The Gospel of Thomas, The Dissection, Part 4

This is the last section of the Gospel of Thomas. I hope you’ve all enjoyed my series.

The Gospel of Thomas, or the Hidden Sayings of Jesus, is a collection of sayings of Jesus, traditionally numbered by scholars at 114, which are said to communicate salvation & life. While the Gospel of Thomas has some features in common with gnostic gospels, it doesn’t seem to fit the definition of Gnosticism to a significant extent. According to the incipit (or prologue) of the Gospel of Thomas the Twin. Judas Thomas was thought in some circles, particularly within Syriac Christianity, to be the twin brother of Jesus (which intrigues me very much!) & as such the ideal person to function as guarantor of the Jesus & the ideal person to function as guarantor of the Jesus tradition. The Gospel of John in the New Testament begs to differ with this positive assessment of Judas Thomas, however, & instead chooses to depict him as “doubting Thomas.” The sayings included in the Gospel of Thomas include a variety of aphorisms, parables, stories, & other utterances of Jesus, the interpretation of which, saying 1 announces, can lead to salvation & life. Saying 1 stars, “Whoever discovers the interpretation of these saying will not taste death,” & saying 2 describes  the epistemological process whereby one comes to knowledge & understanding: “Let one who seeks not stop seeking until one finds. When one finds, one will be troubled, one will reign over over all.” The Greek Gospel of Thomas adds an additional stage to the interpretive process: “and having reigned, one will rest.”  In other words, the quest for an understanding of Jesus is an enterprise to be undertaken with commitment, & although the way to knowledge may be difficult & even disturbing, those who persevere will discover God’s reign & God’s rest. And if God’s reign, God’s kingdom, is outside a person, it’s also within.

As in Q (denotes the hypothetical source of the passages shared by the gospels of Matthew & Luke, but not in Mark) & the New Testament gospels, especially the synoptic gospels of Mark, Matthew, & Luke, Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas asks his disciples to seek & find. In the Gospl of Thomas & other early texts, the sayings of Jesus are completely open to interpretation, so that disciples & readers (or listeners) are encouraged to search for the meaning of the sayings of Jesus & complete his thoughts after him. The Gospel of Thomas is an interactive gospel: wisdom & knowledge come when readers creatively encounter the sayings of Jesus are open to interpretation as is the case with most religious/spiritual texts. And respond to the sayings with insight(s). Such an interactive approach may go back to the historical Jesus, whose sayings & stories seem to have provided to opportunity for his disciples & others around him to react & respond. To that extent the Gospel of Thomas coheres well with much of the Jesus sayings tradition. A number of the sayings in the Gospel of Thomas, however, are especially cryptic & riddle-like, & the need for creative interpretation is obvious. Much is at stake. Those who find the meaning of Jesus’ sayings find life, the Gospel of Thomas proclaims, & they come tot realize that they come to realize that they’re children of the living father. Meaning God the father. Or, as Jesus puts it in saying 108, those who drink from his mouth will be like him & he will be one with them, & the will understand what’s hidden.

Jesus, in the Gospel of Thomas, confronts his disciples & readers of the gospel with powerful sayings, but he doesn’t pull rank. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus assumes very few Christological titles, & Jesus in this gospel is just Jesus.  Jesus, in the Gospel of Thomas, isn’t designated the Christ or the messiah, he’s not the acclaimed master or lord, & when he refers to himself once in the gospel, in saying 86, as a child of humankind or son of man, he does so in the generic sense of referring to any person (or to himself) as a human being.  If Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas is a child of humankind, so are other people called children of humankind (sayings 28 & 106).  Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas isn’t presented as the unique or incarnate son of God, & nothing is said of a cross with saving significance or an empty tomb (So Easter is a not go?). Jesus is named the living Jesus, but God is also said to be a living one, & followers of Jesus are called living ones as well. Jesus the living one lives through his words & sayings.

The Gospel of Thomas is the 2nd tractate in Codex II of the Nag Hammadi library, where it’s preserved in the Coptic translation.  3 Greek fragments of the Gospel of Thomas also survive (Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1, 654, & 655), as do testimony in early Christian literature, especially in the writings of Hippolytus of Rome.  Translations of the Nag Hammadi Coptic text, the Greek fragments, & the 2 testimony from Hippolytus are given. Most likely the Gospel of Thomas was composed in Greek. Probably in Syria, or even in Edessa, where Thomas was revered & his bones are venerated. A reasonable case can be made for a first-century date for a first edition of the Gospel of Thomas, though some scholars prefer a 2nd century date.

Thanks so much for reading this!!! I really enjoyed doing this series. Hope to see you again.

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