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The Synoptics, Thomas, Marcion, and other early gospels

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  • David Inglis
    I have just come across this entry http://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/gospel-of-thomas-and-the-synoptic-gospels/ in Larry Hurtado s blog, in which he
    Message 1 of 2 , Dec 17, 2013
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      I have just come across this entry http://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/gospel-of-thomas-and-the-synoptic-gospels/ in Larry Hurtado’s blog, in which he comments on Mark Goodacre’s ‘Thomas and the Gospels: The Case for Thomas’s Familiarity with the Synoptics.’ Kudos to Goodacre for connecting the two (not the only one, I am sure). However, I don’t see the reverse ‘familiarity’ suggested anywhere, i.e. that that one or more of the synoptics show familiarity with Thomas. Unless it can be decisively determined that the Gospel of Thomas could not have influenced the synoptics (i.e. could not have been earlier than the latest revision of any of the synoptics), then how any synoptic theory could ignore Thomas as a possible source (e.g. one of aLk’s ‘many’), but nevertheless I believe all of them do (but I would be very happy to be proved wrong).

      For example, the blog just mentioned refers to: “what Goodacre calls “the missing middle” of Synoptic units in GThomas. These essentially are instances where a parable or other saying in GThomas seems to be an abbreviated version of a more complete version found in the Synoptics.” However, there is no suggestion that I have seen (and again I would love to be corrected) that “the missing middle” might instead be the result of shorter sayings seen in Thomas existing in expanded form in the synoptics.

      A similar ‘blind spot’ seems to exist w.r.t. Marcion’s gospel. Despite the number of people who have noticed that Marcion’s gospel would be a really bad revision if it was created by editing Lk, it makes a great deal of sense if seen instead as an earlier text that was then used by aLk. However, the possibility that Marcion’s gospel could pre-date canonical Lk has apparently been almost entirely ignored by those working on the synoptic problem. It seems that there is a general belief that the synoptic problem can be resolved without resort to any texts other than those that we know as Mt, Mk, and Lk. Given the many gospels and other texts that we KNOW existed in the early days of Christianity, why is this?

      David Inglis, Lafayette, CA, 94549, USA

    • E Bruce Brooks
      To: Synoptic (GPG) In Response To: David Inglis On: Thomas and the Synoptics From: Bruce David (speaking of Mark Goodacre s recent book): However, I don t see
      Message 2 of 2 , Dec 23, 2013
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        To: Synoptic (GPG)

        In Response To: David Inglis

        On: Thomas and the Synoptics

        From: Bruce

         

        David (speaking of Mark Goodacre’s recent book): However, I don’t see the reverse ‘familiarity’ suggested anywhere, i.e. that that one or more of the Synoptics show familiarity with Thomas. Unless it can be decisively determined that the Gospel of Thomas could not have influenced the Synoptics (i.e. could not have been earlier than the latest revision of any of the Synoptics), then how any synoptic theory could ignore Thomas as a possible source (e.g. one of aLk’s ‘many’), but nevertheless I believe all of them do (but I would be very happy to be proved wrong).

         

        Bruce: My own small work on Thomas suggests something like what David here suspects. Much of Thomas consists of borrowings and adaptations from the Synoptics, typically Luke but with some Matthew thrown in. No possible doubt about it. Thomas as a whole (all 114 passages) is thus demonstrably post-Synoptic.

         

        But is it valid to take Thomas as a whole? Much in the text suggests that it is not, and indeed, several Thomas workers have proposed one or another accretional model. I have proposed one myself. It ends the Thomas core at the point (Thos 12) where James the Brother is the authority model (we know he was esteemed within the Nag Hammadi circle, given several texts therein included, so that is not as surprising as it may seen), and the next layer begins where the eventually preferred authority model, Thomas, is first mentioned (Thos 13). Then the core, and at one time the whole text, consisted of Thos 1-12, it being universally agreed that the preceding piece is just a prologue, and a Thomasine prologue at that. The core, so to speak, is framed by later Thomas material.

         

        If so, and if there are Thomas passages which precede, rather than follow, their Synoptic parallels, then the core is probably a good place to look for them.

         

        Take for example Thos 3. MkG, p35, shows in a very nice table that it corresponds with Lk 17:20-21. But correspondence shows literary relation, it does not of itself establish directionality. I now take up directionality. One piece of useful evidence for directionality is that one half, the presumptively later half, of parallel sayings is often awkwardly situated in context, whereas this tends to be less true of the earlier half. Does Thos 3 sit comfortably in Thos? Since there is little continuity between sayings in Thos, that is hard to say one way or the other. (A connection probably exists, but it is also probably esoteric, and thus not explicable within the limits of an E-mail note). How about the Luke side? Lk 20:21 says that “the Kingdom of God is within you.” Does this fit the rest of Luke? Not trusting our own impressions, we turn to the standard commentaries. Fitzmyer interprests Lk 17:20 in the sense of Lk 11:20, The Kingdom is present in the sense that Jesus himself, representing the Kingdom, is present “among you.” Nolland sees more clearly that 17:21 is at odds with the rest of Lukan, and indeed Christian, preaching on the subject: the Kingdom is an objective event which will happen, all at once, at some future time. To quote Nolland, “[17:21] also represents a view of the Kingdom of God not found elsewhere in the Gospel tradition . . . Taken in conjunction with the preceding negations, it leaves no room for a future eschatological intervention of God as anticipated in vv22-27.”

         

        Just so. Then on the basis of Sitz im Context, or in this case lack of it, Lk 17:20-21 must be considered secondary, and as the necessary complement, Thos 3 is primary.

         

        Though the Lukan version of this saying clashes with the whole teaching of the Gospel tradition, it fits very well with the rest of the Thomas core teaching, according to which salvation is not something realized in a future event; it is something achieved by the individual initiate, at no particular time or place (escape from this world happens separately for each individual). Thos 3 in context may be seen as a rejection of the Jewish idea of a future End Day, and an assertion instead of the idea of individual salvation gained through esoteric knowledge. Then the chronological sequence is

         

        Early Christian belief in a future End Day, when the good will all at once go to Heaven

        Thos 3 denies this, and substitutes individual salvation

        Lk picks up this striking saying, at some cost to his theological consistency

         

        CONTEXT

         

        I have elsewhere noted that the Thomas people are very like what I call the Alpha people; the earliest of all Christians, in that they have no knowledge of the idea that Jesus’ death is somehow connected with their personal salvation; they make salvation a matter of individual effort (in the Thomas case, an effort of understanding rather than of compliance with the reduced Mosaic Law taught by Jesus).  Then their connection with Christianity must be very early; before the various Death Doctrines entered Christian tradition. There is such a window. It can easily be shown that the Predictions of Jesus’ Death belong to a late stratum in Mark, and Adela Yarbro Collins has already argued at length that the Resurrection in Mark is a later addition to the Passion story. Then the appearance of these Death Doctrines in Christian thinking is not original; it occurred at some definite point in the time period covered by Mark (my estimate is the span from 30 to 45). It is at an early point in that span that the Thomas Christians and the Alpha Christians were close together, theologically.

         

        But the Thomas Christians were not simply Jesus followers; they also had their own tradition. It is possible to recover that tradition in some detail, by taking the core Thomas sayings seriously, and assessing them collectively. But if I were to give it here, I would probably get a reaction like that which “Thomas” fears in Thos 13, and so I forbear. This note is long enough anyway.

         

        Respectfully suggested,

         

        Bruce

         

        E Bruce Brooks

        Warring States Project

        University of Massachusetts at Amherst

         

        http://www.umass.edu/wsp/alpha/index.html

         

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