Gospel of Thomas by Stevan Davies (DLT), Click the book cover above to order your
copy from Amazon.
Mark, Luke and John... the four Gospels. But what if there was a fifth? Steve
Tomkins takes a look at a new translation of the Gospel of Thomas, dicsovered
in the 20th century.
Gospel of Thomas, like so many remnants of the early church, is a fascinating
and frustrating puzzle.
It was found in Egypt in 1945 two years
before the Dead Sea Scrolls in the buried library of an early Christian
sect, the Gnostics. Scholars already knew about it from a few quotes in a book
from around AD230, so it must have been written before that date.
experts argue that it was written before any of the accepted Christian Gospels
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and therefore offers a truer portrait
of Jesus than them. Others say that it was written over 100 years after them and
rips them off.
There are no stories in The Gospel of Thomas. Instead,
it gives a list of Jesus' sayings, like those books of quotes you can buy
The Wit and Wisdom of Jesus of Nazareth. So there are no miracles, and not even
a crucifixion and resurrection. More than half the sayings are versions of things
Jesus says in the four biblical Gospels, and the rest are new. The book is 114
verses long, so you can read it in one sitting.
Stevan Davies's new translation
is so readable you'll be through it in no time. He gives extensive notes which
are a lot longer than the Gospel itself, but on the opposite page to the text,
so they don't get in the way if you just want to read the Gospel.
that's definitely what you should do first time round. People's opinions about
the Gospel of Thomas are so varied it's good to read it for yourself before someone
tells you what to make of it.
But then it's the notes you're really paying
your £8.95 for, them and the clear, lively, up-to-date translation. You
can read Thomas for free all over the Internet, but in old translations that tend
to make it drag a bit.
So is Thomas the real deal? Are we reading priceless
words of Jesus we never heard before? Or is it a later remake, "based on
a true story"?
This is a big question, because if Thomas is kosher
then it must be one of the most exciting books in the world. If it's not, then
it's a book about what some second-century sect you never heard of thought about
Jesus, and life's too short.
Unfortunately, like most such questions,
there's no answer. Scholars decide the question, on the whole, according to what
they believe. Those who are rather attached to Christianity tend to say Thomas
is a fake, because it undermines the Jesus of the Bible. Those who aren't keen
on Christianity accept Thomas, for the same reason.
Davies is definitely
one of the second lot. He argues that Thomas takes us closer to the real Jesus
than the Bible does, honestly admitting that he is motivated by the fact that
he much prefers Thomas's Jesus. I rather doubt that he's entirely right, but then
I also wonder if Thomas is too easily dismissed by those who don't want it to
mess up Jesus.
It's well worth having a look. As the book says, 'The
seeker should not stop until he finds.'
St Thomas's homepage
Who were the Gnostics? the Gnosis Archive
Other books that didn't make it into the Bible