Recent Trends in Gospel of Thomas Research

I was so busy during the fall semester that I neglected to point out that my article on recent trends in Thomas studies (co-authored with Nick Perrin) appeared in Currents in Biblical Research back in October. The title is “Recent Trends in Gospel of Thomas Research (1989-2011): Part II: Genre, Theology, Relationship to the Gospel of John.” The article is the second in a two-part series, the first of which Nick originally published in 2006. Here’s the abstract:

This article, the second of a two-part series, examines scholarly research on the Gospel of Thomas between 1989 and 2011. The previous article (CBR 5.2 [2007]: 183-206) reviewed research on Thomas’s place in discussions of the historical Jesus and the Synoptic Gospels between 1991 and 2006. The current study focuses on three concerns: (1) scholarly opinions of Thomas’s genre, (2) the notoriously difficult problem of identifying Thomas’s theological outlook, and (3) the relationship between the Gospel of Thomas and the Fourth Gospel.

If you are interested in such things, then do check it out….

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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.

More Interviews on the Gospel of Thomas

One of things I have tried to do since starting this blog is provide something of a clearinghouse of scholarly views on the Gospel of Thomas. While I have other scholarly interests (the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of Mark, narrative criticism, etc.), many of these are well-covered across the web and throughout the blogosphere. When I started this blog, I wanted to turn my attention to an area that did not have as much web coverage as some others in biblical and early Christian studies. Since I was in the process of researching and writing on the Gospel of Thomas, I thought it might be helpful to those looking for good information to have a place to go. Based upon my blog traffic, I was right that web surfers would return to a site that had a storehouse of information on the Gospel of Thomas. The interviews have proven to be the most visited posts on this blog.

Thus far I have conducted interviews with a good number of the most important figures working in contemporary Thomas research: Stephen J. Patterson, Nicholas Perrin, Stevan Davies, Risto Uro, Marvin Meyer, Ismo Dunderberg, to name a few. Over the next few months, both Simon Gathercole and Mark Goodacre have books coming out on the Gospel of Thomas. In the coming weeks will be interviewing each of them about their books and their views on important questions in Thomas research. Stay tuned. . . .

Mark Goodacre on the Gospel of Thomas

While visiting Duke with a few of my students last semester, I had a chance to sit down and talk with Mark Goodacre at some length about his Thomas research (I was also there asking him if he wouldn’t mind blurbing my own forthcoming book on Thomas….I know, shameless plug!). Today I saw the ad for Mark’s book on Amazon (due out in May) and wanted to mention it. It promises to be a good read and will likely offer a viable via media between the views of Nick Perrin and April DeConick. I can’t wait to pick up a copy.

Forthcoming Interviews

I have had little time to devote to blogging lately but I will be returning to a regimen of regular posting very soon. I just wanted to mention that in the next few weeks I will be continuing my series of interviews with prominent researchers on the Gospel of Thomas. If you’ve been following along you know that I’ve already posted interviews with Nick Perrin (here and here), Stevan Davies (here, here, and here), Stephen Patterson (here, here, and here), and Ismo Dunderberg (here and here). In the upcoming weeks I will be posting interviews that I have conducted with Risto Uro (University of Helsinki) and Marvin Meyer (Chapman University). Until then I am still in the process of moving into an office and into a new house so my posting will likely be sporadic.

Redman, Perrin, Popkes, DeConick, and Others

Judy Redman’s critique of Nick Perrin seems to be generating a buzz around the blogosphere over the last few days. Judy started off with a few posts to which Clayboy (aka Doug Chaplin) responded. This morning over at Euangelion Mike Bird has posted a response from Nick (presumably given directly to Mike?) where he compares the views of E. E. Popkes (expressed in his recent monograph Das Menschenbild des Thomasevangeliums) and April DeConick. This exchange is providing helpful discussions for those considering important issues in Thomas studies. Let’s hope it continues.