Is P.Oxy. 5575 the Only Manuscript that Mixes Synoptic Material with the Gospel of Thomas?

Further Reflections on the New ‘Gospel’ Fragment from Oxyrhynchus

Michael J. Kruger

Posted on

January 8, 2024

Back in September of 2023, I published an article on the newly discovered “gospel” manuscript from Oxyrhynchus: “New ‘Gospel’ Manuscript Discovered? (What it Is and Why it Matters).”

That manuscript, labelled P.Oxy. 5575, is a small papyrus manuscript dated to the second-century that exhibits a most notable feature, namely that it apparently contains a conglomeration of material from Matthew (6:25-26, 28-33) and Luke (12:22, 24, 27-31), and this Matt/Luke material is laid alongside portions from the Gospel of Thomas (27, 36, 63).

Indeed, it is this feature that has generated all the online buzz. Why? Because this is purportedly the only known manuscript that mixes Synoptic material with material from the Gospel of Thomas. And this raises curious questions about the state of Jesus tradition in the second-century, and whether the Gospel of Thomas was perhaps more commonly utilized than we might have thought.

In my original article, I provided a slight push-back against the supposed uniqueness of this mixing of Thomas material with Synoptic material. For one, a number of apocryphal gospels during this time period were already mixing canonical and non-canonical material together—e.g., P.Egerton 2, Gospel of Peter, P.Oxy. 840. So, generally speaking, mixing Synoptic material with “apocryphal” material is nothing new.

Even more to the point, the Gospel of Thomas itself actually exhibits such canonical-apocryphal mixing. It is important to realize that Thomas does not consist of all unique material, heretofore unheard of.  Instead, it seems that Thomas is dependent on the Synoptic Gospels and mixes that Synoptic content with its own distinctive apocryphal content.

But, is that all that can be said about the mixing of Synoptic material and Thomas material? Actually, I think there is an additional manuscript that might shed some light on this phenomenon.

P.Gen. 4.151 (see inset photo) is a little-known parchment manuscript containing what appears to be an apocryphal Christian story. This tiny manuscript, dated to the sixth century, contains only eight brief lines of text on each side.

While the limited extant text makes it difficult to identify it with certainty, it appears to tell a story about a person being invited by the King to some sort of gathering (maybe a banquet?), but that he is unable to come because he seems to be held back by his wealth (the text refers to his χρυσᾶ or “gold/money”).

The original editors argue that this story might be an echo of the Parable of the Feast in Matt 22:1-14, Luke 14:12-24, and Gos. Thom. 64. In other words, it might be a mix of material from the Gospel of Thomas and Matt/Luke.

A few observations:

  • Thomas’s version of the parable mentions that one of those invited used their “money” (ϩⲟⲙⲛⲧ) as an excuse for not coming, whereas the Synoptic versions do not.
  • Matthew’s indicates that the person giving the banquet was a “King” whereas Luke and Thomas’s version do not.
  • Both Luke and Thomas have the recipients of the invitation making their excuses in the first person (“I have bought a field”), whereas Matthew does not.

 

These factors at least raise the possibility that P.Gen. 4.151 might preserve the remnants of a story that mixes Matthew, Luke, and the Gospel of Thomas in some fashion. But, again, the remains are so fragmentary that no certain conclusions can be reached.

One more note that makes this possible connection particularly intriguing. Both P.Oxy. 5575 and P.Gen. 4.151 are miniature codices. This is a topic I have written about elsewhere (and I am currently wrapping up a full-length volume on miniature codices). For our purposes here, we can simply observe that such tiny books seem particularly inclined to contain apocryphal/non-canonical literature.

If P.Gen. 4.151 does prove to be a mix of Thomas and Synoptic material (and there’s no way to know at this point), then it would be additional evidence that perhaps Thomas, or the material in Thomas, was more widely used than we might have thought.

For more on this fragment, see the editio princeps: Sarah Gaffino Möri, et al., eds., Les Papyrus de Genève, Volume 4: Textes littéraires, semi-littéraires et documentaires (Genève: Bibliothèque de Genève, 2010), 30-33 (no. 151).

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