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To: alt.religion.christian,talk.atheism,,talk.religion.misc
From: (Michael L. Siemon)
Subject: Re: Journey of the Magi
Date: Thu, 26 Dec 1996 00:47:54 -0500

In article <59mpiq$>, (Steven
Carr) wrote:

+You seem to have just insulted hundreds of millions of Muslims. Are
+you suggesting that the Islamic account of Jesus breathing life into a
+clay bird is ridiculous?

Ummmm, with respect to the ill-treatment of Salman Rushdie, I have
no hesitation insulting hundreds of millions of Muslims, anymore than
I have (as a Christian) insulting a probably even greater number of
Christians, with honest comment on pious nonsense. There is *no* good
reason why piety should impose an absolute silence on critical thought.
Piety (and the avoidance of awkward questions in inappropriate circum-
stancces) has some claim in limited contexts (e.g. Sunday School -- 
though even there I would hope for honesty both in presentation of the
material, and *most especially* in addressing questions.)

It *does* seem to be the case that Muhammad was operating in the sub-
popular reflex of some decidedly peculiar popular enthusiasms of the
early Christian movement -- there are scads of things like the bird-
thingy picked up in the Koran in the 2nd and 3rd century popular xtian
literature (one early example being the Paul and Thecla garbage, others
being the numerous magic-infested "gospels" with silly stories about
Jesus. The Koranicmentions of Isa are, indeed, relatively chaste in
their adoption of these things.)

There is nothing in Christianity (or in Islam) that demands one take
such silliness as divine truth. Even the rather sloppy critical sense
that admitted late epistles as if they were from Paul or Peter was good
enough to disdain the romantic-magical crap (that was in popular circu-
lation) from the Christian canon.

+It would be interesting to know when Thomas was written.

Yes, it would. Note that this text is a rather different thing than
the romantic crap discussed above (although it has a heavy agenda of
its own, dominating in much of the extant material, and no very good
reason to take that agenda as particularly early or authentic.) There
are no "pretty" miracle stories, for example. What we *have* there is
a scattering of 3rd century Greek _logoi_ and a "full" text in Coptic
from ~200 years later, which has at least a *claim* of connection to
authentic Jesus _logoi_. A claim worthy of note, but not necessarily
of the over-eager embrace it has received in some circles (the "Jesus
Seminar" for example, which seems to abandon all pretense to critical
scholarship in its desire to place a 5th century document on the same
level as the gospels. That it *should* enter, as critical control on
the gospels, is obvious; there seems often to be a short-circuit from
this point in the publications of the JS. I am entirely willing to
believe that there is authentic tradition in Thomas -- but how does
one extract this from the sectarian [and late!] invention? The problem
is the *same* one as that of extracting echt-Jesus from community stuff
in the canonical gospels -- with a later text and one that is not as
well [if at all!] connected to any known social and ecclesial context.

Insofar as the Gospel of Thomas adds -- case by case -- to specific
argument about specific points of early Christain belief, or of Jesus'
preaching, it is of the similar value [and subject to similar skepticism]
as any random verse of the canonical NT. With, as I said above, the added
problem of being testimony extant only centuries later than the testimony
it must be used with.)

Historiography is (or should be) a nearly universal solvent of enthusiasms
about documents (like the Gospel of Thomas, equally with its application
to Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.)
Michael L. Siemon                           

Awaslah jabberwok adek, rahang mengigit, kuku tangkap;
Awaslah pun burong jubjub, dan ferumi bandersenap.

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