• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Friday, February 22, 2013

    Holy Ghost Films

    No, not a post on spiritual or faith-based horror films, just a bad pun about the portrayal of the Holy Spirit in film. It's quite a difficult distinction to make. Is the Holy Spirit pure spirit? What about passages where s/he appears as...? If the spirit of God is a pure spirit any depiction in film would have to be either metaphorical, or indirect (seeing the results of his/her presence, rather than their actual presence).

    It's also difficult to decide where to place the boundaries. Acts films with their Pentecost scenes are an obvious starting place, as are scenes about Jesus' baptism, but what about passages from the Hebrew Bible such as creation, or Saul's ecstatic prophesying? What about the apostles' miracles in Acts? And then what about today? Charismatics, Pentecostals and a good deal of other Christians believe in a Holy Spirit that is active today and that works miracles today. SPOILERSDo we see the Holy Spirit in Ordet, or Lourdes, Ushpizin or The Song of Bernadette? END of SPOILERS What about films such as those listed in the book "The Hidden God" or in the Arts and Faith Top 100 Films, which used to be called the top 100 "Spiritually Significant" films? And then what about all those films which touch on the Fruit of the Spirit?

    The main reason I'm writing this blog post is that blogging helps me think and work through my thoughts, process them, order them and sometimes, shockingly, even come to a decision. And I have a piece that I need to write on this, 700 words to cover "The Holy Spirit" in film. It's tough for me because I'm not sure what I think about how the Spirit works today. Fruit? Yes. Gifts? Sort of. Miracles? I'd like to believe in the possibility, but have too many questions to resolve in 700 words. But focussing solely on the biblical narratives would give the impression of cessationalism, which contradicts with my feeling that the only a God present and active in the world is worth following.

    Big questions. And I'm already overdue. Perhaps I'll focus on the biblical stories and end with a very brief mention, of more contemporary films which touch on fruit gifts and miracles.


    Thursday, February 21, 2013

    Holofernes in Film

    Given the fairly one dimensional portrayal of Holofernes in the book of Judith, it's perhaps little surprise that he has rarely been fleshed out in film. The earliest silent films about Judith - Giuditta e Oloferne (1906) and Gaumont's Judith et Holopherne (1909) - portray him simply as a lust-driven tyrant; a piece of meat biding its time before slaughter.

    Things begin to change in D.W. Griffith's Judith of Bethulia (1913). Physically all three portrayals of Holofernes are very similar - a well-built, dark-haired man with a heavy, black beard who lounges on a couch whilst scantily-clad servant girls fawn in attendance. But some of the subtleties of the biblical account (for example his relative fairness in Judith 11:1-4) are also portrayed, not least because this is the first film to explain the events from Holofernes' point of view as well as Judith's. The film's intertitles explain that Judith finds him "noble", but more significantly that he ""had thoughts only for Judith - and he gave no heed unto the Dance of the Fishers by the artful women". Holofernes' thoughts are also shown visually during the dance. Griffith uses an iris to put the spotlight on Holofernes and cast the rest of the action into darkness, demonstrating his isolation from them and his single focus on Judith.

    Holofernes appeared in one more silent film - the Italian Giuditta e Oloferne (1928) - but then over thirty years passed before his next significant appearance in 1959 in another Italian production of the same name. The film was released elsewhere in the world under a variety of titles, including Judith das Schwert der Rache in Germany and Head of a Tyrant in the English speaking world. The film went still further in softening Holofernes' image. Whilst initially he is depicted as ruthless and debauched he falls for Judith and demonstrates tenderness. The transition is marked in a scene where Holofernes snaps "I should have killed you with the others", before gently holding her head and kissing her. Indeed in many ways the film is a variation on the Roman-Christian epics of the early fifties such as Quo Vadis where a good Christian transforms the heart of a Roman commander, only with a radically different twist at the end.

    A swathe of made for TV movies followed in the sixties, from the USA (1960), Argentina (1961), West Germany (1965 & 1966) and France (1969) with two European films reaching cinemas in 1979/1980 from Spain (Judith) and the former Yugoslavia (Judita), but the story has largely passed out of fashion despite its rich source material (packed with irony, humour, wordplay and suspense) and the seemingly obvious appeal for modern audiences (sex, power, violence, politics).

    One recent film, Quebecois filmmaker Eric Chaussé's 2007 short Judith has offered an interesting adaptation of the story. By limiting the action solely to Holofernes' sleeping quarters Chaussé strips him of the trappings of imperial power (servants, grand armour, luxurious furnishings) humanising him and making him more vulnerable. The actor (pictured) is also young, with softer features and seemingly more gentle. Shorn of his power Holofernes appears almost as a victim, even the way Judith climbs upon him implies her dominance, subverting the image of the would be rapist of Judith 12:12. The final shot is of Holofernes' execution, which is filmed from directly behind his head, an almost point of view shot which places the audience in sympathy with the Assyrian general. Chaussé's cinematography is utterly reminiscent of Caravaggio and Gentileshchi's paintings and gives the scene a fittingly dark, intimate and erotically-charged atmosphere.


    Wednesday, February 20, 2013

    Judith of Bethulia (1913)

    By the time D.W. Griffith got around to making Judith of Bethulia in 1913 it was already the third film to have been made about the Jewish heroine. An Italian film from 1908, Giuditta e Oloferne, was the first and two years later a French film Judith et Holopherne also covered the story. Yet since Griffith's day the story has been largely ignored.

    It's significant, of course, that the first two treatments were both from Catholic countries where the deuterocanonical books are more widely accepted, but nevertheless Judith's early exit from cinematic history is something of a puzzle. There are still far fewer strong female characters than there should be, but there is gradual increase. Where female leads have starred in action films they have tended to be strongly sexualised, Xena Princess Warrior and Tomb Raider being two notable examples. Judith's story, then, seems like it should be even more of an obvious choice today than it was 100 years ago - not only does it feature a female heroine, but she also uses her sexuality to carry out her role as assassin. It's to be hoped that the absence of modern adaptations of this story shows greater maturity in society's attitude to women. Sadly I suspect that its just a product of the predominance of protestantism in the UK, America and various other countries combined with a decline in interest in religion in general in formerly Catholic European countries.

    Judith of Bethulia was released a year or two* before D.W.Griffith's ground-breaking and controversial film Birth of a Nation in 1915. Whilst a number of releases separate the two films, many of the techniques which brought Griffith acclaim are in evidence here, albeit in their infancy.

    For example, in contrast to those two earlier films (the latter of which was made only 3 years beforehand) there is a far greater range of  shots from relative close-ups to long shots with a considerable depth of field. The sets are also an improvement on the previous Judith films, although Bethulia is no match for Griffith's Babylon in Intolerance three years later.

    The major beneficiary of this range of shots is the battle scene, featuring significant numbers of extras and several shots with a significant depth of field. These are somewhat confused, particularly in comparison with his later big action scenes, lacking a certain organisation and making it difficult to differentiate which people are which. (No doubt this is not helped by only seeing a poor quality transfer of the print)

    Griffiths also shows his penchant for personal melodrama shot against a backdrop of major historical events. Aside from the Jesus segments of Intolerance, the three other episodes all revolve around the trials of a young couple. Likewise Judith's story is juxtaposed with that of Nathan and Naomi a young Bethulian couple. She is captured by the Assyrians just before Judith's mission, and as the Assyrian army panic's in the wake of their commander's death, Nathan slips into their camp to rescue his beloved.

    Such a juxtaposition creates interesting contrasts with the relationship between Judith and Holofernes. It emphasises the strength of character Judith displays, but it also highlights the romantic element of their relationship. He for his part is instantly "ravished with her". Likewise when she finally meets the commander, she is deeply conflicted, and "wrestles with her heart" because she finds him "noble" (despite the numerous semi-clad servant girls that hang around his tent).

    Later an intertitle tells us "again she faltered for the love of Holofernes - yet struggled to cast away the sinful passion". Once again the intertitles also reveal Holofernes feelings, he "had thoughts only for Judith - and he gave no heed unto the Dance of the Fishers" but they are also conveyed visually. During the dance, a shot of Holofernes with his courtiers uses an iris to express Holofernes' lack of interest in his surroundings, which have, quite literally, been relegated to the shadows.

    It is in the killing scene when this comes to a climax. Holofernes falls asleep and Judith raises a sword above his neck, but she hesitates and lowers it again torn between her love for him and her duty to her people. She stares into the distance and the film cuts away to the well of Bethulia now littered with the bodies of her countrymen. Whilst it seems physically impossible for her to see this, the sequence suggests that somehow she knows it and she gets up and kills the Assyrian leader. Interestingly we do not witness the decisive blow. This decision may have been on grounds of taste, or technical complexity, but it acts as a testimony of her love for him. And, aside from biblical fidelity, is more to be read into her taking away the head of the man she loves?

    It's a significant film then, not only the launch of Griffiths into feature length movies, but also expanding on elements of the story only hinted at in the earlier films.

    *Sources disagree on the exact year of release. IMDB and Campbell and Pitts cite 1914, whereas the BFI give the release date as one year earlier.

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    Tuesday, February 19, 2013

    Judith et Holopherne (1909)

    Often known as Judith (1910) in the UK or Judith Retterin Israels (D)
    I'm unsure how many prints of this film still exist. Certainly the BFI archive lists only one and silentera.com are unsure as to whether the film is still in existence. The intertitles are in German, and are fairly lengthy - perhaps around 200-250 words across five cards, which constitutes a significant part of the reel's 8 minute running time, although the film's ending is missing.

    It turns out that the intertitles are one of the more notable parts of the film so I'll reproduce the wording (in German) and offer a basic translation as I go through. The opening title card places the story in its historical context dating it as the 13th year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, details the siege of Bethulia and the drying up of the cistern and notes that Judith is the widow of Manesseh.
    Im dreizehnten Jahre der Regierung des gewaltigen Königs Nebukadnezar entbrann - te sein Zorn gegen die Judäer und sein sieggewohnter Feldherr Holophernes lag mit grosser Heeresmacht vor Bethulia, einer ihrer Stadte. Und es kam der Tag, an dern das Wasser in den Cysternen versiegte und das verzagte Volk bestürmte Osias, den Fürsten, die Stadt den Assyrern auszuliefern. Da entschloss sich Judith, die Witwe des Menasse, die Retting der Kinder Israels zu wagen.

    In the thirteenth year of the reign of the mighty King Nebuchadnezzar his anger was kindled against Judah and his victorious commander Holofernes was lying in wait with a large army against Bethulia, one of its cities. And there came the day when the water dried up in the countries cistern and despondent people violently protested to Osias, the prince to surrender the city to the Assyrians. So Judith, widow of Manasseh, decided to dare (attempt) the salvation of the children of Israel.
    The opening scene is of the marketplace in Bethulia before a cut to Judith's house and a visit of the town's leaders, before the second intertitle.
    Und sie legte ihre Witwenkleider ab, salbte sich mit köstlichem Wasser, fiel auf die Knie und betete zu Gott. Dann begab sie sich begleitet von einer Dienerin ins feindliche Heerlager, wo sie angab eine entflohene Hebräerin zu sein

    And she took off her widow's garments, anointed with precious ointment, dropped to her knees and prayed to God. Then she went accompanied by a servant into the enemy camp, where she claimed to be an escaped Hebrew.
    We see Judith getting prepared, having her nails done by two servants and appearing in the marketplace. We're never quite told how Judith ends up in the presence of Holofernes, but the next intertitle, and scene, takes place in the Assyrian camp.
    Und sie wurde vor das Angesicht des Holofernes geführt. Derselbe sah ihre Schönheit und entbrannte in Liebe zu ihr. Da gewährte er ihr eine Zufluchtsstätte in seinem Zelte und zwar an dem Orte, wo er seine Schätze bewahrte.

    And she was led into the presence of Holofernes. The same saw her beauty and fell in love with her. Then he gave her a refuge in his tent, and that in the place where he kept his treasures.
    Judith goes straight in and bows, and her and Holofernes chat. Yet again the girls present prior to this are hastily sent away. Eventually Judith leaves.
    Am vierten Tage machte Holofernes ein Festmahl allen seinen nächsten Dienern. und er befahl, dass das hebräische Weib zu ihm komme. Und sie weigerte sich nicht, denn jetzt hielt sie den von Gott gegebenen Augenblick gekommen, ihr bedrängtes Volk zu retten.

    ...Und in der Stille der Nacht schlug sie dem trunkenden Feldherrn das Haupt ab mit seinem eigenen Schwerte.

    On the fourth day Holofernes held his next feast for all his servants. And he ordered that the Hebrew woman to come to him. And she refused, because the God-given moment had not arrived for her to save their beleaguered people.

    ...And in the dead of night she hit the commander's neck with his own sword.
    This lengthy intertitle rather spoils the climax for anyone unfamiliar with the story and dissipates any sense of dramatic tension. Holofernes holds another banquet where Judith pretends to drink whilst Holofernes pours his wine down his throat. Then she cunningly and seductively pours her drink down his throat as well. The courtiers leave and the next shot is in Holofernes bedroom, with Holofernes asleep on the bed. Judith prays briefly before hacking off Holofernes' head in what is, nevertheless, a nicely composed shot (pictured above). The final intertitle again explains what is about to happen.
    Und sie verliess mit dem verhüllten Haupte des Holophernes ungehindert das Kriegslager, begleitet von ihrer Dienerin, und sie erreichte Bethulia. Hier war der Jubel gross. Das assyrische Heer aber, als es seinen Feldherrn erschlagen sah, entfloh. Die Kinder Israels waren gerettet. Judith aber ward hochgeehrt im ganzen Lande.

    And she left the war camp unhindered with the veiled head of Holofernes, accompanied by her maid, and she reached Bethulia. Here, the jubilation was great. But the Assyrian army fled when they saw their commander killed. The children of Israel were saved. And Judith was highly respected throughout the country.
    There's a brief scene from Bethulia - looking out off the balcony, before the end is cut off rather abruptly. There's no scene of Judith being honoured by her people as the final intertitle anticipates.

    Sadly it's a fairly dull interpretation on the story, although the scenes with just Judith and Holofernes are well, er, executed.

    The BFI describes the film as follows:
    DRAMA. Historical. The Apocryphal story of Judith and Holofernes. The Israelites, besieged in Bethulia, beg their leader to hand over the town to the Assyrian commander, Holofernes, but one of their number, the widow Judith, decides on an alternative plan. She goes to the camp of Holofernes, who becomes enamoured of her. After a feast at which he gets a drunk, she escorts him to his bedchamber and there chops off his head with his own sword. The besieged Israelites await her return...(770ft). Incomplete. Note: This film employs the same sets as Gaumont's Le FESTIN DE BALTHAZAR (1910).
    The notes for the second Ancient World in Silent Cinema event reproduce this text, but also credit the director as Louis Feuillade, date the film as 1909 instead and give its length as 8 minutes.

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    Monday, February 18, 2013

    Giuditta e Oloferne (1906/1908)

    The BFI Archive print of the film starts with an introduction
    "The Italian film. From 1908 to 1914 Italy played an important role in film history with her classico-historical spectacles. The success of Quo Vadis (1911) as well as of the French Queen Elizabeth definitely established the long film and brought cinema new esteem"
    I'm not sure at what stage these notes were added, but they go on to show some elements of analysis. "Insistence on architecture and gesticulation were constants".

    The film begins with people challenging the priests to do something about the siege - children are dying. Judith arrives with her entourage and is dressed very much like a suffragette. It would be a mistake to assume this is a deliberate association on behalf of the filmmakers. Italian women didn't gain the vote until 1946 and it's more likely that the style of dress I associate with the suffragette movement is merely typical of pre-war European fashion. Nevertheless given the story's political angle and it's radically divergent portrayal of a woman, it's an association that I suspect many other viewers would make.

    Certainly the expensive looking dress and the entourage emphasise that Judith is relatively wealthy and in high standing in her community. It's while Judith is doing her make-up at home that the angel appears to her with a sword to signify the deed she is being commissioned to carry out. There's no angel in the text of course so this addition strengthens the idea that this was God's idea.

    Judith and her handmaiden leave the camp and are quickly captured by some Assyrian soldiers. They bring the pair into the court and Holofernes is instantly smitten. Having been making merry with his court and cavorting with some scantily clad servant girls, he sends out the whole court upon Judith's arrival. Holofernes starts to seduce Judith. Judith stands but the angel appears again and orders her down. This again indicates Judith's mission is God-ordained circumventing any questions about the morality of her actions.

    The next scene takes place in the adjoining room where once again Holofernes has company (including some blacked-up servants), only this time Judith drinks. He then takes her to his bedroom where she continues to resist his sexual advances. Eventually Holofernes passes out but Judith is reluctant to kill him. Suddenly the angel appears again, specifically gesturing that she should cut off his head and so eventually she does, drawing the curtain around Holofernes' bed before popping his severed head into a bag and leaving.

    The final scene (pictured above) depicts Judith returning home and pulling out Holofernes' head before the assembled people to show their victory. The people of Bethulia bow.

    The repeated addition of the angel, even urging her to kill Holofernes is strongly interpretative, and is particularly interesting for those who like me are intrigued by the way Christian art often distorts the biblical text in order to rationalise such awkwardly violent acts seemingly at God's command. For protestants this story is not so problemmatic as they give the "apocrypha" much less authority, but what's interesting is that similar tactics are used throughout the history of filmmaking for stories from the universally accepted canon.

    The plot summary provided by the organisers of the "Ancient World in Silent Cinema II" event gave the film the following synopsis:
    Giuditta e Oloferne [Judith and Holopherne] (Italy, Mario Caserini, 1908) 6 mins. The Israelites, besieged in Bethulia, bemoan their fate. In Judith's palace, an angel appears and instructs her to help. Judith is led into the tent of the Assyrian leader Holophernes. He, much taken, orders everyone out including his protesting concubine. Judith is reluctant but, after the reappearance of the angle, submits to his embrace. Holophernes feats with his concubine and court. Judith enters and feigns pleasure. He leaads her to bed, but falls drunkenly asleep. The angel urges the reluctant Judith to kill him. Judith returns to the Israelites and shows them his head.

    The BFI also summarise it on their website:
    HISTORICAL. Apocryphal story of Judith who saves the Israelites by seducing and beheading the Assyrian leader Holofernes. "THE ITALIAN FILM. From 1908 to 1914 Italy... JUDITH AND HOLOPHERNES Produced by Cines-Roma. Biblical...insistence on architecture and gesticulation" (101) JUDITH AND HOLOPHERNE. Wolf logo. CINES (102) The Israelite people, soldiers and priests, besieged in Bethulia, bemoan their fate. Black slaves enter down steps followed by Judith, attendants and fanbearers wearing tights. All kneel (171). In Judith's palace: columns and curtains: the attendants bedeck Judith. They exit. A female angel appears, instructs Judith, vanishes, reappears and exits. Judith summons her handmaid and they leave (242). Four Assyrians with spears, bows and arrows in a rocky place: Judith and maid enter, show alarm and are led off held by their wrists (261). Holophernes holds court in a tent with his concubine, other women, guards, fanwavers and black slaves. Judith and maid are led in. Holophernes, much taken, orders everyone out including the protesting concubine. Alone, he takes Judith to the couch. She is reluctant but, after a word from the angel, submits to his embrace (318). In a circular tent, Holophernes feasts with his concubine and court. Judith enters, shows disgust but feigns pleasure. They embrace, drink and exit (390). In the previous tent the crowd enters. Holophernes drives them all out with a sword, embraces Judith, leads her to the bed, and falls drunkenly asleep. She observes him, laughs, picks up sword, hesitates. The angel urges her. She picks up sword again and, back to camera, uses it, turns holding head and sword, drops both, closes bed curtains, emerges wrapping the head in a cloth and exits (479). The Israelites are still wailing. Judith and her maid arrive with the bundle. Judith climbs steps and shows the head. All kneel (528ft). Note: Intertitles missing. First 101ft are a modern introduction. Length without this is 417ft. Also held: (205243A 425 ft, no titles, slightly better print) and 608423A (Joye Collection no.1907, 376ft, opening title and Cines logo but no intertitles, incomplete- ends when Judith leaves with her trophy).

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    Sunday, February 17, 2013

    Judith Films

    I'm going to be writing a bit on films about Judith and Holofernes over the next week or so including writing about 3 silent portrayals of the story, as well as a quick look at how the main two characters are portrayed in the various films. So it seems a good idea to start by collating a list of the different films in which the story of Judith features. Interestingly the majority of these films are from the silent era, despite the seemingly contemporary appeal of the narrative for today's audiences - sex, violence, seduction, empowerment - can you imagine what Tarantino would do with this story?
    It's always difficult to know how exhaustive to make lists like these, particularly now people can make films on their cameras and upload them to YouTube, but here is a list of most of the significant portrayals of this story. If you think I've missed one, please let me know in the comments.
    [Italy, Mario Caserini] The earliest film about Judith, Campbell and Pitts date this as 1906, but the print in the BFI National Archive is dated in 1908.
    [Gaumont, France, Louis Feuillade] A year after the Italian Judith, Gaumont made a Judith film of their own, distributed in the UK simply as Judith.
    Judith (1912)
    [UK, Theo Frenkel]Evidence on this film is rather scant, indeed it may even be two films, one released in 1910 and another made 2 years later. Things are further confused because the director of this film Theo Frenkel made another film called Judith in 1923, although that does not appear to have been a biblical one.
    Judith of Bethulia (1914)
    [Biograph, USA, DW Griffith] Undoubtedly the most well known of the films about Judith this was Griffith's first feature length film. A 1917 release of the film was renamed Her Condoned Sin.

    Giuditta e Oloferne (1928)
    [Italy] Campbell and Pitts list this in the notes to the 1906 film, but there are no further details. IMDb lists this as 1929, as does Derek Elley. The BFI Archive lists this as 1928 and describes the film as having "two parallel stories, the first, set in biblical times about the heroic Giuditta who dies to save her city Betulia from the Assyrians. The second is about an engineer who tries to prevent any speculation about a beautiful woman."

    Head of a Tyrant / Giuditta e Oloferne (1959)
    [Italy, Fernando Cerchio] IMDb gives this a lowly 3.6 score and from the trailer and excerpt available on YouTube it's clear that this film imports a dance of Salome moment into the film as well as attempting to create extra intrigue by having Judith fall for her victim. (Poster image above).
    General Electric Theatre: The Story of Judith (1960) [USA]
    Judith (1961) [Argentina]
    Judith (1965) [West Germany]
    Judith (1966) [West Germany]
    Judith (1969) [France]
    These five all seem to be TV movies from the 60s, but definitely different films as they all list different actors.
    Estudio 1: Judith (1979)
    [Spain, Alfredo Castellón] At 140 minutes this is seemingly the longest version of the story.
    Judita (1980)
    [Yugoslavia, Marin Caric] Produced by Yugoslav company Hrvatska Radiotelevizija (HRT) this is the only biblical film I know of from the former European country.
    Judith (2007)
    [Canada, Eric Chaussé] This 4 minute short from French speaking Quebec limits itself to the bedroom scene and even without subtitles is a remarkably powerful treatment. It's available to view on YouTube and is well worth the four minutes.

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    Monday, February 04, 2013

    Book Review: Thomas and the Gospels

    Thomas and the Gospels: The Making of an Apocryphal Text
    Mark Goodacre

    Paperback: 224 pages
    Publisher: SPCK Publishing
    Date: 18 Oct 2012
    Language: English

    ISBN: 978-0281067763

    When I was growing up, if people talked about the fifth gospel, they meant you yourself. How you took the message of Jesus and expressed it to those around you. These days when I hear the term it's invariably referring to the Gospel of Thomas.

    Mark Goodacre's new book "Thomas and the Gospels: The Making of an Apocryphal Text" is the latest in a series of recent books to examine the fifth gospel. Goodacre is somewhat torn as to whether it deserves its special status. On the one hand he points out that "privileging of Thomas has several damaging effects on the way we pursue our scholarship" (p.194-5), not least because it "encourages a kind of ahistorical privileging of one noncanonical gospel over many others" (p.195). Yet on the other hand, he himself has written a complete book on this one text, but has not yet published a great deal on other noncanonical texts.

    However, those worried that Goodacre has lost his sense of direction can rest easy. Goodacre simply recognises the "genius" of the work, whilst wanting to bring an end to the discussion as to whether Thomas pre-dates the canonical gospels. His opening chapter "First Impressions" begins to do precisely that, marking out the territory by looking at the arguments of "genre" (p.9), "order" (p.14) and "Tradition History" (p.17) that are used by those in favour of an independent Thomas. Finding them unpersuasive he turns to John P. Meier's brief observations "that Thomas apparently has parallels with every type of Synoptic material" (p.21) and spends the rest of the chapter outlining what those are and what this means for the question of familiarity vs independence.

    One of the things I have always admired about Goodacre is his desire to start by introducing the reader to the evidence before drawing out his conclusions and "Thomas and the Gospels" is no exception. Having set the stage with Meier's observations he spends the next six chapters exploring the significant quantity of material that Thomas shares with the Synoptics.

    This is detailed work, offering the reader, at every turn, the original wording in either the Greek or Coptic (as well as English translations for those of us without the necessary language skills). But then Goodacre's point is precisely that our problems have arisen precisely because theories have flooded in before a careful and thorough examination of the evidence. Having read the book in between BBC broadcasts of G.K. Chesterton's "Father Brown" stories I'm struck by an interesting parallel. Time and again the police inspector draws instant conclusions, bending the evidence to fit his theories, whilst Brown strives for a deeper grasp of the evidence before solving the mystery long after the inspector's initial arrests have been released without charge.

    Those familiar with Goodacre's work on the Synoptic problem will feel very much at home in these middle chapters. He starts by looking at the places of significant "verbatim agreement" (ch.2), moves on to what he calls "diagnostic shards" (ch.3) and then to examples of the kind of redaction that would be typical of Matthew (ch.4) and Luke (ch. 5) with a particular focus on the "Special Case" of Thomas 79 and Luke (ch.6). The section ends with a look at the places where Thomas's sayings lack seemingly critical details which the Synoptic Gospels include, what Goodacre terms "The Missing Middle" (ch.7).

    In approaching the subject this way Goodacre continues the process, tools and vocabulary he uses in analysing the way the writers of the Synoptic Gospels may have used the others. It's the core of the present work and whilst it lacks the Dan Brown-esque zing of other works on the subject it more than makes up for them with a consistent, rational an detailed examination of the evidence. Replacing attention-grabbing conspiracy theories with a solid reappraisal of the evidence is surely a good thing.

    Chapter 8 tackles the issue of orality. Thomas has been classified as a "sayings gospel" and so has played a part in gaining greater scholarly appreciation of the need to consider the fact that most people in Jesus' day were unable to read.  Whilst Goodacre acknowledges that literacy was indeed significantly lower in the first and second centuries and that this should be remembered, he considers that the pendulum has swung too far the other way. The consensus seems to forget that many people in the first century were literate, and that whilst most people today are literate, a good deal of interaction occurs orally.

    As a result he finds himself unpersuaded by the claim that Thomas was an oral gospel - "The appearance of orality is a product of Thomas' genre, the sayings gospel" (p.153). The gospel's preface, the degree of verbatim agreement and its lack of quotations from the Hebrew Bible all suggest that the author was seeking to adopt the saying's gospel genre, rather than forming an oral gospel.

    Personally I felt this chapter was a little light on detail in the crucial places. Having made a strong case for re-examining the way scholars handle the question of orality, the evidence suggesting Thomas made a deliberate choice is discussed too scantly to be fully convincing. Could the opening preface not be a later addition, added by the scribe who was finally committing the gospel to papyrus? The degree of verbatim agreement does suggest, to me at least, that Thomas was familiar with the Synoptics but I'm still unsure as to why this means the gospel must have been created first in written form. The case for genre adoption is well argued, but perhaps a little circular. I suspect Goodacre has more reasons to support this theory, so it's disappointing that there's no more detail here: it laves the chapter feeling a little curtailed.

    Similarly the penultimate chapter (ch.9 "Dating Thomas...") also ends a little hurriedly. Having made a good argument against early dates for Thomas and Mark he settles on a post 70AD date for Mark, with Matthew and Luke appearing over the next couple of decades and Thomas not arriving until after Bar Kochba's rebellion in 135 AD. This based on Thomas 68 and 71 in which Goodacre finds suggestions that the temple has now been levelled. But again, I'm unconvinced. 71's redaction of the Marcan/Matthean prediction of the temple's destruction might be linked to Thomas' apparent disdain for Judaism, the OT and its practices. 68 might translate in such a way, but its meaning still seems too ambiguous to carry the weight of what is being proposed.But these are minor quibbles over what is overall an interesting, enjoyable, and largely convincing, read.

    The final chapter looks at "How and Why Thomas Used the Synoptics" (ch.10) and is the best in the book. Here it is proposed that Thomas "conveys its radical difference from the Synoptic Gospels by hiding its theology in the words and images it derives from them." (p.192) By using Jesus' words in forms broadly similar to those in the Synoptic Gospels, Thomas gives his gospel a level of credibility and authenticity, but, like the later Synoptic writers (only to a greater extent) he brings to bear his own particular theology by which salvation is found through understanding Jesus' secret sayings. For Goodacre Thomas' opening self description, and the way it is expanded in the exchange in Thomas 13, are central to understanding the work. It's convincingly argued to the extent it makes me wonder why this isn't already the prevailing view.

    Finally there is a brief conclusion reaffirming Goodacre's central thesis that not only was Thomas not an independent oral gospel written down at a later stage, but that it was a written Gospel which deliberately used the Synoptic Gospels to authenticate its subversive message.

    There's evidence to suggest that Goodacre amongst others are starting to gain a greater following for the Farrer theory and it will be interesting to see to what extent his latest work encourages scholars to rethink the prevailing views about the Gospel of Thomas. It's to be hoped that they at least engage with the depth of scholarship here as fifth gospel or not, discussion about Thomas is to remain popular for a long time.

    As is often the case, for reviewing purposes I received a free copy of this book. No other financial or material gain was received.