May 17, 2007

SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW


Caption: From the Gospel of Thomas, "If two make peace with each other in a single house, they will say to the mountain, 'Move from here!' and it will move."

In addition to rants about current events, this week's Goat Rope is a series of musings on the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier entries.

If you're familiar with the New Testament gospels and read Thomas, many of the sayings in it will seem fairly familiar and consistent with the picture of Jesus that emerges from Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Other parts will probably seem really strange. And then there are some that are kind of in the middle; they sound like something Jesus might have said or close anyway. This may be because parts of Thomas were assembled very early, possibly before the other gospels, while other parts represent the later theological elaborations of some early Christian community.

As an example of the familiar, verse 94 has Jesus say "One who seeks will find; for [one who] knocks it will be opened."

Then there are passages from Thomas that don't appear in the canonical gospels but could be authentic sayings of Jesus (or at least are similar to what he might have said). For example, in the other gospels, Jesus says "No man can serve two masters." Thomas also has "A person cannot mount two horses or bend two bows" (47). The cryptic command to "Be passersby" (42) could work with the canonical sayings where Jesus sends his followers on the road.

This kind of sounds like Jesus:

"If two make peace with each other in a single house, they will say to the mountain, 'Move from here!' and it will move." (48)


as does this:

"Love your brother like your soul, protect that person like the pupil of your eye."


Some scholars think that some of the following brief parables, one of which was quoted here yesterday, could go back the the historical Jesus:

96 Jesus [said], The Father's kingdom is like [a] woman. She took a little leaven, [hid] it in dough, and made it into large loaves of bread. Anyone here with two ears had better listen!

97 Jesus said, The [Father's] imperial rule is like a woman who was carrying a [jar] full of meal. While she was walking along [a] distant road, the handle of the jar broke and the meal spilled behind her [along] the road. She didn't know it; she hadn't noticed a problem. When she reached her house, she put the jar down and discovered that it was empty.


And then there are the truly strange parts, which lean towards gnosticism and are probably of later origin. Here's an odd one:

Jesus saw some babies nursing. He said to his disciples, "These nursing babies are like those who enter the (Father's) domain."

They said to him, "Then shall we enter the (Father's) domain as babies?"

Jesus said to them, "When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the (Father's) domain]." (22)


In these verses, salvation is seen less as moving forward to some consummation than as moving back to the origin. When asked how the end will be, Jesus replies:

Have you discovered the beginning, then, so that you are seeking the end? For where the beginning is, the end will be. Fortunate is the on who stands at the beginning: That one will know the end and will not taste death. (18)


And finally, there are some parts of Thomas that just make you think, whatever their origin may be. El Cabrero's selection of Thomas' Greatest Hits will run tomorrow.

But now, back to today's salt mines...

HEALTH CARE. It should come as a shock to no one that two recent studies of health care by the Commonwealth Fund finds the US bringing up the rear among developed countries in the quality of its health care system. Karen Davis, president of the group, noted that “The United States stands out as the only nation in these studies that does not ensure access to health care through universal coverage and promotion of a ‘medical home’ for patients."

POWER POPULISTS VS LOSER LIBERALS. Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research frequently points out that progressives or "loser liberals" often lose the struggle over ideas by accepting the idea that they want to use the government to redistribute market outcomes whereas conservatives want to rely on the market. "Power populists," by contrast

doesn’t accept the basic government/market distinction that loser liberalism treats as its starting point. The power populists see government policy as determining who wins and loses in the market place.


Both sides use government. The real difference between progressives and economic conservatives is that the latter use government to distribute money upward while the former want to use it to help middle and low income people. Check out his ebook The Conservative Nanny State.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

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