The main purpose of most biographies is to express the life and accomplishments of a great individual. Some biographies have deeper meanings through moral dilemmas, political motives, or the meaning behind a great event. Regardless, biographies always try to leave the reader with their message. In the Gospel of Thomas, the overall message is Jesus’s explanation and interpretation of heaven to the eyes of humans. In this biography, Jesus wants his disciples to believe heaven is open to all that are morally sound and believes in his teachings. This is expressed through a story of numerous quotes from Jesus including his first statement, “Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will reign over all (Valantasis v. II)”. The Gospel of Thomas is a perfect example of how specific wording can provide deeper meanings towards morality than simply the story behind an individual.
The Gospel of Thomas is formatted very unusually. It contains verses similar to the Bible but most of these are direct quotes from Jesus. A majority of the verses start off with “Jesus says” followed by a general statement about sin, persecution, heaven, or one of many other topics from Jesus. After reading many of his statements, Jesus made me feel enlightened as though the entire biography was a guide to morality rather than a story of one’s life. It seems like the purpose of this biography was to express an idea or give a message.
One can compare and contrast The Gospel of Thomas to a factual biography, like the Life of Coriolanus. While Jesus’s story in The Gospel of Thomas was told exclusively through Jesus’s dialogue and quotations, the Life of Coriolanus was told through traditional story telling techniques. Even though there are some quotations in the Life of Coriolanus, most of the story is told in a detailed third person perspective. There wasn’t a big meaning or obvious message behind the Life of Coriolanus, and Plutarch didn’t necessarily write as though there needed to be. The Gospel of Thomas was written in the style of quotations and statements to portray a sense of meaning and morality within its text.
The stylization found in “The Gospel of Thomas” is also reminiscent of that in “Secundus The Silent Philosopher”. Even though some of Secundus’s biography was told in a traditional matter, about half of it was told in statements and quotations. These quotations, just like that of “The Gospel of Thomas” is meant to give character to the protagonist by sharing their beliefs. Similarly, Secundus’s messages are meant to be the moral of his biography, just like Jesus’s messages. Based upon the biographies studied thus far, one can assert that quotation-style writing is meant to give morality and meaning above all else.
Jesus’s first quote within “The Gospel of Thomas” should be analyzed immediately for meaning. Once again, Jesus states to his disciples, “Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will reign over all (Valantasis v. II).” This quote refers to how the leaders in the Middle East were attempting to look for heaven or the father’s kingdom. This was mentioned in the third verse “If your leaders say to you, 'Look, the (Father's) kingdom is in the sky…(Valantasis v.III).” I believe the section “When they find, they will be disturbed”, refers to how heaven is not meant to be easily understood or taken in by humans. Instead people are meant to be stunned in its greatness. “When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will reign over all” refers to how God wants these leaders to comprehend heaven, and then use it to gain respect from their people instead of for corruption. Jesus stated this in order to exemplify the power of heaven on people. “The Gospel of Thomas’s” purpose of explaining heaven to the people of earth begins by demonstrating how heaven can affect a person of power.
There is one particular quote that stands out clearly within “The Gospel of Thomas”. Jesus said, "The (Father's) kingdom is like a person who had a treasure hidden in his field but did not know it. And [when] he died he left it to his [son]. The son [did] not know about it either. He took over the field and sold it. The buyer went plowing, [discovered] the treasure, and began to lend money at interest to whomever he wished (Valantasis v. CIX)." This quote describes God and Jesus’s relationship with the people of earth. The people of earth can only understand heaven once they understand God’s word. The field represents the word of God, in that it is great, it has a lot of mystery within, but it cannot be properly taken advantage of or understood without work. Heaven was supposedly created by God and opened up with Jesus for the people of earth. Jesus is not however the “son” described in this quote. The son is actually the people of earth, who do not believe the prospect of heaven was anything special. Instead of taking advantage of the field (heaven), the people of earth sold it to those who wanted to take advantage of what God had to offer within his words. These are the people who are meant to reap the benefits of heaven. Even though this quote came near the end of “The Gospel of Thomas”, it tells one of the most important messages in Christianity. This one simple phrase summarizes the entire meaning behind “The Gospel of Thomas”.
Another saying found within Thomas’s depiction of Christ is “If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. If you do not have that within you, what you do not have within you [will] kill you (Valantasis v. LXX).” Even though this quote is more of the same, there is a purpose for this repetition. Jesus means to say to the disciples that everybody has the power to bring him or herself to heaven. Human morality is never an easy thing, and Jesus seems aware of this. Despite the challenge, Jesus wants his disciples to know that heaven should be possible for anybody. The second part of Jesus’s quote, “If you do not have that within you, what you do not have within you will kill you” refers to the consequences of poor Christian morality. I do not believe that Jesus thinks poor morality will “kill” you, however I think it may refer to the end of a Christian life. The disciples are learning from Jesus, that in order to get into heaven, one needs to live a good Christian life with their own human morality.
Meaning Behind QuotationsEdit
With the specific quotes gathered thus far, we have learned three things about heaven from The Gospel of Thomas. We have learned that people can be overpowered by heaven for good, heaven is open for those who believe in God’s word, and all humans have the power to send themselves to heaven, no matter how difficult. As mentioned, the combined message of these quotes refers to the power of heaven that The Gospel of Thomas wanted to portray. Even though the meaning behind this biography is now clear, there is still the question of how its quotations relates to any finished biography. During the specifically mentioned sections of the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus was more articulate than in most of the other sections. This is perhaps because the writer wanted to emphasize these points and portray Jesus as preserving these messages to be more important than the others. I believe that using several very specific quotations in any kind of biography is meant to give a moral sense to the story that other stylizations of biographies cannot do.
The Gospel of Thomas is a finished biography written to influence its readers towards the idea of heaven and Christian morality. Its writing doesn’t create a very detailed story or a sense of plot, but it does provoke thought and interest towards the Christian world. This kind of writing can be extremely influential. The philosophical feel of The Gospel of Thomas made me truly feel like I was reading a work of political philosophy instead of a biography. This style of writing’s only purpose can be to express an idea to a reader, even if it additionally includes the story of an individual. The Gospel of Thomas made no effort to go into the details of Jesus’s life because its only true purpose was to give a sense of morality and meaning to its reader.
Valantasis, Richard. The Gospel of Thomas. London: Routledge, 1997.