When I sat down with Dr. Ruben Dupertuis to edit the syllabus before the start of the semester we made the decision to introduce the Gospels of John and Thomas in the same session. In part, this has to do with how we've worked through the Synoptic Gospels with the students. It's been a few weeks of parallel readings, a.k.a., the Synoptic Problem, done in order to cultivate a close reading of these texts. Remember, most of the students in our class are not religion majors. This is a liberal arts course being taken by students from a variety of backgrounds and interests, some having never read the New Testament ever before this class. So, it is important for our students to see the uniqueness of each gospel through its interrelations to other gospels.
In order to continue that approach, when it came time to talk about the Gospel of John we paired it with that of Thomas. Whatever one may think of Elaine Pagels thesis (this lecture, Beyond Belief, articulates her views well) regarding the relationship between the communities that composed these gospels, her work juxtaposing these two has made each more interesting in my opinion.* Whether there is a dynamic interchange of ideas happening during the period of composition or not this tension of worldview between these two documents exists for readers today and it presents us with the divergence of early Christianities (whether one make the theological claim of "orthodoxy" and "heresy" or "heterodoxy" doesn't change that these communities existed).
I'll be the one giving the lecture/guiding the class readings today. It will be more guided practice than preaching, but it will be the first "lecture" I've given in a university context, so I'm energetic this morning, and I haven't even had my first cup of coffee! For those interested, I've uploaded my powerpoint so that you can see how I plan on approaching this time with the students. If you have any feedback from having done something similar feel free to share.
* I don't know if John knew of a "completed" form of Thomas, but it is reasonable to suggest that John did know of the sort of ideas that would appear in Thomas. In part, and this is no expertise of mine, I feel that we know so little about the composition history of Thomas. It is Q-ish as a collection of sayings, but as Logion 13 shows, the contrast of Thomas with "Simon Peter" and "Matthew" seems, to me, to suggest the author knew of the gospels Matthew and Mark and traditions associated with the apostles Matthew and Peter being their "source" of revelation (as Thomas is the "source" for this gospel). Yet Pagels suggestion that John knew of Thomas traditions seems plausible as well. It's so complicated!