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There has been some discussion on non-canonical texts. The majority of the contributors in

What about Gnostic texts?

What texts are open for examination?

seem to agree that questions on the Gospel of Thomas are, in general, on-topic on this site.

The tags "gospel-of-thomas" has been re-directed to "gnostic-gospels", together with "gospel-of-barnabas".

In my eyes, this does not make sense:

  • All questions tagged "gnostic-gospels" except one refer to the Gospel of Thomas, which is indeed the only one people who are not particularly focused on Gnosis may be interested in, and it does not obviously convey teachings of the 2nd and 3rd century "Gnosis" (Sethian, Bardesanes, Valentian ...) so that many authors do not consider it as a gnostic writing although it is in the NHC.
  • the Gospel of Barnabas is not Gnostic at all but a medieval secondary writing inspired by Islam.
  • The interest in other gnostic or non-gnostic apocryphal gospel writings here seems to be close to zero.

Hence, I suggest to re-establish the tag "gospel-of-thomas" and to have the tag "other-gospels" for the rest (including non-gnostic apocrypha like infancy gospels or fragments and the Gospel of Barnabas) for whoever needs it.

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  • Welcome and glad to have you on hermeneutics! This is a great question about how Pseudepigrapha is viewed on this site, and it touches on how tags are managed. It should be pointed out that in general is not the common way to describe the manner in which these are on topic as much as the word tertiary. See an old discussion from some of the original users and moderators: hermeneutics.meta.stackexchange.com/a/1079/27581.
    – Jesse Mod
    Commented Aug 12, 2022 at 0:30

1 Answer 1

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This post is useful: What texts are open for examination?

This is a site about Bible. If on a different site geared specifically toward Pseudepigrapha of any kind, tags per book or even fragment could be easily regarded as on topic. Here however, 1. it is likely that there would not be many more tags than so-tagged posts, and 2. the writings in question are only partially (previously deemed tertiarily) on topic as this is not a site dedicated to those works.

There are other places to discuss how, when, and why tags are set as they are. Those discussions have more precedence on tag creation than specific matters of the writings themselves; tags are about being on topic and orderly. A group of tags created to apply to very few posts that only relate as a tertiary topic is not orderly.

Per the main question, are these writings on topic?

Tertiarily, yes

The answer and manner of handling these would not only apply to the Gnostic Gospels, but to any Pseudepigrapha.

The Gnostics are Pseudepigrapha, along with others

Pseudepigrapha

In biblical studies, it refers to a collection of ancient Jewish books attributed to the patriarchs or other important figures from the Bible, but not actually written by those authors. To make that clearer, here are three classifications that biblical scholars use:

There are the 39 books that fit into the Old Testament, also called the Hebrew Bible or The Tanakh. These books are considered inspired Scripture, as are the 27 books that make up the canon of the New Testament.

Then there is the Apocrypha... The Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and a few other groups regard the Apocrypha as Scripture but Protestants consider it useful but not inspired. Martin Luther reportedly said the Apocrypha “are books which are not considered equal to the Holy Scriptures but are useful and good to read.”

The Pseudepigrapha are books written in the same period or later than the Apocrypha, but they are not included in the Septuagint and with a few exceptions haven’t been regarded as inspired Scripture. Some of these works claim to include the full story of something mentioned in the Bible—for example, the Apocalypse of Adam describes a vision that Adam reportedly had and passed on to his son Seth.

...

The so-called “Gnostic Gospels” which claim to be written by Peter, Thomas, and other disciples would fit that definition.

What can make a Pseudepigrapha question on-topic?

If the question presumes that a non-canonical text is non-canonical.

  • We may be curious about authorship of a Gnostic Gospel and contrast it to canonical Gospels.
  • We may be curious about content differences.
  • We may even be interested in understanding the text in its original language.

But, these would not be questions about a "Biblical" text. Rather, they would be questions contrasting a Biblical text.

In the case of Thomas, the original language would be Coptic. This may raise the question of whether Thomas language questions are off topic because its original language was not any of the original languages of canonical manuscripts. But, it would be okay as long as it was intended to understand the meaning of a specific passage, not an excuse to learn Coptic. And, that stands for Biblical languages as well. To learn a language, one should go to an SE site specific for that language, or to Linguistics.SE.

As long as we retain the pre-existing definition of 'Biblical'

This was discussed at length by some of the founding and original users of this site.

Biblical Text is "Christian" and "Jewish", which would include the Catholic Apocrypha, as long as it is treated as such.

The big issue here is not to misrepresent known definitions. The Biblical Hermeneutics site is not a place to misrepresent facts and existing definitions so as to disseminate disinformation to novice students because one does not have strong enough arguments to grow a following some other way. It's not an unreasonable concern because it happens all the time. The Chinese government told Bill Hybels in 2010 that "cults" were one of the main reasons for such excessive regulation for Christian churches—because non-mainstream teaching presented as if it were mainstream is a problem across the world in many sectors of society, and it was indeed a major problem in China and still is. Our discussions on any SE site, as should be with any responsible, academic discussion, need to accurately represent the various concepts, definitions, and categories that they are comprised of.

Gnostic Gospels and other Pseudepigrapha are not in traditional canon for good reason. We're not going to start pretending that they are. As long as we are forthcoming and not pretending, we should be okay.

Statements like these would make a question off topic:

  • I think this should be in the canon. (Canon recommendations are off-topic.)
  • In the New Testament book, The Gospel of Thomas... (No, it's not.)
  • In the Protestant Bible, The Book of Enoch says... (No, it's not.)
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  • I agree to most you said but not to the statement that all pseudoepigraphic writings are "gnostic"; Gnosis is a special group of different sects that had in common to claim that they received secret teachings. The fragment of Akhim (thought to be a portion of the "Gospel of Peter"), the Protevangelium Iacobi and many others do not show any typically "gnostic" contents. My point is: pseudoepigraphic is not the same as gnostic; that's why I suggest to dissolve the tag (I do not have the rights to edit tags)
    – SDG
    Commented Aug 11, 2022 at 8:39
  • Rectangles and squares, I never stated that all Pseudepigrapha are Gnostic Gospels, but that the Gnostic Gospels are considered part of Pseudepigrapha by Biblical scholars. More importantly, I clarified that we should not be misrepresenting things.
    – Jesse Mod
    Commented Aug 12, 2022 at 0:01
  • How tags fit with posts is widely discussed elsewhere, including who can manage them. Focus on the content you want to write about. If you want posts that more deeply discuss content that is not the main topic of any SE site, you can test the viability and public interest by creating a site at Area 51. On this site for understanding the Bible, if tags need to be adjusted to help tertiary posts guide readers to better understand how to interpret the books included in Jewish and Christian Bibles, they will surely be reviewed.
    – Jesse Mod
    Commented Aug 12, 2022 at 0:06
  • I have seen several comments about how this or that topic belongs on a site does not even exist on SE. Examples in this thread alone: Gnosticism, Pseudepigrapha. Elsewhere I think someone referred to an Exegesis site which also doesn't exit @SDG says "The interest in other gnostic or non-gnostic apocryphal gospel writings here seems to be close to zero." This strikes me as akin to a self-fulfilled prophecy. New users quickly learn that many questions they are interested in are "off-topic." Like Pavlov's dog, they don't keep asking after they've been negatively reinforced a couple of times. Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 21:18
  • @DanFefferman The issue of new users being welcome is indeed important. Gnostic Gospel and Pseudepigraphical literature discussions are welcome, but they are not primary since the site is aimed at interpretation methods for Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant Bibles. That is explained in the Tour. This is the site for exegesis because that is part of hermeneutics. Were you hoping that this site change it's primary focus? Or, are you seeking some reassurance that allowed, albeit non-primary, topics are indeed welcome?
    – Jesse Mod
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 1:06
  • I'd like to see fewer questions closed as off topic but I'm not hoping for a change in primary focus. Regarding Gnostic literature and Pseudepigrapha, I just wonder why some comments speak as if there is some other SE[?] site where this can be discussed. Where do such sites exist? I'm very happy with the SE format generally but there are topics I'd like to talk about that are not presently open -- biblical hermeneutics that includes more exegesis than is the case presently, gnosticism, other NT apocrypha, pseudepigrapha. Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 2:08
  • Also non-orthodox Judaism... the Mi Yodiya site is too narrow IMO because it's mainly for observant Jews. Not sure whether new topics can be opened easily. If not then I'd support broadening BH and MY. Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 2:09
  • @DanFefferman some comments speak as if there is some other SE[?] site where this can be discussed If you can provide a quote or link, I might be able to explain. We don't decide the scope of MY.SE here, but only this site, Hermeneutics.SE. Scope doesn't really change, but may get tweaked ever so slightly once in ten blue moons after heavy discussion. This is because the scope is well defined before a site launches. I can mainly clarify that some things are indeed allowed or explain why scope is what it is. It looks like your questions should be welcome here, based on these comments.
    – Jesse Mod
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 23:45
  • @Jess one case something you said in your answer, actually. "If on a different site geared specifically toward Pseudepigrapha of any kind, tags per book or even fragment could be easily regarded as on topic." Can't find the other. Anyway, not big deal. I just wish the BH were less limited. Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 4:49
  • I get the feeling some users close a topic based on a narrow def. of BH, or because they don't like the theological implications of the questions. When I clicked on the term hermeneutics in the Tour, I saw early users endorsing exegesis as applied hermeneutics. That gave me the impression that questions with more than one 'right answer' would be welcome. However I see a lot of questions getting closed as "opinion based". Please don't ask for examples though... too much work! I appreciate being heard, and let's leave it at that until I have a chance to get more used to the culture here. Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 5:07
  • @DanFefferman Great! I should share just a little more insight with you. Many conclusions are welcome, as long as they explain the process of interpretation. A few months ago, we were dealing with a trend of questions that seemed like "sealioning" and "baiting". It looked like questions would get asked with the hidden purpose of starting a theological debate. Using tags was discussed to calm things down. It wasn't about you. Be assured: Gnostics are on topic; you should use their tags. Answers must be geared toward interpretation process.
    – Jesse Mod
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 13:12

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