The Gospel of Thomas

The amount of credibility invested in the Gospel of Thomas by Koester and the neo-Liberal questers makes the issue of Thomas's value as a source for the teaching of Jesus particularly sensitive.104 From early days following its initial publi

102. With reference particularly to Crossan, Historical Jesus; and though he does not need to be reminded of the point (xxxi-xxxiii), nevertheless his working criterion (use only if attested more than once) is bound to skew the portrayal of Jesus in at least some degree.

103. Despite his frequent warnings not to regard Q material solely as written tradition, Streeter seems to fall into the trap he warns against elsewhere of regarding the material unique to Matthew (M) and Luke (L) as separate documents; hence his 'Four Document Hypothesis' (Four Gospels ch. 9). See further below, chapter 10, n. 24.

104. Translation from the Coptic by H. Koester and T. O. Lambdin in J. M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English (Leiden: Brill, 31988) 124-38; by B. Blatz in W. Schneemelcher and R. McL. Wilson, New Testament Apocrypha (Cambridge: James Clarke, revised edition 1991) 110-33; and by J. K. Elliott, Apocryphal New Testament 123-47 (with extensive bibliography). Also R. Cameron, The Other Gospels: Non-Canonical Gospel Texts (Guildford: Lutterworth, 1983) 23-37; Miller, ed., Complete Gospels 301-22; Funk, ed., Five Gospels471-532.

cation opinion has been almost equally divided as to whether the Gospel of Thomas knew and drew from the Synoptics (and John) or is a witness to an early form of the Jesus tradition prior to the Synoptics and independent of the Synoptics as such.105 The evidence is not decisive either way. The problem is the complexity of the traditioning process which such comparisons open up. In each case we have to consider the possibility of interaction between Thomas in its Greek form (attested by the Oxyrhynchus papyri)106 or its subsequent Coptic form and any of three or four levels — the traditions (oral or written) on which each document drew, the documents themselves (Mark, Q, Matthew, Luke, John), second-hand oral knowledge of individual traditions as they appear in each document but as a result of one or more hearings of the document being read (second orality),107 or even subsequent assimilation by scribes of one text form to another.108 It is awareness of such complexity which causes Tuckett to suggest, at the end of a paper in which he argues that Thomas show knowledge of Lukan redaction 5, 16, 55) and Markan redaction (GTh 9, 20), that 'the problem of the relationship between and the synoptics is probably ultimately insoluble'.109 At the very least, then, Thomas provides evidence of the different forms or versions which particular sayings could and did take, and possibly from an early stage of the traditioning process.

That said, however, certain caveats have to be lodged. First, the question of the value of Thomas as a source for our knowledge of Jesus' teaching has been caught up in the continuing search for evidence of pre-Christian Gnosticism. The point is that the Gospel of Thomas is best categorized as a 'Gnostic' (or gnostic)

105. Bibliography in Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels 84-85; Meier, Marginal Jew 1.128-30. That Thomas is the product of a tradition history 'basically independent of the synoptic tradition' is the central thesis of Patterson, Thomas and Jesus chs. 2-3, who concludes that 'Thomas is the offspring of an autonomous stream of early Christian tradition' though given the substantial overlap between Thomas and the Synoptic tradition 'autonomous' is a questionable judgment (see also below, §8.6d).

106. See above, chapter 4 n. 191. See further Schneemelcher and Wilson, New Testament Apocrypha 117-18, 121-23; Elliott, Apocryphal New Testament 128-33 (with bibliography), 135-36, 139-41.

107. See particularly R. Uro, 'Thomas and Oral Gospel Tradition', in R. Uro, ed., Thomas at the Crossroads: Essays on the Gospel of Thomas (Edinburgh: Clark, 1998) 8-32.

108. Cf. Patterson, Thomas and Jesus 92-93.

109. C. Tuckett, Thomas and the Synoptics\7Vovf 30 (1988) 132-57. Meier is overconfident in his conclusion that the Gospel of Thomas 'knew and used at least some of the canonical Gospels, notably Matthew and Luke' (Marginal Jew 1.139, referring to his earlier discussion, 134-37); he is supported in this by M. Fieger, Das Thomasevangelium (NTAbh 22; Münster, 1991; Meier, 'Present State of the "Third Quest'" 464); similarly J. H. Charlesworth and C. A. Evans, 'Jesus in the Agrapha and Apocryphal Gospels', in Chilton and Evans, eds., Studying the Historical Jesus 479-533 (here 496-503).

document.110 If then the distinctive Thomas tradition is early, it could provide a strong basis for the argument that a Gnostic response to and use of Jesus' teaching was among the earliest responses to Jesus; in a word, Gnostic Christianity would be as old (and thus as 'respectable'), or at least as deeply rooted in the Jesus tradition, as the Christianity of the canonical Gospels. However, the earlier stage of the search, the search for a pre-Christian Gnostic redeemer proved unsuccessful and ran out of steam in the 1960s. And the older view, that Gnosticism is more accurately defined as a second-century Christian or at least that the Gnostic redeemer myth was itself parasitic upon early Christianity's own Christology,113 should be accorded fresh recognition. The problem with using the term 'gnostic' for the various soteriologies of the first century (or earlier) is the same as with the use of 'wisdom' for a variety of sayings collections.114 Is the term appropriate even when the features described as Gnostic/ gnostic are so heavily diluted as to cease to be distinctive of And the alternative of 'pre-Gnostic' or 'proto-Gnostic' is little better as a description of mid-first-century The point is that the Gospel of Thomas

110. E.g., Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels 83, 124-28, referring particularly to GTh 3, 29, 50, 56, 83, 84; Patterson, Thomas and Jesus 226-28; Ludemann has no doubt that the message of Thomas 'corresponds with that of the early Christian Gnostics' (Jesus 589). Pace J. D. Crossan, Four Other Gospels (Minneapolis: Winston, 1985), who argues that Thomas 'is primarily concerned with asceticism rather than gnosticism' (28-35): the alternatives are not mutually exclusive. On the problems of defining Thomas more precisely as 'Gnostic' see A. Marjanen, 'Is Thomas a Gnostic Gospel?', and R. Uro, 'Is Thomas an Encratite Gospel?, in R. Uro, ed., Thomas at the Crossroads 107-39 and 140-62, with further bibliography 108-109 nn. 5-11.

111. The pre-Christian Gnostic redeemer myth was hypothesized by Bultmann in particular as a source for Paul's Christology (Theology 1.164-68), a thesis which was hugely influential through the middle of the twentieth century but is now widely regarded as passé (see, e.g., those cited in my Theology of Paul 282 n. 68 and 550 n. 97). See below, vol. 2.

112. S. Petrement, A Separate God: The Christian Origins of Gnosticism (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1994).

113. So already R. M. Grant, Gnosticism: An Anthology (London: Collins, 1961): 'The most obvious explanation of the origin of the Gnostic redeemer is that he was modelled after the Christian conception of Jesus. It seems significant that we know no redeemer before Jesus, while we encounter other redeemers (Simon Magus, Menander) immediately after his time' (18). See further those cited in my Christology in the Making (London: SCM,21989) 305 n. 3.

K. Rudolph defines Gnosis/Gnosticism about as broadly as is possible: 'a dualistic religion ... which took up a definitely negative attitude towards the world and the society of the time, and proclaimed a deliverance ("redemption") of man precisely from the constraints of earthly existence through "insight" into his essential relationship . . . with a supramundane realm of freedom and rest' (Gnosis: The Nature and History ofan Ancient Religion [1977; ET Edinburgh: Clark, 1983] 2).

We might as well describe Second Temple Judaism as pre- or proto-Christian, or seems to attest the developed form of the Gnostic redeemer myth {GTh 28).117 And the overall perspective of the document can be fairly described as that of second-century Gnosis.118 In consequence, therefore, we should not be surprised if we find that any earlier traditions have been redacted in a Gnostic direction.

Second, there is another persistent fallacy operative in this area, that 'independent' means 'more original'. Where elements in the Nag Hammadi documents cannot be derived from Christian tradition, the corollary is regularly drawn that these elements pre-date Christianity (proof that Gnosticism is as old as Christianity). But the ancient Mediterranean world was a melting pot for many religious traditions and philosophies. So, 'independent' may simply mean 'independent of Christianity' rather than 'earlier than Christianity'. In our present case, the different version of the Jesus tradition attested by the Gospel of Thomas is often assumed to be the more original.119 But all that analysis demonstrates is that the versions are different.120 The possibility remains open that that is all there is to it (attesting the diversity of ways in which the tradition was told and retold in Christian congregations), as well as the possibility of redaction either or both ways. This again is a subject to which we will have to return (chapter 8).

In particular, Koester's treatment of the Gospel of Thomas leaves him vulnerable to the charge petitio principii. For again and again he assumes rather than demonstrates that the Gospel of Thomas bears witness to an early, non-apocalyptic layer of Jesus tradition.121 But it is perfectly comprehensible that a Gnostic redaction, for which a 'realized eschatology' was central, should have omitted and 'corrected' all tradition which attested a future eschatology and hope of a coming Son of Man.122 And if, on other grounds, a future eschatology seems to belong to the bedrock of the Synoptic tradition,123 then the more probable conclusion will have to be that the Gospel of Thomas does indeed attest to a mediaeval Christianity as pre- or proto-Protestant, for all the value these designations would contain as descriptions of Second Temple Judaism and mediaeval Christianity.

117. Cf. the 'Hymn of the Pearl' in Acts of Thomas 108-13.

118. Note, e.g., GTh 3.4-5; 37.2-3; 50; 77; 84; 87.

Crossan gives the same warning: 'independent does not necessarily mean {Four Other Gospels 35).

120. Of the cases cited by Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels 89-124, note, for example, GTh 9, 20, 21b, 39, 63, 64, 76, 99, 100, 109 (Koester 92, 97-99, 103-104, 108-10, 112).

121. Koester, 'GNOMAIDIAPHOROI' 137-39; also 'One Jesus' 171, 186-87; also^w-cient Christian Gospels 92-99. In the last case, the comparison with John is similarly tendentious in claiming that John avoided the Gnostic implications (as indicated by Thomas) of the tradition he was using

122. As Koester acknowledges (Ancient Christian Gospels 97). But we should again note that Koester also agrees that 'the Gospel of Thomas presupposes, and criticizes, a tradition of the eschatological sayings of Jesus' ('Jesus the Victim' 7 n. 17).

gnostically motivated excision of that motif from the earlier tradition. In fact, it is only a tendentious analysis of both Q and Thomas which has been able to make a case for a non-apocalyptic earliest stratum of Jesus tradition.124 The tradition history of the son of man/Son of Man sayings in particular invites, rather, a more sophisticated analysis which tells much more in favour of their presence in the earliest stages of the tradition.125

In what follows, then, we shall expect to find that the Gospel of Thomas attests different forms which the Jesus tradition took. But where Thomas differs markedly from the consensus of the Synoptic tradition in terms of particular motifs, the likelihood will usually be that the Synoptic tradition is closer to the earliest remembered sayings of Jesus than is the Gospel of Thomas. Which also means that issues of date may be largely irrelevant to our concerns. For while the question must always remain open that a particular Thomas saying has preserved an /earlier version of the saying than the Synoptic tradition or that an unparalleled Thomas saying is as early as the earliest Synoptic tradition, it will always be the undoubtedly early Synoptic tradition which provides the measure by which judgment is made on the point.126 The insistence on the need to date the Gospel of Thomas itself early (as by Crossan and Koester)127 once again implies a theory of tradition history too much in terms of literary strata/editions rather than of oral retellings/performances.

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