Cc: GPG, Synoptic, WSW
In Response To: Rick Hubbard
On: Stratifying GThos
I had suggested that it is necessary to account for any
stratifications in a text before proceeding to date it, or otherwise
place it in context.
RICK: I suppose this is how one might describe what April DeConick has
done with the Gospel of Thomas. But I have to confess, I've read and
re-read her analysis and no matter how hard I try, I just can't utter
that critical "AHA!"! On the other hand, I can't pick her work apart
either, so her examination has to serve at least as a point of
BRUCE: Not necessarily. If her work seems suggestive but flawed,
further work at her result might be fruitful. If it seems wrongheaded,
better to go back to the text and start over. These things depend.
RICK: If we are going to use DeConick as a point of departure (or at
least as an investigative model) then the question is, how to we apply
the kind of examination you describe to Thomas?
BRUCE: I am not clear if we are trying to improve on DeConick, or
starting over. I guess I would recommend the latter. I don't find her
result convincing, either, despite much effort, and I can tell you
why. It looks circular to me. Specifically, her model is of a text to
all points of which other sayings (in this case, Synoptically
recognizable sayings) were later added. This makes the unique (the
most Gnostic) part of Thomas be also the original part, and implies a
later rapprochement with Synoptic tradition. Is this intrinsically
Not that parallels necessarily govern, but Streeter/Taylor tried much
the same thing for Luke, and the result was a resounding flop (read
the proto-Luke as extracted and published by Taylor, and I think you
will see what I mean. It doesn't gel as a text). The parts of Luke
that derive from Mark are demonstrably older, in Luke, than the new
stuff Luke later added to that basis.
My hunch with Thomas, based in part on several convincing arguments
that particular passages in Thomas are later than their Synoptic
counterparts, which does not by itself determine a scenario, is that
Thomas is in general late, and that its, so to speak, purely Gnostic
parts are if anything further developments from that more closely
This is just a hunch, not a proposal, but I mention it to show that
DeConick's full-length accretion model is not the only one; there can
also be a linear accretion model. For instance, what if Greek Thomas
is not only older than Coptic Thomas, but attests a much shorter text?
RICK: Presumably, in order for this to work, it is going to require a
high (and broad) level of Coptic literacy. It is likely that scholars
are emerging who will be able to do this (e.g., Bentley Layton and his
student Stephen Emmel, are of this
caliber). Meanwhile the rest of us I suppose have no choice but to be patient.
BRUCE: Patience is not a virtue in these situations; rather, anger and
impatience and a little pounding on the table in demand for results.
Coptic is fine, no doubt, and obviously has its place in the problem,
but to mention an analogous situation, if expertise in Greek were all
that were required to solve the various NT textual problems, those
problems would long ago have been solved. So quite possibly Coptic is
not going to be wholly sufficient for the task; one or more other
ancillary skills may be required.
If to the contribution of an expert Copticist (and aren't there some
already in print?), there were added the insights of someone who had a
literary sense, and someone else who had an institutional sense, and
so on, things might happen. Any one of these alone is likely to dig
its own lonesome hole and hunker down in it. We need cooperation and
RICK: One last note: If the eleven centuries or so that it appears to
have taken for the Confucian Analects to have been correctly
"stratified" (and around 400 years for the same to happen with the
Pentateuch) then I suppose the objective to have it all sorted out by
lunch time next Thursday might be a little over-optimistic, right?
BRUCE: We won't know until we try. If we count the time back from
Lachmann's Lucretius to Lucretius himself, we are going to get a long
estimate. If we ask how long it took Lachmann, starting from the
manuscripts available to him, to define the archetype, it gets a
little more promising. To mention an even more encouraging case (and
others are welcome to contribute from their experience too), it took
me about an hour and a half to determine that the archetype, the
imperial library copy, of a certain Chinese text of the Han Dynasty
was written, not on bamboo, but on silk.
That rate of progress would leave lots of free time between now and
Or even lunch Tuesday.
Not all problems can be solved; let's get that up front. But those
that can be solved do not necessarily take a thousand or so years. The
process is likely to be much faster with attention, collaboration, and
rapid sharing of preliminary results.
RICK: In any case, I remain doubtful that at the current state of
research, we can postulate any reliable date(s) for Thomas.
BRUCE: At this moment, things are admittedly in a deplorable state,
except that there are some helpful translations, some knowledgeable
commentaries accompanying some of them, and even (dare I mention) a
concordance to one of them. And there is a lot of time left before
Thursday. Who would like to make a suggestion?
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst