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2. Thomas and Philosophy: A History of Research
While Thomas has never ceased to attract scholarly attention, and the academic publications on
this early Christian text number in the thousands, there are very few studies related to the topic of
Thomas and philosophy. This being the case, the following survey of research will be relatively short.
Four schools of ancient philosophy have been taken into account by the scholars of Thomas:
Pythagoreanism, Cynicism, Stoicism, and Platonism. The affinities between Thomas and
Pythagoreanism are outlined by John S. Kloppenborg in 1987. According to him, Thomas requires a
type of hermeneutic similar to that of the Pythagorean σύμβολα and ἀκούσματα (see Diogenes
Laertius, Vit. philos. 8.17; Porphyry, Vit. Pyth. 42). The Pythagorean sayings, as Kloppenborg points
out, “were formulated in a deliberately obscure fashion in order to prevent outsiders from
understanding”;85 just like the Thomasine sayings, they “require interpretation in order to become
That Thomas demands the same sort of hermeneutic is evident from its incipit: “Whoever finds
the meaning (ıĩŃĹįĻĩijġ) of these words will not taste death.” The refrain “Whoever has ears to hear
should hear” (sayings 8, 21, 24, 63, and 65) repeatedly reminds the reader of the importance of
interpretation. Kloppenborg describes the hermeneutical procedure presupposed by the Thomasine
and Pythagorean sayings as a process of “sapiential research.”87 While Kloppenborg’s insights into
the intended use of Thomas as sayings collection are certainly of great value, it is worth noting that
the parallels he draws between the Thomasine and Pythagorean sayings are meant to expose their
typological similarity and are not to be regarded as evidence of the Pythagorean influence on Thomas.
A case for affinities between Cynicism and Thomas 36 and 78 was presented by Stephen J.
Patterson in 1993. Patterson understands saying 36 as an advice to the itinerant beggars “not to give
much thought to dressing fashionably.”88 Consequently, he argues, this saying contains “common
secular wisdom promoting a position familiar especially in Cynic circles,” supporting this thesis with
references to the Cynic epistles (Pseudo-Diogenes, Ep. 7 and 32; Pseudo-Crates, Ep. 9 and 30) and
Seneca’s testimony for Demetrius (Ep. 20.9).89
Patterson detects similar affinities with Cynicism in saying 78, wherein Jesus contests the
conventional wisdom that clothes make the man: “Why did you go out to the countryside? To see a
reed shaken by the wind, and to see a man dressed in soft clothing [like your] kings and your persons
of rank? They are the ones dressed in soft clothing and they will not be able to recognize the truth.”
Patterson believes that this saying has “a sharp political edge”90 and “reminds one of the sort of witty
criticism of kingship heard among Cynics of the period, which tended to earn them the ire of the
emperor and periodic expulsion from Rome”;91 the parallel passages listed by Patterson include
Pseudo-Crates, Ep. 23, and testimonies for Socrates (Diogenes Laertius, Vit. philos. 2.25), Diogenes
(Epictetus, Diss. 1.24.7), Demonax (Lucian, Demon. 41), and Peregrinus (Lucian, Peregr. 18).
It is fairly obvious, however, that the affinities between Thomas and Cynicism detected by
Patterson are rather isolated and hardly warrant speculation about the Cynic influence on Thomas.
Kloppenborg 1987, 304–5.
Kloppenborg 1987, 301.
See Kloppenborg 1987, 305; cf. Kloppenborg 2014, 230.
Patterson 1993, 139.
Patterson 1993, 76.
Patterson 1993, 150.
Patterson 1993, 237.