For those who are unfamiliar with the text, the Gospel of Thomas
is an early Gnostic Christian text, discovered in the Nag Hamaddi Library in
the 20th Century. This text, according to its prelude, is purported to be the "secret teachings of Jesus", as written down by his twin brother
Judas, though the majority academic view is that it is reflective of Gnostic, not Christian, teachings.
One of the more challenging aspects of working with Thomas
is in dealing with its date of creation. Because many of the passages in it that
have parallels in the canonical gospels are found in a more primitive form in Thomas
, there has been speculation that Thomas
the gospels that are found in the Christian Bible.
I believe that there is evidence, within Thomas
itself, that disproves that.
I will be working from the Lambdin Translation
When we read the canonical gospels, one of the things that is noticeable is the heavy use of personal names. Where names are anonymous, they tend to
either be of no consequence, they of people whom the name would be impossible to determine after the fact (such as lepers who were healed) or they are
people whom the writer wanted to protect (such as the person who struck the High Priest's servant with a sword -- anonymous in the very early
, named as Simon Peter in John
, written after Peter's death.)
, on the other hand, is fairly scant with names. Of the 114 sayings, 22 have someone other than Jesus saying something (usually asking
Jesus a question,) and of those 22, only four saying have named individuals. So, we have only three percent of the sayings including a named
individual, which leads one to the conclusion that when a person IS named, it's both intentional and important.
Here is the list:
#6, 12, 18, 20, 24, 37, 43, 51, 52, 53, 60, 99, 113 - "Disciples"
#13 - Simon Peter, Matthew, Thomas
#21 - Mary
#61 - Salome
#72 - "A man"
#79 - "A woman"
#91, 100, 104 - "They"
#114 - Simon Peter
(It is generally accepted that saying #114 is not an original saying from Thomas
, skewing the percentage even worse.)
The two sayings that include Mary and Salome are not really important here -- Mary was a key character in late Gnostic Christian theology (see the
Gospel of Mary
) and Salome was seen as a confidant of Jesus.
It appears that women played a more prominent role in the myths and communities that arose among Christian Gnostics than they did in society at
large. In the capital of King Mazdai, wherever that may have been, Thomas had an important following among women -- the wives of notables at the
court, including the queen herself. And early Christian heresiologists accused Gnostic leaders of seeking out women, ones described by the
heresy-hunters as weak and gullible, as easy converts. In Marcion's church women were full participants and could administer baptism. Apocryphal
writings of Gnostic origin made certain of the women in Jesus's inner circle recipients of secret learning from him after his resurrection. They as
well as men could be inspirited.
Salome (not to be confused with the princess who demanded John the Baptist's head) and Mary Magdalene were confidantes of this sort. In the canonical
gospels, Salome appears by name only in Mark , who gives her a role of highest importance : she is a witness of both the crucifixion and the empty
tomb. The later gospels --Matthew, Luke , and John -- do not refer to her at all. It has been suggested that she was left out because the later
gospel-writers disapproved of various Christian groups who invoked her as authority for what had become, in their eyes, dubious doctrine. The
prominent role she plays in Gnostic literature and the conspicuous silence of later orthodoxy writers strongly support such a view.
So, if we dismiss #114 as being not original to Thomas
and #21 and #61 because of their association with women held in esteem by the Gnostics,
but not Apostles of Christ, we are left with saying #13. The text of that is:
Jesus said to his disciples, "Compare me to someone and tell me whom I am like."
Simon Peter said to him, "You are like a righteous angel."
Matthew said to him, "You are like a wise philosopher."
Thomas said to him, "Master, my mouth is wholly incapable of saying whom you are like."
Jesus said, "I am not your master. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated from 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."
And with this text, Thomas
gives away its age, or at least the truth as to whether it predates the canonical gospels.
We have three Apostles here, Peter, Matthew and Thomas -- who is the odd man out? Well, as this is the Gospel of Thomas
, his inclusion seems
obvious, and the text that follows his statement is exactly how the Gnostics saw him. Thomas was the receiver of the secrets of Jesus, which were not
only not known by the other Apostles, but which they would violently react to.
Okay, what about Peter? The first and second lines of saying #13 are reminiscent of this passage in Mark
"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Messiah." (Mark 8:29 NIV)
Note that Peter's response to the question is different -- in one case, he is the Messiah, in another he is "a righteous angel". This is exactly in
keeping with Gnosticism, which had no interest in Messiahs, but believed that Jesus was the neoplatonic equivalent of an angel, an aeon.
One important thing to note here is that, in the time period we are considering, the First and Second Centuries, it was generally held that the
Gospel of Mark
was named after the scribe who wrote down the words of Peter, so that first gospel is really the Gospel of Peter
The reason that is important is because of our odd man out, Matthew. The core of Apostles that surrounded Christ were Peter, Andrew, James and John.
Matthew was a "second tier" Apostle, who only appears in the Bible in lists of Apostles, and one mention in each of the three gospels of how he was
recruited by Jesus, so his inclusion here is odd, to say the least.
Except that he also wrote a gospel
. Were it not for that, Matthew is entirely nondescript, so it becomes obvious that he is mentioned in saying
#13 because of that text. And what does he say? "You are like a wise philosopher," a statement that is in complete opposition to what his gospel
It is clear that saying #13 is intended to discredit competing and pre-existing gospels, that of Mark
, meaning that we can
positively date Thomas after
those texts. In addition, because the parallel passage between Thomas
Peter's statement, appears to exhibit the "more primitive" textual style, when we know it cannot possibly be earlier
, I believe that calls
the authenticity of the entire text into question.