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The Thunder, Perfect Mind Discussion
A Bible and Beyond Discussion
Monday, July 22, 2019
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Presenter: Dr. Hal Taussig
Host: Shirley Paulson, PhD
University of Pennsylvania professor Andrew Lamas calls The Thunder, Perfect Mind “one of the ten most important documents in history.”
The Thunder, Perfect Mind
13 I was sent out from power
I came to those pondering me
And I was found among those seeking me
Look at me, all you who contemplate me
Audience, hear me
Those expecting me, receive me
Don’t chase me from your sight
Don’t let your voice or your hearing hate me
Don’t ignore me any place, any time
Be careful. Do not ignore me
I am the first and the last
I am she who is honored and she who is mocked
I am the whore and the holy woman
I am the wife and the virgin
I am he the mother and the daughter
I am the limbs of my mother
I am a sterile woman and she has many children
I am she whose wedding is extravagant and I didn’t have a husband
I am the midwife and she who hasn’t given birth
I am the comfort of my labor pains
I am the bride and the bridegroom
And it is my husband who gave birth to me
I am my father’s mother,
my husband’s sister, and he is my child
I am the slavewoman of him who served me
I am she, the lord 14 of my child
But it is he who gave birth to me at the wrong time
And he is my child born at the right time
And my power is from within him
I am the staff of his youthful power
And he is the baton of my old womanhood
Whatever he wants happens to me
I am the silence never found
And the idea infinitely recalled
I am the voice with countless sounds
And the thousand guises of the word
I am the speaking of my name
You who loathe me, why do you love me and loathe the ones who love me?
You who deny me, confess me
You who confess me, deny me
You who speak the truth about me, lie about me
You who lie about me, speak the truth about me
You who know me, ignore me
You who ignore me, know me
I am both awareness and obliviousness
I am humiliation and pride
I am without shame
I am ashamed
I am security and I am fear
I am war and peace
Pay attention to me
I am she who is disgraced and she who is important
15 Pay attention to me, to my impoverishment and to my extravagance
Do not be arrogant to me when I am thrown to the ground
You will find me among the expected
Do not stare at me in the shit pile, leaving me discarded
You will find me in the kingdoms
Do not stare at me when I am thrown out among the condemned
Do not laugh at me in the lowest places
Do not throw me down among those slaughtered viciously
I myself am compassionate
And I am cruel
Do not hate my compliance and do not love my restraint
In my weakness do not strip me bare
Do not be afraid of my power
Why do you despise my fear and curse my pride?
I am she who exists in all fears and in trembling boldness
I am she who is timid
And I am safe in a comfortable place
I am witless, and I am wise
Why did you hate me with your schemes?
I shall shut my mouth among those whose mouths are shut
and then I will show up and speak
16 Why then did you hate me, you Greeks?
Because I am a barbarian among barbarians?
I am the wisdom of the Greeks and the knowledge of the barbarians
I am the deliberation of both the Greeks and barbarians
I am he whose image is multiple in Egypt
And she who is without an image among the barbarians
I am she who was hated in every place
And she who was loved in every place
I am she whom they call life
And you all called death
I am she whom they call law
And you all called lawlessness
I am she whom you chased and she whom you captured
I am she whom you scattered
And you have gathered me together
I am she before whom you were ashamed
And you have been shameless to me
I am she who does not celebrate festivals
And I am she whose festivals are spectacular
I, I am without God
And I am she whose God is magnificent
I am he the one you thought about and you detested me
I am not learned, and they learn from me
I am she whom you detested and yet you think about me
I am he from whom you hid
And you appear to me
Whenever you hide yourselves, I myself will appear
17 For ⌊………⌋ you ⌊…⌋I myself ⌊…….⌋ you⌊..⌋
⌊…….⌋Those who have ⌊….⌋
⌊…..⌋to it ⌊…..……..⌋take me⌊………….⌋from within⌊……….⌋
Receive me with understanding and heartache
Take me from the disgraced and crushed places
Rob from those who are good, even though in disgrace
Bring me in shame, to yourselves, out of shame
With or without shame
Blame the parts of me within yourselves
Come toward me, you who know me
and you who know the parts of me
Assemble the great among the small and earliest creatures
Advance toward childhood
Do not hate it because it is small and insignificant
Don’t reject the small parts of greatness because they are small
since smallness is recognized from within greatness
Why do you curse me and revere me?
You wounded me and you relented
Don’t separate me from the first 18 ones
throw away no one⌊………..⌋
turn away no⌊………….⌋she who⌊…..
I know those
And the ones after these know me
But I am the mind⌊…….⌋and the rest⌊………⌋
I am the learning from my search
And the discovery of those seeking me
The command of those who ask about me
And the power of powers
In my understanding of the angels
Who were sent on my word
And the Gods in God, according to my design?
And spirits of all men who exist with me
And the women who live in me
I am she who is revered and adored
And she who is reviled with contempt
I am peace and war exists because of me
I am a foreigner and a citizen of the city
I am being
I am she who is nothing
Those who do not participate in my presence, don’t know me
Those who share in my being know me
Those who are close to me, did not know me
Those who are far from me, knew me
On the day that I am close to you 19 ⌊………….⌋ are far away
⌊……..⌋on the day that I⌊……..⌋from you⌊……..⌋
⌊……….⌋of the heart⌊…..⌋
⌊…….⌋of the natures
I am he⌊…….⌋of the creation of the spirits⌊….⌋request of the souls
⌊……⌋control and the uncontrollable
I am the coming together and the falling apart
I am the enduring and the disintegration
I am down in the dirt and they come up to me
I am judgment and acquittal
I myself am without sin, and the root of sin is from within me
I appear to be lust but inside is self-control
I am what anyone can hear but no one can say
I am a mute that does not speak and my words are endless
Hear me in tenderness, learn from me in roughness
I am she who shouts out and I am thrown down on the ground
I am the one who prepares the bread and my mind within
I am the knowledge of my name
I am she who shouts out and it is I that listens
20 I appear and⌊………⌋walk in⌊…………⌋seal of my⌊………..⌋
⌊…….⌋I am he⌊…………⌋the defense⌊…….⌋
I am she they call truth, and violation⌊…….⌋
You honor me⌊………⌋and you whisper against me
You conquered ones: judge them before they judge you
Because the judge and favoritism exist in you
If he condemns you, who will release you?
If he releases you, who can detain you?
Since what is your inside is your outside
And the one who shapes your outside is he who shaped your inside
And what you see on the outside, you see revealed on the inside
It is your clothing
Hear me, audience, and learn from my words, you who know me
I am what everyone can hear and no one can say
I am the name of the sound and the sound of the name
I am the sign of writing and disclosure of difference
And I 21
⌊…..⌋the great power.
And⌊……..⌋will not move the name…
⌊…..⌋he who created me
But I will speak his name
Look then at his pronouncements and all the writings that have been completed
Listen then, audience
And also you angels
Along with those who have been sent
And spirits who have risen from among the dead
For I am he who exists alone
And no one judges me
Since many sweet ideas exist in all kinds of sin,
Uncontrollable and condemning passions
And passing pleasures that people have
Until they become sober and go up to their resting place,
And they will find me in that place
They will live and they will not die again
Translation by Hal Taussig, Jared Calaway, Maia Kotrosits, Celene Lillie, and Justin Lasser.
The Thunder, Perfect Mind Discussion Transcript
Hal Taussig (00:01:00):
Thank you.I want to thank you all for joining us this evening to do some work with The Thunder, Perfect Mind. Is there someone who’d like some basic information about who, what, where, when?
Shirley Paulson (00:01:24):
I think it would help us Hal, I think we’re all wondering what in the world is going on.
Hal Taussig (00:01:29):
So The Thunder, Perfect Mind, there is only one copy that exists. It was found in the desert in Central Egypt in 1945. In the jar that I sometimes call the Jesus Jar, but is better known as the jar in which the Nag Hamadi library was found. 52 books most of which had not been known before, and almost all of which seemed to be related to some early Christ movement group or another. So this is one of a number of these 52. The Thunder, Perfect Mind is probably the second most well known of those 52 documents more well known is the Gospel of Thomas which is quite widely distributed and has a lot more publications about it. But The Thunder, Perfect Mind has been quite well known, especially among artists and artists communities since its discovery in 1945 or rather, really since Elaine Pagels included it in her, the Lost Gospel’s book of the late 1970s. And so from Elaine’s work, a lot of artists have picked it up and used it in a variety of ways. We can return to that if we need to. So how many of you were able to read the text or maybe let’s say, “Were there some of you who were not able to read the text?”
Good. All right. So just to then say a few more introductory things about the text. This is really then in one voice which identifies itself in a whole bunch of ways. In fact, it’s really a fairly traditional kind of ancient Mediterranean literature in which a divine voice basically talks about itself. Often these voices are female or male, or in some cases some of both. And so this is a speech by a god or goddess figure who’s purpose is mainly simply to talk about who she or he is. And so this is a fairly standard text of that kind in the ancient Mediterranean. In this case however, you’ll notice that it is almost, or for the better part, it’s a female voice. It’s a I Am, and then usually the I Am is finished by some descriptive picture of a divine female.
This then, in the ancient world, as I said, is not too surprising that it would be a goddess figure that would be proclaiming herself, although there are many of these kinds of pieces of literature by gods that are proclaiming themselves. Indeed, in the Christian scriptures as well as the Hebrew scriptures, there are texts in which a great I Am identifies her or himself. In the book of Proverbs in the Hebrew scriptures, there is a major figure like this called Wisdom. And she occurs in about six of the chapters of the book of Proverbs as a divine female proclaiming herself. Also in the Hebrew scriptures, you have a divine figure identifying itself in Exodus as I Am That I Am, this is the, the figure that identifies itself in the desert to Moses in Exodus three.
And then in the Christian Scriptures of the New Testament you have the figure of Jesus who also identifies himself as the great I Am 13 different times in the Book of John. So the Jesus primarily identifies who he is with the character of I Am, and almost certainly the way Jesus is framed in the gospel of John is intimating both the book of Proverbs and the book of Exodus. In the way it speaks of it Jesus speaks of himself as the great I Am. So in other words this voice in The Thunder, Perfect Mind has a number of companion voices in that same era, sometimes in the biblical literature and sometimes outside. There are a couple of things that we’ll probably want to just note early on about The Thunder, Perfect Mind and that voice.
So primarily female. So I Am the, the first and the last, but then quite quickly talking about I Am the whore and the holy woman, or I Am she that has a great wedding, but I did not have a husband. One of the many things that one notes about the primary femaleness of The Thunder, Perfect Mind is that this voice often takes for herself characteristics of women that are made fun of. So I Am the whore is taking on a negative description of a woman as part of the great I Am or of a great I Am. one will notice to a certain extent, however, that although there are, I believe 21 different places in The Thunder, Perfect Mind where the Thunder is identified as female, there are four or five in which the Thunder is identified as a male. so one would say primarily a female character, but a little bit gender bend.
Okay, so those are some basic now let me say a couple of other whens. When was The Thunder, Perfect Mind written? It’s very difficult for us to tell since this is the only copy. Often it helps a lot if we have several different manuscripts to compare and contrast and see how, see how they are framed in different manuscripts, because manuscripts are almost always somewhat different. But since we only have one and in which there is no mention of particular time, and in which there’s only one mention of a particular place, and that is Egypt. The text itself is written in Coptic, which of course is the first alphabetized language in Egypt. So one might think that this is an Egyptian book. I tend to think so, but I have been a minority of scholars.
Most scholars think it was originally written in Greek and translated in to Coptic. We, of course, don’t have any such Greek peace or any kind of even fragment of The Thunder, Perfect Mind in Greek. The carbon dating of this text is from the mid third century CE. So that would be again, about 250 years or so, maybe even in the fourth century. 250 to 350 would be when this manuscript is dated. That, however, doesn’t mean much in that, for instance, as you compare this to a lot of the manuscripts of the New Testament, most of those are not as early as 250 to 350. Most of them are at least a century and maybe three or four centuries later as a manuscript, but we probably date most of them in the first or second century.
So a document that’s in the third or fourth century is a manuscript. That doesn’t mean when it’s written, it simply means that is when the copy was written we’re basically none of our manuscripts-all of this kind of literature- none of them seem to be the original one, but we have a lot of broken and somewhat whole manuscripts that are from somewhere between the late 200 and 1100. but we think they’re probably written in the first or second century. So we can only surmise when The Thunder, Perfect Mind was written, and we think maybe Egypt. Egypt of course, is a very cosmopolitan place at that point. Well, let me stop for a moment. You all have read it. and let’s, see whether there are some immediate thoughts you have about your reading and any next steps and questions or thoughts that any of you would like to bring up at this point.
Hilary Barner (00:13:49):
I have a question about the title.
Hal Taussig (00:13:53):
Hilary Barner (00:13:56):
Well, what where does it come from and what does it mean?
Hal Taussig (00:14:01):
Yeah, great question. so as those of you who heard me before most, even though I’ve studied this stuff in a whole bunch of ancient length, the answer is, I don’t know. the words, The Thunder, Perfect Mind don’t occur in the text. so the word mind does but the the place where we find The Thunder, Perfect Mind is in the title with no explanation at all. Now, here is a kind of an explanation to talk about it as title, but it really doesn’t help your good question. So most titles in the ancient world were not made or written by the author or authors. Usually a title in the ancient world is not something that the author is interested in, nor are the authors often interested even in their own name being on it. But usually the title of an ancient manuscript is added by the copiest because the copiest, of course, are probably, and they keep one from not being confused with the other. Usually the copyist between 50 and 150 years later add the title. So we just have no clue, frankly. Now, you will see in some commentary that they say, oh, gods sometimes use Thunder to connote who they are. And that’s true. But I don’t think there’s much undress about the way this divinity actually describes herself. So I’m sorry. I don’t know. And I don’t think any of my colleagues do either.
Thanks for the good question.
Shirley Paulson (00:16:36):
I wanted, excuse me for interrupting here. I wanted to ask you if we might have everybody put themselves on mute, because we’re getting a little feedback. So if, everybody could check. We have a couple people who have not put their mute on yet.
Speaker 4 (00:16:50):
Shirley Paulson (00:16:54):
Hal Taussig (00:17:00):
All right. So other, other thoughts or questions at this early juncture in our hour together?
Joy Wurtz (00:17:08):
Well, this is Joy and I am wondering what the purpose of it is. And to me when I’ve read it, it’s saying that I, the I Am is in everyone no matter what they do or what they think and how they act. And it’s kind of, to me, it’s saying you don’t look at people and go, oh, you’re a good person, a God-like person, because this God is in the, whore is in the the woman that can’t give birth the ones who lie about him, her. So to me, it’s a comforting scripture, because it’s saying that really developing that the I Am is in everyone no matter how they act.
Hal Taussig (00:18:17):
Yep. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And it really underlines the power of I Am in other words that seems to be in the ancient an I Amness so that this tries to express itself with a wide variety of life.
Hal, Tim here. I think this is connected to what Joy was saying, but for me, I’m, I’m really struck by how in a sense inclusive these descriptions are, that they, get beyond the either/or, but into a both/and expression. Can you say anything about that.
Hal Taussig (00:19:15):
I think that’s really important. And you Tim really quickly getting at a deeper message in the text I think. Very often people when they read this for the first time, will see in what I would call binary terms either/or, and it’s almost, I think it’s way off describe themselves. And so for instance it’s not really opposites often but often there are three kinds of descriptions in one sentence, not to just hold onto to that. I think for me, one of my favorite ones of those is the verse 10 of chapter one. I am the slave woman of him who served me. I am the slave woman of him who served me, so that’s already playing with the complexity of slavery and mastery and, and undercutting that. So a lot of these proclamations will undercut slanders of people and make them into more real people and more complex people. Or I am she the Lord of my child there right after 10 or I am my father’s mother, my husband’s sister, and he is my child in 9. So very eager to make definitive identities go away and allow for complex identities to emerge.
So there’s plenty to talk about. But as many of you know, from other settings, I’m very interested in what you all are thinking. I myself, think better when you are expressing yourselves. so I’m gonna be especially slow to pick up things that I might say to make sure that we get as many of your voices in as possible.
Hilary Barner (00:22:08):
I have another question. In reading about this document, I read several people that said the original was they thought the original was in Greek. I know you said you think it’s Coptic. Where did they come up with that? What gives them an idea that the original would have been in Greek if this is the only copy?
Hal Taussig (00:22:39):
So the main reason to think that is that… of that time. So in other words, even though the Romans are in charge, even the Romans give deference to Greek and all over the Mediterranean the commercial language is Greek, even though the Romans have conquered every last place. So the main reason that it might be in Greek is more or less everything else that’s important is as well. Similarly, you’ll see that in Egypt, of course Alexander the Great, three plus centuries before, comes to Egypt to make what he thinks will be the greatest city ever. And that is Alexander and Alexandria. And so Alexandria is in Egypt, and all of the great thinkers that move there or learn there for probably a good 400 years, they are all reading and writing in Greek.
So for instance, Coptic itself is a promotion of Greco Roman, and really Greek domination yet that the Egyptians have that in other words, it’s not the first writing, of course, because Egypt has written so much for so long, but that’s hieroglyphics and that’s not a language, or that’s not an alphabet. So what has happened probably in the second century CE, what has happened in Egypt is that it is forced, in order to get recognition by the Greco Romans, it is forced to have an alphabet. And Coptic really isn’t some kind of new language except for its alphabet. So it finally then in the second and third century Egypt, you know becomes recognized linguistically because it has a Greco Coptic alphabet. So those are all kind of big picture reasons why it might be in Greek.
So I am one of five folks published book length treatment of The Thunder, Perfect Mind. And we made a new translation of that from the Coptic. We found not only is this in an Egyptian language, and not only does it mention Egypt once, but we found poetic frames of reference and uses in Coptic. So in other words, they’re rhythms and rhymes and, and imagery that only make sense in Coptic. So we have said in that book, we have said that- against the grain-we think probably that this is profoundly anchored in Coptic. Now, the weird thing about that, of course, is that Coptic itself is not altogether Egyptian because it comes out of the Greco Roman influence. So that’s kind of where I would land there. And if those of you who want to follow up on that, there’s a whole chapter in The Thunder, Perfect Mind that lays that out in all parts of the book a real deep picture of all of the Coptic, but it’s, relatively intelligible by those who don’t know Coptic.
Shirley Paulson (00:27:48):
Well, I have a different kind of a question. This has been very helpful to me to learn about the language thing. I did not know this, but what I’m kind of interested in, in looking at the text itself, all those contradictions we have between: “I’m this, but I’m the opposite at the same time.” What my question seems to go around with is the relationship between the divine and the human. Cuz it sounds like it’s a divine entity: I Am who is speaking about a human kind of experience, is this implying that the divine figure wants to identify itself as understanding humans or being close to humans? Or what’s the relationship you see between the divine and the human?
Hal Taussig (00:28:35):
Yeah, no, that’s really at the heart of what I think is the genius of this theological language, because it depends almost entirely on comparisons between humans and divinity. There’s really almost nothing that claims an I Am, that doesn’t have to do with humans. So this is proposing a divinity that is complexly mixed with humanity. Again, I think Christian theologians have been mostly interested in telling how divinity and humanity are different than one another, but here you have a primary literary effort to say that whoever divinity is, needs to be thought of complexly in terms of who humans are. And again I’ll probably talk a little bit more about, I think the really profound character of this very available divinity.
So one of the things that the two published pieces I have, and you all will know that The Thunder, Perfect Mind is one of 10 new Christ documents from the first or second century that I have added to the to the regular New Testament of Christian tradition in my book, a New New Testament. And there we have added 10 different newly discovered texts that are in the larger Christ family of texts. and so you can read that whole text in a New New Testament, but in both of these places it’s been very interesting to see that the I Am is pretty vulnerable. So in the majority of places where the I Am speaks the I Am includes self as being thrown to the ground or slaughtered or humiliated or fearful.
So this is a divinity, which is in many ways under siege and being hurt quite deeply as well as being able to say, I Am the first and the last. So it’s not that this is a powerless divinity, but it’s one that is very vulnerable and pain. So this is I think very close to what you’re talking about Shirley. So in other words, add alongside of this, the fact that this divinity does not talk about herself except in human terms, and some of those terms are deeply ambivalent about her power and her loss and woundedness. My favorite combination of those is in which she says, I Am she who exists in all fears and in trembling boldness.
I don’t know if I can be heard.
Hal Taussig (00:33:19):
Shirley Paulson (00:33:22):
Is this Diana speaking?
Yes, thank you.
Shirley Paulson (00:33:25):
Yes, you are being heard. Diana,
Thank you so very much. I find this so incredibly interesting. I can’t thank you enough for the link to to hearing this. I had just finished reading Why Religion by Elaine Pagels. And I can’t help but think in this discussion that what it says to me is, I Am is not separable from anything. You cannot separate it out of life itself because God is life. And therefore, you know, I think of a phrase that sometimes people will say: “the many faces of God,” meaning, everyone you encounter, and how there is divinity and everything. And, and I think of Kabir’s quote when he said, because I think in some ways across the world, you can find the divinity in religions, and they can be transposed upon one another. But Kabir would say, “I Am the source within the source.”
And in biblical-I hope I’m not ignorant on this, but I’m going to say it anyway- I’m very caught up with the idea that the Christ presence Christ existed before the work. So it says to me, nothing can be separated from anything because everything is God and divine. And I also think of a Hindu quote, which would say, I Am that, I Am not that. Which is not separating it. It’s putting it into a wholeness by the opposites. So I’m going to stop babbling, but I’m thrilled to be here. Thank you for letting me say something.
Hal Taussig (00:35:35):
Yes, likewise. Well, what do some of you make of the vulnerability and woundedness of this character?
Well, this is Tim. Part, part of what it has me thinking about is what’s happening with this other part of your life with the West Star Institute and the God and the Human Future Seminar and their work around this, the theme of a weak God, a theology of a God of weakness.
Hal Taussig (00:36:18):
Right? Yes. I’m in the process of writing a book on vulnerable Divinity. And, and I use Jack Caputo’s work on the Weakness of God in that direct reference to The Thunder, Perfect Mind. So one of the things that is obvious here to those of us who think in first and second century terms is well, I would set it up this way: In most of the texts in the ancient world where a goddess or god describes themselves, the last thing they will ever say, and I would say the thing they more or less never say is how weak and hurt and vulnerable they are. They’re always the best, the most powerful, the only, and completely good and pure.
So it’s going really against the grain of much of thinking about divinities in that time to have such a prominent vulnerability and weakness and woundedness. Now, one of the things that I have in writing is that there is actually one other first or second century text that does have a divinity that is wounded and powerful, and that’s Jesus, especially in the Gospel of John. So in the gospel of John, as I alluded to earlier Jesus himself is the only place that Jesus himself uses I am as a way of describing himself as divine. and I can go into the, the Greek there if we, if we need to. But not only does Jesus call himself this great, I am in, in the gospel of John, but Jesus is also tortured to death in the Gospel, John.
So in other words here too, you have a deeply vulnerable and wounded God who also has some power, some divine power. And so that’s why it’s a really interesting question among folks reading Thunder today is whether just because Thunder as a document was found in a jar that had mostly Jesus documents, but this text, as you may have known in your reading, this text does not use the word Jesus at all and is primarily female. Now, it’s not of course, uncommon to think of Jesus in female terms in the first and second century. Paul does that in the, in 1 Corinthians, quite clearly when Paul compares Jesus or says Jesus is Wisdom herself. So that’s not out of the question either, but certainly not very many people are willing to say that Thunder and the Gospel of John might be written about the same persona or into the case of Paul in 1 Corinthians, that Thunder and Wisdom and Jesus are more or less the same persona. The case for that are really two things in terms of what we might call material culture. And that is that, its in the same jar, and Jesus and Thunder are in the same jar. And that jar has a lot of books in it, most of which are about Jesus. But similarly, one of the major things we almost know about Nag Hamadi, this jar found in the desert and become a library we are, I would say, again, we’re not quite there in knowing it, but I would say probably the majority of scholars think that what we found in a jar actually existed in a library of a Pachomian monastery three miles away from where we found it. I mean, and that that Pachomian monastery is fourth century at least.
So there is a possibility that The Thunder, Perfect Mind was in the library of this early Christian monastic movement. That’s not completely to be taken straight up as a winning argument, because the other document that exists in that jar is a partial copy of Plato’s Republic, and that, of course, also does not have Jesus in it.
Shirley Paulson (00:43:32):
Why then is it connected with, as you said, Christ’s documents, if Jesus is not in there? Is there another way of understanding Christ that enables us to identify this with Christ documents?
Hal Taussig (00:43:48):
Well, again if you look at the Nag Hamadi texts altogether, a bunch of them used Jesus, a bunch of them used Christ, and a bunch of them use other things that are explicitly related to Jesus or Jesus Christ. it’s just that here in Thunder, we don’t have any of those. So there are, I think, five in Nag Hamadi that don’t use Jesus at all. But, for instance, if you read the Gospel of Philip, which is also in the Nag Hamadi, Jesus is all over the place and described in all kinds of different ways and, and the Gospel of Thomas, which has really only been found completely in the Nag Hamadi, Jesus says 114 short chapters, and there’s nothing else but Jesus there. the same with a number of books that are related to Peter and Philip and Paul as well. So that wasn’t an answer but I’m not sure what we can think of otherwise about that.
So I guess I’m also wanting to talk a little bit today about two other things that are related to this kind of vulnerable divinity. One is something that scholars in New Testament in early Christianity have been thinking about for the last 30 years, and that’s the violence of Roman rule. So for instance, in contrast to most of the last 1900 years we now have a lot of folks interested in thinking about how Rome’s violent rule of the entire Mediterranean basis is deeply related to almost all documents we have about Jesus. So let me say that just a little bit more clearly. One of the main things that people say about Jesus in the canonical New Testament, but also in other texts, is that he was tortured to death in other words, the crucifixion.
But the weird thing for conventional Christians is that, you know, and this certainly was true of me for my first 20 years, when I learned in my first stages about Jesus being crucified, I thought the only one who was crucified was Jesus and those two other guys.nAnd Jesus was more or less the only one whose crucifixion mattered. What we now know from much Roman literature, and I think much early Christ movement literature is that crucifixions were happening by the hundreds of thousands by Rome. In other words, the fact that Jesus was crucified wasn’t his uniqueness, it was his complete part in the lives of almost everyone. It’s quite clear, I I would say that every family in Egypt at least a larger family in Egypt, every family had somebody who had been crucified. Josephus, the Jewish historian of the first century says that Pilate himself, in the only the 10 years that he was ruling Jerusalem and Judea he crucified 10,000 people.
So for me, this is at the heart of how we need to think about The Thunder, Perfect Mind, because that’s what The Thunder, Perfect Mind does. She identifies herself as the people who’ve been thrown down and cast out and slaughtered viciously. And the people who are women who are always called names and not granted.. so she is the one who is divine, but is the one who’s really important for us to know. See how Thunder works that way. And so that Thunder is gender bended, but primarily female is also a another way of thinking about Jesus as someone who was tortured to death by Romans. The second thing I’m more and more interested in is the way in the last century, it’s been impossible to- I think- to think straight or even crooked about about an almighty God that’s all loving. In other words folks who think about God after the Jewish Holocaust have not been able to put the common Christian God who is all powerful and all loving together, that Humpty Dumpty has fallen. What I’m very interested in is that it’s not just Thunder, but for instance the Gospel of Mark, as well as some of the other gospels, but the Gospel of Mark does this most powerfully. And that when Jesus is tortured to death in the gospel of Mark the only thing Jesus says on the cross is, “my God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” So yelling at God about being abandoned is the final picture of in the gospel of Mark. Whoops, that’s not quite true. Look then at the, that the resurrection, but the resurrection in Mark is very underwhelming because the earliest manuscripts of Mark have basically the empty tomb in which the women come, Jesus isn’t there. A young man says, go and find Jesus in Galilee where he said he was gonna be, and go tell the disciples. And the last sentence in the Gospel of Mark is, “and the women were afraid and ran away and told nothing”, end of Gospel. So in other words,-there, Mark is also portraying a Jesus who is underwhelming < muffled words> resurrected. That is no one knows except the reader and the women who the young men. so
Shirley Paulson (00:52:33):
Let me interrupt you just for a second. I don’t know that everybody on this group understands what you mean by the end of the Gospel of Mark ending there.
Hal Taussig (00:52:42):
Yeah. So, almost everybody’s gospel of Mark you’ll see either a explanation or a footnote in which there are four different main endings to the gospel of Mark. The one that’s the oldest is the one that ends in chapter 16, verse 8, which ends where I said it was. Some gospels only have that oldest manuscript or set of manuscripts, and some add two or three other endings because, you know, a conventional Christian publisher would not want such an underwhelming resurrection. So it uses later texts to show a much more triumphant Mark resurrection. So anyway what I want to notice is just that we are pretty broken by not just one Holocaust, but a whole bunch of holocausts we know about now. And this is so similar to the, the basic character of life under Rome. Hundreds of thousands of crucifixions, hundreds of thousands of enslavement lots of poverty.
So anyway, those are two other things I’m thinking about with The Thunder, Perfect Mind. And for me, I’m ready to say that The Thunder, Perfect Mind is probably the most theologically coherent picture of Jesus. In other words, what she says in the gospel, in The Thunder, Perfect Mind is coherent with much that you find inside Paul who says, I am crucified with Christ. Nevertheless, I live, but not I, but Christ that is in me. So this- the crucifixion- is an ongoing reality in the life in Christ for Paul. Mark is the same. So it feels to me as if the Thunder may be one of the most powerful I Am statements about this kind of divinity in the time of Christ, and in the time of Rome’s violence. I’m gonna stop talking so much. See if anyone wants to catch up or protest. Oh, so Joy you’re talking, but I think you’re not on the mic.
Joy Wurtz (00:56:06):
Okay, now I’m here. Okay. This is Joy, and I wanna think of vulnerability as reachability or being able to relate. And so I guess I’m pulling it like the Trinity, you know, the Trinity idea is that God is within you and is part of life and not this separate thing out somewhere else. And so I think that maybe the sense of vulnerability is not a weakness, it’s a humanness, it’s a, “I can relate to this” and I think that really is a big part.
Hal Taussig (00:56:48):
You wanna say a little bit more about
Joy Wurtz (00:56:53):
Just a real important part of why Jesus was here?
Hal Taussig (00:56:58):
Not quite. Could you say that again? We lost, or at least, I lost your sound.
Joy Wurtz (00:57:11):
Okay. All I’m thinking is that vulnerability is not necessarily weakness. It’s a sense of being reachable. Right? It’s being able to relate to, and actually it’s similar to the concept of Trinity…
Hal Taussig (00:57:29):
Joy Wurtz (00:57:30):
Because the Trinity says God isn’t way out there and Christ out here and this, but it’s all part of us. And that’s what I see vulnerability as. It’s, it’s, I think it’s a humanness.
Hal Taussig (00:57:49):
Yeah, that makes sense. But, and I wasn’t quite sure, You were saying. if I heard you correctly, it wasn’t just weakness or were you saying it isn’t weakness?
Joy Wurtz (00:58:10):
I’m saying it’s not just weakness,
Hal Taussig (00:58:13):
But it is weakness?
Joy Wurtz (00:58:20):
I haven’t thought about it.
Hal Taussig (00:58:23):
Okay. Yeah. Yeah. So, and again, that’s, I’m clearly in the middle of thinking about that, so I appreciate you standing alongside of me in that regard. But for me the human consciousness seems like it’s having to come to terms with not allmightiness. That might be something different than weakness but it’s hard for us to put together how to talk about God when our consciousness has expanded to have to face these huge sets of losses. So I’m just saying, I think that one of the things that’s happening to us as we think about God.
Shirley Paulson (00:59:33):
I’d like to throw another possibility, which is,
Hal Taussig (00:59:36):
But I think what you’re saying about the Trinity would not be foreign to that.
Shirley Paulson (00:59:51):
So Hal, I think, can you hear me, Hal, or not?
Hal Taussig (00:59:55):
I can, yes.
Shirley Paulson (00:59:57):
Because I think our reception is not great tonight, but we’ll, we’ll make do here. One of the questions that I have about this is, I’m wondering if this vulnerability might also pertain to a kind of dualism that we see in a number of these Nag Hamadi texts where it seems like there’s a reality in the invisible world, but there’s another reality in the visible world. And this text is trying to help us find that they’re not separated, but rather one, and yet it’s using dualistic terms to do that. Am I way off base, do you think? Or is there something about that? I’m trying to come to terms with these contrasting ideas that seem to be so contradictory to each other. I think I see that in other texts where there’s such a contrast between the world that we can’t see in the world that we can
Hal Taussig (01:01:03):
I think you’re really on the right track there, Shirley. I would probably be a little bit more hesitant to say that that’s dualism or that it’s not dualism in Thunder. but in other words, when I think of, The Gospel of Philip a lot of that is multipleness, not dualism. But I think that that actually doesn’t contradict your proposal. It adds to it. Well, I noticed that our hour is up. I’m grateful for this conversation and, and especially for your making sure that this is probably gonna be recorded, I think, or has been recorded, if I ‘m correct, Shirley.
Shirley Paulson (01:02:14):
Yes. Our goal is, we’re trying to record it. Unfortunately, we’ve had some bad signals. I think we got most of what people were saying, and we may need to keep on working on our technology, but at least we’re trying to record this and make it archived so that people will be able to see it. It’s going to take us a couple of weeks probably to get the technology up and running right. But we’re working on that goal.
Hal Taussig (01:02:38):
Well, thank you so much for making that possible. And to the rest of you.
Shirley Paulson (01:02:43):
Thank you. And thanks so much for this very mind boggling experience. I’m thrilled that we had a chance to think about this text with you, because I think when we read it without your help, we’re swimming around in no man’s land. So this has been very helpful Hal.
Hal Taussig (01:02:59):
Well, thank you.
I wanna thank you very much also. I very much appreciated listening to everyone and hearing you very much.
Hal Taussig (01:03:10):
Hilary Barner (01:03:11):
Thank you too. I was clueless the first time I read it, so this has helped a lot.
Speaker 8 (01:03:17):
I’m looking forward to reading it again after having sat through the discussion.
Shirley Paulson (01:03:27):
All right. Thanks everybody. See you later.
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