The text is in the form of a codex, bound in a method now called Coptic binding. It was written for a school of early Christians who claimed Thomas the Apostle as their founder. Unlike the four canonical gospels, Thomas is not a narrative account of the life of Jesus and is not worked into any overt philosophical or rhetorical context. Rather, it is logia, or gospel sayings, with short dialogues and sayings attributed to Jesus.
In the incipit, the writer is styled Didymus Judas Thomas. Didymus (Greek) and Thomas (Hebrew) both mean twin, and the name Judas (Greek: Ιούδας), also Jude or Judah, is the anglicise Greek rendering of the Hebrew name Yehudah (Hebrew: יְהוּדָה).
The work comprises 114 sayings attributed to Jesus. Some of these sayings resemble those found in the four canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), while others were not known until its discovery. No major Christian group accepts this gospel as canonical or authoritative.
When this Coptic version of the complete text of Thomas was found, scholars realized that three separate portions of a Greek version of it had already been discovered in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, in 1897. In 1903 two more different fragments were discovered in Oxyrhynchus, seemingly originating from the same collection of sayings bearing the Greek fragments of the Gospel of Thomas (P. Oxy. I 1; IV 654; IV 655) dating from between AD 200 to AD 250, with another Greek fragment discovered in 1905 predating AD 200 ; the manuscript of the Coptic version dates to about 340. Although the Coptic version is not quite identical to any of the Greek fragments, it is believed that the Coptic version was translated from an earlier Greek version, itself recorded from an earlier oral version.
The original text was published in photographic facsimile in 1975. The James M. Robinson translation was first published in 1977, as part of The Nag Hammadi Library in English, (E.J. Brill and Harper & Row). The Gospel of Thomas has been translated and annotated in several languages. The original manuscript is the property of Egypt's Department of Antiquities. The first photographic edition was published in 1956, and its first critical analysis appeared in 1959.
The earliest surviving written references to the Gospel of Thomas are found in the writings of Hippolytus of Rome (c. 222-235) and Origen of Alexandria (c. 233). Hippolytus wrote in his Refutation of All Heresies 5.7.20:
"[The Naassenes] speak...of a nature which is both hidden and revealed at the same time and which they call the thought-for kingdom of heaven which is in a human being. They transmit a tradition concerning this in the Gospel entitled "According to Thomas," which states expressly, "The one who seeks me will find me in children of seven years and older, for there, hidden in the fourteenth aeon, I am revealed."This appears to be a reference to saying 4 of Thomas.
Origen listed the "Gospel according to Thomas" heterodox apocryphal gospels in Hom. in Luc. 1. In the 4th and 5th centuries, various Church Fathers wrote that the Gospel of Thomas was highly valued by Mani. In the 4th century, Cyril of Jerusalem mentioned a "Gospel of Thomas" twice in his Catechesis: "The Manichæans also wrote a Gospel according to Thomas, which being tinctured with the fragrance of the evangelic title corrupts the souls of the simple sort. and "Let none read the Gospel according to Thomas: for it is the work not of one of the twelve Apostles, but of one of the three wicked disciples of Manes. The 5th century Decretum Gelasanium wrote "A Gospel attributed to Thomas which the Manichaean use" among a list of heretical books.
Assigning a date to the Gospel of Thomas is very complex because it is difficult to know precisely to what a date is being assigned. Scholars have proposed a date as early as 60 AD or as late as 140 AD, depending upon whether the Gospel of Thomas is identified with the original core of sayings, or with the author's published text, or with the Greek or Coptic texts, or with parallels in other literature.Valantasis and other scholars argue that it is difficult to date Thomas because, as a collection of logia without a narrative framework, individual sayings could have been added to it gradually over time.
Nevertheless, scholars generally fall into one of two main camps: an early camp favoring a date for the "core" of between the years 50 and 100, approximately before or contemporary with the composition of the canonical gospels and a late camp favoring a date in the 2nd century, after composition of the canonical gospels .
Koester also argues that the absence of narrative materials (such as those found in the canonical gospels) in Thomas makes it unlikely that the gospel is "an eclectic excerpt from the gospels of the New Testament".
He also cites the absence of the eschatological sayings characteristic of Q to show the independence of Thomas from that source.
Another argument for the early date (originally brought forward as the central argument of Elaine Pagels' book Beyond Belief The Secret Gospel of Thomas) is that there seems to be conflict between the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas. Certain passages in the Gospel of John can only be understood in light of a community based on the theological teachings of the Gospel of Thomas. John is the only one of the Canonical Gospels that gives Thomas a speaking part - indicating respect for the Thomas community. This is because the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas are theologically similar in almost every respect except one. In the story of Doubting Thomas, the Johannine Community is theologically rebutting the Thomas community. The Johannine Community believes in a bodily resurrection; Thomas community believes in a spiritual resurrection — and completely rejects a bodily resurrection. So the Gospel of John has Thomas physically touch the risen Jesus and acknowledges his bodily nature. Pagel's interpretation of John requires that a Thomas community existed when John's Gospel was written.
The Ecumenical Coptic Project points out in its annotated translation that the grammatic construction of the Coptic and Greek texts suggest they are from translations of an earlier text and not directly from an oral tradition. This hypothesis is derived from the presence in the text of several instances of a "asyndeton, or omission of conjunctions, characterizing the Semitic and Hamitic languages, but not Indo-European— thus signaling an original Hebrew or Aramaic text underlying the Greek, from which Coptic Thomas was in turn translated; see P338 and Matthew Black, An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts: ‘Asyndeton is, on the whole, contrary to the spirit of the Greek language ... but is highly characteristic of Aramaic’.
Bart Ehrman, (in Jesus Apocalyptic Prophet of the Millennium) argues that the Jesus of history was a failed apocalyptic preacher, and that his fervent apocalyptic beliefs are recorded in the earliest Christian documents, Mark and the authentic Pauline epistles. The earliest Christians believed Jesus would soon return, and their beliefs are echoed in the earliest Christian writings.
Another argument for the late dating of Thomas is known as the criterion of multiple attestation. Darrel Bock, (in "Studying the Historical Jesus") claims that the more a theme is repeated in the early texts about Jesus, the more likely this theme can be traced to Jesus himself. And since apocalyptic texts are found in all four of the canonical gospels, he argues that it is quite likely that Jesus did indeed teach apocalyptically. Supporting this claim are the multitudes of Jewish apocalyptic texts that appeared from the late 3rd century BCE to the 2nd century CE. Many scholars believe that the impetus for these apocalyptic texts came from the crises produced by Babylon's conquest of Israel, the occupation of Israel by the Greeks, and then the occupation of Israel by the Romans. By the time of Jesus, many Jews believed very strongly in these apocalyptic themes which had been circulating among them for two hundred or more years. Furthermore, like Ehrman's argument, this argument points out that the earliest Christian texts of the New Testament (e.g., 1 Thessalonians) also have apocalyptic themes in them.
The last major argument for Thomas being later than the New Testament argues that Gnosticism is a later development, while the earliest Christianity, as evident in Paul's letters, was more Jewish than Gentile and focused on the death and resurrection of Jesus more than his words. In this connection, it is observed that the Jesus of Thomas does not seem very Jewish, and that its current form reflects the work of 2nd-century Gnostic thought, such as the rejection of the physical world and women (see Thomas 114). Graham Stanton (The Gospels and Jesus, p. 129) finds in Thomas a Gnostic document: "removal of the Gnostic veneer will never be easy."
The harsh and widespread reaction to Marcion's canon, the first New Testament canon known to have been created, may demonstrate that, by 140, it had become widely accepted that other texts formed parts of the records of the life and ministry of Jesus. Although arguments about some potential New Testament books, such as the Shepherd of Hermas and Book of Revelation, continued well into the 4th century, four canonical gospels, attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, were accepted among orthodox Christians at least as early as the mid-2nd century. Tatian's widely used Diatessaron, compiled between 160 and 175, utilized the four gospels without any consideration of others. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote in the late 2nd century that since there are four quarters of the earth ... it is fitting that the church should have four pillars ... the four Gospels (Against Heresies, 3.11.8), and then shortly thereafter made the first known quotation from a fourth gospel—the canonical version of the Gospel of John. The late 2nd-century Muratorian fragment also recognizes only the three synoptic gospels and John. Bible scholar Bruce Metzger wrote regarding the formation of the New Testament canon, "Although the fringes of the emerging canon remained unsettled for generations, a high degree of unanimity concerning the greater part of the New Testament was attained among the very diverse and scattered congregations of believers not only throughout the Mediterranean world, but also over an area extending from Britain to Mesopotamia."
It should be noted that information about the historical Jesus itself was not a singular criterion for inclusion into the New Testament Canon. Not all of the books that ended up in the New Testament contain information about the historical Jesus nor teachings from the historical Jesus, such as the Epistles and the book of Revelation.
The Gospel of Thomas may have been excluded from the canon of the New Testament because it was believed to be:
The Gospel of Thomas begins, "These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas recorded." Both the words "Didymos" (Greek) and "Thomas" (Hebrew) mean "Twin" and are not actually names. Rather the author's surname is Judas or Jude, who is — according to Catholic Church tradition — the Apostle Jude who is credited as having penned the canonical Epistle of Jude and is also called the Apostle Thomas to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot. This is the same apostle who — in the Gospel of John — is referred to as "Thomas who is called Didymos."
According to the ancient Thomasian tradition, the author of the gospel had the unique position of being Jesus' twin brother. Though, in the Gospel of Thomas, this is clearly supposed to indicate a spiritual relationship; in other related pieces of Thomasian literature (such as the Book of Thomas the Contender and the Acts of Thomas — even in the canonical Epistle of Jude — which was not from the same sect) this relationship is supposed to be taken both spiritually and literally.
The introduction also says, "These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke..." By using the word "secret" the author is telling you that these sayings are not for everyone's ears. These are the secret teachings that are only for a special chosen few — the solitary elect or monachos in Greek (which is where we get the word "Monk" from). Furthermore, they are the "secret" teachings of the "living Jesus." The term living Jesus is to distinguish the dualism of the mortal man — Jesus of Nazareth — and the immortal divine being living inside him. The living Jesus would be a pre-existent godly being conceptually similar to the Logos in the Gospel of John.
The theological framework for the Gospel of Thomas is determined by its cosmological outlook. The cosmology of the Gospel of Thomas is extremely dualistic. For Thomas there are only two realms of existence: the material realm and the spiritual realm. The spiritual realm is a blissful reality of goodness, life, and light; it is the Kingdom of the Father. The material realm is a reality of evil, death, and darkness. From Thomas' point of view, the material world is the world of death ruled over by the Lion (possibly a reference to the lion-headed Yaldabaoth in classically Gnostic literature) and his minions or rulers.
While most people in this material world, according to this ancient belief, are lifeless, soulless beings (little more than animated corpses) created to serve the Lion and his rulers; a few people are actually spiritual beings in disguise. These chosen few — though clothed in a mortal body — are actually immortal pre-existent beings of light and Children of the Living Father who have become intoxicated and fallen asleep under the weight of the material world and its vices. These solitary elect, upon hearing the words of the Living Jesus, will then shake off their slumber and — upon the death of the material body — will return to the Kingdom of the Father.
In this way, the theology of Thomas is not that different from the theological concepts within the canonical Gospel of John. In fact, in most ways the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas are very similar.
However, this is where the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas part: while the Gospel of John clearly has a strong accent on a future eschaton in which the risen Jesus overthrows the ruler of this world, Thomas believes that the eschaton is already happening. Also, while John clearly preaches the belief in a bodily resurrection, Thomas claims that the body will never inherit life. Rather, for Thomas, the resurrection is a spiritual one.
Perhaps the best summary of the theology of the Gospel of Thomas is found in the Hymn of the Pearl or the Hymn of the Apostle Thomas — which is found within the Acts of Thomas.
In the Hymn of the Pearl a young prince is sent by his father in the east (East, in antiquity, was seen as symbolic of light and life) to Egypt in the west (West was seen as symbolic of death) in which lies a great pearl guarded by the dragon. The prince puts on the clothes of the Egyptians, so as not to be recognized as a foreigner. However, the dragon learns of the prince and gets the prince to eat the heavy food of the Egyptians. After eating the Egyptian food the prince falls asleep and forgets who he is. He believes himself to be an Egyptian, when in fact he is really a prince from the East.
When the prince's father, the king, hears of his son's capture, he sends a personified message to his son reminding him who he is and where he is from. Upon hearing the message, the prince shakes off his drunkenness, defeats the dragon, takes the pearl, removes the Egyptian clothes and returns to his home in the East.
Riley, Gregory J (1995). Resurrection Reconsidered. Augsburg Fortress Publishers. ISBN 0800628462.
Riley, Gregory J (1997). One Jesus, Many Christs : How Jesus Inspired Not One True Christianity, but Many. Harper San Francisco. ISBN 006066790.
Riley, Gregory J (2003). River of God: A New History of Christian Origins. Harper San Francisco. ISBN 0060669802.
Layton, Bentley (1987). The Gnostic Scriptures. Doubleday. ISBN 0385478437.
Meyer, Marvin (2004). The Gospel of Thomas: The Hidden Sayings of Jesus. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780060655815.
In the Thomas gospel, Jesus is a spiritual teacher, and he is offering everyone the opportunity to live (Saying 4) a life that goes beyond death (Saying 1), to become the ruler of their own lives (Saying 2) and thus to know themselves (Saying 3) and their legacy of being the children of "the living Father" (Saying 3). These goals are presented in the image of "entering the Kingdom" by the methodology of insight that goes beyond duality. (Saying 22). The Gospel of Thomas shows no concern for doctrines such as "God", "original sin", "Christ", "divinity," etc.
The Gospel of Thomas is mystical and emphasizes a direct and unmediated experience of the truth of life. In Thomas v.108, Jesus said, "Whoever drinks from my mouth will become as I am; I myself shall become that person, and the hidden things will be revealed to him." Furthermore, salvation is personal and found through spiritual (psychological) introspection. In Thomas v.70, Jesus says, "If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. If you do not bring it forth, what you do not have within you will kill you." As such, this form of salvation is idiosyncratic and without literal explanation unless read from a psychological perspective related to Self vs. ego. In Thomas v.3, Jesus says,
The teaching of salvation (i.e., entering the Kingdom of Heaven) that is found in The Gospel of Thomas is neither that of "works" nor of "grace" as the dicotomy is found in the canonical gospels, but what might be called a third way, that of insight. The overriding concern of The Gospel of Thomas is to find the light within in order to be a light unto the world. (See for example, Sayings 24, 26)
In contrast to the Gospel of John, where Jesus is likened to a (divine and beloved) Lord as in ruler, the Thomas gospel portrays Jesus as more the ubiquitous vehicle of mystical inspiration and enlightenment. In Thomas v. 77 where Jesus said,
In many other respects, the Thomas gospel offers terse yet familiar if not identical accounts of the sayings of Jesus as seen in the synoptic gospels.
Elaine Pagels, in her book Beyond Belief, argues that the Thomas gospel at first fell victim to the needs of the early Christian community for solidarity in the face of persecution, then to the will of the Emperor Constantine, who at the First Council of Nicaea in 325, wanted an end to the sectarian squabbling and a universal Christian creed. She goes on to point out that in spite of it being left out of the Catholic canon, being banned and sentenced to burn, many of the mystical elements have proven to reappear perennially in the works of mystics like Jacob Boehme, Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross (as long as they did not deny the uniqueness and divinity of Jesus). She concludes that the Thomas gospel gives us a rare glimpse into the diversity of beliefs in the early Christian community, an alternative perspective to the Johannine gospel and a check on what many modern Christians take for granted as being heretical. However the church at large considers the Thomas gospel not as a reflection of "Christian diversity" but as an example of one of the early heresies that attacked the church. Writings like the Thomas gospel motivated the Roman Catholic church to define its long-held canon and belief in the death and resurrection of Christ in the four gospels which formed the heart of the message proclaimed by the early church in the book of Acts.
The Gospel of Thomas is regarded by many scholars as one of the most important texts in understanding early Christianity outside the New Testament. It is one of the earliest accounts of the teaching of Jesus outside of the canonical gospels, and so is considered a valuable text. It is unique in that it is ostensibly written from the point of view of Didymus Judas Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, and claims to contain special revelations and parables made only to Thomas. It is further unique in that the gospel is no more than a collection of Jesus' sayings and parables, and contains no narrative account of his life, which is something that all four canonical gospels include.
No major Christian group accepts this gospel as canonical or authoritative. Nonetheless, it is an important work for scholars working on the Q Gospel, which itself is thought to be a collection of sayings or teachings upon which later gospels are based. Although no copy of Q has ever been discovered, the fact that Thomas is similarly a 'sayings' Gospel is taken by some as indication that the early Christians did write collections of the sayings of Jesus, and thus they feel it renders the Q theory more credible.
Most scholars consider the Gospel of Thomas to be a gnostic text, since it was found in a library among others, it contains Gnostic themes, and perhaps presupposes a Gnostic worldview. Others reject this interpretation, because Thomas lacks the full-blown mythology of Gnosticism as described by Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 185).
Many modern scholars believe that the Gospel of Thomas was written independently of the New Testament, and therefore, is a useful guide to historical Jesus research. Scholars may utilize one of a number of critical tools in biblical scholarship, the criterion of multiple attestation, to help build cases for historical reliability of the sayings of Jesus. By finding those sayings in the Gospel of Thomas that overlap with Q, Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, and Paul, scholars feel such sayings represent "multiple attestations" and therefore are more likely to come from a historical Jesus than sayings that are only singly attested.
The Gospel of Thomas has been used by Jesus Myth theorists, such as Earl Doherty and Timothy Freke, as evidence that Christianity did not originate with a historical Jesus, but as a Jewish adaptation of the Greek mystery religions. The collection of teachings attributed to Jesus represent part of the initiation to the mysteries of their religion.
The Gospel of Thomas does not list the canonical twelve apostles, though it does mention James the Just, who is singled out ("No matter where you are you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being"); Simon Peter; Matthew; Thomas, who is taken aside and receives three points of revelation; Mary; and Salome. Though here Mary Magdalene and Salome are mentioned among the twelve disciples, the canonical Gospels and Acts only mention men, but make a distinction between "disciples" and the inner group of twelve "apostles" — a Greek term that does not appear in Thomas — with varying lists of names making up the canonical twelve. Despite the favorable mention of James the Just, generally considered a "pro-circumcision" Christian, the Gospel of Thomas also dismisses circumcision:
Compare Thomas 8 SV
Note that Thomas makes a distinction between large and small fish, whereas Matthew makes a distinction between good and bad fish. Furthermore, Thomas' version has only one fish remaining, whereas Matthew's version implies many good fish remaining. The manner in which each Gospel concludes the parable is instructive. Thomas' version invites the reader to draw their own conclusions as to the interpretation of the saying, whereas Matthew provides an explanation connecting the text to an apocalyptic end of the age.
Another example is the parable of the lost sheep, which is paralleled by Matthew, Luke, John, and Thomas.
This is the parable of the lost sheep in NIV
This is the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15: 3-7 NIV
This is the parable of the lost sheep in Thomas 107 SV
This is the lost sheep discourse in John 10: 1-18 NIV
1"I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. 3The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice." 6Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them. 7Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. 11"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me — 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life — only to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father."
Other parallels include
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In Gary Renard's book Your Immortal Reality, the character Pursah, who claims to be Thomas's reincarnation, gives what she claims is the full original text of the Gospel of Thomas with minor adjustments and spurious verses omitted, leaving 70 sayings, and discusses the book's origin and history, as well as related subjects such as the Q document. In Renard's prior book The Disappearance of the Universe, in addition to quoting verses frequently, Pursah also gives what she says were the original three sayings Jesus spoke aside to Thomas.
Time to mind our languages ; Irish people have particularly negative attitudes to learning foreign languages. Have we no ear, or just bad memories of the classroom?
Aug 13, 2002; Distant memories still rankle. Many dread to see the phrase An Mdh Coinnolach (the conditional mood), written up on the...