Stephen J Patterson’s book The Gospel of Thomas and Jesus provides a very detailed treatment of the critical issues surrounding the Gospel of Thomas (long alluded to in church history but only discovered as part of the Nag Hammadi collection in 1945) as a source document for Christian scholars and students of early church doctrinal development.
The first section of the book provides a comprehensive argument for the independence of the Gospel of Thomas from both the synoptic Gospels as well as John’s Gospel. In this section particularly, Patterson uses very erudite language which only seasoned Christian academics would easily take on board.
However, the section does reach an interesting conclusion, with Patterson refuting the commonly accepted position that the Gospel of Thomas is a worthless second century Gnostic document that just put together a mish-mash of biblical quotes. Instead, Patterson argues that the Gospel of Thomas represents an autonomous tradition about Jesus, confirmatory and complementary of the synoptic and Johanine traditions.
The second part of the book deals with the setting of the Gospel of Thomas, which Patterson portrays as itinerant radicalism in Syria in the second half of the first century. Again, in this section, Patterson’s language and style is levelled at the serious scholar, with many referrals to the nuances of the original language and other scholarly works which have preceded this current work.
Taking the understanding of The Gospel of Thomas from the first two sections, the final chapter concerns the importance of the Gospel of Thomas for the historical Jesus. Patterson maintains that the Gospel of Thomas provides fresh evidence against the apocalyptic portrait of Jesus attributed in the synoptic Gospels, and goes on pose a question as to the fullness of the picture of Jesus we have in the canonical gospels – is there more to this Jesus than we first thought.
If you can get past the highly academic style and language (and the endless footnotes – sometimes more than the actual text), I would recommend this book as a worthwhile read for any student of early Christianity.
Reviewed by Peter Harvey, Frontier Services – Flinders Patrol