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Resurrection Reconsidered: Thomas and John in Controversy

Resurrection Reconsidered: Thomas and John in Controversy


Resurrection Reconsidered is an eye-opening exposition of the various views of resurrection among early Christians that centers on the protracted debate within early Christian circles concerning a foundational aspect of the Gospel of Thomas and its related literature: the concept of the body and resurrection. It traces the background of this idea in the Semitic and Greco-Roman world, and its expression in the Thomas literature as a whole: the Gospel of Thomas, the Book of Thomas, and the Acts of Thomas. But the inspiration for the study, and its main focus, is the controversy between the two closely related Christian communities of Thomas and John, between the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of John on the issue of resurrection, which is expressed in John most clearly in the story of Doubting Thomas.


 vii  Acknowledgments

viii Abbreviations

  1 Introduction

Chapter One
  7 Afterlife and Resurrection in the Ancient Mediterranean World
The Background of the Thomas Tradition

Chapter Two
 69 Thomas and the Appearance Stories in John

Chapter Three
100 The Pericope of Doubting Thomas
John 20:24-29

Chapter Four
127 The Body and Resurrection in the Thomas Tradition
The Gospel of Thomas

157 Chapter Five
The Body and Resurrection in the Thomas Tradition
The Book of Thomas and the Acts of Thomas

176 Summary and Conclusions

181 Bibliography

209 Index of Biblical References

219 Index of Modern Authors


I think those biblical scholars serve us best who cause us, like an unpredictable old Zen master, to view familiar things in a different way. Gregory J. Riley does the trick pretty well in Resurrection Reconsidered. He tries to demonstrate the dialogical relationship of the gospels of John and Thomas, reflecting the disputations of the communities supposed to have produced the two documents. The book is wonderful example of the great utility of those gospels and revelations banned by fourth-century inquisitors and hidden away by desert monks to await rediscovery in 1945 in Chenoboskion, Egypt.

Robert M. Price, author of Deconstructing Jesus, The Empty Tomb, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, Paperback Apocalypse, and The Reason Driven Life;Professor of Biblical Criticism; Member of the Jesus Seminar, the Paul Seminar, the Canon Seminar; Editor of the Journal of Higher Criticism

“Gregory Riley’s reconsideration of the concepts of resurrection and afterlife in the Greco-Roman world is brilliant and convincing. This will become a standard for all future discussion of the resurrection of Jesus in early Christian sources. On the basis of these new insights, the debates between the communities of John and Thomas become a fascinating study in the early controversies of the followers of Jesus. The author’s comprehensive knowledge of texts from the ancient world, his admirable exegetical skills, and his philological expertise in dealing with Coptic-Gnostic writings lead to results that few others are able to achieve.”

– Helmut Koester; The Divinity School, Harvard University

“This book is sharply focused, patiently argued, and strongly supported by extensive documentation and an exhaustive bibliography. Against the background of scholarly preoccupation with the relationship of the Gospel of Thomas to the Synoptic gospels, it creates the occasion for fresh debate on the relationship of Thomas to John.”

– Jack Dean Kingsbury; Union Theological Seminary in Virginia

“In this important work Gregory Riley sheds new light on the Gospels of John and Thomas, and their interrelationships, and carries the study of ‘Thomas Christianity’ forward to include other ancient Thomas texts. Riley’s mastery of the ancient sources is truly impressive, as is his insightful and untrammeled exegesis of well-known texts. His book is an original and exciting piece of scholarship.”

– Birger A. Pearson, University of California, Santa Barbara

“This book contains erudite material stated in straightforward terms. Contra William Lane Craig’s published contention that the concept of resurrection in first century CE Palestine entailed physicality, Professor Riley demonstrates in no uncertain terms that the cultural milieu was thoroughly Hellenized and that original Christianity was closer to believing spiritual resurrection of the soul than fleshly resurrection. The author carefully traces the pre-Christian spiritual concepts of resurrection and their impact upon canonical and noncanonical literature. Highly recommended.”

– Barry Rucker