Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Gospel of Thomas

Translated and annotated by Stevan Davies

Fun fact: According to Thomas, circumcision is a senseless custom.

  The Gospel of Thomas is one of the secret texts discovered in a desert cave near Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt.  According to scholars, these texts were written nearly at the same time as the canonical Gospels in the New Testament. These secret texts, dubbed the Nag Hammadi library, is composed of not only this gospel. There's also the controversial Gospel of Judas, Gospel of Philip, The Secret Book of John, and the Gospel of The Egyptians, just to name a few.

   It's interesting to note that half of the sayings in the Gospel of Thomas can be found in the New Testament and scholars already knew about its existence even before the Nag Hammadi discovery. Apparently, this gospel was mentioned in the works of the third century Church father, Hippolytus. Stevan Davies wrote that the Gospel of Thomas "emphasizes that the Kingdom of Heaven exists right before us in this present moment."

   Before I got to read the Gospel of Thomas, I've read the Gospel of Judas last year. The Gospel of Judas showed the light-hearted and laughter-loving side of Jesus whose teachings gravitate to Eastern wisdom, revealing him to be more of a teacher than a saviour. Meanwhile, in the Gospel of Thomas you can sense that Jesus did not intentionally come here to be a "Prince of Peace" but someone who understands the power struggle and politics involved in Church teachings and its traditions. In this gospel, he denounces the norms of the church and is quite rebellious, bordering on anarchy.

  In the book, Stevan Davies' commentaries on each passage of the Gospel of Thomas attempts to give suggestions and share observations while inviting the reader to form their own ideas and interpretations. Davies wants the readers to do their own seeking and find their own meaning and the hidden messages in the texts. He wrote:

"The sayings of Thomas are suppose to be enigmatic, difficult to fathom, and difficult to understand."

 And it's true. I had to read each passage carefully. Sometimes twice. Sometimes five times or more, even with the commentaries and backgrounds given by Davies. I had to give it time to let it sink in. Yes, there are passages that I don't quite understand. But the rest I found meaningful by looking through my own experiences and my own understanding of its relevance to modern times. And I'm just halfway through the book.

 The texts show Jesus having very different views on religion and the human condition. Let me sum it up in one sentence: If Jesus were here right now he's going to shake things up with the Church and he's going to give them hell.


Here is the first passage (and probably my favorite passage) from the gospel:

 Jesus said: the seeker should not stop until he finds. When he does find, he will be disturbed. After having been disturbed, he will be astonished. Then he will reign over everything.

 My thoughts: Anyone who chooses their own spiritual journey outside of their religion (as in no more dependence on religious authorities to tell them what everything means) knows that part of being an independent seeker will involve truths that will disturb our old, long-held beliefs that we've built our lives around on. Some truths will challenge our identity. Some truths will reveal our ignorances and prejudices. But the beauty of this "disturbance" is that once you've come to terms with it, you will be astonished- you will find  freedom and you'll see the world in a different light. A world full of beauty and possibilities.

 Here is a more challenging and provocative text that I'm still struggling with:

Jesus said to them: if you fast, you will bring sin to yourselves, and if you pray you will be condemned, and if you give to charity you will damage your spirits.

So what do you make of this? What do you think Jesus was implying? Is it on the context of sincerity in one's acts? Is he suggesting that repentance presupposed one's sinful acts?

I'm gonna have to get a less heavy read after this. My brain can only take so much.

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