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Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas: A History of the Gospel and its Growth (Library of New Testament Studies) [Hardcover]

By April D. De Conick (Author)
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Item description for Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas: A History of the Gospel and its Growth (Library of New Testament Studies) by April D. De Conick...

The Gospel of Thomas is an enigmatic collection of 114 sayings of Jesus. Here, April DeConick explores tough questions that have occupied scholars since the discovery of this gospel in the sands of Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in the 1940's. Where did this gospel come from? When was it written? Who wrote it? Why was it composed? What is its meaning? Rather than taking the conventional approach to answering these questions, DeConick examines these issues anew by proposing that the gospel developed within a climate dominated by oral consciousness as a product of communal memory. She argues that the gospel was a "rolling corpus," a book of sayings that grew over time, beginning as a simple written gospel containing oracles of the prophet Jesus. This suggests that the sayings in the gospel represent different moments in the history of the Thomasine community and can be read as memoirs of practices, beliefs, and conflicts that arose within the community over time. As the community faced various crises and constituency changes, including the delay of the Eschaton and the need to accommodate Gentiles within the group, its traditions were reinterpreted and the sayings in their gospel updated, accommodating the present experiences of the community. This is volume 286 in the Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement series and is part of the Early Christianity in Context series.

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Item Specifications...

Format: Illustrated
Language: English
Studio: T&T Clark Int'l
Pages   320
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.21" Width: 6.3" Height: 1.18"
Weight:   1.65 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Dec 30, 2005
Publisher   T. & T. Clark Publishers
ISBN  0567043428  
ISBN13  9780567043429  

Availability  0 units.

More About April D. De Conick

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! April D. DeConick is the Isla Carroll and Percy E. Turner Professor of Biblical Studies in the Department of Religious Studies at Rice University (Houston, Texas). She specializes in early Christian history and theology, noncanonical Gospels, and gnostic and mystical traditions. Her books include" Seek to See Him: Ascent and Vision Mysticism in the Gospel of Thomas" (1996);" Voices of the Mystics: Early Christian Discourse in the Gospels of John and Thomas and Other Ancient Christian Literature" (Sheffield Academic, 2001);" Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas: A History of the Gospel and Its Growth" (T. &T. Clark, 2005); and" The Original Gospel of Thomas in Translation, with Commentary and New English Translation of the Complete Gospel" (T. &T. Clark, 2006) and The Thirteenth Apostle: what the Gospel of Judas really says (Continuum, 2007). She has also edited the collection of papers, " Paradise Now: Essays on Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism" (SBL, 2006).

April D. De Conick has published or released items in the following series...
  1. T & T Clark Library of Biblical Studies

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Reviews - What do customers think about Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas: A History of the Gospel and its Growth (Library of New Testament Studies)?

Well-argued discussion on the growth of the Gospel of Thomas  Dec 16, 2006
April DeConick's book is a new and fresh look at the Gospel of Thomas in light of recent scholarship with regard to oral traditions. She suggests that the Gospel began as a small collection of sayings attributed to Jesus (the Kernel) prior to 50AD. These sayings were added to after several significant events took place which required the text to be reinterpreted (such as Jesus' second coming not taking place) into a more mystical form until about 120AD which formed early Syrian Christianity and can even be seen as a precursor to the theology of the Orthodox Church.

It's a well-written book with footnotes throughout (sometimes it seems there is a reference per sentence to another scholar's opinion), a 21 page bibliography and large portions of the Gospel of Thomas quoted within it (although not the entire text - this is to be in a companion edition released in the future). It's not a book for those who have not indulged in biblical study of textual criticism as a fairly deep knowledge of the area is assumed for readers as well as some understanding of Greek and a small amount of Hebrew.

Overall it was a well-argued monograph which attempted to reconstruct the postulated original Kernel Gospel of Thomas and then describe the later accretions included as a result of events taking place in the world of the early Christians. It's an interesting read for the serious biblical scholar but of little value to a lay person.
Thomas beyond the Second Quest  Apr 4, 2006
Spectacular! A great read for anyone interested in Thomasine Studies. Dr. DeConick discusses previous methodologies and stratifications and offers fresh insights from studies in Orality, Community/Social Memory, and Mysticism. Personally, I am glad to see Thomasine Studies moving beyond the Second Quest and actually engaging the social and historical dynamics of the Gospel of Thomas.
The Rolling Gospel of Thomas  Mar 18, 2006
April DeConick would have us believe that Thomas belongs in the New Testament canon. Defying those who posit a late gnostic gospel and liberals who identify an early source of wisdom sayings, she proposes something new: that the earliest form of Thomas was apocalyptic, and only later, in the face of failed expectations, did the gospel sayings become pressed into a mystical (though not gnostic) service, in an attempt to make the kingdom realized on earth. The complete gospel dates to a time roughly contemporary with John's gospel, "grounding Thomas' theology inside early orthodoxy rather than outside... Thomas represents a current in the stream of Christian traditions that ultimately became Eastern Orthodoxy".

DeConick sees the compositional history of Thomas as a "rolling corpus," based on the original words of Jesus received through oral tradition, with new material added over time to interpret and update the meaning of the sayings. She finds four layers: (1) the kernel gospel (from 30-50 CE) consisting of Jesus' apocalyptic warnings and advice about preparing for fire and judgment, (2) accretions (50-60 CE) dealing with relocation and a leadership crisis, (3) accretions (60-100 CE) accommodating Gentiles and addressing the early eschatological crisis which resulted in a shift to the mystical dimension of apocalyptic thought, and (4) accretions (80-120 CE) addressing new Christological developments and a continued eschatological crisis which resulted in incorporating primordial traditions pointing to paradise regained.

Much of her analysis of the "kernel" is fine on its own right. In these isolated passages Jesus comes across as a prophet of doom and judgment who is casting fire on the earth. For instance, Thom 111 says that the heavens and earth will be rolled up in the presence of believers, just as Jewish apocalyptic portrays the boundary between earth and heaven starting to collapse (the "rolling up of the skies"). Thom 82 is also given a plausible interpretation, identifying Jesus with the fire of the heavenly realm, promising that believers who draw near him will experience a fiery epiphany; in apocalyptic literature fire is often associated with theophanies. And so on.

All fine and well: from wherever these sayings come, they were surely apocalyptic in origin. But that Thomas preserves their original grouping in a collection traceable to 30-50 CE probably amounts to wishful thinking. Many of the sayings of this so-called kernel gospel make just as much sense (if not more) as late reinterpretations of those found in the synoptics. Nowhere is this more evident than in Jesus' pronouncement against the temple: "I will destroy this house and no one will be able to rebuild it" (Thom 71). DeConick says this saying predates 70 CE. But then how did the "wrong" idea -- that the temple would in fact be rebuilt -- ever enter the Christian tradition, necessitating the damage-control in gospels Mark, Matthew, and John? Thom 71 reads like a glaring post-70 revision rather than the original prophesy itself.

But more general: How does one even attempt to stratify a gospel and determine its earliest layer (the "kernel")? She says we can do this in the case of Thomas "because it wasn't rewritten into a narrative or theological discourse like the synoptics and John". This is an argument we've heard repeatedly from those who love this gospel (and the phantom Q): it lacks narrative. Why are narratives precluded from "earliest tradition"?

DeConick's best answer seems to be that this is just the way oral traditions unfold. Brief, conservative, and redundant speeches mark the earliest stage, with questions/answer units coming later as they clarify and update the meaning of these speeches. This, she says (following Vernon Robbins), is the typical pattern seen in orally transmitted "speech" sources. How verifiable this is remains unclear.

I doubt that DeConick has recovered the original gospel of Thomas, much I would love her theory to be true. Like her, I find it impossible that the gospel is based on an early collection of wisdom sayings. Like her, I believe that earliest Christianity was apocalyptic to the core, and if she were right, then Thomas would go a long way to proving this with an apocalyptic kernel traceable to 30-50 CE -- predating even Paul's letters. But I don't have confidence in this method of stratifying the gospel (the rolling corpus model), and I'm eternally suspicious of downward-dating strategies used in dating the gospels (especially this gospel).

At the end of the day, the traditional view of Thomas as a late gnostic document (derived and reinterpreted from various apocalyptic passages in the synoptics and elsewhere) commends itself as the most likely theory, as unexciting as that may be. But despite its failure to convince, the book is important for the way it forces crucial questions about the evolution of oral traditions, and for its proof that sappiential wisdom sayings neither inevitably, nor likely, lie at the core of this gospel.

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