In Mark Goodacre’s book, Thomas and the Gospels: The making of an apocryphal text, he proposes a mid-second century date for Thomas. It is true that the whole thrust of his book is an argument for a post-Synoptic date, but this would only push Thomas back to around 100 AD. So where does he get the idea that Thomas is mid second-century? In the conclusion to Chapter 9 he gives his rationale:
“The dating of the Gospel of Thomas to the 140s makes good sense of a book that witnesses to the destruction of the temple (Thom. 71) and apparently presupposes the Bar Kokhba revolt (Thom. 68)…”
So he gives two supports for the date apart from the supposed dependence on the Synoptics. The first justification, that Thomas 71 alludes to the destruction of the second temple, is odd. Even if we were to accept this point (which I personally do not), it only means that Thomas was written after 70 AD, so it is hardly relevant to a date in 140s AD. Effectively then, Goodacre only offers a single reason for his late date, and that is that Thomas 68 refers to the Bar Kokhba revolt which took place in 135 AD. It was after this revolt that the Jews were finally banished from Jerusalem.
Now this is what Thomas 68 actually says:
Jesus said: “Blessed are you when they hate you and persecute you, and they do not find a place in the place where they persecuted you.” (Thomas 68)
To base the dating of the whole gospel on an idiosyncratic interpretation of this enigmatic saying is remarkable. The idea behind this interpretation is that the “place where they persecuted you” means Jerusalem. So those who “do not find a place” in the “place where they persecuted you“, means the Jews who were expelled from Jerusalem after 135 AD. (This argument was first put forward by Hans-Martin Schenke.)
However, there is nothing in Thomas 68 to suggest that it is really about Jerusalem or, indeed, about any single place. It is true that Christians were persecuted in Jerusalem, but then they were also persecuted in every other city in the Roman Empire. If we were to regard the saying as a coherent whole, then we would have to take it as being generic, applying to all Christians wherever they may be. Certainly, the first part of the saying, “Blessed are you when they hate you …“, is universal, and not intended to apply only to Christians living in Jerusalem.
Goodacre, though, does not treat the saying as a coherent whole. He splits it into two, assuming that the first part is taken from the Synoptics and the second half added as an interpretative comment on the first part. This allows him to conclude that the second part must relate to Bar Kokhba.
Mark Goodacre does here what he does throughout his book. He always assumes that the Gospel of Thomas must be wrong. Never once does he make an attempt to understand the Gospel on its own terms. He always takes the Synoptic version of a saying as being original and then critiques Thomas on the basis of the Synoptic interpretation. He never considers that perhaps Thomas is first and that the Synoptics have misunderstood Thomas.
In the next post, I will consider Thomas 68 in relation to the Gospel as a whole. We will see that there is a spiritual interpretation of this saying that makes perfect sense and which has nothing to do with Bar Kokhba!