Meanwhile, while the cotton wars were going on in this blog, Keith Witherup, over at ReligionForum.org, was also calling our attention to some ancient words to ponder. I often ponder these words, Are they symbolically, in a literary fashion, being spoken by the risen Christ, Is the author using Christ’s voice, in a sense, to describe his own burial shroud? The words are from the Robe of Glory (Hymn of the Pearl) in the Acts of Thomas. The hymn, with a peculiar two-image segment (below), is thought by some scholars to be older than the Acts of Thomas and is sometimes attributed to Bardesane of Edessa, a Gnostic poet, writing as early as A.D. 216. The words are found in different places in different Greek and Syriac versions of the Acts.
Suddenly, I saw my image on my garment like in a mirror
Myself and myself through myself [or myself facing outward and inward]
As though divided, yet one likeness
Two images: but one likeness of the King [of kings in some translations]
If you look at a photograph of the shroud you see two full size images of a man, one in which the image is facing outward and one inward. In more modern terms we describe these as front-side and back-side images, or ventral and dorsal images. They are, indeed, as in a mirror as they are full size and seemingly perpendicular to the surface. Those words, “as though divided, yet one likeness,” resonate with the two separate images that meet at the top of the head.
Works for me.
Works for me, too. Note these alternate translations:
- Translation by Quaker scholar Hugh McGregor Ross
- Translation by William Wright
- Translation by M. R. James
And we might wonder about one of the illationes used in a late 7th century rite used in Spain, the Mozarabic Rite:
Peter ran with John to the tomb and saw the recent imprints of the dead and risen man on the linens.
Or about these words by Pope Stephen II, who reigned from 752 to 757:
[Christ] spread out his entire body on a linen cloth that was white as snow. On this cloth, marvelous as it is to see . . . the glorious image of the Lord’s face, and the length of his entire and most noble body, has been divinely transferred.
Should we ponder these words? Do they mean what I think they mean?