Gthomas "Premises" [?]
- Following is a summation of conclusions that have emanated from the
indefatigable scholarship of Helmut Koester about the Gospel of
Thomas, many of which are now regarded by many as Basic Premises in
Thomas studies. This summary of Koesters observations has been
extracted from Cameron, Ron. The Gospel of Thomas and Christian
Origins. B. Pearson, ed., _The Future of Early Christianity_.
Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991 384-389.
Please note that here, I am only the messenger, and do not
necessarily either embrace or reject any of these premises. I bring
them to the list simply to suggest some thought-provoking topics for
discussion. For starters, I recommend that this summary should be read
in conjunction with S. Davies remarks at:
Gth is an example of a literary genre called a sayings collection.
Gth represents a stage in the transmission of Jesus sayings that is
older than the canonical gospels and that may be comparable to the
sources used by the authors of the NT gospels (e.g., Q).
A. Has no narrative elements;
B. Lacks any mention of cross and resurrection;
C. Shows no evidence of dependence on the canonical gospels.
It derives from a stage of the Jesus sayings tradition that is both
independent from, and earlier than, the Synoptics.
Gth is a collection of sayings assembled by a compiler, not a literary
work written by an author.
Where there are parallels to Gth in the Synoptic gospels, they are
most often located in blocks of text that have been identified as
independent sources that were appropriated by the Synoptic evangelists
(i.e., Q and SpLk).
Based on the observation that the sayings found in both Gth and the
Synoptics are either:
A. Wisdom Sayings or;
B. Prophetic Sayings.
I may be concluded that what is unique about Jesus utterances is
Jesus teaching was interpreted as revealed wisdom during the very
earliest period of the Christian movement.
Gth does not portray Jesus as a futuristic, eschatological,
Gth may be differentiated from Q because it does not does not include
apocalyptic expectations about the Son of man found in Q, but that
does mean that Gth is a primitive version of Q.
Therefore, if the genre of the wisdom book was the catalyst for the
composition of sayings of Jesus into a gospel, and if the
christological concept of Jesus as the teacher of wisdom and the
presence of heavenly Wisdom dominated its creation [THEN] the
apocalyptic orientation of the Synoptic Sayings Source [Q] with its
Christology of the coming of the Son of man is due to a secondary
redaction of an older wisdom book.
The apocalyptic expectations that characterize Q emerged as part of an
effort to minimize the influence of the gnosticizing proclivities
inherent in the words of wisdom, of which Gth was representative.
The theology of Gth is that the presence of divine Wisdom is the true
destiny of human existence and that the teacher is present in the
word of wisdom which he as spoken.
The words of wisdom in Gth were understood by the compiler to have
been spoken by the Living One who gave life through them.
[Here also Cameron says, By providing a distinctive reinterpretation
of originally eschatological sayings, this gospel presents an
elaboration of Jesus most original proclamation.]
Gth is neither a random collection of Jesus sayings, nor a
harmonization of the canonical gospels. It instead claims formal
authorship and was written/assembled with specific theological
interests in mind. [?]
Gth was written at a time in the period of the development of
Christianity when *apostolic authority* was essential for guaranteeing
the reliability of the tradition.
Gth is pseudepigraphic (not written by the person to whom authorship
Gth, the formative stage of Q, and the Corinthian Wisdom Movement
shared a common religious perspective.
Gth was composed, in its earliest form in Edessa during the first
century and represents the earliest form of indigenous Christianity in
To kick things off, here is what Davies has to say with respect to #18
(see link above):
"The Gospel of Thomas' original compilation is usually dated ca. A.D.
140 and located in Edessa in Syria. These convenient tags are, in my
judgment, unproven hypotheses."
Humble Maine Woodsman
> The apocalyptic expectations that characterize Q emerged as part of
> effort to minimize the influence of the `gnosticizing proclivities'What I get from trying to put these thoughts together is this:
> inherent in the "words of wisdom," of which Gth was representative.
> The words of wisdom in Gth were understood by the compiler to have
> been spoken by the "Living One" who gave life through them.
> [... Cameron says, "By providing `a distinctive reinterpretation
> of originally eschatological sayings,' this gospel presents an
> `elaboration of Jesus' most original proclamation.'']
1. J's original proclamation was a non-apocalyptic eschatology
2. GTh reinterpreted this as a different (lesser) eschatology
3. In response, Q escalated the eschatology to apocalypticism
This is probably in line with Crossan's three varieties of
eschatology, but what I want to draw attention to is not that, but
rather #1, because that seems to be a 500-pound gorilla behind the
scenes of this seemingly innocent scenario. Fairly recent books by
Paula Frederikson and Bart Ehrman have re-asserted Schweitzer's
classic judgement that Jesus was an APOCALYPTIC prophet. Ehrman in
fact asserts that this is the majority opinion among scholars. But
the Jesus Seminar seems to look upon Jesus as a "laconic sage", on
the order (so they say) of Elijah and Elisha. Can he have been BOTH,
or are we confronted with an irresolvable difference of opinion?
Interestingly, GTh itself seems to refer to a similar difference of
opinion in its own day - between Matthew and Peter in Th13:
Matthew: J as wise philosopher
Peter: J as "righteous" angel/messenger
If, as I think, (and I believe Koester suggests this also), Th13
indicates the existence of two diverse strands of Jesus material
PRIOR to GTh having been written, then what might have been the
relationship between those strands? "Matthew" as Syrian/Hellenic
and "Peter" as Hebraic? But which came first - or did they arise
in different locations around the same time? And which (if either)
approximates most closely to the original voice of Jesus? This
question, or some form of it, seems to me to be one of the most
important and divisive questions in NT scholarship today. I'd be
most interested in knowing whether other folks see it the same way.