Latest JSNT Focuses on the Gospel of Thomas (Skinner)

I have just seen the latest fascicle of Journal for the Study of the New Testament, and I was thrilled to see that every article focuses exclusively on the Gospel of Thomas. The lineup looks like this:

1. A New Synoptic Problem: Mark Goodacre and Simon Gathercole on Thomas (John S. Kloppenborg)

2. A New Gnosticism: Why Simon Gathercole and Mark Goodacre on the Gospel of Thomas
Change the Field (Nicola Denzey Lewis)

3. Twice More—Thomas and the Synoptics: A Reply to Simon Gathercole, The Composition of
the Gospel of Thomas, and Mark Goodacre, Thomas and the Gospels  (Stephen J.

4.  Thomas Revisited: A Rejoinder to Denzey Lewis, Kloppenborg and Patterson (Simon Gathercole)

5. Did Thomas Know the Synoptic Gospels? A Response to Denzey Lewis, Kloppenborg and Patterson (Mark Goodacre)

These essays are all revised versions of papers given at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Chicago back in 2012, with one change. Christopher Tuckett’s contribution has been replaced by a contribution from Kloppenborg. I attended the session and it was superb. If you’ve read this blog (or my previous blog), you know that I have interviewed a number of the participants in this session. You will also remember that I am very fond of (and convinced by) the work both Goodacre and Gathercole have done in demonstrating Thomas‘s knowledge of the Synoptics (especially Matthew and Luke).


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. . . .

Interview with Marvin Meyer on the Gospel of Thomas (Part II)

marvmeyer_lgHere’s part two of my interview with Professor Meyer:

(CWS) 4. Another research interest that I have and one that I hope to promote on this blog is the historical Jesus. You are known for your work in the Jesus Seminar and your interest in early Jesus traditions. To your mind, what implications for historical Jesus research does the Gospel of Thomas have? Is there anything in Thomas that is old enough to be potentially illuminating about the life of the historical Jesus? If so, what?

(MM) The early sayings traditions in the Gospel of Thomas may be as useful as Q materials for providing insights into the teachings of the historical Jesus. Personally, I find that the overall presentation of Jesus in Thomas as a Jewish wisdom teacher and storyteller who employs parables, typically without allegorical interpretations, and utilizes an interactive pedagogy, is more compelling than any of the New Testament gospel accounts, which have been shaped by a dominant concern for the salvific nature of the crucifixion and resurrection. Additionally, I find the lack of apocalyptic (or even the opposition to apocalyptic) in Thomas coheres with what I consider very likely to be characteristic of the historical Jesus: he appears to have been a Jewish sage who used witty aphorisms and stories to encourage people to think about and seek after the reign of God.

In The Gospel of Thomas I wrote, “In contrast to the way in which he is portrayed in other gospels, particularly New Testament gospels, Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas performs no physical miracles, reveals no fulfillment of prophecy, announces no apocalyptic kingdom about to disrupt the world order, and dies for no one’s sins.” To this I might add that Jesus in Thomas does not rise from the dead on the third day. In all these respects the Gospel of Thomas may bypass the emerging theological and soteriological issues in the New Testament gospel portraits of Jesus as son of God and savior, and as a result Thomas may bring us a step closer to the historical Jesus.

(CWS) 5. 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?

(MM) In general, for the texts of the Nag Hammadi library and Berlin Gnostic Codex 8502, including the Gospel of Thomas, I appreciate the collective contributions of the three international teams that have worked more or less simultaneously on the texts: the Berliner Arbeitskreis für koptisch-gnostische Schriften (compare their two-volume work, Nag Hammadi Deutsch [De Gruyter]), the French-language team centered at the Université Laval in Québec (compare their Écrits gnostiques [Gallimard]), and the Coptic Gnostic Library Project of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity in Claremont, California (compare The Nag Hammadi Library in English and The Nag Hammadi Scriptures [Harper]). I also appreciate the publications of Elaine Pagels (The Gnostic Gospels and Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas [Random House]), and these days the work of Stephen Patterson on Thomas is proving to be exciting and innovative (compare The Gospel of Thomas and Jesus [Polebridge], and subsequent articles and presentations).

(CWS) 6. Are you currently planning to undertake more research on the Gospel of Thomas? If so, what other projects do you have planned (or in the works)?

 (MM) Currently I am awaiting the publication of a new poetic translation of the Gospel of Thomas I have produced with my friend and colleague, Willis Barnstone, in Essential Gnostic Scriptures (Shambhala), to appear soon.

(CWS) 7. To your mind, what areas of Thomas research 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?

(MM) Among other areas of research on the Gospel of Thomas, I suggest studies of individual themes, sayings, and groups of sayings in Thomas. The Gospel of Thomas, after all, is a diverse assemblage of sayings gathered in a “looseleaf” collection that was copied, as we know from the varied presentations in the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus fragments and the citations in Hippolytus of Rome, in versions that differed in wording and the order of sayings. As a paradigm of such a study (which began as a dissertation), I refer to Howard Jackson, The Lion Becomes Man: The Gnostic Leontomorphic Creator and the Platonic Tradition (Scholars Press).

I would like to thank Prof. Meyer for interacting with my questions in this forum. In the coming days I will return to my series of posts that focus on scholarly views of Thomas‘s theological outlook.

Four Views on Thomas: Thomas as Gnostic Text (Part II)

Despite the trend in understanding Thomas as something other than gnostic, a handful of scholars still regard Thomas as such. In his revised dissertation, Das Thomasevangelium: Einleitung, Kommentar, und Systematik, Michael Fieger (1991) includes an 11-page introduction that rehearses many of the standard issues, including date, provenance, and theological outlook. Fieger argues that Thomas is a second-century gnostic gospel that is largely dependent upon both the Synoptics and gnostic traditions available to the community in which it was composed. Fieger identifies two types of material in Thomas: synoptic-like sayings and gnostic sayings, the latter of which provides the interpretive grid through which the entire gospel can be understood (cf. pp. 3-6).

The process by which Fieger approaches Thomas is somewhat circular. Fieger reads every logion in Thomas through the lens of gnosticism, resulting in gnostic interpretations that further reinforce his premise that Thomas is gnostic. In his review of Fieger’s monograph, Stephen J. Patterson (JBL 111 [1992]: 361-63) criticizes the book’s approach, suggesting that a large number of Fieger’s gnostic readings are not demanded by the text but are imposed by the gnostic grid with which he begins. Patterson’s critique echoes an assertion that is commonly voiced by scholars today—for one to interpret Thomas as a gnostic text, one must import gnosticism into the text. Patterson also points out Fieger’s failure to recognize the presence of sapiential material in Thomas. How, he asks, have both wisdom traditions and gnostic traditions come to exist side-by-side in Thomas? Fieger’s gnostic model fails to address this question.

William Arnal also sees both sapiential and gnostic material in the Gospel of Thomas, though unlike Patterson he does regard some of the material in Thomas as genuinely rather than incipiently gnostic (cf. “The Rhetoric of Marginality: Apocalypticism, Gnosticism, and Sayings Gospels,” HTR 88: 471–94). Arnal argues that gnostic themes are part of a secondary redaction to the original, wisdom-oriented gospel. Through the introduction of gnostic material, a gnostic interpreter has co-opted the original and pressed it into the service of gnosticism.

The terms “gnostic” and “gnosticism” have also appeared in the titles of several books by Marvin Meyer, and in one volume, Meyer’s translation of Thomas is accompanied by a gnostic interpretation of each logion (with Harold Bloom, 1992). More recently Meyer has taken a more nuanced stand, acknowledging that “[w]hile the Gospel of Thomas has some features in common with gnostic gospels, it does not seem to fit the definition of Gnosticism. . . .to a significant extent. Thus I prefer to consider the Gospel of Thomas to be a gospel with an incipient gnostic perspective” (The Gnostic Gospels of Jesus, 2005). With this comment Meyer affirms what a growing number of scholars are recognizing. The use of Thomas by later gnostics is not enough for scholars to consider it a full-blown gnostic text.

Overall, recent scholarship on the Gospel of Thomas appears to be moving away from the supposition that Thomas is a gnostic text, while remaining aware of the interest Thomas held for later gnostic interpreters.

In our next few posts we will look at the view that Thomas is an example of Christian wisdom literature.

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

9780567086075Here’s part two of my interview with Professor Uro:

(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.

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.

Paul and the Gospel of Thomas (Part V)

The second Paul-Thomas parallel I want to look at is Gos. Thom. 17 and 1 Cor 2:9:

Gos. Thom. 17

1 Cor 2:9

Jesus said, ‘I will give you what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, what no hand has touched, what has not arisen in the human heart.’ But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’


The similarities between 1 Cor 2:9 and Gos. Thom. 17 are evident right away though questions about the sharing of tradition prove difficult to answer. To begin with, the proverb appears to draw upon elements of Isa 52:15, 64:3-4, and/or 65:16, though no part of the saying represents a direct quotation of any OT passage. This was no doubt an important proverb in the early church as different versions appear in 1 Cor 2:9, Gos. Thom. 17, 1 Clem 34:8, 2 Clem 11:7, Dial Sav 57, Acts Thom 36, Acts Pet 39, Protrepticus 10.94.4 (an exhortation of Clement of Alexandria to the Greeks), and the Turfan Fragment M 789. Similarities are also present in 1 John 1:1, though the context and situation addressed by the Johannine epistles may suggest its independence from the tradition shared by these other texts. The widespread appeal of this proverb makes tracing its transmission history a complex endeavor.

If we exclude 1 John 1:1, it is clear that Thomas and Paul represent the two earliest extant versions of this proverb. Therefore the first question to explore is, which version preceded the other? Scholars are split on this question. April DeConick includes Gos. Thom. 17 in her list of earliest Thomas sayings, arguing that it reflects the eschatological views of the earliest Thomasine Christians (see Recovering, 97, 113, 118, 129). Stephen Patterson, who also regards logion 17 as pre-Pauline, offers the following unqualified assertion about Paul:

[I]n 1 Corinthians 2 he uses the wisdom style of these opponents to compose his own ‘wisdom speech’ (2:6-16), only to correct their views with a few well-placed Pauline twists. Interestingly, in the midst of this speech Paul quotes a saying from the Gospel of Thomas. . . .The version of the saying quoted here by Paul is not paralleled word-for-word in Thomas, but reflects the sort of differences one would expect to have resulted from oral transmission (from “Paul and the Jesus Tradition,” Harvard Theological Review 84 [1991] 36-37).

Thinking along the lines of those who argue that the communities of John and Thomas were embroiled in a theological conflict, Plisch suggests that Thomas may have altered the saying in response to 1 John 1:1, which would mean that Thomas’s version is later than Paul’s. Gathercole argues that Gos. Thom. 17 has a number of secondary features, indicating it emerged later than Paul’s version. There seem to be as many opinions on this parallel as there are scholars who take a position.

Several features of Gos. Thom. 17 suggest that it is later than 1 Cor 2:9. First, Thomas includes a reference to “what no hand has touched.” This does not appear in the Pauline version and would seem to be an ‘improvement’ as it provides greater parallelism in the saying. Second, Thomas’s attribution of this saying to Jesus is surely to be regarded as secondary. Most later versions of the proverb preserve it as a saying of the Lord where Paul does not. All of this would suggest Paul’s version is earlier.

It appears that the Thomas logion emerged later than Paul’s version of the proverb, but demonstrating that it is earlier than Paul is not the same as demonstrating its dependence upon Paul. In our next post we will ask the question, “Is there any compelling evidence that Gos. Thom. 17 used 1 Cor 2:9?