- The Gospel of Thomas: Introduction and Commentary by Simon J. Gathercole
Most commentaries on the Gospel of Thomas are consumed with diachronic questions, like its redactional, compositional and tradition histories, the relationship of its individual logia to the Synoptic Gospels, and its value for historical Jesus studies. The current commentary by Gathercole is different, focusing rather on synchronic matters. The aim of the commentary is straightforwardly to determine the meaning of the various logia by interpreting the unified text in its final form. As such, the commentary is comparable to Harry T. Fleddermann’s masterful commentary on Q.
As the title indicates, the commentary proper is preceded by an introduction. The introduction is appropriately thorough, comprising some 183 pages and a total of 12 chapters. In addition to the important information provided by the introduction, its treatment of the scholarly literature is invaluable and accompanied by comprehensive bibliographical footnotes. These features make the introduction (and commentary proper) extremely useful to both experts and non-experts in the field. The first chapter of the introduction informs about the discovery and make-up of the three Greek fragments and the Coptic codex, and considers whether such information is useful in determining the original usage and function of the Gospel. In chapter 2, the Greek and Coptic texts are compared, concluding that despite some noteworthy differences, the similarities are more impressive. It is argued that the Greek and Coptic versions overlap extensively in meaning and substance, thereby justifying the commentary’s practice of considering the Greek and Coptic versions not as separate works or recensions, but jointly as the same basic composition. [End Page 216] The chapter ends with an “Appended Note” that argues against the very existence of compositional stages or layers, mainly by problematising both the arguments in favour of such stages and the criteria employed to separate between such layers.
Chapter 3 lists the ancient and medieval sources that mention the Gospel of Thomas by name. This list is twice as long as the previous most extensive list of such testimonia, supplied by Harold W. Attridge in an appendix to the publication of Nag Hammadi Codex II,2–7, edited by Bentley Layton. Chapter 4 lists and discusses writings that do not mention the Gospel of Thomas explicitly, but that have probably been influenced by one or more of its logia. These writings include patristic, Nag Hammadi, apocryphal, Manichaean and medieval literature, as well as a shroud discovered at Oxyrhynchus. The Gospel’s varied forms and diverse content made it useful and amenable to different situations, so that it “seems to have enjoyed a wide distribution rather quickly” (90).
In chapter 5, the original language of Thomas is deliberated. After concisely surveying the negative evidence against the different Semitic theories and the positive evidence in favour of Greek composition, Gathercole finds that the Gospel of Thomas was in all likelihood originally written in Greek. Chapter 6 deals with the Gospel’s provenance, confirming at the outset that most scholars prefer Syria as the place of origin, but that a small minority have proposed Egypt instead. The chapter ends with the cautious finding that “it is probably best to admit ignorance about Thomas’s provenance, while acknowledging that Syria and Egypt are reasonable possibilities” (110–111; italics original). The Gospel’s date and authorship are placed on the table for discussion in chapter 7. The treatment starts by explaining the reasons why the Gospel’s dating has been so controversial, with such a wide range of proposals. According to Gathercole, these reasons include not merely scholarly prejudice, but also the sheer complexity of the query, including the issue of compositional strata. Rather than date different strata in Thomas, this commentary attempts to date the composition as a unified whole. After considering the terminus ante quem, the terminus a quo and some additional indications, it is found that the final composition was written between 135 and 200 CE. The chapter ends with a short addendum on authorship. Given the...