Baker Academic

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Interview with Mark Goodacre (Part III)

Parts I and II can be found here and here.

ACLD: Your newest book Thomas and the Gospels takes your research in a relatively new direction. When you first stepped into the world of Thomas, did you find that the scholarly conversations about Thomas mirror the debates related the canonical Gospels? Or do these conversations have dramatically different talking points?

MG: Thanks for the plug! Well, the "and" is perhaps the most important word in the title. It's a book about Thomas and the Gospels, attempting to explain why I think that Thomas shows knowledge of the Synoptics.  That discussion is related to inter-Synoptic discussions and to related areas like historical Jesus research. One of my worries about the way that some scholars approach Thomas is that they do so in ignorance of Synoptic Problem scholarship, which they mistakenly regard as outdated and unhelpful. What I am trying to do is to bring the eyes of someone familiar with inter-Synoptic relationships to the issue of Thomas's relationship to the Synoptics.


ACLD: In a previous incarnation of myself, I was taught that there were several early arguments against the Q hypothesis (the idea that Matthew and Luke borrowed from a lost sayings source). Some scholars pointed to the non-existence of Gospels that resembled a "sayings source" format. When the Gospel of Thomas was found in 1945, that particular talking point fell off of the table. Do you think that the discovery of Thomas helped to bring the Q theory to prominence in the 1950s?

MG: I have often seen the argument you mention here and in fact it does not stand up to scrutiny. I don't know of a single scholar who claimed that there were no sayings sources, so the idea that these people were shut up by the discovery of Thomas is based on an incorrect premise. In so far as it has any basis, it comes from Austin Farrer's claim (in 1955, post-dating the discovery of Thomas) that documents of the Q-type did not exist in antiquity, by which he meant a hybrid Christian narrative-come-sayings source. I argued in the Case Against Q (2002) that the odd structure of (the reconstructed) Q makes best sense on source-critical grounds -- it's the structure of Luke's extractions of Matthew's non-Marcan material and not the structure of an ancient sayings gospel like Thomas. In other words, comparing Q with Thomas helps one to dispense with Q.

But I like the way that you frame the question here. The pairing of Q and Thomas has been important in historical Jesus and Christian origins scholarship and it is due in large part to the seminal contributions of Helmut Koester and James Robinson. I'd say it took until the 1970s for this special relationship to get properly launched, and it came to fruition in the 1980s and 1990s, and is probably best represented in the work of John Dominic Crossan who makes Q and Thomas absolutely essential in his Jesus research. It brings us back to the difficulty with independent attestation. If one accepts the existence of Q and the independence of Thomas, we have here two essential building blocks for creating a historical Jesus database. If one is sceptical about the existence of Q and the independence of Thomas, that kind of research will always be questionable.

...more tomorrow...

1 comment:

  1. Thanks again for the interview. The link to my book is to the British version (but on the American Amazon), so isn't much use. Here's the correct link: