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Thomas and the Synoptics:intro

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  • rj.godijn
    Hi all, Let me start by thanking Mike for the opportunity to post here as a regular contributor for the month of January. I am very glad to do so. I d like to
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 9, 2009
      Hi all,

      Let me start by thanking Mike for the opportunity to post here as a
      regular contributor for the month of January. I am very glad to do

      I'd like to start with some introductory notes and, for those of you
      who do not know me, some words on my interests (although I'm sure
      they will become painfully clear once I've posted a couple of times).
      I've been studying Thomas and other early Christian writings for a
      few years now, but my background is not actually in theology, but
      experimental psychology. What does experimental psychology have to do
      with theology? Well, not much… except a certain scientific way of
      thinking. When we consider a problem we think of a hypothesis and a
      way to test this hypothesis. Those hypotheses that are hard to test
      are considered of little use. After this, it is all about method and
      data. It is the hard observable data that we are interested
      in. "Prove it!" is the motto. This is true of course for any
      experimental field.

      Theology and History are of course a little different. Nothing new
      there! For example, when studying early Christianity one often feels
      the need to go beyond (I should say way beyond) the observable data
      to the lost and hidden, the hypothetical, and frankly, in some cases,
      matters that can hardly be tested. This is often inevitable. After
      all, if we happen to be interested in whether Jesus really said some
      of those things that are in Thomas, what are we to do? A whole field
      of Historical Jesus research has been occupied with questions of
      authenticity, despite the fact that we really don't have any reliable
      way of knowing what Jesus really said or did. But obviously it's not
      just Historical Jesus research that goes way out there into the
      unknown, for we also have theories about communities behind
      individual Gospels, hypothetical lost documents that were supposedly
      used as sources, oral traditions that eventually end up in our texts,
      etcetera. All of this may very well be true, but testing these ideas
      is another matter. Anyway, before I already get longwinded let me
      finish this by making my point: I only focus on the observable data.
      You will not catch me talking about Q, M, L (or any other letter), a
      Markan parable source, an Urgospel, the historical Jesus, the Thomas
      community, or anything like that. This obviously does not mean I
      reject all these notions, it merely means I find them
      methodologically unhelpful.

      I have a lot more to say on these methodological issues, but before I
      get really longwinded and boring (too late) let me stop here and get
      on with the Gospel of Thomas. What is my interest in Thomas? Well,
      among other things its relationship with the Synoptic Gospels. Thomas
      is after all not an isolated Gospel, but is clearly related to the
      Synoptic Gospels (at least in terms of material). Whether this
      relationship is a literary one remains the question.

      Also, I am interested in the question whether there was an earlier,
      shorter version of Thomas (perhaps not even linked to Thomas). What
      if it could be demonstrated that behind Thomas lies an earlier
      sayings collection (something like DeConick's kernel Thomas, but
      without the presupposition of independence from the Synoptics) that
      was actually used as a source for one or two other documents? This
      seems to be getting quite close to the (methodologically unhelpful)
      idea of a (sayings) Urgospel (and I said you wouldn't catch me
      talking about this – here I am one paragraph later), but not quite,
      because we can use strict criteria to examine the relationship
      between this earlier sayings collection and these other dependent
      texts (I know this sounds vague right now, but I hope to clarify at
      some later point).

      I will start my next post on the relationship between Thomas and the
      Synoptics. I realize this is not a very popular topic here, because
      most who are interested in Thomas prefer to let Thomas speak for
      itself without the stranglehold of the Synoptic Gospels. I have no
      quarrel with that. I feel the same way about the Gospel of Matthew. I
      consider the Gospel of Matthew one of my favorite early Christian
      writings despite the fact that much of it can in some way or another
      be considered secondary to other sources (and might even cheekily be
      considered a revised version of Mark). This does not mean one cannot
      examine Matthew for its own value (which I think is historically

      The two most popular views concerning Thomas and the Synoptics are of
      course the independence view and the Thomas dependent on the
      Synoptics view. I will concentrate my discussion on these two options
      first. Of course, it is also possible that one or more of the
      Synoptics is in fact dependent on Thomas (so Davies), but since this
      view has not made much of an impact on the field I will leave it till

      I will start with some discussion on one of the most important works
      in this area: Patterson's "the Gospel of Jesus and Thomas". It's
      getting a little outdated now with new developments in the field, but
      I will also discuss a paper he presented at a conference last year
      that had some really nice ideas in it.

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