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.

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