(CWS) 4. Another research interest that I have and one that I hope to promote on this blog is the historical Jesus. You are known for your work in the Jesus Seminar and your interest in early Jesus traditions. To your mind, what implications for historical Jesus research does the Gospel of Thomas have? Is there anything in Thomas that is old enough to be potentially illuminating about the life of the historical Jesus? If so, what?
(MM) The early sayings traditions in the Gospel of Thomas may be as useful as Q materials for providing insights into the teachings of the historical Jesus. Personally, I find that the overall presentation of Jesus in Thomas as a Jewish wisdom teacher and storyteller who employs parables, typically without allegorical interpretations, and utilizes an interactive pedagogy, is more compelling than any of the New Testament gospel accounts, which have been shaped by a dominant concern for the salvific nature of the crucifixion and resurrection. Additionally, I find the lack of apocalyptic (or even the opposition to apocalyptic) in Thomas coheres with what I consider very likely to be characteristic of the historical Jesus: he appears to have been a Jewish sage who used witty aphorisms and stories to encourage people to think about and seek after the reign of God.
In The Gospel of Thomas I wrote, “In contrast to the way in which he is portrayed in other gospels, particularly New Testament gospels, Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas performs no physical miracles, reveals no fulfillment of prophecy, announces no apocalyptic kingdom about to disrupt the world order, and dies for no one’s sins.” To this I might add that Jesus in Thomas does not rise from the dead on the third day. In all these respects the Gospel of Thomas may bypass the emerging theological and soteriological issues in the New Testament gospel portraits of Jesus as son of God and savior, and as a result Thomas may bring us a step closer to the historical Jesus.
(CWS) 5. What scholars pursuing research on the Gospel of Thomas (and/or Christian Origins) have you found most helpful for your own work on the Gospel of Thomas?
(MM) In general, for the texts of the Nag Hammadi library and Berlin Gnostic Codex 8502, including the Gospel of Thomas, I appreciate the collective contributions of the three international teams that have worked more or less simultaneously on the texts: the Berliner Arbeitskreis für koptisch-gnostische Schriften (compare their two-volume work, Nag Hammadi Deutsch [De Gruyter]), the French-language team centered at the Université Laval in Québec (compare their Écrits gnostiques [Gallimard]), and the Coptic Gnostic Library Project of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity in Claremont, California (compare The Nag Hammadi Library in English and The Nag Hammadi Scriptures [Harper]). I also appreciate the publications of Elaine Pagels (The Gnostic Gospels and Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas [Random House]), and these days the work of Stephen Patterson on Thomas is proving to be exciting and innovative (compare The Gospel of Thomas and Jesus [Polebridge], and subsequent articles and presentations).
(CWS) 6. Are you currently planning to undertake more research on the Gospel of Thomas? If so, what other projects do you have planned (or in the works)?
(MM) Currently I am awaiting the publication of a new poetic translation of the Gospel of Thomas I have produced with my friend and colleague, Willis Barnstone, in Essential Gnostic Scriptures (Shambhala), to appear soon.
(CWS) 7. To your mind, what areas of Thomas research are in need of further investigation? If you were going to supervise Ph.D. students in this area, what avenues of study would you suggest?
(MM) Among other areas of research on the Gospel of Thomas, I suggest studies of individual themes, sayings, and groups of sayings in Thomas. The Gospel of Thomas, after all, is a diverse assemblage of sayings gathered in a “looseleaf” collection that was copied, as we know from the varied presentations in the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus fragments and the citations in Hippolytus of Rome, in versions that differed in wording and the order of sayings. As a paradigm of such a study (which began as a dissertation), I refer to Howard Jackson, The Lion Becomes Man: The Gnostic Leontomorphic Creator and the Platonic Tradition (Scholars Press).
I would like to thank Prof. Meyer for interacting with my questions in this forum. In the coming days I will return to my series of posts that focus on scholarly views of Thomas‘s theological outlook.