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Thank you for participating in the dialogue about the Gospel of Thomas, the real Jesus, how we might follow him, and about the implications of the discoveries in these books for Biblical study.
From Dr. Barrie Wilson, former Chair of Religious Studies at York University
Hi Robert –
I found your analysis of the Gospel of Thomas very insightful. You’ve done a remarkable job detecting order and structure, and that’s very impressive. Layout helps tremendously. Your work makes the best sense I’ve seen out of this writing. Yes, this Jesus would reject a dogmatic edifice, Paul’s teachings and all absolutist claims in favor of a more open, honest and discerning religion. I especially like your view that Jesus was a therapist, not a theologian or even a prophet I guess.
Was this the original Jesus? I’m finding that question more and more perplexing. Certainly, the original Jesus was not Paul. So we can clear that deck.
Eisenman once suggested that the best way to find out the historical Jesus was: “As James, so Jesus.” So that would make Jesus into a human, Jewish preacher of the coming Kingdom of God. Too bad James and his group didn’t produce any writings that have survived, although that is understandable if they expected Jesus to return soon to implement the Kingdom. There are problems, of course, with Eisenman’s dictum. If James were a Nazirite as later sources seem to indicate, he might have been more orthodox than Jesus was. That's a possibility. Maybe Jesus was less strictly Torah-observant in all respects. Also there may be some truth to the claim that maybe his family didn’t quite understand him.
On the other hand, the base structure of the synoptic gospels seems to indicate Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher of the End Times, more in keeping with the Zealots, a political Jesus if you will. This gives us a different version of the original Jesus. But then we don’t know anything about the individual who composed the gospel of “Mark” decades later, giving his teachings a fixed narrative.
I’d prefer that the original Jesus were along the lines you describe. It fits in better with the views we uncovered in the Lost Gospel manuscript and with my own personal philosophy. I was very impressed by the two covering letters we uncovered for the first time ever [in the Lost Gospel book], with Moses of Ingila stressing the need to understand Jesus in terms of Wisdom literature. He is a figure to be discerned, cautiously. A refreshing view, I think, and an antidote to all the superficial pundits who preach dogma about the Christ.
What I’m not sure is how to argue that the original Jesus was along the lines of a teacher of Wisdom. I’d prefer that portrait of Jesus, but we all have a tendency to see the Jesus we want to see. I’m especially not sure that the original Jesus could have gotten away with dismissing Torah obligations as easily as recorded in the Gospel of Thomas.
So we’re at an impasse. Will the original Jesus please stand up?
If we agree to dismiss Paul’s theology as not emanating from the Jesus of history [and not all grant this!], then we have two competing models for understanding what Jesus was like. (1) the therapist who encouraged people to follow the path of Wisdom and (2) the politician whose message was rooted in a coming Kingdom of God viewed literally, as world-transformation. Either way the original Jesus was proposing a different way of viewing the world.
You’ve done a great job, and as I said, I like your reconstruction.
From Dr. Steven Davies, former Chair of the Religious Studies Department at Misericordia University
Well, I've read your book, or at least a lot of it. I certainly am not the right audience for it.... I'm a historian and you are a psycho-theological poet, which is a different sort of thing. Your focus on language made me realize that with your book I am reading an English version of a Coptic translation of a Greek original that may actually not be original but rather a translation of an Aramaic original that itself is a written rendition of an Aramaic oral creation depending on a very highly complex concatenation of formal relationships that necessarily must have existed in the oral original, if that comes from Jesus himself. Further, your English version to make your points must be accompanied by a detailed phrase by phrase commentary, and you supply one. But I don't see the commentary as emerging clearly from the original for it depends on a particular view of human psychology that may be shared with others whom you know, but not by me.
Steve Davies 4/17/2017