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The Gospel of Thomas – Lots of nice talk but where’s the action?

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English: Image of the Last Page of the Coptic ...

The Last Page of the Coptic Manuscript of the Gospel of Thomas. The title “peuaggelion pkata Thomas” is at the end. Courtesy of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, Claremont Graduate University. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Gospel of Thomas (estimated date written, 40 – 250 CE) is an early non-canonical Christian document that has left many scholars scratching their heads as to who wrote it and where it came from. Some say it is a Gnostic text. Others maintain that it is not esoteric nor introspective enough to be considered Gnostic.

Another group of scholars believe that Thomas offers important insights into the early Christian oral gospel tradition. A good deal of the content of Thomas overlaps with canonical New Testament accounts, leading some scholars to say this supports the idea of a preexisting but lost common textual source, which has been called “Q.”

Q is a slightly complicated idea for non-specialists.¹ This diagram simplifies how the entirely hypothetical Q might have contributed to Thomas and “some GOSPELS” (referring to some of the canonical gospels of the New Testament).

Q2

With regard to Thomas, Wikipedia notes

Bishop Eusebius (AD 260/265 – 339/340) included it among a group of books that he believed to be not only spurious, but “the fictions of heretics”. However, it is not clear whether he was referring to this Gospel of Thomas or one of the other texts attributed to Thomas.²

Myself, when I read The Gospel of Thomas³ it seems slightly hokey and spiritually dissipated. I can’t fully explain why I feel this way. But I do feel this way. My assessment is not made entirely through biblical scholarship (because I am not a biblical scholar, in the standard sense of the term). Instead, I often make a judgement of any religious text on the way it effects me.

Also, some texts forward ideas and truth claims that I’ve long since moved past, not only experientially, but intellectually. In the extended Christian world, for example, I’ve learned enough about how the Bible and non-Canonical texts were put together to not be a fundamentalist—Biblical or Gnostic. But I still like to read the Catholic Bible from time to time.

Some folks obviously love The Gospel of Thomas. But to my mind it lacks an important element, that being the living example of Jesus through his actions. Thomas is all talk, as it were. It’s composed of over 100 sayings attributed to Christ. But for me, the main point of Christianity is not to merely enjoy nice or mysterious sounding language in some literary or pseudo-mystical way. Rather, it’s about putting a good ethical system into direct practice.

We must try our best to practice what we preach. So to say “God Bless” and then indiscriminately do sneaky and underhanded things to the very person we’re ‘God Blessing’ is, to my mind, evidence of a sick soul.

¹ For good diagrams of different theories about Q, see http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Synoptic_Gospels

² https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Thomas

³ Gospel of Thomas online and more related links (Bing) (Google)

Related » Gnosticism

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7 thoughts on “The Gospel of Thomas – Lots of nice talk but where’s the action?

  1. Pingback: Snippet – The Gospel of Thomas – uplifting or obscuring? | Earthpages.org

  2. It’s not the lack of “acts” I find wanting in the GOT. In some cases, the simplistic forms of the sayings (so abbreviated that they lose their meaning), make them weaker than those in Mark and Luke (the two synoptic gospels derived from Q). Other times, the meaning is much clearer. For example, saying 32: “A city being built on a high mountain and fortified cannot fall, nor can it be hidden.” Some good references: https://www.amazon.ca/Beyond-Belief-Secret-Gospel-Thomas/dp/0375703160, https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Gospel-Original-Sayings-Jesus/dp/1569751897. I have both of these books; should probably write synopses of their arguments. Once I finish my series on The Secret Book of John, I’ve been thinking about taking a deeper look at Thomas on my blog.

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    • Thanks for interesting comments. While writing this I was wondering if maybe the hypothetical “Q” could be alternately explained by the continuity and spread of the oral tradition. I’m not an expert on biblical history, life and conditions in the ancient world, so just throw it out for discussion.

      As for “Beyond Belief,” I’m not sure if Pagel’s is making that kind of broad argument — i.e. that knowledge is superior to belief – because I haven’t looked at that particular book of hers. But I’d say that just about everything comes down to belief. Further elaborated here: https://earthpages.wordpress.com/2016/07/25/hartshorne-charles/ (scroll down to the picture of Plato…).

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      • Q’s derivation is largely beyond me. It requires a knowledge of ancient Greek (the language of the NT) and the history of the period, as well as deep familiarity with the gospels, to really understand the arguments. “The Lost Gospel of Q” is a great book for laymen like us to understand the basics. Elaine Pagel’s in her book on the Gospel of Thomas expounds her theory that Johanian Christians and Thomasine Christians came into conflict, with John’s follower (whose views became the Orthodox view) espousing “salvation thru belief”, and the Thomasine Christians, a more gnostic (salvation thru knowledge) position.

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        • Thanks I just ordered the Q book from the library. I’m supposing there’s an introduction or annotations that will help me out a bit. Having said that, from sitting in a seminar for religious studies at the doctoral level (required), I got the impression that academic biblical studies is sort of a game. And once you start playing, it gets harder to see other “games” that might refute the initial game. Maybe that’s just a non-ancient Greek reader’s way of getting his licks in. But maybe not. It would probably be best if one could read the original languages AND think creatively. Agreed. Still, the fact that we can’t read the original languages does not necessarily invalidate any insights. 🙂

          When I say everything probably comes down to belief I’m speaking more philosophically. The reflective mind can always step back from any theory or personal experience, for that matter, and ask… do I really know for sure?

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  3. I’ve not read it. Very interesting post….interestingly, the sermon I heard today talked about how Christianity is more than, “putting a good ethical system into practice.” I think you and I vibe on a similar wavelength though. I just love Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and I am so amazed that God loves me.

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    • Why wouldn’t God love you? He made you! 🙂 I’d like to hear more details about that sermon. I’m guessing that it had something to do with the position that, if one has faith, one’s actions should fall into line. I remember studying that essentially Protestant view, I think, a few years ago.

      When you get right down to it, the differences between Protestants and Catholics are not too severe. At least in that area. Intercession and the saints… now that idea can get the odd Protestant quite prickly! 🙂

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