Non-Roman fonts used: SPIonic

Nicholas Perrin, Thomas and Tatian: The Relationship between the Gospel of Thomas and the Diatessaron. Academia Biblica, 5. Society of Biblical Literature, 2002. Pp. xii + 199. ISBN 1-58983-045-8. US $29.95.

1. The purpose of this book is to demonstrate that (in the author's own words):

GT [the Gospel of Thomas] is neither independent of nor directly dependent on the Greek synoptic Gospels. . . . If Thomas was influenced by Matthew, Mark, Luke (and John), it is only insofar as the latter are mediated through the first Syriac Gospel record: Tatian's Diatessaron (p. 15).
In order to make this demonstration, Perrin first of all gathers evidence that GT was initially written in Syriac.1 He does so in two stages. In chapter one he summarises the status quaestionis, arguing in addition for a late-second century dating for GT and accepting the case that the Diatessaron was originally composed in Syriac. This further requires a re-assessment of the date of the Greek fragments of GT. These were placed by the Oxyrhynchus editors in 200. Perrin seems to accept the proposed date very literally. If we allow the fair proviso of +/- 25 years, there would be no difficulty in finding the necessary time for dissemination and translation.

2. In the second chapter, Perrin sets out his own evidence for a Syriac original of GT, which he calls "The Evidence of Catchwords." This, the bulk of the book (120 out of 200 pages), consists mainly of a table of 100 pages, setting out in three columns catchwords as they appear in the Coptic and may be reconstructed in Greek and Syriac. There is an English column on the left, with the catchwords marked. The whole is pretty thoroughly footnoted. The point of the exercise is to demonstrate that GT is an organically conceived whole, knit together by catchwords, which are far more common in the Syriac than in either of the other two columns: 502 examples, against 269 in the Coptic and 263 in the Greek. This evidence, he goes on to argue, is more than quantitative. A work of such a character best fits a Syriac milieu, where the use of puns and catchwords is a striking feature; he takes the examples of Ephrem and the Odes of Solomon, even finding some examples shared between GT and the Odes.

3. In the final major chapter, Perrin argues that a work of this nature cannot be, as so much study of GT has assumed, a compilation of oral traditions, but must have been drawn from written sources. He suggests that the Diatessaron was "one of these sources" (p. 183). The evidence for this is of two kinds: variants shared by GT and the Diatessaron against the Greek MSS of the Gospels (discussed in Chapter 1) and sequences of sayings. There is a brief concluding chapter on new directions in the study of GT.

4. Given the considerable, one might say remarkable, significance accorded to GT in some quarters, such a theory may be alarming, almost demanding too great a readjustment for an immediate response to be easy. For those who have remained more skeptical about extreme claims for the text's age and significance, it is going to be simply a question of deciding whether the specific arguments set out here are cogent. In a sense, the title of the book pushes it a stage too far. It is much more an argument for a late second century Syriac context for the text's composition, with evidence demonstrating it to be more like a literary creation than a collection of oral traditions, than a case showing GT's dependence on Tatian. The relationship between GT and the Diatessaron is certainly not easy to explore, given the fact that the one survives in Coptic and the other only indirectly. Since this is a text-critical journal, the remainder of this review will concentrate on the textual evidence adduced.

5. But first there is one general point to be made about the proposal that GT used the Diatessaron. It strikes me as very strange that, if the author was working from a harmony, he produced a text with no discernible Johannine source material. Since, if this was the form of Gospel narrative known to him, he would have had no criteria for discerning Johannine material, this result would have to be an incredible coincidence.

6. I begin with Chapter 3, "Thomas and his Sources," picking out those places where the presence of a Diatessaric reading in Thomas is claimed by Perrin. He suggests that the phrase "and walk about in the districts" in GT 14.4 is an addition, providing a catchphrase penayim to link with panni in the previous logion (13.7). The rest of GT 14.4 "relied upon the Diatessaron's rendering of Luke 10" (p. 178). There is no evidence provided to support the claim by showing how Tatian's text here may be reconstructed, so it is rather hard to evaluate it. Moreover, one would require a justification for the alternative explanation, that the logion was based directly on a version of Luke 10.8. This is the only data of this kind provided in this chapter. For the rest, Perrin is content to rest upon the work of others. His own suggestions are limited to comments on places where Thomas has the same ordering of material as Tatian. This is rather confusingly introduced with the statement that "at some points Thomas does indeed follow the order of the canonical and Diatessaronic tradition" (p. 185). But there is a problem: where examples he adduces--such as Matt 5.14b and Matt 5.15--consist of contiguous material within a given Gospel, it is hard to see why anybody should want to claim that this is evidence for having followed a harmony. The passage on which Perrin lays most stress is GT 44-45. Here we have also a statement of methodology in reconstructing the Diatessaron:

In what follows I follow Petersen's judgment (Diatessaron, 357-425) that only when a variant is supported by both eastern (EC, TA, TP, OS) and western (TLat, TOHG, TNe, TV, TME) texts, and cannot be explained by an outside source, should it be claimed as a Diatessaronic reading (p. 187, n. 31).

7. The starting point of the argument is the opinion of S. J. Patterson in The Gospel of Thomas and Jesus that GT 44 and 45 are unlikely to have been extracted from the Synoptists because GT 44 parallels Matthew 12.31-32 "and not, as one might expect from GT 45, Luke's wording" (Perrin, p. 186). The argument is not an obvious one, to me at any rate, and is not a good point of entry to the further discussion, which draws attention to the mixture of Matthaean and Lukan features in GT 45. Clarity is not enhanced by an erroneous reference (p. 187, line 2: for Luke 6:43 read 6:44). The gist of Perrin's argument is that there are some features in GT 44 that derive from Matthew and some that come from Luke:

Lukanorder is Luke 6.44[b] (=Mt 7.16) - 6.45 (= Mt 12.35 + 34b)
statement not question in first part of saying
includes "in his heart"
Matthaeanpairs grapes with thorns and figs with thistles2
refers to "evil things," whereas Luke has the singular

8. Perrin's conclusion is that GT derives these features from the Diatessaron. The fusion of Matthew and Luke at this point has long been regarded as a marked Diatessaric reading; Baumstark drew attention to it in his work on the Manichean Kephalaia.3 But for Perrin's purposes, it is necessary to demonstrate agreement in the precise features for which he is looking. He believes that "the two texts exhibit precisely the same harmonization of synoptic readings" (p. 187). By making this statement, he tacitly takes on the other, unspoken requirement, that the Diatessaron contains no features that are absent from GT and might therefore cast doubt on the relationship. The features that the two texts share are:

Matthaeanstatement not question (all witnesses except the Liège Harmony)
pairs grapes with thorns and figs with thistles (all witnesses except the Arabic Harmony)
includes "in his heart" (the reader is referred to Petersen, Tatian's Diatessaron, p. 228, for details of this Diatessaric reading, and there is no discussion of the evidence).

9. Curiously enough, there is no discussion of two of the five features indicating a mixture of Matthaean and Lukan influence, one of which is the point that might be the easiest to establish, the Lukan order. Here we begin to find a few difficulties. The passage does not appear in Ephrem's commentary, and the Persian Harmony contains only the material found in Matthew 12.33ff. The Arabic follows the order Luke 6.44 - Matthew 7.17f - Luke 6.45. We thus already find a dearth of Eastern witnesses to fulfil the Petersen criterion, accepted by Perrin.

10. With regard to the claim that "in his heart" is Lukan rather than Matthaean, two observations are in order (the reference is to the second clause, regarding the evil man). The first is that the entire phrase qhsaurou= th=j kardi/aj au)tou= is far from secure in the Lukan textual tradition. The second is that a number of manuscripts include th=j kardi/aj au)tou= at Matthew 12.35. It is therefore evident that this feature cannot be claimed as undoubtedly derived from Luke. It might as well be Matthaean, and two minutes with the apparatus is all that it takes to establish the fact.

11. Without spending an inordinate amount of time going through this in the manner in which Diatessaron scholars are so skilled, I venture to suggest that the case is simply not compelling enough in its positive element, too weak at eliminating alternative textual arguments, and deficient in seeking out differences between GT and the Diatessaric witnesses to convince.

12. The other textual evidence discussed is in chapter one and consists of reporting on the evidence of other scholars. To assess their arguments would be to turn this piece from a review into a reassessment of the entire topic, in all its difficulties. Without pronouncing on the cumulative strength of the case for Diatessaric readings in GT, let me keep to my intention of assessing Perrin's text-critical arguments. Generally speaking, the bibliography is noticeably thinner in textual and in palaeographical matters than in other parts of the book. There is no examination of the dating of the Oxyrhynchus fragments, even though the easy acceptance of Grenfell and Hunt is censured. For information on the Old Syriac manuscripts we are referred to the general survey by Metzger, The Early Versions of the New Testament, and in this section of Perrin we find several strange observations. "In the years following the discovery of the two manuscripts Syrus Sinaiticus (S) and Syrus Curetonianus" (p. 19) implies that they were found either at the same or at least at almost the same time. In fact, Cureton's discovery is the older by thirty-six years. A sentence on the following page is extremely hard to unravel: "The numerous harmonizations within the OS and the Alexandrian quality of the text (supporting a second-century date) seem to indicate that the OS was composed later than the Diatessaron and is probably dependent upon it as well." It is almost impossible to separate out the misunderstandings here, but among them is the view that harmonisations per se are evidence of Diatessaric influence (let alone a later composition than the Diatessaron) (the presence of Vogels, Die altsyrische Evangelien, in note 3 on the same page is perhaps a pointer towards the age of the misunderstanding, although Die Harmonistik im Evangelientext des Codex Cantabrigiensis is not cited). What is meant by "the Alexandrian quality of the text" is not clear, but the idea that this supports a second-century date is of course a non-sequitur. In any case, even if the "Alexandrian quality" did support a second century date, it would not thereby indicate either a later date than the Diatessaron or dependence upon it. Finally on this topic (page 20, n. 3), Burkitt is claimed as support for the competing views regarding the derivation of the Old Syriac from the Diatessaron or vice versa, and not for his final view that the Old Syriac was produced by an independent translator who had some knowledge of Tatian's work.

13. The speed with which texts could be disseminated is documented (p. 28) with a reference to Roberts' Manuscript, Society, and Belief in Early Christian Egypt (Roberts 1979) but not to other important studies (including Epp's thorough examination, Epp 1991). The bibliography on Semitism in Greek simply cites Moule's Idiom Book, while Cullmann is cited as an authority on the relationship between Syrian and Western Aramaic. On page 43, it is suggested that the scribe of the Sinaitic Syriac "thought he heard za'er . . . instead of zar'e." What presuppositions about manuscript production are implied here? It is odd to read that "Quispel's discovery of the many variants common to GT and the Diatessaron stands as an important datum in the field of textual criticism, the significance of which is yet to be fully explored" (p. 33). It has to be said that there are circles in which the discussion has been extensively aired and that the situation is perhaps not as cut-and-dried as this statement suggests.

14. I trust that these comments will not seem too harsh. The reason I offer them is that whereas much of the book is so very fully footnoted and so aware of the arguments, the areas that deal with textual and bibliographical matters are not. The willingness of the book to engage with such issues is to be enthusiastically commended. Its success in doing so is disappointing.

15. I turn finally to a matter on which Perrin cannot by any stretch of the imagination be criticised, but to which readers of the book must be directed. The reconstruction of the order and text of the Diatessaron has for several generations now made use of the Western medieval vernacular harmonies, on the basis that they are independent witnesses. In a recent article, U. B. Schmid argues that far from being independent, they are all derivative of the Latin harmony tradition, itself dependent solely on Codex Fuldensis (Schmid 2003). At a sweep, therefore, the entire Western tradition is reduced to a single witness. This is a matter to which scholars will need to turn their attention rather urgently. In the meanwhile, users should be aware that the matter is under fresh consideration.

© TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 2003.


1He notes that the Dura fragment may be a realisation of a subsequent Greek translation of the Diatessaron. The degree of doubt is justified. See Parker, Taylor, and Goodacre 1999.

2Perrin refers to Luke's pairing as "figs and thornbushes, grapes and thistles" (p. 187f). Of course Luke's second pair is e)k ba/tou stafulh/n. Nor does he mention that GT is Matthaean in preferring the plural for both halves of the observation.

3See Petersen 1994: 226ff.


Epp, Eldon J. 1991. "New Testament Papyrus Manuscripts and Letter Carrying in Greco-Roman Times." In The Future of Early Christianity: Essays in Honor of Helmut Koester, ed. Birger A. Pearson, A. Thomas Kraabel, George W. E. Nickelsburg, and Norman R. Petersen, 35-56. Minneapolis: Fortress.

Parker, D. C.; Taylor, D. G. K.; and Goodacre, M. S. 1999. "The Dura-Europos Gospel Harmony." In Studies in the Early Text of the Gospels and Acts: The Papers of the First Birmingham Colloquium on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, ed. D. G. K. Taylor, 192-228. Texts and Studies, Third Series, 1. Birmingham: University of Birmingham Press.

Petersen, William L. 1994. Tatian's Diatessaron: Its Creation, Dissemination, Significance, and History in Scholarship. Leiden: Brill.

Roberts, Colin H. 1979. Manuscript, Society, and Belief in Early Christian Egypt. London/New York: Oxford University Press, for the British Academy.

Schmid, Ulrich B. 2003. "In Search of Tatian's Diatessaron in the West." VigChr 57: 176-199.

D.C. Parker
Centre for the Editing of Texts in Religion
The University of Birmingham