Arguably the most famous Nag Hammadi text, the original Greek version of the Gospel of Thomas was discovered at Oxyrynchus in 1897. Unfortunately it was in fragments, so not until the complete Coptic text was unearthed at Nag Hammadi in 1945, did scholars realize what they had in their possession. It is the second tractate of Codex II in the Nag Hammadi library.
Although the Nag Hammadi Coptic version dates from the 4th century, the original Greek version could date from 50, making it even earlier than the New Testament gospels. This makes Gnosticism a valid spiritual – and Christian – tradition dating back to the time of the Apostles.
The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of 114 sayings of Jesus about salvation and life. In contrast to the New Testament gospels, which focus on the crucifixion and the resurrection, the Gospel of Thomas presents a figure of Jesus who does not die for anyone’s sins on the cross and does not rise from the dead on the third day.
The opening line is: “These are the hidden words that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas wrote them down.”
Didymus (Greek) and Thomas (Aramaic) both mean ‘twin’. Scholars believe Judas Thomas is Jesus’s twin brother, but I believe it refers to Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ spiritual ‘other self’’. The interpretation of these sayings can lead to salvation and life. Saying 1 states:- “Whoever discovers the interpretations of these sayings will not taste death.”
Jesus is portrayed not as the worker of miracles, healer of the sick or the raiser of the dead, but as a spiritual teacher: “Let one who seeks not stop seeking until one finds. When one finds, one will be troubled. When one is troubled, one will marvel and will reign over all.” The emphasis here is on the personal nature of spiritual life: the journey of self-discovery involves inner turmoil – simple but not easy.
It is the disciple who has to walk the spiritual path, not Jesus. Saying 70 :- Jesus said,
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. If you do not have that within you, what you do not have within you will kill you”.It is not Christ’s death on the cross – of which no mention is made in the Gospel of Thomas – that will save, but regular spiritual practice and observing a moral code, outlined in Saying 6:
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 shall we observe?” Jesus said, “Do not lie, and do not do what you hate, because all things are disclosed before heaven. For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and there is nothing covered that will remain undisclosed.”
Jesus advises his followers to be ‘passers by’ and not get embroiled in the world of those who don’t have the ears to hear the word of gnosis, and who busy themselves by proclaiming their own apparent righteousness. Saying 74 : He said, “Master, there are many around the drinking trough, but there is nothing in the well.”
These dogmatically religious people do not see reality as it is actually is, as Saying 113 suggests: His disciples said to him, “When will the kingdom come?”
“It will not come by waiting for it. It will be not be said, ‘Look, here it is,’ or ‘ Look, ‘there it is’. Rather, the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it.”
A number of the sayings in the Gospel of Thomas are especially cryptic, with a need for creative interpretation. The stakes are high. Those who find the true meaning are promised they will come to realize they are children of the living Father. Or as Jesus puts it in Saying 108:- “Whoever drinks from my mouth will become like me; I myself shall become that person, and the hidden things will be revealed to that person.”
The language of the concluding Saying 114 may appear shocking, but on further reflection another interpretation springs to mind:-
Simon Peter said to them, “Mary should leave us, for females are not worthy of life.” Jesus said, “Look, I shall guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter heaven’s kingdom.”
At this time women were insignificant and men formed the legitimate body of the community, but as Jesus accepted and promoted women I do not think this should be taken literally. Rather, the female symbolizes what is earthly and perishable, the male what is heavenly and imperishable. So what is merely human (female) must be transformed into what is divine (male). In order for Mary Magdalene and Mary Salome to become disciples of Jesus they must transcend their human nature and so ‘become male’.
The Gospel of Thomas is a stark, beautiful, poetic document of wisdom, worthy of being one of the most celebrated texts from the Nag Hammadi Library.
Next blog: The Gospel of Philip, tractate 3 from codex II and one of the most stunningly original texts of the Nag Hammadi Library.
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