With the momentous events of last night still fresh in our minds, I hope readers will not mind my returning to the question of dating, as we approach the conclusion of this series.
In the most recent post, we looked for corroborating evidence that Matthew and Luke indeed post-dated 70, something that their dependence on a post-70 Mark would of course lead us to expect. In this post, I would like to turn to the Gospels of John and Thomas. Is there knowledge of the destruction of the temple here too? I think that there is, though their greater distance from 70 may be reflected in the fact that there are fewer references now to the destruction of the Temple. In Thomas’s case, this is also no doubt a function of its genre (Sayings Gospel in which narratives about the Temple are of course absent) and theological proclivity (the relative lack of so-called apocalyptic eschatology). Nevertheless, both texts allude to the destruction of the Temple, John in 2.19-20, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days . . . “ and Thomas in logion 71, “I shall destroy this house and no one will be able to rebuild it.”
The more blatant signs, though, of the relative lateness of John and Thomas lie in their attempts at authorial self-representation. Where earlier Gospels like Mark and Matthew are anonymous and avoid attempting to project an authorial presence to lend authority to their work, the author of the Fourth Gospel makes claims to have been present, most notably in 19.35 and of course 21.24, “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and wrote them down (καὶ ὁ γράψας ταῦτα). We know that his testimony is true,” similar in style and literary function to the Incipit of Thomas, “These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down.” In both, the authorial self-representation legitimizes the message of the book in a way absent from the earlier Gospels but found explicitly in later texts like the Apocryphon of James. John’s claim enables the author to establish his Gospel’s authority – he knows that the things he reports are true because he was there. In Thomas, there is a further step: the author was present and, moreover, he was privy not just to the public teaching but also the secret teachings (Incipit, Thomas 13).
There is a trajectory among these early Christian texts, from the absence of authorial self-representation in Mark and Matthew, to hints in Luke and Acts (with the first person found in Luke 1.1-4 as well as in the “we” passages in Acts), to the marked but nevertheless still unnamed authorial presence in John, to the explicit self-representation of Didymos Judas Thomas in its Gospel’s Incipit, a naming that also leads the reader to pay special attention to Thomas 13. The same texts likewise witness to a growing consciousness of predecessor texts, from the πολλοί of Luke’s preface, to the many other books that could fill the world in the last verse of John, to the twelve disciples sitting around writing their books at the Last Supper in the Apocryphon of James.
These observations depend in part on the work of Ismo Dunderberg, “Thomas and the Beloved Disciple” in Risto Uro (ed.), Thomas at the Crossroads: Essays on the Gospel of Thomas (Studies of the New Testament and Its World; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1998), 65-88, especially 80-88, though his use of the term "authorial fiction" (derived from John Kloppenborg) is not ideal. The term “authorial self-representation” is preferable because it characterizes the process more precisely and less prejudicially, and uses terminology familiar in literary criticism.