Thomas 60 and Mark 6:29-31 - related or not?
- At first glance, GThomas 60 and Mark 6:29-31 would seem to be unrelated. Thomas 60 shows Jesus teaching his disciples by questioning them about a man carrying a lamb while Mark 6:29-31 describes the actions of the disciples of John the Baptist following John's death, the breaking of the news to Jesus by his own disciples, and a quote from Jesus. But if we compare GThomas 60 with the Markan passage in question, we can see something unusual.
GThomas 60 is as follows (Lambdin translation):
<They saw> a Samaritan carrying a lamb on his way to Judea. He said to his disciples, "(Why does) that man (carry) the lamb around?" They said to him, "So that he may kill it and eat it." He said to them, "While it is alive, he will not eat it, but only when he has killed it and it has become a corpse." They said to him, "He cannot do so otherwise." He said to them, "You too, look for a place for yourself within the Repose, lest you become a corpse and be eaten."
Mark 6:29-31 reads (KJV):
29And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb.
30And the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught.
31And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.
The oddity here is that GThomas 60 and Mark:29-31 share an unusual combination of keywords. Specifically, both passages contain the words "corpse," "place," "eat," and "rest" (what Lambdin translates as "Repose" in Thomas is the Coptic equivalent of the Greek "anapausis" - "rest"). For the most part, there is no intrinsic logical connection between these words. That is to say, the words "eat," "corpse," "rest," and "place" are not normally related to each other in some obvious way and we would therefore not expect to find these words grouped together in these two separate passages by chance. While both passages also share variations of a common introductory formula to a Jesus saying ("He said to them"), the phrase is commonplace and nothing can be concluded from its appearance in both places. But the unusual combination of the otherwise unrelated nouns is a different matter.
What are we to make of this situation?
Is it merely due to chance? We have already seen that the close juxtaposition of this unusual combination of words is contra-indicative to the idea that they appear together in both places by chance.
Does a common tradition stands behind both passages? These keywords seem to be strung together in the two gospels in completely different ways, but the admonition to seek a place of (Thomas: "in") rest seems plain enough in each case. If Mark and Thomas were just independently relaying a general word of Jesus to seek a place of rest, we would not expect to also find the additional mention of both "corpse" and "eat" in each passage. In other words, a common tradition behind both passages must have also included both "corpse" and "eat" in addition to the saying about seeking a place of rest. Yet the mention of "eat" in Mark 6:31 seems quite arbitrary and is not at all integral to the story as it is in Thomas 60. Is it possible that Mark 6:29-31 was created as a specific example of the scenario presented in Thomas 60? This is not to say that Mark was directly indebted to Thomas 60, but it may have been that the Markan passage was influenced by the tradition behind Thomas 60.
- Kevin Johnson
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