|The Acts of Thomas||Jacob of Sarug and Thomas||The Gospel of Thomas|
The Acts of Thomas.
A paper dealing with the acts of Thomas is in preparation and will be published at this place in a few weeks' time.
The paper will contain:
a) A paraphrase of the text.
b) An introduction to the main problems in the Acts. (Based on Dr. A. F. J. Klijn: The Acts of Thomas and Seely Beggiani: Introduction to Eastern Christian Spirituality - Syriac Tradition).
The Thomas-statuette can be seen as part of the alterpiece in the church of Vester Alling (Jutland, Denmark).
Jacob of Sarug and Thomas.
Jacob of Sarug (451 - 521) was a Syriac ecclesiastical writer. He was educated at Edessa and became bishop of Batnae in the year 519. He wrote hymns, - but his principal writing is a series of metrical homilies and his contemporaries gave him the name of honour: "The flute of the Holy Ghost".
His homilies are really uniqe and deserve to be known. Below a short representation of two homilies with connection to Thomas:
The fall of the Idols
St. Thomas in India According to Jacob of Sarug
The Fall of the Idols.
In one of his poems: "The fall of the Idols", he tells about the Devil having filled the whole world up with idols and the cities with temples for "Delusion". But then the cross on Golgotha was raised. And the world trembled and the idols began falling to the earth. Satan hurried to see the Crucified and only saw a poor, weak, exhausted man in profound suffering.
Satan tries to encourage himself and his army: Don't be afraid of such a poor creature, crucified and only dressed in disgrace and shame. Nobody will help him. But Satan grows wiser. The Cross chases him where ever he goes. His gods in Rome are overthrown. He flees to Ephesus. There his goddess has fallen in ruins. Here Simon is building a church, there the disciples of St. John are gathering. From Asia Minor Paul drives him away, on the run he meets Peter, who has destroyed his image in Phrygia. To India he goes, but look, the Masterbuilder of Truth, St. Thomas, is building with the measure in his hand a glorious palace. He escapes to Ethiopia, but is forced to go to Egypt. Here he sees St. Luke breaking down the temples and patiently building churches in the land of Pharaoh. In Antioch he must lament, seeing the foundation laid by Simon and at last St.Ignatius drives him away.
Then he turns to Edessa, but what a sight. A king is building a church. The apostle Addai is guiding the work. King Abgar has laid down his crown and works together with him. Then Satan runs away and comes to Babylon, but the tidings of the crucifixion had gone in advance to Chaldea. The people are poking fun at the horoscope and is mocking the lot to be cast. Everywhere Satan has been driven out by the truth; the cross has taken his crown.
But Satan concentrates on his lost power and calls for help from "Brother Delusion" - the father of all idleness, and he sneaks into the heart of men love of gold, Mammon worship, followed by worry and suspiciousness towards all fellowmen. And that idol is honoured among all men all over the world.
St. Thomas in India According to Jacob of Sarug.
(Geevarghese Panicker - in A Review of Syriac and Oriental Studies - June 1989)
Jacob of Sarug
The metrical Homily on St. Thomas the Apostle of India
The apocryphal Act of St. Thomas
India and the Indians as described in the Poem (the Homily)
1. Life (Ca. 450-520)
Jacob was born probably in 450 at Kurtam on the Euphrates in the District of Sarug. After his education at Edessa, he was ordained priest, and was eventually made a periodeutes or Chorepiscopus at Haura. Towards the close of his life, at the age of 68, he was made Bishop of Batnan in his native District Sarug. He died in 521. He seems to have taken no part in the Christological polemics of his time and he mostly confined his activity to study and literature. (In his writings there is no indication of his leaning towards Monophysitism. Hence Assemani concluded that he was an Orthodox (Catholic Syrian).
Jacob is one of the best Syriac writers among the Jacobite Syrians. He wrote a series of metrical homilies. According to Bar Hebrews he employed seventy amanuenses and composed seven hundred and sixty homilies. About three hundred of them are.now preserved in manuscripts in the European libraries. He also wrote Madrashee (Odes) and Sugeetho (Hymns).
The characteristics of his style such as great elegance colourful imagery, flowery expression have been often pointed out by his critics. His talent for comparisons and contrasts is conspicuous. Intellectual keenness and sublimity of thought, combined with the beauty and the decorum of style earned for him the names "Flute of the Holy Spirit" and the "Harp of the Orthodox Church".
Numerous extracts from his Memre are found in the Liturgies (breviary and rituals) of the Syriac language (Maronite, Syrian, Jacobite, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara). His name is also venerated in these oriental churches and even in the Armenian Church, as one of the masters of Syriac hymnography. The Syrian Orthodox Church and the Malankara Catholic Church have prayers (Bovoozo) composed by him in the sacramental and festal liturgies and in the prayer of the hours.
3. The Metrical Homily on St. Thomas the Apostle of India
This paper is concerned with Sarug's poem on St. Thomas the apostle of India, the metrical homily on St. Thomas, the apostle of India. It appears that the Acts of St. Thomas inspired Jacob of Sarug to compose the poetic homily on the apostle St. Thomas. This work is a dramatic trilogy on the apostle of India. The first and second poems are based on the first Act of Judas Thomas, the apostle (as found in the apocryphal act of Judas Thomas) where it is described how our Lord sold St. Thomas to the merchant Habban that he might go down and convert India. The third poem is based on the second Act of Judas Thomas wherein is described how Thomas the apostle entered into India and built a palace for the King in heaven.
4. The Apocryphal Acts of St. Thomas
The Syriac apocryphal acts of St. Thomas are published by Rev. Bedjan in his "Acts of martyrs and Saints (tome III). Though the "Acts of Judas Thomas" is called apocryphal, it is not reasonable to consider the events or acts described in this work as fictitious. The "acts" of Judas Thomas form not only the content of stories and poems, but they form to some extent part of Syrian liturgical prayers of the hours and the prayer on the feast days of the apostles especially of St.Thomas.
a. The back ground of the Acts of Judas Thomas.
The back ground of the act of Judas Thomas forms the perspective of the conflicting situation described in the poem of Sarug. The field of the apostolic action of the apostles inworld were decided by drawing lots. All the apostles, except Judas Thomas accepted the drawings of the lots. Thomas refused. He did not like at all the perspective of the great journey to India which fell to his lot. Only the intervcntionof Jesus Christ appearing as a simple merchant could bring to an end his perplexity and obstinate refusal. Thomas was sold by Christ as his slave to a merchant by name Habban. Habban was also a travelling courtier of the Hindu King named Gondaphorus. The price of the deal was fixed as 20 pieces of silver which was handed over to Thomas by our Lord as the fare of his journey.
b. The dramatic trilogy of Sarug
The dramatic elements of the poem of Sarug come from the following conflicting situations:
1) The refusal of Judas Thomas to accept the result of the drawing of the lot, and his bitter controversy with the other apostles. The first poem of the trilogy brings out how Judas Thomas quarrelled with the apostles and have with Our Lord saying "I shall not go to India". His concept of India and of its people is described in very strong language in this poem.
2) The unwelcome and cruel treatment of St. Thomas in 1ndia by the cup - bearer at the wedding feast of the King's daughter. The second poem describes how Judas Thomas was sold to Habban the merchant from India for twenty pieces of silver and how Thomas was smitten on his cheek by the cup-bearer at the wedding feast of the King's daughter and how the hand that smote him was dragged about by a dog.
3) The King's anger in not seeing the palace promised to be built by Judas Thomas and his conversion. The third poem is concerned about the palace which Thomas built on high for King Gondaphorns
5. India and the lndians as described in the Poem
The purpose of this paper is to bring out how India and the people of India are depicted in this metrical homily. The description of India and the people of India are given in the first poem of the trilogy. The description of India and the people of India occurs mainly in the speeches of St. Thomas viz. in his arguments for his refusal to go to India. The imagery, the figures of speech, the tenor and the vehicle of the biblical metaphors used profusely in the poem express the attitude towards India, not only of the apostles, but the general attitude prevailing in these times.
In the first poem of the trilogy the aim is to understand the history of a man viz. that of Judas Thomas, who was sold by the hand of the Son of God who let himself be sold for thirty pieces of silver to rcdeem mankind; the history of the man Thomas who, though free by right, set out to a far distance as a slave sold for 20 pieces of silver. The story begins with the drawing of lots by the apostles gathered in the upper room to assign the geographical areas for evangelization to each one of the apostles. Every one of the apostles was happy at the lot. Only Thomas being disappointed remained dejected and pale. He considered his fate as that of Jonas and India as Nineveh. He protested strongly as Jonas did at his hostile destiny: I shall not be the apostle of demons and the blacks, and shall not teach a people blind of heart and having ugly appearance. (dl 334-536). He despised exceedingly to use his own words - the infamous "lascivious" and "dissolute" 1ndia consisting of people of "black body and ugly face". In his controversy with the apostles he manifests bitterness, anger and unwillingness to abide by his lot, The apostles blame him of bad humour, pessimism and great scepticism. They tell him that only he with his conviction about the resurrection of Christ can convince the cantakerous and perverse people of India of the truth of Christianity. St. Thomas argues- that all the apostles should go together to every place to preach the gospel and should not leave him alone preach the Gospel in India, to a people who are obscure and dark in two ways, who are dark in complexion and ugly in appearance and who are blind of heart. He says that he does not want to throw the holy things to the dogs who cannot perceive them nor does he want to convey heavenly teaching to the heartless. To go to such a field full of thorns one must be solid and strong ox and not a feeble calf like himself. The apostles tell him that he is acting in a stupid manner and try to persuade him to accept his lot as Jonas accepted his mission to Nineveh. "India is Thomas' Nineveh", they tell him. Thomas rebukes and scolds them angrily and asks them to go to India themselves. He says that he is not going to the land of Satan and of the land of demons. He does not want to be the apostle of the demons and the blacks. He does not want to teach a people with hard hearts and ugly appearance. He is ready to preach anywhere in the entire universe except in India. The dark appearance of the people of India is murky and ugly, so is their physiognomy. Their dismal mental basemess borders upon horror. They have the appearance of night gloomy dark and fully horrible. Their form has no brightness at all even if one approaches from any side what - so - ever.
They have the appearance of night, sombre, black completely and a horrible form from where no brightness appears frorn any side you approach them. Their frightful and repulsive exterior manifests how much more radically disgusting their hearts are to suit the traits of their bodies. India is more wicked than the cobra snake of the snake charmer; much more horrible and hideous is its interior whence gushes forth the poison which it distills. India will remain insensitive and refractory to the best teaching of Christianity more than the viper is in-sensitive to the charmer Thomas says that it is less difficult for him to go among baselisks and vipers than to go to a people who are opposed to truth and Orthodox doctrine. The serpent vibrates and betakes itself to the one who calls it and conjures it. But the blasphemous Indian is hard of herring: He is a rock without understanding. "Certain is the disobedience of the people of stiff-necked India. In this situation why to sow the seed on the unproductive rock. I can very easily evangelize Sodom before it was unrooted by punishment, but not India". Thomas would rather catechise the under-world and necropolis than India and would go to the far reaches of the world, but not to India. He would rather be thrown out into the sea as was Jonas and would better remain at the bottom of the ocean and carry the message to Behmoth and Leviathan. The bottom of the ocean is to be preferred to the shores of India. The repeated allusions and references to the words of Jesus Christ in the Gospel bring out the attitude of Thomas and the tenor of his thoughts towards the mission in India. The following words illustrates this: "Do not give dogs what is holy; do not throw your pearls to the pigs; they will only trample on them and tear you to pieces "(Mat. 7 - 6).
Again people of India are said to be people without remorse. Nothing good can come out of them, as "Grapes cannot be picked from briars, or figs from thistles" (Mat. 7-16). To preach the gospel to the savage instinct of this bestial clan is like yoking together the wild Jack asses with oxen.
This other apostles attempt to persuade Thomas to go to India; but in vain. Christ himself appears to Thomas and promises his help and tells him that he will be with Thomas working with him and he needs have no fear. Christ tells him that he is sending Thomas to India as Moses is sent to Egypt. Thomas tells Christ that he fails to understand how he can be a slave and an apostle at the same time. Christ tells him how he gave to himself Joseph the carpenter as a father while Joseph was far from being his real Pappa. So Christ tells Thomas that he should be a slave of Habban the merchant, by that he will only be a nominal slave. Christ reminds him that in India he will be like Joseph, the son of Jacob who was sold to the merchants by his brothers. Christ tells him: "India will be your Egypt and you will be the Joseph". He submits to Christ's will saying: "I will accomplish my double task of apostle and servant; of a slave and a preacher; of an apostle and a slave".
The problem which should be posed is whether all the uncomplimentary description of India and the diatribes are the poetic expressions of a disappointed Thomas or not. Granting that there is an overly exaggerated un-complimentary description, cannot one conclude that words of St. Thomas are only an exaggeration of an un-complimentary attitude towards India prevailing in the middle East? In the prayer on the feast of St. Thomas, he is addressed as St. Thomas who made India the land of the Blacks shine with light and who was chosen to redeem it from the darkness of deception by his preaching and who was sold as a slave etc... Again St. Thomas who clothed the black bride "India" with the white garments of the baptism
of spirit. St. Thomas who like the sun who made the India full of darkness shine etc...
The Gospel of Thomas
The Thomas Christians|The Acts of Thomas
A Gnostic Gospel
Relation to the synoptic Gospels
When was the Gospel of Thomas written
A New-religious Writing
Relation to "Wisdom"
"Search and you will find"
Grace and/or Wisdom in the Gospel of Thomas.
The interest for the Gospel of Thomas has been increasing during the last years between scholars and among ordinary people as well. Some time ago we had in Denmark a television programme: "The Secret Word" - dealing with the Gospel of Thomas. Altogether a sober and a matter-of-fact broadcast, but unmistakable inspired by Jes Bertelsen's esoteric speculations, to which - in accordance with the truth - the Gospel itself invites (Jes Bertelsen is one of the leading promoters of the New Age wave in Denmark. Further informations about him in the section: "A Gnostic Gospel").
We have had several articles about the relationship between the Biblical picture of Jesus and the picture of Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas. Latest one of the books of J. D. Crossan has been published in Denmark under the title: "Jesus - A revolutionary Biography" and Crossan has visited our university to give lectures on the new wave of interest for the "historical Jesus" where the Gospel of Thomas is playing a significant role too.
The Gospel of Thomas consists of 114 different words of Jesus - without any context or connection to a certain place or a certain time. Detached words of wisdom, which - as I see it - could have been spoken by any wisdom-teacher, but according to the claim of the gospel are spoken by Jesus and handed over by Thomas. The similarity to the gospels of the New Testament is so eye-catching that we can't avoid asking questions and making comparisons. Is the Gospel of Thomas a composite work with the synoptic gospels as source - or - is it a new and unknown tradition, which makes itself heard in the Gospel of Thomas?
It is the main questions asked about the Gospel of Thomas and I have got the questions, because I have worked on making the Syriac Churches of the Middle East and the Thomas-Christians of South India known in the Danish context. The questions are obvious only in consequence of the names: The Thomas-Christians and the Gospel of Thomas. How is the relation between these churches and the gospel:
Is the Gospel of Thomas a special gospel of the Thomas-Christians?
Do these churches use the gospel in the liturgy?
The apostle Thomas plays a great role in the area east of Antioch, the Syrian/Persian areas (and in India) as a church-founder. If we take a look at the political conditions - the tension between the Roman and the Persian empire - we immediately recognize that it would be a clear advantage in the Persian East to have another church-founder than the apostle Peter, who dominated the Western (Greek/Roman) area. The "Iron-curtain" of that time - political and linguistic between East and West went through Antioch.
The work of Thomas as a church-founder has never been connected with a special gospel, different from the Greek/Roman national church. The Nestorian form of Christianity, which later marked the Persian church, making a border not only administratively, but dogmatically as well between the two churches, has no connection to the very first centuries of Christianity or with Thomas. Nor has the Thomas-christians ever used the Gospel of Thomas, and the gospel has never been part of the Syrian Bible, which also is the basis of the Indian translation into the vernacular of the Thomas-Christians - Malayalam.
The name of Thomas doesn't tell anything about the real author of the gospel - or when it was written. The scripture belongs to the pseudepigrapha, which means that the author is unknown and edited under a pseudonym. Often the names of well-known authors from the past were used in order to give the scripture authority and significance. Some scholars claim that the gospel has been written in a Syriac context and mention the town of Edessa, which later became the main-town of the Syrian churches. At the same time there it is widely believed that the original language of the gospel is Greek. If so the town must be Antioch, - but what then about the Syrian wording? As a matter of fact we only know that fragments of the gospel - in Greek - were found at the turn of the century. 1945 the gospel in full turned up as a part of the Nag Hammadi library in a Coptic version.
The Danish scholar Søren Giversen may well be right in his theory that very early in the history of Christianity a congregation may be found, which has used the Gospel of Thomas as its special gospel. In a broadcast in the Danish national radio he pointed at the refugees from Jerusalem finding a hiding place at Pella - and to the Jewish/Christian congregation, which must have been set up in the town. But it is decisive to underline that the Gospel of Thomas has had no connection what so ever to the Syrian churches after their establishment as historical unities.
"The Acts of Thomas"
On the other hand there is another historical/legendary scripture, attributed to Thomas as well, which has plaid a role for the Thomas-Christians. It is the "Acts of Thomas". A scripture in 13 "acts" or chapters, telling about the mission-work of Thomas - especially his activities in India from the year 52 until his martyrdom in 72. (See: "St. Thomas in India).
The Acts of Thomas is in all probability written in Syriac in Edessa about the middle of the third century and is in all probability originally a gnostic work, which has been partly cleaned of its heretic contents. In addition to the historical "contents" we find several famous single poems, among others about Wisdom, Baptism, the Eucharist and the famous "Hymn to the Redeemer". It is possible that these insertions are made by an orthodox redactor, who has made the story usable in a churchly context? The trends, which draw the attention back to the Gnostic origin, are the outspoken negative attitude to marriage and sexual life. The question is, whether this attitude had a recognized place in the established church-life, than we can imagine nowadays?
We have to mention another scripture connected with the name of Thomas. The so-called "Syriac Gospel of Thomas" - an apocryphical writing of Gnostic origin - brings a collection of legendary stories from the childhood of Christ. The writing has no importance in itself, but it gives an uncertainty: Which gospel is meant, when the Gospel of Thomas is mentioned - the Syriac or the Coptic gospel?
A Gnostic Gospel?
It is constantly underlined, how different the picture of Christianity would have been, if the Gospel of Thomas had had a voice in the working out of the Christian church - and had not been stigmatized as heretical and forgotten in a desert-cave in Egypt up to now. A provisional characterization of the gospel in relation to the canonical gospels leads to the conclusion, that the Gospel of Thomas represents a "salvation by wisdom" while the canonical gospels proclaim a "salvation by grace". If we imagine the Gospel of Thomas as the only source for the formation of the Christian church - or rather the Jesus-church - then we would have a church building upon a divine power in man, who through knowledge (gnosis) and enlightenment - not by faith - would lead to a self-realisation and self-development, which ended up in the all-comprehensive unity with the divine reality, which was "salvation". A church that in a great many things would be like the thoughts of Jes Bertelsen, when he tries to take the contemporary consequences of the Gospel of Thomas in his book "Kristusprocessen" ("The Christ Process"), the contents of which I am going to resume in the section: "A new-religious Writing". Consequences which were defended at the time of the young church as well, when the Gospel of Thomas and similar writings saw the light of day - consequences which the church from the very beginning fought against under the common name of Gnosticism. About the middle of the fourth century St. Cyrill of Jerusalem in his sixth chatechese in the section "About the heretics", speaking about the Manicheans, states: "Nobody is allowed to read the Gospel of Thomas; for it is not one of the twelve Apostles, but one of the wicked disciples of Mani" (1). As early as in the New Testament we find traces of that fight. Gnosis means knowledge and is understood as the proper way to salvation in contrary to faith. The human mind is capable to ascend and to unite with the universal spirit - or God. Not only coming close to God, but to unite with him and become God as well.
A number of scholars claim that the Gospel of Thomas is not gnostic as indicated above. Both parts may be right - in my opinion it ultimately ends up in a discussion about the definition of the word "gnostic". It is true that the Gospel of Thomas does not share the fantastic speculations about the origin of the world, which are so characteristic for many gnostic writings. A misfortune in the celestial world leads to the creation of the earth and the substance. In that way the substance - and the body - becomes a jail for the soul and salvation becomes liberation from that imprisonment. This last idea is not positively expressed in the gospel; but it is only a slight difference, when logion 57 names the world a "body" - and sexual life is rejected in logion 23. If it is not possible to name the writing gnostic in the ful sense of the word, we at least read many opinions and statements with clear gnostic substance.
Both can very well be truthful, if we presume a very likely history of tradition, which can be summed up this way: We have in the gospel a very early collection of Christian texts, - from the same tradition, on which the synoptic gospels depend as well - especially the fictive collection of Jesus-words, which together with the Gospel of Mark is assumed to make the base of the gospels of Matthew and Luke. This original Gospel of Thomas later on has been gnostic interpolated (2). A line of names can be mentioned from the gnostic context: Markion, Valentin and Mani. About the last the Decretum Gelasianum (end of the 5th century) says in the section about books, which must be rejected: The Gospel of Thomas, which is used by the Manicheans.
The relation to the Synoptic Gospels
The evangelist Luke gives in the in the opening of Acts an account of the content of his gospel. "I dealt with everything Jesus had done and taught from the beginning until the day ... he was taken up to heaven." A statement valid for the other three gospels too, even if they mutually are a little different A gospel is in our opinion describes situations and events in the life of Jesus - and of course his speeches, parables and a number of words spoken to the disciples following him
In the Gospel of Thomas we don't find narrative passages, nothing at all about his travelling around or about his deeds - and the most thought-provoking not a word about his suffering, his dead and his resurrection. No quotation from OT is found either. This lack of quotations is conspicuous - compared with the gospel of Matthew, the meaning of which is to demonstrate that the life of Jesus and his activity is the fulfilment of the OT. prophecies about the Messiah. The very word Messiah is not found in the Gospel of Thomas, no more than Christ, Saviour, Lord or Logos. Nor are baptism and the Lord's supper mentioned.
If we compare with NT about half of the Jesus-words in the Gospel of Thomas are more or less known in the NT context, but none of them are word-for-word reproductions and part of the verses are combinations of NT Jesus-words.
Soeren Giversen(3) calls attention in his introduction to the Gospel of Thomas to the lack of context or connection to a certain place or a certain time of the single logions. Often the logions are answers to questions from the disciples - in logion 18 we read: "The disciples said to Jesus: "Tell us, how will our end come?" Jesus said, "Have you found the beginning, then, that you are looking for the end? You see, the end will be where the beginning is. Congratulations to the one who stands at the beginning, that one will know the end and will not taste death". In single cases there is an indication of the situation, e.g. in logion 72: "A person said to him, "Tell my brothers to divide my father's possessions with me". (The Scholars' Translation - Stephen Patterson and Marvin Meyer). In most cases the indications are an empty and unnecessary form and could be omitted, as it has no importance for the following Jesus-word. Such a procedure could suggest that such indications are brought - not because they have any importance, but only because they were found in the writing, which makes the source of the Gospel of Thomas - and leads to the conclusion of Soeren Giversen: The Gospel of Thomas seems "to show up as a compilation from one or several gospel-writings of a more narrative character".
It seems to be a very weighty argument, but it does not prevent the earlier mentioned idea that the Gospel of Thomas should be an independent result of an early Christian tradition, which also is to be found behind som parts of the synoptic gospels: The unknown collection of Jesus-words, which together with the Gospel of Mark is assumed to form the basis of the gospels of Matthew and Luke and which is constructed by removing the content of the Gospel of Mark from the two other gospels. If you recognize this construction, there really is a striking similarity between this source and the Gospel of Thomas.
It points in the same direction that we in the gospel find indications of situations, which are unknown in the synoptic gospels.
When was the Gospel of Thomas written?
If the contents of the Gospel of Thomas more or less are tendentious statements from one or more canonical gospels, we have an essential knowledge about the time of the writing down. It implies that the canonical gospels have been available and it gives a dating not older than the middle of the second century. If this dependence on the canonical gospels is more indirect, the time of writing down - in any case it applies the original layers - is much earlier - before the end of the first century.
In the section about the connection to the canonical gospels we underlined that words as Christ and Saviour are missing in the Gospel of Thomas - baptism and the Last Supper are not mentioned either. This absence can easily be interpreted as a tendentious representation of the biblical material, as pointed out several times. If you trust in the early dating and with that the relative independence of the biblical gospels, the explanation can be that the Gospel of Thomas is written so early that such words and concepts were not yet at use.
A new-religious Writing?
The occupation with the Gospel of Thomas is rather intensive and comprehensive especially in "New Age" circles under the guidance of Jes Bertelsen. He deals with the Gospel of Thomas in the book "Kristusprocessen" (Christ-process) from 1989(4) and again in "Hjertebøn og Ikonmystik" (Prayer of the Heart and Icon-mysticism) from 1996. In these books the divine process, which began with Christ, is put in the context of church-history. In this context the content of the newfound Gospel of Thomas is considered to be a redeeming revelation - "a token of a new, deeper and contemporary interpretation of Christianity". Until now the spiritual content of Christianity has been locked up in dogmatic and outer rituals - hidden under the formulations of the different historical religions, all belonging to the old world. "As the church-organization and episcopal-institution developed -and the Christian communities got more numerous, the accent moved from prayer, ascetism and experience to confession, dogmatic and faith. The gnostic communities attached great importance to the experience and realization, so radically, that they turned down the forms of church-christianity". Jes Bertelsen considers this church rituals as outer expressions of truth - pointing towards the right "inner" understanding - and he hopes for that the time has come for a fertile polarization between the exoteric church and the esoteric gnosis - from which a more contemporary understanding of Christianity can grow.
Thomas differs from the other apostles by being initiated in the "secrets", the hidden content in the teaching of Jesus. I am no longer your teacher - Jesus says to him - you have drunk from the same spring as I have. Thomas has become identical with Jesus. He has been made divine in the inner man. He has become the illuminated teacher, who can transmit higher consciousness directly to men. It is the personal search inwards, the personal insight and acknowledgment which are decisive. The goal is to find the "inner light" and reach the unity between God and man. This understanding of the teaching of Jesus the official church has fought against from the very beginning, - but now the time is ripe to realize the true form of faithfulness to Jesus - released from outer rites, sacraments and dogma. The understanding of the Kingdom of God in the Gospel of Thomas as a through and through contemporary - and not a future reality - matches the new religious way of thinking completely. The Kingdom of God is all over the earth, but people do not realize the fact.
In the explanations of Jes Bertelsen there is a sort of élitism. The distinction between "outer" and "inner" include the congregations. There is a difference between the ignorant crowd, which must be satisfied with the outer forms, rites and the established churches - and the enlightened, knowing inner circles, which can skip these calculations. The same form of élitism, which over the years has threatened to separate the church and the meditative person, who in fact has been able to do without the means of grace, which have been passed on through the church. It is with good reason the words "For many are invited but not all are chosen" are quoted.
The Gospel of Thomas and Wisdom.
The Gospel of Thomas has often been associated with the Old Testament conception of Wisdom, such as we find this conception worked out in the Proverbs and in Ecclesiasticus in the Old Testament Apocrypha. In this context Wisdom is made independent and personalised. Some scholars mean, that this tendency continues into New Testament. Naturally the Gospel of John is implicated - especially the Prologue and its reference to "Word - Logos".
The prologue "tells about the Word (Logos), which is a symbol for Christ. However it can look like as it was the story of Wisdom narrated - and not the story of Christ. As the case is in many other expressions in the New Testament there is disguised - also in the Prologue - an understanding of Christ as the Wisdom of God - especially expressed by the two conceptions "Pre-existence and intermediary at the creation".(5). Rudolf Bultmann has put forward the hypothesis that the content of the Gospel of John could be a demythologized, pre-Christian Gnostic material - later christianized. In the Prologue we can see how the central word was christianized. This "Word - Logos" - "became flesh and he lived among us". It is the historical dimension, which in the single statement (the Word became flesh) puts things into place in the ecclesiastical tradition and context - Jesus as a historical man at a certain place and at a certain time. A man with a unique history: Born, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried, - but the third day he rose again from the dead. The same process which took place, when the collection of Jesus-words (mentioned in the context of the synoptic gospels) met with and was merged into the canonical gospel-tradition.
If it is possible approximately to equate Jesus with Wisdom, it is evident that the lacks we mentioned when we compared the Gospel of Thomas with the canonical gospels: Christology, incarnation and resurrection - are logical consequences of the very identity of the Gospel of Thomas.
This consequence appears to me to be characteristic of the Jesus-picture drawn in the Gospel of Thomas: A Jesus beyond time and space - and his words the words of a wise man, universal, timeless and general, deficient in history and the personal life which are decisive for the Christ of the church.
For that reason Cyrill of Jerusalem and with him the old church made the right decision, when they named the doctrine of the Gospel of Thomas misleading and alien to the tradition of the church.
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1. Vidnesbyrd af Kirkefædrene (Testimony from the Church-fathers) - Cyrills Katecheser, 4/5, p. 98. (Christiania 1881). Text
2. Marianne Aagaard Skovmand: Guds rige i Thomasevangeliets Lignelser (The Kingdom of God in the parables of the Gospel of Thomas). P. 6ff. Text
3) Søren Giversen: Thomasevangeliet (The Gospel of Thomas) - introduction, commentary and translation. København 1959. Text
4) Jes Bertelsen: Kristusprocessen (Christ-process). København 1989 Text
5) Marianne Aagaard Skovmand: Guds rige i Thomasevangeliets Lignelser (The Kingdom of God in the parables of the Gospel of Thomas). P.152. Text