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Reviewed by:
  • Frá Sýrlandi til Íslands. Arfur Tómasar postula. Tómasarguðspjall, Tómasarkver, Tómas saga postula
  • Margaret Cormack
Frá Sýrlandi til Íslands. Arfur Tómasar postula. Tómasarguðspjall, Tómasarkver, Tómas saga postula. By Jón Ma. Ásgeirsson and Þórður Ingi Guðjónsson. Reykjavík: Háskólaútgáfan, 2007. Pp. 390. ISK 5490.

The volume under review consists of three parts. Part I, by Jón Ma. Ásgeirsson, consists of a description of the ancient Thomas tradition and its place in early Christianity. In Part II the authors discuss the histories of the texts that are edited in Part III. These are, on the one hand, the Gospel of Thomas and The Book of Thomas (by Jón Ma. Ásgeirsson), on the other the Icelandic Tómas saga postula (by Þórður Ingi Guðjónsson). The result of this interdisciplinary collaboration is a unique work that follows the development of literature pertaining to the apostle Thomas from the first Christian century to medieval and Reformation Iceland. The bibliography and lists of manuscripts, terms, ancient writings, personal names, and place-names that conclude the volume contain material from the entire volume. There are sixteen color illustrations of the locations and manuscripts discussed, as well as four maps pertaining to the Middle East and India. Icelandic-speaking readers should note that the translation of the Book of Thomas is the first in that language, while the translation of the Gospel of Thomas is a slightly revised version of the one published by Jón Ma. Ásgeirsson in 2001. English-speaking readers will find translations of these works online; for the background in Part I they are directed to Jón Ma. Ásgeirsson’s publications in English. The present review focuses on the Icelandic texts which will be of most interest to readers of JEGP.

Þórður Ingi Guðjónsson’s edition of Tómas saga postula is not intended to be a [End Page 275] detailed comparison of all existing Icelandic manuscripts with the existing Latin versions. Instead, he presents the two main versions of the saga in modern Icelandic spelling, as is common practice in editing medieval Icelandic texts for Icelandic readers. The introduction contains a detailed comparison of the two versions of the saga with the Latin Passio sancti Thomae apostoli from which they are derived, and concludes that they are based on separate translations of that work. The translation represented in the A version is found in the Skarðsbók collection of apostles’ sagas, written in the latter part of the fourteenth century. Compared to the Latin, it has been considerably shortened and revised. Interestingly, this version was often recopied in the Lutheran period; manuscripts containing it are listed on pp. 171–75. The unique manuscript containing the H version is from the first quarter of the fourteenth century. Unfortunately the manuscript is incomplete. It contains material deleted in A, and has generally undergone less revision. The translations themselves are considerably older than these manuscripts, and H clearly represents an older stage of Icelandic than A. The Icelandic sagas are followed by the Latin text to which they were compared, taken from Klaus Zelzer’s Die alten lateinischen Thomasakten (Berlin, 1977). Comparison of the two versions illustrates different styles of translation. Aside from the revisions in the A version, it is interesting to compare the choices made for individual words: the Latin in fornacem thermarum appears in A as í ofn brennanda, in H as í hverasuður (p. 191); pontifex templi appears as blótshöfðingi in A, blótbiskup hofsins in H (p. 315 and note 56).

The Icelandic sagas about Thomas are not the only Icelandic works to be edited in this volume. In the introduction that precedes the editions, Þórður Ingi Guðjónsson publishes all passages pertaining to Thomas (including extracts from texts dealing with the apostles as a group), again including post-Reformation material. Of particular interest is the poem Tómasdiktur (pp. 154–56), preserved in a manuscript from ca. 1500. It is unique among the Icelandic texts in locating the apostle’s birth place in Cappadocia rather...


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