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review of WATSA booklet on Thomas, part 2 of 3

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  • chaptim45
    Part Two of Three-- WATSA: What Are They Saying About The Gospel of Thomas? By Dr. Christopher W. Skinner. A review by Tim Staker, Chaplain, Indianapolis, IN.
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 9, 2012

      Part Two of Three-- WATSA: What Are They Saying About The Gospel of Thomas? By Dr. Christopher W. Skinner. A review by Tim Staker, Chaplain, Indianapolis, IN.


      2. The Gospel of Thomas and the Canonical Texts

                      A. Thomas and the Synoptics. Early on in Thomas studies, when the Gospel of Thomas was considered a 2nd century Gnostic text, scholars assumed Thomas was a combination of harmonization attempts with apparent Gnostic sayings. Today, Skinner says, scholars either approach Thomas as being dependent or independent from the Synoptic Gospels.


                       B. Thomas' Dependence on the Synoptics. Skinner starts with Wolfgang Schrage [Emeritus Professor of New Testament at the University of Bonn] and his complex arguments about Thomas' dependence on the Synoptics.  Schrage endeavors to demonstrate that Thomas was not based upon an Aramaic source, but upon a Greek source, therefore Thomas must be based upon the Greek Synoptic tradition which was rendered into Coptic.  Schrage's work continues to have an influence upon European scholars, such as the Oxford scholar Christopher Tucket who posits that the Gospel of Thomas was primarily dependent on Mark.  Tucket has accused Helmut Koester (see below under "C") of "circular reasoning" and concludes that the argument for a "Wisdom" genre in the early first century is unconvincing.


                       C. Thomas' Independence from the Synoptics.  Skinner compares Schrage's influence on European scholars to [Harvard's] Helmut Koester's influence in North America. Skinner says that Koester affirms that Thomas and Q are examples of the earliest Christian literature. Stephen J. Patterson agrees with this, and perceives material in Thomas that is related to the canonical texts and variously rates these as "synoptic twins", "synoptic siblings" and "synoptic cousins".  The "twins" are sayings that come from a common source but developed in their own unique ways, and these texts argue for an independent Gospel of Thomas. Skinner also considers Charles Hendrick's 2002 article on Thomas which argues that original material found in Thomas must be independent unless it can be shown otherwise.


                       D. Thomas and Luke. Several scholars have worked on the theory that Thomas was an influence upon Luke's Gospel.  Gregory J. Riley [of Claremont] points out that the awkward language in Luke's discussion about the "Divider" (Lk 12:14) shows a reliance on Thomas' version in logion 72. Riley provides a second example where he believes Luke, in Luke 5:39, conflated Marcan material and Thomas L47. Another scholar named Steven R. Johnson [managing editor of the International Q Project], has done an expansive survey of the textual witnesses of the "Treasure in Heaven" saying and argues that Luke's version is a conflation of "Q, Mark and special redactional elements of Thomas logia 76:3" and parallels. (He adds that versions in John 6:27 and Colossians 3:1-2 are specifically dependent on Thomas; and that James 5:2-3 and Matthew 6:19-20 were built on Q).

      On the other hand, Simon Gathercole [at Cambridge] finds twelve different logia that are in the Gospel of Thomas where he finds Lucan redaction is present while Markan redaction is absent. Gathercole timidly concludes that that Luke's influence on Thomas is "very probably indirect".  Skinner suggests that the relationship of Thomas and Luke is an area of scholarship that demands more clarity.


                      E. Thomas and John. This section is probably the meatiest part of Skinner's WATSA booklet, as Skinner shows his familiarity with the scholarly debate over the Thomas-John relationship.

      Back in 1962 the renown Catholic scholar Raymond Brown sensed a relationship between the Gospel of Thomas and John. He examined 55 logia in Thomas that had some kind of parallel to material in John's Gospel. Brown believed he saw evidence of Thomas' Gospel being dependent upon Johannine tradition, however this was mediated through early semi- or pre-Gnostic intermediaries.

      Skinner then dedicates 9 pages to the Thomasine/Johnannine "Community-Conflict Hypothesis". He reviews Gregory Riley's book _Resurrection Reconsidered_ which proposes that John's Gospel was a polemic against two main characters: John the Baptist and Thomas. Riley points to the "Doubting Thomas" passage in John 20 and then compares John 2:19 and Thomas' L71.  The argument that is presented is rather intricate, but I believe that Riley is saying that the differences between these two "destroyer" renditions indicate that John saw Thomas' group as "the Jews" who denied the resurrection and were the real "destroyers" of the faith.

      Skinner then focuses on [Rice University, Houston TX] scholar April DeConick's argument that the passage in John 20:24-29 (the Doubting Thomas passage) is based upon an actual dialog between the Johannine community and the Thomasine group. But DeConick perceives a much broader conflict than disputes over the resurrection. DeConick reveals that John's Gospel argues directly against the Thomasine mystical spirituality in multiple verses where John emphatically states that no one has seen "the Father" but Jesus (Jn 1:18; 3:13; 5:37; 6:46). This is especially clear in the Gospel of John's ending of the Doubting Thomas periscope where the resurrected Jesus says to Thomas: "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe" (Jn 20:29; compare GThom L59).

      Moving on to Elaine Pagels [of Princeton], Skinner informs us that Pagels sees the Thomasine/Johannine community conflict rooted in their different interpretations of the Genesis creation narrative. Pagels finds the Gospel of John's prologue is a counter argument to Thomas' creation exegesis. She goes so far to suggest that the Gospel of Thomas was a spiritual primer for water baptism which opens one up to the mystery of the Primordial creation.

      Skinner then presents some good arguments against the "Riley-DeConick-Pagels" Thomasine/Johannine community conflict. Quoting Helsinki scholar Ismo Dunderberg, he says it would be "over-reaching to see refuted theological positionsÂ…lurking behind every follower of Jesus to whom the author of John has attached some negative features: Nicodemus, Martha, Philip, Thomas, Peter, Judas, etc." (p 200, _The Beloved Disciple in Conflict: Revisiting the Gospels of John and Thomas _ Oxford, 2006). When this approach is applied to all of John's characters, the whole theory of "communities in conflict" remains unconvincing. Skinner then quotes from one of his own books to further emphasize that the community-conflict hypothesis "fails" since the Gospel of John contains many characters who carry "even more theological and narratival significance than Thomas" (p232, _John and Thomas: Gospels in Conflict? Johannine Characterization and the Thomas Question_ PTMS 115, Eugene OR: Pickwick 2009).


                      F. Thomas and the Diatessaron. Skinner briefly revisits the theory of Nicholas Perrin that Thomas is based on a Syriac version of Tatian's famous tome.  Skinner exposes a number of weaknesses in Perrin's work: 1) it is based upon highly speculative reconstructions; 2) the number of Syriac catchwords is so much higher than other proposed catchwords that Perrin is simply finding what he wants to find; 3) a failure to address why Thomas' Gospel seems to contain nothing from any of the Johannine material in the Diatessaron. And yet, Skinner says, Perrin's theory still holds the greater "explanatory power" and raises important questions that scholars of Thomas' Gospel must consider.


                      G. Thomas and Paul. Skinner decides to also cite scholarship that has focused on the relationship between Paul's letters and Thomas' Gospel. Skinner begins citing a 1969 article from Peter Nagel [University of Bonn] who focuses on L3 in Thomas and compares it to Paul's handling of Lev 18:5/Deut 30:12-14 in Romans 10:5-8. He sees some similarities in the way that Paul and Thomas treat this saying, especially focusing on how both Paul and Thomas change "by the sea" to "in the sea". Nagel believes this indicates a common tradition which was shared by Paul and Thomas.

      Stephen J. Patterson [Eden Theological Seminary near St. Louis] sees commonality in L17 of Thomas' Gospel and Paul's treatment of "wisdom" in 1 Cor 2.9 [cf Is 64:4], and believes Thomas is an example of a pre-Pauline tradition. On the other hand, Christopher Tucket argues the opposite and says that L17 in the Gospel of Thomas is actually a secondary development of what is found in Paul.  

      Simon Gathercole examines the above Pauline and Thomasine passages mentioned in this section and concludes that Thomas reworked Pauline language for "un-Pauline ends". Skinner himself agrees with Gathercole and has further argued that the theology in Thomas' Gospel demonstrates an out-right rejection of Pauline theology.

      And yet another scholar, Joshua Jipp [at Trinity in Deerfield, IL], has scrutinized the theme of "death" in Paul and Thomas and concludes that their soteriologies and relative spiritual practices show no signs of dialog—to the point of "remarkable disinterest". 


      Skinner then summarizes Thomas' relationship with the New Testament with the conclusion that there is very little scholarly consensus and much contention.  Because of various starting points, mutually exclusive views emerge.

      End of part 2 >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

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