“Unbelievable” Debate between Ehrman and Gathercole on Christology (Gupta)

If you don’t get a chance to read Bart Ehrman’s new How Jesus Became God (and the response book, How God Became Jesus) – or even if you do! – make sure to check out the radio debate between Ehrman and Simon Gathercole (Cambridge NT scholar and contributor to response book).

I think listening to Ehrman helped me better see how all the pieces of his book chapters fit together and also how he responds to somewhat obvious criticisms (esp re: historical Jesus/Synoptics and Pauline Christology). Having said that, I thought Gathercole was very quick on his feet and responded forcefully against Erhman’s arguments without coming across as saint vs. sinner. I think Gathercole was exactly the right person for this debate as he is one of the sharpest minds in biblical scholarship today and has put a lot of thought in Christology questions.

At the end of it all, I was just so pleased at how the tone was very respectful on both sides and there was a lot of laughing and joking. Radio host Justin Brierley should be commended for his hospitality and his astute role as facilitator.

So, who won the debate? I don’t think this program worked that way. I think the greatest benefits were (1) seeing some of the weak points in Ehrman’s argument, (2) seeing where the agreements lie between Ehrman and Gathercole, and (3) recognizing how multifaceted and complex was the theistic world of the NT and the language and thoughts of the NT writers. I think these complexities make Ehrman’s theory possible, but it simply does not rule out the more orthodox perspective. At the same time, Gathercole could not “prove” the orthodox view over and against Ehrman. Not sure if you should call it “faith” at the end of the day, but definitely there are educational guesses and assumptions on both sides! Enjoy!

Debate Part I

Debate Part II

Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God – Review Pt1 (Gupta)

bartI have mentioned before that I have never read a Bart Ehrman book, but his recent offering, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (HarperOne, 2014), piqued my interest for a few reasons. Firstly, I am teaching a course on Christology in the fall. Secondly, I am also interested in the “Response” book (Bird/Evans/Gathercole/Hill/Tilling). Third, this is a make-or-break issue for NT studies and it is actually vigorously debated. So, I spent the last couple of days reading through his first two chapters: “Divine Humans in Ancient Greece and Rome” and “Divine Humans in Ancient Judaism.”

Let me just say, right off the bat, that he makes a helpfully important point in the first chapter - in what way was Jesus considered (a) god? In the Greco-Roman world, as Ehrman appropriately explains, there was no simple divide between the human and divine realms. Rather, there were tiers and people and entities could be plotted on a gradation. In his own words: “Divinity came in many shapes and sizes; the divine realm had many levels” (20).

I think this chapter was useful because one needs to understand how Greeks and Romans would have perceived the works and claims of Jesus. For example, I often tell my students that Jesus’ miracles do not prove that he is “God” (he was not the only show in town). In fact, neither really does his resurrection prove so much (since “resurrection” the way Jesus did it was not a pre-loaded category). The whole package of Jesus’ advent (incarnation), life, death, resurrection, ascension and session made his status and identity clear (or so we Christians believe). So, I think Ehrman has clarified how Jesus would have been “placed” in a world of many different kinds of beings.

But the major concern I have with this chapter is its direct relevance to how the Jewish disciples of Jesus would have considered Jesus “God.” This is what he treats in chapter two, but it still places a question mark on what he is proving in chapter one.

OK, so what about chapter two? Ehrman sets out to prove that, despite the fact that most Jews of the first century were monotheists, they still seemed to have thought it possible for people and entities (like angels) to fall along roughly the same stratification of human to divine as in the Greco-Roman theo-cosmology. He picks up on issues related to this already in the OT: the Nephilim, the Angel of the Lord, even the exaltation of the human king (Ps 45). He also gets into the range of unique figures (angels, Son of Man, Logos, Wisdom) in early Jewish writings from places like Apocalypse of Abraham, 1 Enoch, and Philo.

I think Ehrman does raise some helpful points – for example, the complex and unique way kings were seen in Israel (or the High Priest, for that matter, in Philo, a point Ehrman doesn’t make). But in the end he tries to flatten out the difference between Greco-Romans and Jews by saying, when all is said and done, Jews basically held to the same tiered system of the human-divine world that pagans did as well (see his conclusions on pg 83). He remarks that first-century Jews “believed that there was only one God Almighty [but] it was widely held that there were other divine beings –angels, cherubim, seraphim, principalities, powers, hypostases. Moreover, there was some sense of continuity–not only discontinuity–between the divine and human realms” (83).

Again, there is some truth to what Ehrman says here, but he does not seem to clarify how Jews as “monotheists” perceived their own sense of the oneness of God, except for Erhman to rely on henotheism – Yahweh was simply stronger or superior. (How is a pagan mythology with Zeus on top, on this account, not also a type of monotheism?)

I have several problems with this chapter (far more concern than with the first chapter).

#1: Jews simply did not slap the label of “god” on various entities in the way Greeks and Roman did, so we need to be very careful about comparing their theo-cosmologies.

#2: It is true that sometimes we see Jewish writers use “god” language for a variety of people/angels/ideas. However, almost always Ehrman points to examples in Jewish literature that look nothing like the Gospels. For example, Ehrman tends to rely on Jewish apocalypses, but these texts are notoriously grandiose and visionary – it is hard, in such texts (like Revelation also) to know when a writer is thinking merely metaphorically and when some literal element is expected (floating, burning, destroying, hair color, clothing, animals, etc…). Put another way, I bet a Jewish reader would interpret the divine-attributions of Jesus in John somewhat differently than they would Abraham or Moses in an apocalypse (by virtue of genre).

#3: Ehrman makes regular appeal to Philo as one who seemed to attribute to divinity to a variety of people and ideas (e.g., Moses and Logos). This is true, but how helpful is what Philo thinks  - how well does he represent common Judaism (Ehrman appeals to Sanders, so that is why I am talking about common Judaism)? Philo was far from your average Jewish thinker and he was clearly blending Greek thought with Jewish tradition in ways not found regularly in most of our extant early Jewish literature. The best place of comparison between the NT documents and early Jewish texts would be “re-written Bible” (Jubilees, Josephus) and letters (Letter of Aristeas), etc…

#4: Erhman appeals to examples in the OT and early Jewish literature where the Angel of the Lord becomes human (55-57). I admit it is difficult to pinpoint the status and nature of the Angel of the Lord in the OT. But I think Ehrman is wrong to label this figure as both divine and human. In what sense is the Angel of the Lord a human? It makes more sense to think the Angel appears to be human. Think about Tobit (which Ehrman makes no appeal to) where it is made clear the angel Azariah only appears to be human and it is explained that, when he was eating and drinking, it was all pretend (because, huzzah!, angels don’t eat and drink). Now compare that to the strong emphasis that the very human Jesus eats and drinks and sleeps and gets tired before his death, and that he spends quite a lot of time eating after his resurrection (let alone he has real scars).

#5: Can I say I think it is hugely unfortunate that Ehrman did not feel the need to discuss the views of Richard Bauckham on Jewish monotheism? Erhman must know of Bauckham’s work. Why not one page? Or a paragraph? Or even a footnote? Almost all academic discussions in the last two decades on early Jewish monotheism have wisely needed to respond, in one way or another, to Bauckham’s “exclusive monotheism” proposals. So why not Ehrman? [By the way, Ehrman picks one small quote from Larry Hurtado to support Ehrman's own point!]

Last couple of comments of an introductory nature: Ehrman, I don’t think, is clear about what his purpose is in the book. Sometimes he seems to come across as the agnostic who wants to challenge the divinity of Jesus (as if an enemy of Christians from an academic standpoint). At other times, he seems like he is trying to be a “mere historian” who is simply wanting Christians, whatever their beliefs, to know the evolution of the early Christian understanding about the divinity of Christ. I think this muddled approach leads to confusion about what exactly Ehrman is arguing.

Perhaps a bit more off-putting is what seems like name-dropping – how he travelled with his buddy Dale Martin of Yale. You might think - well, he’s simply mentioning who he went with. Fair enough. But did you know “Yale” appears in the appendix once and notes one place in the book – the place where he mentions Dale Martin as his traveling colleague (with Martin contributing nothing to his thoughts on Christology in the book)? Why would someone need to look that up in the appendix?

I don’t want to end on a negative note – let me say that I am going to use this book as a textbook in my Christology course and I really want my students to grapple with the complexities of Jewish and Greco-Roman beliefs that Ehrman identifies. His first chapter, on Greco-Roman understandings of divinity, is largely, for me, an informative and interesting essay. Even his second chapter on Jewish belief has some important points. I think he has run the risk of over-simplifying, but I want to give him credit where it is due.

Next up, I will turn to the evangelical response book and walk through their reaction to these first two chapters from Ehrman (see Bird et al, How God Became Jesus, Zondervan).



Interview with William Arnal on the Gospel of Thomas: Part Three (Skinner)

Arnal 3Today I am posting the third and final installment of my interview with Bill Arnal.

(CWS) 5. In light of your answer to question 5, I’m wondering if you are planning any future projects on the Gospel of Thomas?

(WA) I’m currently working on a commentary on Thomas as a wisdom writing. This is contracted with the SBL for the series on “Wisdom Literature from the Ancient World.” I planned to have it done sometime in late 2015, but health issues have slowed me down a little bit.

(CWS) 6. Another interest that I have, and one that I hope to promote on this blog, is research on the historical Jesus. Your past publications and scholarly involvements suggest that you are also interested in such questions. In your opinion, is there anything in the Gospel of Thomas that goes back to the historical Jesus? If yes, what? If no, explain why not.

Actually, you know, I don’t think I’ve ever drawn any positive conclusions about the historical Jesus. Everything I’ve written on the topic is negative. For instance, I’ve argued that the “indisputable facts” about Jesus (per Sanders) are not nearly so “indisputable” as he claims. I’ve argued (at some length) that the turn toward a “Jewish Jesus” since the 1970s is basically meaningless, allows few substantive conclusions, and is driven by today’s ideological problems. I’ve argued that source-critical conclusions have no real bearing on one’s image of the historical Jesus. And I have argued that the quest for Jesus doesn’t matter. It’s simply not a coherent or significant historical question. Our sources are terrible, the relevance of Jesus to the development of Christianity is dubious, and our obsessive interest in him is driven by religious concerns. The whole thing is like trying to explain the fall of the Roman Republic by writing a biography of Caesar. It’s the kind of thing that few serious historians would think to do, at least with material we didn’t regard as “religious.” So I am very negative about the value or prospects of historical Jesus scholarship in general, and my interest in Thomas is not driven by any assumption that Thomas is (or is not) a good source for Jesus. Let me be as clear about this as possible: my understanding of Thomas has no implications for the historical Jesus.

With all that negativity in mind, it seems to me that there is very little in Thomas that we could (were we so inclined) trace back to the historical Jesus with any confidence. I’m pretty sure the name “Jesus” (or rather, its equivalent) is historical. And I imagine Jesus said stuff, sometimes, so that’s probably accurate too. I’m not especially confident about anything else. I suppose it’s plausible enough to claim that, for instance, Thomas’s parables about the assassin (saying 98), or about the woman with the broken jar (saying 97), go back to the historical Jesus, but I don’t see how one could prove that, nor do I see what difference it would make.

Many thanks to Bill for taking the time to contribute to our ongoing interest in the Gospel of Thomas!

My New Article on John’s Gospel in HBT (Gupta)

I just discovered today that my article on the Gospel of John in the latest Horizons in Biblical Theology (36.1, 2014, 60-78) has been published on Brill Online (accessible to those with subscription access). The title of the essay is this: “Gloria in Profundis: Comparing the Glory of Moses in Sirach to Jesus in the Fourth Gospel.” This is one of the most enjoyable pieces of scholarship I have ever worked on, especially because it was G.K. Chesteron’s poem, Gloria in Profundis, that inspired this article. In fact, I end the article with snippets from Chesterton’s powerful poem.

Here is the abstract:

The glory of Jesus is a leitmotif of the Fourth Gospel and probably reflects both the Shekinah “glory” of Israel’s God revealed in Jesus as well as honor attributed to Jesus by John. The Jewish wisdom teacher Ben Sira also employs glorification language frequently and carefully in Sirach. Bringing these two texts into conversation illuminates the peculiar and unique ways in which John portrayed the identity of Jesus. In Sirach 45:1-5, in particular, Ben Sira praised the glory of Moses—a man beloved of God, made equal to the angels, great before his enemies, powerful in word, intrepid before kings, sanctified in faithfulness, party to the holy presence of God, and privy to the secret things of God. Given that John also had much interest in Moses comparison and typology, setting these texts side-by-side brings to the forefront the double-nature of the Fourth Gospel’s glory-Christology. On the one hand, the Johannine Jesus offered great demonstrations of power and authoritative teaching. On the other hand, he fared quite the opposite as Ben Sira’s vision of the exalted Moses, especially in John’s passion narrative where Jesus appears frail, weak, shamed, and defeated. Comparing the Moses of Sirach to the Jesus of John’s Gospel especially reveals the Evangelist’s paradoxical theology of gloria in profundis—the humble glory of God demonstrated in Jesus.

Watch N.T. Wright and Others in Free Justice Conference Videos (Gupta)

2014 was a big year for the Justice Conference, especially because they managed to line up a number of highly respected pastors, scholars, activists, and Christian leaders as speakers. I was disappointed that I could not be in attendance, but I was elated when I found out from a student of mine that the videos were recorded and can now be watched for free online here.

Here is a sample list of some of the speakers: Eugene Cho, Bernice King, Lynne Hybels, John M Perkins, N.T. Wright, Bethany Hoang, and Rich Stearns.

You can also view videos from past years from folks like Nicholas Wolterstorff, Richard Twiss, Walter Brueggemann, and Miroslav Volf. I am excited to see how the Justice Conference expands and grows in size and importance over the years.

Interview with William Arnal on the Gospel of Thomas: Part Two (Skinner)

Arnal 2Here’s the second installment of my interview with Bill Arnal on the Gospel of Thomas. Those who are both interested in and skeptical of “Q” will be interested in what he has to say here. Enjoy.

(CWS) 3. You are widely recognized for your work on Q. As you well know, there is a strand within North American scholarship that sees Q and Thomas as the earliest strata of the Jesus-sayings tradition. However, opposition to Q has been growing in recent years (largely due to the work of Mark Goodacre) and much of the recent work on Thomas insists that Thomas was familiar with the Synoptic tradition (viz., Gathercole, Goodacre, Meier). I am interested in hearing your reflections on and responses to these two currents within Q and Thomas studies.

(WA) I have a very hard time taking Q denial seriously. It’s easy to poke holes and find weaknesses in any source-critical theory whatsoever; to find this exception, that problem, and so on. What’s harder is to find an alternative theory that doesn’t suffer from just as compelling problems (or worse problems). And there’s a reason for this: the actual process of composing Mark, Matthew, and Luke (and Thomas) was necessarily and undoubtedly more complicated than any useful source hypothesis will reflect – source theories are maps, not territories, and they do not and should not include or encompass all of the literary details of the texts they discuss. But this means that there will always be material that a source theory does not quite grasp, and thus that any source theory can be criticized from this perspective. How to deal with this problem? By assessing source theories in terms of their overall persuasiveness, and in terms of broad patterns, rather than in terms of individual and isolated problems. Does a hypothesis offer a compelling and realistic overarching explanation of the general shape of things, or does it force us to rely on ad hoc explanations that appeal to facts not in evidence?

Since Q denial has mainly taken the form of simply throwing criticisms at the Q hypothesis (many of which turn out to be wrong [Q’s genre is unattested], or not logically sound [“Q is hypothetical!”], or are easily accounted for [many of the “minor agreements”]), without developing a strong alternative hypothesis, it strikes me that Q denial, in the long run, doesn’t have legs. Yes, of course, the main contender (but not the only one!) for an alternative hypothesis these days is FG [=Farrer-Goulder], but the real question must be: is FG a strong and better-evidenced hypothesis than 2DH [= Two Document Hypothesis]? Does it raise fewer problems than Q? And the short answer is no. Indeed, FG multiplies the problems we have understanding synoptic relationships. As just one simple example, it defers the problem Q is invoked to solve: if Mark was the first gospel, where did Matthew get his additional (i.e., the stuff we currently regard as M and as double-tradition) information from? We’re still forced to hypothesize some sort of non-extant source for Matthew (even if it’s just oral tradition). And we’re left with Luke’s use of Matthew as a source, which per FG requires us to imagine that Luke treated his two sources (Mark and Matthew) in completely different ways, and for no persuasive reason. The 2DH is the more compact and economical of the two hypotheses: it explains where double tradition (and maybe a very small amount of M and L stuff) comes from, and it imagines that Matthew and Luke are consistent in their treatment of sources. Aside from that, the 2DH, and specifically the postulation of Q, has an astonishing degree of what I like to call experimental validation. That is to say, we posit Q on the basis of the double tradition. Then we subsequently discover, independently of the grounds for hypothesizing it in the first place, that this material hangs together, that it has a coherent ideological perspective, that it consistently lacks certain types of concerns or vocabulary, that it has coherent reasons for lacking those concerns and consistent alternative vocabularies, that it represents a known ancient literary genre, and so on. Meanwhile, Q scholarship continues to produce interesting work on, especially, Q’s social context, including important forthcoming books on Q and peasant societies by Sarah Rollens, and on Q and scribal ideologies by Giovanni Bazzana.

In the case of Thomas, things are more complicated. We are dealing here – and everyone agrees, even if they don’t put it that way – with a redacted document. So we need to achieve some clarity on what is at issue here: is it that our manuscripts of Thomas show knowledge of the synoptics? Or that the final form of Thomas (insofar as we can accurately reconstruct it, given our dismal MS evidence) depends on the synoptics, and does so globally and exclusively? Or that our final text was influenced by the synoptics, but without global or detailed dependence? Or that, perhaps, an initial collection of chreiai were independent of the written synoptics, and later redacted from a synoptic perspective? Or that some initial chreia collection was dependent on the synoptics, and redacted from a non-synoptic perspective? And then there is the question – a question of importance no matter what one thinks of the sources for Thomas’s synoptic-like material – where did all the other stuff come from? The simplistic either-or approach to the question of sources strikes me as evidence that both sides are guilty of making thinly-disguised value judgments. What really seems at stake is whether Thomas is good (= early and independent) or bad (= late, dependent, Gnostic). Of course none of this follows: we recognize the canonical Gospel of Luke to be late, dependent on the synoptic(s), and agenda-driven, but no one takes this to mean that Luke isn’t worth studying, or is easily dismissible, or the like.

A more serious source-criticism of Thomas would not peck through the document looking for strings of synoptic-like wording, or, conversely, strings of wording that (somehow) couldn’t be synoptic; it would look at overall patterns, and try to understand what kind of constellation of sources, and what kinds of uses of those sources, best account for such patterns. After all, even if we could show that Thomas knew (one or more of) the synoptic gospels, that hardly proves that they were his only sources, even for material paralleled in the synoptics. Indeed, a clear case for dependency would raise a whole of fascinating ancillary questions about Thomas’s literary techniques, about his other sources, and about the dissemination and circulation of synoptic tradition in the late first or second centuries. In this sense, I think that John Kloppenborg’s rejoinder to Gathercole and Goodacre in the recent JSNT is exemplary. It identifies, among other things, many of the weaknesses in their arguments. But more importantly, it suggests an alternative that is productive, socially grounded, and sophisticated. Given the complexity of Thomas’s traditions, and the complexity of their relationship with their synoptic parallels, Kloppenborg suggests a context for Thomas drawing on a fairly extensive commentary tradition on the sayings of Jesus. This suggestion allows for the possibility of some synoptic influence on Thomas (as we have it), but at the same time recognizes that many of (I would say, the vast majority of) Thomas’s versions of this material do not appear to be drawn from the synoptics, and that there is a host of material on Thomas that cannot come from the synoptics (because it has no synoptic parallels). Whether he’s right or not, this argument has the virtue of taking Thomas seriously as a historical and textual datum, rather than either dismissing it or valorizing it.

But in the end, I don’t think these kinds of questions matter as much as people think they do. Yes, the idea of Q, and of an early Thomas, are mutually reinforcing; but neither requires the other. If you get rid of Q, it has no direct bearing on Thomas. And if you say that Thomas is a late document, and/or that it used the synoptics as sources, we are still left with a real document that both requires explanation, and that provides us with a host of new data for antiquity.

(CWS) 4. Not too long ago, you reviewed my book, What Are They Saying About the Gospel of Thomas? (JAAR 4 [2012]: 1113-1116), and along with your comments about the book, you also spent an entire paragraph lamenting the current state of Thomas research. Specifically, you suggested that scholars have been spinning in circles for years, asking the same questions over and over. To your mind, what areas are most in need of further research and what questions need to be raised that aren’t being asked by scholars? What are the most interesting or substantive areas currently being investigated, and in what other directions would you like to see Thomas research move?

(WA) Off the top of my head, there are two questions being addressed in current scholarship that are of serious interest, and that I would like to see pursued further. One of them is the interest in Thomas and middle Platonism – and especially Jewish traditions informed by Middle Platonism – which has in the past been flagged, inter alia, by Elaine Pagels, Arthur Droge, and others. Steve Patterson is currently investing a lot of energy in this question. Such an investigation will shed light not simply on the ideology and philosophical presuppositions undergirding Thomas, including insight into its treatment of Adam, androgyny, and the material world (none of which can be accounted for via synoptic parallels); but will also illuminate Thomas’s parallels with Paul and with the Gospel of John; and will allow Thomas to serve as additional evidence for the impact of Middle Platonism on Jewish mythological speculations. This in turn can help illustrate the cultural cross-fertilization between Greek materials and indigenous ANE traditions in places like Judea, Egypt, and Syria.

A second area of interesting research is basically into the social conditions of possibility for a text like Thomas. We have here a document whose genre is strongly associated with teaching, and with the inculcation of morals, a document packed with proverbial wisdom, and governed by an insistence on transformation, a document that contains at least one extensive elaboration of a saying (21), extensive glosses on others (45), and clusters of proverbs (e.g., 31-36). It is a literate document, and, more than this, a literary document, i.e., one that assumes proficiency in both reading texts and in interpreting them. So the most straightforward supposition is that Thomas is an ancient school product. The implications of this social setting for understanding Thomas, and for comparing it to other ancient social practices, is especially being pursued right now by Ian Brown, one of John Kloppenborg’s doctoral students. I think there is tremendous potential here for making sense of Thomas.

And then there are other areas that I wish received more attention than they do. For instance, the circulation and transmission of Thomas merits serious attention. The text is quite widely attested, so it is definitely worth trying to determine just who was interested in this document, and why. I also think that the parallels we find in Thomas with materials in Philo, in Paul, and in the Mishnah, among others, suggest that Thomas was participating in a conversation that some Jews were having in the first or second centuries. It would be very intriguing to try to work out the nature of this conversation, albeit without invoking a putative Aramaic or Syriac Thomas for which there is little evidence (on which point I am thoroughly persuaded by Gathercole).

Of even more importance, to my mind, is the esoteric character of Thomas. We need to understand this much better than we currently do. The document’s esotericism is quite obviously artificial and manufactured by the redaction of the text. “A man cannot mount two horses” is quite clearly not a mystical saying, and requires no great insight to make sense, nor does it seem to have any metaphysical ramifications. So it’s not the inclusion of stuff like this that makes Thomas esoteric. Thomas’s opening, of course, imposes an esotericizing framework on all the material that follows, but the actual substance of that following material reinforces the sense that this teaching is all mysterious, metaphysical, and in need of fairly serious interpretive skills. How does Thomas accomplish this? This is something that I think is a sine qua non of making sense of Thomas as a document, and that I’ve tried to contribute to in more recent work, including my contribution to Stowers’ FS, where I look at a variety of ways Thomas imposes an esoteric sensibility on his material, and so shapes both the document as a whole and its constituent units. This in turn raises the issue of, again, the economic, social, and cultural conditions of possibility for a text like Thomas. We can contextualize it in terms of both the social circumstances of ancient schools, and the production and the treatment of esoteric texts in antiquity, thus placing Thomas within a range of relatively ordinary ancient practices and wider human doings than is afforded by the very restricted comparisons available to “Christian theology.” To a considerable degree, I think Thomas was as popular as it was simply because it made possession of a fairly basic knowledge of Middle Platonic tropes feel like a big deal. It thus addressed the social aspirations of the recently- or modestly-literate.

There’s another piece I published some years ago, that I don’t think gets nearly the attention it deserves. It’s called “The Rhetoric of Social Construction” (in Rhetoric and Reality in Early Christianities, 2005), and in it I argue – I would say, I show – a literary feature of Thomas that does not seem to be widely recognized. Thomas uses metaphors copiously, and he uses them in loaded ways: that is, a given notion, say, “poverty,” has a particular negative or positive connotation. What several analysts of Thomas have noted is that sometimes, these metaphors are applied in contradictory ways. The clearest example I can think of is Thomas’s use of “drunkenness.” In saying 13, being drunk is a positive metaphor for having the capacity to grasp Jesus’ teaching, whereas in saying 28, it’s a negative metaphor for lacking the capacity to receive Jesus’ words. This kind of thing is sometimes held up as evidence of Thomas’s incoherence, or of layers of tradition. But it turns out that this inconsistency is thoroughly consistent across the Gospel of Thomas: nearly every single metaphor used in the text is used multiple times and with opposite valences. This is true, for instance, of: drunkenness, poverty, wealth, merchants, usury, duplicity, thieves, maleness, and others besides. The inconsistency of Thomas is so extraordinarily consistent that it indicates a very clear redactional perspective that unifies the document across a wide range of sayings. This article has been cited a couple times, but to the best of my knowledge, no one has engaged it directly, or indicated whether they find my explanation of the phenomenon to be adequate or not. But what I think is especially interesting here and perhaps fodder for additional strands of research, is how this literary feature of Thomas plays in connection to theories about Thomas’s sources, or stratification hypotheses. It seems to me that this phenomenon of opposing metaphors could be used to confirm, or disconfirm, those hypotheses by seeing how this feature is distributed across the putative sources or layers of the text. Take April DeConick’s stratification of Thomas, for instance. We actually have a means to test this thesis: do one set of metaphors appear consistently in her kernel, and the opposing metaphors in a particular accretion layer? Or perhaps all of them stem from one set of accretions? Or at least, does positive usage of a specific metaphor consistently dominate one accretion layer, with a negative use dominating the other? Such observations would tend to confirm DeConick’s thesis. Or again, take the stratification I proposed in 1995: same questions. And if the metaphors do not line up by strata, or appear to stem from one stratum in particular, this would tend to disconfirm my thesis. The same kind of thing applies to source theories: does the pattern of conflicting metaphors mesh somehow with the shape of the putative sources, or not? So I would really like to see someone run with this, although I have no plans to do so myself.

Again, I really appreciate the substantive and detailed way Bill has answered these questions. Stay tuned for part three!