Saturday, May 28, 2011

Fallacies in Dating the Gospel of Thomas

Just a few thoughts on dating the Gospel of Thomas.

1. A sayings Gospel and Q

The reasoning behind this argument is to draw a similarity between the genre of the Thomas and the hypothetical Q document. There are a few forms of this argument as follows:
The result is a date for Thomas comparable to Q, capped by the date of Matthew and Luke.
 Both arguments attempt to draw a similarity between the genre of the Gospel of Thomas and the hypothetical Q source. Yet when the argument is broken down the fatal flaws become blatantly obvious.

While it can be persuasively  argued that there was some sort of sayings genre of which texts like Thomas and Q may have belong to (e.g. Robertson), it does not necessarily follow that such broad a similarity as structural genre necessitates belonging to the same period. If we were to follow this argument to its logical conclusion, all sayings texts (Thomas, Proverbs, Sayings of Ahiqar, etc) must belong to the same period as Q and Thomas.

2. Developing Gnosticism

This next argument is as follows:
P1: Thomas represents mild Gnosticism
P2: Second century Gnostic texts have a more developed Gnosticism
C: Thomas must be early
I initially found this as one of the most persuasive arguments for some sort of early date for Thomas. On face value the logic is sound - over time the ideas were developed. However, it makes a number of assumptions.

First of all, the argument assumes a direct and continuing relationship between Thomas and later Gnostic texts. That is, it assumes that Thomas is an early text and over time these ideas were developed within a community using Thomas to produce later more developed Gnostic texts. However, except for notably later collections (e.g. Nag Hammadi) there is no evidence to suggest this direct relationship in the formative stage.

To demonstrate the point on a spectrum of proto-orthodoxy to Gnosticism:

Thomas could be contemporary with these "more developed" Gnostic texts, but as part of a completely independent school of thought, just as other proto-orthodox texts were composed independently of other gnostic texts. Alternatively, Thomas could have originated within the same stream as more developed texts and simply not included all aspects that we see as fundamental to 'Gnosticism'...

That is all for now as it is no longer peaceful and quiet here.


  1. "P1: Thomas represents mild Gnosticism"
    It's true, some Gnosticism could get pretty wild by comparison.

  2. The distinct lack of pig demons is noteworthy