There’s something about hard copy…

I have been working on the parable of the pearl for months, looking at the text in both Thomas and Matthew, reading what others have written about it, trying to get things into some kind of order and come to a position about the issues for myself. I have not been happy about what I have written. In the document two versions ago, I have a comment that says: “This section wanders in an undisciplined way between interpretations of Matthew and interpretations of Thomas and needs reorganising so that it is clear which is which, and I need to take a position on it myself.”

Earlier in the week, I thought I had it in something that looked like reasonable shape although I was still not happy with it, so I pasted it into the chapter where it belongs and left if for a couple of days before re-reading it. Previously, I had printed out each draft and read it in hard copy, but this time around, I decided that this was a huge waste of paper, so I just saved electronic copies and read on screen. After all, I mark on screen and I edit other people’s work on screen, and if I work on screen, I can make adjustments as I pick them up, so why not do it with my own work?

I started reading it on screen again and then decided that I was going to print myself a hard copy. My printer is currently refusing to print double sided unless I turn the pages manually* and then it sometimes picks up several pages at once, so I get the wrong pages printed on the reverse sides, so I compromised and used the blank sides of old printouts.

Suddenly, with the hard copy in front of me, it all started coming together, because on paper, I can circle things, I can draw arrows backwards and forwards and write notes where I want them, rather than when Word thinks I should have them. I can highlight and number things and then spread them out around me so I can see multiple pages at once, all in reasonable sized font. I still have some work to do on the section, but at least now I know what I need to do and how I need to rearrange it.

And before people start telling me I can do this all on the computer, yes, I can … but no, I can’t. I have two screens, one of which is actually larger than our TV screen, so I can have multiple version open in front of me. I have tried using highlighting on screen, but scrolling backwards and forwards through the document isn’t the same. I know that people rave about Scrivener, and I think that it would do quite a bit of what I want except that it doesn’t cope with Greek and Coptic fonts – it changes them into odd characters and when I paste it back into Word, the odd characters are still there.

So in future, when I get stuck, I think I will print hard copies and hope that I don’t waste too many trees in the process. Computers make research so much easier in so many ways, but sometimes you just can’t beat paper and pencil. :-)

*I know exactly what the problem with the printer is. It is old and even though Epson provides drivers for Win8, they don’t actually work properly. It still double sides just fine from Bruce’s Win7 computer. I think that Epson would like me to buy a newer printer, and I probably will, but when we took it in to have it repaired a while ago, the repairer was very impressed by how good it was.

Further detective work – Montefiore and Jeremias

Today I collected the 1954 English edition of Jeremias’ The Parables of Jesus from the library and discovered that the information about the Aramaic le is there on p 78. I also read a couple of the footnotes with new eyes and realised that although they said “Examples: …” they might not be simply citing editions of Aramaic texts, but older commentators. Ooops!  And yes, kind of: some of the examples are in H. L Strack & P. Billerbeck’s Kommentar zum N. T. aus Talmud und Midrasch vol II (München, Beck, 1924)  pp 7ff and others in Paul Fiebig’s Rabbinische Gleichnisse (Leipzig, 1929) – many pages.

Strack and Billerbeck is available on-line at but it seems to me that they are not taking the same line as Jeremias. They simply say that the Aramaic le is the equivalent of the German ‘gleich’ (like, similar, the same as), rather than pushing it as far as Jeremias does ie suggesting that it pushes the focus away from the direct object to some other part of the sentence.

Unfortunately, none of the libraries to which I have access have a copy of Fiebig, and it probably isn’t important enough to chase it by interlibrary loan. WorldCat suggests that there are no copies in Australian libraries, and although this, as I established earlier, is not always reliable, it is certainly not important enough to get on international ILL. I think I will need to conclude that Montefiore is probably guilty of sloppy referencing because he is likely to have picked up his comment about the Aramaic le from one or more of these three authors and that Jeremias has pushed his translation theory further than at least Strack and Billerbeck did in their treatment of this construction.

Who knew whom?

20th Century style . . . Montefiore and Jeremias

As part of my research, I have been looking at the parables of the Reign/Kingdom of God that take the form ‘the kingdom is like a person who…’.  A number of the commentators I have read cite Joachim Jeremias in The Parables of Jesus (translated by S H Hooke. third (revised) ed. SCM Press, 1972, pp 101-102) where he argues that that parables which in Greek begin with ὁμοίος and a noun in the dative case, indicate that there is an underlying Aramaic le in the original and that they should be translated, ‘It is the case with . . . as with . . .’.  This, he argues, shifts the focus of the comparison from the closest object in the sentence to some other part, so for example the kingdom is not actually being compared to a mustard seed, but to the end result of planting one. I have referred to this in several places because the parables that I am looking at in the Synoptics mainly fall into this category.

To my surprise, however,  on going back over some old work I discovered that Hugh Montefiore had said the same thing about the underlying Aramaic le and its effect in “Comparison of the Parables of the Gospel According to Thomas and of the Synoptic Gospels,” (NTS 7(1961): 246-7). Montefiore doesn’t mention the ὁμοίος + dative Greek structure, but clearly they are both talking about the same thing. Although the Montefiore paper is older than the Jeremias book, the Jeremias book is the third English edition, based on the text of the eighth German edition of Die Gliechnisse Jesu, the first edition of which was published in 1947. Thus, Montefiore could have read an earlier version of Jeremias’s book.

Montefiore does not attribute his statement to anyone, but citations can be omitted by accident and in the next section he refers twice to ‘Jeremias, op cit’. At this point I groaned, because this meant trawling back through the footnotes on many pages to find out which of Jeremias’ publications had been cited previously. Montefiore liked Jeremias’ work and cited it a dozen or so times in the paper, but I eventually found that he was referring to the 1957 edition of The Unknown Sayings of Jesus, a translation of the 1951 second edition of Unbekannte Jesusworte. I liberated a copy from my favourite theological library and started reading – or at least skimming – not finding anything. It was quite weird, however, to read an analysis of POxy 1, 654 and 655 written before it was recognised that they were fragments of Thomas (although in an addendum for the English translation he notes that Puech had published a paper in Revue de l’Histoire des Religions in 1955 that indicated that POxy 654 was identical with the opening section of Gospel of Thomas).

It then occurred to me that maybe my assumption that Jeremias had made the original observation and that Montefiore had failed to attribute it correctly might not be right. Maybe Jeremias got the idea from Montefiore. I am not totally sure that this is what happened because of the wording of the footnote on p 101 doesn’t make it clear exactly what Jeremias is referring to, but he certainly cites pp 246 f of Montefiore’s paper at the end of the section where he talks about this feature of the Greek. It would therefore seem that the reason that this is normally attributed to Jeremias is that most people I’ve been reading have been focussing on the Synoptics, so have probably not read Montefiore – and it does seem that Jeremias explains the phenomenon more fully.

The final test would be to get a copy of Jeremias that had been published before 1961 to see if he mentions this feature in it. I’ve just put in a request for the 1954 edition of the English version but I won’t get it until towards the end of the week, since Monday is a public holiday for Easter and it has to come from another campus.

Who would have thought that working out which scholar was basing his work on the other’s would be so tricky in the age of print and enthusiasm for correct referencing?

Gathercole on dating Thomas

Victoria asked in the comments to my previous post what Gathercole’s reasons were for his dating and I thought it would be easier to do this as a new post than to put it in the comments section. He divides the chapter on dating into three sections:

  1. evidence for a terimnus ante quem – in which he includes the papyrological data which suggest that the P Oxy papyri tend to be assigned dates in the third century, especially the early or middle part; and the testimonia from other writers gives similar dates. He thus suggests that roughly 200 CE is a reasonable date for the original mss. He then discounts arguments for an early date that propose that GThom influenced the canonical gospels; that the depiction of James in S12 suggests that James was still alive; that the fact that GThom appears to have been influenced by the Synoptics but not John suggests that it was written after the Synoptics but before John; and Uro’s suggestion that it must be seen as early because it doesn’t evidence a fully developed Gnostic character.
  2. evidence for a terminus a quo – in which he discounts the suggestion that the author knew the Diatessaron (which would give an earliest date of after 175 CE); questions the idea that Ss 68 & 71 denote evidence that it was written before the destruction of the Temple (DeConick), or soon after (Dunderberg) and instead supports the idea that they refer to the Bar Kochba revolt – which suggests post 135 CE. He sees the idea expressed by some that Thomas thought Matthew to have been authoritative also supports a post 100 CE dating.
  3. additional indications – here he agrees with Hedrick that Thomas’ use of the term “the Jews” in S 43 suggests at least the end of the first century as a dating; that his stance on circumcision in S53 fits better in early to middle second century; and that while he hesitates to label the gospel ‘Gnostic’ some of the motifs are clearly influenced by Gnosticism, which would again make it later rather than earlier.

Mark Goodacre  in his Thomas and the Gospels: the case for Thomas’s familiarity with the Synoptics (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 20102, pp 169-71) also argues that a dating post Bar Kochba revolt is fairly convincing – they both cite Hans-Martin Schenke in On the Compositional History of the Gospel of Thomas (Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, 1998, p 28).

Quite clearly, given the range of datings suggested by reputable biblical scholars (Gathercole lists 31 in his table, ranging from DeConick’s kernel prior to 50 CE through to Drijvers about 200 CE), the evidence is not at all clear, despite the fact that most are reasonably clear in their opinions. Where one lands depends to a certain extent on how much weight one puts onto particular pieces of evidence and there is a certain amount of personal opinion behind the scholarship, I think. This is not an issue on which my work actually turns, so I am prepared (to use one of Gathercole’s favourite expressions) to ‘remain agnostic’ about it for the moment.

Gathercole: “The Gospel of Thomas”

Gathercole's Recently, I received my copy of Simon Gathercole’s The Gospel of Thomas: Introduction and Commentary (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2014) – something  of a saga since the first copy I ordered got lost in transit and I had to request a refund and order it again! It’s over 700 pages long, the first 188 pages being introductory material, followed by 430 pages of commentary, then an extensive bibliography, an index locorum (aka index of ancient texts cited), an index of modern authors and an index of subjects. This post provides a summary of the introductory material.

Let me get my intemperate rant about the pricing of academic books out of the way before I address the content. Given that the amount I paid for it (AUD282 including postage) would enable someone to be trained as a teacher in a developing country and provide a toilet for a village that doesn’t have one, I would have expected better proof-reading (there are typos and missing citations – some, but not all of which can be tracked down in the bibliography) and editing (when the item ‘below’ doesn’t appear for 13 pages or several chapters, providing a page number would surely be more useful to the reader), better binding, and that all the pages would be cut so that the printers’ marks weren’t visible.  It does, however, have footnotes, rather than endnotes, which is a definite plus!! There is an e-book available, but it appears to cost USD250, which is more than AUD310.

Gathercole has done an enormous amount of work, investigating a huge amount of literature and has, I think, struggled at times to decide how to put it together in ways that make sense and are accessible to the reader. I assume that this is why the ‘appended note’ on Thomas as a ‘rolling corpus’ is slightly longer than the chapter to which it is appended. A helpful feature of each chapter is that the first footnote contains a bibliography of major works on the issue addressed.

Chapter 1 looks at the manuscripts, their datings and various features and chapter 2 compares the Greek and Coptic texts, looking at theories of composition. The third chapter looks at the ancient texts that mention GThom by name, providing the relevant sections in their original languages, followed by a reflection on the content of each. Chapter 4 looks at passages where it seems likely that the content of GThom is being referred to without specifically mentioning GThom. In this chapter, he cites the source material in English translation.

The fifth chapter is a summary of his work in pages 19-125 of The composition of the Gospel of Thomas original language and influences (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012) and rehearses his position that there are very strong reasons to conclude both that the Coptic version of GThom is a translation from the Greek and that it was originally written in Greek. Chapter 6 addresses the issue of provenance and, after identifying from the literature Syria (either Edessa or Antioch) and Egypt as possibilities, he concludes that we can’t know and that it probably does not really matter.

He then moves on to dating and authorship in chapter 7. As stated in Composition, Gathercole believes that GThom is a later rather than an earlier work. He dates it somewhere between 135 and 200 CE. His dating thus means that the author was neither an apostle nor a Manichaen, and he notes that the author is unknown. He then provides a reasonably extensive list of proposed dates from the literature in chronological order.

In chapter 8, he bravely addresses the issue of structure, agreeing with most commentators that it is not a particularly carefully ordered text. He lists four attempts to divide Thomas into sections – by Janssens, Tripp, Davies and Nordsieck, all of which he sees as unsustainable. He does not, however, address DeConick’s five speeches proposal. He lists three generally recognised structuring devices – “Jesus said”; an opening section; and links between pairs/clusters of sayings. He lists the sayings in pairs or groups and indicates which of a catchword link, a thematic connection and/or a form in common link them (in a number of cases, he sees more than one of these applying to a group). He questions how many of the catchwords are accidental and indicates that he hopes to avoid the extremes of overcontextualising and ignoring context in his commentary.

The next chapter looks at the genre. Gathercole looks at the variety of genres suggested by various authors and discards as unlikely all but two: gospel; and sentence collection/chreia collection. He makes a point that I had not considered in talking about the gospel genre – that just as John is written so that the reader may believe, so Thomas gives guidance about transcending death (p 140). He concludes that it is a mixed genre and notes that Kelber’s term ‘sayings gospel’ is helpful.

Chapter 10 is probably the longest of the introductory material (although this depends on how you choose to count the pages of ‘appended notes’) and deals with the religious outlook of GThom. It contains a very thorough listing of the various characteristics of the text under a comprehensive range of headings and he reserves his analytical comments until he has laid out all the evidence, all of which is helpful. He argues that GThom sets itself against non-Christian Judaism, the wider Christian movement and various figures of authority. He suggests that GThom ‘may not be completely systematic, but it is reasonably coherent’ (pp 166-167) but resists putting a particular theological label on it. There follows another ‘appended note’ addressing the issue of whether or not GThom is Gnostic, which towards the beginning notes that the answer to the question depends on one’s definition of Gnosticism. He summarises the debate, and suggests not only that it is difficult to categorise GThom as Gnostic given that it does not contain a clear demiurgic account of creation (p 173), but also that using labels such as Mack’s ‘proto-gnostic’ or  Funk’s ‘reflecting an incipient gnosticism’ is questionable and that ‘it is very difficult to align GThom very closely with any particular movement’ (pp 174).

In chapter 11, he looks at GThom and the historical Jesus and contends that GThom is not useful in developing a picture of the historical Jesus. Chapter 12 is the final chapter of the introductory material and describes the plan of the commentary section. It provides for each saying a bibliography, a copy of the Coptic text and, where available, the Greek text, together with translations, followed by textual comment, interpretation and notes.

This book is clearly intended for the scholar rather than the interested lay person. Gathercole quotes material written in Greek, Coptic, Latin, French, German and Italian in their original languages and without translation. English translations of the ancient material are largely available on the internet and the modern language material is short enough so that using an on-line translation service would probably give a reasonable understanding of the gist of each, but following the argument in depth could prove frustrating. He also has a tendency to use uncommon English words and Latin terms quite regularly. It is by far the most detailed commentary on the actual text of GThom available in English, French or German. DeConick’s two volumes combined are the closest in length, but she spends more time on her theory of composition and on overview issues and less on the text itself. Gathercole has, as I said earlier, consulted a massive number of works and this and the detailed attention to the text make it a very useful reference work on GThom. Noticeably absent from his bibliography, however, are the major works on oral transmission, human and communal memory that I think help to understand the transmission issues for early Christian collections of the sayings of Jesus, and which provide the strength of DeConick’s work.

Clearly, any real review of the book would need to include an assessment of the textual commentary. I have not begun to read that part and at this stage have no time to do it in any systematic way. This, then, is more a summary of and reflections on the introductory material. I am sure the book will prove very useful, but I am still not happy about the price.

Levine: Short stories by Jesus

Last year, I bought a copy of Amy-Jill Levine’s new book, Short Stories by Jesus – the enigmatic parables of a controversial rabbi (HarperOne, New York, 2014) and have been meaning to post a review of it every since I started using it. I find that the perspective of Jewish scholars on Second Testament writings often helps me to shake off what I have ‘always known’ about the texts and allows me to see something different and I like Levine’s writing. She is one of the contributors to  Coogan, Michael David, Marc Zvi Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Pheme Perkins. The new Oxford annotated Bible  (Oxford [England]; New York: Oxford University Press, 2010) and one of the editors of Levine, Amy-Jill and Marc Zvi Brettler eds. The Jewish annotated New Testament: New Revised Standard Version Bible translation. (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2011) but this is the first extended writing of hers that I’ve read and I’m glad I bought it.
The introductory chapter talks about ‘How we domesticate Jesus’s provocative stories’ and the conclusion addresses ‘The power of disturbing stories’. In between, she deals with Luke’s trio of parables on lostness; the Good Samaritan; the Kingdom of Heaven is like Yeast; the Pearl of Great Price; the Mustard Seed; the Pharisee and the Tax Collector; the Laborers in the Vineyard; the Widow and the Judge; and the Rich Man and Lazarus. In each case, she looks at how the elements of the parable are understood from a Jewish perspective, highlights traditionally anti-Semitic interpretations of the stories when appropriate and offers new perspectives.
The text is easy to read, aimed, I think, at an intelligent lay reader rather than a specifically academic readership. It nevertheless has useful notes (unfortunately, they are endnotes, rather than footnotes, but the book itself is not expensive – around $25 for the hardcover and $18 for the paperback through, and you can’t expect everything). It would be quite suitable for undergraduates and I am certainly finding it useful for my doctoral work.
I don’t always agree with the conclusions she draws, but that’s not unusual for me. I would thoroughly recommend it.

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?