More on commentaries – DeConick

The second post in my series on commentaries on GosThom focuses on:

April DeConick’s The Original Gospel of Thomas in Translation

DECONICK, A. D. 2006. The Original Gospel of Thomas in Translation, With a Commentary and New English Translation of the Complete Gospel, London, T & T Clark (hardcover) and DECONICK, A. D. (2007). The original Gospel of Thomas in translation: with a commentary and new English translation of the complete gospel. London, T&T Clark (paperback). The paperback is considerablely cheaper and has a much nicer cover, with artwork by April herself. I bought the hardcover because I wanted a copy as soon as it was released. It is next because it was next on my pile.

Assessment of Thomas

DeConick argues that the Gospel is not Gnostic. She maintains that the most likely explanation for the Thomasine-Synoptic parallels is that they come from orally transmitted rather than literary sources. She suggests that it came into being over time, with the earliest Kernel of sayings originating in the Jerusalem mission prior to 50 CE and various layers of accretions added between 50 and 120 CE.

Positive Aspects

    • Has a significant amount of detailed comment on each saying, interacting with the various positions stated in the literature.
    • Provides the Coptic text and her English translation of each saying, together with the  full text of parallels from the literature of the time.
    • Each section has a selected bibliography at the end and the bibliography at the end of the book is comprehensive


  • Consistent methodology for approaching each saying, together with an informative introduction, makes her line of reasoning easy to follow
  • The layout is very easy to follow and the language is clear and relatively simple, without being simplistic
  • Provides an appendix of verbal similarities between Thomas and the Synoptics
  • The paperback edition is relatively inexpensive (and nicer to look at)

Negative Aspects

I found it very difficult to find any significant negative aspects, but two minor niggles…

  • although the introductory material summarises her hypotheses about the way in which GosThom evolved and the reasoning behind them, in order to follow this completely, one needs access to a copy of the companion volume, DECONICK, A. D. 2005 (hc) and 2006 (pb) Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas: A History of the Gospel and its Growth, London, T&T Clark. The alternative would have been either one huge volume or skimping on the scholarship, so I think going with two volumes was the right decision.
  • the bibliography is perhaps less comprehensive of the German language literature than is Nordsieck’s, but Nordsieck’s is less comprehensive of the English language literature. It is hardly surprising that a scholar puts more emphasis on material in his or her first language. 🙂


For those doing intensive work on the text of GosThom this is a “must have”. Even if you don’t agree with her conclusions (which I do), it provides some extremely useful tools for doing your own textual analysis.  Those who want a less “in-depth” approach will still find this a very, very useful volume.

A little plug here for T&T Clark/Continuum – very few publishers in the field of academic biblical scholarship are prepared to release a paperback edition only twelve months after they launch the hardcover edition, but they did this both for the commentary and its companion volume. Kudos also to April for making the effort to negotiate for this to happen.

More on commentaries – Nordsieck

A while ago, I posted about the commentaries that I had on GosThom. Brandon Wason also has a summary of GosThom commentaries over at Sitz im Leben, but I am now working fairly intensively on some specific texts and thought it might be interesting to provide comment about how I am finding using the various books.  I will do this over the course of several posts, starting with:

Reinhard Nordsieck’s Das Thomas-Evangelium

Reinhard Nordsieck, Das Thomas-Evangelium: Einleitung: Zur Frage des historischen Jesus: Kommentierung aller 114 Logien, Neukirchen-Vluyn, Neukirchener Verlag, 2004, 408 pp, paperback.  I chose this to start with simply because it is on top of the pile on my desk.

Assessment of Thomas

Nordsieck argues that the Gospel is neither Gnostic nor dependent on the Synoptic tradition. He believes that it was initially written early – 40 CE to 70 CE – with several later additions and is one of the oldest examples of the gospel genre, very close to the oral tradition.

Positive Aspects

  • Has a significant amount of detailed comment on each saying, interacting with the various positions stated in the literature.
  • Provides comment on the saying’s likely relationship to Q and to the various canonical and non-canonical parallels and an assessment of its likely authenticity as a saying of Jesus.
  • Traces catchword connections from saying to saying.
  • Provides a good overview of the German-language literature and picks up the most recent scholarship (at the time of writing) on GosThom
  • Consistent methodology for approaching each saying makes his line of reasoning reasonably easy to follow (however, see below re language)
  • In text referencing and author’s names in uppercase makes it easy to see whose arguments are being talked about. (Although Brandon finds the use of uppercase for names irritating it doesn’t bother me and I found it quite useful when I was scanning to find out what I wanted to aquire from the library.)
  • Being a paperback, it is relatively inexpensive

Negative Aspects

  • the layout is not at all reader-friendly – there is very little whitespace which makes finding things on the page quite challenging.  The bibliography is unformatted – no italics for book titles, inverted commas for article/chapter titles or hanging indents for citations longer than one line.  I found the bibliographay so difficult that I actually scanned it and reformated it so I could find things. I am happy to provide readers with a copy of this if they wish. There are also inconsistencies in the referencing methods. My guess is that it was originally formatted differently, but was deemed to be too long and has been redone to take less space. I notice that the cover picture on Amazon is quite different to the one on my copy, so perhaps there is another edition which is nicer to read.
  • the language is quite complex. In the comment on every saying I find one or two sentences that I simply cannot be sure I have understood correctly.  I have two friends who help me when I get stuck.  Both speak German as their first language and both have theological qualifications and they both tell me that they have to read the bits I send them several times to work out what he is saying.


For those doing intensive work on the text of GosThom who are comfortable reading complex theological German, this is a useful book, but not a particularly “nice read” because of its layout.

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: prĂ©sentation et commentaire thĂ©ologique. Neuchatel, Editions Delachaux & NiestlĂ©.
  • Jacques MĂ©nard (1975.). L’Évangile Selon Thomas. Leiden, E.J. Brill.
  • Michael Fieger, (1991). Das Thomasevangelium.  Einleitung, Kommentar and Systematik. MĂĽnster, 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 MĂ©nard 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. 🙂