in fact no layers at all. A method that claims to find layers where none exists is not a valid method. Even if Q were a separate source it wouldn’t hold that it would then have layers. We know it doesn’t have layers.

      In my view, the entire methodology is total junk.

      If I develop a method for detecting buried gold under the ground, and I say, “Aha, look, this shows that there is a large trove of gold under the ground,” and then we dig into the ground and find nothing, then it shows that the method for detecting gold is flawed. When we see that Q is just material that Luke copied from Matthew, it shows that all the claims about identifying this and that within it, expounding upon the different communities that produces the different layers, etc. was just a bunch of delusion.

        1. That isn’t really a very valid question IMO. They are all equally obviously crafted.

          Mark is obviously crafted in one way, while the others are obviously crafted in different ways.

          All I’d say is that it is unclear what the intention of the author of Mark was, but that the intentions of Matthew are the most clear, followed closely by John and Luke. But this gets into complex issues that I’m still researching.

          What is clear is that the the writer of Mark never made claims about his narrative being literally true, whereas the writers of Matthew and John, as well as Luke, all do make such claims.

      1. “Q is a case where we can see that there are in fact no layers at all.”…

        I have to agree, although I never understood how scholars can identify layers in something that they don’t actually have. It’s kind of like making a “second order” assumption on a first order assumption.

        I’d like to actually read a very simple explanation on how they can identify layers in something they have never actually found, seen, and put their hands on. I don’t deny that Q could have existed. Just identifying minute details of something never found seems highly speculative.

        When I say simple explanation, I mean a short paragraph or less. If it takes a multi-page explanation, I think layers become delusional. Just my rather dense thinking.

        1. I’d like to actually read a very simple explanation on how they can identify layers

          I quoted an explanation of how they do it. I am getting the impression some of us scoff at scholarship we have not actually taken the time to read and understand.

          1. “Once the elements comprising Q were identified and mapped out, it became evident that Q included different kinds of material.”

            The problem I see is that Q is created based upon a set of criteria. I would bet the “so-called” layers of Q are actually a reflection of the original criteria for creating Q in the first place. Thomas and Q are totally different, in that Thomas exists. Q is created. The layering in Q is created by the scholar’s selection of what they think was actually in Q. It’s like a dog chasing it’s tail.
            Or comparing it in math, Thomas has one independent variable. X exists. Thomas exists. But Q is a hand selected, many-independent variables mess. No baseline to trust. Are the layers creating Q, or is Q creating the layers? But it’s all beyond my understanding.

            1. Have you read how Q has been arrived at? It is not mere guesswork but derived from a careful comparison of the sayings material unique to Matthew and Luke. In fact, the chapter and verse numbering of the Q sayings is taken directly from the gospel of Luke.

              When in Matthew we read that Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and in Luke we read Jesus saying, “Blessed are the poor”, how do we decide the relationship between the two. Did Luke copy from Matthew? That seems unlikely to many scholars for a very good reason: “poor in spirit” sounds more advanced, more spiritual, than just “the poor”. So did Matthew copy and improve upon Luke? There are other reasons for believing that Luke was written after Matthew, however. (Compare, e.g., Luke saying that many others had attempted to write the story before he did.)

              Another option is that both Matthew and Luke copied the saying from a third source. If so, then it would appear that in that third source there was a saying of Jesus that went, “Blessed are the poor”.

              That is not some far-fetched guesswork about what it is in Q. It is a very reasonable inference that Q contained that particular saying if Matthew and Luke had a third source.

              Now that is just from one verse. Go through every other saying where Matthew and Luke appear to match, and we have, step by step, arrived very reasonably at something that was found in this third source we call Q.

              Then when we look at that result, we see, hey, that looks very much like the same sort of document as the Sayings Gospel of Thomas. A long list of sayings by Jesus. So that gives us encouragement to think that maybe there was a document like Q after all, or rather, that given the Gospel of Thomas, it would not be surprising if there were other similar documents.

              Now when scholars look at the Gospel of Thomas they can identify two types of sayings, wisdom sayings and gnostic sayings. It is not unreasonable to infer that a wisdom sayings document later had someone add gnostic sayings to it.

              Exactly the same with Q. We see 2 different types of sayings, wisdom and apocalyptic. Same conclusion…..

              All of that strikes me as a very reasonable and a valid argument.

              Now I happen to favour an alternative hypothesis, one that has a final redactor of Luke copying Matthew, but I keep in mind that that is only another hypothesis, one I cannot prove with any certainty, and I also maintain respect for the reasonableness of the Q hypothesis, though I think it has more drawbacks than the alternative. But it is not a far-fetched or absurd hypothesis.

              1. “But it is not a far-fetched or absurd hypothesis.”

                Never said that. However, assigning layers, I think, is a stretch of the imagination, for something no one has seen.

              2. Layers stand out in the reconstruction and are well argued. The evidence itself is addressed. There is no more “stretch” in the view than there is for layers in the Gospel of Thomas. Have another look at the argument.

              3. “That seems unlikely to many scholars for a very good reason: “poor in spirit” sounds more advanced, more spiritual, than just “the poor”.”

                This is what I’m saying is hokum. Methods that compare documents written over vastly different periods, like comparing documents from 16th century America and 18th century America, sure in that sense you can do some of this type of comparison, but what we’re really taking about here, even in theory, is just two different people within about the same time period making different editorial choices. The idea of one passage being “more primitive” than another is total “junk science”. And I think Goodacre does a good job of explaining why this methodology is junk.

              4. Fortunately Mark Goodacre takes some considerable space to argue his case — a case I have long agreed with. Arguing why “poor” is not necessarily more primitive than “poor in spirit” is more persuasive than simply saying one idea is “total junk.” Goodacre never uses the words “junk” or “hokum” in his Case Against Q.

                The idea that Luke here is more primitive than Matthew arises from the assumption (reinforced by various arguments) that Luke and Matthew share a common source; What Goodacre has to do is demonstrate why another hypothesis provides a better explanation — and he does that by appealing to the literary creativity and literary agenda of Luke.

                We don’t do our case any favours if we crudely dismiss the alternative hypothesis and methodology as total junk. Scholarly argument — and demonstrating that we understand the opposing argument and reasosn for it — will always trump insult.

                (Just saying two authors made different editorial choices explains nothing. But explaining why each made the choice they did is explanatory — and that’s why Goodacre has a persuasive argument. He doesn’t just say: “Different authors, different choices, it’s bunk to look any further.”

              5. To make a case it is surely important to demonstrate why an existing paradigm is inferior to the case we are making. Just calling it hokum doesn’t cut it. It suggests we haven’t bothered to understand the other side.

              6. All I’m saying is that the idea that one can simply look at a phrase and determine that one phrase is “more primitive” than another is not a legitimate approach. Yes, Goodacre explains why its not legitimate, but one shouldn’t even need to do that. It should be obvious that its not legitimate. I guarantee you that I could assemble a collection of 100 documents from different but known sources, put them in front of a bunch of such biblical scholars who didn’t know the origins of the sources, and it would be impossible of them to tell which are older, which were newer, which were derived from different or the same sources, etc. purely by reading the words (i.e. no use of carbon dating or anything like that).

                These guys are just fooling themselves with un-testable methodologies. They haven’t actually developed testable methods that can be shown to work, their whole approach is often just built on conjecture rationalization.

                In order for any argument about determining sources to be valid, there has to be a means of demonstrating effectiveness using testable procedures that can be shown to be effective on documents of known provenance. That’s the whole issue. There is no “science” involved in this. There is no development of testable procedures, its all just conjecture.

                If you’re going to tell me that you can look at the content of two sentences and determine that one is “more primitive” than another, then you need some evidence that the approach you use has been proved to work over a statistically significant series of samples, and you need to cite the rate of correct vs incorrect identification.

                Its like if you’re going to tell me that you’re an expert wine taster and that you can determine what region a wine was made in by tasting it, you need to cite how well you performed on tests of known wines, not just taste a wine of unknown provenance and claim it came from New Zealand.

              7. testable methods that can be shown to work

                Did you see the challenge to run your OT recognition method on Moby Dick per a comment on Mcgrath’s website?

    3. VinnyJH, trying to present the fallacy of an argument, comments [orig. bold em.]: “[Disqus_user]Mark keeps talking about what Paul always believed and how he always operated (and he seems certain that he knows why everyone else in the movement did what they did as well). Unfortunately, we have don’t have evidence of what Paul always did or always believed. We have a handful of letters reflecting Paul’s thinking at the time he wrote them. Only a fool or a New Testament scholar would express that degree of certainty based on the available evidence.”

      John MacDonald responds: “So, you think New Testament scholars are fools?”

      1. And a LOL zinger by VinnyJH back to John MacDonald:

        “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun” doesn’t mean that Englishmen are mad dogs. It is directed at the irrationality of a specific action.

        You seem to have understood what I was saying, but nonetheless construed it in a way that you knew was not intended.

  8. I’m assuming we know how Q is in part reconstructed by comparing the sayings material in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. See, for instance, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/q-synopsis-young.html and http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/q-contents.html

    That reconstruction is a reasonable hypothesis as should be evident if compares Matthew and Luke’s Sayings material.

    Here is Crossan’s explanation (same source as the above Crossan extract on Gospel of Thomas) of how the layers within that material are identified. (The Doherty extract above closely matches Crossan’s discussion.) There is nothing absurd, foolish, or even invalid about the analysis and the identification of the layers.

    That does not mean that there cannot be a better hypothesis to explain the data. But if we embrace what we believe is a far better hypothesis I think we can still acknowledge the reasonableness of the alternative.

    Q Gospel

    A powerful and persuasive stratigraphy of the Q Gospel text has been offered by John Kloppenborg (1987a). Building on earlier studies by Dieter Lührmann in 1969 and Arnold Jacobsen in 1978, he proposed three main strata in the gospel: a sapiential layer (Q1), an apocalyptic layer (Q2), and a biographical layer (Q3), combined in that sequence. Here is his summary: “The formative component of Q consisted of a group of six ‘wisdom speeches’ which were hortatory in nature and sapiential in their mode of argumentation. This stratum was subsequently expanded by the addition of groups of sayings, many framed as chriae [short, pithy sayings that are given a brief introduction or setting], which adopted a critical and polemical stance with regard to Israel. The most recent addition to Q seems to have been the temptation story, added in order to provide an aetiology and legitimation for Q’s radical ethic, but introducing at the same time a biographical dimension into the collection” (1987a:317). A sapiential saying appeals to common reason or wisdom, to that which is at least theoretically available to all. It says, Look before you leap; or, Whoever fears God will be happy. An apocalyptic saying appeals to special information or revelation. It says, Repent, for the end is near; or, Watch, for you know not the day nor the hour.

    The first or formative stratum is sapiential, composed of six wisdom speeches. These are directed inward to those who have already accepted the kingdom of God; they are characterized by persuasion rather than recrimination, preaching rather than polemics; and they have “important similarities in implied audience, constituent forms, motifs and themes and even structure and argumentation” (19873:243). A typical example is Jesus’ inaugural sermon, announcing “an ethic which responds to the radical character of the kingdom” (1987a:190). This now appears as the Sermon off the Mount in Luke 6:20b–49 and, in greatly expanded form, as the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7.

    The second stratum is apocalyptic, composed of five judgment speeches. These are directed outward to those who have refused the kingdom of God; they are characterized by recrimination rather than persuasion, polemics rather than preaching; and, once again, “the presence of common forms (especially prophetic sayings and chriae), shared motifs and agreement in projected audience unite these five complexes” (1987a:170) A typical example is Jesus’ final sermon, announcing “the prophetic proclamation of coming judgment … to the unconverted, warning them to repent before the catastrophe overtakes them” (1987a:166). This now appears as the apocalyptic discourse in Luke 17:23–37 and, combined with Mark 13, in Matthew 24:26–41.

    The third stratum is introductory and biographical, composed of the story of Jesus’ three temptations in the desert located immediately after the account of John the Baptist in the original Q Gospel and now present in Luke 4 and Matthew 4. Its purpose, most likely, was “to illustrate and legitimate the mode of behavior and the ethos of the Q group. As hero and leader of the Q community, Jesus provided an example of the absolutely dependent, non-defensive and apolitical stance of his followers” (1987a:256). That term apolitical means, of course, not operating by the politics of a world whose power is evil and whose dominion is demonic.

    It is important to note that Kloppenborg’s analysis is not simply circular, as if he had decided that sapiential materials came first and apocalyptic second, and arranged things accordingly. What he did was first note the distinction in terms of form, content, and audience between those two sets of sermons, one sapiential and the other apocalyptic, and then note that it was the latter that broke into the former’s finished products, and not the reverse. One example will suffice. Compare the form and content of the four beatitudes that start Jesus’ inaugural sermon in the Q Gospel as now visible in Luke 6:20b–23 = Matthew 5:3–4, 6, 11–12. The first three beatitudes concerning the poor, hungry, and sad are very similar to one another. But while the fourth, concerning the rejected, fits in general with “the preceding three, it is in detail totally different from them. Notice the different format and content used in the fourth: “Blessed are you when … on account of [Jesus]… reward in heaven … so done to the prophets before you.” That last phrase, and maybe even some of the preceding ones, read like “an insertion into an originally sapiential collection” of beatitudes (1987a:243).

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