Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Gospels Revisited - The Jesus Seminar

I meet Course students who don't have the familiarity with the Christian tradition to appreciate some of the comments in A Course In Miracles, and the evident allusions to New Testament stories, and some of them would like to find a decent source. At the present time this edition, The Complete Gospels,  is arguably the finest resource one could consult, in particular also because it simply presents all the different gospel traditions side by side, without overly emphasizing those that Christianity declared to be the canon of the NT. It is the most neutral and unbiased way to be introduced to this important cultural good. For people who have been exposed to a lot of this material in their upbringing, but who want to take a new look at it, this edition naturally is the best source.

The Jesus Seminar is doing an incredible job in making many materials accessible. For my upcoming book Closing the Circle: Pursah's Gospel of Thomas and A Course In Miracles, I have extensively consulted The Five Gospels, and I'm discussing that book's conclusions about the authenticity of Thomas sayings in an appendix to the book. While I'm not really using this edition for my book and this blog is really focused on materials for the book, I still want to post this note here, if nothing else because I mentioned in my discussion of The Five Gospels that there is a need for this kind of an edition. I may also remind the reader that Gary Renard has shared with us that Pursah favors The Gospels of Thomas, Mary, and Phillip.

This book is brilliant, and very helpful. It provides modern, clean very non-denominational translations of the Gospel materials, and the only deference it shows to the canonical gospels of Christianity is by putting the synoptics first, though in chronological order (Mark first), not in orthodox theological order (Matthew first), and prefacing John with the putative "Signs" gospel that may have preceded it.  Then follow the sayings gospels, specifically the reconstruction of Q as well as Thomas. Chronologically these actually are deemed to precede Mark at least as a general literary form, so this is the one compromise to the Christian orthodoxy that this book makes. The time line which the JS believes in is in sync with Pursah's position in Your Immortal Reality, to wit, the kernel of Thomas may have been together by ca. 50 CE. (When we're in the presence of the Jesus Seminar it is politically correct to use 'CE' in lieu of 'AD.') The bulk of it would seem to have congealed ca 70-100 CE, but the JS pointedly observe that Thomas must have been 'together' before the synoptic Gospels, based on the internal evidence of the sequence of ideas as much as literary form between the sayings traditions and the synoptics. Helpfully the book also presents the Greek Thomas fragments from Papyrus Oxyrrhynchus, which are of some interest because of the variations they show.

Reading between the lines, I suspect that one of the reasons they feel Thomas congealed as a document only at the same time as the narrative gospels would be because they feel they have to account for the gnostic influences, and gnosticism doesn't take off till later. We may look at that question differently with Pursah and the Course, and understand that some of what Jesus taught originally definitely was grist for the mill of gnosticism, and Jesus did not start out as an orthodox Christian but some of his words sounded 'gnostic' and so the material became tainted with gnosticism later. On the contrary Jesus' original teaching contained some elements, including that of an inner knowing, or 'gnosis' of truth, which naturally lent themselves to be expanded upon by later gnosticism (and often distorted in the process), while the emergent orthodoxy edited that tendency out of his teachings with Paul leading the charge.

Next follow the Infancy Gospels which are rather late myths, then Fragmentary Gospels, some of which are still highly interesting,  followed by the Jewish-Christian Gospels and then Orphan Sayings and  Stories. The whole makes for a very complete and balanced edition, and very worth perusing. It should also be remembered that many Jesus stories apocryphal and otherwise were not gone when the church forbade them or destroyed the manuscripts. One example is the beautiful legend of St. Christopher. Never mind the church abolished him from the register of saints, for being fictional, the influence his story has had on the western mind can hardly be underestimated, witness the many images of St. Christopher in medieval art. The same applies for much of the apocryphal material - the church may have successfully destroyed the books, but the traditions frequently lived on.

If there are shortcomings they are easily offset by the many merits of this publication. I note in the introduction that the emphasis still is on wanting to understand the history of Christianity, which is not interesting to me. What interests me is the tradition of the teachings of Jesus, and this collection can shed light on that. Some word choices in the translation are a definite improvement such as "change of heart" for the Greek "metanoia," which is much better than the God-awful "repentance" of traditional Christian (read Pauline) translations, and a beautiful parallel to the Course's "change of mind," which would arguably be more accurate since Greek "noia" comes from "nous," which definitely does mean mind, but "change of heart" certainly conveys that meaning if in a less technical and more poetic sense.

Sometimes the preference for a what is supposedly contemporary language pours too much water in the wine of good translation and compromises the meaning. An example is a key phrase in Mk 4:34, which I'm quoting here in both the SV and KJV versions:
Yet he would not say anything except by way of parable, but would spell everything out to his own disciples. (Mk. 4:34 SV)
But without parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples. (Mk. 4:34 KJV)
The original Greek, however "kat idian" connotes "privately," or "individually" and clearly that is the whole point of the statement, which is irretrievably lost in the smooth language of the SV. This is where it is clear that linguistics is not the only qualification to translating, understanding the subject matter is equally relevant, and that comes only through the experience of actually practicing what Jesus teaches.

There are other places where the effort to bring a fresh and modern translation occasionally goes overboard in my view. Greek 'basileia' does mean kingdom, and the choice to use instead 'God's Imperial Rule' is at least equally debatable, and I find that Pursah's choice of  'God's Divine Rule' would be far preferable and less ambiguous as a translation, particularly in view of how Jesus speaks of giving to the Emperor what is the Emperor's - clearly ' Imperial'  would be primarily associated with the empires of the world. But again those are minor points in the overall scheme of things - readability and relative freedom of the homogenizing influence of Christian theology on most translations are important steps in the right direction.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Marvin Meyer's Gospel of Thomas

Marvin Meyer's translation is without any doubt the leading translation of the Thomas Gospel and is available in numerous editions, both by itself and as part of larger collections. Before there was Pursah's kernel of the Thomas Gospel, as published in Gary Renard's Your Immortal Reality, Pursah at one point recommended  the Marvin Meyer edition to Gary as the best translation at that time. At the time Gary shared this information on the Yahoo-list for Disappearance of the Universe. I favor the separate edition, which has the Coptic text, Marvin Meyer's introduction and notes.

Meyer's introduction is succinct and to the point, and wonderfully insightful. I may not always agree with it in detail, but it is helpful, and his point of view is reasonable. He comes to the conclusion that evidently pieces of the Thomas Gospel go back to the early times, and that as a literary form the sayings gospels predate the narrative gospels. He feels however that the book as a whole probably congealed closer to the date of the Oxyrrhynchus Papyri, which he puts at 200 AD, but that is a detail since he clearly allows for an early origin, which is critical as I've pointed out elsewhere on this blog.

He cites some specific examples that make it insightful to the reader why, besides the general form of the sayings gospel being part of the early tradition along with Q, certain specific logia very evidently present an early form which was later embellished in the narrative gospels, thereby giving us strong clues about the historical relationship between the two. The example he gives is the parable of the sower in saying 9, which reappears in the synoptic gospels in an embellished form, making it seem very logical that Thomas has the "original" form. On the whole however he does allow for some disagreement among scholars, in terms of the relationship, which evidently do exist, and by the way are easier to accommodate with Meyer's position that some sayings are from the early days but the book as a whole from the second century. This particular aspect of his position might actually harmonize well with what Pursah does say in Your Immortal Reality, namely that the kernel of seventy sayings which she gives was together early on, and that the rest were embellishments which simply accrued over time, which would explain why by the date of the Oxyrrhynchus papyri, we might have an expanded Gospel of Thomas, of now 114 sayings, and a lot of internal contradiction.

Next he explores the position of the Jesus seminar which also is that the Thomas sayings have a high likelihood of going back to the original Jesus of history, noting along the way that this means the recently fashionable view of the apocalyptic figure of Jesus as portrayed by Albert Schweitzer, can no longer be supported based on the Thomas information. Jesus now appears more as a wisdom teacher, as a spiritual guide. One of the points of contrast with the traditional Christian view he cites is the obvious emphasis at the outset that by finding the meaning of these sayings we will be enlightened, and that is evidently a totally different Jesus speaking than anything Christianity has shown us. Another is in saying 113, the notion that the Kingdom is here now, except we don't see it. This comes close to the position of the Course, and the notion of our responsibility for sight, by choosing between ego and Holy Spirit. His notion of seeing Jesus more as a cynic philosopher, who is looking to awaken us from our mental rut is a very reasonable assessment of the new notion of Jesus. In all this introduction of 15 pages covers more worthwhile material than some entire books.

The text and translation are wonderful, meticulous, but nowhere forced. He chooses not to try and capitalize terms like Kingdom and Heaven, which is reasonable, though it would not be my preference. The argument for it is to remove it from Christian stereotypes. For readers who come at this material from a Course perspective, that risk seems less likely, and we might like to see the familiar capitalization. Printing the translation on facing pages next to the Coptic text is a pleasant arrangement, and simply beautiful, even if you can't read Coptic. The notes at the end are wonderful, and like the style of the introduction, succinct and to the point, which does not mean I always agree. In the notes to the prologue, Meyer argues that the "Living Jesus" probably does not refer to the resurrected Jesus, when I feel that this definitely is exactly what it would mean, i.e. that the resurrection which is an experience of the mind, predated the crucifixion and that for the time of his ministry on earth Jesus was an Awake from the dream, which is why he could teach the way he did. This is one of the arguments which raged in the early centuries between the "heretics" (gnostics and other dubious folk), and the emerging orthodoxy, which finally settled on the resurrection of the body, which takes place only after the crucifixion. With the Course we might look at that differently, simply realizing that advanced teachers could appear at will, and that the Christian focus on the body misses the point.

The book concludes with an essay from Harold Bloom, who has a particularly gnostic take on the Thomas Gospel. He certainly hits many interesting points, though for my money of course the Course perspective as given by Pursah carries the day, and we would hardly see Jesus as a Gnostic teacher, though we might notice with interest that many core notions of his teachings were developed in interesting ways by later Gnostics, such as Valentinus. Meyer on his end definitely tempers the currently fashionable trend of declaring the Thomas Gospel a gnostic book, and he alludes to all the uncertainties and confusion attached to the term. In all this book is, next to the edition of The Five Gospels by the Jesus Seminar, undoubtedly my favorite Thomas edition, though there are many other worthwhile editions around.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Thomas one of Five? Ask the Jesus Seminar.

 This has to be one of my favorite editions of the Gospels currently on the market in English. This book is thorough and complete, and it really empowers you to study, ask your own questions, and it is not beholden to church positions which force other authors to assume later dating of Thomas, ultimately so as not to upset the applecart of Christian orthodoxy.

The book starts with a thorough exposé on the historical position of the Thomas Gospel as a precursor to the narrative gospels (synoptics), relying on the common sense insight that the sayings gospels were a type that preceded the more elaborate and interpretative narratives of later authors, all of which seem to date two or more generations after Jesus. The Q and Thomas traditions which just collected sayings seem to go back to the first generation, immediately following Jesus' death, roughly the years 35-55 AD. They lay out the time line very carefully, showing both Q and Thomas as originally oral traditions that flowed gradually into the written traditions and provided raw material for the later writers.

The translation is fresh and new and thought-provoking. They provide a reasoned accounting for their assessment of the authenticity of the Thomas sayings, which makes a fascinating read if you're in to that. By providing thorough cross-referencing they offer plenty of food for thought and opportunity to make your own assessments of the likely flow of ideas. One inspiring notion is their translation of 'Kingdom' as 'Heaven's Imperial Rule.' To my personal taste that seems a case of 'close but no cigar' because of the awkwardness of the 'imperial' moniker, given how Jesus uses Caesar as a symbol of the ego, and the ruler of the world. However in Pursah's version she chooses in some places the expression 'God's Heavenly Rule,' and that seems to be a next step along the same line of thinking, which does make sense, and so clearly Pursah is concerned to convey a more practical sense of the meaning of the somewhat forbidding term 'Kingdom,' though she uses it as well, as does the Course.

Besides the Marvin Meyer translation, this is probably the Thomas version I use the most. It is remarkably free of prejudice overall, because it does recognize that Thomas is from an early date. The one thing we might ask is, why do they make the editorial choice of putting the synoptics in chronological order (Mark first), rather than in the accepted (orthodox) theological order (Matthew first), but yet they still put Thomas last? Purely chronologically Thomas should come first. However this raises the next question, and that is why indeed stop at five? Just because Thomas is the most complete? This is still an indication that the book belongs to a Christian world view. I believe the independent world view at the present state of our knowledge would simply recognize that the canonical tradition has nothing to recommend it, other than that they won out, with a little help from their friend, the Emperor Constantine, solidifying the intellectual supremacy of a Christian orthodoxy which relied on Paul, Peter, bishops Irenaeus, and Athanasius, congealing first in the Nicene Creed at 325, and later Athanasius' list of the NT Canon in 367. So, in putting Thomas last, this edition still is deferential to the canon. I would argue so are some of its conclusions about the authenticity of Jesus' statements, except that by providing the full accounting they do, the reader can really draw his own conclusions.

In short, if we let go more and more of the limiting framework of later orthodoxy (post Nicea), we would simply read the literature from those years in a spirit that evidently nobody completely understood Jesus, some succeeded in making a world religion out of him, arriving at the opposite relationship to the Roman Empire of what Jesus had foreseen ('Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, give to God what is God's.'). Others followed quite their own path in a variety of contemplative paths, gnostic philosophies and religions, mystery religions, faiths and practices, all of which highlight very different aspects of his teaching, and the sheer variety of which practically defies the imagination. Ever more we would find ourselves in a fix, having to decide that we are really on our own, and need to follow our intuition as to what Jesus really said. For me, the only real answer in the end comes not from the rubble of history, no matter how brilliant the treatment, but from the statement at in the preface of A Course in Miracles, saying that "Its only purpose is o provide a way in which some people will be able to find their own Internal Teacher," or in fact in the oft repeated injunctions from Jesus in the old literature: "Seek and ye shall find," as well as "Follow me, and I'll make you fishers of men." Without our own relationship with him, which is questioning and based on the acceptance that we have not understood, but we're willing to learn, so that we now come to him as a student, as a disciple, and no longer as a theologian who already knows, and really ends up telling Jesus what he means to say, which is what Christianity has mostly done.

Besides a general collection of the Nag Hammadi writings, this book is probably the single most helpful source for someone raised to some degree in  a supposedly Christian world, to begin to develop a broader view of what the historical impact of Jesus might have been, what his authentic meaning might have been, before he was bombarded into being a proto-Christian after the fact by the 'winning' clan of Bishops gathered at Nicea.

Elaine Pagels: Re-discovering Thomas

Active interest in the Thomas Gospel dates from the 1890's, pursuant to the discovery of the first Greek fragments of it in the Oxyrrhynchus papyri, and started to seep into popular culture ever since translations of fragments became part of major collections of apocryphal NT literature in the early 20th century. In protestant Northern Europe these found mass circulation in the early 20th cetury, apparently less so in English speaking markets, though it was available around the same time. After the discoveries at Nag Hammadi this interest went into overdrive. Translations of the Coptic Thomas Gospel started appearing in the late 50's, and seem to have grown to a steady stream.
I experienced some of the early excitement as a child, when my parents attended a presentation from Prof. Gilles Quispel in the 1960's - finally Jesus in his own words! and no longer through the filter of Paul and the church... Somehow it seems that with Elaine Pagels' book, Beyond Belief the afterburners kicked in at least in the Anglo-Saxon market, and the Thomas Gospel truly began to enter the mainstream. Why was it that, when Elaine Pagels published this book it seemed as if, at least in the English speaking markets, interest in the Gospel of Thomas suddenly took flight? I don't know. Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code as well as Gary Renard's The Disappearance of the Universe, both of which were published at the same time, seemed likewise to take completely unexpected flight, playing in part into the same material in different ways. So the time was right for Thomas, and these three authors caught the wave.

Pagels writes from the vantage point of a "recovering" Christian - the opening line of her book is about her visit to the (Episcopalian) Church of the Heavenly Rest in Manhattan - and that approach brings with it some limitations in appreciating Thomas, but also some unique qualifications to open the field, since this is where most of her readership starts from. As a first exploration of Thomas this book has a lot to recommend it for many readers who are curious, the last word it is not. Dan Brown's book does its job with chutzpah and the flights of fancy of a suspense thriller even if sometimes with a regrettable pretense of historicity bordering on a hoax, which plays into a juvenile sentiment that the church is holding out on us (which is historically accurate in a deeper sense of course). Gary Renard's work brings up the rear with what may arguably be the most logical and appealing presentation, though for a general reader some of his story may seem utterly fantastic at first, except that the result is easily the most logical, coherent and consistent approach to the phenomenon of Thomas. Old Occam would be pleased. But back to Pagels for now.

Pagels starts out with sharing a personal existential crisis, the death of her young son (age six), and how she found herself going back to church during some years of struggling with his health crisis ever since he was born. This experience brings back into awareness what she likes about the church (community), and what she dislikes about it (dogma, and exclusivity). She uses these personal ruminations to introduce us to the Thomas Gospel, which she thereby positions as another tradition which to her mind shattered the closed-minded world of churchianity, and opened up the consideration that early Christianity (which did not get its identity till 300 years later anyway), was a much more mixed and varied phenomenon than what the canonical tradition holds it out to be. This personal approach makes it easy for other Christians, who are interested in widening their horizons to appreciate the sense of wonder Pagels seems to have about the Thomas Gospel, and clearly there is a large readership with those qualifications. The title Beyond Belief is therefore well chosen, and mention of Thomas appropriately is only in the subtitle, since it is hardly the main topic. I'm not sure if this is doing Thomas any favors, as I don't believe Christianity was his concern, the teachings of Jesus were, but that's because I do believe Thomas dates from 45-50, and thus he would the influence of Paul who was the real revisionist here, and the actual founder of Christianity. It is really after the year 60AD with the influence of Paul that the institutionalization of Jesus gets seriously under way. "Bitter idols have been made of him who would be only brother to the world," he says of himself in the Course (ACIM:C-5.5:7).

The first chapter uses these personal issues to qualify Pagels' approach to the task of discussing the Thomas Gospel, which she then develops in the lengthy second chapter by juxtaposing it with the Gospel according to John, going so far as to assume - without adducing any supporting research or evidence - that the Thomas Gospel dates from ca. 60-100 AD, and therefore may have been almost contemporaneous with John's Gospel (ca. 90 AD).  All of this frames the subject matter in a way that makes Jesus a sort of proto-Christian, and treats all Gospels as if they are alike. More specifically, it sets up the Thomas Gospel as if it is like the Gospel of John a theological product from several generations after Jesus, involved in a theological argument with the community of John. Most of this happens by implicit assumption, without reference to critical scholarship of Thomas - which might suggest otherwise.

It is true of course that in John there are several comments that indicate disagreement with the Thomas tradition, and I can see why for a doubting Christian this evidence of disunity in the early years is an interesting discovery. However bringing these personal issues to the subject without a critical accounting of them limits the treatment. As we can see here, how we look at the Thomas Gospel critically depends on how we place it historically in the tradition. If we conclude that like Q, it dates from the period of the first generation after Jesus, and that "sayings" gospels indeed constitute a more primitive literary form, which was more reporting than theologizing and interpreting, and which was only partially copied in the later narrative Gospels (synoptics) this would make the treatment of this book impossible. If, like Pagels does here, we assume that Thomas is of a later date, and 2 to 3, or even 4 generations after Jesus, like the Gospel of John, that means we do not assume it to be more original or authoritative, but rather a later interpretation, the differences with John and the synoptics come in a very different light.

In short, Pagels frames her argument in terms of her personal crisis of faith, and her primary audience therefore is by definition the millions of Christians who are having comparable doubts that the homogeneity of Christianity is not what it's cracked up to be. Thomas research has suffered from this sort of fog and obfuscation since the early days, and where Jean-Yves Leloup and others use this framework for a wide ranging speculative exploration of Thomas in a more New Age sort of way, Pagels frames it in the context of challenging her Christian standpoint, and her treatment in that sense is on a par with Bart D. Ehrman, a recovering fundamentalist like Pagels, except that Pagels remains more positive to Thomas than Ehrman does. While noting these limitations, I also want to emphasize, as I've argued elsewhere, that dropping the pretend-homogeneity of Christianity, and seeing it for the revisionist history that it is, is the first step towards attempting to listen to Jesus on his own terms, underneath or behind the beliefs about him which cloud our vision, just like the throngs of the crowds in the Markan stories often make it hard to get to him. There's no reason to listen to him as long as we are ourselves telling him what he should say. We need to first be curious about what he does say.

Along these lines Beyond Belief happily meanders on about early Christian history, and we might note that for the Johannine community to have a difference of opinion with the Thomas community their Gospels did not logically have to be contemporaneous. For the Gospel of John in the late first century to criticize the Thomas Gospel, the latter needs to preexist the former, that is hardly a tight argument however, for someone could say the comments aren't about the Gospel, but about the Thomasine community. In all however, the absence of Christian concepts in Thomas, the form of the Gospel itself, and the very reasonable reconstruction of the historical order of NT quotes, which makes it highly probable that Thomas predated the synoptics, are all short-circuited by this book's assumption of a date in the 60-100 AD range. And thus the bulk of the book does not explore why Jesus comes across so differently in Thomas, but again simply assumes Jesus is a proto-Christian and then thus it continues with explorations of the early Christian communities in an anachronistic fashion which makes all conversations of the first 300 years seem to happen in parallel within the framework of a Christianity that does not yet exist at that time.

In the course of tracking some of the more interesting ideas extant in the literature from those first few centuries Pagels does turn up some interesting ideas, some of which at least might be connected with Thomas material in a positive way, but she does not explore those possibilities, so the book on that level is more exposé than explanation, and the connecting tissue is Pagels' personal interest, not the Thomas Gospel. In a list of interesting highlights I would put her quote of a Westerner turned Buddhist, who says if he'd known the Thomas Gospel, he might not have been a Buddhist. Now that comment makes sense, but it is not developed at all. The book remains preoccupied with the wild growth of ideas in the centuries just after Jesus, and in the process it leads us up to the formation of the the NT canon by bishop Athanasius in 367. It explores how the canon was established, and what was left out, along the way connecting the time of the likely burial of the Nag Hammadi treasure trove with the time of the establishment of this canon of the then emergent Christian orthodoxy, ensuring that at least these books escaped the subsequent destruction that was to be the fate of most copies.

Other worthwhile themes that are highlighted are the notion that the Resurrection is a spiritual, not a physical event, as well as the related idea of the laughing Jesus on the cross, from the Apocalypse of Peter, and also a notion from the Gospel of Mary Magdalene that the Son of Man is within, not to mention the seeming prominence of Mary Magdalene in some of this literature. Different spiritual explanations of the virgin birth are listed, and amidst all this wild growth of spiritual exploration, we find bishop Irenaeus laboring away on his theory of the four-formed Gospel all of which is to lead up to the council of Nicea, the Nicene creed, and later the NT canon.  With a light brush stroke meanwhile the implication is raised that the Thomas Gospel was not written by Thomas at all but merely ascribed to him, which is a necessary assumption if Thomas was in India or dead at the time when Pagels has his Gospel being written. What is not clear is that while such practices were common in antiquity, why is it necessarily the case here, except to suit the theory of her counter-intuitive dating of the manuscript? And all the while bishop Irenaeus is still at it, whipping up his concepts of Christian orthodoxy.

By chapter 4 the book takes us on a fascinating exploration of Valentinus, who promoted an allegorical view of the literature, surely blasphemy for followers of a teacher who constantly repeated that he taught in parables, or at least so in the eyes of bishop Irenaeus. The world as a (bad) dream is a central feature in the Valentinian Gospel of Truth, and so is our responsibility for sight. There is a brief discussion of the Round Dance of the Cross, which brings out a parallel to the Buddhist teaching that by becoming aware of suffering we find release from it, a notion that to Course students would not sound unlike the notion that the miracle "looks on devastation," and "reminds the mind that what it sees is false." (ACIM:W.pII.13.1:3) Another very important topic is the discussion among the apostles in the Acts of John, where they all see Jesus differently. And so the exposé of heretical teachings continues, along with an account of Irenaeus' writings that seek to dismiss them and establish a proper orthodoxy. From him she quotes another fascinating report about a second "spiritual" baptism practiced among some gnostic groups: "Others performed apoloutrosis as a kind of spirtual marriage, which joins a person in union with one's "life hid with Christ in God," that is, the previously unknown part of ones'being which connects one with the divine." (p. 159) This practice was associated with acquiring true gnosis, and makes an interesting pre-cursor of the Course's notion of the Holy Relationship.

The final chapter of the book covers the exploits of the Emperor Constantine, lending his force to the establishment of a state religion which embodied the romantic notion of the Catholic Church, and the account seemingly naively reports that contrary to some reports Constantine left the Bishops collected at the Council of Nicea relatively free in their deliberations. One wonders if perhaps we need to be reminded who picked up the tab for that gathering? By the end of the book we have an interesting picture of many of the divergent issues of the first 400 years of pre-Christianity, up until the time when in 367 heretical books like Thomas were thrown out, and most of the discussion seems to be organized most directly by Pagels' own crisis of belief, which many doubting Christians might identify with. Little of the book really deals directly with the Gospel of Thomas, but the translation in the appendix reads nicely. It is based on Marvin Meyer's with some slight polish borrowed from the Scholar's Version of the Jesus seminar. What escapes notice is the idea that Christianity in the service of Caesar is pretty much the opposite of what Jesus taught, and a re-reading of Prof. G. J. Heering's The Fall of Christianity, might be in order. If we finally would understand such ideas, then we would also start to see the logic of why Thomas really is an early book, and its Jesus is not at all like the Jesus of Christianity, and some of those gnostic dudes might have made some sense. On the whole the book touches on so much that it probably serves to make the reader hungry for more specific information. And somehow or other it seemed to open the floodgates for an interest in Thomas.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Jean-Yves Leloup translates the Gospel of Thomas

This book is a gem, and the introduction by Jacob Needleman makes it even more so. Originally published in 1986 in French by Éditions Albin-Michel, it appeared in English in 2005 at Inner Traditions.
 The opening paragraph of Jacob Needleman's introduction is a classic, and a wonderful characterization of the Thomas Gospel, but then the rest of it skids on the Gnostic banana peel, first developed by Bishop Irenaeus, and while Needleman seeks to refute the good Bishop, he falls into the trap of characterizing the Thomas Gospel as Gnostic because the Nag Hammadi Library as a whole has that characteristic. However, the mere fact that the Gnostics liked the Jesus of Thomas, does not make him a Gnostic. Even certain turns of phrase which are Gnostic with the benefit of hindsight, can not be Gnostic avant la lettre. But again, Gnosticism, written here with a lowercase "g" in this treatment is not seen as a negative per se, the way Irenaeus characterized it. But by applying the moniker to a book retroactively does not do the clear interpretation of that book any favors. Aside from this issue, Needleman's introduction does contain other gems which make it worth reading. The subsequent introduction by Jean-Yves Leloup is succinct and to the point, and leads up to first a reprint of the Coptic text of Thomas with an integral translation on the facing pages. After that, Leloup provides the sayings a second time with commentaries, which are meant to stimulate our own process in exploring these sayings.

Not to put to fine a point to it, but if the "Seek and ye shall find" of Thomas, clearly seen to be a reference to seeking within, makes Jesus a gnostic in this expanded usage of the term, then so is Socrates, at which point the term loses its usefulness from the standpoint of the history of religions to discuss the religious phenomena of Christian Gnosis which flowered in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, and which represented a confluence of much more than just the Thomas sayings. The Gnostic tradition definitely did include some teachers who seem to closely reflect the intent of the Jesus of Thomas, such as Valentinus, who in light of his overal presentation justifiably can and should be characterised as a Gnostic teacher. Or, in yet another way of looking at this, if truth is true - which is a very logical position to take and a central tenet of A Course In Miracles - it can not also be not true, though the mind is capable of denying it, but by its very nature, if we subsequently give up the denial, of necessity we return to truth again, which by this same definition can not ever be lost. Therefore truth is within, except we can deny it as long as we want, but if we do the work with Socrates, or with Jesus -- the forgiveness process asks us that we look with Jesus at the ego's obfuscations and let the light of reason shine on them -- then we cannot fail but to return to truth. In other words, the outcome, in the words of the Course is indeed as certain as God. (ACIM:T-2.III.3:10) The more proper way of looking at this, as the Course would suggest, is that we are within truth, suffering from a delusion, but if it wears off, nothing but truth can be left. So then a useful way to define "gnostic" with a lower case "g" as these authors do, we might say: "He who believes that truth is within, and only needs to be uncovered, and cannot be seen outside, unless and until it is understood within."

The introduction by Jean-Yves Leloup is brilliant, and while I evidently do disagree with the ill-defined way he and Needleman use the term gnostic in a very general, non-specific sense, he does do us the favor of defining the way he is using the term reasonably well, and in a way that in and of itself makes a lot of sense, though it could be more explicit as suggested above. He emphasizes how the Gospels canonical and otherwise should all be read side by side, and seen as different ways to hear Jesus, realizing that in this world no-one at least initially "gets" the message completely. This is the beginning of wisdom, as I've argued elsewhere, because it saves us from the arrogant know-it-all attitude of the canonical tradition which simply produced a revisionist Jesus, and proceeded to found a religion in his name, with an exclusive claim to truth, declaring any others to be wrong. However, in the process he sidesteps the likely timeline of the Thomas Gospel, and fails to note how all the theological constructs that really define Christianity as what it is today are not in Thomas, but belong to the so-called canonical tradition, and are thus later inventions. Critical/historical assessment is not Leloups forte, but an open-minded, contemplative approach to the material is. His introduction is also blissfully short, and he then lets the text do its work on us.

I love the translation, it flows very well. The choice to use Yeshua in lieu of Jesus is an admirable one, because the name Jesus brings up so much unfortunate Christian baggage for people that were raised in that tradition, and let's face it, even for many who weren't, as Christianity has not always been a good brother to the non-believers in its dogma. It follows a regime of capitalization that I find pleasing (Kingdom, Father, Living One etc.) and its word choices are neutral and inobtrusive. I'm not familiar with Leloup's French version, but evidently the translator did a fine job. For the translation alone this edition merits publishing.

Leloup's commentaries are not the strongest element of this book, though they are the bulk of it. I emphasize again that the first presentation of the text is in its entirety, without commentary, followed by a reprint of the individual Logia, with Leloup's commentaries is fortuitous in the sense that you can avoid the commentaries if you so desire. This is a pleasant arrangement, which invites the reader to first form their own response to the text in its pure form. I want to make just a few observations about the commentaries here.  At one point in a footnote, there is reference to Thomas being dated before the canonical Gospels (p. 63, footnote 2), but still not only the introduction, but the book as a whole suffers from the avoidance of discussing the relevance of this dating, which would serve to disentangle Jesus from Christian theology. Leloup's consideration of avoiding this scholarly argument, in order not to burden the reader, and leave us free so we can consider the text in its own right therefore does not hold up and produces the opposite effect. Likewise the development of the usage "gnosticism," broadly as a replacement for "mysticism," "esoteric tradition," or "inner tradition," or even "contemplative tradition," remains in my view fuzzy and undesirable, in that it detracts from clarity about what the Gnostic tradition is, and by implication does not serve to clarify but rather obfuscates who the Jesus might be who is speaking in these sayings.

Having said that, there are numerous worthwhile elements in the commentaries, including Biblical references, as well as tidbits from many other traditions. The effect can be a bit Byzantine from time to time, but there are some gems throughout, though it remains a pearl-diving exercise. Some solid points are his repeated observations that the Jesus of Thomas offers a non-dualistic teaching. On the whole however the fuzziness that results from the avoidance of the critical historical discussion, and the unfortunate obfuscating usage of the terms gnosis, gnosticism and gnostic, merely to avoid using certain other words that might lead to misinterpretation, permeate the whole, and leave the reader with a whole patchwork of association, and stream of consciousness ideas, which simply don't add up to a focused whole. Partly of course this is also made difficult because even with the best intentions Thomas is not a nice and coherent whole, and not some spiritual masterpiece, but a somewhat haphazard collection of sayings not all of which seem to be original or free of corruption. Thus in this treatment, even the most seemingly inconsistent sections such as Logion 114 do not elicit even the suggestion of a doubt, but are taken at face value and deemed to be of one piece with the rest of the material.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Parallel text: The Thomas Gospel in French, Haitian Creole and English

This is a wonderful edition to my taste for somewhat personal reasons. I have learned to greatly respect the profound religiosity of my friends in the Haitian community. Equally, I have been surprised to see that the word of the Thomas Gospel has been slow to make the rounds in this community, and so it was a welcome surprise to find here in one volume a very good English translation, as well as a very nice French translation, along with a version in Haitian Creole. I might note here that my friend Samuel Augustin is painting a picture that will be the cover of my upcoming book Closing the Circle: Pursah's Gospel of Thomas and A Course In Miracles, and an early version of this painting is available now in the photo section of this blog, soon to be replaced with a more final version soon.

The English translation in the present volume is from the hand of Dr. Hans Gebhard Bethge, based on an earlier version which previously appeared in the book The Fifth Gospel (1998) by Patterson, Robinson, and Betghe, and it is a very clean, readable, serviceable translation, without any attempts to embellish, to modernize or interpret. There are always minor choices which are debatable, such as why not capitalize Kingdom? This is a translator's decision, since the Greek or Coptic do not use capitals, so this merely addresses modern sensibilities. This translation chooses not to. For the rest it is very faithful in showing where the translator supplied missing words, etc.

The English text is printed in a large, very readable type on the left page, and the French and Creole versions appear in a two column format on the facing page. This makes for a very nice presentation, and a good tool for discussion in study groups, since the reality is that this edition addresses the needs of a tri-lingual community. French is the language of the educated in Haiti, and I notice with all my friends that when the conversation gets serious, French is a must. However ,we live in an English speaking world here, so the English is equally relevant for this purpose.

The French translation is equally very pleasant and straightforward to read. As to the Creole, I may expand this review once I have the first feedback from my friends in the Haitian community.

The introduction to this edition unfortunately is less than helpful. Some of the historical information is usable, but in my view it suffers from adopting what I have called the benign Gnostic view of the Thomas Gospel without explaining sufficiently that there are at least alternative views. In this respect the book lumps itself in with Jean-Yves Leloup and Elaine Pagels, and this results in what I feel is a muddled position. This lack of clarity shows in the position of the authors that Thomas dates from 60-100 AD, in which context they cite it as contemporaneous with the Gospel of John, while a few paragraphs further down they do cite the historical notion that Thomas would have left in 46 AD for Syria and India, and that the book would have most likely been composed before his departure, or while he was in Syria, which would place it in the range of 45-50AD, and thus about 15 years after the crucifixion, and well before Paul and the synoptics. However, even while this information is presented, the apparent conflict with the earlier position is not resolved in this introduction.

It is interesting that the authors draw attention to the fact that the Gospel of John does not have Thomas quotes, and point out that the story of Thomas' doubts is in John, so that indeed it seems this reflects a disagreement between different communities who all claimed to follow Jesus. I think these type of issues are helpful for the modern reader, in terms of understanding that there were a series of partially conflicting traditions and never one homogeneous orthodoxy, as church history tried to make it seem in retrospect. However, for John to criticize Thomas it is not necessary for the book to be contemporaneous, rather it suggests that the Thomas tradition was solidified before John wrote, in perhaps ca. 90 AD. Further, right from the beginning, when on page 9 it says: "Thomas is a collection of words and teachings that interpret what Jesus said," evidently the authors assume that the Thomas Gospel is not what it appears to be, i.e. sayings of Jesus and and of a relatively early date, but rather an interpretation of Jesus that is put in his mouth, which would be more in line with the late date of 60-100 AD, except that as I'm pointing out here, they are not consistent in making this argument either, by allowing for the possibility that Thomas did write it himself.

How the authors, in a book published in 2005, conclude that there are no Thomas quotes in the synoptic Gospels is a mystery to me, and when they write as if there are no other opinions, I feel that with the current state of the conversation about Thomas this amounts to a misrepresentation. At the very least they should have noted here that different opinions exist, when they seriously promote this kind of a minority view of the matter. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I think that in the spirit of truth in advertising an introduction to this type of a book should in part be an accounting for the positions the author(s) take in a field which is very active indeed, and where many conflicting explanations are in contention for the reader's attention. They are clear however on some major points of principle, such as the notion that to Thomas the resurrection clearly is a spiritual event, not a physical one, which is critically important. Except for this and a few other interesting tidbits, I unfortunately feel this introduction is too sectarian, and short on support for the positions it takes in the crowded field of Thomas scholarship.

The introduction does a fair job however of a brief accounting of the historical facts of the Thomas traditions in Syria and India. They consequently propose a timeline which by implication would seem to make it likely that the Gospel of Thomas was written before 46 AD, simply because that is when Thomas left for India,  where he died in  72 AD, and where no copies of the Thomas Gospel are extant. As noted above, here the introduction really does the reader a disservice, is when it blatantly states that "...scholars of the Bible do not believe the authors of Matthew, Mark, or Luke, had Thomas on hand when they were composing their own books." This statement seems like an almost complete non-sequitur after they have just made the pre-existence of Thomas to those books seem highly probable. These authors' need to keep the Thomas tradition segregated from the canonical tradition, and mark it as "Gnostic" is a flaw in the presentation, even though in the rest of the introduction they do not unduly characterise "Gnostic" in a negative way, focusing only on the truly Gnostic notion of our ability of knowing God directly, different from the Pauline traditions of Christianity. On the whole the undertone is one of seeing Thomas as part of the history of Christianity, which results in the muddled presentation of him. To the contrary, if Thomas was recorded in 45-50 AD as part of this introduction implies, this should compel the notion that the Thomas Gospel does consist of Jesus sayings, and not interpretations, and that Christianity rather is the interpretation of Jesus, which is inconsistent with the teachings we find in Thomas. In other words, when seen in that light, Thomas would be relevant to the history of Christianity only by demonstrating that it has nothing to do with Jesus. The authors are not ready to draw that conclusion, even though parts of this material imply a high probability that this is so.

In all, a great edition, if it serves your needs, but get a second opinion on the introductory materials. There's plenty on the web and in other books.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Stevan Davies Translates the Thomas Gospel

The Shambala Library edition of Stevan Davies' translation is absolutely beautiful in form and in content. It is somewhat unfortunate that the very passionate foreword by Andrew Harvey does not integrate well with the book. First of all we are not even introduced to Mr. Harvey, nor is there any clarification of his relationship to the translator, publisher or the Thomas material in general, other than that he apparently feels inspired by it and has an opinion. We find out mr about Mr. Harvey on-line, here: In terms of content this foreword in my view strikes a bit of a discordant note with the rest of the book. While clearly Mr. Harvey feels very inspired by Thomas, and presents a few interesting observation, his overall point of view is highly personal, and if not seemingly at odds with Stevan Davies' views, at least not well integrated with them, nor is it clear in what tradition it stands besides Mr. Harvey's own idiosyncratic reading, based on Sri Aurobindo's work, the rationale of which is less than totally clear from this piece. In a more general sense these comments reinforce for me the feeling that the study of Thomas is pretty much lost at sea if the point of departure is found only in the fact that Jesus somehow teaches something different from Christianity, without any clarity about what the difference is all about, for the Thomas Gospel is not sufficiently comprehensive to support a complete picture. Needless to say I feel that without the vantage point that Pursah provides through the work of Gary Renard, this is pretty much a lost cause.

The part of the foreword by Prof. Davies however is eminently worthwhile and a very good synopsis about the position of the Thomas tradition, and serves to make a few very important points which are not always brought out by even the best texts on Thomas. First, Prof. Davies broadly embraces the timing as represented in the first post on this blog, which provides a foundation for a roughly similar look at the material. However, he makes a number of very insightful comments, which to me were worth the price of admission. These include a very well reasoned view of why and how the emerging main stream orthodoxy starting from Paul and Mark represents a radically different view from the Thomas tradition by placing Salvation in the future. And based on these observations he proceeds to hint strongly that what we know as Christianity may not at all represent Jesus' teachings.

Further, he does take up the issue of the Thomas timeline, and in fact pretty much disembowels the church-favored notion that Thomas must be late and Gnostic, as merely a convenient way to get rid of him. He provides crystal clear logic why Thomas is not automatically a "gnostic" book, because it was found (at Nag Hammadi) with other Gnostic books, as it evidently lacks the cosmogenetic speculations that make the gnostic tradition in the narrow sense so recognizable. Meanwhile of course in the wider sense Thomas does have a focus on the direct knowledge of God, which on the most abstract level is the heart of the Gnostic tradition. In this spirit Davies closes the foreword by referring us to the obvious purpose of the Thomas gospel per se, which is to have our own relationship with the material (and with Jesus no doubt, though Davies does not express that clearly), and explore the meaning of it as a point of departure for our own spiritual growth, making the point that the very idea of learning the "meaning" of this gospel from someone else would defeat that very purpose.

Davies then proceeds with an introduction, which is very helpful, and continues to make very salient observations. He lays out carefully why Thomas appears more "original" than the synoptics, thus reinforcing the very common-sensical view that it must have been older and a source for that tradition, as well as leading an independent life of its own with a tradition that developed in Syria and India. He makes the very astute observation that since it incorporates in saying 12 a recommendation to let James lead the community after Jesus' death, that the book therefore logically should predate the death of James in 62 AD, which seems highly likely also from the point of view of the absence of any Pauline influences in Thomas. His repeated emphasis on the statements that the Kingdom is already here, and "seek and ye shall find," are grist for the mill of Course students, since the Course teaches that "the world was over long ago," and that the  "tiny mad idea" never happened in reality, and that the only thing needed is that the student should "accept the Atonement for himself," referring to the experiential realization that the tiny mad idea indeed did not happen, and had no effect except illusory ones.

Finally, in a little section called "Cast of Characters" he makes the very important observation that the Apostles in Thomas appear as examples of people who misunderstand Jesus' teachings. He does not elaborate on this further, but I would like to add that this is a crucial point. If one has this vantage point, the entire reading of the canonical Gospels changes, for one then abandons the assumed homogeneity of the "Christian" tradition, and reads the books as the attempts of people struggling to understand this teacher Jesus to whom they felt attracted, but who they did NOT understand. We literally don't understand where Jesus is coming from because he is present to us from outside of the time/space framework, and beckons us to come and follow him there, out of the "cave" in which we are chained to the time/space framework - almost literally, the dimensions of time/space are the "walls" of that symbolic cave.
At the moment we shift to that position of uncertainty about our understanding of him, we are back to seeing the whole tradition, canonical and apocryphal alike, as potentially at least equally relevant and as an invitation to come to our own conclusions, and seek our own relationship with the teaching. From that vantage point we have by implication abandoned the arrogance of the orthodox tradition which already knows what Jesus teaches, to one of seeking, in which there is room for Jesus to teach us what it is he has to say. And Jesus explicitly guarantees: "Seek and ye shall find," as Davies frequently reminds us.

The translation itself is unproblematic and clean, and it might be one of my favorite translations. The commentaries are definitely inspired and inspiring, with the proviso of course that there are inner contradictions in the material which only Pursah's Kernel resolves, resulting in a much cleaner reading. In all this is a lovely book, a beautiful edition and certainly a worthwhile introduction to the Gospel of Thomas materials.

An Alternate View of Nicea?

The evident message of Gary Renard's work clearly lies in his own struggles on the path, including falling down and getting up. This pertains both to what's in the books, and to his fairly public life since the books appeared. He has been willing to make his mistakes and learn from them, and then share them with us in the process. Quite a feat for a shy person! Secondarily, the underlying theme that the apostles needed numerous more lifetimes before they "got it" is equally an important part of the message, for it makes the whole thing more approachable, and teaches us to be patient with ourselves. For only infinite patience yields immediate results...

Seen in this light the Gospels are not absolute truths but the grappling of people who felt themselves attracted to Jesus, trying to describe a phenomenon which appealed to them but which in most cases they were very far from understanding. The implications of such a view is among other things that the apocryphal materials are quickly seen to be equally as important as the canonical materials, since what made the canon the canon was a completely arbitrary process, which had nothing to do with the content of Jesus' teachings, but everything with the political needs of the Emperor Constantine. From that point of view the Council of Nicea was not a triumph, but a tomb for the burial of Jesus' message, in which he was forever made subservient to the Emperor. Nicea gave to the Emperor that which is God's, and ensured that Jesus served at the pleasure of the Emperor, an early version of employment at will (whose will?!). So Nicea really is the clincher, which furthermore buries Jesus's teachings under the veneer of Christianity, soon to be suitably decked out with marble and gold, so we won't look any further. Behind the facade however, the momentary unity began to slowly crumble again, almost as soon as it was established.

This view is in line with Prof. G.J. Heering's thesis in The Fall of Chrisitianity, and I think it is a more productive way to look at those first four centuries after Jesus, for it is the natural resistance of the ego to the teachings of Jesus or the Holy Spirit, which compels us to deny them and mold them into something else, including using them as a justifications for the ego's fear, hatred, and murder, which is what really happened.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Historical Opinions as a Key to Thomas Translations

Below I would point out some of the key historical positions, and what they imply as to the views on Thomas of various commentators.

1) The position we embrace here, that Thomas came first, is of roughly the same age as Q, the tradition which Gary Renard refers to as The Words of the Master, and therefore it was a source for the other writers. John does not quote him directly, although he seems to go to some lenghts to discredit and refute him, which would likewise argue for pre-existence. This position is in my view the most common-sense view to take today, and it was mine already for some time, long before Pursah explained the story to Gary in Your Immortal Reality. I have covered this position in the first post on this blog, so I merely mention it here for the sake of completeness. The main points for this position are that the Thomas Gospel as a form predates the narrative gospels, the internal evidence that shows an absence of all the theological notions of later Christianity, eucharist, crucifixion, etc., and the likelihood that many Thomas sayings are quoted by later evangelists, as they do appear to represent early forms of many sayings. This position simply leaves it open that Gnostic sects could later have adopted Thomas, explaining the find at Nag Hammadi, without necessarily making Thomas a Gnostic document per se. Stevan Davies and the Jesus Seminar are mostly in this camp. There is a budding awareness in this group that Thomas shows us a very different Jesus from the notions which crystallize as "Chrstianity" later on, and very likely a more original one. This logic leads to a separation between the teachings of Jesus and Christianity, as being perhaps mostly unrelated, by dint of the fact that Paul and Peter c.s. in effect put their interpretations in Jesus' mouth.

2a) The good, or benign, or perhaps merely interesting Gnostic position. Here the Gnostic associations in Thomas are reinforced but seen as a positive. Deriving among other things from the fact that the Nag Hammadi library has a gnostic character, but also from the fact that self-knowledge and introspection are  inherent to the Thomas material, and thus of a gnostic character in the wider sense. This position tends to keep open a later dating of the book since the Gnostic development within Christianity does not happen in full force until the 2nd century AD. Jean-Yves Leloup is in this camp, so was Gilles Quispel, and Elaine Pagels is as well. There is an overall tendency among this group to pull Thomas into the history of Christianity. One can not very well argue that the Thomas Gospel was not together by 140 AD (the oldest Greek fragments), but anything more recent than c.a. 60 is safe, for it preserves a picture of the Jesus of Thomas in a sort of proto-Christian landscape, because with any timing later than 60 AD, the break represented by Paul is obfuscated. Some of these authors get fascinated by Thomas and other books of Nag Hammadi, and there is a certain polite curiosity about other modes of experiencing Jesus, but the tendency remains for the Christian mold not to be seriously questioned.

2b) The Bad Gnostic position. This position is argued mainly by writers who are beholden to the Christian tradition and the churches, and in order to save its relevance, they dismiss Thomas as a later book, of the late 1st or even the 2nd century, which was the date of the Oxyrrhynchus papyri (ca. 140 AD), and by taking this position Paul's position as the de facto founder of Christianity is protected because the issue of his evident corruption of Jesus' teachings never arises. This is the position of e.g. Bart D. Ehrman, and to such writers Thomas is at best an interesting curiosity, at worst a blasphemy or a fraud, really not unlike the line of bishop Irenaeus' writings against the heretics, though often with a more sophisticated and seemingly objective modern historical appearance.

There may be some further sub-categorizations here, but the above should be helpful in determining the slant of a translation. Other issues which unfortunately taint translations are attempts to make the book sound more "modern," and God-forbid, but yes, even a tendency political correctness exerts a corrupting influence on the faithfulness of some translations.

Closing the Circle & The GoTh Timeline

Closing the Circle is (going to be) a book about the continuity of the teachings of Jesus, which in turn belies the discontinuity of our world of time and space, which is obfuscated by our seeming experiences of the 'passing of time,' not to mention the illusion of 'development.' The illusory nature of such concepts of reality is exposed head on in the teachings of J, by affirming in so many ways that truth merely is, and does not have to become, and both the Gospel of Thomas (GoTh) and A Course in Miracles(ACIM) are expressions of that truth, which are quite consistent with one another, as is highligted in particular by Pursah's kernel of the Thomas Gospel, as published in Gary Renard's Your Immortal Reality.

One of such dubious developments was the repression of the teachings of Jesus, and the blatant replacement of them in the world by Paul's teachings about Jesus, which in order to obliterate all traces of the crime were for good measure named "Christianity," and which in effect were nothing more than the ego's coopting Jesus by producing a g-rated version of him in all respects, and thus to firmly pull him into the world and assign him a role which suited us, and which accordingly could become "popular" as in "popular religion," and "popular culture."

One of the items I'd like to consider at the outset is the most probable timeline of GoTh as I see it, and discuss some of its implications.

1) J (30-33 AD)
2) => Q & GoTh (50-60 AD)
3) => Mk (55-65 AD)
4) => Lk & Mt (75 AD)
5) => Jn (90-120 AD)
6) Traditional "Christianity," as formed by the Council of Nicea in 321 AD.

The above is a step-wise representation of the funnel of information that led to the formation of the classic notion of a monolithic Christianity, an illusion which even in the official version did not last much longer than to the time of the first split, between the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic church, about 300 years later.

What we now understand is that the funnel overflowed a few times, and spilled material which did not fit the mold of what Christianity was becoming. Meanwhile the other traditions lived on without the dubious "benefit" of being the Roman state religion which was arrogantly named after Jesus (Christ), and which made Christ special rather than understanding that we are him, and he is who we truly are. The Thomas tradition lived on in India, and in the West it literally went underground for 1600 at Nag Hammadi, but ultimately was rediscovered there in 1945, and from the 50's till now has led to a gradual re-framing of our understanding of those early years of Christian history, and for many of us to a more intimate understanding of Jesus as he speaks to us directly, without many of the later distortions.

At the modern end we thus have the rediscovery of the text in 1945, and the gradual emergence of translations, commentary and interpretations into the public awareness in the 60 years since then. In a way this went amazingly slowly, if one realizes that at least in the Anglo-Saxon world it was not until the simultaneous publication in 2003 of Gary Renard's The Disappearance of the Universe, Elaine Pagels' Beyond Belief, and Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, that active interest in the Thomas Gospel began to dawn on the awareness of main stream audiences. Considering the growing bookshelves of Thomas related literature, it is proving to be fertile territory indeed. I will humbly add my contributions, and through this blog I will discuss some detailed material more in depth which is part of the research for my book.

Needless to say, from my perspective Gary Renard's The Disappearance of the Universe and its follow-on book Your Immortal Reality are by far the most interesting of the lot, culminating in Pursah's offering of a kernel of the Thomas Gospel which she represents to be authentic, thus bypassing some of the inevitable historical distortions which are undoubtedly present in the text we found at Nag Hammadi. Moreover the consolidation of Thomas interpretations around A Course In Miracles which Pursah's version implicitly solidifies, provides a clear anchor for the discussion of Thomas which has not existed heretofore and which accounts for the sometimes wildly speculative literature around Thomas. In short, I would argue that the appearance of the Pursah kernel in 2006 consolidates the content of Jesus' teachings in the Thomas tradition in a way which eliminates a lot of corruption of the tradition and gets us back to a coherent whole. If one is stuck however in a Newtonian concept of the world, it would not be possible to give Pursah's version this kind of authentic authority. To many students of the Course however this viewpoint may naturally feel comfortable and "right."

I would conclude this introductory comment with the observation that, since Gary quoted my "recap" of revisionist early Christian history in his book, I clearly agree with everything Pursah represents about the history of Thomas' tradition in the overall context, and I gladly accept her endorsement of a position which common sense had already led me to believe was substantially the most reasonable view of the matter. We will come to consider the major different interpretations and dating of Thomas in future postings to this blog.