Review: Simon Gathercole on the Gospel of Thomas (Part One)

I have been slowly wading through Simon Gathercole’s recent offering on the Gospel of Thomas and, as always, I’m impressed by the breadth of his abilities. In particular, Simon demonstrates such a command of the languages that his research is impossible to ignore. (For what it’s worth, I feel the same way about the work of April DeConick. Though I often disagree with her conclusions, her command of the languages and her exploration of numerous “outside” discussions also¬†makes her work impossible to ignore.)

The book begins with an introductory chapter (pp. 1-16) in which Simon covers the contemporary discussion of Thomas’s composition. He makes a number of observations, but to my mind, two of the most important observations he makes are: (1) too many conclusions about Thomas-Synoptic relations are based upon scholarly reconstructions of Q, many of which are passed off as authoritative (rather than speculative); and (2) there is significant disagreement about Thomas’s relationship to the Synoptic tradition, though in North American scholarship there is a tendency for scholars to suggest that the debate is over. I think these observations need to be made in a book like this one. Since Simon is concerned to discuss the original ¬†language and sources behind Thomas, it is necessary for him to situate his study in the context of current discussions. As I have tried to show in my recent book on Thomas, there is something of a “continental divide” in the debate over Thomas‘s relationship to the Synoptic gospels. North American scholars (many of whom favor Thomas’s independence) have a tendency to assume (and often assert) that the debate is over. European scholars are still very interested in the discussion (and often favor Thomas‘s dependence).

This first chapter is a helpful entree into the first substantive section of the book, which deals with the original language of Thomas. In my next post I will look at Simon’s argument in chapters 2-4.