INNER CIRCLE: The Son Of A Harlot

INNER CIRCLE: The Son Of A Harlot April 14, 2024

IMAGE: Keith Giles [MidJourney]
Saying 105

Jesus said, “He who knows father and mother will be called the son of a harlot.”

Many of the saying of Jesus from Thomas follow a “Blessed Are/Woe To” pattern. Either “Blessed are those who [see the Truth] for they will receive this blessing”, or “Woe to those who oppose the Truth for they will suffer this consequence.” But, in this saying, it seems that Jesus has fused (or confused) this pattern by suggesting that those who know their true Father and Mother [God] will be called the son of a harlot.

To make sense of this, some scholars, like Stephen J. Patterson and James M. Robinson, suggest that perhaps this is because there was an original version of this saying that somehow became corrupted over time and was recorded incorrectly. They suggest that this saying should properly read something like: “He who does not know his true Father and Mother will be called the son of a harlot.” This preserves the expected “Blessed Are/Woe To” pattern and allows us to make more sense of what Jesus may have been wanting to communicate.

Other scholars, like Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover suggest this saying is properly recorded, but that it points to something more personal about Jesus himself. According to them:

“Parentage played a more important role in individual identity in antiquity than it does in modern Western societies. In Jewish-Christian disputes over Jesus, the charge was often made that Jesus was the illegitimate child of Mary and a Roman soldier [named Panthera according to a legend recorded by Origen]…If this is indeed the allusion, then Jesus is made to speak here about himself and the special relation that he has to the Father (Thom 61:3) and the Mother (Thom 101:3), in both the literal and metaphorical senses. The saying then expresses early Christian reflection on the parentage of Jesus in the context of disputes with rival Judean groups.”[1]

Personally, I’m not sure I agree with Funk and Hoover that this saying uniquely ignores the sharing of deep spiritual wisdom with the disciples to pull aside and make some personal commentary about the parentage of Jesus himself. Mainly, because this saying can only apply to Jesus directly. There is not a spiritual lesson to take away for the rest of us. Especially since Jesus being called “the son of a harlot” had nothing to do with his knowing or not knowing his true spiritual Father or Mother.

Perhaps the Patterson and Robinson solution makes more sense; that there was an original negation that was somehow lost over time and the saying is more properly to be understood as a “Woe” statement against those who deny their true Father and Mother [God] as referenced earlier in saying 101 above.

I would like to suggest a slightly different notion about this saying. Perhaps it is recorded faithfully and we are simply befuddled by the unexpected incongruencies in the saying. It’s not as if Jesus avoids difficult sayings in this Gospel of Thomas. In fact, more often than not, Jesus is prone to say things here that challenge us to stop and dig deeper to fathom the meaning. I think this is the more likely case in this saying. If so, here is how I would explain it: Jesus says that those who know their true Father and Mother [God] will be rejected by those who cannot see their true Father and Mother. In other words, they will be persecuted and misunderstood by those who are still blind to the truth of Divine Oneness and Unity. They, like him, will be ridiculed and slandered by those who have yet to have their eyes opened. The specific reference to the insults they aimed at him – “the son of a harlot” – is intended to provide an example of how we will “share in the sufferings of Christ” for seeing and believing the words that Jesus speaks to us about the ultimate reality of the illusion of separation.

If this is the case, there is no need to surmise a missing negation or corruption in the text, nor is there a need to see this saying as one that applies only to Jesus personally and not to the rest of us.

[1]From The Five Gospels, p. 526, by Funk and Hoover.


Keith Giles is the best-selling author of the Jesus Un series. He has appeared on CNN, USA Today, BuzzFeed, and John Fugelsang’s “Tell Me Everything.” He hosts the Second Cup with Keith podcast, and co-hosts the Apostates Anonymous podcast, and the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast.

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