Monday, January 1, 2024

Beginning

English

These are the secret words which Jesus, the living one, spoke and [Judah who is also Thomas | Twin Judah Thomas] wrote.


Interpretation

The books authorial attribution differs slightly in the surviving copies. The Greek version of the book call him ΙΟΥΔΑ Ο ΚΑΙ ΘΩΜΑ (Iouda ho kai Thōma, Judah who is also Thomas), and in Coptic he is ⲆⲒⲆⲨⲘⲞⲤ ⲒⲞⲨⲆⲀⲤ ⲐⲰⲘⲀⲤ (Didymos Ioudas Thōmas, Twin Judah Thomas). ΔΙΔΥΜΟΣ/ⲆⲒⲆⲨⲘⲞⲤ directly translates Aramaic תאומא (Tōma) as ‘Twin’. (Some later books identify him as being the twin of Jesus.) In biblical literature, this disciple is known as ΘΩΜΑΣ (Thomas). John alone gives him an additional name, ΔΙΔΥΜΟΣ (Twin). In the literature, several of the disciples of Jesus shared the same names, and additional names were used to distinguish them. In Mark, there are ‘Simon Peter’ and ‘Simon the Cananaean’ (changed to ‘the Zealot’ in Luke), as well as James son of Zebedee and James son of Alphaeus. The Gospel of John mentions ‘Judah, not Iscariot’ and ‘Judah, son of Simon Iscariot’. It is possible that another such disciple named Judah was identified by the nickname ‘Twin’ so early in Christian tradition that his nickname almost entirely supplanted his actual name. Like the New Testament gospels, the Gospel of Thomas was not actually written by its attributed author. This introductory statement is fictional, probably added to the book late in its development.

The statement that the teachings of this book are ‘secret’ has been interpreted to mean it was written by the ‘Gnostics’, Christians (regarded as heretics by the historical winners) who believed salvation came only to an elite few who unlocked hidden ΓΝΩΣΙΣ (gnōsis, knowledge). However, there was no such singular Gnostic theology. While there were Christians, beginning in the second century CE, who did have ‘gnostic’ beliefs, they were as diverse as their so-called ‘orthodox’ counterparts. Some gnostic Christians did appear to use Thomas, though this means little in regards to the book’s origins. (The same Christians also used texts written by Greek philosophers written centuries before Jesus even lived, simply because they found such writings helpful in the formation of their theology.) Even in the texts which became the New Testament canon, Jesus is occasionally depicted as a teacher of esoterism. The presence of ‘secret’ teachings cannot be taken as evidence of ‘gnostic’ influence on Thomas, and the book lacks the most distinct elements commonly found among the various gnostic groups: that the the biblical god, Yhwh, was an ignorant or malevolent deity at the bottom of a pantheon of divine beings which had emanated from the unknown supreme God, and that Jesus had been sent by the supreme God to share the hidden knowledge which would free souls that had been trapped in human form as part of Yhwh’s imperfect created world. While some parts of the book seem to walk the line of gnostic theology, nothing unambiguously crosses over. It seems best to identify such passages as representing an ascetic wisdom theology which, over the second century CE, split along multiple paths, one leading toward the gnostic ‘heresies’, another leading to the more mystically-inclined branches of Eastern Christianity which still exist today.

Jesus is called Ο ΖΩΝ (ho zōn, the living one) in the Greek text. This may be connected to the idea of his resurrection from death, but the epithet is also given to God in a different context, to indicate his capacity as a giver of life (cf. John 6.57). Its use here may indicate that Jesus has taken on this role as life-giver due to his apotheosis.


Parallels

Mark

4.10–12 When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables, in order that they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand, so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’

John

11.16 Thomas, who was called Twin

Revelation of John

1.17–18 And when I saw him I fell at his feet as though dead. And he put his right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not fear. I am the first and the last, and the living one, and I was dead, but see I am alive for ever and ever, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.’

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