Saturday, October 22, 2005

A Study of Thomas I

Ehrman's interpretation of the Gospel of Thomas, (from
pages 59-65 of Lost Christianities) is the (virtually) sole source of this post. It was written with my fellow students
at the Gainesville (FL) Friends Meeting especially in mind:

Thomas is thought to be a gnostic gospel, but Ehrman
wants us to understand that gnostic is a large
category of widely diverse ideas and points of view.
Then he goes on to describe gnosticism as generally

The material world came about "as part of a cosmic
catastrophe" and we spiritual beings, having come from
God, are entrapped and imprisoned here. We are
"like a drunk person who needs to become sober or like
someone sound asleep" or like a blind person.

Awakening we come out of the cave "and return to the
the blessed existence of our eternal home" (p. 59). The
"secret knowledge" is to know that you're in the dark
cave and that you want to come out into the sun.

Thomas "presupposes some such viewpoint and that if
readers read the text with [that] in mind, they can
make sense of almost all of the difficult sayings of
the book" (p. 60).

"Whoever has come to understand the world has found
only a corpse, and whoever has found a corpse is
superior to the world" (Saying 56).

This is indeed the common 'Christian' (and Thomasine)
understanding of spirit and world offered here by Bart
Ehrman and the common interpretation of Romans 8.

But it is called into question, especially by my better
half: the Incarnation means that Jesus (and God)
declared the world good
. Rather than being dead the world
is the servant of God in developing spiritual children.

The only sense in which Thomas perceives the uniquenss of
Jesus is to the extent that we are all able to be and to do
what he was and did (does).


david said...

I'm afraid I'm with your better halfd on this one. The world God created is good.

I think what distinguishes Christains from Gnostics is what they are talking about when they say "world" and "the world is evil".

Christians are talking about a spiritual power in rebellion against God and Gnostics are talking about the physical world of matter.

Meredith said...

Erhman does help me to understand this gospel - though I'm still not entirely clear on the word gnostic. And that's ok with me - I really don't like getting boggled with terms and definitions, or with history.

However, his definition here was very helpful, and matches perfectly my own experience. I agree with Ehrman's understanding of the gnostic quality of Thomas' sayings in that before we understand the 'secret' we, thinking we are separate from God, are imprisoned, asleep, and blind. We engage in activity and thinking that keeps us apart from God, and that causes suffering. Awakening is like coming out of a cave, of really seeing, of understanding true love for the first time. It is incredibly warm and compassionate. And this existence in the world is sooooo good.

Awake to this secret, this is the experience of being truly alive, where one's existence is truly heaven. It is glimpses into this heaven before we are fully awake which seem to rouse us, have us look further into the nature of our existence, of asking "who am I?" In this way, the world is a servant of God, nudging our spritual development.

Larry said...

Thanks David and Meredith for your supportive comments.

David, You are certainly right about Christians and Gnostics. Although Thomas is thought by many to be a gnostic gospel, I don't believe he was saying "the world is evil", but rather "our worldly thinking is worthless in the eternal realm; he used the piquant expression of 'a corpse'.

Meredith, gnostic is a catch-all phrase used by the proto-orthodox primarily to denigrate their theological opponents. In my History of the Church I used the word to connote those of us who look primarily within as the font of our faith.

Like so many words that mean so many different things to so many people the only thing we can do in discourse is to try to explain just what meaning we attach to it.

Your description of your own understanding is beautiful and very helpful.

Blessings to your both.

crystal said...

One of the things that bother me about gnosticism is the idea (dualistic) that there are two gods - one good and one bad the Demiurge. I guess this is one way to explain the paradox of a good and all powerful God with the suffering of the world.

Larry said...

That bothers me, too, Crystal. Of course, as you point out, it represents an attempt to deal with the problem of evil, which the philosophers say is the genesis of religion in general.

I much prefer the unitary God, and I think Thomas did, too, part of the reason I cannot call him a gnostic in the sense you've described it here.

Larry said...