John’s Use of Matthew, Part One (Skinner)

BarkerA few posts back I mentioned that I received in the mail, James Barker‘s revised dissertation, John’s Use of Matthew. I couldn’t wait to dig in and it has been a rewarding read so far. In fact, this is one of the most engagingly written academic books I have read in some time. Perhaps this judgement is due to my own interest in the subject, but much of it is also due to Barker’s careful argument and concise writing. Today I only want to consider the first two chapters, mainly because blogging through the book in sections rather than all at once holds me accountable to be precise in representing and evaluating Barker’s argument. Such arguments are intricate and deserve careful scrutiny. Before I begin discussing the book I should also self-disclose. When I first began my graduate studies in the gospels, I held the opinion that John was independent of the Synoptics. While in my doctoral program, I became persuaded (largely through arguments offered in commentaries by C.K. Barrett, Joel Marcus, and others) that John was, at the very least, familiar with Mark and possibly Luke. Of course, Matthew usually gets short shrift in that scenario and this is something Barker takes head on. He aims to demonstrate that John both knew and made use of Matthew’s written gospel.

After a brief introduction in which he lays out the argument of each chapter (xv-xix), Barker’s first chapter (pp. 1-14) provides an abbreviated though representative Forschungsbericht on the question of John’s knowledge of Matthew, beginning with the first seventeen hundred years of interpretation and ending with the various shifts that have occurred in the past two hundred years. It is worth noting that the shifts in scholarly opinion in the last two centuries alone include the “consensus” that John knew Mark and Luke but not Matthew, followed by the “consensus” of Johannine independence, followed by the present state in which various opinions hold sway among scholars. Barker’s book bounds into this present state of uncertainty with careful and judicious argumentation that begs to be taken seriously. The lack of a present consensus provides Barker with an opportunity to have his argument heard.

In chapter 2, Barker sets forth his redaction-critical methodology, which relies heavily upon Helmut Koester’s principle that when an interpreter observes words or phrases deriving from the author or redactor of a gospel writing, that interpreter must assume the existence of a written source. In other words, if elements of Matthean redaction can be located in John-Synoptic parallels, there is a strong likelihood that those parallels derive from a written form of Matthew’s gospel. Against this backdrop he examines three previously adduced John-Matthew parallels: John 12:25/Matt 10:39; John 4:46b-54/Matt 8:5-13; John 20:11-18/Matt 28:9-10. He notes that the first of these does not meet Koester’s redaction criterion, while the other two do. Throughout this chapter, Barker is particularly adept at both anticipating objections to his argument and clarifying the nuances of his own approach. Of particular importance to his argument is his insistence that while John used Matthew’s Gospel, he did not intend to supplant Matthew (a common argument given the vast differences between the two narratives). Instead he argues that a practice known as oppositio in imitando should inform our understanding of John’s use of Matthew; to demonstrate this approach, he discusses how later infancy gospels used and built upon the legacies of (what eventually became) canonical birth narratives while arguing that supplanting those gospels would have been an unrealistic goal. One can read, for instance, the Protoevangelium of James and recognize the author’s instructive and corrective instincts vis-a-vis the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke. It is unlikely, however, that the Protoevangelium of James was meant to supplant or replace either Matthew or Luke. Instead, it was meant to stand alongside and complement the others. This is illustrative of how Barker views John’s intentions toward Matthew.

After these first two chapters, I am left with the impression that, at the very least, I have not given John’s use of Matthew enough serious consideration. I have finished chapter three and I’m looking forward to finishing the book this weekend and to having my views tested further. Stay tuned……

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Interview with Mark Goodacre (Part II)

goodacre-2Here is the second installment of my interview with Prof. Mark Goodacre on the Gospel of Thomas (see part one here):

(CWS) 4. Awhile back on your blog, you provided a list from your index of the most cited scholars in your book. You also indicated that the frequency of a given scholar’s appearance in the book is unrelated to your extent of agreement with him/her. What scholars have you found to be the most helpful for your own Thomas research and why?

(MG) I really like the work of Stephen Patterson.  He is a clear thinker and a clear writer. Although I disagree with many of his conclusions, he analyzes the evidence with fairness and clarity. And in general I like scholars who lay out their case clearly. I am less keen on what I think of as “shifting sands” scholarship, where you simply cannot be sure how the case overall is panning out. You shouldn’t have to re-read a scholar’s work multiple times in order to work out what they are saying.

For my case on Thomas’s familiarity with the Synoptics, I found myself frequently in agreement with Christopher Tuckett and Klyne Snodgrass, both of whom write with clarity and force. Given that I had disagreed with Tuckett in my Q book, it was nice on this occasion to be joining him in battle. And now too I find that I agree with Simon Gathercole’s views on Thomas to a major extent. Although we wrote our books independently of one another, like Matthew and Luke on the Two-Source Theory, it turns out that we agree on most of the issues.

(CWS) 5. I know you have a forthcoming article in which you discuss the Nag Hammadi discoveries. Other than that, are you planning any future projects on the Gospel of Thomas?

(MG) The Nag Hammadi article arose out of my research on Thomas. I wanted to write about the story of the discovery of the Nag Hammadi codices but when I researched the topic, I found that there is not one version of the story but several. And the more I looked at the different versions, the more worried I became about how much we can really know about the circumstances of the discovery.  The article, “How reliable is the story of the Nag Hammadi discovery?” should come out later this year in JSNT.

I don’t have anything else currently planned on the Gospel of Thomas but I have a piece on the Gospel of Peter that I hope to get published before too long, and I am also doing some work on the Gospel of Mary and related texts.

(CWS) 6. You are one of the most outspoken opponents of the “Q” hypothesis. Many scholars see “Q” and Thomas as early examples of the wisdom genre applied to Jesus’ sayings. Obviously, since you reject the notion of Q, you would also reject this line of thinking. To your mind, what theological outlook do we find in the Gospel of Thomas and why?

(MG) I think the comparison between Q and Thomas has been pretty damaging and in several ways it has thrown us off the scent. The comparison is largely an accident of our own social location.  Q was one of the biggest and most successful hypotheses in twentieth century research on Christian origins, but its hypothetical nature always caused scholars some residual anxiety. One way of dealing with the anxiety was to align the hypothetical Q with the newly discovered Thomas. Coptic Thomas was discovered in 1945, but only began to seep into scholarly consciousness in the seventies and eighties, at the same time that Q was taking on a life of its own.

The difficulty for those who want to align Q and Thomas is that these works are only superficially comparable. Anyone who has done any actual research on either realizes that the differences are far more striking than the similarities. I have argued that reflection on the differences helps us to see how the true Sayings Gospel (Thomas) differs from the hybrid scholarly reconstruction (Q).  The latter makes much better sense as a scholarly extraction of parallel material from Matthew and Luke, not as a discrete work.

Moreover, and to get to the heart of your question, Thomas’s theological outlook could hardly be more different than Q’s. To take two really obvious examples, Thomas differs from Q on the Old Testament and on eschatology.  Thomas disdains the Old Testament – it only refers to Adam, it never explicitly quotes the Old Testament, and it thinks of the prophets as “the dead”. Q, on the other hand, loves the Old Testament, cites its heroes, and quotes many key texts.  Similarly, Thomas and Q differ on eschatology. Thomas has a protology rather than an eschatology, and is looking to get back to Eden, to the singular human being before the fall. But Q is driven-through with eschatology at every turn, and repeatedly talks about the kingdom, the future, and the Son of Man.

I do not, of course, accept the existence of Q, but I point out these contrasts in order to show how some of the clear problems with making them representatives of the same trajectory in early Christianity.  To put it another way, Thomas is a “sayings gospel” because it really believes that salvation lies in interpreting Jesus’s words, whereas Q is only a “sayings gospel” insofar as it represents scholarly efforts to extract and over-emphasize some of the sayings material in the Synoptics.

(CWS) 7. Another interest that I have, and one that I hope to promote on this blog, is research on the historical Jesus. In your opinion, is there anything in the Gospel of Thomas that goes back to the historical Jesus? If yes, what? If no, explain why not.

(MG) I share your interest in the Historical Jesus and I suppose to some extent this also comes back to your first question about one’s initial interest in Thomas. I began by hoping that perhaps it could provide us with some extra material on the historical Jesus, and I was disappointed when I found otherwise. I do think that there are likely to be historical Jesus traditions in Thomas, but I think that they are found in the Synoptic parallels that make up half of Thomas rather than the new material that makes up the other half of Thomas. I don’t rule out the possibility that historical Jesus traditions occur in the newer, unparalleled materials, but I find it unlikely. Bear in mind that even the Jesus Seminar, which tended to favour Thomas as a source for historical Jesus research, struggled to find much historical Jesus material in the unique material. Broadly speaking, they were using Thomas as a means of corroborating parallel Synoptic traditions about Jesus.

My reading of the earliest materials persuades me that the Historical Jesus is likely to have been a Jewish eschatological prophet who valued the Hebrew Scriptures, quite unlike the Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas, who disdains eschatology and the Hebrew Bible.

Many thanks to Prof. Goodacre for taking the time to answer our questions!

Interview with Mark Goodacre (Part I)

MarkGoodacreThis morning I am pleased to post the first part of an interview I conducted with Prof. Mark Goodacre in which we explore his views on the Gospel of Thomas. Prof. Goodacre presently serves as Associate Professor in the Department of Religion at Duke University. Anyone paying attention will recognize that Prof. Goodacre is quite well-known around the web, not only for his scholarship, but also for how he makes NT scholarship accessible to so many. Along with the very useful website, NT Gateway, and his blog, Mark provides regular reflections on various subjects through his podcast, the NT Pod. He has recently written a book entitled, Thomas and the Gospels: The Case for Thomas’ Familiarity with the Gospels. I have already given this book my strong endorsement, as have others across the blogosphere (see here, here, here, here). I will say it here again: the book is very good and deserves the attention it is getting. No one interested in the subject matter can afford to ignore this book–even those who disagree. I hope you enjoy this first half of our interview.

(CWS) 1. I have asked this question of every scholar I have interviewed on this blog: What initially sparked your interest in studying the Gospel of Thomas?

(MG) Well, I have always been really interested in the Synoptic Problem and I have spent a lot of time investigating the double tradition and the hypothetical “Q” source.  My skepticism over the existence of Q often led people to ask the question, “But what about the Gospel of Thomas?”  After all, scholars have often paired Q and Thomas, making them early witnesses to a trajectory within early Christianity that specially emphasized Jesus’ sayings, and which was not very interested in Jesus’ death.  So my interest in Thomas proceeded in part from my interest in Q.

I found also that there are many fascinating Synoptic-type questions to be explored in the study of Thomas. Indeed, quite often Thomas has been discussed in ignorance of detailed knowledge of the Synopsis and the Synoptic Problem.  I suppose that I felt that I could see a few things that others were missing when they were looking at Thomas.

Having begun there, I then found that I greatly enjoyed where Thomas was taking me – into the world of second and third century Gospels with which I had been unfamiliar.  I used to fall victim to canonical bias in my teaching and focused almost exclusively on the New Testament.  Now I find that some of my favourite teaching is in Non-canonical Gospels, including Thomas but also many other works.

(CWS) 2. I have had an opportunity to work through your recent book, Thomas and the Gospels. In the book you make a sustained (and quite compelling) case for Thomas’s familiarity with the Synoptic tradition.  Can you provide here a sketch of your view(s) on Thomas’s relationship to the Synoptic Gospels?

(MG) The case begins by asking a key question that is almost universally missed in studies of Thomas’s relationship to the Synoptics:  how similar are they?  Is there sufficient verbatim agreement between Thomas and the Synoptics to suggest that there is a direct link?  I argue that the verbatim agreement in several parallels between the Synoptics and Thomas is so striking as to make a direct link highly likely.

Where one has this kind of agreement, one next needs to ask whether the characteristic features of one work show up in the other.  I call these “diagnostic shards”, borrowing a term from archaeology, and I suggest that there are good, strong cases of Matthew’s and Luke’s redaction that show up in Thomas.  The Gospel of Thomas, for example, uses Matthew’s favourite term “kingdom of the heavens”.  And it has parallels to places where Matthew and Luke are clearly redacting Mark.  On one occasion (Thomas 79), Thomas has such clear parallels to Luke’s distinctive setting, language, imagery and theology, that it becomes unlikely that Thomas is not using Luke.

(CWS) 3. As you know, some scholars have written at length about the supposed relationship between Thomas and the Gospel of John. (This question is of particular interest to me, since I wrote an entire dissertation on the subject!). To your mind, what, if any, is the connection between John and Thomas? Please explain.

(MG) I must admit to feeling a little guilty about writing a book called Thomas and the Gospels and then dealing so little with John!  As it happens, I think it’s one of the most fascinating things about Thomas that it has at times a kind of Johannine feel, with Johannine echoes, and yet it does not feature the same kind of verbatim agreement that you see between Thomas and the Synoptics.  I think it is possible that Thomas knows John but it is difficult to establish.  I wonder whether it is in part a question of timing.  If I am right about the date of Thomas (I argue for a date in the 130s, Chapter 9), then John may not yet have the same degree of authority as the Synoptics have, and so its author is less inclined to look to its sayings to lend the account legitimacy.

I have very much enjoyed the work of several scholars, including yourself, on the relationship between John and Thomas.  I always introduce students to Elaine Pagels’s and Gregory Riley’s work on the relationship, not least because it provides such good intellectual stimulation on these important early Christian texts.  It’s an issue I want to think about some more in due course.

Two Books Everybody Should Be Talking About (Part One: Goodacre on Thomas & the Synoptics)

My semester is now complete and I have been able to get to some much-needed reading that I began prior to the SBL meeting in Chicago. I have spent the past few weeks reading and digesting two books that I am convinced need to be discussed in much greater detail both in the blogosphere and in the classroom. The first of these is Mark Goodacre’s Thomas and the Gospels: The Case for Thomas’s Familiarity with the Synoptics. Those of us who read Mark’s blog and listen to his podcasts know that he relishes the role of “spoil sport,” especially on issues that are taken for granted within certain segments of academia. Well, he is at his spoil-sport-best in this current book, taking on the canons (accepted in many quarters of North American scholarship) that Thomas is early and independent of the canonical tradition. What makes this book so good is the combination of Mark’s erudition and creativity, along with his knowledge of the Synoptic problem, utility in the Greek synopsis, and skill in evaulating source-critical arguments. While I haven’t read everything that’s ever been written on the Gospel of Thomas, I have recently written a book on Thomas scholarship in which I attempted to explore the range of scholarly opinion within contemporary research. That book required me to read….a lot. Against the backdrop of that (at times, painful) reality, I can tell you that this is one of the most insightful and well-written books on the Gospel of Thomas that I have read. I will soon be posting an interview with Mark as I have with other Thomas scholars and I hope to find the time to do an in-depth review of his book. For now, let me provide my endorsement and strongly suggest that, if you have any interest in the gospel traditions, you get this book.

What I’m Reading (Gathercole, Keith/Hurtado, Jones)

I always love the summertime because it allows me to catch up on some long-neglected reading from the academic year. Over the past few weeks I have read several useful books, three of which I’d like to mention.

The first is Simon Gathercole’s, The Composition of the Gospel of Thomas: Original Language and Influences (SNTMS  151; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). I have been a fan of Simon’s work for some time now and the same is true for his most recent offering. He possesses such a strong command of the requisite languages that it’s hard to ignore his treatment, even if you walk away disagreeing. For those who read my blog or have read any of my work on the Gospel of Thomas, it’s no secret that I lean in the direction of an original Greek work that is dependent (to some degree) on the Synoptic tradition. Simon makes a sustained case for both, while also introducing other possible influences on the development of Thomas, including Paul, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the “Two Ways” tradition. In my opinion, the most convincing part of the book is found in Simon’s argument that Thomas shows its reliance upon the Synoptic tradition through the multiple instances of Matthean and Lukan redaction it retains. This book is very technical and one must have at least a basic working knowledge of the biblical and related languages. That said, this is an important book that is poised to make an enduring contribution to the study of the Gospel of Thomas.

The second book I have read and enjoyed is Jesus Among Friends and Enemies: A Historical and Literary Introduction to Jesus in the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), co-edited by Chris Keith and Larry Hurtado. This book combines the two methodologies most important to my own scholarship–historical criticism and narrative criticism, and is meant to fill a lacuna in historical Jesus scholarship. The volume introduces the reader to the most important figures in the life of Jesus (both friends and enemies, as the title indicates) by examining their presentation outside and inside the Gospel narratives. The book begins, I think appropriately, with a discussion of Jesus both within and outside the NT. Subsequent chapters discuss God, angels, various disciples, and Jewish leaders. I think this could be a useful text for several different graduate courses, including those devoted to the historical Jesus and the canonical gospels. The content is perhaps too advanced for the average undergraduate, though it could be used with benefit in some undergraduate contexts.

Finally, I have just received Brice C. Jones’s little volume, Matthean and Lukan Special Material:  A Brief Introduction with Texts in Greek and English (Eugene, Ore: Wipf and Stock, 2011). Students of the Gospels are often forced to consult commentaries, synopses, and their Greek texts to locate and examine the material that is commonly labeled “M” and “L” by Gospels scholars. This creates a situation in which the student must have a number of volumes open at the same time and be forced to look continually back and forth for comparison. A scenario like the one just described was, in part, the genesis for the present volume. Jones writes, “The idea for this book developed during my own studies of the Gospels as a graduate student. I would often sit in my Greek exegesis classes on the Gospels with my Q parallels and Synopsis, and wish that I had at my disposal a small book that printed the special material of Matthew and Luke” (p. 13).  This helpful little book consists of three chapters. The first chapter is devoted to a brief sketch of the synoptic problem and concludes with a decided preference for the Two-Source/Four-Source theory. Chapters 2 and 3 provide Greek texts and English translations of material unique to Matthew and Luke, respectively. I envision this being a helpful resource for students and scholars. Check it out if you get a chance.

I shouldn’t forget to thank the good people at CUP, Baker Academic, and Wipf and Stock for providing review copies of each book!

Interview with Simon Gathercole on the Gospel of Thomas (Part II)

346151376_640Here’s part two of my conversation with Simon Gathercole on the Gospel of Thomas:

(CWS) 4. I am looking forward to reading your forthcoming book, The Composition of the Gospel of Thomas: Original Language and Influences. Since this subject is addressed in your book, I would like to explore your understanding of Thomas’s compositional language. As you know, over the past decade Nick Perrin has sought to advance the position that Thomas was originally composed in Syriac and is dependent upon the Diatessaron. What are your thoughts on his thesis?

(SJG) One of the things I tried to do in my book was to take a very large sample of the “semitisms” that some have argued point in favour of a W. Aramaic or a Syriac origin for the book and show that they are basically all useless as evidence for a Semitic original. In terms of Nick Perrin’s thesis in particular, one of the difficulties is that we have hardly any Syriac literature from the first and second centuries CE, and so we can’t reconstruct the grammar and vocabulary of Syriac in that period with any degree of confidence. On the specific matter of Nick’s argument about the Diatessaron, the problem is compounded further, as we don’t have the Diatessaron in anything like its original form – not a word of the original Syriac (if that even was the original language of the Diatessaron) survives.

(CWS) 5. I know you’ve got a book to sell….so please don’t give away too much. But can you briefly provide an exposition of your view on Thomas’s relationship to the Synoptic Gospels?

(SJG) Part of it I’ve already given away in what I said about about Luke. I expand the argument to include Matthew as well. Matthew is an interesting case because the disciple Matthew is referred to in GTh 13 as an authoritative spokesman (alongside Peter) for a view contrary to that of Thomas. So I think it’s very likely that this in an attempt to undermine the Gospel of Matthew.  There are also instances where, as with Luke above, Matthew’s redaction of Mark is clearly incorporated into Thomas. Overall, my view is that Matthew and Luke shaped the oral tradition upon which Thomas drew, and there is a substantial degree of influence upon Thomas from the Synoptic gospels.

(CWS) 6. What is your view on the compositional history of Thomas? In other words, do you regard Thomas as a compositional unity or are you persuaded by the piecemeal, “multiple accretions” approach advocated by April DeConick? Do you find either of these approaches convincing?

(SJG) I don’t find it too much of a problem to conceive of it as a relative unity. There are obviously a number of sources, and these haven’t necessarily been combined into a seamless whole. But I suppose I go slightly against the consensus in thinking that the Greek fragments are not too different from the Coptic version. It doesn’t seem to me that the text is very fluid and constantly open to extra accretions.

(CWS) 7. Another interest that I have, and one that I hope to promote on this blog, is research on the historical Jesus. In your opinion, is there anything in the Gospel of Thomas that goes back to the historical Jesus? If yes, what? If no, explain why not.

(SJG) I think that there is a lot in the Gospel of Thomas that – at least in broad general terms – goes back to the historical Jesus. The parable of the sower and the parable of the wicked tenants, for instance! One of the difficulties with this question is the demise (of which I approve) of the criteria of authenticity. How can you tell if something like Thomas’s parable of the assassin is authentic? I don’t know. My own preference is to look at the works as a whole for their portrayal of Jesus. In this respect, I think Thomas is miles away from the historical Jesus – rejecting the prophets and circumcision (GTh 52-53) and speaking in semi-Platonic language about the true image within (GTh 83-84). Thomas seems to me a far cry from the milieu reflected in the canonical gospels which fixes Jesus much more clearly in a real first-century Jewish world.

I’m sure Simon could have said a great deal more about these issues had it not been for time constraints. I do want to again offer my thanks to Simon for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. His book, The Composition of the Gospel of Thomas: Original Language and Influences, is due to be released at the end of March. We look forward to the conversations that will surely take place at that time.

From Text to Community

I have posted previously about my concern over the astronomical leaps some scholars make in identifying the Sitz im Leben behind a given confessional community in the first two Christian centuries. It seems to me that many scholars reject a great deal in a given text but then go on to create fantastic theories of events behind the text and then present those theories with utter assurance of their results. This morning I came across this pertinent quote from Halvor Moxnes on the Gospel of Luke:

How can we move from the text of Luke’s Gospel to the social situation of his first readers? This problem in  Gospel research has not yet been solved. . . .The Lukan text creates a narrative world, and it is this world we examine as we analyze the social relations, ethos, and symbolic universe of Luke. Still, this does not mean that we now have a ‘window’ that opens onto the social situation of Luke’s historical community” (The Social Context of Luke’s Community,” Interpretation 49 [1994]: 379).

One would think that such a straightforward concept would be self-evident, but it is not. And, what Moxnes says is not just true of Lukan studies. Those working in Synoptic, Johannine, and Thomasine studies could benefit from such a measured agnosticism about their community-related conclusions.