About the disciple known as Doubting Thomas, everyone knows at least this much: he stuck his finger into the risen Jesus’ wounds. Or did he? A fresh look at the Gospel of John reveals how little we may really understand about this most perplexing of biblical figures, and how much we might learn from the strange twists and turns Thomas’s story has taken over time.
From the New Testament, Glenn W. Most traces Thomas’s permutations through the centuries: as Gnostic saint, missionary to India, paragon of Christian orthodoxy, hero of skepticism, and negative example of doubt, blasphemy, stupidity, and violence. Rife with paradoxes and tensions, these creative transformations at the hands of storytellers, theologians, and artists tell us a great deal about the complex relations between texts and their interpretations—and about faith, love, personal identity, the body, and twins, among other matters.
Doubting Thomas begins with a close reading of chapter 20 of the Gospel of John, set against the conclusions of the other Gospels, and ends with a detailed analysis of the painting of this subject by Caravaggio, setting it within the pictorial traditions of late antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. Along the way, Most considers narrative reactions to John’s account by storytellers of various religious persuasions, and Christian theologians’ interpretations of John 20 from the second century ad until the Counter-Reformation. His work shows how Thomas’s story, in its many guises, touches upon central questions of religion, philosophy, hermeneutics, and, not least, life.
The story of Doubting Thomas [is] examined at length in this learned and fascinating book… [Most’s] account of the Caravaggio, which you can see only if you’re willing to go to Potsdam, is so splendidly intelligent and acute that one can make do with the photograph provided.
Glenn W. Most’s fascinating study Doubting Thomas asks us to reconsider Thomas and his need to touch. In this faithless disciple from John’s Gospel Most finds a much more complicated figure—so complicated, he posits, that this episode is misread and almost every painting since the 1300s has gotten Thomas wrong. Most suggests how Thomas’ presence is more subtle and more deserving of our sympathy.
In the best sense of the word Most’s book is exactly what his readers expect. Instead of adding just another interpretation to the numerous existing ones, Most analyses the trodden paths of interpretation from a higher plane. This time Most deals with the apparently well known story of Doubting Thomas. The central question of the study is not simply whether or not Thomas actually touches the wounds, but how it was understood by interpreters throughout the history of reception. Most follows up the threads that start from John’s account and lead him through centuries of European history and beyond.
Preachers struggling to find a new angle on John’s account of Jesus’ appearance to Thomas will find much of profit in Glenn Most’s attractively written Doubting Thomas, as will anyone willing to read John’s narrative with the attention that it deserves… Most offers a wealth of insights that will complement those of the standard commentaries on the fourth gospel… Most is adept in discussing both early Christian writings in which Thomas takes on a very significant role and also the reflections of patristic, medieval, and renaissance commentators.
Most’s book is a fascinating account of the journey of the figure of Doubting Thomas through Western history… Doubting Thomas is a must for libraries, and undergraduate libraries in particular. It would make an interesting addition to any course on the history of Christianity or Western culture.
In weaving a narrative of the cultural history of reception and transmission of one of the most arresting, and misunderstood, pericopes in the New Testament, the author provides the reader with a lively analytical study of central questions of faith and doubt, skepticism and persuasion synchronically and diachronically. I don’t know of another book quite like this one. It’s well-written, in a lively, learned style and is a genuine pleasure to read.
Glenn Most takes us on a magical mystery tour through two millennia of Doubting Thomas’s afterlife. This artful and erudite book illuminates a vast range of texts, commentaries, and paintings. Provocative, minutely observant, and compulsively readable, this study sets a new standard for what it means to study the reception of any passage in a canonical book.
An intriguing book that explores a number of issues that go beyond its immediate subject.
The nature of belief, its relation to seeing and to touching, is at the center of this fascinating and strikingly lucid account of the problematic New Testament figure of Thomas, better known as Doubting Thomas. Whether exploring the vexing ambiguities in Chapter 20 of the Gospel of John or the subtle differences in the iconography of their representation from the Middle Ages to Caravaggio in the late Renaissance, Glenn Most is always insightful, illuminating, engaging. This is a terrific book.
- 288 pages
- 5-1/16 x 7-15/16 inches
- Harvard University Press
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