Gospel of Thomas: A Few Thoughts and Some Excerpts

One thing to keep in mind with the Jesus’s wife story is that it’s all bound up in trends and obsessions in certain academic quarters devoted to study the Christian Gnostics. One of their chief texts is the “Gospel” of Thomas, a text dating to the late 2nd century or later. Thomas is important because it tells us a great deal about Gnostic beliefs, but it’s also important in modern debates as a litmus test for academic credibility.

Princeton Professor Elaine Pagels, among others, assigns a very early date to Thomas. Her theory is that Thomas came before the Gospel of John, and that John is, in fact, a late response to Thomas. This would make Thomas authentic, John false, and call into question in the entire narrative of the early Church. Certain Gnostic scholars believe Thomas contains true sayings from Jesus that were omitted from the canonical scriptures, and that this strain of Christianity was stomped out and suppressed by the “orthodox” Christians. (In fact, a number of real sayings from the canonical scriptures are found in Thomas.)

Some believe this denial of a tradition of mystical wisdom teaching damaged the burgeoning Church, and prevented a more authentic Jesus (read: one more amenable to modern tastes) from developing. Of course, if we eliminate John completely and compare Thomas to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, you still can’t reconcile the two strains of Christianity. For Thomas to be true, everything else has to be false.

The reality is pretty mundane and nobody gets stories in the New York Times for talking about it. John came first and represented mainstream apostolic teaching. Thomas, Philip, and other Gnostic texts were fringe, regional variants that emerged later and were slapped down because they had nothing to do with real Christianity or the historical Jesus of Nazareth. They were suppressed because they were false and, in some case, completely daft, and posed a risk of confusing the community of the faithful.

Academics who believe that Gnostic Christianity is the “true” Christianity are operating at the academic fringes, yet by nature of their controversial positions they command an inordinate amount of media time.

How crazy is Thomas? Judge for yourself:

Jesus said, “Blessed is the lion which becomes man when consumed by man; and cursed is the man whom the lion consumes, and the lion becomes man.”

He saw a Samaritan carrying a lamb and going to Judea. He said to his disciples, “that person … around the lamb.” They said to him, “So that he may kill it and eat it.” He said to them, “He will not eat it while it is alive, but only after he has killed it and it has become a carcass.”

They said, “Otherwise he can’t do it.”

He said to them, “So also with you, seek for yourselves a place for rest, or you might become a carcass and be eaten.”

Jesus said, “I am not your master. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated by the bubbling spring which I have measured out.”

And He took him and withdrew and told him three things. When Thomas returned to his companions, they asked him, “What did Jesus say to you?”

Thomas said to them, “If I tell you one of the things which he told me, you will pick up stones and throw them at me; a fire will come out of the stones and burn you up.”

Jesus said, “Where there are three gods, they are gods. Where there are two or one, I am with him.”

and, of course…

Simon Peter said to Him, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of Life.”
Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Someone actually captured footage of early Gnostic preachers. Here it is:

YouTube Preview Image


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Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • http://www.accordeonaire.blogspot.com Gary Chapin

    Waitaminnut! That’s not a genuine gnostic preacher! They didn’t have YouTube then!!!

  • elGaucho

    My general knowledge about the Gnostics was that they had their own ideology and tried to put words in Jesus mouth to show that he taught what they believe. What is their ideology? It is tough to form something coherent from the Gospel of Thomas. Karen King is a complete feminist revisionist but it is funny she uses the Gospel of Thomas to support her conclusions because I believe it did not preach man and woman were equal. But my gosh, the media has made a mess out of this. This is worse than the Jesus tomb discovery.

  • Aristofon

    Somehow my response got cut short. Anyhow, I was just informing you that the Mary comment is a reference to “maleness”, summed up as follows: god is not female as he does not require a companion. Its a yin/yang dichotomy. Very simple, and should not be taken out of context.

  • marty

    Sorry.. But you obviously don’t get it. Some need to learn lessons in a plain black and white narrative form of writing. Some can benefit from metaphorical writing. You can’t read it word for word “literally”. It’s meant as a next level teaching. You better just stick to the first level if your gonna misunderstand the next level. That is what happened in the first place with the Church fathers.
    By the way Thomas does likely date before John. More people than Pagels believe that.

  • http://n/a M E Wood

    As a former student of archaeology at the University of Edinburgh we learned of the late Roman Gnostic sects, I got a feeling that the Gnostic sects were many and varied. But did they all claim Higher Knowledge. and was that which made them Gnostics? Was the Higher Knowledge only for an inner circle in all of them. If so I can see why St Augustine gave up on them since Christianity is for everyone even the lowliest sinner. Did this interest in Gnosticism come from the Germanic philosophers of the 19th century since the gnostic texts were only found in the 19th Century,were they not? These philosophers had quite an effect on Modern Thought.Look at the 20th Century history.