Monday, January 20, 2014

The Gospel of Thomas: a quick guide


Need to remember or revise some basic information about the Gospel of Thomas? Here is a guide I have used before and wrote up for a seminar last week.
Gospel according to Thomas: title acc. to the subscription in Nag Hammadi Codex II
Gospel: significant
Thomas (GT 1; lost of other literature attributed: Acts Thomas, Book Thomas Contender, Infancy Gospel of Thomas)

G = Gnostic (obviously a question as well of definition, history, provenance & theology)
O = Origen (knows of a Gospel according to Thomas, Hom. Luke 1)
S = Sayings (GT 1: ‘these are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke’)
P = Parables (many: net, sower, weeds, banquet, vineyard etc.: diff. from SGs)
E = Early (early material on almost any view)
L = Lacking OT (nothing; polemical: GT 52)

O = oi logoi sophwn (words of the wise: connection with wisdom genres)
F = Form/genre

T = Three Greek papyri (P. Oxy 1, 654, 655)
H = Hundred and 14 sayings (not numbered in original, but clearly demarcated)
O = One Coptic Manuscript (Nag Hammadi Codex II; Apoc. John, GT, Gos. Philip …)
M = Monachoi (‘monks’ = GT 16, 49, 75)
A = ‘All’ (GT 2: ‘… king over the All’, 67, 77: ‘I am the All’)
S = Seventy-Nine sayings have synoptic parallels


  1. A nice guide. Minor typo? lost of -->lots of other literature attributed.

  2. The nonscientific and ridiculous was when the Hebrew and Greek were translated using the rules of Latin. The NT was written using Macedonian Greek, which is a coded language not meant to be directly spoken. ( G.R. Collins translator

  3. What is gnostic about the gospel of Thomas? Do you see Demiurgical thought anywhere in Thomas?

  4. I rather like this, but I'm wondering about the "gnostic" designation. You include this without any nuance, but it's important to note that much modern scholarship on Thomas has been moving away from understanding Thomas as a Gnostic text. Thoughts on how you might adapt this guide given recent scholarly critiques?

  5. Did you guys read the bit in the brackets? It is a question whether GT is gnostic! It is also a whole lot of questions about the definition and history of gnosticism; and about the provenance and theology of this text. This is not a guide to contemporary scholarly thought on the subject.

  6. The problem is that GThomas is not gnostic by really any definition. So it is not a question of definition. Equally one would not define GThomas as Marcionite, Manichean or Arian, because under no circumstances could the text be interpreted in this way.

    Some of the Nag Hammadi texts are clearly Sethian or Valentinian, but increasingly scholars are affirming that many NHL texts just don't fit neatly into any gnostic framework. The distinction is important, because it concerns the nature of the Nag Hammadi Library. This group of codices was probably being used within an orthodox monastic setting, and reflects the various Christological controversies which were happening within orthodoxy in the late 4th / early 5th centuries.

    So in this sense, if our Coptic GThomas text is anything, it is monastic, ascetic and orthodox.

  7. There is not a single chance that anyone who has read GT could declare it Orthodox in any historical sense! Much of GT exhibits typical gnostic traits. Regardless, as usual a post that is of great value to me.

  8. There is not a single chance that anyone who has read GT could declare it Orthodox in any historical sense! Much of GT exhibits typical gnostic traits. Regardless, as usual a post that is of great value to me.

  9. ANON,
    You missed my point. GThomas is ambiguous as to what meaning it is trying to convey. The text's readership was probably orthodox monks in the case of NHC II, though, and not some heretical group. GThomas does not explicitly offer any Sethian or Valentinian concepts. Where does it mention a demiurge, aeons or emanations, if it is gnostic?

    In terms, of "there not being a single chance ...", you are uniformed. Yes, some would still argue that it is Gnostic, but I think that this position is on the way out.

  10. Paul Anderson1/23/2014 7:12 pm

    St. Cyril of Jerusalem says of the so-called Gospel of Thomas in his Catechesis, "The Manichaeans also wrote a Gospel according to Thomas, which being tinctured with the fragrance of the evangelic title corrupts the souls of the simple sort." and again, "Let none read the Gospel according to Thomas: for it is the work not of one of the Twelve Apostles, but one of the wicked disciples of Manes."

    So, at least of if this is the same one commonly called into question, I don't believe was accepted at any time as Orthodox nor accepted at any time by the Orthodox Church or by the Coptic Church.

    Paul D. Anderson

  11. Paul,

    I don't think it is possible that Cyril's Manichean gospel is the same as that of NHC II. Additionally, the issue is not whether or not the NHC II GThomas was accepted as canonical. What is apparent is that some orthodox were benefiting from its ascetic teachings.

  12. Christian, It looks to me like it could be NHC G. Thomas that Cyril is refering to in Cat. 4.36 as claiming the title of a 'gospel' and corrupting simple Christians (6.31 is the other reference cited earlier). Why don't you think that is possible? Have you got a better candidate?

  13. Can we trust Cyril that the GThomas with which he is familiar is indeed Manichean, which would suggest that he knows a different GThomas (sincere question)? Maybe not. Possibly, Cyril knew the NHC Thomas, and the relationship to Mani is either unreal or not evident in the text. The other problem is the Oxyrhynchus papyri of GThomas, which date early enough to be problematic for a Manichean origin. Having said that, I think the paleographic dating used is hardly reliable to firmly place them (1, 654, 655) in the 3rd century. So, you could be right about Cyril, but I don't see any basis for the reference to Manichaeism. (There is no Manichean material in the NHL, if I understand correctly.)

  14. Oh, I was not thinking that Cyril was either right or particularly accurate on provenance. I think Cyril is just generally anti-Manichean. So he probably just thinks of it as heretical. So discounting that (although I suppose one could wonder whether GT could be taken over or interpreted as Manichean), his note about the title is interesting, as well as the idea that GT would trouble Christians who had been encouraged to read it. They fit GT better than other known candidates.