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9076The Literary Unity of Thomas

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  • IanB
    Dec 3 3:19 PM
      Hi all,

      I have been spending a lot of time lately examining the idea that Thomas is a unified document (as opposed to a randomly arranged collection of Jesus sayings) and I thought I would pass on some of the work I'm doing. The follow is by no means the final word on Thomas' unity, but I think it does force us to consider the possibility that Thomas is a much more sophisticated document than a lot of people give it credit for.

      Take for instance logia 8, 76, and 107. All three display striking thematic unity in their call for the reader to make the correct choice, with the actor in the each logion exchanging several things for the one good thing (many fish for one fish, all merchandise for one pearl, and 99 sheep for one sheep). In the case of the pearl, there is a certain amount of logic present: the wise merchant will exchange perishable wealth for a pearl, a "treasure that is unfailing, that is enduring, where no moth comes to eat and no worm destroys" (Thomas 76). But the case of the shepherd and the fisherman does not follow this logic. One would not survive as a fisherman if one threw all but the single largest fish back into the sea. Likewise, one would not survive as a shepherd if one abandons ninety-nine sheep in order to find the single largest one. But this seems to be the point. Thomas is clearly not concerned with the economics of fishing, or shepherding (or even the merchant), but is instead more concerned with the message, correctly choose the one greatest thing and leave the rest. That message is clear in all three logia. What is more striking is the location of these logia. While it would be reasonable for us to suspect they would be clumped together thematically (like logia 63-65), they are, in fact, found at the beginning, middle, and end of the Gospel. While logion 76 is not perfectly in the middle, logia 8 and 107 almost perfectly mirror each other, as the eighth saying, and seventh last saying. The probability that these almost identical sayings would randomly be placed in the first eight, and last eight sayings respectively is 0.0105925 (or 128/12084), thus it seems almost certain that these two sayings were intentionally arranged in this way.

      This hypothesis of intention structuring in Thomas' opening and closing sections is further supported when we look at the other logia with which these sections are comprised. For example, while Thomas rarely uses the narrative genre, there are sections of Thomas that do employ narrative introductions, or imply narrative scenes. Two such instances occur at the very beginning, and very end of Thomas. The incipit and logion 1 depict Jesus teaching and Thomas writing things down (possibly a school setting). Logion 114 also depict Jesus as a teacher (again possibly in a school setting), with Jesus in discussion with Peter over the worthiness of Mary. Thus Thomas both opens and closes with narrative scenes that depict Jesus as a teacher in what appears to be a school setting, again, hardly something that can be written off as coincidence. Furthermore, striking parallels exist in much of the material found in the first eleven and last eleven logia. Both Thomas 3 and 113 discuss the arrival of the kingdom, both use the imperative to present a negative example (the Kingdom is not in a specific place one can behold), and both conclude that the kingdom is somewhere less physical: within you and outside of you (Thomas 3), and spread upon the earth (Thomas 113). The second section of Thomas 3 also parallels the second section of Thomas 111 as both emphasize the importance of knowing one's self, explicitly in Thomas 3, and implicitly in the to find one's self in 111. These thematic parallels continue with Thomas 5 and 108 which both promise the revelation of hidden things. The final parallel in the opening and closing sections of Thomas is found between Thomas 6 and 104. Both are introduced by the disciples talking about praying and fasting (or more generally, asking questions about Jewish practice), and both state Jesus' stance on each (or more generally, Jesus stance on how to be Jewish).

      This is but a small part of a much larger project of mine and I am curious to see what other people think.

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