By Ariadne Green
Searching for Jesus’ words, his true teachings, amongst what Christianity has presented as the authoritative works in the New Testament, the four canonical gospels, left me wondering if Jesus had other things to say that might better satisfy my quest for enlightenment. Could he have left a secret written legacy and if he had, did any of it survive
About eight years ago, I began my research into the Gospel of Thomas, an early Christian text written in Coptic and discovered in Egypt in 1945 amongst a set of what are considered Gnostic codices. I was looking for references to a spiritual initiation called “bridal chamber”, a spiritually transformative initiation described in Gospel of Philip, and one that was thought to have been taught by Jesus to his disciples. What I discovered was a great deal more.
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Conveying a mysterious and enlightening doctrine of spiritual wisdom that would have been a radical departure from Judaic tradition, and baring some similarity with many of the parables and aphorisms (sayings) of four canonical gospels of the New Testament, the 114 saying of the Gospel of Thomas are remarkable testament of the teaching of Jesus “the Nazarene”. The author of this extraordinary gospel has been debated by scholars many of whom have attributed it to an unknown Gnostic writer, who was thought to have used the identity of the Apostle Thomas in order to gain acceptance amongst his Gnostic peers However, the Gospel is not consistent with Gnostic ideology leading many scholars to conclude it cannot be considered Gnostic. Labeled a heresy by the early Church, a more recent debate amongst scholars and theologians as to the importance of the Gospel of Thomas has led many to believe it was misjudged.
Rather than heresy, were these sayings in the Gospel of Thomas instead the authentic words of Jesus Christ? And furthermore, was it Jesus himself who compiled his own sayings into writing? Five clues suggest that The Gospel of Thomas was Jesus’ own attempt to leave a written legacy:
- The introductory line, “These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down”, is a dedication written as a secret code name whose meaning “Twin-Praise God-Twin”, is an equation uniting two with God. The same mystery is contained in several other sayings, for example, in saying 22 on “making the two one,” and is elaborated on in the Gospel of Philip, where it is described as an initiation taught by Jesus. At the same time, the identity obscures the author’s identity, giving praise to someone within Jesus’ inner circle—his twin soul.
- The early date given to this Gospel, as early as 30-60 AD, suggests that it could have been written within the years of Jesus’ ministry
- The fact that in two sayings Jesus makes reference to his sayings as his words, (for example: “these stones will minister to you.”), suggests he was presenting this gospel himself.
- The wisdom in the sayings is of such a profound philosophical and mystical nature that the sayings stand out as the writing of a teacher whose wisdom exceeded that of the Jesus portrayed in the four canonical gospels.
There is considerable evidence to suggest that the Gospel of Thomas was well circulated and highly regarded, enough so that the other gospel writers, in fact, drew from the sayings of the Gospel of Thomas when composing their own narratives about Jesus ministry. For instance, of the 114 sayings in the Gospel of Thomas, 21 or more, in one form or another, are found in Mark, usually adapted into an embellished narrative and put into a context of his public ministry. Also, paraphrased references to some sayings unique to The Gospel of Thomas were made by both Paul in 1 Corinthians and by Clement of Alexandria, in Stromata iii.13.92-93, suggesting that long before the gospel was deemed heresy, it was considered a source of Jesus words. And amongst Gnostic writing, a number of works were titled using the identity of Thomas, probably because the Gospel of Thomas was so highly regarded that the authors of these texts hoped their own writings would gain greater credibility.
Rather than relying on transcription of his spoken word, it is not hard to imagine that Jesus would have composed his more complex sayings and parables in writing, whether it was for a public sermon or in his private sessions with his disciples. Jesus says: “I will give you what no eye has seen, and what no ear has heard, and what no hand has touched, and what has not occurred to the human mind.”
Many of the sayings point the disciples, Mary Magdalene included, inwards on a journey of self-realization and recognition of the Kingdom within. Jesus says, “If those who lead you say to you: ‘Look, the kingdom is in the sky!’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you: ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fishes will precede you.
Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and outside of you.”
When you come to know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will realize that you are the children of the living Father. But if you do not come to know yourselves, then you exist in poverty, and you are poverty.”
The Kingdom that Jesus refers to is far different from the heavenly Kingdom described by other gospel writers. Jesus’ Kingdom is not of the next world but of this world, a dimension concealed to the un-awakened mind yet spread out before those who have lifted the veil enough to see. His disciples he likens to children and he reminds them that they are all children of God pointing them to the light that is contained within them. He says, “There is light within a person of light, and it shines on the whole world. If it does not shine, it is dark.”
Why was Jesus’ own Gospel not included in the New Testament? Opinion. In fact, as pointed out by Elaine Pagels in her book, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, negative opinion may have erupted very early, as it appears that the Gospel of John was written partly to counter the testimony of the Gospel of Thomas. One probable reason for Thomas’ omission is that did not support an apocalyptic view or the position that Jesus was God incarnate, as did John for instance, Instead, Jesus is the initiator into a mystery housed within every human soul, a charismatic mystic, philosopher and even a rebel who had dedicated his ministry to lighting a fire in the spiritual community. Jesus said, “I have cast fire upon the world, and look, I’m guarding it until it blazes.”
About the author:
Ariadne Green is the author of Ariadne’s Book of Dreams, 2001 and Divine Complement, 2006. She lived on Maui for 17 years and now resides in California. Her forthcoming book, Divine Complements Forever, explore the twin soul legacy of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.