Thomas L. Thompson

biblical scholar and theologian

Thomas L. Thompson (born January 7, 1939 in Detroit, Michigan) is an American-born Danish biblical scholar and theologian. He was professor of theology at the University of Copenhagen from 1993 to 2009. He currently lives in Denmark.


  • In an article ('The Historiography of the Pentateuch: 25 Years after Historicity' Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 13, 1999, 258-283) I have discussed why I think it is very difficult to establish the historicity of figures in biblical narrative, as the issue rather relates to the quality of texts one is dealing with. I work further on this issue in my Messiah Myth of 2005. Here I argue that the synoptic gospels can hardly be used to establish the historicity of the figure of Jesus; for both the episodes and sayings with which the figure of Jesus is presented are stereotypical and have a history that reaches centuries earlier. I have hardly shown that Jesus did not exist and did not claim to. Rather, I compared our knowledge about Jesus to our knowledge of figures like Homer. As soon as we try to identify such an historical figure, we find ourselves talking about the thematic elements of stories.
Thompson, Th. L. 1974. The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives: the Quest for the Historical Abraham, BZAW, Vol. 133, Berlin: de Gruyter.
Thompson, Thomas (1999). "Historiography in the pentateuch: Twenty-five years after historicity". Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 13 (2): 258–283. DOI:10.1080/09018329908585157.
  • Whether the gospels in fact are biographies—narratives about the life of a historical person—is doubtful. Their pedagogical and legendary character reduces their value for historical reconstruction. New Testament scholars commonly hold the opinion that a historical person would be something very different from the Christ (or messiah), with whom, for example, the author of the Gospel of Mark identifies his Jesus (Hebrew: Joshua = savior), opening his book with the statement: “The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s son.”
  • The main reason for holding to the historicity of the figure of Jesus ...resides not primarily in historical evidence but derives instead from a modern theological necessity.

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