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.


Interview with Risto Uro on the Gospel of Thomas (Part III)

RistoHere’s the final installment of my interview with Professor Uro. For those interested in dissertation topics, he suggests three areas he’d like to see investigated:

(CWS) 7. Are you currently planning to undertake more research on the Gospel of Thomas? If so, what other projects do you currently have planned (or in the works)?

(RU) I am currently working on a project titled “Ritual and Christian Beginnings.” Part of the project is also to analyze the transmission of the Jesus traditions from the perspective of ritual and memory. Materials from Thomas will certainly play a role in the analysis.

(CWS) 8. To your mind, what area(s) of Thomas research is/are in need of further investigation? If you were going to supervise Ph.D. students in this area, what avenues of study would you suggest? (If you are currently supervising doctoral students in Thomasine studies, can you share a little about what these students are pursuing?)

(RU) I would like to list the following three areas/topics:

  • Thomas and memory studies
  • Thomas in light of the Hellenistic philosophies (I did some comparison with Stoicism in my 2003 book, but much more could be done)
  • The social setting of Thomas in light of other “school” settings in early Christianity (e.g., Clement of Alexandria, Valentinian Christianity)

There are some hopes that we could have a doctoral student work on one or some of these topics.

Thanks again to Professor Uro for participating. In the early fall I *hope* to post an interview with Professor Marvin Meyer of Chapman University. He has agreed to be interviewed in this forum but his schedule has not yet opened up enough to participate.

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.

Gnosticism, Wisdom, Asceticism, & Mysticism: Four Views on the Gospel of Thomas

Awhile back I mentioned that I am finishing a book about current scholarly opinion on the Gospel of Thomas. The book focuses on three critical questions: (1) when was Thomas written? (2) what is Thomas‘s relationship to the canonical gospels? and (3) what theological outlook does Thomas present to the reader? I am currently working on the third question and I thought a series of posts might be a good way to flesh out some of what I’ve been reading/writing in recent weeks. I will be focusing on four schools of thought:  Thomas as a gnostic document, Thomas as an example of Jewish or Christian wisdom, Thomas as an ascetic work (likely reflecting the ethos of early Syrian Christianity), and Thomas as an example of Christian mysticism.

Patterson reviews DeConick

I’ll be back soon with post #4 on Paul’s relationship to the Gospel of Thomas. For now, check out Stephen Patterson’s review of April DeConick’s The Original Gospel of Thomas in Translation: With a Commentary and New English Translation of the Complete Gospel over at RBL.

RBL – Two books of interest

I just received the regular update from the Review of Biblical Literature and this installment contained two books of potential interest for readers of this blog:

The first is Tim Newton’s The Forgotten Gospels: Life and Teachings of Jesus Supplementary to the New Testament: A New Translation (Berkley: Counterpoint, 2009). [Interestingly, the title on Amazon is different from that given by the reviewer.] Overall, the review seems positive enough and there is even mention of the author’s own, new translation of the Gospel of Thomas (just what we needed, right?).

The second book of interest is Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm’s Preaching the Gospel of Mark: Proclaiming the Power of God (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008). See the review here. Again, the review is positive.