Metaphysics Course

This blog is a collection of essays and lesson comments from several of the Universal Life Church courses on Metaphysics. We have a Spirit Quest Course and one on A Course In Miracles.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Gospel of Thomas

ULC Seminary

Gospel of Thomas Final Essay
Rev. Nick Federspiel, M.Min

What is this course?   It is the author's discourse, evangelism and apologetics for Gnosticism disguised as a scholarly logion by logion interpretation of The Gnostics Gospel of Thomas – the famous Nag Hammurabi "Fifth Gospel."   By example:  from Lesson 19:

From my reading of this gospel, from here, to saying 108, it becomes much more direct and blunt. It displays either a frustrated Jesus who originally spoke these sayings, or a frustrated Judas Thomas who structured the gospel in this fashion. Therefore, I will be more direct also. The mess the Christian movement made of the work of Jesus frustrates me, too. So many good and honest people denied the right to find their way into the kingdom of heaven.

Any good religion can be depreciated by false prophets and over zealous leadership as is the out of control Islam terrorist movement.  Allah I doubt is actually pleased with one Islamic sect murdering the other.   But that is one thing and a blanket statement like the one above is very much another.  From lesson 9:  

Login 42. Jesus said, "Be bystanders."
Course Interpretation: This short statement sums up all that has gone before. Drop out, and stand aside from the world. Learn to stand aside from your own Self. Pursuing this world in an attempt to find happiness only leads to a temporary illusion of happiness. Get drunk, have sex, go to a concert or ballgame, and we can forget the drudgery of work or the discontent at home. In the morning, however, it is back to the old grind again, stuck in the morning commute.

Compare and contrast is a technique I use to learn from commentary.  How might others comment on Login 42?

F. F. Bruce writes:  " … These words are later ascribed to Jesus in some strands of Muslim tradition (although in other strands they are ascribed to Muhammad or to one of his companions). The most famous instance of their ascription to Jesus in Muslim tradition is on the main gateway of the mosque erected in 1601 at Fathpur-Sikri, south of Delhi, by the Moghul Akbar the Great; it bears the inscription: 'Jesus, on whom be peace, said: "This world is a bridge. Pass over it; but do not build your dwelling there."'" (Jesus and Christian Origens Outside the New Testament, p. 130)

Frankly, this simple example sums up my entire view of this course.  Its only value, in my opinion, is to use it as a catalyst to compare and contrast other's scholarly commentaries – and for ULC credit of course.  Who did this – who was the Apostle Thomas?
Thomas appears in a few passages in the Gospel of John in John 11:16 concerning Lazarus, etc.  
He also speaks at The Last Supper.   Jesus assures his disciples that they know where he is going but Thomas protests that they don't know at all. Jesus replies to this and to Philip's requests with a detailed exposition of his relationship to God the Father.
The Andrea del Verrocchino sculpture showing the incredulity of St. Thomas.
In Thomas'best known appearance in the New Testament, John 20:24-29.  Thomas doubts the resurrection of Jesus and demands to touch Jesus' wounds before being convinced. This story is the origin of the term Doubting Thomas. After seeing Jesus alive, Thomas professed his faith in Jesus, exclaiming "My Lord and my God!" On this account he is also called Thomas the Believer.
And what did Saint to be Apostle Thomas do in the few decades after the resurrection of Christ?
The indigenous church of Kerala has a tradition that St. Thomas sailed there to spread the Christian faith. He landed at the ancient port of Muziris (which became extinct in 1341 AD) near Kodungalloor. He then went to present-day which was a Hindu priestly community at that time. He left there in AD 52 for the southern part of what is now Kerala State, where he established the Ezharappallikal, or "Seven and Half Churches".
"It was to a land of dark people he was sent, to clothe them by Baptism in white robes. His grateful dawn dispelled India's painful darkness. It was his mission to espouse India to the One-Begotten. The merchant is blessed for having so great a treasure. Eddessa thus became the blessed city by possessing the greatest pearl India could yield. Thomas works miracles in India, and at Edessa Thomas is destined to baptize peoples perverse and steeped in darkness, and that in the land of India." - Hymns of St. Ephraem, edited by Lamy (Ephr. Hymni et Sermones, IV).
Eusebius of Caesarea quotes Origen(died mid-3rd century) as having stated that Thomas was the apostle to the Parthians, but Thomas is better known as the missionary to India through the Acts of Thomas, perhaps written as late as ca 200.

Obviously, from the Christian New Testament accounts Thomas is destined to become a Saint of the Church which indeed is recognized by the Roman, Eastern, Oriental and Anglican churches. Now we know of whom we are discussing. 

Well, just one minute …. Where did this "fifth gospel" come from?  Everyone who cares to know is aware of how these "missing books" were found, where they are now and that some say that they toss the New Testament out the window.  After all anything that attacks the Bible is more credible than the Bible itself – just common sense isn't it?  There is a saying consider the source.  So the source is what? Or who?  One major player was, in no small part, an ego bruised bishop of the Catholic Church, Valentinius. Who was he?
Valentinius taught first in Alexandria and went to Rome about 136 AD, during the pontificate of pope Hyginus, and remained until the pontificate of pope Anicetus. In Adversus Valentinianos, iv, Tertullian says:
Valentinius had expected to become a bishop, because he was an able man both in genius and eloquence. Being indignant, however, that another obtained the dignity by reason of a claim which confessorship had given him, he broke with the church of the true faith. Just like those (restless) spirits which, when roused by ambition, are usually inflamed with the desire of revenge, he applied himself with all his might to exterminate the truth; and finding the clue of a certain old opinion (NF Gnosticism) …"

Just when were these 'New Testament has it all wrong' texts written?

The Gnostic Gospels are Gnostic collections of writings about the teachings of Jesus, written from the 2nd - 4th century AD. A minority view contends for an early date of perhaps 50 A.D. for some passages, citing a relationship to the hypothetical Q document among other reasons. Certain Gnostic texts mention Jesus in the context of his earthly existence, and some scholars have argued that Gnostic texts could contain plausible traditions. Examples of such texts include the Gospel of Truth, Treatise on Resurrection and the Apocryphion of John, the latter of which opens with the following:
" … It happened one day when John, the brother of James — who are sons of Zebedee — went up and came to the temple, that a Pharisee named Arimanius approached him and said to him: "Where is your master whom you followed?" And he said to them: "He has gone to the place from which he came." The Pharisee said to him: "This Nazarene deceived you all with deception and filled your ears with lies and closed your hearts and turned you from the traditions of your fathers. …"
Of all the Gnostic texts, however, the Gospel of Thomas had drawn the most attention. It contains a list of sayings attributed to Jesus. It lacks a narrative of Jesus treating his deeds in a historical sense. The majority of scholars date it to the early-mid second century.

Ref:  Gnostic texts

Now we know who, why and when of the Gospel of Thomas and we can proceed in regards to state of the art scholarship of what in this course.  "Login" is preferred Gnostic gospel terminology and is analogous to the term verse.  We are presented with this from lesson 4:
Login 12: The disciples said to Jesus, "We know you will leave us. Who should lead us?" Jesus said, "Anywhere you might be you need to go to James the righteous. For him heaven and earth came into being."

The course:  This is as good a place as any to drop a small atomic bomb on the nonexistent first century town of Nazareth. Jesus appointed James as the leader of the Jewish political party, religious sect called the Nazarenes they were one and the same. There is no record anywhere of the existence of Nazareth in Galilee or anywhere else.

The author might have brought the following to our attention.  Note, Origen referenced below was a famous scholar of this authorship era. The Nazarene sect may well have established their own settlement and the scribes later adopted the name into scripture.

Extrabiblical references to Nazareth.

The form Nazara is also found in the earliest non-scriptural reference to the town, a citation by Sextus Julius Africanus dated about 200 CE. (See "Middle Roman to Byzantine Periods" below.) The Church Father Origen(c. 185 to 254 CE) knows the forms Nazara and Nazaret. Later, Eusebius in his Onomasticon (translated by St. Jerome) also refers to the settlement as Nazara.
The first non-Christian reference to Nazareth is an inscription on a marble fragment from a synagogue found in Caesarea Martima in 1962. This fragment gives the town's name in Hebrew as nun·tsade·resh·tav. The inscription dates as early as c. 300 CE and chronicles the assignment of priests that took place at some time after the bar Kokhba revolt, 132-35 CE.[12] (See "Middle Roman to Byzantine Periods" below.) An 8th century CE Hebrew inscription, which was the earliest known Hebrew reference to Nazareth prior to the discovery of the inscription above, uses the same form.  Currently the small town settled in antiquity has a population of 64,000

When the Romans swept through the 'Holy Land' in 68 – 70 A.D. and again in 135 A.D. what would be left over of a modest or small Christian village?  If it was related to Jesus, i.e. Nazareth, logically it would have been number one on the Roman's pulverize it hit list.   If the Romans plowed Jerusalem under in 135 A.D., what is it that we should expect to find of an adjacent village today?  Should we expect something of a place likely obliterated off the map to be in post 135 A.D. literature and / or in great archeological condition today? 
Interpretation of the first part of login 13 (Jesus said to his disciples, "Tell me who you think I am like") is very much like the 'who am I' questions in Matthew 16:13-16; Luke 9:18-22 and Acts 13:25. 
Login 13. Jesus said to his disciples, "Tell me who you think I am like." Peter said, "You are like a great angel." Matthew replied, "You are like a wise truth-seeker," Thomas said to him, "Lord, I am unable to say who you are like.  …  but if I tell you the three words he spoke to me you would pick up rocks and stone me and they would turn into fire …"

The Studies of the Gospel of Thomas includes this analysis of login 13 not mentioned in the author's course analysis.  It suggests there were whispered by Jesus three words that would if repeated in public be most unsettling to the then Orthodox Jews and cause some to throw stones of which fire would emanate.
External Commentary on 13:  It may be significant that while there are several references in the New Testament to stoning or casting stones it is only John who speaks of taking up stones to throw (viii. 59, x. 31). About the three words we can only speculate, but they were evidently blasphemous to Jewish ears. Puech suggests that they were the names 'Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,' Grant and Freedman the three secret words of the Naassenes (Hippol., Ref. 5.8.5). The whole passage is at any rate a substitute for the canonical narrative of Peter's confession, designed to give to Thomas the pre-eminence." (Studies in the Gospel of Thomas, pp. 111-112)

The course author then refutes the virgin birth of Mary by referencing another Gnostic book the Gospel of Phillip. The comparable Christian account is in Matthew Chapter 1 and Luke 1:27 in the Greek uses Strong's G3933 "parthenos" which in the context of Mary's virgin birth.  The New Testament is authored for the most part in Greek.  Greek 'Parthenos' is a virgin epithet of several Greek goddesses, especially of Athena.  However, the course's explanation of logon 13 refutes the virgin birth as follows:
Course:  This is all church propaganda that is so ingrained into our collective subconscious that when we read the Bible, this is what we see there. The final nail in this virginal coffin comes from the Gospel of Philip, "People say that Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit, but they are wrong. How can a woman get a woman pregnant?"

The course's author then relates login 13 to Egyptian Osiris mythology. Osiris was resurrected per mythology and the Egyptian Book of the Dead
The course commentary:  It has become a big question today. From the time of the first well-known Godman, Osiris of Egypt, who died, was buried, rose from the dead, and went on to become the judge of the dead, through several others, and to Jesus this question is asked. For the first Godman, Osiris, this occurred when his wife Isis brought him back to life so she could have intercourse with him. She later gave birth to their son, Horus. All three, Nicholas, were in fact the same person. This story is allegorical; it is about any person who underwent initiation into the highest of the mysteries. This is a story that hides a mystery as old as mankind. Born into death, resurrected by our inner sister and reborn as a new person,a Horus.

 "Immaculate conception" per Matthew 1 and Luke 1 and the parable in Matthew 25:1 clearly means "virgin" to the reader.  One should be aware of the same word in Hebrew translations being "almah" or "bthuwlah (H1330)" perhaps better defined in the terms of the Midrash as 'maiden' or a young girl.  But as in my Yale course, it was taught that when all else fails in the specific consider what 'it' meant to the receptor at the time – in this case a young women who had, in Biblical terms, not known a man i.e. a virgin.  
Consider the question who do you think I am?  In login 13 to logia 43 and 44:  per Modern
Logion 44: Jesus said, "Anyone who blasphemes the Father will be excused, and anyone blasphemes against the son will be excused, but for anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be excused either on earth or in heaven".

External Commentary on Login 43-44 which is similar to Mathew 12:31
Mathew 12:31  "Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men.
Login 43-44:  R. McL. Wilson writes: "Grant and Freedman here assume a literalistic interpretation of the synoptic saying, which is to the effect that every blasphemy will be forgiven except that against the Holy Spirit. In this case, as they rightly say, the sequence Father-Son-Holy Spirit reflects Christian teaching. It may be, however, that there is more to be said on this subject, that the Gnostics in fact reversed the order of the sequence. In some systems at least 'Father' is a title of the Demiurge, while in the Apocryphon of John the supreme God is described as the Holy Spirit.  (Studies in the Gospel of Thomas, pp. 39-40)

The above is in effect a high level summary of Gnostic doctrine related to Jesus sayings per the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas.  I offer the following as my interpretation.  There are levels of God's or heaven the upper most being that of the Supreme Being – of which Jesus was not thought to be.  Jesus had achieved Gnosis and thus was not one to be trifled with.  "Who do you think I am?" might well be answered as he being the product of the lesser evil God of Creation who transcended the rest of us here by achieving true knowledge aka Gnosis.  Thus if I were to shout out what Jesus whispered in (my ear), those among you ignorant of Gnosis might throw stones on hearing my  "Jewish orthodox heresy" and those hurled stones, by the spark of the Holy Spirit, would turn into fire.
The whole course is pretty much the same; however for another compare and contrast example this is from lesson fifteen login 77 which is considered Gnostic, but also frankly main stream Christian. One must remember that unless the Gnostic and Coptic texts were written as early as 50 AD then the Gnostic texts were written AFTER the Christian Gospels. Thomas was long dead by then and obviously NOT the author, i.e. Valentinius et al.
77. Jesus said, "I am the light that is above all. It is I who is the All. From me all came forth and into me the All extended. Divide a piece of wood and I am there. Lift up a stone and there you will find me."
 The course: Wow! Talk about a fully liberated and fully self confident man! And how much clearer can it be that Jesus was fully integrated with the divine web and through it with God?
This is an example of the unity within the individual being projected out as the unity with the divine web and the unity with the universes: Alaha. This should be the goal for every person who sets their feet on the Gnostic path. A son of the God recognizes that he is the light of wisdom shining in this lower heaven. He knows he is one with divine web. A total being, both male and female, demigod and demigoddess. The below fused to the above in a totally integrated mind. A supremely self confident man devoid of ego.

Scholarly commentary Login 77 by Gerd Ludemann and Jack Finegan is as follows:
 "Jesus identifies himself with light (cf. John 8.12; 9.5), which is tremendously important in Thomas: 11.3b; 24.3; 50.1; 61.5; 83.1-2. Jesus claims to be mediator at creation (cf. Romans 11.36; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16). All this recalls the role of wisdom. The presence of Jesus as it is described in vv. 2-3 echoes Matt. 18.20; 28.20 – but in that passage, too, there is a wisdom background." (Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 629)

Jack Finegan writes: "The first sentence in this saying is doubtless to be recognized as thoroughly Gnostic in character. The theme of light is prominent in Gnostic writings (e.g., §113), and the 'All,' presumably meaning the totality of being, is also mentioned in such works as the Gospel of Truth (§341). The second sentence, which is the part common to the Coptic and the Greek texts, can be interpreted most simply as promising the invisible presence of Christ to the believer in his daily work, involved with stone and wood, the common materials of human labor. But with the introductory sentence in the Coptic, where Jesus is the 'All,' the promise seems to be set within the framework of pantheism or, more precisely stated, of panchristism." (Hidden Records of the Life of Jesus, p. 250)

One significant point is that church legacy has Saint -Apostle Thomas being an evangelist in India.  Also there are artifacts that support that.   He is NOT noted for preaching in Egypt for any significant period before or during 'his' purported Coptic – Gnostic authorships dated in the second to fourth century period.  These perhaps were more likely instituted by those like Valentinius as Thomas was of course dead by then.  1John 4:1  Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  

Also little of this "Thomas Gnostic" style of writing exists in India, but scholars accept threads of Gnostic tendencies in Thomas' works, and perhaps this was expanded well beyond Thomas' original intent after his lifetime. The point often lost by scholars is that the apostles and close disciples were of course in near shock over the deeds of Jesus, and other than the legacy of Jewish teachings they had no foundation to support what they witnessed.  Put yourself in such a position!   AFTER the resurrection they might have been as confused as they were convinced that has shared life with deity as man and then started to ponder just exactly what was it they heard and witnessed for after the resurrection it all had a new face on it -  that of God. John 3:12; If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?  John 6:36; But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe.Romans 10:14; How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? I add regarding the Gnostic 'lost books:' How do they know what they preach is truth? Thus I revert back to the immediate disciples, apostles and disciples of those apostles – and take my "Q" from them!
I think the above few examples are reasonable summaries of what to expect in this discourse on the Gospel of Thomas, and how one might use it to its best advantage.  If that is what you are looking for then this is the course for you.  No one says the interpretation of Gnostic text is easy, but in this essay I compared two analysis techniques for your consideration.


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