Movie Stigmata and the gospel of Thomas


(Mitchell W McKain) #1

Stigmata is a film starring Patricia Arquette as a modern woman working as a hairdresser and an atheist who supernaturally acquires the wounds of Christ. The idea of an atheist experiencing stigmata is amusing in its own right, but the whole thing ends up being a plug for the gospel of Thomas.

The first time I looked at the gospel of Thomas, some years ago, it must have been a poor translation because it didn’t make much sense to me. For that reason I didn’t think it had much value. But having read a more coherent translation after watching this movie again, I revise my opinion.

  1. Several sayings look like they have been copied down out of the narrative context of other gospels which makes me think this gospel of Thomas is a second hand compilation of saying extracted from the other other gospels, with additions from who knows where. In any case, this removal of context makes this gospel less valuable for those trying to understand the original meaning intended.
  2. It strongly reminds me of what you can find in Islam, where there are many saying like this and more attributed to Jesus Though whether these sayings truly come from Him is somewhat dubious. But this and the lack of an account of Jesus’ death makes me wonder if this gospel of Thomas might have contributed to the founding of Islam in some way.
  3. Some people see in the Gospel of Thomas some Gnostic ideas and others see ideas opposed to church authority. The former would be a reason for me to dislike the text since I am not a fan of either Plato or the Gnostics, but I am not sure whether the Gnostic influence is all that significant. The latter might explain why my father liked this gospel, going along with the suggestion of the movie that the Catholic church hijacked Christianity away from Jesus for the purpose of power.
  4. I find the claim of Cyril of Alexandria that this text was made and used by the Manichæans to be another believable possibility.

(Andrew M. Wolfe) #2

The Qur’an is known to borrow from The Infancy Gospel of Thomas:

The text describes the life of the child Jesus, with fanciful, and sometimes malevolent, supernatural events, comparable to the trickster nature of the god-child in many Greek myths. One of the episodes involves Jesus making clay birds, which he then proceeds to bring to life, an act also attributed to Jesus in Quran 5:110,

…but this seems to be fairly entirely unrelated to the Gospel of Thomas:

The Gospel of Thomas is distinct and not directly related to other apocryphal or pseudepigraphal works that bear Thomas’ name, such as the Acts of Thomas or the work called the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which expands on the canonical texts to describe the miraculous childhood of Jesus.

It’s possible, since the traditions associated with Thomas tended to be to the East (remember he is thought to have evangelized India, which may well be apocryphal but it shows the tradition), that all of these “Thomas” texts were in the religious backdrop of the Arabian Peninsula of Muhammad’s day.


(Jennifer Thomas) #3

I had the same impression when I first read the Gospel of Thomas many years ago, though I’ve come full circle on it and now believe these are authentic sayings from Jesus that were written down one by one over time as Jesus taught his disciples.

The movie Stigmata has a strange mix of themes. On the one hand, there are dark overtones of occult possession (which I don’t like). On the other hand, there’s the niggling sense that the Gospel of Thomas really does have something important to say to us – something the Church might find inconvenient.

As you say, there’s been a lot of debate among scholars about whether the Gospel of Thomas should be considered a Gnostic text. It was found, of course, with a lot of other Nag Hammadi texts that are most definitely Gnostic, and this may have influenced early scholarly thought. Biblical Archaeology Review ran an article on this topic in 2015, and in it Simon Gathercole points out a number of features of Thomas that aren’t Gnostic.

Like you, I’m no fan of Plato or the Gnostics. I see complexity in the Gospel of Thomas, but I don’t see Gnosticism. I think we sometimes want to take the difficult texts and lump them together under an umbrella term like Gnosticism so we don’t have to do the hard work of uncovering the meaning. Having said that, there’s no doubt the Gospel of Thomas is a difficult text.

Many of the sayings in Thomas found their way into the Synoptics but not into John. Stephen Patterson has made a thorough analysis of the parallels in his book The Gospel of Thomas and Jesus.

Because the sayings are just that – a series of sayings without a narrative context to bind them together (a problem which Mark later fixed) – it’s hard to see the overall pattern. But there is a pattern, and it’s best seen by observing what’s not included in Thomas.

As you pointed out, there’s no account of Jesus’ death. But many other things are missing, which can reveal to us what Jesus wasn’t concerned about. When you compare what’s missing in Thomas to what is included in the Essene scrolls found near Qumran, you start to wonder whether Jesus was trying to talk his disciples out of the doctrines they’d been hearing about from other Jewish sects (especially the Essenes).

Here are some of the things I’ve found so far that are missing from Thomas:

*no mention of a Messiah
*no mention of Christology
*no mention of “the Devil” or demons
*no praise for the Jerusalem Temple
*no praise for Jewish priests or scribes
*no praise for the Essenes (so no “good versus evil” theology)
*no praise for the Pharisees
*no praise for the divisions (i.e. tribes) of Judaism
*no mention of Moses
*no Eucharist
*no Baptism
*no status-based or sympathetic-magic-based rituals
*no sin (that is, no theological sin of the “original sin” type)
*no miqvahs
*no justification of slavery
*there is a rejection of purity laws
*there is a focus on the present, not the past or the future (so there’s a lack of apocalyptic or eschatological elements)
*there is a focus on the treasure/wealth of relationship with God (the “blessings”)
*there is a lack of emphasis on justice, righteousness, or justification – but there is a powerful sense of morality throughout
*there is no mention of external salvation, but there’s a repeated emphasis on internal redemption (“knowing yourself”)

These absences are consistent with the overall message of Jesus as found in the Synoptics (especially Mark) and in parts of the Letter of James. It’s a radical theology that says everyone can be in relationship with God, but there are no easy ways to “enter the Kingdom.”


(Dillon) #4

Interesting thread. Though I am unfamiliar with how Plato is lumped in with the Gnostics. Perhaps those who have expressed a dislike of Plato might appreciate him more if you viewed him as a thinker whose ideas are wholly separable from Gnosticism (which they are).

I read the Gospel of Thomas a while back. It struck me as something genuine because there appear sayings in it that appear in the synoptic Gospels, only less refined… more raw… This indicates to me that the Gospel of Thomas didn’t use any of the synoptic Gospels as a source. If anything, the opposite is true.


#5

The apocryphal gospel of Thomas is strictly a list of sayings attributed to Jesus. Some of the sayings sound very much like those found in the canonical gospels, while others are truly bizarre (at least to me). For example there is this zinger:

Simon Peter said to them: “Let Mary go away from us, for women are not worthy of life.”

Jesus said: “Look, I will draw her in so as to make her male, so that she too may become a living male spirit, similar to you.”

(But I say to you): “Every woman who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”

This book definitely has a Gnostic flavor. For example, this is how it starts:

These are the hidden words that the living Jesus spoke. And Didymos Judas Thomas wrote them down.

(Gnostics claim to have hidden knowledge.)

Also, it shows disdain for the physical world. The soul is precious but the body is considered worthless.

The gospel of Thomas is available online.


(Mitchell W McKain) #6

A great deal of the thinking of the Gnostics came directly from Plato.

Not a chance. I disliked Plato before I was a Christian and before I knew anything about the Gnostics. I never like his idealisitic realism and I never liked his intellectual elitism.

The passage you quote is certainly misogynistic and strange but this is hardly an indicator of Gnosticism. However there were various Gnostic sects and perhaps there were some of each – some misogynist and others philogynist. So while this increases my dislike of the gospel it still doesn’t confirm that it is Gnostic.


#7

I didn’t say that the first passage I quoted was Gnostic. After I quote that passage, I talk about the Gnostic influence of the book-- the hidden knowledge, the disdain for the physical world, and so on.


(Mitchell W McKain) #8

That’s right, the word “hidden” does suggest a link to Gnosticism. Disdain for the physical world would be another link but that isn’t one you have demonstrated yet - I am searching for this, but so far no luck. I am not picking a fight here. I acknowledge that your case is getting stronger as it becomes clearer to me.


(Andrew M. Wolfe) #9

… wow.


(Dillon) #10

I’m not a fan of his elitism either. But there is a grain of truth in it.

I don’t like how he asserts that the “masses of men” are ignorant. But he does make some good points about how the human mind is so easily swayed to unreason. If a politician tells us exactly what we want to hear, and can charm us into thinking he’s a good guy, its very hard to resist him. Even if his opponent is better suited to the office for which he is running.

People are quick to blame politicians for being scandalous opportunists, but no one seems to criticize the people who put these guys in power. (And it’s nearly impossible to do so without coming off as elitist.)

So, yeah, Plato’s elitism isn’t his best quality. But, still, he makes some very good observations. Many of his criticisms of democracy were on point, and those of us who live in democracies would do well to heed his warnings.


(Randy) #11

Hm interesting! And it’s interesting that we are on a couple of threads about the ancient Greeks–on an evolution forum.

Here’s a quote from G K Chesterton about that, too, for what it’s worth: "Democracy means government by the uneducated, while aristocracy means government by the badly educated. "


(Dillon) #12

I think Winston Churchill put it best when he said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”


#13

Here ya go!

“If the flesh came into being because of the spirit, it is a wonder. But if the spirit (came into being) because of the body, it is a wonder of wonders. Yet I marvel at how this great wealth has taken up residence in this poverty.”

#14

There is also an “Infancy gospel of Thomas” which is also apocryphal and even more bizarre. (Its Jesus is a boy wonder and a nasty, vindictive brat. Some of the stories in it made their way into the Qur’an! ( Definitely worth a read, though.)

On the topic of the bizarre, some time ago I posted a fascinating story called
The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’s Wife

(It was a forgery, but created a stir.)


(Randy) #15

We should all take your church’s history lesson some day.


(Randy) #16

Churchill had so many good quotes, didn’t he? I am only recently discovering some of them.


(system) #17

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