The Coptic Gospel of Thomas and an interesting online debate (NT Apocrypha 13)

The Coptic Gospel of Thomas (available online here), not to be confused with the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (see my earlier post) or the Acts of Thomas, is a collection of 114 sayings attributed to Jesus without any narrative framework (just sayings), many of which have parallels in the canonical gospels. It seems quite clear, however, that The Gospel of Thomas is independent of these other gospels in the forms of the sayings it preserves, including the following version of the banquet parable which offers little interpretation and differs from the spin that other gospels have Jesus put on this parable:

“Jesus said: Someone was receiving guests. When he had prepared the dinner, he sent his slave to invite the guests. 2The slave went to the first and said, “My master invites you.” The first replied, 3″Some merchants owe me money; they are coming to me tonight. I have to go and give them instructions. Please excuse me from dinner.” 4 The slave went to another and said, “My master has invited you.” 5The second said to the slave, “I have bought a house, and I have been called away for a day. I shall have no time.” 6 The slave went to another and said, “My master invites you.” 7The third said to the slave, “My friend is to be married, and I am to arrange the banquet. I shall not be able to come. Please excuse me from dinner.” 8The slave went to another and said, “My master invites you.” 9The fourth said to the slave, “I have bought an estate, and I am going to collect the rent. I shall not be able to come. Please excuse me.” 10The slave returned and said to his master, “Those whom you invited to dinner have asked to be excused.” 11The master said to his slave, “Go out on the streets and bring back whomever you find to have dinner. 12Buyers and merchants [will] not enter the places of my Father (Gospel of Thomas 64 trans by Stephen Patterson and Marvin Meyer, as linked below; see the parallels in Matthew 22 and Luke 14, both depending on the so-called Q-source).

There is an interesting discussion of the early dating and gnostic or non-gnostic nature of the Coptic Gospel of Thomas here (re-presented on Davies’ site; this originally took place back in 1996 on the Ioudaios list, so opinions may well have changed). Bill Arnal (U. of Regina) and Stevan Davies (College Misericordia), two experts (who both argue for an early date but with differing opinions on method) engage one another in a lively and somewhat spontaneous manner that is not characteristic of journal articles, for instance. The same site hosts the “scholars” translation of Thomas by Stephen Patterson and Marvin Meyer (cited above). Stevan Davies also runs the Gospel of Thomas homepage.

One thought on “The Coptic Gospel of Thomas and an interesting online debate (NT Apocrypha 13)

  1. Phil Harland Post author

    2 Comments

    Turriff said…

    In general, I see no way to deny that there are gnostic leanings in the Gospel of Thomas. That having been said, the question of redation, (either way: synoptic added to Gnostic, Gnostic added to synoptic)should first be resolved. As stated in the link by Arnal, there is still no sure way of knowing which came first. Furthermore, in perusing Mark, one can see that even the synoptic Gospels have messages that can easily be interpreted by readers as “Gnostic” as we understand it in the course so far, such as Mark 10:6-9. This passage could easily be interpreted as a gnostic attack against the sins of the flesh holding back salvation.

    11:36 AM
    Julia said…

    I agree that some sayings could be interpreted as “Gnostic” in the Gospel of Thomas, as well as in Mark and so many other places. I have recently finished William’s book “Rethinking Gnosticism” and I would like here to emphasize his point that this is one of the major problems with the category “Gnosticism” itself- that it can be applied to almost anything. This is a very vague category that brings a lot of baggage with it, but amounts to really no more than a kind of attitude or feeling of “rebellion” or “world-hating”.

    7:47 PM

Comments are closed.