Monday, January 1, 2024

Saying 4


Jesus said, ‘A man old in days will not hesitate to ask a young child, seven days old, about the place of life, and he will live. Because many who are first will be last, [and the last will be first,] and they will become a single one.’


Saying 4 originally comprised just the teaching of ‘the first will be last and the last will be first’. In one version of the saying in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus informs his disciples that to be ‘first’ one must prioritize others’ needs above their own. In the other version, Jesus describes a reversal of the social order, with the rich and powerful being diminished under the poor and meek. Matthew and Luke each provide the saying in similar contexts. The common thread between these is that the saying was interpreted as summarizing the aftermath of the final judgment: people who exalted themselves would be humbled or punished, while the faithful underclass would be highly rewarded. This was likely the intended meaning of the saying in Thomas, situated amid other eschatological sayings in the earlier stages of the book. The saying was expanded at a later time with the reference to infants, possibly done with knowledge of Mark 9, where the ‘first will be last’ teaching is immediately followed by the instruction to ‘welcome’ children as if they were Jesus.

The latest stages of the book’s development fixates on salvation being achieved through wisdom, accomplished by restoring the primordial, sinless condition of Adam. In traditional interpretations, the two creation myths in Genesis’ opening chapters were actually sequential: the creation of the man in Gen 2 was believed to take place during the seventh day of Gen 1. The newborn ‘seven days old’ (prior to when a son must be circumcised on the eighth day, as required by the Torah) represents Adam’s original state of innocence. The ‘place of life’ is essentially the garden of Eden, though this paradise now manifests spiritually to those who find enlightenment in Jesus’ wisdom.

Another element of this sapiential theology is found in the line appended to the end of the core saying. In the primordial condition, although God had on the sixth day created ‘male and female’ (Gen 1.26–27), the woman Eve had not yet been created. Thus, according to some ancient rabbis, the first man was a non-binary human, ‘a single one’ (ⲟⲩⲁ ⲟⲩⲱⲧ in Coptic; ενωσις, ‘unified’, in Greek) encapsulating both man and woman in a single masculine form. Salvation restores a person to this state of non-binary maleness.



9.33–35 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’

10.28–31 Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’

Genesis Rabbah

8.1 Rabbi Yirmeya ben Elazar said, ‘When the Holy One (blessed be he) created Adam the first man, he created him androgynous. That is what is written: “He created them male and female.”’ Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥman said, ‘When the Holy One (blessed be he) created Adam the first man, he created him with two faces, and he sawed him in two and made for him two backs, a back here and a back there.’

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