Is it me, or R McL Wilson?

In “Thomas and the Growth of the Gospels.” Harvard Theological Review (1960) 53(10): 231-250), R McL Wilson says about GTh 76:

This is sufficiently close to the parable of the Pearl of Great Price to be recognized as simply another version. The only question is which is the more primitive, and here the stress on the merchant’s wisdom is surely secondary, while the phrase “the kingdom of the Father” has a Gnostic ring. (p. 230)

In Studies in the Gospel of Thomas. London, Mowbray (1960), he says:

This seems to make a clear case for dependence on the first Gospel, but a glance at the order must give rise to doubts. Matthew’s chapter of parables begins with the Sower, which in Thomas is logion 9, and continues with an exposition of the reason for the use of parables and with other sayings, … and finally the parables of the Treasure (logion109), the Pearl (logion 76) and the Drag-net (logion 8). If Thomas drew from Matthew, why did he separate the parable one from another in this way? And why do they appear in this order? … On the assumption that Thomas is based on Matthew these fact present a problem. On the other hand we know from comparison with Luke that Matthew has a tendency to assemble his material into large blocks, as for example in the Sermon on the Mount, and the fact that these parables are separated in Thomas, and appear in a different order, may point to the author’s use of a different tradition, or at least to his independent access to the tradition from which Matthew drew. (p.54)

Here, in two publications from the same year, he seems to be arguing quite different positions on the relationship between GThom and Matthew. Or is it just that I am missing something?


2 thoughts on “Is it me, or R McL Wilson?

  1. Hi Judy. I’ve been wondering about you and the progress of your doctoral thesis, since I haven’t seen a post on your blog in a while. Now I know you’re still at it. As for Wilson’s statements quoted by you from HTR and ‘Studies…,’ I don’t think they’re in conflict. Both quotations indicate Wilson’s appreciation of the complexity of the interrelations between Mt, GTh & the gospel (or Jesus) tradition. He is not able in either quotation to come to a firm conclusion that GTh is based on Mt. He leans in that direction, but realizes that GTh may be independent. Wilson, I think, is one of the first scholars able to appreciate the potential of GTh as an independent witness to prewritten traditions about Jesus.

  2. I haven’t read either of the books of which you are speaking, so please bear that in mind. However, I see no contradiction. Let’s briefly consider the original texts (Matthew and Thomas).

    We observe that Matthew borrows from other authors and rearranges the material as he writes his own story. The author of Matthew is both adding to Mark, and writing from a somewhat different perspective. If Matthew will borrow from one source, I see no reason to think he would not borrow from other sources available to him, including the oral tradition. That material redacted by Matthew differs in arrangement from another source, I would consider to be a given. It doesn’t bother me in any way, as it is simply reflective of the author’s writing style.

    Thomas causes me even less concern over the ordering of the sayings, because the order of the sayings does not seem to be much concern to the author. The author of Thomas makes no attempt to tell a story or provide a narrative. It strikes me simply as a collection of sayings, which the redactor appears to believe share a common theme.

    As for making an argument that one or the other is earlier, it seems most logical to me to address Thomas, and to provisionally accept the general dating of Matthew (and the other canonical gospels) as roughly being written in the last half of the 1st century.

    But what then of Thomas? I assume the late Ron Miller’s position, that some of the sayings may indeed be quite early; others are late. Thus, I currently hold the position that Thomas as it comes to us is a late redaction, but that perhaps 1/3 of the sayings themselves survive from a very early date. Some may even stem from the oral tradition before any of the gospels were written.

    Which is where debates about earlier formations of specific parables come into play. As I’m sure you know, resolving such debates is a complex and ultimately uncertain task. There are many layers of redaction to consider. And many sound arguments have been constructed, which are at odds with one another at various points.

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