Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Re: [GTh] Meier on Thomas

Expand Messages
  • sarban
    ... From: Mark Goodacre To: gthomas@yahoogroups.com Sent: Sunday, February 25, 2007 10:50 PM Subject: [GTh] Meier on Thomas ... Hi Mark To some extent the
    Message 1 of 6 , Mar 7, 2007
    • 0 Attachment
      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Mark Goodacre
      To: gthomas@yahoogroups.com
      Sent: Sunday, February 25, 2007 10:50 PM
      Subject: [GTh] Meier on Thomas

      >In John P. Meier, _A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus_
      >(New York: Doubleday, 1991), there is a short discussion, as many of
      >you will know, of the issue of Thomas's familiarity with the
      >Synoptics. He argues that there are broad parallels to many different
      >strands in the Synoptic Gospels, Mark, Q, M, L etc. and continues:

      >"This broad "spread" of Jesus' sayings over so many different streams
      >of canonical Gospel tradition (and redaction!) forces us to face a
      >fundamental question: Is it likely that the very early source of
      >Jesus' sayings that the Gospel of Thomas supposedly drew upon
      >contained within itself material belonging to such diverse branches of
      >1st-century Christian tradition as Q, special M, special L, Matthean
      >and Lucan redaction, the triple tradition, and possibly the Johannine
      >tradition? What were the source, locus, and composition of this
      >incredibly broad yet very early tradition? Who were its bearers? Is it
      >really conceivable that there was some early Christian source that
      >embraced within itself all these different strands of what became the
      >canonical Gospels?" (137)

      Hi Mark

      To some extent the question is one of how much of Q Special M Special L the triple tradition etc goes back to the Historical Jesus (or at least the very very early church) and how much is a later creation.

      IE how much material is there in Thomas with canonical parallels which is unlikely to go back to the very origins of Christianity ?

      Meier IMO presents a good case that some of the material in Thomas with canonical Gospel parallels is unlikely to be particularly early and if so this is a strong argument against the independence of Thomas.

      However this I think has to be specifically argued. The "broad spread" in itself without additional arguments is not IMHO a strong argument for the independence of Thomas.

      If all the overlap between Thomas and the canonicals is very very early material, then all this would show is that Thomas and the other Gospels ultimately depend on the teaching of Jesus.

      Andrew Criddle

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • Mark Goodacre
      ... I don t think that that is quite how Meier is conceiving the argument. What he is saying, I think, is that *if* Thomas is early and independent, then it is
      Message 2 of 6 , Mar 9, 2007
      • 0 Attachment
        On 04/03/07, William Arnal <warnal@...> wrote:

        > There's no need to engage this point of Meier's, since it's transparently
        > begging the question, Mark. I've referred to it dismissively in print, but I
        > suspect few would bother engaging it. Why? Because it only works if you
        > ASSUME Thomas is late and dependent, and assume that indeed it MUST be. Why?
        > Because it associates the "strands" with the canonical gospels, and thus
        > assumes what it seeks to argue, i.e., that the sources of these strands for
        > Thomas are the canonical gospels.

        I don't think that that is quite how Meier is conceiving the argument.
        What he is saying, I think, is that *if* Thomas is early and
        independent, then it is remarkable that it has knowledge of a range of
        strands, at this early point, that ultimately morphed into the Gospels
        as we know them. Of course he is trying to say that this is so
        implausible a picture that Thomas must have got this stuff from the
        canonical Gospels, but at least for the point to carry, he is trying
        to imagine what the implications are, in terms of tradition-history,
        for the early and independent Thomas.

        My problem with conceptualizing the argument is that I am sceptical of
        the existence of Q, M, L and so on as discreet documents or entities,
        so I don't have an easy time imagining myself into the way that the
        independent Thomas works, but that is what I want to try to do, so let
        me see if I can have a go at imagining what must have obtained for an
        independent Thomas, and what the implications are.

        If one does accept the existence of Q, and if one has some kind of
        position on M and L, then it does seem clear to me that the argument
        for an independent Thomas necessitates Thomas's contact with
        traditions that ultimately made their way into Mark, Q, M and L.
        (Also Mark-Q overlap, MattR, LukeR and Special Mark, but let's not
        over-complicate at this point). I don't think it's an absurd position
        to notice that these strands are all present in Thomas, and to ask how
        it is, on the independence view, that they got there. The answer is
        presumably along the lines that Thomas's earliness and independence
        need to be reckoned with seriously, that the oral tradition from which
        Thomas drew was some kind of spring from which (ultimately) diverse
        traditions flowed. Am I right so far?

        Now, what interests me about this is that it demonstrates just how
        important Thomas is on the independence view. It has contact with
        (parts of) all the major streams of tradition we can identify in the
        Synoptics. Rather than Meier's point being a frustrating for the
        independence view, does it not rather help to underline just how
        important Thomas is for an assessment of tradition history? Thomas is
        not simply an interesting extra pool of data; it is key to our
        understanding of tradition history, no?

        In some ways, the suggested thought experiment with Mark helps to
        underline the point:

        > If you don't quite follow that (flaws in
        > argumentative logic are always hard for me to explain, even when I see them
        > clearly, and in some ways, the more egregious they are, the harder it is to
        > explain them), consider the following argument: The Gospel of Mark is
        > obviously a late, second-century, derivative of the other (defined however
        > you like) texts because it contains traditions from all of the traditional
        > streams running into those texts. That is, Mark contains L material (defined
        > now as Markan material with only Lukan parallels), M material (similarly
        > defined), Johannine material, Q material, etc. Is this "spread" of tradition
        > likely for an early source?

        For this thought experiment, let's agree that Marcan Priority is
        correct, and let's imagine that Mark was lost to us until 1945 or so
        when a copy was found. We would have got used to thinking of Matthew
        and Luke in terms of double tradition (all Matthew // Luke, so our
        double+triple), M (all non-Lucan stuff, so our Mark // Matthew + M)
        and L (all non-Matthean stuff, so our Mark // Luke + L). Now Mark has
        turned up, and we see parallels to all three kinds of material. We
        would have a couple of options, either to assume that in some way Mark
        was the source for Matthew and Luke (the correct view), or that Mark
        knew Matthew and Luke (incorrect), which perhaps we would be led to by
        canonical bias or whatever.

        Doesn't the thought experiment actually confirm the strength of the
        Meier point, at least in so far that he is highlighting data that in
        fact has to be highly significant for studies of Thomas? The spread
        of strands is all the more impressive when one factors in also
        so-called Mark-Q overlaps, MattR and LukeR (again, with the latter,
        using those terms for convenience and not wishing to beg the
        question). The spread of "strands", for want of a better term, is
        significant in showing *either* that Thomas is highly significant as a
        witness to an early body of oral tradition which was the spring from
        which the Synoptic traditions came, *or* that Thomas is a later
        Gospel, familiar with all three Synoptic Gospels.

        Mark Goodacre Goodacre@...
        Associate Professor
        Duke University
        Department of Religion
        118 Gray Building / Box 90964
        Durham, NC 27708-0964 USA
        Phone: 919-660-3503 Fax: 919-660-3530

      • William Arnal
        ... This is a difficult problem for me to express, and particularly to you, Mark, since using arguments that refer to Q in particular will not get me very far.
        Message 3 of 6 , Mar 9, 2007
        • 0 Attachment
          Mark Goodacre concludes (much useful and interesting stuff snipped):

          >Doesn't the thought experiment actually confirm the strength of the
          >Meier point, at least in so far that he is highlighting data that in
          >fact has to be highly significant for studies of Thomas? The spread
          >of strands is all the more impressive when one factors in also
          >so-called Mark-Q overlaps, MattR and LukeR (again, with the latter,
          >using those terms for convenience and not wishing to beg the
          >question). The spread of "strands", for want of a better term, is
          >significant in showing *either* that Thomas is highly significant as a
          >witness to an early body of oral tradition which was the spring from
          >which the Synoptic traditions came, *or* that Thomas is a later
          >Gospel, familiar with all three Synoptic Gospels.

          This is a difficult problem for me to express, and particularly to you,
          Mark, since using arguments that refer to Q in particular will not get me
          very far. But I also feel about it a little like I feel about Anselm's
          ontological argument -- I KNOW it's wrong, I even intuitively know WHY it
          doesn't work, but explaining this is a nightmare.

          At the very least, your reference to the thought experiment of imagining
          we'd just found Mark indicates that I did manage to convey at least *some*
          of what I meant. Really, the issue for me is that it seems to me that
          Meier's whole argument revolves around a lack of parity in the treatment of
          synoptic texts with Thomas, and it is only by treating them so differently
          that he is able to make the argument he does. The nullity of that argument
          then emerges, as something of a reductio ad absurdum, when one substitutes
          in one of the synoptics for Thomas, as you did in your post; it is even
          further emphasized when one additionally substitutes Thomas into the network
          of synoptic relations at the same time. As a result, the argument only works
          and yields interesting results if one grants its (unstated) premise -- that
          Thomas IS dependent on the synoptics. If one grants this, then what emerges
          is that Thomas seems actually to depend on all four canonical gospels, and
          hence (I would think) must be judged VERY late, rather than merely somewhat
          late. And that, for me, is actually evidence against a dependence theory.

          As your post noted, and as others have argued on list in connection with
          this thread, the spread of traditions or streams of traditions may reflect a
          very early date for Thomas and/or its traditions. Just as a newly-discovered
          Gospel of Mark, which we (or at least Meier) currently believe to be a
          source for Matthew, Luke, and (per Meier's hypothesis) Thomas, would contain
          items from the "streams" of (what would be hypothesized as, in the absence
          of Mark) Thomas, Matthew, and Luke (NB, we CAN'T speak here of LukeR, MattR
          and so on, as you note: if Thomas contains actual REDACTION from those
          texts, it's dependent, either directly or indirectly -- so Meier's argument
          only has independent force if he's speaking of distinct streams of
          tradition, and not evangelistic redaction), precisely because, as a matter
          of fact, it was the source of these documents, rather than a set of extracts
          from all of them. So far so good. I would add, though, rather against your
          point, that there is nothing surprising about this. One would EXPECT that
          the various streams of traditions that eventually crystallize as documents
          (tangible or hypothetical) ALL contain varying degrees of very old
          tradition, and hence ANY quite old source that drew more or less randomly
          from available traditions at the time of composition would tend to contain
          parallels from a fairly wide range of later documents. The only thing that
          would make this surprising is if we assumed that some streams of tradition
          had a solid basis in older traditions while others had no such basis (or
          very little) -- as if we were to say, well, Q and M reflect solid ancient
          Jesus traditions, while Mark and L are just made-up novelties. In such a
          circumstance, a spread of traditions drawn from a range of sources with
          radically different ages would mean something, but then one must make the
          argument that this is so. So not only does this supposed spread of tradition
          not preclude an early Thomas, it actually tells us nothing really about the
          sources of Thomas� traditions -- rather, it somewhat anachronistically
          assesses the traditions available to Thomas in terms of their LATER usage.
          Thus, if one grants an early Thomas, the observation of �spread� neither
          militates against that supposition nor tells us anything of interest about
          Thomas� location or sources. The thought experiment with Mark makes that
          clear: if we found Mark tomorrow and compared it to Matthew, Luke, and
          Thomas, we�d find lots of overlaps with all three of these �sources�; but
          this would simply reflect the use of Mark as a source, and NOT anything
          about Mark embodying a wide spread of traditions. Imagine, for instance,
          that the Gospel of Mark as we know it was simply made up. Would this affect
          Mark�s �containing� �Matthew traditions,� �Luke traditions,� and �Thomas
          traditions�? Of course not -- those are literary phenomena (assuming Thomas�
          dependence on Mark) that in no way tell us anything about the traditions
          behind Mark, either their authenticity or their spread. If Thomas is early
          (even if, in contrast to this last example, it did NOT serve as a written
          source for any of the synoptics in any way), the �spread� of its material is
          an illusion created by the later careers of those traditions, insofar as
          different documents preserved them differentially.

          But it�s worse than that: there�s also the question of Meier�s identifying
          these �streams� on the basis of his differential treatment of the synoptics
          versus Thomas, with the result that even this limited utility (as per above,
          i.e., suggesting that Thomas could also be early, whether or not this tells
          us anything interesting about its sources of tradition) is not there. On
          this point, I was going quite beyond the observations of others on the list
          who made the claim that the range of tradition could indicate an EARLY
          origin for Thomas. What I was suggesting is that there is actually no datum
          here at all -- just an artifact of the prejudicial way that Meier looks at
          the problem, which grants no parity to Thomas vis-�-vis the canonical
          synoptics. My claim was actually that if you take nearly ANY of the gospel
          texts at issue here, abstract it from the rest, and then look for what
          traditions it contains from the �other� group, you will end with exactly the
          same phenomenon of �spread.� This will be true whether the text is early and
          a source for the others (or, I hasten to add, early and NOT itself directly
          a source), or if the text is late and draws from all of them (or the
          traditions that went into them), OR, finally, even if the text is medial,
          drawing from some of the others as a source, and contributing to others as
          THEIR sources (or, mutatis mutandis, the sources for their sources, i.e.,
          oral tradition or whatever). This is not very clear, so let�s try another
          thought experiment. First, let�s grant (only for the sake of argument) that
          you, Mark, are correct about the relationship between the synoptics, i.e.,
          Mark comes first, Matthew comes next and adds a bunch of stuff to Mark, and
          Luke comes last, drawing from both and to boot adding a bunch of his stuff.
          We can even throw in Thomas and say, as per Meier, that it comes last of all
          and draws from all three. So for the sake of argument let�s assume that this
          is what really happened. This leaves us with four identifiable �streams� of
          tradition: Mark�s material (e.g., the baptism), Matthew�s additional
          material added to Mark (e.g., the beautitudes, Lord�s prayer, etc.), Luke�s
          additional material added to the Markan and Matthean traditions he uses
          (e.g., the Good Samaritan, etc.), and Thomas� additional material which he
          adds to the Markan, Matthean, and Lukan strands (e.g., the assassin, etc.).
          Note first that this leaves us with a picture of: one strand of tradition
          for Mark, 2 for Matt, 3 for Luke, and 4 for Thomas, suggesting that Meier is
          right after all, and there is a discernible pattern of late = more streams
          of tradition. But don�t be misled! These supposed �streams� are not
          demonstrably unitary in any of these cases, and so the increasing numbers of
          streams for later texts in this example only represents an increase in our
          knowledge of each text�s sources, and hence our knowledge of the MINIMAL
          number of streams used by each one. �The Markan tradition� could, for
          instance, be composed of five different streams which we can�t identify
          because we don�t have access to Mark�s sources; likewise �the Matthean
          stream� could be similarly composite and so on. So that�s the first point
          here: the apparent pattern of increasing numbers of streams of tradition is
          itself no more than an artifact of our necessarily knowing more about the
          sources of texts whose source documents we possess (e.g., Luke) than we can
          know about the sources of texts whose source documents we do NOT possess
          (e.g., Mark).

          But now for the thought experiment. Granting the accuracy of the above model
          of synoptic relations, let�s pluck Matthew -- clearly a medial element in
          this scenario, neither very early nor very late in the sequence -- out of
          this arrangement and suddenly discover this text tomorrow. We then compare
          our newly-discovered Matthew with the texts we know: Mark, Luke, and Thomas.
          We cannot of course identify their streams of tradition in the same (and,
          for the purposes of this argument, accurate) way we did above, so we will
          simply take material unique to each text as a �stream� (which is essentially
          what Meier is doing in the absence of knowing how Thomas relates to the
          synoptics). What do we find? We find that Matthew, astonishingly, draws from
          all streams of the �synoptic tradition�: he has material unique to Mark
          (e.g., the Syro-Phoenicean woman, etc.), material unique to Luke (e.g., the
          Lord�s prayer, the beatitudes, etc.), and material unique to Thomas (e.g.,
          the fisherman). Therefore Matthew represents either a very late excerpting
          from a whole range of traditions, or a very early and surprisingly broad
          source of primitive oral tradition, right? Well, no, of course not � in this
          scenario Matthew is actually smack in the middle of things. This suggests to
          me that if we approach this �streams of tradition� method with any kind of
          PARITY in the treatment of Thomas versus the synoptics (which, I hasten to
          add, is itself a formulation that lacks such parity: we have stop thinking
          in terms that treat the synoptics as a unit and Thomas as a foreign body, if
          we really want to get to the bottom of this question), we end up with this
          �phenomenon� appearing in ANY of the texts, whether they are early, late, or
          in between. Why? Because each text overlaps differently with the various
          others, and hence if you isolate any one of them, it will (usually) contain
          material unique to each of the others. This only seems to set Thomas apart
          in ANY way (whether early or late) because we know, or think we know, the
          relationships among the three synoptics, and so find it hard to imagine what
          they would look like if we abstracted them from �the set� as we are doing
          with Thomas.

          Note that much of this argument (on my part) and the examples offered depend
          on the assumption of various types of literary relationships among the
          texts, and on the assumption that Thomas could have any number of literary
          relationships to the synoptics; I suspect Meier wouldn�t grant this last,
          i.e., he�d say that the only possible LITERARY relationship is synoptics -->
          Thomas. But again, this is part of the problem with his argument. We KNOW
          there are literary relationships of specific types behind the synoptics; we
          do NOT know where Thomas fits in all of this, and this inclines us to treat
          it as qualitatively different, which it may not actually be. I would think
          that these same basic observations would apply to oral traditions just as
          well, but it�s of course very hard to adduce examples of this.

          Hope that made SOME sense. Maybe Anselm would actually be an easier topic.

          William Arnal
          University of Regina

          Buy what you want when you want it on Sympatico / MSN Shopping
        Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.