This is the seventh in a series of nine posts in which it is argued that
there are three strata in GTh and they provide us with information on the
Thomas church: its locataion, history, sociological make-up, and beliefs.
In this post, we look into the possible sitz im leben for each of the three
SITZ IM LEBEN: PROTO-THOMAS
At the time that Proto-Thomas was written, the Thomas church at Tyre was in
communication with the Q community in nearby Galilee. Of its 43 units, the
Jesus Seminar (in The Five Gospels) links 23 of them, in whole or in part,
with Q sayings.(2, 4, 5, 6, 33, 34, 35, 36, 39, 41, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 61,
64, 89, 91, 92, 95, 95, 96). In rough terms, half of the material in
Proto-Thomas has some sort of linkage with the Q tradition.
However, in Proto-Thomas, there is a careful selection made from the Q
In particular, while much of the Q tradition material that was circulating
in Galilee appears to reflect the perspective of lower classes of society in
Galilee and, as such, frequently has an anti-Establishment "slant" to it,
the Q tradition linked material in Proto-Thomas is consistent with the
upper-class perspective of Proto-Thomas.
The Thomas community has also come into contact with Pauline thought, at
least as expressed in I Corinthians.
See, in particular, GTh 7, "Blessed is the lion which becomes man when
consumed by man; and cursed is the man whom the lion comsumes, and the lion
As I have mentioned in some past posts, this ultimately rests on the
teachings of Philo. It begins by blessing the inner man, i.e., the rational
mind, which eats, i.e., absorbs, the irrational sense-perception, thereby
making sense-perception a part of its self. Then it curses the rational mind
which is absorbed by the irrational sense-perception--who, in turn, welds
itself to the outer man, i.e., the body/flesh.
This aspect of the teachings of Philo enters Christian thought in I
Corinthians, where what Philo calls the mind becomes the pneuma (spirit) and
what Philo calls sense perception becomes the psyche. In terms of what Paul
states in I Cor., it is the pneumatikos man (i.e., the man whose pneuma has
abosrbed his psyche, making one's whole soul pneuma) who is blessed in GTh 7
and the psychikos man who is of the flesh (i.e., the man whose psyche has
absorbed his pneuma, making his whole soul psyche: which then welds itself
to the body/flesh) who is cursed in GTh 7.
Also see 37. His disciples said, "When will you become revealed to us and
we see You?" Jesus said, "When you disrobe without being ashamed and take
up your garments and place them under your feet like little children and
tread on them, then [will you see] the Son of the Living One and you will
not be afraid."
Here, I suggest, the "garments" of the disciples are their bodies (e.g., in
Fuga (110), Philo declares that "the body is the clothing of the soul
considered as the principle of physical life".), so what 37, in essence,
states, is that it is when one becomes a pneumatikos one, no longer of the
flesh like a psychikos one, then one will be able to spiritually discern and
understand Jesus as the Son of God.
I suspect that Apollos of Alexandria, who is mentioned several times in I
Cor,. is the "missing link" between Philo (who lived in Alesandria) and
Paul, and that it was he who told Paul about the teachings of Philo that
Paul adopts (with some modifications) in I Cor.
In any event, I think that GTh 7 and 37 are the invention of the Thomas
church (thereby explaining why they have no parallels in any other gospel
tradition) and that, furthermore, they were invented by them after they came
in contact with the teaching of Paul as reflected in I Corinthians.
However, as in the case with the Q tradition material, there is a high
selectivity in what is adopted from Pauline thought. For example, one finds
not a trace of Paul's theology of the cross in Proto-Thomas or, for that
matter, any of the later strata in GTh. The Thomas church steadfastly
refused to see any significance in Jesus' death and it is doubtful that they
even believed in his bodily resurrection from the dead.
The Thomas church, i.e., the Tyrian church, probably learned of Paul's
teachings as expressed in I Cor. from Paul himself.
As we learn from I Cor. 16:1-4, Paul wrote this epistle while collecting
money for the Jerusalem church.
Further, it was during his trip to Jerusalem, conveying this money, that he
stopped at Tyre for a week.
So, I think, it was when Paul stopped-over at Tyre, a time when the
themes he preached in I Cor. were still relatively fresh in his mind, that
the members of the Tyrian church came into contact with his thought,
especially as expressed in I Cor..
In terms of dating Proto-Thomas, it is later than Paul's stop-over in Tyre
(57CE?), but before the outbreak of the Jewish revolt against Rome (of which
there is no mention in Proto-Thomas). In rough terms, then, it can be dated
to the late fifties or early sixties: say, c. 60 CE..
SITZ IM LEBEN: PRE-THOMAS
In marked contrast, there are several references to the Jewish revolt in
Pre-Thomas. Further, it contains several allusions to the persecution of
Jewish members of the Tyrian church during the time-period of the
revolt--which persecution included the execution of some and the
imprisonment of the rest..
There might have been some communication going on with the Q community in
Galilee but, if there was, it was not full-throttle as in the time-period
of Proto-Thomas. The Jesus Seminar links ten of its 36 units with the Q
tradition (26, 54, 55, 68, 69, 73, 76, 78, 106, 107): roughly 28 %. This is
only about half the percentage of the units with links to the Q tradition
that one finds in Proto-Thomas.
Likely, the Jewish revolt (which turned Galilee and Tyre into enemy regions,
one pro-Roman and the other anti-Roman) had a chilling impact on
communication between the Tyrian church and the Q community. Also, the Q
community in Galilee might have been decimated and/or scattered in the
course of the Roman military campaign to quell the rebellion in Galilee.
Proto-Thomas was written after the quelling of the Jewish revolt, but while
the memories of this revolt were still relatively fresh. A date in the
seventies appears most likely, so, for crude purposes, it can be assigned to
c. 75 CE. This makes it about 15 years later than Proto-Thomas.
THE SITZ IM LEBEN: THE LATEST STRATA
The Tyrian church was located in Syro-Phoenicia, which is now Lebanon. This
placed it close to Syria, where Matthew's gospel apparently was written.
As a result, the expectation is that the Tyrian church learned of the
existence of GMatthew soon after its issuing.
In this regard, when we turn to the latest strata in GTh, we do find
evidence that the Thomas church was aware of GMatthew.
For example, in unit 12, Matthew and Peter are treated as inferior to
I take this as evidence that the Thomas church was aware of the gospel
attributed to Matthew (for it not only is attributed to Matthew, but gives a
prominent role to Peter) and has rejected it as not reflecting authentic
Also important is how the author of GThomas treated Proto-Thomas when
expanding it into GThomas.
This person maintained the integrity of Proto-Thomas' two nine unit
segments, but severed its 25 unit segment in two places (immediately after
48 and immediately after 65).
Why did this person sever Proto-Thomas' 25 unit segment immediately after
65--which is the parable of the vineyard?
Well, if one looks at what follows (i.e., unit 66--which comes from
Pre-Thomas), one sees that it is the saying about how the stone rejected by
the builders has become the head of the corner.
In this regard, I find it significant that, in GMatthew, the parable of the
vineyard is immediately followed by this saying about the rejected stone.
Therefore, I think, the author of GTh, was aware of of this situation in
GMathhew and, so, when expanding Proto-Thomas into GThomas, deliberately
severed its 25 unit segment immediately after 65 (the parable of the
vineyard) and attached to it the part of Pre-Thomas beginning with the
saying on the rejected stone. As a result, in the final GThomas, the
saying on the rejected stone, just as in GMatthew, immediately follows the
parable of the vineyard.
There is one more reason for dating the late strata and the writing of the
final GThomas to a time shortly after GMatthew was written.
That is, the Pharisees are vehemently castigated in GMatthew.
This suggests that, in Syria and nearby regions, the Pharisees had been
major opponents of Christianity at the time that GMatthew was written.
So, if the latest strata in Gth dates to shortly after the writing of
GMatthew was written, then the expectation is that, if the Thomas church was
located at Tyre, its members would have perceived the Pharisees as being
Indeed, in line with this, we find it said in unit 102, "Woe to the
Pharisees, for they are like a dog sleeping in the manger of oxen, for
neither does he eat nor does he let the oxen eat."
So, to conclude, the latest strata in GThomas and the expansion of
Proto-Thomas into GThomas as we know it appear to date to the time-period
shortly after the writing of GMatthew in nearby Syria.
As for a date, this depends upon the dating of GMatthew. Most scholars
estimate it as being written somewhere between 75 and 90 CE. A date of 85
CE for the writing of GThomas as we know it is perhaps reasonably close.
(Continued in part VIII of a IX part series)
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