Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Thomas' In/Dependence

Over on The Forbidden Gospels, April DeConick tells us how the gospel of Thomas was written -- or actually, more how it wasn't written. I particularly like her point that
"The Academy is about 100 years behind in its understanding of ancient compositional practices. I still cannot believe that we are operating with unmodified Form and Redaction Criticism models of production, when they don't work beyond schoolhouse exercises. The ancient world was a rhetorical culture wholly dominated by an oral consciousness. Scholars in the Academy must start learning about orality from sociologists and anthropologists. The studies are there. But they do not jive with what biblical scholars in our field keep saying and want to keep saying. Read Professor Ong, read Professor Foley, read Professor Lord, read Professor Kelber. We must stop looking at the ancient people through our own literate lens."
But she targets the purists of both camps, i.e. those who argue for Thomas' direct dependence on the synoptics, and those who maintain his complete independence. I lean far more in the "dependent" direction, but am always open to new ideas; the truth may well lie somewhere in-between. I just wish her ideas for a rolling corpus could have persuaded me more.

UPDATE: Mark Goodacre interacts heavily with DeConick, suggesting that we eschew terminology of "in/dependence" in favor of "familiarity":
"Given that only about half of Thomas has parallels with the Synoptics, we need to hold open the possibility that the most important thing about Thomas is not the Synoptic parallel material but the non-Synoptic material. Perhaps it is in that 50% that we will learn most about Thomas. My preference, therefore, is to move the terminology away from 'dependence' or 'independence' and instead to talk about 'familiarity' or otherwise. The term 'familiarity' allows us to ask the question whether Thomas knows the Synoptic Gospels without prejudging the extent of their influence on his thinking... The obsessive focus in so much Thomas scholarship with Synoptic parallel material, whether among 'dependence' or 'independence' people, tends to focus attention on reconstructions of the Gospel's evolution and development, sometimes at the expense of working on the text as we have it, and building from there."


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