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This is the Gnostic apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, which was found in the Nag Hammadi scrolls in 1945. The scroll was in the old Coptic (Egyptian) language. The translators provide 116 pages of critical introduction and historical backgrounds. They provide a clear summary of the known Gnostic literature that has been translated and evaluated, providing a comparison of theme and theology. The Gnostic literature is surveyed in relation to the canonical gospels and other literature.
The cultural and philosophical insights here will be helpful to those unfamiliar with that era of history. Grant's facts and analysis clarify some of the confused and conflicting popular ideas found in the options in the intellectual marketplace of today's roiling society of searching.
Not a Gospel
This writing is not a Gospel in the normal literary sense of the word. A Gospel is a certain literary form, exemplified by the story format narratives in the four Gospels placed first in the collection of writings called the New Testament. This book called the Gospel of Thomas is not a story of Jesus and his teaching and interactions with people.
The four canonical Gospels and others, such as the apocryphal Gospel of Barnabas, fill out a story-event scenario with Jesus' teachings and acts of healing. Even more important, the largest part of the Gospels is the "Passion," the crisis events in Jerusalem leading up to the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, and ending with the resurrection. The Gospel of Barnabas differs in how the story ends, modified with an ironic variation. But even that medieval work gives the climax to the Passion.
This "Gospel" of Thomas, however, does not focus on the sufferings and death of Jesus. This is just a collection of aphorisms, with a heavy Gnostic character and purpose. This is one reason the authors title their translation "The Secret Sayings." Jesus is posed here as a Teacher-Revealer of Esoteric Knowledge revealed only to certain chosen ones.
Darrell L Bock, in his broad critical comparison of all the Gnostic works, The Missing Gospels, classifies Thomas in the middle of the spectrum from traditional to "new" or Gnostic. Bock classifies this as a middle-of-the-road work, sharing much in content and perspective with the teachings of the Four Gospels, but leaning in the gnostic direction. There are definite gnostic tendencies. Thus some scholars class it as a Gnostic work.
Thomas is a collection of sayings or teachings of Jesus, asome of which are like the Synoptic Gospels, and some of which are in the common gnostic style. Many of these are exactly the same as in the canonical Gospels, many are similar. Some are very different. A few could be understood as presenting a different but not contradictory perspective.
The translators provide a good introduction and notes.
See related reviews and articles on this site:
Divine Concepts Compete
The Early Gospels
The Exclusively Inclusive Gospel
Fantasies and Fictions: Mary Magdalene as the Gaulic Christian Goddess
The Gospel of Judas — Is this Really Good News?
Judas: Historical Streams and Textual Themes
More Fantasies and Fictions: Mary Magdalene and an Epic of Scholarly Sleight-of-Hand
Semi-Gnostic, Semi-Christian, Semi-Islamic Gospel (Barnabas)
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First reading notes written 5 October 2004
Expanded in September and December 2007
Posted to Thoughts and Resources 17 December 2007
Reviewed on Amazon 2 March 2009
Revised here and posted on Barnes and Noble 3 May 2009
Last edited 13 January 2010
Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2007 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Please give credit and link back. Other rights reserved.