Gospel of Thomas, Saying 21

Monday, June 3, 2019

9:15 a.m. Gospel of Thomas, Saying 21.

21a Mary asked Jesus: Who are your disciples like? He replied: They are like little children in a field that does not belong to them. When the field’s owners come they will say: “Give our field back.” They will strip naked in the owners’ presence and give it back, returning their field to them.

21b Therefore I say: If a householder knows a thief is coming, he will keep watch and not let him break into his house (of his kingdom) and steal his goods.

21c You must keep watch against the world, preparing yourselves with power so that thieves will not find any way to come upon you.

21d The situation you are expecting will come. Let a person who understands be with you.

21e After the grain had ripened, he quickly came, carrying his sickle, and he harvested it.

21f He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

21a seems to say, we’re in 3D but we don’t belong to it, nor it to us. At some point we will have to return everything and go back to non-3D.

21b Starts with “therefore” but doesn’t seem obvious why b follows a.


Who is householder, who is thief, what is the house and what the goods that can be stolen? In context of 21a.

I don’t know.

Remember the intent, to show them their place in the world of 3D/non-3D. And consider b in connection with 21c.

Yes, it seems to equate them with the householder.

Well, in what way did he mean for them to “keep watch against the world”? And what power? And (d) “a person who understands.”

I suppose (looking back) what they had that was to be protected against theft was the kingdom of heaven: the inner awareness; the state of being awake. And I can see that “a person who understands” would be of great value in meeting the challenge of the world that lulls to sleep.

And when the grain was ready, he harvested it at once, being ready.

Yes, I see that. Does it mean how they were to deal with others who woke up, or are they themselves the awakeners?

Does it have to be only one, not both?

Perhaps not.

And so a difficult passage is not, perhaps, so difficult. It does not require that every explanation be long.

Okay, thanks as always. Should we go on?

Another time.



One thought on “Gospel of Thomas, Saying 21

  1. I’m reading a book by a Frenchman, Jean Doresse, who was one of the men who helped find and recover a collection of Gnostic texts from Chenoboskian, a town in Upper Egypt. A complete copy of the Gospel of Thomas, written in Coptic, was part of this find. Until this time (the 1940’s), all that scholars knew about this Gospel was from what early church fathers had said about it. That was usually derogatory, as they were trying to stamp out Gnosticism. Scholars had 3 Greek fragments of the lost Gospel, but there was no way to make sense of them. They were able to fit the fragments with the new copy, after working the translation from Coptic, a dead language that few people knew at that time. More scholars have since learned Coptic because of the rich trove of texts — many of which were unknown up to this time. The name of the book is, “The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics,” by Jean Doresse. It’s a slow read, as it’s a scholarly work. An easier read is the article from Wikipedia on Gnosticism, for those who would like a bit more background on the subject.

    On verse 21a, taking off their clothes could also mean “dropping the body,” as Gnostics believed that all matter was evil, the creation of a lesser god, a demiurge. The divine spark had been trapped when matter was created, and gnosis (knowledge) was necessary to free that spark. Hence we have the version from the Thomasine tradition (from the area of Syria) on how to remember our origins and break free from the evil that traps us.

    What made Gnosticism a heresy was that knowledge of our true being was all that was needed for salvation. This doesn’t seem so bad to us nowadays, but it was absolute heresy to the early Christians. This negated the Passion of Jesus — the trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. Some Gnostic traditions believed that Jesus hadn’t been crucified. It was Simon of Cyrene, the man who had been compelled by the Romans to carry Jesus’ cross to Golgotha. Jesus was somehow able to slip away. Others felt that Jesus had never entered flesh and was a spirit or angel who came to teach the disciples.

    By the time that Gnosticism was becoming popular in the late 1st century, Paul’s letters to the churches (which formulated much of early Christian doctrine) were better accepted as orthodox. Paul had helped make sense of the horrific death that their messiah had suffered at the hands of the Roman Empire. He spoke of the redemptive nature of Jesus’ death. Paul believed that the faithful could be redeemed by participating in the death and resurrection of Jesus, something that made sense when considered alongside the oral traditions from the disciples who were eyewitnesses. (The idea that Jesus was a “blood sacrifice” wasn’t in Paul’s works. For more on this subject, check out Wikipedia’s article on “Salvation in Christianity.”)

    Meanwhile, Judaism, of which the followers of the Way (Christians) were still a sect, was in major turmoil. The Romans had crushed Jerusalem in the First Jewish revolt (66-70 CE). The temple in Jerusalem was in ruins. Much of the Jewish ruling class had been obliterated. The remnants were re-framing what it meant to be Jewish without Temple worship. The pressure resulted in a family feud, and the Christian sect split off (or was forced out) into a separate religion. The Christians didn’t have the protections the Jews had negotiated with the Romans, especially the one about not worshiping Caesar as a god. Christianity had to go underground because it was illegal. (Rome considered them atheists!) Consolidating its beliefs was simply part of the process of survival, and Gnosticism just didn’t fit in.

    A long explanation, but I rock on this kind of stuff. Thanks for listening.

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