I am in the middle of a series of posts where I explore scholarly views on Thomas’ theological outlook but I am going to interrupt it to post my interview with Marvin Meyer. I’ve been waiting for some time to hear from Professor Meyer, and now that he has responded it only seems right to post his interview.
Prof. Marvin Meyer is Griset Professor of Bible and Christian Studies and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies, Chapman University in Orange, California. He is also Director of Chapman University’s Albert Schweitzer Institute. He has authored a number of books on Thomas, Gnosticism, and Gnostic texts and is well-known for his participation in the Jesus Seminar. I would like to extend my thanks for Prof. Meyer for participating in this interview.
(CWS) 1. I have asked this question of each Thomas scholar I have interviewed thus far. Before I interact with your work on the Gospel of Thomas I would like to begin by asking what got you interested in studying the Gospel of Thomas in the first place?
(MM) When I entered the Ph.D. program at Claremont Graduate School years ago, one of the first courses I took was an introduction to the Coptic language. We used an informal textbook based on the Coptic of the Gospel of Thomas – and I was hooked on both Coptic and the Gospel of Thomas.
(CWS) 2. Several of your books concern the Gospel of Thomas and contain the word “gnostic” in the title. However, in a recent book you have written that Thomas “does not fit the definition of gnosticism” as you see it. In your opinion, what theological outlook is present in the Gospel of Thomas and what is Thomas’s relationship to Gnosticism in the late first and early second centuries?
(MM) I consider the Gospel of Thomas to be a wisdom gospel with what might be called a gnosticizing perspective. I realize that such language is pretty slippery, but the fact is that the Gospel of Thomas seems to share perspectives with some gnostic literature (Sethian and Valentinian, for example) without showing specific features of gnostic mythology, cosmology, and theology. All of this simply illustrates the uncertainties of taxonomy and the classification of religious texts and traditions, and the challenges that we face in the use of terms like “gnostic.”
(CWS) 3. Two part question: (a) Would you outline your understanding of Thomas’s relationship to the synoptic gospels? (b) To your mind, what is the relationship, if any, between the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of John?
(MM) In The Gospel of Thomas: The Hidden Sayings of Jesus (Harper) I wrote that “an excellent case can be made for the position that the Gospel of Thomas is not fundamentally dependent upon the New Testament gospels, but that it preserves sayings that at times appear to be more original than the New Testament parallels. . . . The value of the Gospel of Thomas as a primary source for the Jesus tradition is underscored by the presence within Thomas of sayings of Jesus not included in the New Testament and sometimes totally unknown prior to the discovery of this gospel.” That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Still, the Thomas parallels with the synoptic gospels and Q are impressive.
Scholars have also explored the relationship between Thomas and John, including the shared preoccupation with but widely differing interpretation of the figure of Judas Thomas himself. A helpful way of assessing the Gospel of Thomas and related texts may make use of an intertextual approach that posits a complex series of literary interactions and connections between Thomas and other texts about Jesus and his sayings.
Part two of my interview with Professor Meyer is forthcoming. Stay tuned. . . .