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John Meier on Thomas and the Synoptics

January 24, 2013
John Meier

I’m not sure if anyone’s been paying attention, but John Meier (he of A Marginal Jew notoriety) has recently been turning his attention to the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of Thomas. Over the past year or so Meier has published three articles on logia common to Thomas and the Synoptics. I had a chance to discuss this research with John last summer at the annual meeting of the Catholic Biblical Association and he indicated that the parables of Jesus figure prominently in his fifth and final volume of A Marginal Jew. Since Thomas and the Synoptics share numerous parables of Jesus, this means that Thomas will also figure more prominently than in his previous four volumes. (As a huge nerd, I was excited to hear all of this because it merges several of my strongest interests in one volume: NT Gospels, historical Jesus research, and the Gospel of Thomas.)

The first essay appeared in the Festschrift for Frank Matera which I edited along with my good friend, Kelly Iverson. That essay was entitled, “The Parable of the Wicked Tenants in the Vineyard: Is the Gospel of Thomas Independent of the Synoptics?” There Meier concludes,

[F]ar from being an independent and primitive form of the parable of the Wicked Tenants, Thomas represents the logical conclusion of tendencies already visible in Matthew and Luke’s redaction of Mark. On the large scale, the parable’s core narrative is increasingly abbreviated (from Matthew to Luke to Thomas), and yet each abbreviator adds a few redactional touches of his own along the way.

The second article, entitled, “Is Luke’s Version of the Parable of the Rich Fool Reflected in the Coptic Gospel of Thomas?,” appeared in the July 2012 fascicle of the Catholic Biblical Quarterly. In this essay, Meier compares Luke 12:13-21 and Gos. Thom. 72 and 63 and concludes:

Looking back on these various probes….I readily grant that no one observation, taken by itself, would establish the dependence of CGT 72 on Luke 12:13-15 or CGT 63 on 12:16-21. However I think that the detailed comparisons we have run through, when viewed together, do provide converging lines of probability that argue in favor of some sort of dependence.

The third article, “The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30): Is Thomas‘s Version (Logion 57) Independent?” appeared in the final fascicle of the Journal of Biblical Literature published in 2012. Meier closes out this article as follows:

In sum, then, the palpable influence of Matthew’s Gospel on Thomas‘s version of the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds is hardly an isolated phenomenon. Alongside Lukan influence, Matthean influence on Thomas needs to be more widely acknowledged.

Along with the fine work being done by Simon Gathercole and Mark Goodacre, Meier’s discussions have sought to establish Thomas‘s knowledge of the Synoptics, specifically locating numerous elements of Matthean and Lukan redaction in individual Thomas sayings. Perhaps this holy Trinity of scholars will help to resurrect the disputed notion that Thomas had an awareness of the Synoptic gospels. This is the direction in which I lean and I’m glad to see it getting some serious attention from serious scholars.

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