My point here is in not so much the proper dating of Thomas, but the reasons why Popkes and I tend to minimize the possibility of Thomas being a repository of the historical Jesus’ words – all in answer to Judy Redman’s question about my criticism of DeConick’s reconstruction of the Jesus tradition. Popkes’s entrée into the discussion is to point out that the un-Jewish and even anti-Jewish nature of Thomas makes it a priori unlikely that its sayings go back to Jesus or a very Jewish early Christianity. For Popkes, it isn’t just the well-known anti-Jewish logia in Thomas, it’s the individualizing tendency which permeates the collection and overwrites (on a redactional level) Jewish piety as a whole. He has a strong point here.
This is in some ways analogous to the point I want to make about Jesus’ immediate followers and the high likelihood of their commitment to correlating Jesus’ words and deeds. I take on board Redman’s point that Jesus’ likely gave the same stump speech multiple times. That Jesus had much of the Sermon on the Mount on file is quite possible – fair enough. But a good bit of the sayings materials in the canonical gospels is not presented as merely free-standing sermonic material. A good bit is presented as being issued in the context of historical situations.
Now DeConick seems to argue – like the first form critics of a hundred years ago -- that as a rule Jesus’ earliest followers were quite willing to sit loose to the historical context of Jesus’ sayings. However, given the current state of Jesus scholarship, this is a problematic stance. If the historical Jesus is to be understood in a Jewish context (which now just about every Jesus scholar writing today says we must do), then we have at least grounds for presuming that Jesus was not a sage espousing abstract, universally-valid truths but a Jewish-style prophet who issued his teachings in response to a particular context and with reference to specific addressees (the disciples, the priesthood, the crowds, etc.). He also presumably expected his closest followers to understand the relevance of context to his utterances. Such a prophet, I would offer, would also normally expect to have his words interpreted within his historically-specific context. That Jesus’ followers were eager (in their re-presentation of Jesus) to abstract Jesus’ words from his deeds means either that the Third Quest is simply wrong or that the disciples fundamentally betrayed their master. Neither of these paths seems very helpful.