Friday, 4 January 2008

Gospel of Thomas

Managed to finally finish Nicholas Perrin's "Thomas: The Other Gospel". Against Elaine Pagels, April DeConick and others, Perrin presents a some interesting arguments for locating the Gospel in the Syriac Church, shortly after Tatian's  Diatessaron, and locating it around Edessa. He also notes the influence of the ascendant Hermetic tradition in that time and place, which has been also noted by DeConick in Thomas.

He also suggests it draws upon the Diatessaron, noting the order of certain segments follows that rather than the gospel sources, for example:

Thomas 44 // Matt. 12.32 // Luke 12.10
Thomas 45.1 // Matt. 7.16 // Luke 6.44
Thomas 45.2-4 // Matt. 12.35, 34b // Luke 6.45

There are problems with the linguistics of Perrin's thesis which have been cited by others. I have not enough knowledge of the linguistics of Syriac, Greek, and the "catchword" arguments that he presents. But what I find stronger is his presentation of the problem of Thomas in clear- well-defined terms, when he looks at the following questions: (1) what accounts for the strange sequence of sayings in Thomas? (2) How might we explain the ascetical elements in Thomas? (3) Why is Thomas so interested in creation themes? (4) Why is Thomas "according to Thomas"? (5) What accounts for the disparate substance of the sayings? (6) Why are all these sayings connected with Jesus, when most of them cannot be attributed to the historical Jesus? (7) Is there a single hypothesis that accounts for the above questions in a single stroke?
His arguments, in a nutshell, are that:
  • The Coptic Thomas displays evidence of the misunderstanding of words from a Syriac original in the translation
  • Many Thomasine sayings follow the order in the Diatessaron
  • Thomas reflects Syrian asceticism associated with Tatian
  • Thomas draws on Tatian's logos theology
  • The salvation theme of  Thomas reflects Tatian's view of salvation as something essentially internal.
  • There is no evidence that Tatian was influenced by Thomas, and the divergence in Tatian theology from other churches only begins after the death of his mentor Justin Martyr
  • Edessa at the time of Tatian had a rich Hermetic tradition, reflected in Thomas, but not in existence at an early dating
A fascinating book.