[Synoptic-L] GT and Tatian
- 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?
- On Tue, 10 Dec 2002 12:14:09 EST Maluflen@... wrote:
> Has anyone read yet the new book by NicholasI wrote the following brief summary of the Perrin book for Crosstalk, which is
> 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?
----- 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
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,
"Poetry speaks of aspirations, and songs chant the words." Shujing 2.35
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