Parallel Texts in Matthew, Mark & Luke

10. The Treasure, the Pearl & the Net
Matt 13:44- 50 

  context     Greek synopsis     English synopsis     analysis     source hypotheses     variants 

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Another Telling

PARABLE  of  the  HIDDEN  TREASURE
Thomas 109
1 Jesus said:
The kingdom is like a man 
who had a treasure hidden in his field
but did not know it.
2 And [when] he died,
he left it to his [son].
 3   The son did not know [about the treasure].
He took possession of the field
and sold it.
4 The buyer went plowing,
  [discovered] the treasure
  and began to lend money at interest
  to whomever he wished.
PARABLE  of  the  PEARL
Thomas 76
1 The kingdom of the Father is like a merchant
  who had a supply of merchandise
  and then found a pearl.
2 That merchant was shrewd;
  he sold the merchandise
  and bought the single pearl for himself.
PARABLE  of  the  NET
Thomas  8
1 The man is like a wise fisherman
  who cast his net into the sea
  and drew it up from the sea
  full of little fish.
2 Among them the wise fisherman discovered 
  a fine large fish.
3 He threw all the little fish back into the sea
  and easily chose the large fish.
4 Whoever has ears to hear,
  let him listen.

The non-canonical gospel of Thomas contains a variant of the parables of the buried treasure, pearl and net raising the question of source. If this non-canonical collection of Jesus sayings were composed after the canonical gospels and derived its contents from them, then theoretically its version of these parables should reveal traces of Matthew's presentation.  Thomas' version of all three parables, however, differs so much from Matthew's that its dependence on the text of the canonical gospel is highly unlikely.

  • Disarray: Instead of Matthew's tightly woven catena of material with related themes, not only are these parables unlinked in Thomas, they are widely scattered and recorded in reverse order.
  • Diverse wording: Thomas' performance of each of these parables has only a few words in common with Matthew's [teal text above].
  • Divergent analogy: While all Matthew's parables liken "the kingdom of Heaven" to some inanimate object -- treasure, pearl or net -- Thomas focuses each comparison on the behavior of a person. Moreover, Thomas does not employ the typically Matthean qualification "of Heaven" is characterizing "the kingdom."
  • Variant plots: Only Thomas' telling of the parable of the pearl might be considered a loose paraphrase of Matthew's. Its non-canonical versions of the other two parables are more accurately described as variations on common themes. In Thomas the buried treasure is not discovered by someone who sells all to buy the field. Instead the field is sold by someone who is totally unaware of what he had inherited to someone who is equally unaware of what he had bought. If this parable was based on Matthew's text, then it was an elaborate distortion of its source. For in Thomas the buyer does not keep the treasure for himself but lends it to others "at interest." Thomas' version of the parable of the net, on the other had, is more realistic than Matthew's. For instead of surrealistically throwing "bad" fish into the fire, as in Matthew, Thomas' fisherman keeps the large fish and tosses the little ones back into the sea, which is just common fishing practice from time immemorial.

Thus, far from demonstrating dependence on the written gospel of Matthew, Thomas' performance of these parables provides evidence that these parables circulated independently in oral Jesus tradition before Matthew added them to the catena that he appended to Mark's collection of seed parables.

 

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last revised 21 December 2015

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