Archive for January 2014

The Gospel of Mary: Encountering a Jewish Christianity?   Leave a comment

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Here at King’s College London, we continued our Advanced Greek seminar last week, which has not been quite Greek yet since we haven’t reached the Greek portion of the text we are studying. That is, the Gospel of Mary (GM). While preparing this text I had some theological observations and would like to share them with you for the benefit of discussion. If you are not familiar with the text, here’s a quick summary first:

The Gospel of Mary depicts a post-Easter scene of anxious disciples surrounding the Risen Jesus who gives them a farewell discourse and final missionary instructions. After he leaves, the disciples are struck by fear and despair. Mary (it was not identified whether it was the mother of Jesus or the Magdalene, although it is much likelier to be the latter) calms them down by telling them, upon Peter’s request, about the teachings The Saviour revealed to her in a private vision. Finally, the teachings, which are indeed quite different to the earlier ones given by Jesus to them before he ascended, troubles Andrews and Peter. The first discards the whole vision (as strange ideas) and the second questions the rationale of the idea that Jesus chose Mary (the woman) in particular to give her private teachings. Yet, the text closes with Levi’s tough rebuke of Peter’s attitude towards Mary, and ” when they heard this they began to go forth to proclaim and to preach.”

Now I would like to share with you the following points:

The Son of Man

The Son of Man title has always been subject to heated debate. Monographs like Lietzmann’s Menschensohn and Heinz Tödt’s Der Menschensohn in der synoptischen Uberlieforung influenced NT scholarship through their deep penetration into the usage of the title. However, besides Second Temple literature, they did not go beyond the canonical usage in Christian literature. Gnostic writings shed more light on several themes in the Gospels with their varying amount of parallels especially with the Synoptics. Helmut Koester took the theses of Ernst Käsemann, Phillip Vielhauer and others regarding the authenticity of apocalyptic materials, a second step with his studies on Thomas and Q. His studies, later furthered by Kloppenborg, showed how the large number of logia in the Gospel of Thomas (GTh) that are parallel to Q are less theologically oriented, un-apocalyptic and most importantly lack the Son of Man (SoM) title. Of course it is understandable to see that apocalypticism and the SOM are inextricable.

That was the case with Thomas, what about the rest of the Gnostic materials? Here I would like to invite you to consider your own thoughts about it. My finding is that the SoM is not one of the most common titles you find in Nag Hammadi library. However, in specific texts they occupy a very interesting position. One of these texts is the Gospel of Mary (GM). In this Gospel we have two SoM sayings: 

8:14-20:  Beware that no one lead you astray saying Lo here or lo there! For the Son of Man is within you.

Of course we can see the parallel with Luke 17:21 by simply substituting “the Kingdom” with the SoM. Christopher Tuckett thinks that this “seems to reflect Gnostic ideas of a spark of the divine nature existing within human beings and waiting to be recognized.” (Gospel of Mary , Oxford, p.53). This is a possibility. However, it would be ruled out by looking at the next SoM notion, a few lines later. After Jesus finishes his farewell discourse, the disciples grieved and said:

9: 8-10 “How shall we go to the Gentiles and preach the gospel of the kingdom of the Son of Man?”

It appears to me that the SoM is the concrete person whose Kingdom is proclaimed, that is, the Saviour (Jesus). It also appears to me that the usage of the title cannot be more relevant since the saying is referring to the eschatological proclamation of the Kingdom. (Luke himself adds Q’s Logia Apocalypse on the Day of the SoM right after 17:21).  This reflects a mentality of a good knowledge of the SoM tradition yet in an early realised eschatology Christian language. Of course GM does not offer the original Vorlage since the saying lacks the SoM in all other parallels in the Synoptics and Thomas, which is another evidence of an early tendency to add the SoM as an authoritative title to eschatological discourses.

But what about the other “Gnostic” writings? The SoM title is not used anywhere else in the same way as it is here. Most of the Gospels/Acts use it with reference to the human nature or the humanity of the bearer of the title. This could be found in the only SoM saying found in GTh (86), Acts of Peter’s reference to Daniel 7, Apocryphon of John  et al. and most prominently the Gospel of Philip who reflects on the title in more detail. For Philip, the Son of Man is not a creator in himself since he was given the capacity of creation from the Father, and then we become (The Son of the Son of Man [this is not a typo!]) and the (Seed of Man)  if we are born from him …

From this I conjecture that the GM reflects an early Christianity (of Jewish origins) that used the SoM title in its relevant eschatological context and showed a possible evidence for the existence of the tendency to add it to the received Jesus’ traditions, the same way other texts (Q2 or Synoptic Gospels) might have done. The question becomes: does the GM provide a possible Jewish Christian context relevant to such redactional tendency? This takes us to the next point.

Conflict with a Jewish Christianity

The text preserves some controversies. Mainly:

The Saviour twice instructs his disciples not to lay any law (nomos) like the Law-Giver (νομοθέτης) (9:1-4, 18:20-21), and the disciples affirm it eventually (22:10-14).

Peter’s image is interesting. He is torn between his curiosity to know more revelations (10: 1-3) and his patriarchal convictions that undermine Mary’s credibility (21: 11-14). Finally another Jewish name (Levi… who might be Matthew) rebukes him harshly (22:1-4).

The tension with a Jewish understanding of law, authority of revelation and the role of women in the church is unmistakable. Peter’s figure had been the vehicle for several conflicts in which the question of Jewish Christianity is imposed… not only in Matthew but also in the very important Clementine Recognitions.

This doesn’t mean that that GM community is Gentile, F C Baur’s Petrine VS Pauline understanding of Christian diversity is certainly misleading. GM could belong to a Gnostic Jewish Christianity just like the one Ignatius of Antioch warns against in his letters to the Ephesians and the Magnesians. Interestingly, the term “Law-Giver” (νομοθέτης) appears only once in the NT … and it is in James 4:12, another Jewish Christian text. (Here I am indebted to our seminar friend Michelle). Apparently, Jewish Christianity is in the air.

The Son of Man title, in its glorious and eschatological way is not far from James. We have several traditions about him in which the SoM is attached to him. Jerome Quotes the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions saying that Jesus served Eucharist and told him “the SoM is risen” (Jerome, On Illustrious Men, 2). Eusebius also returns to Hegesippus in reporting James’ death in which he answers the Pharisees and Scribes by saying “why do you ask me about the SoM) (H E II 23). Most importantly, the SoM was seen by Stephen who had a negative views about the law and Temple.

Perhaps GM inherited a layer of traditions based on an intra-Christian conflict that involved the problem of Jewish authority, cult and law. This conflict was from within the Palestinian spectrum of Christianity in which the SoM, Petrine and Jamesean authorities were still predominant to a great extent behind the definitive end of Jerusalem in 135 CE.

These are some ideas that are entirely open for critique. Thanks for your patience!

Mina

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JESUS & BRIAN – OR: WHAT HAVE THE PYTHONS DONE FOR US?   Leave a comment

LocationSafra Lecture Theatre (Ground Floor) Strand Campus

When 20 (16:00) – 22/06/2014 (17:00)

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Monty Python’s Life of Brianprovoked a furious response in some quarters when it first appeared in 1979, even leading to cries of ‘blasphemy’. However, many students and teachers of biblical literature were quietly, and often loudly, both amused and intrigued. Life of Brian in fact contains numerous references to what was then the cutting edge of biblical scholarship and Life of Jesus research, founded on the recognition of the historical Jesus as a Jew who needs to be understood within the context of his time. Implicitly, in setting ‘Brian’ within the tumultuous social and political background of his age, Life ofBrian sets Jesus within it also. It assumes the audience has some knowledge of the gospel accounts, which directly inform the comedy.

Ever since Philip Davies first wrote on the film 15 years ago, other scholars too have turned their gaze to consider exactly what Life of Brian does in regard to Jesus scholarship, and have increasingly delved into its curious corners to reflect on what it says both about the tumultuous times of Jesus and also contemporary scholarly discussions.  Biblical scholarship has moved on greatly in the past 25 years, and various aspects of Life of Brian correlate with themes now intensely explored. Every Bible scholar knows what ‘blessed are the cheese-makers’ means among us!

This conference opens up Life of Brian to renewed investigation, using it in an innovative way to sharpen our view. Papers presented by some of the world’s most eminent biblical scholars and historians will discuss the film’s relevance to history, biblical studies and Life of Jesus research (see below). There will be discussion of the socio-political context and Josephus; costuming and setting; and other topics. The aim is to use the film to reflect on history, interpretation and meaning, as a tool that can help us consider our assumptions and the historical evidence: a ‘reception exegesis’ approach. There will be a book produced with selected conference papers, with a publication date of mid-2015.

It is also a celebration of a British movie masterpiece.

To download a copy of the conference programme please click here.

Confirmed Speakers:

  • Dr. Helen Bond, University of Edinburgh
  • ‘You’ll probably get away with Crucifixion’: How Brian (and Jesus) ended up on a Roman Cross’
  • Professor George Brooke, Manchester University
    ‘Brian as a Teacher of Righteousness’
  • Professor Richard Burridge, King’s College London
    ‘The Church of England’s Life of Python- or what the Bishop saw’
  • Professor James Crossley, University of Sheffield
    ‘Monty Python’s Life of Jesus’
  • Professor Philip Davies, University of Sheffield
    ‘Monty Python’s Life of Jesus’
  • Professor Bart Ehrman, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
    ‘The Life of Brian and the Apocalyptic Jesus’
  • Professor Paula Fredriksen, Boston University
    ‘ “Are You a Virgin?”: Biblical Exegesis and the Invention of Tradition’
  • Professor Martin Goodman, Oxford University
    ‘The Life of Brian and the Politics of First-Century Judaea’
  • Professor Amy-Jill Levine, Vanderbilt University,
    ‘Brian, Gender and Sexuality’
  • Professor Steve Mason, University of St. Andrews
    ‘What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us?’Brian and Josephus on Anti-Roman Sentiment’
  • Dr. Aaron Rosen, King’s College London,
    ‘Laughing at Brian, Laughing at Christ: Some Reflections on Film and Modern Art’
  • Professor Joan E. Taylor, King’s College London,
    ‘The Historical Brian’
  • Dr Bill Telford, Durham University
    Monty Python’s Life of Brian and the Jesus Film’
  • Dr. David Tollerton, University of Exeter
    ‘Blasphemy!’ On Free Speech Then and Now

Costs:

Conference registration fee: £180; students/unwaged £90

Conference dinner: £65

Strictly limited participation (220 places only). Early booking is essential. Participants will be responsible for finding their own accommodation in central London.

Tickets are available from http://estore.kcl.ac.uk/browse/extra_info.asp?compid=1&modid=2&deptid=17&catid=16&prodid=299

Organising Team

Conference Organiser:
Professor Joan Taylor, Professor of Christian Origins and Second Temple Judaism
joan.taylor@kcl.ac.uk;
tel. +44 (0)20 7848 2335

Conference assistants:
Katie Turner
katie.turner@kcl.ac.uk
Michelle Fletcher
michelle.fletcher@kcl.ac.uk

Administration/Project Officer:
Matthew Claridge
matthew.claridge@kcl.ac.uk
tel. + 44 (0)20 7848 7080
Mail Address/Office: Department of Theology and Religious Studies,
King’s College London,
22 Kingsway,
London WC2B 6NR
United Kingdom.

Source: http://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/trs/eventrecords/2014/jesusandbrian.aspx

What NT Wright really says   1 comment

young tom

Yes it’s him 🙂

Tom and the Three Musketeers 

N T Wright is a scholar who is accessible to both the public and academics. The former bishop of Durham is commonly categorised as a conservative scholar, or even sometimes apologist, which puts him up against “liberal” Germans and their American heirs. This is by no means baseless; a huge number of public talks and debates could justify such a perception of where he stands on the spectrum of New Testament scholarship.

In numerous lectures and articles, Wright challenged the school of Bultmann and the post-Bultmannians that later resulted in the so-called “Third Quest” in which Jesus, as he states, was restored to his “first century Jewish Apocalyptic milieu.” (which subverts the Modern Quest’s view of Jesus in relation to apocalypticism).

One of his rough anti-Bultmannian pieces is an article published under the title Taking the Text with Her Pleasure. In the form of an apocalyptic revelation, he launches an attack on Rudolf Bultmann, the “Old Man,” speaking from his tomb through a giant sword and a book to  three heirs of his legacy: John Dominic Crossan (an Irishman with a tongue of silver), Burton Mack (the American with a lion’s beard) and Helmut Koester (a German, with an accent not unlike the original old man; he carried under his arm two volumes dedicated to the Old Man’s memory). In his critique, Wright endeavoured to distance himself from the programme of the Modern Quest and the outcome of the literature of the previously mentioned scholars and their like (as if they actually represented one camp!): Those people, in vain, tried to maintain the life of the Bultmannian programme, using post-modernist tools to interpret the Historical Jesus according to their own subjective agenda(s), falling into circular arguments for their belief in the existence of Q and an early first Century Thomas against the authenticity of the apocalyptic materials.

Since this is just a blogpost, I am not intending to discuss all these accusations because I do agree with him in specific issues when it comes to Crossan and Mack and because I am planning to discuss the issue  of apocalypticism and the alleged circularity addressed toward Prof. Koester. This post will suggest that Prof. Wright himself is not quite distant from those whom he critiques even if he does not claim so.

N.T. Wright Demythologised

“N T Wright is conservative” is a statement that needs to be demythologised. The details of his work show a different view to the one attributed to him. I cannot go through everything but three themes could make my point: Eschatology, Christology and his exegesis that serves these two themes.

Wright is a strong proponent of realised eschatology. Jesus’ life is God’s story in Israel. Finally God himself breaks into the history of his people in the life of Jesus to inaugurate his Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is not something coming in the future but it is already launched in the ministry of Jesus. But what about apocalypticism and its futuristic scope? Here he provides a different understanding of Jesus’ apocalyptic teachings: it is politically oriented. It is warning addressed to the Israelites; if they did not refrain from their political understanding of the coming of the Kingdom, which pushes them to confront the Romans, they will be destroyed. Is this really a conservative approach to the Historical Jesus? An approach that puts the whole weight of the teaching on the Kingdom in the ministry of Jesus as a present reality cannot be called conservative.

The way he skillfully selects apocalyptic materials that serve his connection between present realised eschatology and the consequences of not accepting it is certainly not conservative if conservatism takes all the texts seriously, including the ones about future cosmological catastrophes (little apocalypse of Mark 13, or the wrathful Son of Man sayings).

This puts him and Bultmann’s Irish musketeer on the same page. Did he really take all the texts equally seriously? (Bear in mind his utter neglect of the Gospel of John). This takes us to the question: how did he use the texts?

The parable of the Sower (Mk 4: 3- 20 par.) is perhaps the most quoted and treated text in Wright’s argument for realised eschatology. In his analysis of the text (the most detailed analysis is in his Jesus and the Victory of God) Wright asked to set aside the Gospels’ interpretations and provided his own analysis which led him to think that it was an apocalyptic retelling of the history of Israel. The sower is God, the seed is not the word of God as all the synoptics say, but it is Israel. Finally, God manages to sow  (vindicate) Israel in the event of Jesus telling the parable. To be honest, I failed to see where he dealt with the Synoptic interpretation of the parable… he simply discarded it tacitly. He himself said “I am perfectly happy that the challenging parables should be applied to “humanity preoccupied with mundane pursuits,” but that seems to me our wider application of Jesus’ much more focused telling.” [Carey Newman (ed.) Jesus and the Restoration of Israel p.273]. What he has done is based on the unmistakable influence of C H Dodd’s interpretation of the parable and Jeremias’ analysis,  which strongly shows how the Synoptic interpretation is a later redaction. This applies to Wright’s treatment of the parable of the Vineyard in which the redaction is accepted without admitting it. In short, he accepts the outcome of redaction criticism yet he does not admit it. No wonder realised eschatology is where he meets the first of Bultmann’s three musketeers : Helmut Koester.

Furthermore, despite his enormous criticism of the Old Man in his recent How God Became King, he openly explained how the Gospels should be read as  “a story (not history) of Israel” in which the writers show how it was fulfilled in the life of Jesus… a metanarrative working as a vehicle for the content. The whole book was to argue that there is a gap between the Gospels and the creeds: “The gospels were all about God becoming king, but the creeds are focused on Jesus being God” (p.20). The story of the Kingdom, just as Bultmann said many times, is at the heart and centre of the Gospels… this is the proclamation which was discarded for the proclaimer at a later stage.

The climax is in his tricky Christology. I believe that being a pastor it is not easy to explain his belief entirely and explicitly based on scholarship. However, in his previously mentioned book, the main issue was a refutation of the council of Chalcedon which “de-Israelized” the faith. When you search for Wright’s Christology you will never find an explicit definition … he will tell you “the story of God and the people of Israel” but he will never take you to a specific Christological formula. However, his How God became King shows us a clear incontestable rejection of ontological Christology. (It is interesting to compare his own interpretation of John’s prologue with Bultmann’s to see how strikingly close they are).

Summarising my point; Wright’s study of the “Historical” Jesus does not bring about conservative conclusions regarding his person and ministry. Jesus’ divinity is not a “Christology from above” but is formed from below i.e. from his own ministry and unique role in launching the Kingdom of God. Jesus did not preach a cosmological apocalyptic message but it was part of his religio-political agenda. Jesus’ kingdom was realised in his ministry, not something coming in the future. However, his method, which avoids any compromise in the authenticity of the literature about Jesus  (i.e. avoiding all sorts of criticism), cannot give any justification to his conclusions. After all, setting Jesus in his “Jewish Apocalyptic milieu” should make him exposed to cosmological apocalypticism and not only the political apocalypticism. His Kingdom cannot be preached as a realised eschatology without dealing with the authenticity and life-situation of the incontestable futuristic traditions, and of course Christology is entirely dependent on how the Synoptic reports are presenting him since it is a Christology “from below.” Simply, Wright cannot take everything in the texts altogether and at the same time make such conclusions.

It is precisely the problem of the so-called Third Quest: because scholars such as Wright know that the idea of making Jesus equally represent all the colours of the spectrum of first century Judaism is ahistorical, they do select traditions over the others even if they do not say so.

Concluding, Wright’s study is indeed important for both public and academic circles. However, categorising him (whether that was by himself or by the others) as a conservative/traditionalist scholar had a grave effect both on his books as well as on his audience. This labeling put him up against those who agree with him on many non-conservative themes, such as the ones mentioned before, while employing strong tools of literary criticism.

Important Events at King’s College London   Leave a comment

Something of an events round-up for you all, it’s been a while since we had a newsletter, but with the Christmas break now well and truly behind us again, things are gearing up for another busy semester in TRS.  The following events are all taking place either in the Department or involve either current or former members of teaching staff.
Jewish Studies Research Seminar (January 14th)
Biblical Studies Research Seminar (January 15th)
Lecture and Book Signing by Prof. N.T.Wright (January 23rd)
Past, Present and Future – The Excavations at Masada (February 12th)
Collecting Greece in the 19th Century: text, image, object, knowledge (February 13th)
Ethel M Wood Lecture 2014
 
 
Jewish Studies Research Seminar (January 14th)
Prof. Martin Goodman (Oxford)
The Roman State and Diaspora Jews after Bar Kokhba’
4.30 Refreshments
5.00 Lecture
VWB 4.02 (Virginia Woolf Building, 22 Kingsway)
The paper will enquire why, after the Romans in 135 CE had changed the name of the Jewish homeland from ‘Judaea’ to ‘Syria Palaestina’ and had forbidden Jews to live in the city which they knew was the focus of Jewish religious devotion and ethnic identity, they nonetheless permitted Jews in diaspora cities to retain their status as members of distinct recognised communities with protected privileges.
 
 
Biblical Studies Research Seminar (January 15th)
The first meeting of this term’s Biblical Studies Research Seminar will take place on Wednesday January 15th in VWB (Virginia Woolf Building) room 3.01 . Dr Andris Abakuks of Birkbeck University will deliver a presentation on ‘The Synoptic Problem and the statistics of verbal agreements’.  The seminar begins at 5pm, and Dr Abakuks’ lecture will be followed by discussion and then refreshments.  You are warmly invited to attend.  
 
 
Lecture and Book Signing by Prof. N.T.Wright (January 23rd)
The Department of Theology and Religious Studies is delighted to host a lecture and book signing by Prof. Tom Wright (Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, University of St Andrews; formerly Bishop of Durham).  Prof. Wright is one of the world’s foremost and most influential New Testament scholars.  His long awaited big book on Paul, the fourth volume of the series, Christian Origins and the Question of God, has already been described as a ‘game-changer’.  Prof. Wright will give a lecture on Paul and sign copies of his new book.
 
The lecture and book launch will take place on January 23rd in the Chapel, King’s College London, from 6pm.  You are warmly invited to attend.  There is no admittance charge and refreshments will be provided. RSVP (by Jan 15th if possible) to attend, emailing publicity@spck.org.uk


Past, Present and Future – The Excavations at Masada (February 12th)
To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Masada excavations Guy Stiebel of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and currently the archaeologist in charge of Masada, has agreed to give a lecture Past, Present and Future – The Excavations at Masada, between 4-6 p.m. on Wednesday 12th February in the 
Jewish Museum, 129-131 Albert Street, London NW1. The lecture will take into account excavations undertaken at Masada during the past 25 years and is being partially sponsored by the British Friends of Hebrew University.
Also marking ‘Masada at 50’ – The Observer will be holding a Masada Exhibit which will run from Tuesday 21 January to Friday 21 February in the foyer of its HQ at Kings Place, 90 York Way, London, N1 9GU. The exhibition concentrates on the Observer’s role in championing the excavations and includes testimonies and memorabilia from some of the volunteers. Access is free, 10am to 6pm each day, 7 days a week.

 

Posted January 11, 2014 by Mina Monier in Conferences & Events

The St Andrews Symposium for Biblical and Early Christian Studies   1 comment

REGISTRATION NOW OPEN

Ancient Readers & Their Scriptures: The Texts, Reading Strategies, and the Versions of the Hebrew Bible in Second Temple and Early Judaism
 

You can now register for the St Andrews Symposium for Biblical and Early Christian Studies by following the link here: Registration. Only those who have registered are eligible for student travel scholarships which are available upon request.

Dates to Remember 

  • “Early bird” registration (£30) ends 1 February 2014.
  • Abstracts of 300 words, sent to both John Anthony Dunne (jad22@st-andrews.ac.uk) and Garrick Allen (ga22@st-andrews.ac.uk) are due 1 February 2014. See the previous post for details.
  • The Symposium commences 2-3 June. 

Notices

Please see “Visit St Andrews” for information on getting to St Andrews and accommodation. We recommend booking accommodation early.
If any questions arise, please contact John (jad22@st-andrews.ac.uk) or Garrick (ga22@st-andrews.ac.uk) We are looking forward to a fruitful dialogue with you this June!

SOURCE: http://standrewssymposium.blogspot.co.uk/

Posted January 11, 2014 by Mina Monier in Conferences & Events

Upcoming Important Book on Jesus and the Temple   Leave a comment

9781451480368h

Fortress Press has enlisted a new publication on  Jesus and Temple: Textual and Archaeological Explorations by James H. Charlesworth (ed.).

The book’s description states that it is engaging with the problem of defining Jesus’ attitude to toward the Temple as found in the Gospels. “The New Testament provides abundant evidence that Jesus frequented the temple, as did his followers after his death. But the Gospels also depict Jesus in conflict with temple authorities. Jesus’ attitude toward the temple is at the center of current historical Jesus research, yet those discussions are often not current with the latest archaeological and related findings.”

According to the publisher, Prof. Charlesworth here “gathers essays from world-renowned archaeologists and biblical scholars to address the current state of knowledge and to consider anew vital questions about the temple’s significance for Jesus, for his followers, and for New Testament readers today.” This gives us a good reason to expect an important work that will leave a good impact on the Historical Jesus as well as New Testament scholarship.

James Charlesworth is well known for building a fruitful dialogue between text and archeology within the frame of historical research. His Jesus within Judaism: New Light from Exciting Archaeological Discoveries is a clear model of his interdisciplinary programme in which our understanding of the size of early Jesus movement and how it interacted with the Temple cult as well as the Synagogue was developed by the textual and archeological discoveries in the past decades.

As a researcher who works on the early Christian attitudes toward the Temple and their implications on the formation of Christian trajectories, I am very much looking forward to this book which should be released on March 1st 2014.

The Gospel of Thomas Current Debate across the Atlantic   1 comment

9780802867483By the end of 2012, two monographs by British scholars arguing for the dependence of the Gospel of Thomas (GTh) on the Synoptic Gospels were published: Simon Gathercole’s The Composition of the Gospel of Thomas and Mark Goodacre’s Thomas and the GospelsThese monographs were recently followed by a third book from another UK-based scholar, Prof. Francis Watson’s  Gospel Writings: a Canonical PerspectiveAs it appears from the title, the book takes the same line in treating the Gospel of Thomas (and Q). 

On the other side of the Atlantic,  SCM Press has provided a fresh reprint (on demand) of Prof. Helmut Koester’s magisterial volume Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and DevelopmentFrom the same camp, Brill published the 84th volume of the Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies entitled “The Gospel of Thomas and Christian Origins“, encompassing a collection of Stephen J. Patterson’s essays on “the fifth Gospel.” Patterson, a pupil of Koester, furthers the studies underscoring the independence and impact of GTh. While writing these words I was informed that three prolific Thomas/Q  scholars from the United States and Canada are drafting responses that will be published this year. I saw one of these drafts and I think the amount of arguments will be quite enough as a response to the Goodacre-Gathercole thesis.  After reading the mentioned books, I would like to post some preliminary remarks.

Too English

The two books of Gathercole and Goodacre are strikingly similar and even more striking is the fact that they were written almost at the same time and independently. As Christopher Tuckett said in his review of the two books: they are quite “English” in their cautious approach. However, I find their “Englishness” stemming from the fact that they are part of what I believe to be “the canonical” approach towards Early Christian topics. Gathercole’s main book was his thesis on proving the preexistence Christology in the Synoptics while Goodacre’s main one, which is the key to interpreting his perspective of GTh, is refuting the Two Source Hypothesis and the existence of Q. This is quite English indeed.

The problem of the theological investment behind the scholarship on Thomas was even mentioned by Goodacre who clearly said that  the conservative (even apologetic) scholarship backs the GTh’s dependence on the Synoptic, while the liberals are against it (with a few exceptions from both sides such as Gerd Theissen who, as Goodacre believes, is conservative while B. Ehrman is liberal).

However, the books should not be underestimated because of this point. The book of prof. Goodacre in particular provides a systematic study of all the arguments for the dependence of GTh on the Synoptics in an unprecedented way. The book must be credited for its intelligent discussions of earlier literature.

16 Swallows do not make a Summer

The discussions, however, were not as complicated as the problem of the Thomasine tradition. Both Goodacre and Gathercole had the very same argument: if we can prove that GTh includes traces of Matthean or Lukan redaction then the author must have had these Gospels before him.  Both managed to focus on specific examples and made their point clear. The question comes: were the authors the first to discover such examples? Absolutely not! However, I failed to see a treatment of the perspective of pro-GTh-indeendence scholars on the matter. For example, Helmut Koester himself never spoke about the GTh in the absolute sense but rather he talked about the dependence on an early tradition common to Q1. Stephen Patterson clearly states that out of 95 parallels with the Synoptic traditions there are 16 sayings in which some sort of Synoptic dependence, on varying and debatable levels, could be claimed (Koester made a similar comment in “Ancient Gospels”).

Then where is the problem? It is in the omission of a treatment of all the materials. Goodacre’s book (which is more comprehensive) focuses almost entirely on these very parallels, avoiding giving the same level of attention to the other materials that might contradict his conclusion. Goodacre’s approach is simply: if only one saying shows dependence on redacted synoptic materials this is quite sufficient. Goodacre deals with GTh as a one literary document that had always been so. If we only have -/+ 17% of sayings that could show dependence while the rest show an independent line of simpler and more genuine form of sayings then it is necessary to equally interpret both blocs. Here we face two major explanations:

1- Either GTh was originally the same as the Coptic copy and the Greek Oxyr. fragments, and therefore GTh had a theological agenda to switch the other  -/+ 83% parallel synoptic sayings to the form they look like.

2- Or, GTh suffered redaction, harmonization or even influence from the Synoptics in its very final form that we know in the latest surviving manuscripts.

Goodacre’s avoidance of dealing in detail with the problem that the other sayings impose made him choose the first approach (even if he did not say that explicitly). He endeavoured to offer explanations such as the “missing middle” in the sayings to make their interpretation a mystery, which was a necessity to gnosticise the sayings. Again, that was far too abstract and inapplicable in many instances. In terms of interpretation, Goodacre’s treatment of Logion 9 (The parable of the Sower) makes the problem clear: why did Thomas keep such a parable with its possible apocalyptic imagery which Thomas “usually takes care to avoid”? Without any justification Goodacre prefers considering that Thomas had been systematically eradicating apocalypticism rather than arguing for a non-apocalyptic source from the beginning (!). This is far too untenable and it is impossible to prove this systematic avoidance in the other sayings. Goodacre appealed to this because the other route (the stratification of GTh) which solves the contradiction of the materials will destroy his case for the dependence of GTh on the Synoptics.

A careful study of the parallel sayings between GTh and the Synoptics will simply show us the 17% mentioned by Patterson, and emphasised by Goodacre, and they are indeed quite enough to show a literary dependance of the final form of GTh known to us  on the Synoptic sayings. Just like what happened to the Gospels (a 4th century manuscript of the Gospel of Mark could show how the scribe tried to redact it to look Matthean!). All it takes is to compare the surviving Oxyr. sayings with the Coptic to see the editing hand of the Coptic scribe, in particular with the term “Kingdom of God” which was twice found in the Oxyr. and redacted in the Coptic to “Kingdom”… such a simple observation is quite enough to rule out the existence of “the Kingdom of Heaven” (only 3 times) as an argument for the presence of Matthean redaction.

The majority of the rest of the sayings show an independent form of the sayings that were not necessarily interpreted by GTh gnostically to claim for a redaction towards Gnosticism (see in particular Koester’s ‘Three Thomas Parables’ in The New Testament and Gnosis: Essays in Honor of Robert McLaughlan Wilson). This significant observation should be set beside the 17% of sayings depending on the Synoptics. Otherwise, the debate will carry on fruitlessly.

The work on the GTh is promising and important in understanding the development of the Jesus tradition. I believe that the recently published books are a good wake up call to reconsider the different trends across the Atlantic. They also show us how pressing it is to provide a full scale study of the sayings in their Sitz im Leben in order to be able to claim what “Gnostic interpretation is” as we do keep using this term without remembering that it is not as clear as we think. 

Mina Monier

Kings College London