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Tales From Apocrypha 3: The Gospel of Thomas

31 Aug

I started this post about six months ago and part of the reason was to use the Gospel of Thomas as an illustration of various early Christian groups originating independent of one another. Unfortunately, I don’t recall exactly where I was going with that so instead I’m going to talk about what I find most fascinating about the Gospel of Thomas; simply that it may provide a window into very early Christianity.

Before I get started on that a quick review of what seems to be the most prevalent scholarly thinking on the development of the Canonical Gospels is in order. New Testament scholars generally believe that the Synoptic Gospels; Mark, Luke and Matthew, originated from two main sources. One of these consisted of oral stories circulating about Jesus’ life, accounts of what he did. The second is some source, commonly identified as the Q or Quelle source, which contained a list of Jesus’ sayings. These stories and sayings were then combined to form the Synoptic Gospels. 1

The Gospel of Thomas has been among the most analyzed, critiqued and written about of all Apocryphal works. It is unlike any of the Canonical Gospels as it provides no details of Jesus’ life. It is a sayings gospel. The Gospel of Thomas includes 114 quotations from Jesus. Nothing more, nothing less. 2 The Gospel was only recently discovered among the Nag Hammadi texts in 1945 however once it was analyzed historians realized that they already possessed fragments of it in Coptic from Oxyrhynchus, dated from before 200 CE. 3 The version found at Nag Hammadi dates from the early fourth century.

Nag_Hammadi_Codex_IIfolio 32 of Nag Hammadi Codex II, with the ending of the Apocryphon of John, and the
beginning of the Gospel of Thomas. Source: Wikimedia Commons

There is some debate about the date the Gospel of Thomas was written and this is pretty important. The Nag Hammadi version is believed to have consisted of an early version which had been added to over the years, resulting in a final version which became more widely disseminated from around 140-200. The interesting point for me within this context is the earlier material which some historians believe originated in the early second century while others believe it may have been written earlier, perhaps as early as about 40. I find the argument for an early date persuasive (to be fair, at this time I have not read a detailed explanation of why it may be later).

One argument for the possibility of an early date for GT is when we compare phrases from Thomas to those in another Gospel. Helmut Koester writes, “If one considers the form and wording of the individual sayings in comparison with the form in which they are preserved in the New Testament, The Gospel of Thomas appears to have preserved a more original form of the traditional saying(in a few instances, where this is not the case, the Coptic translation seems to have been influenced by the translator’s knowledge of the New Testament gospels), or presents versions which are independently based on more original forms.” 4 Bart Ehrman writes, “Many of these sayings are pithier and more succinct than their canonical counterparts. Is it possible that Thomas presents a more accurate version of the sayings than, say, Matthew, Mark, and Luke (there are fewer parallels to John)- that is, a closer approximation to the way Jesus actually said them?” 5

Here are some examples from Wikipedia where Thomas includes the same general message as one of the canonical Gospels but in a shorter form: 6

Thomas 8: And Jesus said, “The person is like a wise fisherman who cast his net into the sea and drew it up from the sea full of little fish. Among them the wise fisherman discovered a fine large fish. He threw all the little fish back into the sea, and easily chose the large fish. Anyone here with two good ears had better listen!”

and Matthew 13:47-50: “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

or Thomas 107: Jesus said, “The kingdom is like a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. One of them, the largest, went astray. He left the ninety-nine and looked for the one until he found it. After he had toiled, he said to the sheep, I love you more than the ninety-nine.”

with Luke 15:3–7: Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” 7

Following the same reasoning as the historians I’ve quoted above, to me it’s logical that the shorter, less detailed saying would usually be the earlier one. There’s no law which says this must be the case but it’s much easier to argue that someone took a short saying, the meaning of which confused some folks, and expanded it to make its message clearer than for someone to have taken a detailed, fairly clear message and made it shorter and less clear. Now not every saying in Thomas is paralleled in the New Testament and obviously the proposed earliest date of 140 for the text found in the Nag Hammadi manuscript postdates the writings of the Gospels by half a century or more. However it is reasonable to think that at least some of the sayings included in it were not edited and are very early.

Where the Gospel of Thomas is fascinating is this window it provides (or may provide) into very early Christianity, well before it would have been considered anything more than a Jewish sect, possibly even before Paul’s letters. Where the canonical Gospels are a merging of oral stories told of the life of Jesus combined with his sayings, teachings and parables into a narrative, Thomas is more of a raw form; a component, possibly, of what came to be the Gospels of the New Testament. 8

NOTE: This is a link to an online version of the Gospel of Thomas.

1 Hopefully folks realize this is woefully oversimplified. For example, most of Mark is included in Matthew and Luke, but the latter two incorporate considerable additional material, resulting in some historians’ belief that they must have had an additional source or two. BTW, these three are called Synoptic because they share so much material. John is significantly different.

2 As far as I know Thomas has never been identified as the Q document mentioned above however it has often been described in terms such as, “similar to what the Q document may have been.”

3 For me the most useful introduction is by Helmut Koester in Robinson (1990), pp 124-6. If your preference is for a more detailed analysis, see Hennecke, et al. (1973) pp 278-307.

4 Helmut Koester, “The Gospel of Thomas,” p 125 in Robinson (1990).

5 Ehrman, Lost Christianities (2003) pp 55-6.

6 OK, here I have to admit something. Not sure if I should be embarrassed by this or not. When I began writing this post back whenever, I recalled someone having done a very nice job comparing sayings in Thomas with those in the canonical Gospels demonstrating that while they are similar, in many cases those in Thomas were shorter and simpler. I was sure this was in one of the books I’d read on it – my “Apocrypha Collection” includes 13 books and I have more on the Gnostics and other heresies. One of the reasons I’ve taken so long publishing this post is I couldn’t find this comparison. Until today when I Googled the term, “Gospel of Thomas Comparison Matthew” which took me to Wikipedia. I’ve not used it as a source before but we use the tools we are given (I’m still convinced this is in a book I have here, someplace). Anyway, take that for what it’s worth. I categorize Wikipedia as useful for quick reference but not dependable (IOW I like to double check what it says – then again, I’d give someone the same advice if we were talking about me). But since Wikipedia uses me as a source, I suppose it’s time I return the favor.

7 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Thomas (2013)

8 I think it’s important to note that the Gospel of Thomas was found among Gnostic documents and there are hints of a Gnostic emphasis on secret knowledge in it, enough that early Christian writers such as Hippolytus, Origen and Eusebius consider it heretical. However these hints are subtle compared with texts such as The Apocryphon of John. To me Thomas fits in the category of, “not Gnostic but something which contains material which is appealing to Gnostics.” Of course then there’s the discussion of what exactly we mean by the terms “Gnostic” and “Gnosticism,” is this another “ism” which has become so generalized as to be virtually useless, etc. I’m not going there, not today anyway but if you want to, Meyer(2005) discusses this scholarly debate in his introduction, pp x-xiii.

Ehrman, Bart, Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2003). ISBN: 978-0195-14183-2

Ehrman, Bart, Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2003). ISBN:978-0195-14182-5.

Ehrman, Bart and Plese, Zlatko, The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2011). ISBN:978-0-19-973210-4.

Hennecke, E., Schneemelcher, Wilhelm and Wilson, R. McL., eds., New Testament Apocrypha: Gospels and Related Writings, Volume 1. Trowbridge, Wiltshire: Redwood Press (1973). ISBN:978-0-334-01111-8.

Meyer, Marvin, trans. & ed., The Gnostic Gospels of Jesus: The Definitive Collection of Mystical Gospels and Secret Books about Jesus of Nazareth. New York: HarperCollins (2005). ISBN: 978-0-060-76208-7.

Pagels, Elaine, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas. New York: Random House (2005). ISBN:978-0-375-50156-2.

Robinson, James M., ed., The Nag Hammadi Library: The Definitive Translation of the Gnostic Scriptures Complete in One Volume. New York: HarperCollins (1990). ISBN:978-0-06-066934-8.

Wikipedia, Gospel of Thomas, page last modified August 19, 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Thomas (last accessed August 26, 2013).

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9 Comments

Posted by on August 31, 2013 in Literature, Religion

 

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9 responses to “Tales From Apocrypha 3: The Gospel of Thomas

  1. trueandreasonable

    January 8, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    If I recall correctly Bart Ehrman argued that the Gospel of Thomas came well after the the canonical Gospels because some of the saying referenced an understanding of certain parts of Gnosticism. He stated that Gnosticism (or at least the parts referenced) really didn’t much exist until after the other gospels were written. So to the extent this book assumes knowledge of these ideas it must have been written later.

    I do not know enough to evaluate that argument.

    Given the difference between Thomas and the other early christian writings I find it hard to accept it as an independent authentic source.

     
    • Curt Emanuel

      January 8, 2014 at 5:24 pm

      Bart Ehrman actually argues as he did when I quoted him in this post; that it’s very possible that some of the sayings found in the Gospel of Thomas predate the canonical Gospels.

      Nobody – including myself in this post – argues that the Gospel of Thomas as we have it from the Nag Hammadi finds predates the Gospels, just that substantial portions of it may.

      How is something being different a reason for its disqualification as a source?

      Lucan wrote a poem about the Roman Civil War while Appian, Caesar, and whoever wrote the accounts attributed to Caesar all wrote narratives but we don’t disqualify Lucan because his account is different.

      There’s a fair amount of scholarly consensus that a sayings source was a component of the canonical Gospels. Why do you think the proposed “Q” document is so unlikely?

       
  2. trueandreasonable

    January 8, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    It was several years since I listened to Ehrman. I don’t think something being different disqualifies it as a source. So with respect to the sayings there and in the gospels they may have been coming from authentic independent source. if 3 sources say one thing and the a 4th is dramatically different it is suspect. John is different from the synoptics but its not so dramatically different that I I strongly question its authenticity.

    I think I probably did not find the idea that there was an earlier and easily separated and a later Gospel of Thomas very convincing. I just generally remember thinking the Gospel of Thomas really wouldn’t add anything to our understanding of Jesus over the gospel accounts. If we saw it in other gospels then yes it would be considered to have somehow originated a reliable source. But then again we already have that source in the Gospels. If its not in the other gospels then how would we know whether it was one of the unauthentic additions or something authentic?

    If I had to bet i would think Q did exist.

    On a side note let me ask you and anyone else their thoughts: One issue that I had with Ehrman was he went through this whole thing about how what we read in the gospels must have come only from oral tradition. He even gave a lengthy analogy to the telephone game. But then he talks about Q. Yes Q might have been person or oral tradition but it clearly could have been writing.

    This seems a contradiction to say we know the gospels were from oral tradition and also say they may have gotten some information for a written source q. To be fair to Ehrman, I have heard other scholars say that the gospels were the result of oral tradition. I just can’t find the basis for this claim.

    Why do scholars rule out the possibility that the gospel writers were going from written sources, or people who told them what they knew based on written sources.

    Here is a bit of scholarship that I find quite interesting and on the whole persuasive:

    http://www.josephus.org/LUKECH.html

    In sum it seems Luke used a written source that Josephus also used. If true this would disprove the notion that the gospels were written based entirely on a telephone game. And if this involved a writing why would we necessarily assume other writings were not used?

    What say ye?

     
    • Curt Emanuel

      January 9, 2014 at 5:29 pm

      “What say ye?”

      What kind of comment is that?

      I guess I’ll take this piece by piece. Some of it’s rather puzzling.

      “It was several years since I listened to Ehrman. I don’t think something being different disqualifies it as a source. So with respect to the sayings there and in the gospels they may have been coming from authentic independent source. if 3 sources say one thing and the a 4th is dramatically different it is suspect. John is different from the synoptics but its not so dramatically different that I I strongly question its authenticity.

      Er, which is it? Do you think something different doesn’t disqualify it as a source or do you think if something is different you automatically question its authority? It’s rare when someone contradicts his/herself in a single paragraph but you’ve done it here.

      For reference, for most people finding a wide range of diverse sources enhances the validity of a finding, particularly in a case like this where the two sources do not directly contradict each other. Finding a poem, a narrative, and a biographical account discussing the same events, without contradiction, is usually considered a good thing. In your case, the fact that one source is written in a different format/style means it cannot be reliable. There may be reasons for disqualifying a source but the form of a text is not one of them.

      “On a side note let me ask you and anyone else their thoughts: One issue that I had with Ehrman was he went through this whole thing about how what we read in the gospels must have come only from oral tradition. He even gave a lengthy analogy to the telephone game. But then he talks about Q. Yes Q might have been person or oral tradition but it clearly could have been writing.

      This seems a contradiction to say we know the gospels were from oral tradition and also say they may have gotten some information for a written source q. To be fair to Ehrman, I have heard other scholars say that the gospels were the result of oral tradition. I just can’t find the basis for this claim.

      Why do scholars rule out the possibility that the gospel writers were going from written sources, or people who told them what they knew based on written sources.”

      I’m not aware that anyone has. In fact, as far as I know, New Testament scholars generally believe that the Synoptic Gospels; Mark, Luke and Matthew, originated from two main sources. One of these consisted of oral stories circulating about Jesus’ life, accounts of what he did. The second is some source, commonly identified as the Q or Quelle source, which contained a list of Jesus’ sayings. These stories and sayings were then combined to form the Synoptic Gospels.

      The above happens to be what I wrote in this very post which I now believe you didn’t read, at least not completely. Consensus is that Mark, Luke, and Matthew had two sources in common; the Q document, and another source which contained accounts of his life (in some cases historians argue that Mark served as the source for Matthew and Luke). Both of these sources were written. The consistency between the three Gospel accounts is very strong evidence for a common, written source.

      However, unless you’re proposing that Jesus had a personal stenographer or secretary who followed him around and wrote down everything he said or did as he said or did them, how do you get away from an oral tradition? How many mouths/ears these oral stories may have passed through before being written down is a matter for debate(and unanswerable, I think) but oral transmission is pretty much a slam dunk. Somebody had to tell someone these things or they would have never been written down.

      As for your final point, there’s nothing to eliminate the possibility that Josephus and Luke had access to the same source. There’s also nothing to say that the later emendation wasn’t written by someone at about the same time as when Eusebius did his Biblical translation, about 331. Origen specifically states that Josephus did not believe Jesus was the Christ which is evidence that the passage in Antiquities did not exist in that form during the middle of the 3rd century. Proposing Eusebius as the author of the emendation, the same person who did the Biblical translation, makes a more persuasive argument, at least to me, than the link you offered:

      http://historicaljesusresearch.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-testimonium-flavianum-eusebius-and.html

       
  3. trueandreasonable

    January 9, 2014 at 10:11 pm

    There is no contradiction in what i wrote.

    1) Just because I question a source’s authenticity doesn’t mean I disqualify it as a source. If I have 4 sources but one is dramatically different than the other 3 then I question its authenticity but I don’t necessarily say it isn’t a source. We may later find 6 more sources that are more in line with the odd ball source. That would increase its likelihood of being authentic.

    2) You claimed that the Gospel of Thomas may have sayings which are earlier and others added later. So even if you think calling something a source must mean it is an unquestionably authentic source, we are still dealing with at least 2 different types of passages/sayings in the same Document. Those that were in the early version of Thomas and some that were added later. There is no reason to think they would all be equally authentic.

    I never said I questioned the Gospel of Thomas because of the form it was in. I questioned it because as I recall it seemed suggest Jesus had very different teachings than the other 3 gospels.

    A common view on the synoptics is that Mark was written before Luke or Mathew. Dates for Mark vary from 50 ad to about 75 ad. Mathew and Luke seem to have had access to Mark as well as a Q source (that they both had but was not in mark) and some other sources peculiar to their own gospel. I have never heard anyone other than you suggest Mark used the q source. Mathew and Luke are dated 70-100 AD.

    With respect to Mark that is 20-45 years of oral tradition. With respect to Luke and Mathew Ehrman and some others seem to infer it was oral tradition until they were written with the exception of the material from Mark. But then they seem to contradict themselves when they talk about the possible q source.

    I am not sure why they think it must have been oral tradition both for the years leading up to Mark and for the other passages in Luke and Mathew – or for that matter John. Why do they rule out the possibility that some of the information may have been recorded in writing?

    As for the Josephus information – thanks for the link. I think he makes some good points as well. I’m really not sure what to think on it.

     
    • Curt Emanuel

      January 11, 2014 at 9:10 am

      You said you don’t think something being different should disqualify it as a source and in the same passage offered only a source’s difference as the single reason why you strongly question its authenticity. That’s contradictory.

      I’ve asked you to explain what you mean by “different” in this context and you have not provided any information. So instead of responding to (or possibly agreeing with) your methodology I’m forced to go with general statements which, based on what you’ve given me, I believe may apply to what you’re talking about.

      1. The fact that a source is different from existing sources should have no impact on its validity.

      2. The fact that a source is similar to another source or sources should have no impact on its validity.

      3. Each source must be examined individually, without precondition, or considering other sources for the same period/event/social movement. Each source must stand or fall on its own merits. To begin source examination by considering its validity through comparison with other extant sources is flawed methodology. It reveals the examiner to be not looking at the source objectively but with eyes prejudiced by knowledge of other sources. This is a narrow-minded approach which will tend to block the researcher to the possibility of new understanding of a particular event/period. It is wrong.

      NOTE: The above, particularly number 3, is a methodological goal which is likely never completely attained. Historians are people, after all, and the ones who are involved in detailed textual/source analysis are aware of other sources and will have opinions and (shudder) prejudices. As with primary sources, modern historians need to be read with this in mind (as does this blog). This is one reason why historical revision every so often is essential. ‘Building on the shoulders of others” is a wonderful sentiment but every so often it’s discovered that those shoulders belong to someone who’s been standing in quicksand. There’s also a matter of degree as something may be so obviously out of place as to never stand up to serious scrutiny.

      I’ve seen this sort of argument used before with respect to very early Christian sources – in one extreme case by someone who wanted to argue that all of Christianity came from Eusebius – and I hope your insistence on a single, monolithic source as origin material for Christianity, rather than various, diverse sources, isn’t intended to lead in the same direction as other discussions of this type that I’ve seen; that a historical Jesus never existed. In general, the existence of varied, valid sources for an event increases the likelihood of that event, while finding that all sources are nearly identical points to a single source, reducing that event’s probability. Using your criterion of “different” as a reason to question a source’s authenticity, besides being methodologically flawed, is an impediment to considering multiple sources as valid.

      I have zero interest in being involved in a discussion of the historicity of Jesus. However by distrusting anything different you seem to be arguing for one source, something which logically becomes much simpler to discredit. Of course I may be misreading this as you haven’t explained what you mean by different.

      Now I am not a historian – I read the arguments used by historians. But if I start reading something by a historian and he or she opens a discussion of methodology with, “A key, initial aspect for me to decide if a source is valid is to consider whether or not it is different from other sources” I would stop reading that book immediately, unless I wanted to use it as an object lesson for how not to examine evidence.

      Two other items:

      “I have never heard anyone other than you suggest Mark used the q source. Mathew and Luke are dated 70-100 AD.”

      As Mark includes some sayings, but not as many, as Matthew and Luke, I’ve seen theories that either Mark used Q but was more discriminating, or had a sayings Gospel to work from which was different from that used by the other two Synoptics. This has become more prevalent since the discovery of Thomas as some of its sayings appear in Mark, though more appear in Matthew and Luke.

      Ehrman, for example, prefers the “Q only in Matthew and Luke” theory but mentions Mark using Q as a possibility, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the New Testament Writings, p 111.

      Amy-Jill Levine in the introduction of The Historical Jesus in Context is more specific as she traces the evolution of historical thought and talks about how, after the discovery of Thomas, arguments against Q were greatly weakened and, as Mark is not devoid of sayings, just has less than the other two Synoptics, the possibility that Mark used a sayings Gospel, possibly Q must be considered(she’s walking through the progression and doesn’t really state her opinion). If you want a web page summarizing this, though without references, see: http://homepage.virgin.net/ron.price/syno_news.html (point number 7)

      For myself, the fact that Mark has sayings in common with Matthew and Luke, once you allow for the existence of Q, is an indication that Mark may have also used it, or something very like it. It doesn’t eliminate the possibility of the other theory, I just find it a more persuasive argument myself. Of course as you don’t believe that some of the sayings in Thomas predate the Synoptics it’s understandable why this argument wouldn’t appeal to you.

      “I am not sure why they think it must have been oral tradition both for the years leading up to Mark and for the other passages in Luke and Mathew – or for that matter John. Why do they rule out the possibility that some of the information may have been recorded in writing?”

      I’m not sure anyone has ruled out the possibility, particularly when you qualify it with “some of the information.” In fact, for myself, I do not believe that Mark was necessarily even the first compiler but that he may have been largely working from textual sources.

      However there are multiple reasons for believing in an oral tradition.

      1. Oral was the only way the vast majority of the population of the Roman Empire would have had access to the stories. Probably only 5-10% of the population could read. What’s more, most of those who could read were not people the Gospel stories would have appealed to. The literate tended to be wealthy, powerful people heavily vested in the traditional modes of Roman Worship. Stories telling someone that blessed are the meek and poor or “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven” wouldn’t have been terribly attractive to a wealthy Roman involved in power politics who owned country estates. I think the odds are woefully small that the stories of Jesus were initially spread by text.

      2. It’s more appropriate for societal norms. Early Christianity developed and evolved in the Greek-speaking World. The Greek tradition was one of the spoken word. If you had something to say and wanted a number of people to hear it, you told a rich, entertaining story that folks would hear and remember. Keep in mind that through the first three centuries AD Christians considered their religion to be a new philosophical school, one as concerned with the meaning of life, the existence of the soul, the pre-existence/creation of matter, what it means to live a “good life”, etc., as Platonism or Stoicism. Oral performance, including public contests with opponents, was the method for mass transmission of ideas. The written word was largely reserved for communication among and between philosophers, “the learned.”

      3. It’s historically consistent with other similar events. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was a compilation of stories he had heard floating around(to qualify this, it’s been a LONG time since I’ve read Chaucer – possibly he was working from written material but as most of the stories are in verse form they were clearly meant for oral performances). Beowulf was an epic poem, chanted or sung, which was eventually written down. Snorri Sturlason made a career out of writing down Norse oral stories. The Song of Roland started out as – surprise – a song. The tradition of oral stories being told and eventually being compiled and written down is one which has ample historical precedent.

      The combination of the difficulty inherent in the Gospel stories being disseminated in writing to large numbers of people along with historical precedent makes an oral tradition very likely. Now at some point these stories were written down, at its latest with Mark as the first compiler though I think it’s very possible Mark worked from earlier texts. But I don’t consider it plausible that the first stories of Jesus started out in written form.

       
  4. trueandreasonable

    January 16, 2014 at 12:13 am

    Thanks for the references and comments. It is interesting to think that mark might have used a q source. You make very good points of why we should believe there was oral tradition involved. Yet I agree with you that we shouldn’t rule out the possibility that the authors had some written materials. it seemed to me Ehrman was doing that with the telephone game analogy. I think we are on the same page with respect to the early history.

    Although we may view the likelihood of Thomas being early a bit different. But honestly I have not reviewed the material in several years so I can’t really remember all the details as to why I thought it was likely later. I tended to think Q was something other than Thomas.

    With respect to the sources being different. I do agree with allot of what you say. But I think if the content is too different – substantive content – then it does effect the reliability/authenticity. I will give an example of what I mean later. But I wanted to say thank you for the information.

     
    • Curt Emanuel

      January 16, 2014 at 6:32 am

      I’ve enjoyed the conversation. I noticed I was a little snarky in one comment and apologize for that – I must have been having a bad day.

       
      • trueandreasonable

        January 16, 2014 at 11:48 am

        Np at all I know how I can come across even when I don’t intend to, and the fact that I named my blog “true and reasonable” doesn’t help matters.

        Ok so with respect to the differences, I do not think we should suspect a source at the beginning. I think its only after we examine all the evidence and sources. But I do think in the end we should weigh all the sources and try to decide what actually happened.

        Here is an analogy of what I think of the Gospel of Thomas. Lets say we have written statements given to police from 4 people who say that they saw Jim and Tom were yelling and cursing at each other. They say Jim got in his car and and drove it right at Tom hitting him. These 4 witnesses more or less say throughout this time the 2 were yelling and cursing at each other before Jim got in the car while Jim was in the Car and even after Jim hit Tom. The witnesses could even repeat what the cussing was with some degree of accuracy.

        Now lets say we find a fifth statement that says much the same but adds that Tom shot a gun at Jim right before Jim got in his car and while Jim was driving toward him.

        Its not that the other statements said “no guns were fired” Lets just say the first 4 statements completely left out any mention of a gun. So they didn’t contradict the fifth statement. But if everyone heard them both cussing then they should have been able to hear the gun fire. And you would think they would include the gunfire in a narrative of what happened.

        Now my analysis is that the fifth source seems unreliable due to its difference. I wouldn’t completely discount it as a source. I still think its a source. Because what happens if we later find 15 other statements given to police at the same time that all talk about the gunfire as well.

        But until some other good sources are found to back up that version I would say its unreliable. Its a source but its questionable whether it is authentically stating what in fact happened.

        Is the Gospel of Thomas that different? Well like I said it was a while since I read it. But at the time it seemed a bit of a stretch that many of the things it taught would not have been mentioned in the gospels or other early christian writings including Paul’s letters etc.

        Now maybe some of the Gospel of Thomas dates earlier and later pieces were added later. But

        1) although I agree somewhat that shorter versions might be earlier, IMO that factor may or may not be true its a fairly lightweight factor. IMO its not enough to outweigh the large differences.

        and

        2) I’m not sure where that leaves us. Other than finding a version of the sayings in the other gospels can we say which saying were early and which were late without just engaging in speculation?

        I don’t mind when new scholars adopt views that are different than traditional views based on scholarship. But I also know that a history book that basically repeats what we already believe is not as sexy to a publisher as a book that claims to find new evidence based on startling new discoveries. So there is clear motive for such historians to simply reweigh the evidence in a very convenient manner and leave out all the problems.

        Elaine Pagels was one such author. I wish I did a review when the material was more fresh in my mind. But I think this author gives a clue:

        http://www.catholicculture.org/news/features/index.cfm?recnum=43736

        Now to be fair I can’t read the ancient languages so my analysis wasn’t that in depth. Plus I can’t evaluate his claim that she simply added the word “unspiritual.” But to say it reflects poorly on her character if she did is an understatement. You would think there would be some response if his allegations were not true. But bottom line is people don’t care and so even if her scholarship involves out and out plagiarism its not going to make headlines.

        My own views stemmed from logical leaps Pagel’s made in light of what I learned from other historians.

         

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