Friday, 28 May 2010

The Gospel of Thomas and the Historical Reliability of the Gospels IV

Follow this link for some recent discussion about the Gospel of Thomas. Just reading the post without following the other links gives you the basic idea. The Gospel of Thomas is viewed by many as later and less reliable than the canonical Gospels for researching the historical Jesus because

  • of its anti-Jewish flavour
  • with sayings that appear to be disconnected from a legitimate context
  • and reflects a more pagan individualism than a Jewish-Christian sense of bodily community
Jesus was a Jew, most of the first disciples were Jews, and they weren't idiots so it is difficult to understand how such an anti-Jewish, ahistorical (contextless) set of sayings should be considered early in composition. While different contexts in the canonical Gospels for the same saying of Jesus requires an explanation, the first one that comes to mind is not that the disciples blatantly decided to cut Jesus, his life, sayings and actions free from the Jewish context of which he was part and make him an opponent of the Jews. Seems a bit far-fetched. Moreover, why would the disciples think that they should blatantly cut the words and actions of Jesus away from the actual situation in which his words and actions arose? Better to assume they didn't, especially given the evidence in the canonical Gospels that context seemed to be important in the telling of the story of Jesus.

And then add this to the Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas appearing like some pagan sage with his monistic teaching for individual souls, and it is hard to believe that Thomas is early. This doesn't mean it is of no use, just that it is more useful in telling us something about the second century situation out of which it arose rather than a more direct route to Jesus.Reminds me of the Jesus Seminar's love for the sage Jesus who, according to them, only makes epigrammatic, pithy statements that are countercultural and surprising. Handy assumption if you want to cut away most of the canonical Gospels and make Jesus an ahistorical freak floating around the first century but never engaging in the language forms and disputes of the day. (For example, Jesus seminar types seem to hate the idea that Jesus taught and prophesied in apocalyptic, so, given apocalyptic was the usual thought form of the day, they then assume Jesus wouldn't have used it! See here for an extended criticism of the Jesus Seminar's methods from NT Wright.)


  1. And the Null Testament isn't misojudaic? Miso=hate. If the Thomas manuscript has any value it could only be in historical details, but this is not necessarily so, only maybe. The Netzarim only gave credibility to Hebrew Matityahu, the rest to them was Null. Get it NT, Null Testament.

  2. Hmmmmmm,
    I think it is about time for each of you to stand in the other’s shoes to see why they see things as they do! That is also love.
    God/Christ/Oneness is the only one that has the monopoly on the truth.

  3. It is hard to make sense of what they say though. Have a look at the website. 'Null' Testament as though this is in some way an explanation doesn't leave a lot of room for talking sensibly.

  4. I made the comment as he has commented on a number of your blogs .
    Maybe there is common ground if one drills deep enough and then again maybe there isn't.
    Hope this stirs up enough people to get them commenting on your blogs.