Gospel of Thomas and the Synoptic Gospels
I’ve just previewed a forthcoming book that mounts an impressive case for the view that The Gospel of Thomas reflects acquaintance with (and reaction to) the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke): Mark Goodacre, Thomas and the Gospels: The Case for Thomas’s Familiarity with the Synoptics (Eerdmans, forthcoming 2012).
Goodacre is known in NT circles, especially for his measured and firm advocacy of the view that the similarities in material shared by Matthew and Luke can be accounted for by positing dependence of Luke on Matthew, thus “dispensing with Q” (the sayings-source more widely regarded as the better explanation for this shared material). He occasionally refers to his “Q-skeptic” view, but it’s neither intrusive nor really significant for the issue that he addresses in this book.
Step by step, Goodacre considers several types of data that he offers as evidence that GThomas presupposes the Synoptics. He addresses verbatim agreements of GThomas and the Synoptics, what he calls “Synoptic shards” (indications of identifiably distinctive features of Synoptic Gospels taken over into GThomas), more extended indications of redactional features of Matthew and Luke in GThomas, and (offering an observation not to my knowledge made previously) what Goodacre calls “the missing middle” of Synoptic units in GThomas. These essentially are instances where a parable or other saying in GThomas seems to be an abbreviated version of a more complete version found in the Synoptics.
There is also an insightful chapter on modern scholarly fascination with (and, Goodacre alleges cogently, sometimes simplistic treatment of) ancient “orality”. His point is that GThomas isn’t a product of “orality”, but reflects an interest in writing and reading of its contents. Goodacre also proposes a second-century setting in which GThomas likely first emerged.
One of the features that I like about the book is Goodacre’s emphasis on, and use of, the early (albeit fragmentary) Greek manuscripts of GThomas. With Goodacre, I too have often been puzzled that scholarly discussion of GThomas (especially by advocates of its importance and early date) has typically been conducted with scant reference to this Greek evidence. A commendable exception is Richard Valantasis, The Gospel of Thomas (London: Routledge, 1997).
I judge Goodacre’s case very thorough, measured and persuasive. As he emphasizes, this by no means renders GThomas insignificant. It remains an exceptionally interesting early Christian writing. All the more reason to seek to place it accurately in time, situation, and relationship to other key texts such as the Synoptics.