Sunday, 3 May 2015

Reidar Aasgaard: How to Write a Commentary Book without a Text to Comment on? The Infancy Gospel of Thomas as an Example

An international publisher has commissioned me to write a commentary on the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (IGT). Considering the material IGT consists of, writing such a commentary poses special challenges. First, there is a problem with the text. As scholars on the Bible or early Christianity we usually deal with reasonably well established texts. But what are we to do when there is – as in the case of IGT – no such text, i.e. when the preserved manuscripts differ greatly and make it virtually impossible to get at something like an original? And what if these variants reflect oral tradition rather than material primarily transmitted in written form? Should the commentary e.g. focus on a (highly hypothetical) reconstruction of this 2nd century story, on texts preserved in Syriac and Latin (4th–6th century), or on central Greek manuscripts (11th–14th century)?
Second, we are confronted with a number of challenges as regards method. What kind of equipment from the scholar’s toolbox am I to use? Should the material primarily be dealt with from a historical-critical point of view? A social-scientific? A literary-narrative? Or a combination? But what perspective is, or perspectives are, the most viable for a story like IGT?
The presentation will take its point of departure in my previous work on IGT, and I shall reflect on the problems and potentials of commentary writing on the story. Since several other early Christian sources share the same features, the reflections may also be useful for scholars faced with similar challenges.

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