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Origen and Thomas 1: Introduction

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  • Stephen C. Carlson
    This is the first installment of excerpts from a paper I ll be giving at this SBL on Origen s use of Thomas. My goal is to have the paper in as good as shape
    Message 1 of 1 , May 1, 2009
      This is the first installment of excerpts from a paper I'll
      be giving at this SBL on Origen's use of Thomas. My goal is
      to have the paper in as good as shape as possible for SBL and
      possible publication, so I would welcome any discussion on its
      contents. Of course, since this is an email list, discussions
      will take a life of their own.

      The first substantive excerpt will come on Monday. Today is
      an introduction that positions the paper within the scholarly
      discourse on Thomas and Origen. Owing to technical limitations
      involving ASCII messages for email, I have stripped all the
      footnotes and formatting and transliterated the ancient languages.

      --- Begin Excerpt ---
      Out of the four dozen Coptic texts discovered in the Egyptian
      desert at Nag Hammadi in 1945, perhaps the most sensational
      has been the Gospel of Thomas. This gospel contains some 114
      sayings of Jesus, about half of which parallel what Jesus says
      in the synoptic gospels. Excitement about the find increased
      when Henri-Charles Puech realized that three Greek fragments,
      totaling about a third of the Coptic text, had already been
      discovered at Oxyrhynchus a half-century earlier. Much of the
      attention paid to the Gospel of Thomas has been devoted to the
      question of its sources, with scholars arguing that some of the
      unparalleled sayings may even go back to the historical Jesus.
      Yet less attention has been given to its reception in antiquity.
      Of course, commentaries of the Gospel of Thomas typically include
      patristic parallels to the sayings in the Gospel of Thomas, but
      studies of its reception have tended to focus on Hippolytus of
      Rome (d. 235), who mentioned it in connection with a "gnostic"
      sect known as the Naassenes.

      Origen, a younger contemporary of Hippolytus, is especially
      well-suited for a study on the reception of the Gospel of Thomas
      in antiquity. He was perhaps the most well-read Christian
      intellectual of the third century and he amassed a huge library,
      which he employed to further his prolific output of exegetical
      writings, many of which have survived. Moreover, Origen was
      more open-minded about citing “apocryphal” works than many other
      ancient Christian writers, so his vast body of work promises to
      contain several examples of his use of the Gospel of Thomas. This
      paper surveys a half-dozen cases where Origen used the Gospel of
      Thomas, both by name and anonymously—including one previously
      unrecognized instance—and, based upon these examples, assesses
      his attitude toward this text. In short, this survey shows that,
      despite Origen’s recognition that the Gospel of Thomas did not
      rank with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and despite the presence
      of some content he must have found objectionable, Origen nonetheless
      thought that the Gospel of Thomas contained historically useful
      and homiletically edifying material.
      --- End Excerpt ---

      Stephen Carlson

      Stephen C. Carlson
      Ph.D. student, Religion, Duke University
      Author of The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark (Baylor, 2005)
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