What Jesus Said
by Revilo P. Oliver
UNDER THE rubric, “Evangel for Bibliophiles,” in the May issue I mentioned the activity of a committee of learned holy men who are threshing the Christian gospels to separate the grain of what old Jesus really said from the chaff of statements put in his mouth by forgers. I now learn from Christian News (7 April 1986) that the men of God, by a vote of 16 to 13, certified the authenticity of a parable quoted in the “Gospel of Thomas,” which they cite from a translation that I have not seen. I have added within brackets a translation of one phrase that seems clearer to me. “The Kingdom of the Father is like a certain man who wanted to kill a powerful man. In his own house he drew his sword and stuck it into the wall in order to find out whether his hand could carry through [to assure himself that his hand would be unfaltering]. Then he slew the powerful man.” The “Bible scholars” offered no exegesis of the parallel thus drawn between Yahweh’s realm and a stealthy assassin.(1) It is certainly in keeping with the bandits’ morality of the “Old Testament,” and one can see why the comparison would have seemed natural to a Jewish goeta and rabble-rouser.
If you are interested, you will find the passage is paragraph 102 in the usual paragraphing of the “Gospel of [=according to] Thomas.” The purported author, whose full name is given as Didymus Judas Thomas, claims to have written down the “secret words” spoken by “the Living Jesus,” and his work is not to be confused with the much earlier “Gospel of Thomas the Israelite,” which was one of the earliest of Christian gospels, probably composed around A.D. 150, and devoted to the miracles that Jesus performed in his infancy and early childhood.
The author of this gospel of “The twin Judas the twin” (‘thomas’ is the Aramaic word for ‘twin,’ and thus the equivalent of the Greek “didymos”) undoubtedly intended to attribute his composition to the apostle who is mentioned in the tales in the “New Testament” and whose later adventures are related the “Acts of Thomas,” one of the best-known of the many gospels that were excluded from the collection. He wrote in Greek, and considerable fragments of his Greek are preserved in papyri of the very late third and early fourth centuries that were found at Oxyrhynchus and published in the famous collection of those papyri, but the complete text of his work was preserved only in a Coptic translation that was found, together with many other gospels, at ancient Chenoboskion, about sixty miles south of Luxor, reportedly in 1945. This text was edited and translated by Professor Jean Doresse (Paris, 1959) and an English version may be found as an appendix to Philip Mairet’s translation of Doresse’s The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics (New York, Viking, 1960).
The passage which the holy men have declared authentic is found only in the Coptic. Its authenticity obviously lends great authority to the gospel that contains it, and I hope the holy men will not long keep us in suspense about a miracle and a revelation that should be of great interest to our contemporaries.
At the very end of this gospel (paragraph 118) the apostles, headed by Peter, want to throw out of the room a woman named Mary, who is clearly not the mama and is probably the other Mary, who seems to have travelled with Jesus and in some gospels is identified as his mistress. Peter points out that Mary is just a female and so obviously can’t be “worthy of life,” with the implication that females do not have souls. Jesus solves the difficulty by transforming Mary into a man, thus equipping her with a “living spirit,” and he promises that women who are converted into men will be admitted to the Kingdom of Heaven, obviously to the exclusion of all others.
Now I do not know whether this divine revelation qualifies as good news (“eu-angellium”) for True Believers. It will probably please Feminists, who, ashamed of their sex, like to regard themselves as defective men, and will probably be delighted by the prospect of completing their metamorphosis with help from the Saviour. On the other hand, there must be many men who aren’t attracted by an all-male Heaven and still less by the prospect of associating with the kind of male who will enjoy being there. All things considered, they will probably decide, as did the author of the delightful Twelfth-Century romance, Aucassin et Nicolette, that they would much rather go to Hell, where they will have charming and interesting companions, “fine ladies and gallant men.”
(1) Nicholas Carter, in his vivacious account of The Late Great Book, the Bible quotes from some “modernized” versions of Holy Writ prepared by clergymen who think that a “contemporary idiom” will attract customers. To save those soul-savers trouble, I offer a corresponding version of this parable: Yahweh’s New Jerusalem is like a hit man who is going to bump off a rich guy. He checks his gat to make sure it’s loaded and ready for action before he leaves his house. Then he pumps the rich guy full of holes. Go thou and do likewise, Izzy.
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Source: Liberty Bell magazine, October 1986