Dating the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Thomas

Jordan has asked me in the comments to address the dating issues for the Gospel of Mary, and also to speak to the point that Pagel's raises regarding John's dependence on the Gospel of Thomas.

The Gospel of Mary is a distinctively Valentinian text. This has not been addressed by many commentators, but the fact is if you know the Valentinian traditions, it is evident that this gospel is part of that exegetical strand of early Christianity. It is particularly interested in the concept of "grace" that is granted when the Son of Man descends, and how humans are redeemed and ascend through the various realms in order to return to the upper aeons. It is heavily liturgical, and appears to me to contain a eucharist homily. I am going to be writing about this at some length in the paper I am preparing for the Talpiot conference and volume. At any rate, this means that the text cannot date before 130 CE - Valentinus himself did not begin teaching until about 120 CE. I would actually date the text in the mid-second century.

As for the dependence of the Gospel of John on the Gospel of Thomas, this is something that I have written about at length in The Voices of the Mystics. It was published a couple of years prior to Pagels' popular book Beyond Belief. Pagels actually reviewed Voices in a SBL session the year Voices was published.

What I argue is that the "faith" mysticism in the Gospel of John is responding to a form of vision and ascent mysticism that the Gospel of Thomas has preserved. I don't think that the Johannine author necessarily had a copy of the Gospel of Thomas. But he was aware of mystical traditions that are associated with the disciple Judas Thomas, and he disapproves of them. What John argues is that God has come to earth so that we don't have to journey to heaven to see him and be transformed as the mystics in Syria were claiming. Rather, after Jesus' death, God becomes accessible to us through the Paraclete, God's spirit which is sent in Jesus' absence. This spirit is attained through baptism and eucharist, and through it we experience God immediately and directly.

So I understand the traditions to be engaged in discourse, a discourse which becomes part of the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of John. Thomas is a text that comes to completion around 120. The Gospel of John has to be finished by 100 since the Valentinians are heavily engaged with it already in the early second century. My point is that it is not that one text is dependent on the other, but that both were coming into existence around the same time, and the traditions had been in conversation for some time before the composition of either text was complete. I think that we have to begin to become more nuanced in our discussions of dependence and texts, which is why I wrote chapter one of Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas. I try to lay out a new methodology to get us beyond all the either/or categories that have stunted our past discussions. I recommend that chapter even if you are not interested in the Gospel of Thomas.

New book on the Gospel of Mary

While at SBL I ran across a new commentary on the Gospel of Mary by Chris Tuckett. It is part of a new series on the other gospels called Oxford Early Christian Gospel Texts. This is a must-have book for people studying the Gospel of Mary because it contains critical rereadings of all the manuscripts and has terrific facsimiles of the manuscript pages. I haven't read Tuckett's treatment yet, so I can't comment on his take yet. Here is the catalogue blurb about it:
This volume, the first in a major new series which will provide authoritative texts of key non-canonical gospel writings, comprises a critical edition, with full translations, of all the extant manuscripts of the Gospel of Mary. In addition, an extended Introduction discusses the key issues involved in the interpretation of the text, as well as locating it in its proper historical context, while a Commentary explicates points of detail. The gospel has been important in many recent discussions of non-canonical gospels, of early Christian Gnosticism, and of discussions of the figure of Mary Magdalene. The present volume will provide a valuable resource for all future discussions of this important early Christian text.

Unearthed Texts Seminar in San Antonio

Yesterday, James Tabor posted on The Jesus Dynasty a teaser for the upcoming Biblical Archaeology Society Seminar in San Antonio, October 19 and 20. He and I have created a new seminar about newly found manuscripts and what they have to say about early Christianity. The BAR webpage with all the details about hotel, lectures, schedule, etc. is here. The city itself has so much to offer, besides the great wisdom of the lecturers (smile!).

I'm going to be addressing second century Christianity over these two days with a general lecture on the usefulness of the apocrypha, second century Christianity and its variety of expressions, Sethian Gnosis and our most recently discovered manuscript the Gospel of Judas, and Valentinian Gnosis and found manuscripts of the Gospel of Mary.

James Tabor describes on his blog the wonderful array of topics he will be addressing.

All and all it looks like it will be a great time. Hope to see some of you there!