Thursday, January 3, 2008

Dating the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Thomas

Jordan has asked me in the comments to address the dating issues for the Gospel of Mary, and also to speak to the point that Pagel's raises regarding John's dependence on the Gospel of Thomas.

The Gospel of Mary is a distinctively Valentinian text. This has not been addressed by many commentators, but the fact is if you know the Valentinian traditions, it is evident that this gospel is part of that exegetical strand of early Christianity. It is particularly interested in the concept of "grace" that is granted when the Son of Man descends, and how humans are redeemed and ascend through the various realms in order to return to the upper aeons. It is heavily liturgical, and appears to me to contain a eucharist homily. I am going to be writing about this at some length in the paper I am preparing for the Talpiot conference and volume. At any rate, this means that the text cannot date before 130 CE - Valentinus himself did not begin teaching until about 120 CE. I would actually date the text in the mid-second century.

As for the dependence of the Gospel of John on the Gospel of Thomas, this is something that I have written about at length in The Voices of the Mystics. It was published a couple of years prior to Pagels' popular book Beyond Belief. Pagels actually reviewed Voices in a SBL session the year Voices was published.

What I argue is that the "faith" mysticism in the Gospel of John is responding to a form of vision and ascent mysticism that the Gospel of Thomas has preserved. I don't think that the Johannine author necessarily had a copy of the Gospel of Thomas. But he was aware of mystical traditions that are associated with the disciple Judas Thomas, and he disapproves of them. What John argues is that God has come to earth so that we don't have to journey to heaven to see him and be transformed as the mystics in Syria were claiming. Rather, after Jesus' death, God becomes accessible to us through the Paraclete, God's spirit which is sent in Jesus' absence. This spirit is attained through baptism and eucharist, and through it we experience God immediately and directly.

So I understand the traditions to be engaged in discourse, a discourse which becomes part of the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of John. Thomas is a text that comes to completion around 120. The Gospel of John has to be finished by 100 since the Valentinians are heavily engaged with it already in the early second century. My point is that it is not that one text is dependent on the other, but that both were coming into existence around the same time, and the traditions had been in conversation for some time before the composition of either text was complete. I think that we have to begin to become more nuanced in our discussions of dependence and texts, which is why I wrote chapter one of Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas. I try to lay out a new methodology to get us beyond all the either/or categories that have stunted our past discussions. I recommend that chapter even if you are not interested in the Gospel of Thomas.

11 comments:

Jim Deardorff said...

Thomas is a text that comes to completion around 120. The Gospel of John has to be finished by 100 since the Valentinians are heavily engaged with it already in the early second century.

Aren't these dates shaded a bit towards the early side? I don't know of the evidence saying that Thomas couldn't have been completed around 130 rather than 120. And John could have been completed around the same time -- 130. The Valentinians may not then have been engaged with GJohn until 135 or 140, if Valentinus flourished under Pius around 150-155 and died only circa 175.

Haven't we noted a strong tendency for canonical Gospel scholars to push for the earliest seemingly conceivable dates for their composition? Why shouldn't this tendency be expected also with gnostic-text scholars?

April DeConick said...

Jim,

None of these dates are absolutes. But they are ball park estimates based on what we know from things that we can date. It matters not to me if Thomas was completed in 120 or 130. The point is that the text fits with what we know was going on in the early second century.

I do not think that there is a tendency to push anything earlier than can be argued from the evidence. What we get is an earliest possible date and a latest possible date. It is a range based on internal and external factors.

José Solano said...

Stephen J. Patterson in The Fifth Gospel sees the GT as having been added to over many years by different authors who may have even altered the earlier logia. Parts may be late first century but redactions may have continued by monks in Upper Egypt right into the fourth century, the time of the actual Nag Hammadi copy.

Thanks for bringing this up as I am fascinated by GT studies. I’ll be rereading Patterson for details and seeing if I can get a copy of your Voices of the Mystics.

As for the John and Thomas rivalry that Pagels develops in her Beyond Belief, I simply find it unbelievable. I hope your work doesn’t go in that direction as I find you a much more sober scholar.

April DeConick said...

Jose,

You might be interested in my book on Thomas, Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas. I fully engage its literary development and understand it as a rolling corpus. I attempt to isolate the early sayings from the later accretions by first identifying the accretions.

April

Geoff Hudson said...

So the Gospel of Judas Thomas 'rolled' but the Gospel of Judas did not, it appears. Is that even-handed?

Jordan Stratford+ said...

Thank you for that, Dr. DeConick. While I would agree that Mary has a Valentinian vibe, it does seem to me that the content (largely missing) in the middle of frame story is markedly Sethian, with clear references to the Apocryphon of John.

Where I get lost is that if Mary predates Thomas and Thomas predates John, how can Mary refer to Ap John which Pagels places as the "sequel" to John?

It would be of tremendous value to me if Rice could sponsor research into a time machine, so we could solid dates to this stuff once and for all.

Again, thanks

Zimri said...

Thank you for your comments on the Gospel of Mary.



In 2002, I had read that work alongside the Secret Book of James. I didn't feel prepared to assign their authorship within Christian Gnosticism; I wanted first to find out what genre these books fell in. I decided to call them "visionary gospels" in http://pages.sbcglobal.net/zimriel/vision/visions.html; then I argued that point for Berolinensis 22220 in http://pages.sbcglobal.net/zimriel/vision/saviour.html.



I had the impression that a post-resurrection vision would belong to "the formative years of Christianity, when Jesus's earthly existence was not yet as important as his spiritual guidance". Above all this genre is hostile to, or precedes, Luke's Acts of the Apostles. Narrative gospels remained controversial in Christendom into the time of 2 Clement and Papias. The process of fixing post-resurrection visions to Jesus's pre-crucifixion life, I had thought, has its exemplar in PB 22220 and the Epistle of the Apostles.



A visionary gospel in the early stages could depend (e.g.) on Johannine literature, but would exist independent of the finished Gospel of John as a narrative gospel (which is itself full of secret conferences). Assuming an analogy between revelations of wisdom and of cosmology: In later stages, a work like 2 Clement could lift sayings from the narratives but pointedly ignore the narrative itself. Later still, a Papias might grudgingly accept the narrative but complain that it's organised all wrong.



There is a lot missing from the Gospel of Mary, but I had the impression that it was more like Secret James than like PB 22220 and John; in that, the focus is on Christ's revelations to man (in female form in this case), with no reference to any narrative Gospel's details on the biography of the pre-crucifixion Jesus. Mary does introduce character studies based on the narratives, which is one step past 2 Clement and one step before Papias.



In that case, so that we might "become more nuanced in our discussions of dependence and texts", I am willing to entertain the possibility that Valentinus have based his cosmology from the Gospel of Mary rather than the other way around...

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