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The Gospel of Thomas: Gathercole and Goodacre1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 April 2013

Christopher Tuckett*
Pembroke College, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 1DW,


The two books under review here are remarkably similar, although (it would appear) entirely independent of each other. Further, I must say right at the start that, in many respects (perhaps the most important respect), I am entirely in agreement with many of their conclusions, and their manner of reaching those conclusions. So maybe this ‘critical’ review is not critical enough!

  • - Both authors are English; and both books come across (to me) as very ‘English’: the argument is cautious, fully acknowledging caveats, never overstating the case, etc.

  • - The prime issue addressed in both is the relationship between Thomas and the Synoptics.

  • - Both argue for a broadly similar conclusion – that Thomas is dependent (whether directly or indirectly: see below) on at least Matthew and Luke.

  • - Both reach this conclusion via an almost identical methodology: seeking to identify possible elements of Synoptic redactional activity in Thomas as an indication of Thomas’ dependence.

  • - Some (but not all) of the evidence cited is common, e.g. Th 5 / / Luke 8:17; Th 14 / / Matt 15:11; Th 31 / / Luke 4:24. (However, other examples do not overlap.)

  • - Both are reticent about relying too much on theories about Q (perhaps surprisingly, Goodacre less than Gathercole).

  • - Both see Thomas as potentially mystifying, not necessarily aiming at clarity, but demanding hermeneutical effort on the part of the reader.

  • - Both emphasise the importance of taking seriously the evidence of the Greek fragments, and indeed both at different points use the Greek evidence closely.

  • - Both offer powerful critiques of the older form-critical ‘norms’, or ‘laws’, about the development of the tradition, both effectively denying that such rigid ‘laws’ have any validity at all.

  • - Both address in detail the more general arguments of others defending Thomas’ independence, e.g. on order, the apparent lack of ‘much’ agreement with the Synoptics, the possibility of assimilation in the textual transmission, etc.

  • - Both also offer good arguments referring to the possibility of being misled by the phenomenon of the Synoptic Gospels about what level of agreement might be expected in a case of dependence. (The Synoptics may be highly unusual in the high level of agreement (in wording and order) they display.)

  • - Both emphasise the danger of polarising the debate prematurely, of simply claiming that one's own theory has ‘won the day’ and ignoring others who disagree. Certainly both authors here take on, and engage with (in my view very fairly) the views of others who disagree.

Article Review
Copyright © Scottish Journal of Theology Ltd 2013

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SimonGathercole, The Composition of the Gospel of Thomas. Original Language and Influences (Cambridge: CUP, 2012); MarkGoodacre, Thomas and the Gospels: The Cases for Thomas’ Familiarity with the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012).


2 Gathercole never mentions Goodacre in his bibliography; Goodacre mentions Gathercole's work occasionally, but with no reference to this book. The review here was prepared originally for a panel discussion at the Society for Biblical Literature in Chicago, Nov. 2012. At the discussion, the authors stated that they became aware of each other's work at an early stage, but they consciously decided not to interact with each other, or to discuss their work with each other, prior to publication.

3 Cf. pp. 150–1. Though sometimes, according to Goodacre, the author of Thomas ‘has looked up a passage in order to check the wording’ and he ‘consulted the Synoptic Gospels directly’ (p. 150).

4 E.g. I agree with both that (a) form criticism's ‘laws’ are no longer tenable in the way they have been appealed to in the past; (b) the best criterion for possible dependence remains that of seeking to identify synoptic redactional elements occurring in Thomas; (c) such evidence is at times available; and hence (d) for at least some sayings, dependence by Thomas seems highly likely.

5 Cf. his summary on p. 109: ‘Sometimes the account presupposes the material that has not been narrated, and the story would be unintelligible to anyone unfamiliar with the Synoptic accounts. There are several examples of this phenomenon.’

6 Could there be an element of ‘synoptic influence’ coming in, whereby we judge Thomas by the standards of the synoptic version(s) and expect him to conform?

7 See my The Gospel of Mary (Oxford: OUP, 2007), p. 150, in relation to the passage in 8.16–22, a passage where there is a sudden plethora of parallels with materials in canonical gospels.

8 See e.g. p. 181, on Th 108 / / Mark 11:23 pars.; or pp. 182–4, on Th 16 / / Luke 12:51–3 par.

9 Hence contra, most recently, Perrin for the former, DeConick for the latter.

10 On the other hand both Goodacre and Gathercole point – fully justifiably – to the dangers of appealing too readily to an alleged ‘majority view’ as settling issues.

11 Gathercole may overstate the case that the figure of Matthew ‘is an undistinguished figure of the apostolic college’ for Gnostic, or Gnostic-related authors: quite often the figure of Matthew appears as one of the ‘good’ apostles, implicitly or explicitly contrasted with e.g. Peter. To refer to Jesus as ‘wise’ or a ‘philosopher’ is not clearly derogatory, nor does it represent a clear misunderstanding of Jesus in Thomas’ terms.

12 A similar problem arises in relation to the so-called ‘minor agreements’ in the study of the Synoptic Problem. What exactly constitutes an ‘agreement’? I have discussed elsewhere the phenomenon of some scholars counting a very large number of such minor agreements, but when analysed more closely it emerges that some might not be ‘agreements’ at all: they are places where the modern scholar describes the evidence in such a way as to create a measure of agreement, but the Greek texts actually do not agree.