The little-known Gospel of Thomas

The Apostle Thomas, also known as Judas Thomas Didymus, was known as the «twin,» according to the Gospel of John. But whose twin? Little is known about Thomas, though various Gnostic groups believed Jesus especially favored Thomas because he honored the apostle with special revelations. Two gospels are attributed to Thomas: «The Gospel of Thomas» and «The Infancy Gospel of Thomas,» which relates the events and miracles of Jesus’ boyhood. Did Thomas’ wish to base his faith on Jesus’ resurrection make him especially interesting for the Gnostics, who considered God to be pure spirit and believed humankind’s aim should be a reunion with the Holy Spirit? «This episode is interesting in the sense that Jesus asked Thomas himself to touch his wounds [from being nailed to the cross], understanding his wavering and self-flagellating faith,» said Ioannis Karavidopoulos, an emeritus professor at the Theological School of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. «But the story of Thomas’s lack of faith doesn’t exist in the apocryphal gospels.» The Gospel of Thomas essentially begins with this phrase: «Whoever finds the interpretation of these sayings will not experience death.» The phrase emphasizes that wisdom is a result of knowing and understanding the words of Jesus. The theme is explained differently in the usual known gospels. «According to the New Testament, it isn’t knowledge but the keeping of the words of Jesus that direct life,» Karavidopoulos said. «In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, ‘If a man keeps my word, he will never taste of death unto all eternity.» Coptic codex The Coptic Gospel of Thomas is one of the apocryphal manuscripts, which number around 50 and were discovered in Nag Hammadi in Egypt. It is dated to the third century whereas the original manuscript, written likely in Greek, is estimated to have been written in the second century in Syria. The original document was not likely Gnostic, but it took on those characteristics in ensuing interpretations by writers. The Gospel of Thomas does not have the characteristic narrative of other gospels, recounting things such as accounts of Jesus’ miracles. It is a manuscript with 114 versus attributed to Jesus. Fourteen verses are parables whereas eight of these are references to «the kingdom of Heaven.» Verse 97 reads: «The [Father’s] imperial rule is like a woman who was carrying a [jar] full of meal. While she was walking along [a] distant road, the handle of the jar broke and the meal spilled behind her [along] the road. She didn’t know it; she hadn’t noticed a problem. When she reached her house, she put the jar down and discovered it was empty.» Karavidopoulos says the parable is an example of the Gnostic belief that the protection of the precious essence of faith requires vigilance. «It expresses their fear that one moment of carelessness can mean losing the kingdom of the Father,» he said. «The Gnostics believed that the road to wisdom is self-knowledge. ‘When you know yourselves,’ they said, ‘then you will understand that you are sons of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you dwell in poverty, and you are poverty.’ To build self-knowledge, Gnostics believed that a person, physically bad, must do away with this bad quality and free himself from the body. That way, many of them practiced asceticism and were champions of abstention, but they were also for debauchery if it lead to the same goal: damaging the body through, for example, sexual promiscuity.» Against the Church Prayer, fasting and charity are considered external practices without essential meaning in the Gospel of Thomas. In Verse 14, Jesus says, «If you fast, you will bring sin upon yourselves, and if you pray, you will be condemned, and if you give to charity, you will harm your spirits…» Other Gnostics believed the same thing, Karavidopoulos says. «In this manner, they wanted to declare that they possessed a higher wisdom, to distinguish themselves from popular faith.» Arguments such as these, however, are placed within Gnostic polemics that are against the Church. In these manuscripts, however, there are also various peculiarities, such as many fabrications that have nothing to do with coveted beliefs and Biblical history. For example, Verse 114 says: «Simon Peter said to them, ‘Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.’ Jesus said: ‘Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the domain of Heaven.” Karavidopoulos says that this complete leveling of woman and man is very strange for the era and does not constitute a denigration of the female. «It echoes the eventuality of the pursuit by various groups of Gnostics to equate women with men, during a time that was extremely male-dominated,» he said.