AN ANCIENT HUMANISM ...sermons from the Gospel of Thomas, Volume 1, #2
My name is Thomas. Hey, now they call me the Twin. I've been hanging out with Jesus, me and a few other guys he calls his 'students.' Unlike them though, I've really been listening, even to his weirder stuff. The others tune out, take a break, can't seem to handle it. Here's my journal, a list of some of his stranger sayings. Take it from me, it's worth a second reading. The Master swears that if you can just get a handle on all this, it will turn you inside out, so that you will no longer have that bad taste in your mouth, the taste of death he calls it. Whatever that means. Judge for yourself. I can only tell you, it works for me. ...Logion 1
I warned you.
This is not the same old religious stuff. I know what you're thinking: Hey whatever floats your boat. Some people feel this way about the Book of Mormon… Or the Bhagavad Gita. Please. There are books and then there are books. C'mon. Learn to see what's right in front of you. This is not just another “scripture.” It will surprise you with its contemporary feel, its psychological perspicacity. You may be so religious—or so fervently anti-religious—that you can't see what you hold in your hands, see it for what it is. It is not a religious tract… It is a Humanist Manifesto! This is a new kind of “Jesus,” a new kind of “Gospel.” You're into a whole new world. Having said that, I'm faced with the project of convincing you. It may take a while. Like a lifetime. Hang on. I'll have to start way back there (before even the beginning) on this one.
The Gospel of Thomas is not in your Bible. Forget it. First thing you need to do is pick up a copy, from Amazon or your local book store. Open it and be baffled. More gnostic gobbledygook? But wait; you have to give it (and me) a chance. It grows on you, trust me. Why should I, you say. My time is precious. What's different about it? I've seen this kind of stuff before.
You'll no longer taste death. Wha—aat? you say. What are you talking about?
I shall give you that which no eye hath seen, no ear hath heard, nor hand touched, neither hath entered into the mind of man. The same promise, put another way. (Logion 17) And what is this glorious gift Yeshua wants to give you? The Kingdom, that's what. Ultimately, the Kingdom is nothing less than you yourself. He wants to give you back your true Self: whole, healed, looking back at you, functioning for once.
“Logion” means “saying.” There are 114 “sayings” in this “gospel,” and nothing else. No action, no narrative, no miracles, no walking on water, no Sermon on the Mount. We're spared even the crucifixion, the resurrection. Most of the sayings come off as pretty outrageous, at first glance.
But does it even make sense? you say. I don't see any unity, or even a common theme.
Oh yes, yes indeed—there's unity. In fact that's what it's all about: Unity. Don't listen to those who tell you it's all haphazard, a random collection of gnostic jabberings. It makes consummate sense, because it's living, it's alive. It wants to make you a unified being. That's the gift, the promise. Its life depends on your engagement with it. Its alive because you're alive… Its life is your life, mirrored and enriched as you become a student of its Yeshua, as you come to realize—hopefully—he is not your Master or Teacher any longer, but your twin, fellow seeker with you. You've never thought of him this way, is my bet. And what could he be seeking?
He's looking for the face he had before the world was made.
No less than that, putting him into good if somewhat surprising company--such as William Blake, Jacob Boehme. Here are Zen-like reverberations. There is little in the Gospel of Thomas that would not have been accepted by Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman, says Harold Bloom (Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?). And more: you cannot be a minister of this Gospel, nor found a church upon it, for it does not deal in finalities. Rather, its Jesus is a wisdom teacher, gnomic and wandering. Strictly speaking, I cannot pretend that these modest meditations I offer here deserve to be called “sermons.” A degree of irony is my design… The only “should” in my projected exhortations is my remote hopeful anticipation that some reader may look at this remarkable ancient writing, discover it for himself, get engaged with the Living Yeshua,” get free of me. That's what happened to “Thomas.” He “stood up in the cosmos” and got free. This was on the day when he was singled out, taken aside by Jesus and told hey! I'm no longer your Master, for you've broken free. From now on we are twins, you and me… Finally, somebody gets it! And then Jesus added, by way of connotation, I'm counting on you to be the leader here. These were the second and the third sayings, the ones that almost got him stoned.
We are twins, and you are the new leader here.
There's no evidence, by the way, that his other “students” ever did get it---what Yeshua meant by his talk of the Father, the god of Love who lives within us. (And this must have been the first saying to Thomas that day, about the nature of his “Father,” the true God who lives within him and in each and every one of us, no matter how hidden or ignored). This is not the same old God of Moses I'm talking about, Thomas… No. Nor did he mean the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but the Stranger God, an alien just like us, the man-god of the abyss, prior to creation, living within each and every one of us as a spark of light, a flicker of fire, reminding us of our true origin and destiny. The truth about who we are, said Yeshua to Thomas, has been stolen from us. We wander fragmented, even inebriated, across “the fierce landscape of our exile.” (Lynn Bauman's phrase). We are all twins, then, trying to find our way home.
It was just too much for them. What they did was turn it all into the Gospel of John, there in Ephesus where all this was happening. “I and the Father are One” became an announcement of his divinity, for the author(s) of the Gospel of John. Yeshua became The Man From Heaven, come down among men to save them from their sins. It was easier to just worship him than to try to understand him. Paul was around at this stage, to contribute to the shaping of this new Only-Begotten Son of God—a god-man who did “signs” that pointed to himself as essentially an embodiment of the Father, and pointed people away from themselves, directed them to believe in him. It would be decades later, moving eastward now over into Antioch into the time of Ignatius, that the next Gospel would appear, an effort by “Mark” to restore the lost humanity of Jesus. The “sayings” of the Gospel of Thomas, the forgotten words of the primitive Yeshua figure, the parables, the riddles, the enigmatic wisdom, would not reappear until, still later, “Luke” and then “Matthew” were to appropriate them for the evolving Great Church, slightly altered now, pressed into the service of orthodoxy: the “Lord's Prayer,” the “Sermon on the Mount.” The more obscure, more difficult sayings that the original students of Yeshua, now become disciples (the “Twelve”) of Jesus, never did get anyway, were destined to remain in the original Greek text of the Gospel of Thomas—which was translated into Coptic and hidden in a jar in Egypt for the next twenty centuries, to be dug up belatedly in the far off year of 1945.
Better late than never. At least we have now recovered it. But it raises a million questions. Are these the authentic words of the real Jesus? We'll probably never know for certain. What we do know though is that what has surfaced here was manifestly the handbook of a hitherto little known school of thought, one that was a vital part of the early “Jesus Movement,” whose “Jesus” uttered words, in a patently more primitive form, that were to be echoed in the Gospels that have come down to us... Some of us react with serendipity. It's a little like a biologist might feel, if he suddenly came upon the “missing link.”
Knowledge of our origins has been stolen from us, we said above, and it seems to be true in more ways than one. It's not only been hidden from us that we came into existence in a kind of parallel universe called here “the Kingdom,” and thrown into exile in this false cosmos, this crippled creation, separated from our true Father except for the “spark” that still flickers deep within us as we straggle across this fierce landscape---but now also there's been added the awakening awareness that the true beginnings of our common religious heritage, the religion called Christianity, the Jesus that we thought we knew so well—are quite something other than we have been led to believe. As I said, this raises questions In all directions. And that leads us to the next saying, subject of our next sermon.
If you are seeking, you must not stop until you find. When you find, however, you will become troubled. Your confusion will give way to wonder. In wonder you will reign over all. Your sovereignty will be your rest. ...Logion 2.
Now don't tell me you're not a seeker. At some level all of us are. You may not even know what it is you're seeking, but that's all right too. If you're expecting the Gospel of Thomas to help you here, forget that also. It doesn't tell you. It only promises that when you find “it,” you will be more troubled than you were at the start. This is a marvel that awaits you, says Heisig, that of being transformed from troubled persons to persons reigning over all things… The pattern of seeking-and-finding is an illusion. We are never told that we will find what it is we're seeking---only that the nature of our seeking will be transformed. You see, if you really admit that you are a seeker, and if you actually know what it is you're looking for, then in a sense you've already found it. No, you need to be troubled first , before you find rest… Then you'll be King over all.
See what I mean? This is an ancient Humanism, running counter to religion. It traces all the way back maybe to before primitive Jewish religion, where by the way it is called the Wisdom Tradition. It's always been around, and what we now call gnosticism may be an echo or a parody of it. (Bloom). It has always, as has all genuine humanism, put Man first, aimed at Reality and becoming Whole. The historical line of this way of thinking then runs something like this: ancient humanistic gnosis>>Hebrew Wisdom tradition of David, Solomon, etc, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs>>Socrates, Plato, the birth of Greek rationalism>>the pre-Pauline "Christianity" of the Epistle of James and the early Jerusalem Church>>classic second century gnostics>>Cathars, Bogomils of the middle ages>>emerging Freemasonry and the later birth of the United States of America.
What's left of it now is also a parody, a distant echo, dimly to be found in the dregs now remaining of the American experiment, exemplified perhaps in such as Joseph Smith and the current Evangelical relapse into conservative religious literalism. But everything external has always been an echo, hasn't it? Look inside, seeker, and don't give up just because you get a little troubled. That way lies the Kingdom. Or so says Yeshua and his twin, Thomas.