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[Synoptic-L] GT and Tatian

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  • Maluflen@aol.com
    Has anyone read yet the new book by Nicholas Perrin which argues that Gospel of Thomas is a late second or third century document, based in part on the
    Message 1 of 2 , Dec 10, 2002
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      Has anyone read yet the new book by Nicholas Perrin which argues that Gospel of Thomas is a late second or third century document, based in part on the Diatessaron of Tatian? Sounds reasonable enough to me, but I wonder if anyone has gone through and could evaluate the strength of his arguments?

      Leonard Maluf
    • Stephen C. Carlson
      ... I wrote the following brief summary of the Perrin book for Crosstalk, which is as follows: Stephen Carlson ... I have received Nicholas Perrin s book,
      Message 2 of 2 , Dec 10, 2002
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        On Tue, 10 Dec 2002 12:14:09 EST Maluflen@... wrote:

        > Has anyone read yet the new book by Nicholas
        > Perrin which argues that Gospel of Thomas is a
        > late second or third century document, based in
        > part on the Diatessaron of Tatian? Sounds
        > reasonable enough to me, but I wonder if anyone
        > has gone through and could evaluate the
        > strength of his arguments?

        I wrote the following brief summary of the Perrin book for Crosstalk, which is
        as follows:

        Stephen Carlson

        ----- snip ----

        I have received Nicholas Perrin's book, THOMAS AND TATIAN: The Relationship
        between the Gospel of Thomas and the Diatessaron (Atlanta: SBL, 2002) and read
        it. It is a lucid, well-researched, and well-conceived book. Perrin has
        absolutely convinced me that Thomas was originally written in Syriac and has
        gone quite far down the road of (and almost clinches) establishing that Thomas
        is dependent on the Diatessaron (and therefore indirectly dependent on the
        canonical gospels). It is an important and well-argued thesis that cannot be
        ignored in any future critical study of Thomas.

        Perrin's argument has four steps: (1) establish that Thomas was originally
        written in Syriac, (2) prove that Thomas in Syriac is a literary unity
        composed by a single author, (3) show that Thomas likely relied on written
        sources, and (4) connect Thomas to the Diatessaron as the only written Syriac
        source of synoptic tradition to Thomas.

        Perrin book has three main chapters. Chapter I surveys the scholarship on the
        question of Thomas's original language, and shows many examples where
        departures of Thomas from the synoptic texts and other oddities of phraseology
        can be readily explained by a Syriac hyparchetype as in intermediary. One
        example is Matt. 13:47 which reads "collected the good [fish]" but Thom. 8:3
        states "chose the large fish", which can be explained by the use of the Syriac
        GB' which means both "collect" and "choose." Perrin also marches through
        Quispel's examples for a (western) Aramaic intermediary and shows that they
        all work for the eastern, Syriac dialect as well.

        Chapter II is the bulk of the book and clinches the first step as well as
        establishes the second step. In this exhaustive study, Perrin looks for the
        presence of catchwords between different Thomas logia (he considers 42 and 43
        to be part of the same saying) in three different languages: Coptic, Greek,
        and Syriac, and find that there are 269 potential Coptic catchwords, 263 Greek
        catchwords, but 502 Syriac catchwords. In fact, only three pairs in Thomas
        (56/57, 88/89, and 104/5) are not connected by Syriac catchwords. Some of the
        Syriac catchwords involves retitions of puns that work in Syriac, but not in
        Coptic or Greek. For example, a favorite pun is between "fire" (nura) and
        "light" (nurha). Perrin adduces the example of the Odes of Solomon to show
        that catchwords are an attested organizing principle in Syriac literature.

        The presence of Syriac catchwords linking nearly every pair of sayings in
        Thomas also explains why we don't see correlation in order with the synoptics.
        Thomas's organizating principle is to conjoin sayings based on similarities of
        meaning, etymology and sound. (This is recognized by Patterson, GOSPEL OF
        THOMAS AND JESUS, p. 102: "At any rate, catchword association is the principle
        upon which the sayings in the Gospel of Thomas were originally collected. ...
        The order of Thomas' sayings is largely a function of its genre, not its
        theology." However, Patterson only looked at the Coptic.) What Perrin's Syriac
        evidence does, however, is to show the pervasiveness of the catchword
        organizing principle, demonstrating that Thomas was a unitary composition.

        The weakest part of Perrin's book is how he then argues Thomas is dependent on
        the Diatessaron, a harmony of the gospels that Tatian composed in Syriac
        around 173. Perrin's basic strategy is to posit that Thomas must be dependent
        on written sources, present the Diatessaron as the leading, if not only,
        candidate for the written source, and adduce some corroborating evidence of
        the link.

        To show that Thomas is dependent on written sources, Perrin argues that Thomas
        has redacted his sayings to interpolate words that set up catchwords with
        other sayings (e.g. the introduction of characterizing the fish as "small"
        (z'ora) in Thom. 8 to connect it with the Thom. 9 sower (zraw'a; also zar'e
        "seeds" and zra' "scattered"). Perrin also argues that long strings are
        unlikely to have existed orally and brings up Koester's point that the present
        tense of "Jesus says" implies a written source.

        While it is true that the organization and redaction of sayings had to occur
        as a written, literary activity, I don't think this entails that Thomas's
        sources had to be written, although they could well be. In fact, Thomas's
        redactorial freedom is a bit easier to hold if his sayings were oral, and it
        is not necessary for the sayings to be joined in the oral tradition for Thomas
        to string them all together. In fact, Patterson argued on the same page that
        composition by catchword can easily work with oral sayings that the author
        knew well "simply the result [of] his or her process of remembering."

        I am also having a hard time thinking of any case in which scholars are able
        to conclude that an author used a written source without any independent
        evidence of that source (e.g. for Luke we have the prologue, which admits
        written sources, and comparison with Luke's direct source Mark, and, if you
        believe in Q, the existence of Matthew is used to point to the use of another
        written source). The usual procedure is to compare a text with other
        candidates and assess the direction of dependence.

        This source critical methodology of comparing Thomas and the Diatessaron would
        be difficult and extensive, and Perrin did not do a full analysis in his book.
        Fortunately, however, Perrin brought up one very compelling example in Thom.
        44-45, which he concluded as follows:

        | The very fact that GT 45 harmonizes Matthew and Luke
        | in precisely the same manner as Tatian (Tatian's
        | composition was, after all, a gospel *harmony*) also
        | resolves Patterson's question concerning GT 44-45.
        | Although GT 44 and 45 follow Matt 12:31-32 and Luke
        | 6:43-45, respectively, this does not mean that the
        | two sayings come from separate texts. On the contrary,
        | it is in the *Diatessaron* that these two passages of
        | scripture are brought together. Behind GT 44-45 must
        | have stood neither oral tradition, nor the Greek texts,
        | but the *Diatessaron*. In summary I have counted eight
        | points at which Thomas follows the order of both the
        | canonical gospels and Tatian's harmony, and in one place
        | the author follows the order of the *Diatessaron* alone.
        | On the basis of this brief review it may be said that
        | Tatianic priority is upheld from a source-critical
        | vantage point. (p. 188, footnote omitted).

        (The sequence of Thom. 44 and 45 was one of the places where Patterson
        weaseled out of a difficulty by positing a "later scribal hand under the
        influence of the similar cluster in Matthew" p. 99. Based on Perrin's
        scholarship, we can now identify this later scribal hand by name: Tatian.)

        Come to think of it, the Syriac origin for Thomas should not come as a shock.
        Many scholars, including Koester, are happy to assign the provenance of Thomas
        to eastern Syrian based on other consideration (e.g. the name "Judas Thomas"
        etc.). If Thomas did come from eastern Syria, it explains why the effort to
        compare Thomas with the synoptics directly for dependence or independence is
        futile: because the Diatessaron is the earliest written source of gospel
        traditions in Syriac that we know of, with the Old Syriac separated gospels
        (Sinaitic and Curetonian) being later than Tatian. Simply based on its
        provenance, scholars should have taken the Diatessaron more seriously as a
        possible source for Thomas.


        --
        Stephen C. Carlson,
        mailto:scarlson@...
        "Poetry speaks of aspirations, and songs chant the words." Shujing 2.35

        Synoptic-L Homepage: http://www.bham.ac.uk/theology/synoptic-l
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