There’s been a lot of interesting discussion over at April DeConick’s blog, in comments under posts about meta-narratives, sexism, and the temple saying of Thom 71. Regarding the last, in response to April’s claim that “the Gospel of Thomas is preserving the oldest, harshest, and least popular remembrance of this saying, that the temple would be destroyed unconditionally [without being rebuilt],” I responded as follows:
“Since the Temple did indeed fall, the account that Jesus predicted its fall certainly would not have been embarrassing, but it very well could have been unpopular.”
It’s the part about rebuilding which was embarassing/unpopular, since it never happened. If Thomas’ version — which lacks any reference to the rebuilding — were original, how did the embarassing idea of rebuilding enter the tradition to begin with, necessitating the damage control in Mark/Matthew (where it’s denied) and John (where it’s spiritualized to refer to Jesus’ resurrection)? Doesn’t it make more sense that Jesus predicted the temple’s destruction and rebuilding, and that Thomas’ version controls the damage as much as Mark/Matthew and John?
“Bear in mind how Matthew, Mark, and John labor to revise it in light of Jesus’ death, suggesting that the saying referred to Jesus’ body, its entombment in the earth for three days, and its resurrection on the third day, NOT the actual destruction of the Temple.”
As I understand it, Mark and Matthew do no such thing. They simply deny that Jesus predicted that he (God, more likely original) would “destroy the temple and rebuilt it in three days” by placing the prophecy on the lips of false witnesses. (Mk 14:55-58/Mt26:59-61; Mk 15:29-30/Mt 27:39-40). Only John revises the prophecy by applying Jesus’ resurrection to it (Jn 2:19-22).
“The opinion that such a saying could only be explained in a post-Jewish war context is nonsense, and does not take into consideration the rich Jewish expectations about the Temple at the End of time – its destruction, either temporary or permanent.”
There wasn’t much precedent in Jesus’ day for the temple’s destruction without being rebuilt. You call attention to many passages involving rebuilding (Jub 1:29, 23:21; I En 14:8-25, 71:5-6, 89:73, 91:13; II Bar 4:2-6, T Levi 5:1, 18:1-14; 4Q266 3:20-4:3), but only one where it is not (T Moses 5-10), in Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas (p 142). But even in the last, the temple’s actual destruction isn’t made plain.
“So it may be that the Gospel of Thomas is preserving the oldest, harshest, and least popular remembrance of this saying, that the Temple would be destroyed unconditionally.”
I don’t mean to imply that Jesus was slavishly unoriginal — he was capable of manipulating his traditions in many cases. But in this case, for the above reasons, doesn’t it seem rather likely that he predicted the temple’s destruction and its rebuilding, and the latter half was later denied (Mk/Mt), revised (Jn), and dropped (Thom) on account of post-70 embarrassment?
To rebuild or not, ’tis the question…