We have one instance where Christ converted water into wine. I can do it also very easily. Wine is not the alcohol. Alcohol is the rotten wine. You have to rot it for days together and the more rotten it is, the more old it is, then it is regarded as something very expensive. The whole idea is so ridiculous, so repulsive, absolutely below the dignity of human level to bring down Christ into all this social life that you are leading there. For you it is important now, all the Sahaja Yogis from the west, to stand up and make your life pure. Make yourself pure, and hate all that is created in the name of Christianity.
Actually, thank God they have found out now the book written by Thomas who has described Gnostic way of life, where gnya means “to know.” In Sanskrit language, gnya means “to know,” gnya. So he has described very nicely the gnostic life. This was the Gnostic Bible, or whatever we call it, saying about a personal experience of achieving God realization, self realization. It talks about Sahaja Yoga out and out. Thomas on his way to India, went to Egypt and there he has put this in a big vessel of some metal. Thank God it was done in Egypt, otherwise in any other place they would have used it for some other purpose. And already it would have been perverted.”
The Paraclete Shri Mataji
Reach Completion Of Your Realization, Christmas Puja, Pune, India—25 December 1987
“The Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas”
Program #3608 First broadcast November 22, 1992
Scholar and religious historian, Dr. Elaine Pagels, is Professor of Religion at Princeton University. Educated at Stanford and Harvard, Elaine has done extensive research on the early Christians and has written widely on the subject. In 1979, Dr. Pagels won the National Book Critics “Circle Award” for her book, The Gnostic Gospels. [Biographical information is correct as of the broadcast date noted above.]
The Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas
“What I want to share with you is my excitement about an extraordinary archaeological discovery that currently is transforming our understanding of early Christianity and its mysterious founder. The discovery occurred unexpectedly in December of 1945 (the same year that the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the desert caves of Qumran, in Israel). An Arab peasant, Muhammad Ali al-Samman, digging for fertilizer under a cliff near the town of Naj Hammadi in Upper Egypt, struck something underground. There, to his astonishment, he unearthed a large earthenware jar, about six feet high.
Inside he found thirteen ancient papyrus volumes, bound in tooled gazelle leather. Muhammad Ali could not read his own language, Arabic, much less the peculiar script of these texts. But he took them home and dumped them on the ground near the stove. Later, his mother admitted that she threw some of the papyrus into the fire for kindling while she was baking bread.
A few weeks later, Muhammad Ali and his brothers, having killed the man who had killed their father in a blood feud, were indicted for murder. Fearing that the police investigating the murder would search his house, find the ancient books, and charge him not only with murder but with illegal possession of antiquities, Muhammad Ali asked a local Coptic priest to keep them for him. While Muhammad Ali and his brothers served six months in prison, a village teacher took one of the books to sell on the black market for antiquities in Cairo.
There, a French historian, Jean Doresse, saw the text and recognized the language as Coptic — the language of Egypt nearly 2,000 years ago. Doresse realized that one of the texts was a Coptic translation from Greek — the original language of the New Testament. Further, he identified the opening lines with fragments of a Greek Gospel of Thomas, discovered in Egypt not long before.
The Gospel opens with the words, “These are the secret words which the Living Jesus spoke, and which the twin, Judas Thomas, wrote down.” Those who first read the text were amazed: Did Jesus have a twin brother, as this text implies? Could it be an authentic record of Jesus’ sayings? According to its title, it contained the Gospel According to Thomas. Yet unlike the gospels of the New Testament, this text identified itself as a secret gospel. This gospel contains many sayings that parallel those in the New Testament; yet others were strikingly different, — sayings as strange and compelling as Zen koans.
Jesus said, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
Muhammad Ali later admitted that some of the texts were lost — burned up or thrown away. But what remains is astonishing: some fifty-two texts from the early centuries of the Christian era, including a collection of Christian gospels previously unknown, except by title, including the Gospel to the Egyptians, the Gospel of Truth, and the Gospel of Philip, along with the Gospel of Thomas. Although scholars sharply debate their dating, Professor Helmut Koester of Harvard University, along with many others, believes that the Gospel of Thomas contains a collection of sayings that predates the gospels of the New Testament. This newly discovered gospel, in fact, resembles the kind of source that the authors of Matthew and Luke used to compose their own gospels.
Why were the texts buried, and why have they remained virtually unknown for nearly 2,000 years? They were buried, apparently, around 370 A.D., after the Archbishop of Alexandria sent out an order to Christians all over Egypt banning such books as “heresy” and demanding their destruction.
Yet we know that the collection of books we call the “New Testament” — with its four gospels — was formed as late as 200 A.D. And the church fathers tell us that before that time, many more gospels circulated throughout Christian communities scattered from Asia Minor to Greece, Rome, Gaul, Spain, and Africa. But by the late second century, bishops who called themselves “orthodox” rejected all but four of these gospels and denounced all the rest as “an abyss of madness, and blasphemy against Christ.”
Yet, those who circulated and revered these other gospels did not think of themselves as heretics, but as Christians who had received, in addition to Christ’s public preaching, other, secret teaching which, they say, he reserved only for a select few. The New Testament gospel of Mark, indeed, indicates that Jesus taught certain things in public, and others in private, to his disciples alone: “To you is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God, but to those outside all things are in parables, so that seeing, they may not perceive, and hearing, they may not understand.”
The Gospel of Thomas and other writings discovered at Naj Hammadi claim to offer such secret teaching. Those who receive it are called gnostics, literally, “those who know,” from the Greek word gnosis, usually translated “knowledge” — but perhaps better translated “insight,” since it connotes an intuitive type of knowledge — knowledge which communicates wisdom, or spiritual enlightenment.
I first encountered these texts as a graduate student at Harvard, where I had gone to study the history of Christianity. I was amazed to find out that my professors had file folders full of ancient Christians gospels of which I had never heard. I wanted to know, how do these newly discovered texts compare with the gospels of the New Testament?
They differ, in fact, in many ways: Yet of all the remarkable differences between the New Testament gospels and those discovered at Naj Hammadi, I find most striking the different view they offer of Jesus himself — and of his message.
According to the gospels of the New Testament — let us take, for example, the one that most scholars agree is the earliest, the gospel of Mark — Jesus first appears and proclaims, “The good news of the kingdom of God.” (Mark 1:15) What is that “good news”?
According to Mark, Jesus announced that “The time is at hand; the kingdom of God is drawing near.” As Mark describes it, Jesus declared that the end of time is at hand; the world is about to undergo cataclysmic transformation. Jesus predicted war, strife, conflict, and suffering, in Chapter 13, followed by a world-shattering event — the coming of the kingdom of God. According to Mark 9:1, Jesus expected that event to happen during the life of his own disciples. He said to Peter and James and John, “There are some of you standing here who shall not taste death until you see the kingdom of God come with power.”
The gnostic Gospel of Thomas, on the contrary, says something very different. Here the “kingdom of God” is not an event expected to happen in history, nor is it a “place.” In fact, the author of Thomas seems to almost ridicule such ideas as if they were naive.
According to the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus said, “If those who lead you say to you, ‘Look, the kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you.”
The Gospel of Thomas, instead says that the kingdom of God represents a kind of state of self-discovery. Jesus goes on to say, “Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourself, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the children of the living Father.” But the disciples, mistaking that “kingdom” for a future event, just as they do in the Gospel of Mark persist in naive questioning. They ask, “When will the kingdom come?”
Jesus said: “It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is.’ Rather, the kingdom of the Father is spread out on the earth already, and people do not see it.”
According to the Gospel of Thomas, then, the “kingdom of God” seems to symbolize a state of transformed consciousness. One enters that “kingdom” when one comes to know oneself. For the secret of gnosis is that when one comes to know oneself, at the deepest level, simultaneously one comes to know God as the source of one’s being.
If we ask, then, “Who is Jesus?” the Gospel of Thomas gives a quite different answer from the gospels of the New Testament. Mark, for example, depicts Jesus as an utterly unique being — the Messiah, God’s anointed king. As Mark tells it, it was Peter who discovered the secret of Jesus’ identity. You may remember the words in Mark 8 which read like this: “And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Cesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they said, ‘John the Baptist; and others said, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.’ And he asked them, ‘but who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.'”
Matthew tells the same story and adds that Jesus blessed Peter for the accuracy of this recognition and says, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” But the Gospel of Thomas tells the same story rather differently: “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Compare Me to someone, and tell Me whom I am like.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘You are like a righteous messenger.’ Matthew said to him, ‘You are like a wise philosopher.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Master, my mouth is wholly incapable of saying whom You are like.'”
Here the author of the Gospel of Thomas is interpreting, for Greek-speaking readers, Matthew’s portrait of Jesus as rabbinic teacher (“wise philosopher”), and Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah (“righteous messenger”). Jesus does not deny either title or either role, at least in relation to Matthew or Peter. But in the Gospel of Thomas they — and their answers — represent a lesser level of understanding.
Thomas, who recognizes that he cannot assign any specific role to Jesus transcends, at that moment, the relation of disciple to master. At this moment of recognition, Jesus says that Thomas has become like Himself: “I am not your Master, for you have drunk, and become drunk from the bubbling stream I measured out…Whoever drinks from my mouth will become as I am, and I myself will become that person, and things that are hidden will be revealed to him.”
The New Testamentgospel of John, like Mark, emphasizes Jesus’ uniqueness even more strongly than does Mark. According to John, Jesus is not a human being at all; rather, he is the divine and eternal Word of God, God’s “only begotten son,” who descends to earth in human form, to rescue the human race from eternal damnation. You probably remember the words John 3:16: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life….Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe in him is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
Now, if we recall the saying we noted before from the Gospel of Thomas, we can see that Thomas offers a quite different message. Far from regarding himself as the “only begotten” son of God, Jesus here says to his disciples, “when you come to know yourselves” (and discover the divine within you) “then you will recognize that it is you who are the children of the living Father” — just like Jesus!
The gnostic Gospel of Truth, also discovered at Naj Hammadi, says something similar. It says, “You are the children of inner-knowledge…Say, then, from the heart that you are the perfect day, and in you dwells the light that does not fail.” Another of these texts, the Gospel of Philip, makes the same point more succinctly: “Don’t seek to become a Christian, but a Christ.”
This, I suggest, is the symbolic meaning of attributing the Gospel of Thomas to Jesus’ “twin brother.” I don’t think the statement was meant to be taken literally, as if Jesus actually had a twin brother. I think it is meant to say, in effect, that “You, the reader, are the twin brother of Christ,” when you recognize the divine within you, then you come to see, as Thomas does, in this gospel, that you and Jesus are at a deep level, so to speak, identical twins.
Now, a person who seeks to “become not a Christian, but a Christ” no longer looks to Jesus, as orthodox believers do, as the source of all truth. So, while the Jesus of the Gospel of John declares, “I am the door; whoever enters through me shall be saved,” the gnostic teacher Silvanus points through Christ toward one’s self in a different direction: “Knock upon yourself as upon a door, and walk upon yourself as on a straight road. For if you walk upon that road, it is impossible for you to go astray…Open the door for yourself, that you may know what is….Whatever you open for yourself, you will open.”
Or, to take one more example: according to John, when Thomas says to Jesus, “We do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus replies, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, except through me.”
Yet according to the gnostic Dialogue of the Savior, when the disciples ask Jesus the same question (“What is the place to which we shall go?”) he directs each disciple toward his or her own way: “The way which you find, go that way. The place which you reach, stand there!” Or to take another example, in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the disciples say, “How should we fast? How should we give alms? How should we pray?” Jesus, in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke gives answers to those questions. He says, “When you pray, say, ‘Our Father who art in heaven.’ When you give alms say this, ‘Don’t do it the way the hypocrites do.’ When you fast, ‘wash your face.'” In other words, in those gospels, he answers all the questions.
But in the Gospel of Thomas when the disciples ask the same questions, What shall we eat; How shall we give alms; How shall we pray, he says simply, “Do not tell lies and do not do what you hate, for all things are known before your Father in heaven.” In other words, He throws the disciples back on their own resources and says that they must find their own way and discover for themselves what the truth is.
What does it mean that we have found such an unexpected collection of Gospels? The question is too large to answer here. I believe that we owe the survival of Christianity as we know it to the early Christian leaders who chose the gospels we find in the New Testament, but the gospels discovered at Naj Hammadi give us some fascinating glimpses of what was lost in the process, some alternate visions of Jesus and his message.
Interview with Elaine Pagels
Interviewed by David Hardin
David Hardin: Elaine, to what extent do these gospels conflict with what we already believe or do they enhance? How do you feel about that?
Elaine Pagels: Well, at first people thought that because they had been denounced by the bishops as heresy that they were antithetical. In fact, they overlap in many ways. There is much of the Gospel of Thomas that is absolutely identical with parts of Matthew and Luke, sayings that you see in Matthew and Luke that are the same, word for word. That is why many people think it may be either a source of those gospels or have used the same source that those authors used.
Hardin: So, they are not challenging; they are enhancing.
Pagels: Well, the people who loved these gospels certainly thought it was a secret gospel, that is, they thought the others were Jesus’ public teaching but this is what he taught secretly.
Hardin: It has been swell having you with us. Thanks.
Pagels: Thank you. I really enjoyed it.