Thomas and Tatian: The relationship between the "Gospel of Thomas" and the "Diatessaron"

Nicholas Perrin, Marquette University


Since the 1946 discovery of the Coptic Gospel of Thomas , the relationship between the sayings found in this collection (almost all of them attributed to Jesus) and the synoptic gospels has been disputed. Some have affirmed that the sayings in the Coptic texts reflect a line of transmission independent of the synoptic tradition. Others have contended that Thomas shows a reworking of the Greek synoptic gospels. In my study I propose a third possibility: namely, that the Gospel of Thomas was dependent on a second-century Syriac gospel harmony known to us as Tatian's Diatessaron (written 170-175 CE). I begin with a reexamination of the gospel's original language of composition. While most scholars have held that the collection was first written in Greek, and others have proposed Coptic, I align myself with those who have argued for a Syriac hyparchtype. Through my linguistic analysis of Thomas, I identify 502 catchwords (words that can be linked semantically, phonologically, or etymologically) in a hypothetical Syriac reconstruction of the text--almost double the number found in a Greek reconstruction or in the Coptic. Many of these (Syriac) verbal connections are realized through puns involving the interplay of word-sounds and meanings, a technique typical not only of early Syriac literature, but also of certain texts dealing with esoteric revelation Some of these Syriac puns are even paralleled in another Syriac text of the same period, the Odes of Solomon . From the linguistic analysis it can further be inferred that the Gospel of Thomas was composed by an author who appropriated and modified the canonical tradition in order to create catchwords. While the elaborate aligning and reworking of sources suggests written rather than oral sources behind Thomas , more telling is the fact that the sayings collections, at points, follows the sequence of the Diatessaro n. Given these considerations, I conclude that the author of Thomas knew and used the Diatessaron .

Recommended Citation

Nicholas Perrin, "Thomas and Tatian: The relationship between the "Gospel of Thomas" and the "Diatessaron"" (January 1, 2001). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. Paper AAI3049939.