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Thomas and Tatian revisited, Part III

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  • Exolinguist
    This is the third in a series of posts taking a more detailed look at the assertions of Nicholas Perrin in his book THOMAS AND TATIAN, subtitled The
    Message 1 of 4 , Oct 1, 2008
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      This is the third in a series of posts taking a more detailed look at the assertions of Nicholas Perrin in his book THOMAS AND TATIAN, subtitled The Relationship between the Gospel of Thomas and the Diatessaron.

      In the previous post we examined the middle section of Perrin’s book, the subject of which is catchwords. We found that his data were seriously skewed by incorrect methodology, and his case (for a much greater number of catchwords in his imaginary Syriac text of the Gospel of Thomas than can be found in the Coptic version or even in a free reconstruction of the Greek version) was not proven.

      We now continue with Perrin’s third chapter (pp. 171-189), entitled “Thomas and His Sources.” In his first few pages Perrin argues for the “basic unity” of the Gospel of Thomas. This is based on the idea that he would be able to construct a Syriac text in which every saying would be linked to the previous and the following saying. But he does not give us such a text.

      I’d like to make a little excursus here. Perrin’s assertion of the “organic unity” of the GTh text does not at all agree with what I know about it. Twenty years ago I did a computer-based study of the catchword relationships in the first thirty sayings in Coptic GTh. This study, limited as it was, revealed a complex picture of prior transmission history, including a great deal of shifting of sayings and blocks of sayings, and probable interpolations. The “organic unity” or “basic unity” that Perrin speaks of simply is not the case for the text that we actually have, which is the Coptic version.

      Perrin then goes on to say that there is evidence of redaction in Thomas for the sake of catchword connections (which is true). For Perrin, though, such redaction is assumed to be of written rather than oral sources (though he can offer no proof of this).

      Next, Perrin tries to build a case for Tatianic priority. The meat of his case, where he actually offers details that can be checked, begins on page 185. First he says, in the middle of the page, that “It is well known that the sequence of sayings in GT does not ordinarily correspond to the sequence found in any of the canonical gospels or in the Diatessaron.” This is true. Then, lower on the page, he says, “It should be noted, however, that at some points Thomas does indeed follow the order of the canonical and Diatessaronic tradition.” Perrin is begging the question here as to who is following whom, but it is true that there are such cases of agreement in sequence. Near the bottom of the page Perrin gets down to details, “Contiguous sayings in Thomas’s collection correspond to contiguous verses in the biblical and Diatessaronic tradition . . .” He then begins his list of examples:

      GTh 32, 33 are paralleled by Mt 5:14b, 5:15. True, but part of the material does not show up in Mt until 10:27 and is paralleled by Lk 12:3, and neither is exact. The non-contiguous part in Mt is “proclaim from your rooftops” etc. (GTh 33.1) Perrin makes things harder for us to get to the bottom of by not giving chapter and verse citations for the Diatessaron here or anywhere, but a little research shows that, while while most of the Matthaean material is approximated in Diatessaron 8:42-43, the part corresponding to GTh 33.1 is found in another context, at 8: ca 13. It is hard to see, then, how GTh could be following the Diatessaron.

      GTh 43-45 is paralleled by Mt 12:31-35, and by Lk 6:43-44. If we locate similar material in the Diatessaron, we find that GTh 43 is only very roughly paraphrased by Dia 14:34, and GTh 44 is paralleled by Dia 14: ca 33, while some of GTh 45 can be paralleled in Dia 14:35, but the Diatessaron’s rough parallel to the “grapes, thorns, etc.” part is found non-contiguously in 10:36-35, in another context. The parts that do appear contiguously, appear in a different order. Perrin seems to overstate his case.

      GTh 47.3-5 is partially paralleled by Mt 9:16-17 and Mk 2:21-22; more completely paralleled by Lk 5:36-39 and Dia 7:34-36. But the order of the elements in GTh is exactly the reverse of the order in the synoptics and in the Diatessaron. Also, GTh talks about not sewing on an old patch, rather than a new one as in all of the other witnesses. Hard to read this as a case for Tatianic priority.

      The fact that GTh 66 follows 65 proves nothing except that it was the traditional ending of the parable.

      GTh 68, 69 are paralleled by Mt 5:11, 5:10, and 5:6, but the order is reversed, as it is in Lk 6:22, 6:21. The Diatessaronic parallels, at 8:34,35 and 8:30 are also in reverse order from GTh, and are not even close in wording. Further, the more primitive quality of the beatitudes in GTh is striking. Hard to see how Thomas could be following the Diatessaron (or the synoptics either, for that matter).

      Finally, GTh 92, 93, 94 are paralleled by Mt 7:7, 7:6, and 7:8. They are partially paralleled by Lk 11:9-10. They find parallels in the Diatessaron at 10: ca 26, 10:21, and 10:27 (non-contiguous). The Diatessaron follows Matthew’s order; GTh does not follow either of them.

      It appears that Perrin’s “Case for Tatianic Priority” is not well supported by the actual evidence.


      --Don Traxler
    • Judy Redman
      Thanks for this Don. I really must read this book, but I just don t have time right at the moment. From what you are saying, though, it appears that Perrin s
      Message 2 of 4 , Oct 1, 2008
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        Thanks for this Don. I really must read this book, but I just don't have
        time right at the moment.

        From what you are saying, though, it appears that Perrin's analysis suffers
        from the same problem as the analyses of many Christian scholars of Thomas -
        the desperate need to prove that Thomas is dependent on at least one of the
        synoptic gospels. For Christians, the possibility that Thomas is early and
        independent is worrying because it means that two millennia of teaching,
        doctrine etc might need to be looked at again. If it's late and dependent,
        then we don't need to worry. The more conservative the Christian, the
        bigger the problem this presents, I think.

        Thus, in Thomas scholarship, you frequently get statements such as the one
        you quoted:

        > "It should be
        > noted, however, that at some points Thomas does indeed follow
        > the order of the canonical and Diatessaronic tradition."

        when what should be being said is that the order is the same. This doesn't
        necessarily mean that one follows the other, of course - they may simply
        have both accessed the same common source in which the segments appeared in
        that order. As you point out, the fact that the order is the same does not,
        of itself, prove which follows which if one does, indeed, follow the other.

        However, if you approach the text with a conscious or subconscious agenda of
        finding proof for dependence, that colours how you understand what you find.
        It seems that Perrin's analysis suffers from this.

        As I said, I really must read the book. :-)

        Judy

        --
        Rev Judy Redman
        Uniting Church Chaplain
        University of New England
        Armidale 2351 Australia
        ph: +61 2 6773 3739
        fax: +61 2 6773 3749
        web: http://www.une.edu.au/chaplaincy/uniting/ and
        http://blog.une.edu.au/unitingchaplaincy/
        email: jredman@...


        > -----Original Message-----
        > From: gthomas@yahoogroups.com
        > [mailto:gthomas@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Exolinguist
        > Sent: Thursday, 2 October 2008 11:56 AM
        > To: gthomas@yahoogroups.com
        > Subject: [GTh] Thomas and Tatian revisited, Part III
        >
        > This is the third in a series of posts taking a more detailed
        > look at the assertions of Nicholas Perrin in his book THOMAS
        > AND TATIAN, subtitled The Relationship between the Gospel of
        > Thomas and the Diatessaron.
        >
        > In the previous post we examined the middle section of
        > Perrin's book, the subject of which is catchwords. We found
        > that his data were seriously skewed by incorrect methodology,
        > and his case (for a much greater number of catchwords in his
        > imaginary Syriac text of the Gospel of Thomas than can be
        > found in the Coptic version or even in a free reconstruction
        > of the Greek version) was not proven.
        >
        > We now continue with Perrin's third chapter (pp. 171-189),
        > entitled "Thomas and His Sources." In his first few pages
        > Perrin argues for the "basic unity" of the Gospel of Thomas.
        > This is based on the idea that he would be able to construct
        > a Syriac text in which every saying would be linked to the
        > previous and the following saying. But he does not give us
        > such a text.
        >
        > I'd like to make a little excursus here. Perrin's assertion
        > of the "organic unity" of the GTh text does not at all agree
        > with what I know about it. Twenty years ago I did a
        > computer-based study of the catchword relationships in the
        > first thirty sayings in Coptic GTh. This study, limited as it
        > was, revealed a complex picture of prior transmission
        > history, including a great deal of shifting of sayings and
        > blocks of sayings, and probable interpolations. The "organic
        > unity" or "basic unity" that Perrin speaks of simply is not
        > the case for the text that we actually have, which is the
        > Coptic version.
        >
        > Perrin then goes on to say that there is evidence of
        > redaction in Thomas for the sake of catchword connections
        > (which is true). For Perrin, though, such redaction is
        > assumed to be of written rather than oral sources (though he
        > can offer no proof of this).
        >
        > Next, Perrin tries to build a case for Tatianic priority. The
        > meat of his case, where he actually offers details that can
        > be checked, begins on page 185. First he says, in the middle
        > of the page, that "It is well known that the sequence of
        > sayings in GT does not ordinarily correspond to the sequence
        > found in any of the canonical gospels or in the Diatessaron."
        > This is true. Then, lower on the page, he says, "It should be
        > noted, however, that at some points Thomas does indeed follow
        > the order of the canonical and Diatessaronic tradition."
        > Perrin is begging the question here as to who is following
        > whom, but it is true that there are such cases of agreement
        > in sequence. Near the bottom of the page Perrin gets down to
        > details, "Contiguous sayings in Thomas's collection
        > correspond to contiguous verses in the biblical and
        > Diatessaronic tradition . . ." He then begins his list of examples:
        >
        > GTh 32, 33 are paralleled by Mt 5:14b, 5:15. True, but part
        > of the material does not show up in Mt until 10:27 and is
        > paralleled by Lk 12:3, and neither is exact. The
        > non-contiguous part in Mt is "proclaim from your rooftops"
        > etc. (GTh 33.1) Perrin makes things harder for us to get to
        > the bottom of by not giving chapter and verse citations for
        > the Diatessaron here or anywhere, but a little research shows
        > that, while while most of the Matthaean material is
        > approximated in Diatessaron 8:42-43, the part corresponding
        > to GTh 33.1 is found in another context, at 8: ca 13. It is
        > hard to see, then, how GTh could be following the Diatessaron.
        >
        > GTh 43-45 is paralleled by Mt 12:31-35, and by Lk 6:43-44. If
        > we locate similar material in the Diatessaron, we find that
        > GTh 43 is only very roughly paraphrased by Dia 14:34, and
        > GTh 44 is paralleled by Dia 14: ca 33, while some of GTh 45
        > can be paralleled in Dia 14:35, but the Diatessaron's rough
        > parallel to the "grapes, thorns, etc." part is found
        > non-contiguously in 10:36-35, in another context. The parts
        > that do appear contiguously, appear in a different order.
        > Perrin seems to overstate his case.
        >
        > GTh 47.3-5 is partially paralleled by Mt 9:16-17 and Mk
        > 2:21-22; more completely paralleled by Lk 5:36-39 and Dia
        > 7:34-36. But the order of the elements in GTh is exactly the
        > reverse of the order in the synoptics and in the Diatessaron.
        > Also, GTh talks about not sewing on an old patch, rather than
        > a new one as in all of the other witnesses. Hard to read this
        > as a case for Tatianic priority.
        >
        > The fact that GTh 66 follows 65 proves nothing except that it
        > was the traditional ending of the parable.
        >
        > GTh 68, 69 are paralleled by Mt 5:11, 5:10, and 5:6, but the
        > order is reversed, as it is in Lk 6:22, 6:21. The
        > Diatessaronic parallels, at 8:34,35 and 8:30 are also in
        > reverse order from GTh, and are not even close in wording.
        > Further, the more primitive quality of the beatitudes in GTh
        > is striking. Hard to see how Thomas could be following the
        > Diatessaron (or the synoptics either, for that matter).
        >
        > Finally, GTh 92, 93, 94 are paralleled by Mt 7:7, 7:6, and
        > 7:8. They are partially paralleled by Lk 11:9-10. They find
        > parallels in the Diatessaron at 10: ca 26, 10:21, and 10:27
        > (non-contiguous). The Diatessaron follows Matthew's order;
        > GTh does not follow either of them.
        >
        > It appears that Perrin's "Case for Tatianic Priority" is not
        > well supported by the actual evidence.
        >
        >
        > --Don Traxler
        >
        >
        >
        >
        >
        > ------------------------------------
        >
        > Gospel of Thomas Homepage: http://home.epix.net/~miser17/Thomas.html
        > Interlinear translation:
        > http://www.geocities.com/mwgrondin/x_transl.htm
        >
        > ------------------------------------
        > Yahoo! Groups Links
        >
        >
        >
      • Exolinguist
        ... It takes a lot of time. The book is very dense, full of footnotes, and the Syriac writing is hard on these old eyes. ... Yes, I think you are right. I ve
        Message 3 of 4 , Oct 1, 2008
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          Judy wrote:

          >
          > Thanks for this Don. I really must read this book, but I just don't have
          > time right at the moment.
          >

          It takes a lot of time. The book is very dense, full of footnotes, and the Syriac writing is hard on these old eyes.

          > From what you are saying, though, it appears that Perrin's analysis suffers
          > from the same problem as the analyses of many Christian scholars of Thomas -
          > the desperate need to prove that Thomas is dependent on at least one of the
          > synoptic gospels. For Christians, the possibility that Thomas is early and
          > independent is worrying because it means that two millennia of teaching,
          > doctrine etc might need to be looked at again. If it's late and dependent,
          > then we don't need to worry. The more conservative the Christian, the
          > bigger the problem this presents, I think.
          >

          Yes, I think you are right. I've been following the debate for more than twenty years, and it seems that the positions just get to be more entrenched. After a while you can predict what a given writer is likely to say, because you know what s/he wants to believe.

          > Thus, in Thomas scholarship, you frequently get statements such as the one
          > you quoted:
          >
          > > "It should be
          > > noted, however, that at some points Thomas does indeed follow
          > > the order of the canonical and Diatessaronic tradition."
          >
          > when what should be being said is that the order is the same. This doesn't
          > necessarily mean that one follows the other, of course - they may simply
          > have both accessed the same common source in which the segments appeared in
          > that order. As you point out, the fact that the order is the same does not,
          > of itself, prove which follows which if one does, indeed, follow the other.
          >
          > However, if you approach the text with a conscious or subconscious agenda of
          > finding proof for dependence, that colours how you understand what you find.
          > It seems that Perrin's analysis suffers from this.
          >

          Yes, it seems so.

          > As I said, I really must read the book. :-)
          >

          I wish I could recommend it, but I really can't. It brings nothing new to the table so far as I can see, except an unusual amount of chutzpah. As I said in the first of these posts, it's not a book to be ignored, or one to be read uncritically.

          --Don
        • Judy Redman
          Hi Don, ... Since I am doing a PhD on the parables of the Reign/Kingdom of God in the Gospel of Thomas and their parallels (where they exist) in the synoptics,
          Message 4 of 4 , Oct 2, 2008
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            Hi Don,

            >
            > > As I said, I really must read the book. :-)
            > >
            >
            > I wish I could recommend it, but I really can't. It brings
            > nothing new to the table so far as I can see, except an
            > unusual amount of chutzpah. As I said in the first of these
            > posts, it's not a book to be ignored, or one to be read uncritically.

            Since I am doing a PhD on the parables of the Reign/Kingdom of God in the
            Gospel of Thomas and their parallels (where they exist) in the synoptics, I
            can't afford to ignore the book, because I need to have a position on what I
            think Thomas is (ie early/late, dependent/independent) that at least shows
            that I've considered recent writing. It has been sitting on my bookshelf
            for a number of months, but you are not the first person who has been less
            than warmly enthusiastic about it. I believe he develops this work further
            in "Thomas: The Other Gospel" on which you can find a fairly extensive
            treatment on April DeConick's blog, starting at
            http://forbiddengospels.blogspot.com/2007/05/cautionary-note-1-nick-perrin-t
            homas.html and linking to Mike Bird's Euangelion blog, where Perrin makes
            some comments on April's comments. There is some later comment on Perrin's
            thesis about the Aramaic substratum for Thomas at
            http://forbiddengospels.blogspot.com/2008/06/is-there-evidence-for-aramaic.h
            tml

            Regards

            Judy
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