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Ian Brown's Review of Skinner's Thomas Book

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  • Mike Grondin
    Chris Skinner has today posted a notice and response to fellow- GThomas-member Ian Brown s RBL review of his WATSA book:
    Message 1 of 3 , Aug 30 11:36 AM
      Chris Skinner has today posted a notice and response to fellow-
      GThomas-member Ian Brown's RBL review of his WATSA book:
       
      Ian is generally favorable to Chris's book, but does raise one point,
      as Chris quotes on his blog:
       
      > ... while it is true that we are far from a consensus on Thomas’s
      date,
      > relationship with the New Testament, or theology, this does not
      mean
      > that these are still the questions that propel scholarship
      (p.4).
       
      Chris responds to this in part:
       
      > These areas of disagreement SHOULD continue to propel
      scholarship
      > (at least until we arrive at a consensus), even if they don't.
      Too often
      > scholars on different continents speak past one another
      because they
      > assume a starting point that is not accepted in all areas of
      Thomas scholarship.
      > Call me crazy, but scholarly exchange requires that
      we establish (i.e., argue for)
      > rather than assume the validity of our starting
      points. A lot of scholarship does
      > the latter with respect to foundational issues like
      Thomas's date and relationship
      > to the NT. This is, to my mind, what makes
      style="COLOR: #2585b2; TEXT-DECORATION: underline" href="http://forbiddengospels.blogspot.com/" target=_blank>April DeConick's work so outstanding
      > (even when I disagree with her). She always makes a solid
      argument and always
      > attempts to move discussions beyond the traditional impasses that
      have emerged.
       
      In his forthcoming book, Mark Goodacre is going to make some contributions
      to the issue of the relationship of some Thomas sayings to the NT, but even if
      one accepts those dependencies, I think that a consensus on dating of the
      original remains problematical, since the sayings that arguably exhibit a literary
      dependency may not have been in the original, may have been reworked, or
      may have come from a common source no longer extant. Dating the original,
      then, strikes me as fundamentally undecidable, and if that's so, no consensus
      is possible. But how does this differ from dating the books of the NT? Is there
      enough agreement there that we would say that it constitutes a consensus?
      Do we not still read about an early version of Mark, or that the version of John
      that appears in our bibles is a redacted version that by hypothesis must have
      appeared after the unredacted version? If so, do we have a consensus on dating
      of the original (which is what we seem to be seeking with respect to Thomas)?
      If so, how far are we really from bringing the level of agreement on Thomas's 
      dating up to that of the NT books? Isn't circa 100-150 C.E., e.g. good enough
      for most scholars as a rough date of origin, even if there's a few outlyers (as
      there always are)?
       
      Cheers,
      Mike Grondin
    • Bob Schacht
      ... Aye, there s the rub. To me, the assumption that any of these works, when we only have copies dating several generations later than the original
      Message 2 of 3 , Aug 30 12:22 PM
        At 11:36 AM 8/30/2012, Mike Grondin wrote:
        >...In his forthcoming book, Mark Goodacre is going to make some contributions
        >to the issue of the relationship of some Thomas sayings to the NT, but even if
        >one accepts those dependencies, I think that a consensus on dating of the
        >original remains problematical, since the sayings that arguably
        >exhibit a literary
        >dependency may not have been in the original, may have been reworked, or
        >may have come from a common source no longer extant. Dating the original,
        >then, strikes me as fundamentally undecidable, and if that's so, no consensus
        >is possible. But how does this differ from dating the books of the
        >NT? Is there
        >enough agreement there that we would say that it constitutes a consensus?
        >Do we not still read about an early version of Mark, or that the
        >version of John
        >that appears in our bibles is a redacted version that by hypothesis must have
        >appeared after the unredacted version? If so, do we have a consensus
        >on dating
        >of the original (which is what we seem to be seeking with respect to Thomas)?
        >If so, how far are we really from bringing the level of agreement on Thomas's
        >dating up to that of the NT books? Isn't circa 100-150 C.E., e.g. good enough
        >for most scholars as a rough date of origin, even if there's a few
        >outlyers (as
        >there always are)?

        Aye, there's the rub.
        To me, the assumption that any of these works, when we only have
        copies dating several generations later than the original
        composition, in a world where copies are only made one at a time, are
        in their original form, is problematic at the start.

        Usually, the issue of multiple versions rarely rises to the surface.
        But even in our "Bibles," the issue of which version of Mark, with
        the shorter ending, or the longer ending, comes up. In that case, the
        NRSV mentions the various endings as "Other ancient authorities
        read/add...", implying equivalence of authority, and thus avoiding
        the issue of which version might be earlier, and more original, and
        which later.

        The Gospel of John is often portrayed as containing a number of
        editorial layers, but these have no commonly understood names, and no
        consensus about what the "original Gospel of John" looked like.
        Likewise, the study of different families of Biblical manuscripts
        tends to regard the differences as mere variations or copying errors
        that may be significant for grouping the texts into families, but not
        significant for assessing originality or editorial revision.

        Part of this is due to the "Holy scripture" paradigm, wherein the
        very idea that any sacred text went through a process of editorial
        revision is anathema. This paradigm, however, is
        disintegrating--which can be attributed, IMHO, to the success of the
        Multiple Source hypothesis of the Pentateuch of E, J, D, & P, even
        if agreement about the exact division of these texts remains
        undecided, IIRC. The acceptance of this thinking is illustrated by
        the popularity of Rosenberg & Bloom's _The Book of J_.

        ISTM that the main task of 21st century Biblical Scholarship needs to
        focus on understanding these versions and recensions, and developing
        a common understanding of them. Of course, the Biblical literalists
        and inerrantists will find this paradigm utterly intolerable, but the
        need for this kind of attention is clear. And the issue of the
        priority of Thomas, and the assumed priority of Q, is central to this effort.

        Bob Schacht
        Northern Arizona University
      • Ian Brown
        Thanks for posting the review, Mike. And for posting Chris Skinners blog response. I agree with Chris response to the extent that we cannot simply assume our
        Message 3 of 3 , Aug 30 1:25 PM
          Thanks for posting the review, Mike. And for posting Chris Skinners' blog response. I agree with Chris' response to the extent that we cannot simply assume our starting positions without being aware of opposing positions, and I agree that North American scholarship has in large part not taken continental scholarship into account (and vice versa). But I do not think this means that we must reach an absolute consensus re: Thomas' date and relationship with the New Testament in order to address other questions with regard to Thomas. Sure, people don't agree on these questions but, not to sound cliche or dismissive, but people studying Christian origins don't agree on a lot. This does not mean, however, that these contended questions get asked over and over and over again until one side capitulates (although that happens as well).

          It seems to me both Chris and you, Mike, offer very reasonable solutions to this impasse. We can begin at points of general consensus, or points held by a majority while acknowledging that these points are still debated. Or we can do what Chris praises April DeConick for doing, establish our hypothesis as thoroughly as possible. This way even if the reader disagrees with the thesis, or parts of the thesis (as Chris seems to disagree with DeConick), the reader can still appreciate how that thesis was reached. I would argue that this is exactly what scholars do, establish a defend thesis. With regard to Thomas specifically, we do this as well. I just don't see why those theses should be limited to Thomas' date and relationship with the NT when there are so many more interesting questions to be asked.

          Ian Brown

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