Thursday, May 10, 2007

Kernel Thomas

On her ever stimulating Forbidden Gospels blog, April DeConick reflects briefly on a key element in her research on the Gospel of Thomas, asking What is the Kernel Thomas?. It is a post that reminds me of some interesting discussion we had on DeConick's work in our graduate course on the Gospel of Thomas here at Duke this semester. Here is the summary from the current post:
The Kernel Thomas is a name that I use to indicate the earliest material in the Gospel of Thomas. I suggest that this early material was an early collection of sayings in a speech format and that it was used by the Thomasine Christians as a storage cite [sic] for Jesus' sayings. Preachers and teachers used it as a platform for their orations.
One of the questions that this raises for me is: In what way is "Kernel Thomas" appropriately labelled Kernel Thomas? In other words, what is it about this hypothetical collection of sayings that makes it Thomasine? The character Thomas appears in the Incipit and Logion 13, but both of these are among DeConick's accretions. Looking at the character of the accretions, it is also clear that Kernel Thomas is a different kind of entity from the Gospel of Thomas, which focuses the question further. How do we know that the author or community producing the Gospel of Thomas was directly continuous with the author or community who used Kernel Thomas as their storage site for Jesus' sayings? Could it be that the Gospel of Thomas author or community had no direct relationship with the author or community behind Kernel Thomas? Is Kernel Thomas the core of the Gospel of Thomas in the same way that the Gospel of Mark is the core of the Gospel of Matthew? Or to put it another way, would we be content with thinking of the Gospel of Mark as "Kernel Matthew"? (These are intended as open, exploratory questions and not as rhetorical questions).


Stephen C. Carlson said...

Interesting observation, Mark.

If there's no Thomas in the Kernel Thomas, then the (hypothetical) text is being named after, not what it was, but what it was going to become. So the name is an anachronism.

Michael Pahl said...

This is the same sort of observation I made in my review of Paul Anderson's "interfluentiality" at the regional SBL meeting. In speaking about pre-Gospel tradition, in what meaningful sense can we speak of distinct Markan, [Q], Lukan, Matthean, Johannine, Thomasine streams of pre-Gospel oral tradition? This is not to deny the distinctive traditions and interpretations among these Gospels as Gospels, and perhaps even distinctives in traditions and interpretations among tradents and communities prior to and contemporaneous with these Gospels. But I thought exactly of what you bring up related to Mark and Matthew: Mark is part of the "Matthean tradition." This then has real significance in looking for any "Matthean Christianity": we cannot simply look at the M material to see what is "Matthean," since most of Mark is brought into Matthew, including both traditions and interpretations of/stance toward those traditions. But this is going in a little different direction than your post, I think, and Thomas brings a set of different questions to the table as well.

April DeConick said...

Mark, Stephen, and Michael,

These are fascinating questions you raise. My use was only done in practical terms to indicate "the" something earlier that became the Gospel of Thomas.

It was not and is not meant by me to be indicative of a particular community of Christianity associated with some gospel or another. I actually have come to detest the idea of "Matthean Christianity" and "Markan Christianity" and "Thomasine Christianity" in the sense that their gospels mark a peculiar church or some such thing. Thomasine Christianity-Christians were familiar with the Gospel of Thomas, but they also were familiar with other gospels and literature I am sure. So I use it very broadly to indicate the type of Christianity that was prevalent in Edessa in the late first and early second centuries.

The theology of the complete Gospel of Thomas corresponds with the Edessian literature. This would be what I would label "Thomasine." The Kernel, however, is not Edessian. It is Jerusalemite (did I just make up a word?).