I am on a mini-vacation and Nijay is moving across the country, so it’s safe to say we’ve both been away from our emails the past few days and we may have missed a few things. When I opened up my email a few minutes ago I had received word that SBL’s Bible Odyssey has officially launched. This is a project that has been in the works for several years now and has involved many biblical scholars from across the world. Contributors had a chance to look at the site in advance a few weeks back. I was impressed. The site is attractive, well-organized, and contains many excellent essays. I should also point out that both Nijay and I are contributors. He wrote the article on women leaders in the Philippian church and I contributed two pieces–one on the Beloved Disciple and one on 1 Corinthians 13 and Weddings. Check out the site when you have a chance. I think it will prove to be a very useful resource for the public.
I just got the official word that my paper, “Toward a Theory of Character for Interpreting the Gospel of John,” will be part of a session sponsored by the Johannine Literature group at this year’s annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. I am excited about this for several reasons: (1) This is an area that I obviously care a lot about (see here and here), (2) I get to present alongside my friend and doctoral advisor, Frank Moloney, and (3) I have submitted proposals to this section two or three times previously and have been rejected each time. The group of presenters at this session includes a number of people who have been doing significant work in this area for some time now. Here’s the lineup:
Characterization in the Gospel of John
- Presider: Ruben Zimmerman
- Christopher Skinner, Toward a Theory of Character for Interpreting the Gospel of John (20 min)
- Cornelis Bennema, The Scope and Limitations of Using a Uniform Approach to Character in the Gospel of John (20 min)
- Alicia D. Myers, Topographies of Person: Mapping Ancient Characterization in the Gospel of John (20 min)
- Steven A. Hunt, Character Studies in the Fourth Gospel: Methods, Trends, Results (20 min)
- Francis J. Moloney, The Final Appearance: Characters in John 20 (and 21) (20 min)
- James L. Resseguie, Character and Point of View: The Beloved Disciple as Test Case (20 min)
This should be a really good session. If you are interested in narrative criticism, characterization, or the Gospel of John, you will likely find something useful there.
This year at SBL in New Orleans there are a few papers that touch directly on issues in or related to the Gospel of Thomas:
1. Religious Experience in Early Judaism and Early Christianity
11/21/2009 (1:00 PM to 3:30 PM)
Wooil Moon, Claremont Graduate University, “The Ritual Construction of the Gospel of Thomas (NHC II,2)”
Abstract: This paper proposes that a catabasis ritual provides the framework of the Coptic Gospel of Thomas (NHC II,2). The majority of scholars define the Gospel as a sayings collection compiled through multiple stages of transmission. It is, for them, only intermittently connected by topic, form and/or catchwords without any coherent principle applicable to the overall structure. Nicholas Perrin (2002), however, defended the orgainc unity of the Gospel, contending that it was originally composed in Syriac by “one author at one time,” and all the sayings are “knit together as a seamless whole” by the frequent use of catchwords and paronomasia. This study reserves judgments on the original language, date, provenance, and source of the Gospel, but supports its unity by reading the sayings from history-of-religious and memesis-critical perspectives. This reading reconsiders the nature and format of the Gospel depending on the following observations. First, the Gospel contains components peculiar to a journey into a crypt, and its sayings are organized to facilitate its process. Second, the components resonate not only with the “prehistoric ritual pattern” W. F. J. Knight (1935) derived from the Sixth Aeneid and the Epic of Gilgamish but also with the factors of the “catabasis ritual” Hans Dieter Betz (1980) extracted from a “Greek magical papyrus.” Third, catabatic myths and rituals were prevalent in the Greco-Roman world, and their literary uses are readily detected in Homer, Plato, Virgil, Ovid, Plutarch, Apuleius, Clement of Alexandria, etc. Fourth, another Thomasine text, i.e. the Acts of Thomas, portrays Judas Thomas as a mystic who invokes Jesus Christ to raise the dead from the underworld, and its Sixth Act, like the Sixth Aeneid, forms a nekyia. These observations indicate the significance of the descent ritual in the Thomasine tradition, and characterize the Gospel of Thomas as a manual for the ritual.
2. Christian Apocrypha
11/22/2009 (1:00 PM to 3:30 PM)
Tony Burke, York University, “Christian Apocrypha in Ancient Libraries”
Abstract: Several of the most prominent literary discoveries of the past century have been the contents of ancient libraries—i.e., collection of texts, rather than single texts or single codices. Many of these libraries include Christian apocryphal literature. The Oxyrhynchus site, for example, includes material that may have derived from a Christian scriptorum or that was borrowed/copied from the library of Alexandria. Among the texts found at the site are fragments of the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Mary, the Acts of Paul, the Acts of Peter, the Acts of John, the Gospel of Mary, and two unidentified apocrypha. The Bodmer Papyri (aka the Dishna Papers), which may have belonged to a monastery library, include the Infancy Gospel of James and 3 Corinthians. And, the most well-known collection of Christian apocrypha, the Nag Hammadi Library, which may have originated at a nearby Pachomian monastery, features numerous apocryphal texts including the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Philip. This paper reviews the manuscript evidence of the apocryphal texts from these libraries to get a sense of how the texts were regarded by those who collected them. Do they exhibit any of the features typically found in manuscripts that derive from ancient libraries? Are the apocryphal texts treated any differently than any other texts in the collections? Given the place of the apocryphal texts in each collection, what can be said of the interests of the person or group that used them? The paper includes also a discussion of allusions in early Christian literature to other ancient Christian libraries that contained apocryphal texts.
3. Synoptic Gospels
11/22/2009 (4:00 PM to 6:30 PM)
Pheme Perkins, Boston College, “Gospel of Thomas Parables and the Synoptic Tradition”
Abstract: The conventional debate over whether Gos. Thom. parables represent earlier forms elaborated in the synoptic traditions or a later epitomizing dependent upon the synoptic gospels is being reshaped. This paper will explore the impact of new approaches to textual variants and oral, performance variants in understanding the parables in Gos. Thom. It finds use of Gos. Thom. versions as exemplars of the parables tradition earlier than its synoptic exemplars problematic.
4. Wisdom and Apocalypticism in Early Judaism and Early Christianity
11/23/2009 (1:00 PM to 3:30 PM)
Stephen J. Patterson, Eden Theological Seminary, “Shards of Apocalypse in a Wisdom Gospel: The Function of Apocalyptic Language in the Gospel of Thomas”
Abstract: It is often noted that the synoptic parallels in the Gospel of Thomas usually do not have the same apocalyptic cast as their canonical parallels. But that does not mean Thomas is devoid of apocalyptic altogether. In this paper I will examine these apocalyptic fragments in the Gospel of Thomas to see how they function within a text whose primary orientation is to Hellenistic Jewish wisdom theology. It is hoped that this will in turn deepen our understanding of the reception history of the Jesus tradition in the region east of the Euphrates River.
5. Function of Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphal Writings in Early Judaism and Early Christianity
11/24/2009 (9:00 AM to 11:30 AM)
Stephen C. Carlson, Duke University, “Origen’s Use of the Gospel of Thomas”
Abstract: Origen is especially well-suited for a study on the reception of the Gospel of Thomas in antiquity. He was perhaps the most well-read Christian intellectual of the third century and he amassed a huge library to support his prolific output of exegetical writings, many of which have survived. Moreover, Origen was more open-minded about citing “apocryphal” works than many other ancient Christian writers, so his vast body of work promises to contain several examples of his use of the Gospel of Thomas. This paper surveys a half-dozen cases where Origen used the Gospel of Thomas, both by name and anonymously—including one previously unrecognized instance—and assesses his attitude toward this text. In short, this survey shows that, despite Origen’s recognition that the Gospel of Thomas did not rank with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and despite the presence of some content he must have found objectionable, Origen nonetheless thought that the Gospel of Thomas contained historically useful and homiletically edifying material.
Each of these papers sounds interesting, though I am especially interested in the last two.