Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Nicholas Perrin on the Gospel of Thomas
Today our library received a copy of Nicholas Perrin's new book Thomas: The Other Gospel which looks like a scintillating read (sigh, another book to add to the list). Perrin interacts with the work of Stephen Patterson, April DeConick, and Elaine Pagels and asserts a Syrian provenance for Thomas (specifically Edessa). Let me give a few quotes from the conclusion:
"The Gospel of Thomas was a Syriac text written in the last quarter of the second century by a careful editor who arranged his material largely on the basis of catchword connections. As far as his sources, Thomas drew primarily on Tatian's Diatessaron, but also undoubtedly drew on his memory of a number of oral and written traditions. It cannot be ruled out that Thomas preserves authentic sayings of Jesus; it is simply that, give a span of 140-plus years, this would be extremely hard to prove" (137).
"Just as Thomas and Faustus sought a less Jewish Jesus, one more in keeping with Hellenistic tastes, Bultmann too sought to extract Jesus from his Jewish context. In the process all three gave us a Jesus who could be imitated in certain respects but who in the final analysis could neither be known as human or make known the divine. 'Why speak of the dead Jewish historical Jesus,' Bultmann or Thomas might ask, 'when you have the living one, the existential Christ of faith, in your very presence?' Given the varying degrees to which my three interolocutors - not to mention Koester and Robinson - align themselves with a Bultmannian understanding of early Christianity, it is no suprise that a Jesus according to Thomas is the Jesus whom they are most satisifed." (137).
"Is this the Other Gospel we have been waiting for? Somehow, I suspect, we have heard this message before. Somehow we have met this Jesus before. The Gospel of Thomas invites us to imagine a Jesus who says, 'I am not our saviour, but the one who can put you in touch with your true self. Free yourself from your gender, your body, and any concerns that you might have for the outside world. Work for it and self-realization, salvation, will be yours - in this life.' Imagine such a Jesus? One need hardly work very hard. This is precisely the Jesus we know too well, the existential Jesus that so many western evangelical and liberal churches already preach." (139).