I read the Gospel of Thomas for the first time for our NT Seminar yesterday. Simon Gathercole came down and read a paper on the Christology of Thomas. A little background in case you aren’t familiar with it… It is a collection of 114 sayings (so a relatively quick read) of Jesus that dates from some time in the 2nd century. It’s genre would be similar to the proposed Q document. I believe scholars had about 20% of the manuscript in Greek from the 19th c., but the full Coptic text was discovered along with the Nag Hummadi manuscripts in the middle of the 20th c. While at first the Gospel was considered fully Gnostic, Simon said today the consensus is more that it definitely has Gnostic tendencies but does not reflect full-blown Gnostic tendencies, that is, an incipient or proto-Gnosticism.
I was struck by the fact that quite a few of the sayings have direct overlaps with the Synoptic Gospels or parallel sayings. The difficulty for me was to find a flow in the sayings. There is no narrative, except for a periodic small story within one of the sayings, so it harder to see the connection between the sayings, other than by repeated themes.
It was mentioned that Gnosticism was really primarily a system developed to explain the occurence of evil in the world. When discussing the Gnosticness of the Gospel, Simon mentioned that the basic criteria that he had for calling a writing Gnostic was the existence of a demiurge and a conception of evil creation, which Thomas has nothing of the kind. However, he also said this may be a different genre, so that may not need to show up here. Themes related to knowledge and light are found there.
Simon gives four previous interpretations of christology in Thomas: 1) Gnostic redeemer, 2) Sage, 3) No christology, and 4) Exalted Jesus with exalted disciples (the sayings have the disciples sharing in an exalted state with Jesus). Simon’s thesis (branching off #4) is that an exalted Jesus can be found over and above the disciples, rather than an egalitarian relationship. He points to themes such as Jesus being judge, source of light, the electing one, pre-existent, etc. It seemed convincing to me. However, it is difficult though to pull out a systematic theme with the seemingly random assortment of sayings, which Simon conceded that he wasn’t trying to develop a systmatic theology of Jesus based on this text but just show the tendencies shown in the document. A friend, Matthew Scott, thought the theme of knowledge was much more important to the interpretation than Simon pointed out. In the sayings, Jesus does nothing but reveal knowledge and know the truth.