The Gospel of Thomas: the
newest (almost) ancient gospel
• The gospel claims to be by “Didymos Judas
• (NOT Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus.)
• Didymos is Greek for twin.
• Thomas is Aramaic for twin.
• So the gospel claims to be by Judas the Twin
• Who some ancient legends assert was the twin
brother of Jesus (but no reliable sources say
• In this gospel DJT is given the authority
accorded Peter in the canonical gospels.
What is the Gospel of Thomas?
• A “sayings gospel,” like Q.
• 114 logia [“sayings”; singular, “logion”] in Coptic,
an ancient Egyptian language.
• Coptic text dates from mid 4th century CE
• But originally written in Greek, as we know from
a Greek fragment of several verses of Thomas,
found in late 19th century.
• And Greek text probably dates from early to mid
2nd century CE.
• Coptic text is part of the Nag Hammadi library,
discovered in 1945.
The Nag Hammadi story
• Muhammed Ali (an Egyptian peasant -- not the boxer! ) was digging
for fertilizer with his brothers (just before they were going to avenge
their father’s death).
• And they first hit the skull of a human skeleton, then an earthenware
jar about a meter high.
• They were initially hesitant to break it open – might contain a jinn.
• But it also might contain gold.
• So they broke it open – fortunately no jinn, but alas, no gold.
• Just 12 papyrus codices and part of a 13th bound in leather. (Codex
= manuscript book.)
• They loaded then on their camels and went home, stored them in an
outbuilding of their farm.
• They had been involved in a blood feud with another family (father’s
• A month after finding the codices, they killed their father’s killer,
hacked off his limbs, cut out his heart, while it was still warm, shared
it among themselves.
• (Ah, the taste of revenge!)
Nag Hammadi story (cont.)
• Guessing the police might be sniffing around, they gave
the books to a priest for safe-keeping.
• He showed them to a teacher, who guessed they might
• One volume sent to Cairo for appraisal, another 10 sold
on the black market.
• But Egyptian officials got wind of the deal and
confiscated all but one, which was sold in Europe.
• A Dutch scholar who was negotiating for the 12th volume
went to Cairo to find the missing pages, obtained
photographs of them, went back to his hotel room to
decipher them and read the startling opening words of
the Gospel of Thomas.
• “These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus
spoke . . .”
• For various reasons (mainly scholarly infighting), the NH
Library wasn’t edited, translated until late 1970s.
Thomas as early gospel
• Written no later than mid-2nd century CE, probably in
• Some scholars see it going back, at least in part, to mid
1st century, i.e., before the composition of Mark.
• But probably not all of it can be this old; it’s certainly
Gnostic in current form.
• But Thomas is certainly an early gospel independent of
the synoptic tradition.
• It’s a “sayings gospel” seemingly in the same tradition as
Q (though it’s independent of Q).
• And Thomas could contain some authentic sayings of
Jesus that are not found in the canonical gospels
(though not the Gnostic materials).
• A theosophical (“God-wisdom”) system that pre-dates
• But became mixed with Jewish and Christian ideas,
particularly in Egypt, to produce forms of Gnostic
Christianity in 2nd through 4th centuries.
• In Egypt Gnostic Christianity may predate proto-orthodox
• Appears to have been dualistic: a good, spiritual world
created by good God (or emanations from this God), and
an evil god who created material world.
• Various cosmographies to explain this – see Ehrman.
• Human beings are mixed creatures, containing the divine
spiritual spark, but alas,mired in materiality of body and
its needs, desires.
• Humans must seek knowledge (= gnosis in Greek) of
the spiritual world in order to liberate themselves from
evil and material world.
• Salvation comes through knowledge, gnosis.
Gnostic lifestyle, ethics
• Much is speculative, but they appear to
have seen themselves an a spiritual elite.
• They disdained sexual expression.
• Saw the material world as dangerous, evil.
• Lived ascetic lives.
• Perhaps abstained from food produced by
copulation, i.e., meat. But maybe not: see
• Favored “spiritual,” i.e., symbolic or
allegorical explanations of dogmas,
Thomas and gnostic Christianity
• What’s the overlap of Thomas and sayings of canonical
• By my count, Thomas overlaps with sayings from
canonical gospels by about 40 percent (43 to 46 familiar
“logia,”), around 13 “mixed,” and around 60 totally
• Clearly there’s a strong gnostic element in it.
• Jesus lives and saves through his words, teaching:
• Not through his death, resurrection, which are never
• He will live through those who repeat his wisdom.
• “Who do men say that I am?” (Mark 8:27); compare
Logion 13. The different answers.
Thomas vs. canonical gospels
• No passion story, or any hint that it could be
• In fact, nothing of Jesus’ death, resurrection.
• No “kerygma” of cross, or suffering.
• No miracle stories, healings, exorcisms.
• No “eschatological” teachings (“eschaton = end
time), teachings of a coming judgment.
• Nothing of Israel, its law, traditions.
• Only overlap with canonical gospels are sayings,
The Jesus of Thomas
• Something like a Zen master?
• “Koans” of esoteric wisdom, paradoxes.
• Emphasis on interiority (logia 3, 24, 55), perfection of
• Many of sayings seem symbolic – and strangely
• Disdain for those who are involved in the world.
• Nothing of a radical “social gospel,” nothing on poor and
• Nothing about Jewish law.
• No healing.
• Are we in Esalen? Have we entered the New Age?
What do we make of these?
• Logion 2? Seek and ye shall find, but . . .
• Logion 11?
• Making the one two and the two one? 22,
• Spirit and flesh: 29, 15, 37, 87.
• Male and female, 114, 61?
• Do 38, 50, 77 suggest the Gospel of
John? Is John influenced by gnosticism?
Could Thomas contain some
authentic Jesus sayings that aren’t
in the canonical gospels?
• Look at logion 96. Looks like Matthew
• But logion 97.
• And logion 98.
• What indeed is the kingdom of