Gospel of Thomas
|Light iron-age reading|
|Gabbin' with God|
The Gospel of Thomas, one of the Nag Hammadi texts, is a logia (collection of sayings) attributed to Jesus. Scholars generally fall into two camps on the question of dating the source: an "early camp" who date it between 50-100 CE and a "late camp" who date it to the middle of the 2nd century.[Note 1]
Because it is a collection of sayings without any external framework contextualizing or politicizing the quotes, some modern scholars accept it to be as reliable a source of the historical Jesus's true words as the other 3 synoptic gospels. However, no Christian Church accepts it as a canonical text, though it does contain a few passages that echo verses in the canonical gospels.
Content and themes
The Gospel comes from the Gnostic tradition, which implies a secret tradition reserved for special students.
Though there is no commentary or interwoven story to accompany them, the quotes alone provide quite a different character of Jesus from the traditional portrayals of Jesus as political activist or moral guide. This Jesus is less concerned with the political and religio-political revolution than in teaching adherents about the true path to God and eternity.
A different Jesus
The gospel of Thomas portrays Jesus as a mystic rather than a moralist.
Like mystics in other religions, Jesus says here that spirituality is something you find within, after contemplation and separation from the worldly. Like that of other mystical writers, little of what Jesus says is simplistic, straightforward, or at all logical. For example, Jesus us quoted as saying:
“”If your leaders say to you, "Look, the (Father's) kingdom is in the sky," then the birds of the sky will precede you.
If they say to you, "It is in the sea," then the fish will precede you.
Rather, the (Father's) kingdom is within you and it is outside you.
When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father.But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty.
Plus this gem of contradiction:
“”Whoever does not hate his father and his mother as I do cannot become a disciple to me. And whoever does not love his father and mother as I do cannot become a disciple to me.
A different theology
For the character of Jesus in Thomas, the Kingdom of Heaven is something within each person that can be directly obtained without priest or cleric. The Kingdom of Heaven is not based on worshipping the right way or on behaving the right way, nor is it based on the condemnation of sin.
- His disciples asked him and said to him, "Do you want us to fast? How should we pray? Should we give to charity? What diet should we observe?". Jesus said, "Don't lie, and don't do what you hate, because all things are disclosed before heaven. After all, there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and there is nothing covered up that will remain undisclosed."
- Jesus said to them, "If you fast, you will bring sin upon yourselves, and if you pray, you will be condemned, and if you give to charity, you will harm your spirits.
- His disciples said to him, "Is circumcision useful or not?". He said to them, "If it were useful, their father would produce children already circumcised from their mother. Rather, the true circumcision in spirit has become profitable in every respect."
Mary as disciple
An interesting aspect of the Gospel of Thomas is the role of Mary of Magdala. She is mentioned three times in the Gospel, but nothing of note is said to demonstrate how she is distinct from any of the other disciples.
Some scholars and feminist writers have suggested that she is simply one of the handful of Jesus' students and that he accepted her without commentary, though he did seem to think she needed extra guidance to reach the spiritual potential that his other followers supposedly had by virtue of being male.
It claims at the start that the sayings of Jesus were written down by "Didymos Judas Thomas", namely the Apostle Thomas, who is also called Didymos (twin) and Jude or Judas, as well as being known as Doubting Thomas for his most notable appearance in the New Testament. It is very hard to date, because the sayings of Jesus presumably date before his alleged crucifixion (c. 30-40 CE), but they would have been collected later, and possibly subject to further editing after that. Assuming a later dating (2nd century CE), it couldn't have been put together by Thomas who was a contemporary of Jesus. Due to its contents, it is widely believed to have its origins in some heterodox form of Christianity, possibly Gnosticism (suggesting 2nd/early 3rd century when Gnosticism was big); in the 4th century, Cyril of Jerusalem claimed it was written by a disciple of the 3rd-century Gnostic-influenced heretic Mani (founder of Manichaeism) and therefore you shouldn't read it. There's no particular reason to believe that either, but to be fair nobody really knows who wrote any of the other gospels.
- The dating of any biblical text is generally a complex argument involving archaeological evidence including other writings that reference it, traditional positioning of the book, literary analysis, and of course modern church politics. Wikipedia gives an in depth outline of the dating issues.
- Perhaps Thomas is a threat to Christians precisely because Jesus removes the Church's authority to tell others what to do?
- Funk, Robert Walter and Roy W. Hoover, The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? the Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus, Polebridge Press, 1993
- Koester, Helmut; Lambdin (translator), Thomas O. (1996). The Gospel of Thomas. In Robinson, James MacConkey. The Nag Hammadi Library in English (Revised ed.). Leiden, New York, Cologne: E. J. Brill. p. 125. ISBN 9004088563
- Gospel of Thomas v. 3
- Thomas, v. 101
- Thomas, v. 6
- Thomas, v. 14
- Thomas, v. 114
- The Gospel of Thomas, Frontline, PBS
- Catechetical Lecture 6, Cyril of Jerusalem, newadvent.org