I have now had an opportunity to read the first of two reviews of my book, What Are They Saying About the Gospel of Thomas? posted today at the Review of Biblical Literature. The first review was written by Ian Brown, a graduate student of John Kloppenborg at the University of Toronto. For the majority of his review, Brown is sympathetic to what I do in the book but levels this critique toward the end of the review:
[T]here are sections of Skinner’s book that are somewhat problematic.While it is true that questions of Thomas’s date and relationship with the New Testament are important, Skinner somewhat exaggerates the degree to which they still dominate the field. Skinner’s book gives the wrong impression that, because there is so much disagreement over Thomas’s date and relationship with the New Testament, other questions about Thomas are not being asked. In fact, with some notable exceptions, a great deal of recent scholarship on Thomas has dealt more explicitly with questions of Thomas’s sociohistorical location, Thomas’s parables, Thomas’s ideology (theology), and Thomas’s potential for our redescribing of Christian origins. With these questions in mind, it is a shortcoming that Skinner did not include the more recent work of Ron Cameron, Risto Uro, John Kloppenborg, and William Arnal. Many, if not all, of the studies that address these questions say something about Thomas’s date and relationship with the New Testament, but these are not the questions that drive inquiry. So while it is true that we are far from a consensus on Thomas’s date, relationship with the New Testament, or theology, this does not mean that these are still the questions that propel scholarship (p. 4).
These are fair criticisms. I guess I would respond by saying two things: (1) Given the aims of the series in general and my volume in particular, these areas of recent scholarly inquiry would have taken my discussion far afield from the “introductory” nature of most discussions within the book; (2) These areas of disagreement SHOULD continue to propel scholarship (at least until we arrive at a consensus), even if they don’t. Too often scholars on different continents speak past one another because they assume a starting point that is not accepted in all areas of Thomas scholarship. Call me crazy, but scholarly exchange requires that we establish (i.e., argue for) rather than assume the validity of our starting points. A lot of scholarship does the latter with respect to foundational issues like Thomas‘s date and relationship to the NT. This is, to my mind, what makes April DeConick‘s work so outstanding (even when I disagree with her). She always makes a solid argument and always attempts to move discussions beyond the traditional impasses that have emerged.
In the end, I am appreciative of Brown’s comments. It is clear that he took the time to digest what I wrote in the book. I am also grateful that he found the book, on the whole, to be a useful introduction to Thomas studies. There is another review at the site but it’s in German, so I’m going to have to work through it later today (alas, the German skills have deteriorated in the past few years). That review was written by Thomas Bergholz. I went to the final paragraph and saw that he ends the review with praise for the strength and merit of my “handy book”: “Und genau darin liegt die große Stärke und das Verdienst dieses handlichen Buches.” I guess I need to go back and read the rest of his comments after my 9:30 class.