The woman at the well – a diversion from Thomas

On Friday and Saturday of last week, I attended Wisdom’s Feast – an annual event run by the Centre for Theology and Ministry of the Uniting Church’s Vic/Tas Synod. This year’s theme was “Rivers of Life” and one of the sessions I attended was led by Sean Winter, who looked at water in John’s gospel. This, not surprisingly, included the Woman at the Well – one of my favourite gospel passages. Some of the material I wrote but couldn’t use in my chapter for the forthcoming book Characters and Characterization in the Gospel of John (Library of New Testament Studies; London: T & T Clark, edited by Chris Skinner), intersected with what Sean was saying, so I thought I would share it here, instead, with additions prompted by Sean.

Sean pointed out that in John, the imagery of water always has the potential to teach the reader/hearer something about life in the Spirit and that when water is introduced as a physical element of a Johannine story, it rapidly becomes spiritualised. This is definitely the case in the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. He begins by asking her for a drink (v 7), which surprises her because Jews don’t normally share things with Samaritans (v 9).  He responds to her surprise by saying that if she knew who he was, she would be asking him for a drink of water (the Greek here has a dual meaning – either running water or water that gives life) (v 10).

Whenever I have heard the next verse read aloud, it has always been made to sound as though the woman is respectful and subservient, but I don’t think this is right. It doesn’t fit well with her question in v 12 – “are you greater than our ancestor Jacob…?” I think it is more likely that she decides that not only is the Jew unusual in talking to her, but also at least a little loopy. She is an intelligent woman, capable, as we will see, of holding her own in a theological conversation, so she tries to discourage him, but carefully, since they are alone at the well and he doesn’t appear to be quite balanced.

“So, sir, there is a major flaw in this offer – you don’t happen to have a bucket and this well is too deep for you to just lean over and scoop some up with your hands. (I have the bucket, remember – that’s why you asked me for water.) Who do you think you are – are you greater than our ancestor Jacob (ie, do you think you can create a new spring)?”

Jesus responds by telling her that the water he’s offering will mean she will never be thirsty again. It is not clear at this stage whether she is still humouring him – “Yes. OK. Give me some of this water so I don’t have to keep coming back here to draw water (v 15)” – or whether he has started to convince her that his offer is worht considering, but I agree with Sean that at this stage she is not actually conceptualising him as the Messiah.

It isn’t until he tells her to go and call her husband and it becomes clear that he knows an awful lot about her domestic situation that she starts to think that there might be something more to him than she had initially thought – and then she names him a prophet (v 19). Even when she leaves her jar of water and goes back to the town to tell the others, she is still saying “he cannot be the Messiah, can he?” in a way that in the Greek expects the answer “no”. We never hear a claim that Jesus is Messiah from her lips, although it is probably reasonable to assume from v 42 that she, like the people of the town, believes him to be “the Saviour of the world.”

Traditional interpretation depicts her as an outcast because she is at the well in the middle of the day by herself, has had five husbands and is now living with a man to whom she is not married. In order to come to this conclusion the reader needs to fill in the information that women normally went to wells together in the morning or evening, avoiding the heat of the day, and that this woman had been divorced five times. Given that average maximum winter temperatures in the area are around 12-16 degrees Centigrade (50-60 degrees Fahrenheit), noon does not always mean hot, though; unexpected events can lead to the need to get more water than was anticipated; and her husbands may have died from illness and accident until the point where there was no further male relative in her first husband’s family that she could marry. The fact that, when she returns to town the people she meets come out to find him suggests that she was probably not a total outcast.

I like this story because it traces the growth in the woman’s understanding of Jesus and her belief in him and because in it we have an account of a Gentile woman who not only comes to saving faith but is the means by which others come, too. I really don’t think, though that she immediately recognised Jesus as anything other than what she hoped was a harmless nutter of the kind that you get stuck sitting beside on a long haul plane flight when you haven’t brought significant work with you to do. We also need to remember that the account of the original conversation between Jesus and the woman cannot have been a firsthand account (unless we would like to suggest that the woman at the well was the beloved disciple – not a line I would like to try to run) because the woman and Jesus were the only two there. It would be interesting to know whether Jesus or the woman is the source of the story.

Recent commentaries on the Gospel of Thomas

When I first started studying Thomas in about 2004, I asked about commentaries and was told that the only English language full commentary available was Richard Valantasis’  The Gospel of Thomas (London and New York: Routledge, 1997) and that I was really better off getting a copy of  Jacques Ménard’s L’Évangile Selon Thomas (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1975).

Since then, there have been five commentaries published in English and one in German.  They are:

Nordsieck, Reinhard, Das Thomas-Evangelium: Einleitung: Zur Frage des historischen Jesus: Kommentierung aller 114 Logien.  (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 2004).

DeConick, April D, The Original Gospel of Thomas in Translation, With a Commentary and New English Translation of the Complete Gospel (London: T & T Clark, 2006), together with the companion volume DeConick, April D, Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas: A History of the Gospel and its Growth (London: T&T Clark, 2005).

Plisch, Uwe-Karsten, The Gospel of Thomas : original text with commentary (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2008) – a translation from German.

Pokorný, Petr, Commentary on the Gospel of Thomas: From interpretations to the interpreted.  (T&T Clark Jewish and Christians Texts Series. New York: T&T Clark Ltd, 2009).

Hedrick, Charles W., Unlocking the secrets of the Gospel according to Thomas: a radical faith for a new age. (Eugene, Or.: Cascade Books, 2010).

I have linked to my reviews of them, although the material on Plisch is in a post that gives another overview of commentaries, rather than (as yet) having a review of its own. In addition, two books have been published on Thomas this year (Chris Skinner’s What are they Saying About the Gospel of Thomas (Paulist) and Simon Gathercole’s The Composition of the Gospel of Thomas (Cambridge)) and a third, Mark Goodacre’s Thomas and the Gospels: The Case for Thomas’s Familiarity with the Synoptics (Eerdmans) is due out soon. Clearly, there is a significant increase in interest in Thomas!

Update (because I hit publish instead of save draft)

Hedrick’s commentary is suitable for a reader who is not a biblical scholar. The rest assume some knowledge of the discipline. DeConick and Plisch spend a significant amount of time looking at scholarship in the field and provide extensive bibliographies (as does Nordsieck, but in German). Porkorný and Hedrick place less emphasis on this and have much more limited bibliographies. It does not appear that Plisch’s commentary is available in paperback, but all the others are. All are worthy of attention in their own ways, but if I were only to buy two I would choose DeConick and Plisch and would recommend that you also buy DeConick’s companion volume.

Hedrick’s commentary on Thomas

Another reasonably recent commentary on Thomas is:

Charles  Hedrick’s Unlocking the Secrets of the Gospel According to Thomas

Hedrick, Charles W. Unlocking the Secrets of the Gospel According to Thomas: A Radical Faith for a New Age. Eugene, Or.: Cascade Books, 2010.

Hedrick is distinguished Emeritus Professor at Missouri State University in the US and has written extensively on Thomas, the Synoptic problem and parables (among other things). He blogs at Wry thoughts about religion and is a fellow of the Westar Institute (home of the Jesus Seminar and Polebridge Press).

This commentary is aimed at a more general audience than is Pokorný’s. Hedrick provides a glossary of  terms and names that are likely to be unfamiliar to someone without some formal education or reading in scholarly writings about early Christianity. The translation he provides of the text uses gender neutral terms where possible and less formal English than is usual in commentaries. For example, he translates the closing sentence of Saying 8 as “Better pay attention to this” rather than the more usual variants around “Let the one who has ears listen” and uses the term “imperial rule” rather than the familiar “kingdom.” He has also chosen to subdivide a number of the sayings so that sections that are clearly different in content are numbered separately. For example, he treats saying 47 in four separate sections – the sayings about not serving two masters; not wanting to drink new wine after old; not putting new wine into old wineskins; and the one about not sewing an old patch onto a new garment. This makes sense to me, but I am not so sure about his decision not to include the “Jesus says” at the beginning of each saying.

Assessment of Thomas

I will again address Skinner’s three questions as a way into the material.

When was it written?

It was composed or compiled for the first time for the first time by the late first or early second century, or perhaps earlier (p 3).

What is its relationship to the canonical gospels?

Thomas is a “collection of collections” of sayings of Jesus. Each saying needs to be considered individually and regarded as potentially independent until it can be shown to be dependent on the Synoptics (p 15).

What is its genre and theological outlook?

As noted above, Thomas is a collection of collected sayings of Jesus, so it doesn’t have a consistent systematic theology (p 7). As a whole it is not a Gnostic text, although it contains ideas that are in line with Gnostic thought, just as it contains ideas that are in line with early orothodox Christianity.

Other items of note

Hedrick considers that only a small percentage of the sayings in Thomas actually originated with the historical Jesus – most of them represent the work of Jesus’ followers at various times and in various places (p 8). He says, however, that a good case can be made for the noncannonical sayings 82 and 98 to have originated with Jesus. It tells us nothing about the historical Jesus because its author has no interest in the person of Jesus, only in his teachings.

Positive Aspects

  • the layout is clear and easy to follow
  • Hedrick shows how the various sayings link to one another (at least in his opion – I suppose others might disagree)
  • He also indicates the links to Q and to the canonical material
  • He also indicates where in the commentary he has first dealt with recurring themes eg whenever the imperial reign of the Father appears in a saying, the reader is referred back to the first place where it is mentioned. This makes it possible to dip easily into the comment on a particular saying and follow his line of thought about the various issues it raises
  • the writing style is engaging and easy to read

Negative Aspects

  • the bibliography is relatively brief
  • because of his translation choice, it is not easy to see the Coptic text in the English translation. He does, however, normally justify unusual choices of translation

And finally

This commentary would be a good introduction to the text for a reader with little background in biblical studies, but still provides stimulation for the more expert reader. While it does not provide the depth of analysis that is found in either DeConick or Plisch’s commentaries, it is still definitely worth consulting.

Back to commentaries – Pokorný

Returning to my series on commentaries on GosThom, I want to look at:

Petr Pokorný’s A Commentary on the Gospel of Thomas

Pokorný, Petr, Commentary on the Gospel of Thomas: From interpretations to the interpreted.  T&T Clark Jewish and Christians Texts Series. New York: T&T Clark Ltd, 2009 (hardcover) and 2011 (paperback).

Pokorný is Professor of New Testament exegesis at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic.  He is a former president of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, fellow of several Learned Societies. A festschrift in honour of his 70th birthday was published in 2004, so he has a long track record in the field. He is the author of 12 German monographs, textbooks and commentaries, some of which have been translated into English.  This commentary was, however, written in English. It uses the English translation of the Berliner Arbeitskreis für Koptisch-Gnosticsche Schriften as the text of Thomas.

The format of the commentary is fairly traditional – general information about the text followed by detailed comment on each saying. Each of the individual commentaries is divided into two parts. Part A looks at individual features and part B provides a more general overview. The comment sections are generally followed by a short list of relevant literature.

Assessment of Thomas

Seeing I found Skinner’s formulation of the three major issues for Thomas scholarship today helpful, I thought I would use them as the structure for this section, but found this somewhat difficult at times. When he addresses an issue, Pokorný has a tendency to present the arguments of various scholars and outline the consequences of each of them. Unfortunately, however, because of the way he uses tenses and sentence structure, it is not always clear (at least not to me) when he is saying “if you take this position, then you must necessarily believe X and not believe Y” and when he is saying “my position is X and not Y”.

When was it written?

Pokorný contends that Thomas originated later than the Synoptics and that the version we have “represents a theolgical stream that originated in the early second century” (p 19) and “originated at a time when some of the earlier Gospels had already attained canonical status” (p 13).  He thus rejects the idea that Thomas is one of the earliest documents of Christian literature (p 15). However, he also identifies five different versions that have existed, including the one represented by Hippolytus’ quotation of saying 3, which he suggests is a later version than NHII,2 (pp 20-25).

What is its relationship to the canonical gospels?

Pokorný states that the fact that has been named “The Gospel of Thomas”  despite its genre (see below) indicates that at the point where the title was added (the third version) the “text claimed canonical authority”. I would suggest that it was the editor who claimed canonical authority on its behalf, but the point is well made. He further suggests that it was used as a liturgical text in place of the canonical gospels (p 22). This is not, however, the issue that is raised by Skinner in posing this question and Pokorný spends several pages on Skinner’s issue – examining the relationship between Thomas and John and then between Thomas and the Synoptics.

He notes that there a number of similarities between the theologies of John and Thomas, which he says is understandable because both have links with Syria. He does not reject the idea that John is a reaction to Thomas, but says how much John was influenced by Thomas is unknown. He suggests that the Thomas group seem to have gained ground in Syria after the Johannine group left for Asia Minor (pp 16-17).

With respect to the relationship between Thomas and the Synoptics, he rejects both of the black and white models – ie that Thomas is totally derived from the Synoptics and that it is totally independent – in favour of a development in several stages that involves the use of some material that either comes directly from the Synoptic tradition or from a shared source, as well as some independent tradition. He thus appears to be saying that, although it is not early, it can still provide us with useful information about Jesus and his teachings, or at least how the early church received them.

What is its genre and theological outlook?

Pokorný states that Thomas is not the same literary genre as the canonical gospels – it is not a biography. From a purely literary perspective, it belongs to the same genre as Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Pseudo-Phyocydes or the New Testament letter of James – a collection of wise sayings. It is, however, different from a simple collection of proverbs in that it is a collection of dominical sayings and as such it belongs to a genre represented by Q,  by the small collections of sayings of Jesus that are included in the Gospels  eg the parables from Mark 4 and by the special source of Luke and other early collections (pp 7-8).

He holds that to say that the Gospel of Thomas is Gnostic is anachronistic. Even though it was used by Gnostics, all that can be found in it is a theology influenced by the Platonic ideas that were popular at the time of its writing and were used by Gnostics – although  Hippolytus’ version of Saying 3 shows a much stronger Gnostic influence. It seems that the subheading on p 27 of the section on the theology of Thomas reflects his position: that it sits “between Gnosticism and mainstream Christianity”.

Other items of note

In four separate places, Pokorný states as though it were a given that putting Jesus’ sayings in the context of an account of his life resulted in their being (better) preserved (emphasis added by me in each case).

Admittedly, the pieces of tradition that have been embedded in the canonical Gospels are preserved in an interpreted form; but after they have been written and used in liturgy, they underwent only minor changes. By linking them with Jesus’ deeds, with descriptions of his attitudes, and by placing them within the contingent past of Jesus’ life, they have indeed been preserved. (p 10)

Christian proclamation, which originally was considered to be a kind of sermon on biblical texts, became now liturgical text itself. The tradition about Jesus has been preserved and protected from falsification because it was framed by the life story of the earthly Jesus. (p 11)

We have to suppose that from the very beginning fragments of memories circulated among Jesus’ adherents, and the fact that from a speech of Jesus some of the hearers recalled only individual sayings that seemed to them memorable is understandable and probable. The narrrative frame protected the sayings from transformation better than the genre of a collection of sentences, but the free circulation still did not stop immediately. (p 18)

and finally

Finally, the method of conserving Jesus’ teaching in individual sayings as in the wisdom traditions and prophetic proclamation is obviously more ancient than the method of setting his teaching in a biographical frame, as invented by Mark. All the same, the biographic frame conserved the ancient layer of the Jesus tradition more effectively than collections of his sayings. (p 158)

He appears to be arguing that the fact that Jesus sayings were preserved in the canon in the context of Jesus’ life is some kind of guarantee that they were better preserved. Although the first two quotes also mention use in a liturgical context, he maintains elsewhere that Thomas was used instead of the Synoptics in the liturgies of the Thomas community (p 22). Perhaps a reader can help here?

Positive Aspects

  • the layout is clear and easy to follow.
  • Pokorný pays particular attention to the relationship between each saying and any canonical parallels
  • he builds on the work of others and draws on his own research to develop some fresh and interesting ideas about the various texts. My reaction on reading the introductory material was that it is different, unexpected, although I cannot quite articulate how. In the comment on saying 8 he suggests that the big fish represents the human soul, as do the large branch in the mustard seed parable and the big sheep in the lost sheep parable. I am not aware of this having been suggested elsewhere in the literature (although perhaps I am suffering from memory lapse?)

Negative Aspects

  • part of the part B of the comment on saying 8 (the parable of the net) actually belongs with the comment on saying 9, the parable of the sower.
  • the decision to transliterate djandja as č and kyima as q makes perfect sense to speakers of Slavic languages, but not to the average English speaker
  • most importantly, as I have indicated above, there are many places where the English is not smooth, times where it is ambiguous or difficult to follow and one or two places where what he is trying to communicate is quite unclear. It would have benefitted from more effective editing.

And finally

For the Thomas scholar, this commentary provides interesting insights into the text and comment on the work of other scholars and is certainly worth reading. I would probably not recommend it as an introduction to the text, however – it assumes too much background knowledge.

A little plug here for T&T Clark/Continuum – again they have released a paperback edition not too long after the publication of the hardcover. I bought the hardcover but my paperback copy of De Conick’s Recovering the Original Gospel of  Thomas is perfect bound (ie stitched in sections), rather than having the cut binding (pages just glued individually into the cover) of many cheaper paperbacks. I assume that this is their standard paperback binding method, so I would definitely be inclined to buy the paperback version rather than the hardcover.

This and that

First, I have been re-reading some of my earlier posts and have been doing a little editing and tagging. I am not sure if this has resulted in the posts popping up again for those who subscribe to this blog by RSS etc. If you have been getting notices about new posts and seen that you’ve read them before, this is the reason why.

Second, Chris Skinner has just started blogging about Simon Gathercole’s new book on Thomas over at Peje Iesous. I am looking forward to hearing what he has to say.

Third, the reason I was going back through old posts was to see how far I had got through my series of notes on commentaries on Thomas. (The answer is not far – I have done DeConick, Nordsieck and Kasser and a bit of an outline of Uwe-Karsten Plisch’s book in the initial post about commentaries). The reason for this is that I am in the process of reading Petr Pokorny’s A Commentary on the Gospel of Thomas: From Interpretations to the Interpreted (T&T Clark Jewish and Christian Texts Series: New York, 2009). There don’t seem to be terribly many reviews of it in journals and I find it interesting, so am planning on posting on it in the next little while.

Faith, biblical studies and teaching in ‘sectarian’ universities

Over the past few days, one of the hot issues in the blogosphere has been the sacking of Anthony Le Donne from Lincoln Christian University because the understandings expressed in his writing do not line up with the university’s confession of faith (see for example Larry Hurtado, Jim West, Chris Skinner, Ben Witherington III and James McGrath). It sounds as though the university has done a really bad job of dealing with the issue and I am very sad for Le Donne and his family and also sympathetic to his colleagues.

I haven’t read the book in question (although I’ve just ordered a copy from the library) but I have read his 2007 “Theological Memory Distortion in the Jesus Tradition: a Study in Social Memory Theory” in S. C. Barton, L. T. Stuckenbruck & B. G. Wold (Eds.), Memory in the Bible and Antiquity (pp. 163-177), Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, which I found helpful in my article on eyewitness testimony. I can see, however, how the average conservative evangelical Christian would have issues with comments like “memory is distortion. This is so regardless of any claims to veracity” (p. 168) although he explains that this is because it is not possible to view an object from every perspective or to recall an event without emphasizing some details.

Much though we might like it to be otherwise, the reality is that an awful lot of biblical scholars teach in institutions that prepare people for ordination in particular christian churches and this has always been the case. They are therefore not doing their teaching and research in a vacuum. Not only that, a significant proportion of biblical scholars are confessing Christians and maybe some keep their research and their faith in two separate compartments in their lives, but most don’t. This stuff doesn’t make you lose your faith!! If, however, my theological training institution was anything to go on (and I’m sure it was), very little time is actually spent on trying to help students preparing for ordination to make sense of what they are being taught in terms of their faith, so they are left to their own devices to work out how to communicate what biblical scholarship teaches about Scripture and many, fearing the same kind of reaction from their congregations as Le Donne has had from his university’s board, say nothing. Others just view it as a hoop they need to jump through in order to be ordained and forget everything they’ve learned as soon as they pass their exams. In either case, they don’t share what they’ve learned with their congregations.

Helping them isn’t all that hard, either. Last year I presented my work on human memory and eyewitness testimony to a local lay preachers’ course. I told them basically what Le Donne says – human memory is simply not accurate. You can’t rely on eyewitness testimony to be “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”, especially 30 years down the track. The student from one of the very conservative congregations in our region came up to me afterwards and said that she had thought that she was going to really hate what I was saying, but instead had found it incredibly helpful. This is because I went on to talk about what I believe this means for our use of Scripture (that we can’t reasonably preach a sermon that turns on one or two words in a biblical text) and about the role of our faith in God in guaranteeing the trustworthiness of Scripture. Really, all that our research on human memory, social memory and eyewitness testimony is demonstrating is that we are not ever going to be able to produce empirical evidence that the Bible is true. We are just saying “we can’t prove this”, not “this isn’t true”. Why is that such a big deal? People of faith have been dealing with that for a couple of millennia. And furthermore, being able to provide very convincing empirical evidence for something does not mean that people will believe it, anyway. Look at the evidence for climate change. Psychological research also demonstrates that people are very good at believing what they want to believe and ignoring evidence that conflicts with their world view, except under specific circumstances (and I don’t have the research readily available and can’t remember what the circumstances are).

I don’t think people in the field of academic biblical scholarship have actually helped, either. I think there is a big difference between allowing the particular teachings of your faith group to shape what you see and say during your research and reflecting on what the consequences of your research are for Christian faith. It seems to me that Lincoln wants Le Donne to do the former and he clearly can’t and maintain either his academic or personal integrity. I believe, however, that if you are being funded by a christian body to teach and do research, you have a responsibility to do the latter, and not just in your own mind. So often, however, when people in biblical discussion forums try to do this, they are howled down for being ‘confessional’. But where else but in a group of people who are also specialists in the field can you work out where the holes are in your thinking before you present a case to those who are not educated in the area? Surely, we owe it to the people who donate from their wages and savings the money that pays our stipends to show them how you can know these things and still remain Christian? So often when I do share it, I am greeted by relief that what people had suspected but were afraid to ask is true, often swiftly followed by anger that no-one had told them about it years ago.

And maybe, if more of us (both ministers and biblical scholars) had been doing this for longer, Le Donne would not have been sacked for telling the truth?

 

Skinner: What are They Saying About the Gospel of Thomas?

My copy of Chris Skinner’s new book What are They Saying About the Gospel of Thomas (New York, Paulist Press, 2012) finally arrived earlier this week. Apparently the Book Depository was selling the US edition which wasn’t due to be published until 1 May, whereas Amazon had ordered the UK (?) edition, which was published a month earlier.

Anyway, it arrived, I’ve read it and I’m impressed. The aim of this series is to provide a summary of the current/recent scholarly literature in the particular field which is accessible to the ordinary reader and I think that Skinner has done an admirable job.

After a short introduction to the history of the text, he identifies the three crucial questions that are still being debated some fifty-five years after the text of Thomas became reasonably easily accessible to interested scholars:

  • when was it written?
  • what is its relationship to the canonical gospels?
  • what is its genre and theological outlook?

Skinner devotes a chapter to each question, in which he lays out the various positions held by scholars, who the main proponents of each one are and (briefly) why they hold their particular positions. While the particular scholars may well think that he has missed some of the nuances of their arguments (due to summarising whole books in a few paragraphs), I think he has done an excellent job of summaraising the main points of the various positions, where they fit in and how they interrelate. The final chapter (unless you count a one-page conclusion as a chapter) looks at the debate about the role of Thomas in the quest for the historical Jesus, summarising the positions of John Paul Meier, the Jesus Seminar and John Dominic Crossan.

Skinner has done an admirable job of identifying the main players and the main issues in the field. As well as the three crucial questions and the issue of the role of Jesus in the quest for the historical Jesus, he also highlights a number of other important issues. He points out, for example, how intertwined these four issues are – so those who hold that Thomas is Gnostic and dependent on the canon will not be arguing for an early dating or that it is important in the quest for the historical Jesus. He notes the general divide between North American and European scholars on the issues of dating and independence, and the movement in the idea of theological outlook that has resulted from the debate about the definition of Gnosticism in the past decade or two.

As is always the case in the area of biblical studies, there are quite a few pages of notes that don’t quite belong in the main text but are nevertheless useful. Paulist, like most book publishers, prints endnotes at the end of the book and, as usual, this annoyed me as I flipped backwards and forwards between text and note. These are followed by a select bibliography which Skinner has divided into a number of sections: English translations; Thomas within early Christianity; Commentaries; Thomas and early Christian literature; Surveys of Thomas reserach; Important related reading: and Helpful online resources. This last is annotated, the rest are not, but there is a rating system that indicates which books are: accessible to the nonspecialist; written at an academic level but accessible to an educated nonspecialist; an intended for those with background knowledge of early Christian literature and the requisite reserach languages.

As the reader has no doubt gathered, I am very positive about this book. I found the structure that Skinner offers a helpful way of conceptualising the field of Thomas scholarship at the moment. He does a good job of presenting the various positions in an even-handed way. I discovered that Hedrick’s 2010 commentary on Thomas had slipped under my radar and have ordered a copy, which was particularly useful to me. My one disappointment was in the bibliography. David Gowler’s WATSA the Parables has a fully annotated bibliography, whereas in WATSA the Gospel of Thomas one has to search the text for a summary of the various positions of the authors. While there is an index, some of the more prolific authors are mentioned a number of times and an overview of the positions in each major publication would have been helpful.

In general, though, I think that Skinner has done what he set out to do and written a book that will provide a useful way into Thomas scholarship for the interested general reader and the student. I am certainly going to recommend that it be added to the reading list of the subject I taught when I was based at the University of New England.