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"Jesus, the Gospel of Thomas and knowledge"

An essay donated by Allan W. Janssen

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This is an excerpt from the book "The Plain Truth About God-101" by Allan W Janssen. You can purchase the book in PDF format at: www.God-101.com

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We have to keep in mind, and never lose sight of the fact that the historical "Jesus" was culturally a product of the ancient Near East, and in an area under Roman sovereignty. "Christ" was a product of the people and times that came after him: Most notably Pauline thought, as well as a Greek influence.

The parables and stories of the historical Jesus were the product of a first century Jewish "rabbi-sage-cynic" from Galilee who had an enormous influence on a handful of people around him.

We will refer to the historical figure as "Jesus" from now on and the person of mythology as being the "Christ" of our modern religion.

Christianity, in its simplest terms, is the result of previous centuries of Jewish and Greek myth and conjecture. It's about the coming of a "Messiah," and revolves around the resurrection.

The teachings of Jesus were altered to fit the legend but definitely took a secondary role.

We all know that the gospels were composed many years after the death of not only Jesus, but even of most of the people who knew him directly. Not only were these Gospels displaced in time, but were also displaced culturally. Since Greek speaking Christians composed them, even further meaning was lost in translation from the Aramaic.

There are now two main, and disparate, schools of thought about the origin of Christianity.

The first, and mistaken belief is that Jesus himself, as well as his teachings, was the founder.

The other is that the Christ or "Anointed One" of the Resurrection, (Shaped by Pauline thought) is the bases of this religion.

This may seem to be a small distinction upon first inspection, but in the end a very crucial one.

If it is based on the teachings, and more importantly, the example of Jesus, then his words take on enormous significance.  If, on the other hand, the "Resurrection" and "Pauline thought" is taken as the bases for Christianity, then it is based on the ideas and beliefs of the people who came after him!

Remember a very important fact!  Jesus never personally claimed to be conducting his ministry to "erase man's sins," just as he never claimed to be Divine himself.  Jesus constantly referred to himself as the "son of  God,"-- just as we all are!

The early Christian gospels are not historical biographies of Christ and do not really give us insight into the life of Jesus.

These gospels proclaim a message about Jesus and express a significance that the early Christians found in Jesus.

They are written in a way that appeals to historical truth, but they are not history in any actual sense.

The gospels expressed what people experienced about Jesus in the context of the first century Near East.  This experience was taken as a "revelation" of the Divine, and they tell us what the early Christians actually believed about Jesus!

Until the recent deciphering of the Gospel of Thomas and the discovery of the "Q" sayings, this knowledge of Christ was the only bases we had to explore the historical Jesus.  As a result, it was very difficult to differentiate between the actual words of Jesus and the words his followers (Christians) attribute to him.  Fortunately, this is changing.

It must be noted that "Q" (German for Quelle, or source) has only recently been deciphered from the first three gospels by comparing them side by side. In this comparison, there were many divergent views and stories, but scholars also found a commonality within them that made no mention of the miracles of Christ.  Rather they pointed to the striped down sayings and parables that were probably the "authentic words of Jesus."

Since the first gospel, Mark, was not written until thirty-five or forty years or so after the death of Jesus, (Well over a generation later!) we have to remember that early Christian preachers told stories about Jesus in order to convey the significance they saw in him.

In explaining his parables and stories, it was necessary to paraphrase them and even add to them by way of clarification.

The early Christians did not distinguish between the actual Jesus and the Christ of their religion.  They also did not distinguish between the sayings of the earthly Jesus and the explanations and interpretations of Christ's sayings given by their leaders.

Here we have a case where the actual sayings of the earthly Jesus, (Q) were mixed with Christian interpretations of his words.

Then, various popular sayings and words of wisdom of the time, and the purported words of the risen "Christ" were all collected in a primary work which started out with the synoptic gospels of Mark, then Matthew and Luke. After these three gospels, things took an even sharper turn and went in the direction of our modern version of Christianity with the apocalyptic works of John.

The authors of the gospels were actually anonymous, but for convenience sake, we use the traditional names of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John.  The first gospel - Mark, is loosely based on the first three or four decades of oral tradition plus "Q," and the "Gospel of Thomas," which was passed down to the author(s)

The first gospels were written largely in an attempt to provide some standard collection of the stories circulating about Jesus.  All, that is, with the exception of the Gospel of John, which is apocalyptic and more concerned with making a theological statement.  These gospels were not immediately recognized as authority.  As late as 96 A.D. Clement, the Bishop of Rome proclaimed the only authoritative texts of Christianity to be the Old Testament and the various sayings attributed to Jesus then in circulation.  The Gospels did not appear in Christian writings until around 135 AD.

The same lack of authoritarian certification can be said of the Gospel of Thomas, which might well be the most informative discovery about Christian origins in modern history.

The Gospel was often mentioned in early Christian literature, but no copy was thought to have survived until the discovery of a Coptic manuscript in 1945 at Nag Hammadi in Egypt.

Portions of Greek versions of the Gospel of Thomas were found in Oxyrhynchus Egypt about one hundred years ago and these can be dated to about 140 C.E. or somewhat before.  A complete version in Coptic (the native Egyptian language written in an alphabet derived from the Greek alphabet) as we mentioned, was found in Nag Hammadi Egypt in 1945.  That version can be dated to about 340 C.E.  The Coptic version is a translation of the Greek version.

Thus most, if not all, of the Gospel of Thomas was written prior to 100 C.E. Thomas is a pure sayings gospel; that is, it consists only of a collection of the sayings of Jesus without any extended narrative or explanation.

While Thomas is not Q, its discovery proves the theory that such collections existed in the early days of Christianity.  The discovery of Thomas as part of a Gnostic library has led many to believe it a Gnostic creation. However, very little of it would have been considered unorthodox to the early church. What little questionable material can be found is probably a later addition.

Thomas does represent a Jewish "Wisdom" philosophy that was embraced by Jesus and the Gnostics.  - "That the kingdom of God is not something we must await for - but is in fact already here, if only we can become spiritual enough to see it".

One of these documents found at Nag Hammadi begins with a note in the margin, "The Gospel According to Thomas."  The first sentence of that document says, "These are the secret words which the living Jesus taught and which Judas Thomas Didymos wrote down." Then they start over 110 sayings, each introduced with "and Jesus said."

Now this is very reveling since some of those sayings have parallels with the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, -- and some not.

However, we can state that sayings or parables that are repeated two or more times in any of the early Gospels have a much higher chance of being an actual utterance by the historical Jesus.

These sayings may go back to a very early period of Christianity; some of them may have been added later.  The document itself comes from the fourth century and as with all gospel text, we have to remember that these texts were fluid.  Remember, scribes could add, could leave things out, or could add comments and even their own interpretations.  They not only could, but also did!

We cannot, reconstruct with certainty, what the Gospel of Thomas looked like around the year 100 or earlier.  It is very likely that it existed at that time or before, and that a good deal of the material that's now in that manuscript was already in a Greek manuscript that dates back to the first century.

Now what is typical about these sayings is that in each instance, they tell us that if you want to understand what Jesus said, you have to first recognize yourself.  You have to know yourself, know who you are.  It begins with a saying about the Kingdom of God, which is probably one of the most important, and reveling proclamations.

"If you seek the Kingdom of God in the sky then the birds will precede you, and if you seek it in the sea, then the fish will precede you, but the Kingdom is in you, and if you know yourself, then you know the Kingdom of the Father."

"However, if you do not know yourself, you live in poverty, not knowledge!"

To know yourself is the knowledge of our Divine origin -- the fact that we have come from the Kingdom of the Father.

What does it mean really to know oneself?  To know is to have insight into one's own ultimate Divine identity.

"Know yourself" is a very old Greek maxim...  That is, you have to know that your own soul is Divine, and then you know that you are immortal.  Whereas, the body is the mortal part of human existence.

Now this is radicalized in the Gospel of Thomas into saying that everything that is experienced physically and through sense perception, everything in the world that you can perceive in this way is nothing.  It is, at best, chaos and, at worst, it does not even exist in reality.

The only thing that really exists is your Divine spirit or your Divine soul, which is identical in its quality with God.

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Copyright © by Allan W. Janssen
Originally posted: 2006-JUN-09
Latest update: 2006-JUN-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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