31[Excavating-Q] Keven Johnson on Thomas
- Nov 7, 2000Kevin Johnson asks about the the similarities and differences between Q and
the Gospel of Thomas?
This is a very big question, and I'm not sure where to begin or where to
end. When I began FORMATION I had thought that GThom would play a much
bigger role in the discussion of Q's literary history and genre than in the
end it did. This is because (a) I rejected Koester's procedure of treating
GThom as exemplary of Q's basic genre and theological tendency and his
procedure of using GThom as a tool to get at the early history of Q. Koester
might have been right in his basic instinct about what was formative and
what was secondary in Q, but I do not think that one can employ one document
to analyse the history history of another, unless there are good reasons to
suppose that a relation of literary dependence exists (as it does, e.g., in
the Didache and the Doctrina apostolorum). In my view, while there are
overlaps in the contents of Q and GThom, the grounds for positing a literary
relationship are very weak.
(b) Second, in the end I concluded that Q and GThom, though sharing a
substantial bit of material, are moving is quite different generic
directions. Technically, GThom is a chreiae-collection: its sayings are
framed, normally as questions and answers or circumstantial comments. Its
hermeneutic--of finding what is hidden in these hidden sayings--is redolent
of the Pythagorean Golden Words. By contrast, Q1 was framed as an
instruction (again, I use the term technically), and in the final redaction,
with the affixing of Q 3:2-3, 7-9, 16-17; 4:1-13, etc., Q had begun to take
on the characteristics of a bios. (By this I do not mean that it is a fully
developed bios; but other chreiae collections -- Demonax, for example --
also seem to function as simple bioi). This feature is, as I see it, lacking
entirely in GThom.
Thus I suggested that Q and GThom, despite their interesting overlaps, are
significantly different in their generic tendencies, Q already "heading" in
the direction of narrative lives, like the later gospels.
There are, of course, similarities, not only at the leve of individual
saying, but some of the interpretive strategies. For example, both Q and
GThom legitimate their sayings by connecting them to a transcendent source
of wisdom. GThom in the incipit, sayings 28, 52; Q in 10:16, 21-22. But
GThom frames its sayings a puzzles to be solved (incipit); Q either as
imperatives, or anecdotes elaborating the ethos of Jesus, John, or their
Much more might be said, and I'm not sure that this really get as what you
This is the _Excavating Q_ Seminar (Oct. 23 -- Nov. 10 2000).
Please send your messages to Synoptic-S@...
Please send all other correspondence to Synoptic-S-Owner@...