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Thomas, the Synoptic Gospels, and Q

A number of readers have asked about Thomas’s relation to the Synoptic Gospels and the famous Q source --  that is, the lost source that both Matthew and Luke used for many of their sayings of Jesus not found in Mark (called Q from the German word Quelle, which means “source”).  Here is what I say about those issues in my textbook on the New Testament *****************************************************************  Thomas and the Q Source.         The Gospel of Thomas, with its list of the sayings of Jesus (but no narratives) reminds many scholars of the Q source. Some have maintained that Q was also composed entirely of the sayings of Jesus and that the community for whom it was written was not concerned about Jesus’ activities and experiences, including his death on the cross. If they are right, then something like Thomas’s community was already in existence prior to the writing of the New Testament Gospels. Many other scholars, on the other hand, have their doubts. For one thing, it is not true that Q contained no narratives. [...]

2018-08-31T08:42:20-04:00August 31st, 2018|Canonical Gospels, Christian Apocrypha|

Thomas: The Most Important Gospel Outside the New Testament

The Gospel of Thomas is almost certainly the most important Gospel from outside the New Testament.  Here I talk about what it's overarching message is, and how it relates to the Gospels that did make it into the Christian Scripture.  Again, this is taken from my textbook on the NT.   ************************************************************************************** The Overarching Message of the Book.      The meanings of many of Thomas's sayings are in no way obvious. If they were, they would not be called secret! Even though the book contains nothing like the Sethian or Valentian myths, some of the sayings do seem to reflect roughly analogous understandings of the world and the human’s place in it (see earlier posts on Gnosticism). Within the hearer is an element of the divine—a soul—that had a heavenly origin (it originated “in the place where the light came into being”). This world we live in is inferior at best, and is more appropriately thought of as a cesspool of suffering, “a corpse.” A person’s inner being (the “light” within) has tragically fallen into this [...]

2020-04-03T01:05:16-04:00August 29th, 2018|Christian Apocrypha, Heresy and Orthodoxy|

The Gospel of Thomas: An Overview

I started this thread with a question about the Gospel of Thomas -- almost certainly the most important Gospel not in the New Testament.  Now that I have situated “Thomasine” Christianity in the context of the Nag Hammadi Library the broader Gnostic movement – and questioned whether it is actually a kind of Gnosticism, or simply something similar – I can turn to the Gospel itself. This will take three posts.  The one today is a broad introduction to its character.   I have taken this from my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. The Gospel of Thomas is without question the most significant book discovered in the Nag Hammadi library. Unlike the Gospel of Peter, discovered sixty years earlier, this book is completely preserved. It has no narrative at all, no stories about anything that Jesus did, no references to his death and resurrection. The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of 114 sayings of Jesus. The sayings are not arranged in any recognizable order. Nor are they set [...]

2023-03-09T15:15:02-05:00August 28th, 2018|Christian Apocrypha, Heresy and Orthodoxy|

Thomasine Christians and Others, From After the New Testament

In this thread of posts I have been reproducing my comments on Gnosticism from the 2nd edition of my anthology, After the New Testament. In addition to the Sethians and the Valentinians, scholars talk about the school of Thomas and about yet other Gnostic groups that are not easy to identify with any of the other three or to group together in any meaningful way. Gnosticism was a messy group of religions! Here is what I say in the Introductions to the Thomasines and the Other Gnostic groups in the book. ***************************************************************** Thomasines A number of books from the early Christian tradition are connected with a figure known as Didymus Judas Thomas. The word “Didymus” means “twin” in Greek; so too the name “Thomas” means “twin” in Aramaic. And so this person is Judas, or Jude, the twin. But the twin of whom? In our earliest surviving Gospel, Jesus himself is said to have a brother who is named Jude (for example, Mark 6). And in later traditions, especially from Syria, this Jude was thought [...]

The Valentinian Gnostics from After The New Testament

In my previous post I reproduced my Introduction to the Sethian Gnostics from the second edition of my reader in early Christianity, After The New Testament. One other highly important group of Christian Gnostics are known as the Valentinians. Here is what I say about them in the book *************************************************** Valentinians Unlike the Sethian Gnostics, the Valentinians were named after an actual person, Valentinus, the founder and original leader of the group. We know about the Valentinians from the writings of proto-orthodox heresiologists beginning with Irenaeus and by some of the writings discovered among the Nag Hammadi Library that almost certainly derive from Valentinian authors, including one book that may actually have been written by Valentinus himself (The Gospel of Truth). Valentinus was born around 100 CE and was raised in Alexandria Egypt. He allegedly was a student of the Christian teacher Theudas, who was in turn a disciple of the apostle Paul. Valentinus moved to Rome in the late 130s and there became an influential speaker and teacher. According to some of our early [...]

The Sethian Gnostics, from After The New Testament

In my previous post I reproduced the new discussion of Gnosticism in the second edition of my book After the New Testament. In this post and the two to follow I will reproduce my new discussions of the various “types” of Gnostic texts that I include in the anthology. Many scholars would consider this first type the most important historically: it is a group of texts produced by and for Gnostics known by scholars as the “Sethians.” Here is what I say about them in the book. *************************************************************** Sethian Gnostics The group of Gnostics that scholars have labeled the “Sethians” are known from the writings of proto-orthodox heresiologists beginning with Irenaeus (around 180 CE) and from some of the significant writings of the Nag Hammadi library. They were a thriving sect already by the middle of the second century. Members of the group may not have called themselves Sethians.   Scholars call them this because among their distinctive features they understood themselves to be the spiritual descendants of Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve.   [...]

Proselytizing on the Blog

Dear Members of the Blog, We have had a long-standing policy on the blog – going back to its inception – of avoiding any kind of proselytizing activity that promotes or urges (on others) particular religious views of any kind.  Some comments I receive are borderline, and it is hard to know where the *hard* line actually ought to be.  But I’m afraid I have grown lax in the enforcement of the rule.  It is perfectly fine on occasion for you (or anyone) to say what you/they really think about religion – since, after all, the blog does focus on (early) Christianity.  So an occasional non-proselytizing comment is AOK.  But I have decided, in light of the objectives of our mutual endeavor, to return to the original intention and not post comments that are inappropriately designed to urge particularly religious views. I hope you understand!   We all know that there are gazillions of other avenues on the Internet for anyone to push their personal religious choices and try to convert others.  If you are inclined [...]

2018-08-22T08:59:17-04:00August 22nd, 2018|Public Forum|

Our Knowledge of Gnosticism

Now that I have said something about the Nag Hammadi library in general (the traditional scholarly account of its discovery; the contents) I can move on to a discussion of "Gnosticism" as we have learned about it from these texts.   This is a topic I covered over four years ago on the blog; the occasion, at the time, was that I had been forced to rethink my views because of a new publication I had been working on.  Here is what I said then: ****************************************************************************************** On to a different topic for a bit. I am now in the process or reading the copy-edited version of the new edition of my anthology of ancient Christian texts, After the New Testament. In early posts, back in January (2014) I talked about what would be in this anthology and how it would differ from the first edition, which I published fifteen years ago. In addition to adding some sections (full new rubrics, for example, on Women in the Early Church and on the History of Biblical Interpretation), I [...]

What Was Discovered in the Nag Hammadi Library?

I have started a short series in response to a question about the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, discovered in 1945 among a cache of documents near Nag Hammadi Egypt.  In my last post I gave the story typically recited by NT scholars for the discovery of this "Nag Hammadi Library."   Some scholars have doubted the story, and we may never know the details.  What is not in dispute is what was actually discovered. This is what I say about it in my undergraduate textbook on the matter.  **************************************************************  What was this ancient collection of books?  The short answer is that it is the most significant collection of lost Christian writings to turn up in modern times.  It included several Gospels about Jesus that had never before been seen by any Western scholar, books known to have existed in antiquity but lost for nearly 1500 years.  The cache contained twelve leather-bound volumes, with pages of a thirteenth volume removed from its own, now lost, binding and tucked inside the cover of one of the others.  The [...]

2020-04-03T01:07:42-04:00August 20th, 2018|Early Christian Writings (100-400 CE)|

How the Gospel of Thomas Was Discovered

A few days ago I responded to a reader's comment by saying something about how I am reluctant these days to label the Gospel of Thomas a "Gnostic" Gospel.  Several readers responded to my comment by asking what in the blazes I could possibly mean.  So I thought I would respond.  But then I realized that to make sense of anything I have to say about the matter will require me to start at the beginning -- since some readers won't know what the Gospel of Thomas is or how it was discovered or anything else. So, well, why not? Here we start at the beginning.  This will become it's own little thread dealing with Gnosticism and the Gospel of Thomas.  I have posted on this before, some years ago.   But it continues to be interesting material. If you have been an avid reader of the blog for four years or so, you will remember the story of the discovery of the "Nag Hammadi Library."  This is a cache of books found in 1945 near [...]

2020-04-03T01:07:52-04:00August 19th, 2018|Early Christian Writings (100-400 CE)|

Finishing my Dissertation

This is the third and final post I'll do on my dissertation the Gospel quotations in the writings of Didymus the Blind, advised by great New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger. - Bruce Metzger is the author of The Early Versions of the New Testament and The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, And Restoration.   Different dissertation advisors have different approaches to supervising a dissertation. Some are extremely hands on, to the point of working over every thought and every sentence. Not too many are like that, because if they were, they would never do anything else with their life. Plus, the idea is for the student to figure it out and get good at it. That takes some trial and error. Other advisors go for the big picture and like to talk over the big ideas. Others basically don’t give a rip how the dissertation is coming along – they want to see it at the end, and when it’s done, they’ll tell the student whether it’s good enough or not. Others [...]

The Core of My Dissertation on The Gospel Quotations of Didymus the Blind

Here is the second of three posts on how Bruce Metzger directed my rather technical dissertation on the Gospel quotations of the fourth-century church father Didymus the Blind, from six years ago on the blog. THIS IS A CONTINUATION OF MY POSTS OF MY RELATIONSHIP WITH BRUCE METZGER, MY MENTOR As I started thinking about how to write up this second post on my dissertation (the first post was posted some days ago), I remembered one of my clearest pieces of advice that I ever gave to myself, many years ago now, based, already then, on substantial experience.  Never , ever, NEVER ask a graduate student what s/he is writing the dissertation on.   They invariably will tell you, and it will take a half hour, and your eyes will glaze over in 30 seconds.   So just don’t do it.   With that principle in mind, I think I had better not go into all the ins and outs of the dissertation. I’ll just go into some of them…. The reason it is so painful listening to [...]

Bruce Metzger and Me: Finding a Dissertation

Bruce Metzger, my mentor in graduate school, for both my Master's degree and my PhD, has been invoked a number of times in recent comments on the blog.  I thought it might be interesting to repost a few reminiscences I made about my work with him.  These come from posts that appeared six years ago -- when most of you weren't on the blog.   They will all be on my dissertation. When I entered my PhD program at Princeton Theological Seminary, I knew already that I wanted to specialize in the study of the Greek manuscript tradition of the New Testament. As I indicated in my earlier posts, that’s why I went there, because Metzger was the country’s leading expert in this field, and one could argue the leading expert in the world (some Germans would contest the point!). While doing my Master’s thesis for Metzger I read widely in the secondary literature on textual criticism, and came to be highly influenced by a scholar named Gordon Fee. Fee is an interesting and important figure. [...]

Is 1 Clement Older than Some Books of the New Testament?

This will be my final post on the book of 1 Clement.  Now that I’ve summarized what the book is about and said something about its author, I can turn to the original question I was asked, about its date.  The time of its writing is an important question, for a reason you might not suspect. It is almost always said – I myself regularly say this, as a kind of simple “short hand,” knowing that it’s probably not literally true, that the books of the New Testament are the “earliest” Christian writings we have.  In fact, if, as is often thought, Revelation was written around 95 CE, and 2 Peter around 120, then a couple of other Christian books may have ante-dated them, including 1 Clement and the Didache, two of the apostolic fathers.  So too, the letters of Ignatius of Antioch were almost certainly written around 110 CE. So, the big question here is: when did this anonymous author from Rome write the book of 1 Clement?   This is how I discuss the [...]

Did a “Pope” Write the First-Century Book of 1 Clement?

I return her to the book of 1 Clement, probably unknown to many people on the blog, but an important work written at about the time of some of some of the writings of the New Testament – or so I’ll b arguing in the post after this.  First I need to say something about the author.  Why is it attributed to someone named Clement?   Could this really have been written by a first-century pope (i.e., the Bishop of the church in Rome)? Again, I am taking this information from the Introduction to the letter, which I give in a new English translation (with the Greek text on the facing page) in the first volume of my Apostolic Fathers in the Loeb Classical Library (Harvard University Press). ************************************************************** The Author of the Book Even though the letter claims to be written by the “church ... residing in Rome,” it has from early times been attributed to Clement, a leader of the Roman church near the end of the first century.  In his celebrated church history, [...]

The Letter of First Clement: An Overview

I received a request recently about one of the “Apostolic Fathers.”  This term does not refer to just any of the post-canonical writers of early Christianity, but to a specific group of ten (or eleven, depending on how you count) authors who were later considered “authoritative” in some sense by proto-orthodox thinkers, but were believed to have been writing after the NT period.  They include letters by Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna, and texts called 1 and 2 Clement, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the Didache, the Shepherd of Hermas, the letter to Diognetus, and the fragments of Papias and Quadratus. This is one of the most understudied corpora of early Christianity, and I’ve been intensely interested in the texts for well over twenty years.   About fifteen years ago I produced a new translation of them for the Loeb Classical Library (2 vols., Harvard University Press, 2004), including versions of the Greek (and a bit of Latin) texts, my translation, introductions, and a few notes. Many lay folk have never [...]

Was Jesus Thought To Be a Miracle Worker in His Own Lifetime?

This is the final, and most important, of my posts on the miracles of Jesus.  In it I raise the question – without being able to come to an absolutely definitive answer – of whether Jesus was thought to be a miracle worker already in his life time or if, instead, miracles came to be ascribed to him only later by followers who believed he had been raised from the dead.  I incline toward the latter view. To set the stage for and make sense of what I have to say, I include the final comments from the previous post: ********************************************************** In the other two Synoptics there is a different understanding, one that can be seen most clearly in the saying preserved in Matthew 11:2-6.  Here we are told that John the Baptist, who is now in prison, has heard about “the deeds of Christ,” and sends some of his disciples to him to ask if he is the one to come at the end of time, or if there is someone else.  Jesus replies:  [...]

2020-04-03T01:09:06-04:00August 8th, 2018|Historical Jesus|

The Message of Jesus’ Miracles

I have been talking about the stories of Jesus' miracles, and am raising the question of whether they necessarily go all the way back to Jesus' lifetime, as tales told while he was still living.  I pick up where I left off last time, after showing that Jesus' miracle-working abilities increased with the passing of time. ***************************************************************   Not only does Jesus become increasingly miraculous with the passing of time, these miracles are all told in order to make a point.   The stories about Jesus as the miraculous Wunderkind reveal that he really was the Son of God endowed with supernatural power straight from the womb; as a five-year old he was already the Lord of life and death; as the resurrected savior he was manifestly a superhuman being of giant proportions.   In more general terms, the miracles in our later accounts repeatedly show that Jesus was the spectacular Son of God.  He was far superior to all his enemies (even if these were only the aggravating kids down the street).  He was more powerful [...]

2020-04-03T01:09:13-04:00August 7th, 2018|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Blog Dinners Next Month. Interested?

I would like to host two dinners for anyone on the blog who would like to attend.  My idea is to have at least three, but no more than seven, people at each one.  This would be a chance for some direct, personal contact with me and with each other, to have some good food, good drink, and good conversation for a couple of hours.  I will have no agenda – simply talking about things (presumably related to the issues addressed on the blog) that people want to talk about. The only requirements for attendance would be that (a) you be a blog member; (b) you pay your own way – both getting to the event and your meal itself.  Otherwise, there is no expense and no requirements.   You don’t even have to feel obliged to say much! After the table is filled, I will put another announcement on the blog; if I don’t get more than a couple of takers then I’ll reschedule it for another time.   If you can and want to come, [...]

2020-04-03T01:09:22-04:00August 6th, 2018|Public Forum|
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