Mike Grondin, the owner of the Gospel of Thomas email list, has organised for Stephen Carlson to lead a discussion on the paper he is presenting at the New Orleans SBL annual meeting on Origen’s use of the Gospel of Thomas. His abstract ends:
In short, this survey shows that, despite Origen’s recognition that the Gospel of Thomas did not rank with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and despite the presence of some content he must have found objectionable, Origen nonetheless thought that the Gospel of Thomas contained historically useful and homiletically edifying material.
Stephen has volunteered to post excerpts from his paper during the month of May and I’m certainly looking forward to the discussion. It’s a Yahoogroups list and you’ll find it here. It seems that you can read the posts without joining, but in order to be part of the discussion you’ll need to join. You’ll be asked to provide information about why you want to be a member, so mention the discussion (and say you read about it on this blog, if you like). If your email address doesn’t make it obvious who you are, giving your name would also be good. The default setting is that posts are moderated to make sure that spammers (of either the commercial or religious kind) don’t post, so don’t be surprised if your first post or two is held for moderator approval.
I have just officially removed Luise Schottroff’s The Parables of Jesus (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006) from my gym reading list for two reasons:
- it requires a higher level of concentration than I am able to give it in the gym where music is playing and people are talking
- I actually want to find out what she says faster than I can in my half-hour exercise bike riding sessions.
Schottroff details her problems with traditional interpretations of parables that are anti-Jewish and/or portray God as some sort of monster and develops a methodology for looking at parables that explicitly works to avoid both these problems. The book begins with a section entitled “Learning to See” and ends with one called “Jesus the Parable-Teller: the parables in the literary context of the gospels”. These both demonstrate her methodology. Sandwiched between them is the section in which I am most interested: “In Search of a Non-Dualistic Parable Theory”. In it, she looks at four hermeneutical assumptions that have resulted in what she (and I) see as problematic interpretations of the parables and develops a methodology that endeavours to avoid them. The assumptions are:
- the ideology of Christian superiority over other religions, especially Judaism
- dualisms in various areas of theology
- assumptions that underlie Chrisaain notions of guilt and sin and human suffering through violence
- orientation toward a “Christian” duty to maintain the social status quo and its structures of power (p 81)
I am part way through this section, which I am finding exciting, but requiring careful consideration.
Her appendix summarises her approach:
How Should I Read a Gospel Parable?
- I understand a parable narrative as a stylized and fictional combination of experiences from daily life. I attempt to recognize the connection to social structures. The parable narratives frequently contain depictions of violence and injustice in society.
- I look within the literary context for the explicit or implicit statement about God’s action that belongs to the parable narrative. It can appear in the form of a “saying” as application, or in many other forms.
- God’s story is connected to the narrative by only a few bridges. The narrative often contains an antithesis to God’s story. “So” (houtös) or “like” (homoios) are to be read as a challenge to critical comparison, not as an invitation to equation (e.g., not: God is like a king, who … ). I ask: Where is the God of the Torah, and the Torah itself, to be seen – alongside, behind, and/or in the parable?
- The parable narrative and the Story of God connected to it are part of a dialogue. This dialogue took place in oral form – in Jesus’ time and thereafter. Its written traditions in the Gospels presume oral responses that often are not written down. These are to be sought in Jewish traditions of address to God or praise of God. I attempt to flesh out this dialogue for myself.
- I try to unlearn the triumphalistic ecclesiology of the Christian tradition of interpretation, which works by contrasting us against them, good against evil, Gentile church against Judaism. This kind of interpretation rests on the identification of groups and their association with or opposition to “us,” the church, which is always on the right side.
- I attempt to think eschatologically, to pray, and to speak with and about God. That means: (1) leaving it up to God to judge good and evil and (2) understanding the present as the hour when God’s justice begins in the world, which makes it my responsibility to do good – that is, to keep the Torah. (p 225)
Obviously, I think the book is well worth reading. More posts about it anon. Well, at least one. :-)