Is the Gospel of Thomas Gnostic? Christian?

Many scholars suggest that the Gospel of Thomas is not Gnostic. It contains no mythos of the demiurge, the fall of Sophia, and sees God within creation. Many of the scholars make the case that the Thomasines were a Christian community, one of the many diverse Christian communities (though some today might attach a label of mystical to them, but honestly could not any of the Christian groups fit that bill?)  Their text fitting in with much though not all of "mainstream" Christianity. The Thomasines were Christians.  However there are kernels or seeds of things in the Gospel of Thomas later adopted by those groups commonly called Gnostics.  It's concepts were later built on with much else in other Gnostic groups, so the GoT did influence Gnosticism without being Gnostic itself. Today, perhaps as in its earliest ages, The Gospel of Thomas has a foot in two worlds, that of Christianity and that of Gnosticism, yet not fitting completely within either.  It is Christian but not totally orthodox.  It has elements that can be seen as Gnostic and yet is radically different from all the other sects so as to make it a different bird than the Gnostics.

I know for me it has been a journey.  I have and probably still struggle with the thought of the Gospel of Thomas being a Christian text.  I have found correlations within Buddhism and Hinduism, but there are some very strong differences.  What I often call "gnosis" or this knowing of God and self as "salvation" in the GoT is very different than Buddhism.  It is its own path.  The Gospel of Thomas speaks of a community of disciples, leaders, personal spirituality, the dangers of religiosity, caring for others and the need for discernment.  It does suggest that there are those who "get it" and are liberated and even hints at what happens to those who do not awaken. (Taking saying 8 about the fully grown fish being kept and the others being sent back into the water to grow, in conjunction with a later Thomasine writing, The Acts of Thomas, a case could be made for reincarnation.)  There is a strong case made that saying 21 was read at baptismal initiations as in the early church those going to be baptized disrobed, trampling their old clothes beneath their feet, then being baptized and clothed in white.

One of the most beautiful things I have found in my years of study and meditation on this beautiful Gospel of Thomas is that the Gospel of Thomas is inherently green.  It acknowledges both the temporal nature of the body and nature and yet it sees the Divine within all things.  I just read this from Dr. Karen L. King's great book, What Is Gnosticism? referring to the Gospel of Thomas saying 113 which reads:

His disciples said to him, "When will the kingdom come?"  [Jesus said,] "It will not come by waiting for it.  It will not be a matter of saying 'Here it is' or 'There it is.'  Rather, the kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it."

She comments on this: "This saying makes clear that the world itself is capable of communicating the presence of God, and other passages also suggest that GosThom understands salvation as 'paradise regained.'  Creation offers the pattern for salvation. No wicked Demiurge here."  pg. 197

The world acts as a body for God in many ways.  It is not pantheism but rather a seeing the Divine within it.

Comments

  1. I agree that the Gospel of Thomas is, as you say, "its own path." It eludes categorization. It is not Buddhist, yet it appeals to Buddhists more than any other Christian scripture: Richard Baker Roshi (dharma heir to Suzuki Roshi) once said that if he'd read the GoT when he was young, he would probably have become Christian instead of Buddhist. I also agree that it is not "Gnostic" with a capital G; however, there's a good case for calling it gnostic. Here, I'm following the usage of Henry Corbin, one of the greatest religious philosophers of the last century. Corbin says that in ancient times there was a very definite, coherent movement that stretched from India (and even China) to the Mediterranean world, which is best described as gnostic (but without an -ism in any doctrinal sense). It was (and is) a trans-religious movement, mystical in nature, but going beyond mysticism in many ways, with an emphasis on self-inquiry and direct experience. For Corbin, the truest and most essential meaning of the word "gnostic" corresponds to this movement, which was especially vital in Alexandria, yet actually has little or nothing to do with later myths and doctrines that came to be called Gnostic. Gnosis is related to the path called Jñana in India, and in fact comes from the same Indo-European root. I hope this helps to clear up the confusion about that word, and I join you in praise of the Gospel of Thomas as one of the greatest scriptures of all time.

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  2. It really is a unique writing. I see so many resemblances to the Eastern faiths while retaining the familiarity of much of the Western faiths. Thank you for your fantastic comment. I am honored to have you here!

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