Prof. Helmut Koester passed away at the beginning of this new year. I know this was mentioned on social media in numerous places over the weekend but I had not yet had an opportunity to mention it here. I never got a chance to meet Prof. Koester in person but I read a great deal of his work while writing my dissertation and always had profound respect for his scholarship. In fact, the very first footnote in my dissertation references his important articles, ““Dialog und Spruchüberlieferung in den gnostischen Texten von Nag Hammadi,” EvT 39 (1979): 532-56,” and “ΓΝΩΜΑΙ ΔΙΑΦΟΡΟΙ: The Origin and Nature of Diversification in the History of Early Christianity,” HTR 58 (1965): 297-318.” It is safe to describe Koester as a giant in our field. Prof. Koester served on the faculty of Harvard Divinity School in some capacity since 1958 and was the longtime editor of the Harvard Theological Review (1975-1999). You can read more about his passing here.
(CWS) 4. To your mind, what is the relationship, if any, between the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of John?
(RU) I agree with Ismo Dunderberg that the attempts to reconstruct a conflict between John’s and Thomas’ communities are on a shaky ground. I also find helpful his idea that both the figure of the beloved disciple in John and the apostle Thomas in the Gospel of Thomas should be seen in the context of other figures of authentication that abound in early Christian literature. There are interesting points of contact, though, and both gospels seem to roughly derive from same stage of the Christian movement as 1Timothy, Hebrews, and some of the Apostolic Fathers.
(CWS) 5. Another research interest that I have and one that I hope to promote on this blog is the historical Jesus. What implications for historical Jesus research does the Gospel of Thomas have? In your opinion is there anything in Thomas that is old enough to be potentially illuminating about the life of the historical Jesus? If so, what?
(RU) I think the most important contribution of Thomasine studies to historical Jesus research is methodological. As I explained above, one of my first interests was to use Thomas’ materials to understand the tradition process in light of orality and literacy studies. Now the field is often called orality-scribality-memory studies. The results of such studies may not be as direct or dramatic as tracing some “authentic” traditions in Thomas, but I have been influenced by E.P. Sanders too much to take the sayings tradition as a point of departure in the study of the historical Jesus.
(CWS) 6. What scholars pursuing research on the Gospel of Thomas (and/or Christian Origins) have you found most helpful for your own work on the Gospel of Thomas?
(RU) As to the scholars, I cannot overstate the influence of the “original” Thomas project team in Helsinki (Dunderberg, Marjanen and Uro). We worked together intensively musing over Thomas and other Nag Hammadi writings on countless occasions for a period of several years. Moreover, my post-doctoral studies in Claremont brought me under the influence of the so-called Koester-Robinson school. I haven’t been a very obedient member of the school, but I always think with appreciation of what these great scholars have done to promote the study of Nag Hammadi and extra-canonical writings.
In terms of books, I have already mentioned Davies’ The Gospel of Thomas and Christian Wisdom and Kelber’s The Oral and the Written Gospel. Steve Patterson’s The Gospel of Thomas and Jesus was on my desk constantly while working on Thomas.