Getting back into Gospel of Thomas – commentaries

As I’ve moved from reading what I’ve already written to working on new material, it has occurred to me that over the last several years, several new commentaries on Thomas have become available. When I first began looking at Thomas, there were only four books that were commentaries on the text.

  • Rodolphe Kasser (1961). L’Evangile selon Thomas: présentation et commentaire théologique. Neuchatel, Editions Delachaux & Niestlé.
  • Jacques Ménard (1975.). L’Évangile Selon Thomas. Leiden, E.J. Brill.
  • Michael Fieger, (1991). Das Thomasevangelium.  Einleitung, Kommentar and Systematik. Münster, Aschendorff.
  • Richard Valantasis (1997). The Gospel of Thomas. London and New York, Routledge.

I own a copy of Valantasis and the only other one available in a library in Australia is Fieger.  The comments I’ve heard about the latter are underwhelming, but I guess I need to fill out an ILL request, anyway. I believe that Ménard is good and have heard nothing about Kasser.  Comments from readers are most welcome about whether I should start scouring the second hand sellers for copies of either of them.

In the last several years I have acquired three new books:

  • Reinhard Nordsieck (2004). Das Thomas-Evangelium: Einleitung: Zur Frage des historischen Jesus: Kommentierung aller 114 Logien. Neukirchen-Vluyn, Neukirchener Verlag.
  • April DeConick (2006). The Original Gospel of Thomas in Translation, With a Commentary and New English Translation of the Complete Gospel. London, T & T Clark.
  • Uwe-Karsten Plisch (2008). The Gospel of Thomas: original text with commentary. Stuttgart, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft.

These three books have made my task signficantly easier and since they are reasonably new, I offer some information about them.

April DeConick’s work is laid out so that it is very easy to follow and it offers a very comprehensive range of information. It provides the Coptic text, her English translation and the Greek P Oxy whenever this is available.  It looks, where appropriate at Text and Translation Issues; Interpretative Comment; Source Discussion, Literature Parallels; Agreement in Syrian Gospels, Western Text and Diatessaron; and Selected Bibliography. She also indicates whether she sees it as a kernel saying or an accretion.  It’s available in paperback – an added bonus – although I bought the hard-cover version as soon as it came out. Combined with its companion volume (DeConick, A. D. (2005). Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas: A History of the Gospel and its Growth. London, T&T Clark.) it provides a huge amount of resource information about the text as well as her insights into interpreting it.

Richard Nordsiek’s book is also available as a paperback. I can’t remember exactly what I paid for it, but it was quite inexpensive and some of the reason for the low cost can been seen in the formatting.   The layout is less user-friendly than DeConick’s – no headings, just the text in German translation followed by his comments. Where he is commenting on Coptic or Greek text, it’s presented using the appropriate alphabet, rather than a transliteration (thank goodness! – I find transliterated Coptic very difficult to read). There is very little white space in the formatting – no spaces between paragraphs – but the size of the text is good. This has kept the size of the book to a reasonably managable 408 pages. There is not much introductory material – 20 pages of introduction, 7 pages on the question of the Historical Jesus – and no indices. Apart from a 9 page bibliography the rest of the book is commentary with comprehensive in text citations. I haven’t used it enough to get a good feel for it, but am finding it interesting.

Uwe-Karsten Plisch’s book is translated from German (although I have not been able to find information about a German edition). There are times when the underlying German is not far below the surface, but it is in general a good read. Like Nordsiek’s book, this has minimal introductory material, but it does include an index of texts cited as well as a bibliography, which is divided into subheadings. For each saying, he provides the Coptic text, the P Oxy text where available, a Greek retroversion wherever there is a New Testament parallel and an English translation as well as comments.  Again, I haven’t used this enough yet to make any comment on the usefulness or otherwise of the Greek retroversion. The commentary is helpful, although there are times when I feel that he makes statements about things that are self-evident to him but for which I would like a bit of justification.

An added advantage of Nordsieck and Plisch’s books is that they sometimes highlight German language material that I had not heard of before. At other times, they provide an overview of particular German language material that I haven’t been able to access. Sometimes they convince me that I need to try harder. :-)

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3 thoughts on “Getting back into Gospel of Thomas – commentaries

  1. Pingback: More on commentaries – Nordsieck « Judy’s research blog

  2. Pingback: This and that « Judy’s research blog

  3. Pingback: Recent commentaries on the Gospel of Thomas « Judy’s research blog

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