In This Article Gospel of Thomas

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Surveys of Scholarship
  • Essay Collections
  • Commentaries
  • Provenance and Date
  • Thomas and the Historical Jesus
  • Thomas in Popular Culture

Biblical Studies Gospel of Thomas
by
Stephen J. Patterson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 September 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0047

Introduction

The Gospel of Thomas is an early Christian gospel comprising 114 sayings and parables of Jesus organized into a simple list. It has no narrative structure and says virtually nothing about Jesus’ life, his death, or his resurrection. It is often referred to as a “sayings gospel” and compared to “Q,” the lost sayings collection that is thought to have been used by the authors of Matthew and Luke. The opening sayings of the Gospel of Thomas instruct the reader to strive for greater self-understanding by contemplating the sayings contained in the gospel, and they promise that in so doing one will gain immortality. Roughly half of the sayings in Thomas are also found in the synoptic gospels—Mark, Matthew, and Luke—often in forms that are very simple and unburdened with explicit interpretation. Other sayings in the gospel, however, assert a strong interpretive framework holding much affinity with other early Jewish wisdom theologians, especially those oriented to Plato, such as Philo of Alexandria. There is only one complete manuscript of this gospel: a Coptic translation found in Codex II of the Nag Hammadi Library, a cache of early Christian texts discovered in 1945 near the modern town of Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt. However, three Greek fragments also survive from the famous papyrological discoveries of Grenfell and Hunt at Oxyrhynchus.

General Overviews

There are surprisingly few monographs devoted to the general treatment of this text. The researcher who desires a basic overview is advised to consult some dictionary entries and the introductions to the translations mentioned here. The scholar should also consult the items under Surveys of Scholarship. Schröter and Bethge 2001 (cited under Translations) in Nag Hammadi Deutsch is a more current introduction, but somewhat idiosyncratic in dating the text to the second half of the 2nd century. Klauck 2003, although not written by a specialist, offers a useful introduction for the graduate student. Patterson, et al. 1998, which combines contributions from Patterson, Robinson, and Bethge, is designed as a general introduction for students and the general reader. There are several other book-length treatments of Thomas that cover a wide range of topics, even though none is designed as a general treatment of the gospel per se. Wilson 1960 is still highly regarded as one of the most temperate and even-handed early treatments of the text. Puech 1978, a collection of essays, offers a wealth of insights. Treviano Etcheverría has spent a career researching Thomas, but nearly all his published work is in his native tongue (including Treviano Etcheverría 1997), and so has escaped the attention of scholars without facility in Spanish—a situation in need of remediation. Of the several websites offering information on the Gospel of Thomas, Early Christian Writings: The Gospel of Thomas and The Gospel of Thomas Homepage are both useful and reliable.

  • Blatz, Beate. “The Coptic Gospel of Thomas.” In New Testament Apocrypha. Vol. 1. Rev. ed. Edited by Wilhelm Schneemelcher, 110–133. Translated by R. McL. Wilson. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1991.

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    Blatz’s treatment first appeared in this standard reference work in the 5th German edition (1987).

  • Davies, Stevan. The Gospel of Thomas Homepage.

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    Constructed and hosted by an authority on the Gospel of Thomas and author of The Gospel of Thomas and Christian Wisdom (see Theology). Contains links to many useful essays and translations, as well as online discussions.

  • Kirby, Peter. Early Christian Writings: The Gospel of Thomas. 2006.

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    Contains links to translations and several articles of worth, and provides a list of reliable off-line resources. Excerpts from trustworthy sources provide a brief introduction to the gospel.

  • Klauck, Hans-Josef. “The Gospel of Thomas.” In Apocryphal Gospels: An Introduction. By Hans-Josef Klauck, 107–122. Translated by Brian McNeil. London and New York: T&T Clark, 2003.

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    A brief introduction from a preeminent scholar of early Christianity in its ancient setting.

  • Patterson, Stephen J., James M. Robinson, and Hans-Gebhard Bethge. The Fifth Gospel: The Gospel of Thomas Comes of Age. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity, 1998.

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    Includes a general introduction, translation, and essays on the interpretation of the gospel and the story of its discovery and publication. Written for a general audience, with footnotes for the benefit of specialists.

  • Puech, H.-Ch. En quête de la Gnose. Vol. 2, Sur l’Évangile selon Thomas: Esquisse d’une interprétation systématique. Bibliothèque des Sciences Humaines. Paris: Galimard, 1978.

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    A collection of essays by Puech on Thomas covering a broad range of topics, from date, place, and the like, to theology.

  • Schröter, Jens, and Hans-Gebhard Bethge. “Das Evangelium nach Thomas [Einleitung].” In Nag Hammadi Deutsch, 1. Band: NHC I,1–V,1 (Koptisch-gnostische Schriften II). Griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller N.F. 8. Edited by Hans-Martin Schenke, Hans-Gebhard Bethge, and Ursula Ulrike Kaiser, 151–163. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2001.

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    Nag Hammadi Deutsch is the standard reference work on the Nag Hammadi Library in German. Bethge and Schröter’s proposal for a late 2nd-century date is idiosyncratic; otherwise, solid.

  • Treviano Etcheverría, Ramón M. Estudios sobre el Evangelio de Tomás. Fuentes Patrísticas, Estudios 2. Madrid: Editorial Cuidad Nueva, 1997.

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    Treviano Etcheverría is the leading Spanish-language authority on the Gospel of Thomas. Little of his work has appeared in English; consequently, his contributions are frequently overlooked.

  • Wilson, R. McL. Studies in the Gospel of Thomas. London: Mowbray, 1960.

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    An early, well-balanced general treatment of the gospel by an early church historian and authority on Gnosticism.

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