Wednesday, February 21, 2007

How Was the Gospel of Thomas Written?

There is an interesting discussion going on among the members of the Thomas Yahoo list. I am not a member of that list, so I am weighing in on the discussion here.

Why does the literary dependence appeal NOT work?

1. Thomas has general parallels with Synoptic material.
This assumes that the only place Thomas could have derived his version of the saying is from the canonical gospels.
2. Thomas contains parallels that have Synoptic "redactional traces."
This assumes that our sources (Quelle, Matthew, Luke, Mark) were fixed texts, and that they are the same copies that we have reconstructed as our eclectic Greek manuscript (NTG) from our late physical witnesses, none of which agree. This position does not allow for source variation and a lengthy complicated process of development of our sources, and scribing of our sources. Are we sure that the "redactional trace" is from Matthew or Luke? Or is it from a source(s) relied upon by Matthew or Luke? Or is it from an orator who reperformed the saying in light of his memory of a Synoptic version? Or is it from the hand of a later scribe harmonizing an older version of the saying to his memory of the Synoptic version?
3. The entire compositional process of a Thomasine author sitting down one day with canonical texts and cutting and pasting a word here and a word there into his own gospel of sayings does NOT fit what we know about ancient compositional practices.
On this point, the Academy is about 100 years behind in its understanding of ancient compositional practices. I still cannot believe that we are operating with unmodified Form and Redaction Criticism models of production, when they don't work beyond schoolhouse exercises. The ancient world was a rhetorical culture wholly dominated by an oral consciousness. Scholars in the Academy must start learning about orality from sociologists and anthropologists. The studies are there. But they do not jive with what biblical scholars in our field keep saying and want to keep saying. Read Professor Ong, read Professor Foley, read Professor Lord, read Professor Kelber. We must stop looking at the ancient people through our own literate lens.
4. The literary dependence appeal has never been able to account for the differences in the versions of Thomas' sayings and the Synoptics.
I mean this seriously. We have spent so much time looking for "same" words, have we really looked at the differences and tried to account for them? Has anyone noticed (other than me) that the exact verbal agreement, lengthy sequences of words, and secondary features shared between the Triple Tradition and the Quelle versions FAR exceeds anything we find paralleled between the Gospel of Thomas and the Synoptics?
Why does the independence appeal NOT work?

1. The Thomas sayings don't follow the same sequence as the sayings in the Synoptics.
Most of the time. There are a few clusters that are the same.
2. The Thomas parables are not allegorized like their Synoptic counterparts.
There is at least one parable that is allegorized and several more interpreted. There is plenty of secondary material in the Gospel of Thomas, old sayings rewritten in new interpretative contexts.
3. Thomas contains much material unparalleled in the Synoptics.
True, but so do Matthew and Luke - they contain material unparalleled in Mark their major source.
4. There is an absence of redactional activity traceable to Synoptic hands.
If you examine the sayings using traditional form and redactional analysis, there is evidence for Lukan dependence in 5/6, 31, 39, 45, and 79.
Where does this leave us?

I hope it dislodges us from continuing to argue for direct literary dependence OR complete independence. If we keep slogging away at these same appeals, we will keep answering them with the same objections, and we will stay in the box.

I suggest moving out of the box. What we should be doing is talking in terms of what kinds of dependence, and how we can distinguish these in our written sources.
  • Are we seeing an "original" independent multiform, an example of pre-Synoptic performance variants?
  • Are we seeing secondary orality, an example of an orator's memory influenced by his memory of the Synoptic tradition?
  • Are we seeing secondary scribal adaptation, an example of the influence of a scribe's memory on what he is either translating or copying?
  • Are we seeing direct literary dependence, an example of one author copying a text from another text?
I think that the only way we are going to find answers to these questions is to turn to interdisciplinary studies, particularly in psychology, sociology, and anthropology. And we have to start running controlled experiments on the subject ourselves. That is far afield of Thomas, I know, but if we don't do it, we will stay inside our comfortable box, and never really know.

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