Perrin on catchwords (2)

John makes a number of points in the comments section of this post, which, again I have picked up and put into a separate post.  First, he says:

You were saying that:

From this he argues (p 94) that since Patterson says that gaps in catchwords = no intentional editing, no gaps in catchwords must necessarily mean that editing has taken place

(my emphasis).

Perrin does not argue that it “must necessarily mean” that, he simply says “the evidence suggests the conscious design of an editor”.

In fact, what Perrin says is:

Patterson considers the dilemma: catchwords could point in the direction either of editorial design or of more spontaneous oral traditioning.  He chooses the latter and he does so because he finds occasional gaps in catchwording, that is, he finds that some saying in Thomas are isolated. But if Thomas was written in Syriac and if, as at least my reconstruction suggests, a Syriac Thomas has no gaps at all, then by the same logic Patterson would have to agree that the evidence suggests the conscious design of an editor (my emphasis). (p 94)

The context of this statement is that Perrin is arguing that Thomas was originally written in Syriac and brought together in the one place at the one time.  By this stage of the book he is confident that he has provided sufficient proof  for a Syriac original that the onus is on others to show that this is not so and he begins this section by saying that “another inference almost ineluctably follows, namely that the Gospel of Thomas … was a carefully worked piece of literature, brought together at one place and at one time by an industirous Syriac-speaking editor” (p 93).  I agree that he doesn’t say quite as baldly as I suggested that the unbroken catchword connections in his Syriac retroversion must necessarily “prove” the work of an editor, but it seems to me that this is exactly the message that the reader is expected to take from this section.

John then says:

Also, when you say:

As I indicated earlier and as Patterson points out, catchwords were important tools for oral tradents who needed to be able to remember long pieces of oral text.

you fail to mention what he has to say exactly about that (it’s on the same page, in the next paragraph!). Here it is:

“A second reason for inferring editorial activity on the part of Thomas, as opposed to envisaging one who merely assembled stray oral traditions, is the complexity of catchword associations. […], a number of sayings have multiple catchword connections sprouting out in two directions at once”. Then he refers to Heim and Weeks, who argue about Proverbs, against the “aid for memory” explanation, based on the complexity of the catchwords (they argue that “the editor(s) wanted to create some kind of textual coherence”).

I have no problem, as I say here, with the notion that the complexity of the chain of catchwords in Perrin’s retroversion demonstrates some form of editorial work that was not done in the course of oral transmission. What I have difficulty with is the notion that this necessarily indicates that the editorial work happened all at once, rather than over time as the document moved between oral and written form.

And John says again:

You also say that:

It seems to me that the careful chain of catchwords and the rather random order rather better fits the notion of a corpus of sayings that was designed to be communicated orally

Perrin objects to your ” rather random order” comment. He says (p. 95):

“At points the Gospel of Thomas does follow the order of both the synoptics and the Diatessaron: Gos. Thom. 8-9, 32-33, 42/43-44, 47, 65-66, 68-69, 92-93 and 93-94.”

And he gives the example of GT 44-45, where part of Matthew fits and part of Luke fits, but a much better fit is the harmonization of Mat and Luke in the Diatessaron.

Further on the order (on p. 97), Perrin says the author was “much more concerned with thematic groupings and above all with linking sayings together by catchwords”.

I think that in these situations, Perrin is referring to the fact that where there are parallels in Thomas to the Synoptics and the Diatessaron, the order in which these parallels appear is the same as it is in the Synoptics and/or the Diatessaron. It is on this kind of evidence that he bases his contention that the Diatessaron is the primary source for Thomas. I have no argument with the fact that Thomas follows the order of the Synoptics/the Diatessaron at these points, but they don’t constitute a particularly large part of the text and this is not what I was referring to, when I talked about rather random order.

The section you quote from p 97 begins by saying that on the whole the author of Thomas has little interest in following the order of the sources, but is “much more concerned with thematic groupings and above all with linking sayings together by catchwords.” One of the oddities of Thomas is that there are a number of sayings which appear twice in slightly different form.

In addition, Thomas contains a number of parables of the Kingdom. All but two of them have synoptic parallels. They are:

Parable Thomas Mark Matthew Luke
The Seine-net Thos 8 – not a

Realm parable

Matt 13: 47-48
The Mustard Seed Thos 20 Mark 4: 30-32 Matt 13: 32-32 Luke 13:18-19
The Weeds among the Wheat Thos 57 Matt 13: 24-30
The Banquet Thos 64 – not a

Realm parable

Matt 22: 1-10 Luke 14: 16-24
The Pearl Thos 76 Matt 13: 45-46
The Leaven Thos 96 Matt 13:33
The Woman with the Jar of Meal Thos 97
The Assassin with the Sword Thos 98
The Lost Sheep Thos 107 Matt 18: 12-14 – not

a realm parable

Luke 15: 4-7 – not a Realm parable
The Treasure Thom 109 Matt 13: 44

As you can see, the only synoptic that is particularly concerned with parables of the Kingdom is Matthew, where all but one of the Kingdom parables appear in a block in chapter 13. The Thomasine Kingdom parables are spread out throughout the text, and if we were to add in the other sayings about the Kingdom, we would find an even broader scattering, which is hardly a thematic grouping.

I don’t think that Perrin’s thesis explains either of these things satsifactorily, for two reasons.

  1. It seems to me that if the author of Thomas was putting time and careful attention to developing something with literary coherence and using catchwords as part of that, s/he would not have repeated so many sayings with minor variations, especially if s/he were modelling her/his work on the Diatessaron in which Tatian set out to produce a harmonisation of the different versions of stories and sayings found in the various gospels.
  2. The concept of the Kingdom is introduced in S3, where we are told to be careful about people who try to tell us that the kingdom is in the sky or the sea, so it seems like a fairly important theme for the gospel. If the editor was really concerned about thematic groupings, I would imagine that this is one that would be grouped, rather than spread out. It is also quite clear that Thomas does not follow the Synoptic ordering for these parables – not only do they not appear in one block, they are also in a different order to that in which they appear in the Matthean block.

While I think that Perrin’s work provides quite good evidence that NHC II,2 is based on a Syriac original, I think the second part of his thesis – that it was written all at once using Tatian’s Diatessaron as its primary source –  is on shakier ground. I am also not quite sure what we do about the evidence we have from the POxy fragments that the sayings that we have in NHC II,2 were not always transmitted in the order in which they appear there (or in quite the same wording). It would be really nice if someone discovered a few more complete manuscripts, or even some more, slightly larger fragments. 🙂 In the meantime I don’t think that any of the theories put forward provides a complete, bulletproof explanation of its origins and I’m afraid I don’t have anything new and startling to offer, nor do I plan to have.

3 thoughts on “Perrin on catchwords (2)

  1. Thanks very much for the interesting and thoughtful posts, Judy. One of my questions about catchwords as they relate to the oral traditioning theory is that it is difficult to see why it would have been thought helpful specifically to have the one saying after another. Given the self-contained nature of so many of the sayings, I wonder why any author / tradent / performer would have thought it important to guarantee that saying y follows from saying x?

  2. Mark, obviously if what you are trying to reproduce is one of the hero sagas, the order is important, but you’re right that if there is no narrative, the order isn’t all that important. In the case of Thomas or something similar, I don’t think it is so that one saying follows another per se, but to ensure that nothing gets left out.

    The more I think about it, the more likely it seems to me that April’s theory we have a number of speech-texts on different topics put together in a whole is correct. If there were a number of these speech texts in circulation in Syriac, each put together with catchwords, it wouldn’t be difficult for a final editor to take the different blocks and put them together by adjusting the first and last sayings in each to make catchword connections.

    I wonder if this also makes it possible that the Oxyrhynchus sayings are not fragments of the same text as GosThom, but rather part of a sister set of sayings circulating in the Greek-speaking world that were ordered differently because of the catchword needs?

  3. Pingback: The onus/burden of proof « Judy’s research blog

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