Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Dating Game VIII: John, Thomas and Authorial Self-Representation

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.


Jim Deardorff said...

I prefer the term "authorial fiction" over "authorial self-representation" since the former indicates that untruth was involved, while the latter need not.

So as a suggested improvement over "authorial self-representation," I would propose "authorial misrepresentation," or if necessary, "authorial self-misrepresentation.

NT scholars are used to authorial misrepresentation every time they read a sentence like, "Luke has inadvertently betrayed his knowledge of Matthew by drifting into the story-line of his source." I.e., the Gospel and its writer are used interchangeably even when the Gospel is deemed not to have been written by its attribution. I appreciate that authorial misrepresentation does not occur in your blog above.

Richard Fellows said...


if you have not already done so, take a look at Nov. Test. 50(2008) 120-142. Here A.D. Baum suggests that the authors of the NT history books followed the OT tradition of anonymity to avoid drawing attention to themselves. Greco-Roman authors, on the other hand, named themselves to add credability to their work. If Baum is right then we should expect that the degree of authorial self-representation should correlate with the degree to which it was aimed at a Gentile Greco-Roman audience. If this is the case, your observations do not show that Matthew was written before Luke, but rather that it's audience was more Jewish than Luke's.

The relatively high degree of self-representation in the works of Josephus does not indicate a late date but could indicate that the intended audience was Gentile.

Frank McCoy said...

Th perhaps is even pre-Markan.
Let us look at the very end of each gospel, i.e., Mk 16:6-8 (But he (i.e., the young man) says to them (i.e., Mary the Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome), “Do not be amazed. You seek Jesus the Nazarene, the one having been crucified. He was raised (egerthe). He is not here. Look, the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He goes before you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” And, having gone out, they fled from the tomb—for trembling and ecstasy seized them. And they told no one nothing—for they were afraid!) and Th 114 (Simon Peter said to them, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.” Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”).
There are at least five major contrasts between these two rather short passages, suggesting that Mk 16:6-8 is a response to Th 114:
(1) While Peter's contention that women are not worthy of the life is condemned in Th 114, it is affirmed in Mk 16:6-8--where the women show their unworthiness by being fraidy cats who tell no one nothing.
(2) While Peter loses face in Th 114 when his position is criticised by Jesus, he gains face in Mk 16:6-8--for the phrase, "tell his disciples and Peter", is based on the premise that, with Jesus now dead, Peter has been promoted from the status of disciple to the status of being the legitimate successor to Jesus as the earthly head of his movement.
(3) In Th 114, Jesus will lead Mary, a woman but, in Mk 16:6-8, Jesus will go before his disciples and Peter, all men
(4) While Mary, in Th 114, will become a living spirit, the implication in Mk 16:16-8 is that Jesus has become a living body--for the young man declares that he is risen and his body is no longer present in the tomb.
(5) While the Kingdom is something to be entered in the here and now in Th 114, it is a future reality in Mk 16:6-8--for the young man's declaration regards how Jesus will be returning to Galilee to inaguerate the Kingdom (see Mark Traditions in conflict (p. 110), where Theodore J. Weeden, Jr. states, "The announcement 'He is not here. See the place where they laid him' states unequivocally that Jesus is no longer present on this earthly plane of existence. At this point one of Hamilton’s insights is right on target: 'In the place of the presence of the risen Jesus, Mark simply and strikingly affirmed his absence.' The importance of the angel’s words for our evangelist could not have been more sharply perceived. Jesus is absent! He is absent not just from the grave. He has completely left the human scene and will not return until the parousia! He has been translated (egerthe) to his Father. There he must await the time when the kingdom dawns in power (9:1) and he is re-united with his community (13:26-27).").

Mike Duncan said...

Hmm. There are serious problems with a pre-Markan Thomas, and a huge one is Mary M. While we're on trajectories, there is a gospel trajectory for Mary M. as well - one that begins with her being absent in Paul's 1 Cor 15, just a member of a three-person party in Mark, and ends with her being the first witness to see Jesus in John. I think her rise to stardom happened somewhat accidentally due to Matthew's overcompensation when trying to 'fix' Mark's ending - what better way to make sure the women report the news than have Jesus show up? - and by John she is an agent in her own right. Thomas 114 makes the most sense in relation to her depiction in John.