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, ...

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Doubting Thomas

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

Bryn Mawr Classical Review

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.
Philipp Brandenburg

Church of England Newspaper

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.

Journal of Religion

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.
Paul B. Duff

London Review of Books

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.
Frank Kermode

Los Angeles Times Book Review

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.
Nick Owchar

Library Journal
Most (social thought, Univ. of Chicago) begins with a close reading of John's Gospel, Chapter 20, where the disciple known as "Doubting Thomas" is portrayed. He then provides a history of and commentary on the use of John 20 by an array of apologists who portray Thomas as either a faith-filled saint or a renegade, detailing theological arguments that hail from Augustine through the CounterReformation and use Thomas as an icon for sentience and spirituality, faith and nonbelief. A leitmotif throughout Most's study is the question of whether Thomas physically touched the risen Christ's wounds. John's Gospel does not mention any touching; Augustine, unlike most of his colleagues, opines that it may not have occurred. Most addresses this question ingeniously in a section on pictorial versions of John 20, particularly in his examination of a painting by Caravaggio, who portrays the physicality of Thomas's touch but maintains the tension of faith and skepticism. A fine scholarly study appropriate for university and seminary libraries and libraries with strong religion or art history circulation.-David I. Fulton, Coll. of St. Elizabeth, Morristown, NJ Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674041257
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 6/30/2009
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 288
  • File size: 520 KB

Meet the Author

Glenn W. Most is Professor of Greek Philology, Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, and Professor of Social Thought, University of Chicago.

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Table of Contents


List of Abbreviations


Seeing and Believing

Before Thomas: The Synoptic Gospels

Believing and Touching: The Gospel of John

Touching a God


Sources and Reflections

Narrative Developments: The Apocrypha and Beyond

Exegetical Reactions: From the Church Fathers to the Counter-Reformation

Pictorial Versions: Thomas in Sacred Images

The Holy Finger


Bibliographical Essays

Illustration Credits


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