One quicky here, then. In the event that your are talking about the author of that document, the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, then I should point out that the author of that document in unknown. Who do you intend to be pointing to here?
[SIZE="3"]I think I know where you are headed with that question, but as I've been saying all along, it isn't a debate I want to have. As you will notice, just this abbreviated answer took a lot of work to produce. But I'll try to explain a bit with the hope you will respect why at this point in my life I look at something like the Gospel of Thomas as I do.
We both know the author is unknown, as are all the gospel writers. No first hand witnesses of the events of Jesus' life can be confirmed as authoring any portion of the NT. While the authenticity of most of Paul's writings is well accepted (especially Romans, 1&2 Corinthians and Galatians), neither was he a firsthand witness to the mission of Jesus.
What we are left with then, if we are going to be scholarly critics, are stories most likely kept alive through oral tradition by the faithful, and finally written down by later authors claiming (as was the Jewish tradition) to be well known persons (such as one of the 12 disciples). Of course Q, along with Mark, appears to have been a source for Matthew and Luke, and we also don't know the author of Q.
Further adding to interpretative problems for the modern reader are how the beliefs of the writers might have affected their writing, translation difficulties, and even the possibility of purposeful alterations by those copying ancient texts for the Church (as redaction critics found clear evidence of in the Pentateuch with J, E, D, and P).
I mention all the above to let you know I am not unfamiliar with the methods of content analysis, and accept that if we wish to have a clear conception of who wrote what, and why, we need all the information that historical and prehistorical investigation can reveal to us. Let me add to that my personal testament that scholarship is one of my highest ideals, that I trust science implicitly for the study of physical circumstances, and that I am 100% committed to reasoning using proper logic, the best facts we have at our disposal, and with honesty.
Now, your point seems to be that if I respect and practice scholarship, as well as accept the proofs of science, how then can I trust anything the Bible records as said by Jesus (or any writing of unknown authorship, including the Gospel of Thomas)? If we don't know who the Christian writers were, how can we know if they actually knew Jesus and therefore if the conscious experience I claim necessary to understand Jesus has anything to do with Jesus at all (i.e., since I am dependent on those writings for my portrait of Jesus)?
To understand how this apparent dilemma is resolved by some of us who are moved by those ancient writings, I think you have to shift out of
your intellectual criticism mode. Maybe you suspect I am about to say now that you need to shift into
the faith mode, which is what many Christians might say. But no, the mode I would suggest is a specific kind of feeling
I don't mean emotions, let's be REALLY clear about that. I trust emotions even less than faith in religious doctrine. The feeling I am talking about is more akin to intuition. Before I explain what I mean, let me set up my explanation a little more.
I have observed that two fundamental types of human minds are, 1) those who trust their intuition over all else, and 2) those who trust reductionist analysis over all else. It is not uncommon at forums to see the two types at each other's throats.
The intuitive often sees a true direction, but hasn't bothered to compile enough facts to make his case. And sometimes the intuitive is just dead wrong because he doesn't study enough, and he trusts intuition too much. I remember a debate we were having at a physics site once, where based on his intuition a participant denied general relativity. No amount of reasoning with facts could change his mind, and he had physics experts galore trying to help him. His problem was that he didn't really understand time, or gravity, and so just couldn't imagine how the two could be related.
In the other extreme is the person so obsessed with breaking down every situation to detailed facts that he can never see past his nose. The intuitive might ask him to sense some potential of reality, and if the reductionist can't dissect it and mentally work his way there, fact by fact, he won't even look.
One final point to make is that there are aspects of reality that naturally lend themselves to one approach or another. Physicalness, with its regularity, complexity, and ability to be externally observed is a perfect match for reductive analysis. Inward exploration, as taught by humanity's great masters, is best grasped through the intuitive avenue. Those who apply reductive methods to the internal path, or who attempt to grasp physical reality only intuitively are going to have problems.
Okay, keeping those profiles in mind let's return to the idea that to understand Jesus one has to know the conscious experience he was within. Some people who trust and reach out feeling-wise are inspired when they read certain things that resonate with the intuitive-feeling part of them. Some of us actually delve into that intuitive realm to discover it is only the tiniest tip of a huge dominion that awaits behind appearances. For brevity, let's call that realm oneness
If a person goes so far to practice methods for joining the vast oneness realm, and acquires skill at doing so, his sensitivity to all things that help one experience oneness more is heightened. So when he reads a scripture, for example, and it moves him toward oneness, he is immediately drawn to such scripture.
For me, much of what Jesus is recorded as saying resonates deeply with my experience of oneness. Not all stories about him do, such as all the supernatural stuff; it does absolutely nothing for me in a oneness sense. It is his words that most often do the trick.
Of all the collections of Jesus sayings I've ever read, those found in Thomas are most inspiring toward oneness. I therefore am highly inclined to accept Thomas as a true practitioner (or as someone who recorded what a true practitioner related), and it also doesn't seem improbable the author is possibly the only disciple the original 12 to write.
Yet it doesn't matter too much to me if I know for certain who Thomas was; I know what oneness is, and I know how impossible it is for someone to describe it in a variety of ways unless they are experiencing it. The Gospel of Thomas gets it right consistently throughout the entire work, so somebody
knew oneness, and that is what I really care about.
I'll offer one further example of why I claim that to understand Jesus, a person has to also know the conscious experience he was recommending.
First, we know conscious experiences can be recommended because that principle is part of our everyday life. If someone takes you to a concert, or prepares a gourmet meal for you, or drives you to a beautiful spot to watch a sunset . . . all those are experiences one can be guided toward. If a million people are all guided in the same way, they may each have a unique experience, yet there is enough in common with, say, a concert that all will identify it as listening to music.
So when I say I believe I've experienced what Jesus was teaching when I experience oneness, it isn't an unknown occurrence to replicate a unique class of experience.
I say this to point out how easy it is to misunderstand, or miss meaning entirely, if one lacks experience. How would a person who has never heard music and knows nothing about musical instruments interpret hearing someone say a blues artist plucked his axe ("axe" as slang for guitar)? Did he steal a hatchet?
A real example is Jesus' phrase "the kingdom of heaven." Do you know what it means? If we follow the interpretations of theologians, it gets worked into some grand cosmology where heaven or hell await those who've earned the appropriate place.
But that phrase, in the context of all that Jesus said, far more suits something that happens in oneness experience. In oneness experience, there is a stage where one is lifted out of the normal confines of the mind to experience what seems like the whole universe at once. There is a sense the sky is part of one's consciousness, that one has joined a huge mind. Instead of being constricted in the brain, the experience is very much like entering a kingdom that celestial in nature (i.e., heavenly).
Until I personally knew that experience, I had no idea what Jesus was talking about, nor what this 14th century English monastic (Julian) was describing when she said, "And then the Lord opened my ghostly eye and shewed my soul in the midst of my heart. I saw the Soul as it were an endless world, and as it were a blissful kingdom." It sounds like gobbledygook or delusion without an experience to help one understand.
In conclusion, when participating in these discussions about inner practitioners you may run into some strong intuitive types. If you evaluate things relying only on reductionist fact-finding, and even attempt to dismiss the relevance of what is felt, you are going to upset those who see that as condescending and disrespectful to a way they perceive that is very precious to them. When in an earlier post Jay said this subject might be something for the heart . . . that was someone trying to tell you that a big part of the evidence is known by feeling it.
It's not just a one way street however; if we were discussing physics, and someone claimed he didn't "feel" like relativity is correct, then you'd be right to insist he stop trying to feel it and think logically with the facts. Or if we were talking about claims of authorship of the books of the Bible, again you'd be right on track to list what facts there are.[/SIZE]