This is the fifth in a series of nine posts in which it is argued that
there are three strata in GTh and they provide us with information on the
Thomas church: its locataion, history, sociological make-up, and beliefs.
In this post, the light they throw on the sociological make-up of the Thomas
church is discussed.
TWO RADICALLY DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES I
It appears that Proto-Thomas comes from a different socio-economic strata
than does Pre-Thomas and the final strata material.
For detemining the socio-economic strata of Proto-Thomas, the last part of
64 and the first part of 65 is very important, "'Businessmen and merchants
will not enter the Places of My Father.' He said, 'There was a good man who
owned a vineyard.'"
Businessmen and merchants had a higher status than most in Roman Empire
society, but it was not as high as the status of the landed gentry.
Thus, that the Proto-Thomas Jesus, in the last part of 64 and the first part
of 65, looks down on merchants and traders, but admiringly speaks of a
member of the landed gentry as "good" (an adjective not to be found in the
Synoptic parallels), is an indication that it reflects the perspective the
very uppermost levels of society.
Also important is 63, "Jesus said, 'There was a rich man who had much money.
He said, I shall put my money to use so that I may sow, reap, plant, and
fill my storehouse with produce, with the result that I shall lack nothing.
Such were his intentions, but that same night he died. Let him who has ears
The message ( i.e., A rich landowner needs to be concerned about his
salvation) is one that is most appropriate for rich landowners.
There is an inversion of this perspective in Pre-Thomas.
In this document, those in the uppermost strata of society fail to see the
truth: see 78b, "And to see a man clothed in fine garments like your kings
and your great men? Upon them are the fine (garments), but they are unable
to discern the truth."
On the other hand, a merchant is spoken of approvingly in 77a, "The Kingdom
of the Father is like a merchant who had a consignment of merchandise and
who discovered a pearl. The merchant was shrewd. He sold the merchandise
and bought the pearl alone for himself."
Even more dramatic are 54, "Blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom
of Heaven.", and 69b, "Blessed are the hungry, for their belly of him who
desires will be filled."
Such an attitude that the poor are blessed is totally absent from
Proto-Thomas. Indeed, in the parable of the vineyard, the poor tenants of
the "good" rich landowner are morally depraved monsters who refuse to pay
him the rent he deserves and who murder his son so that they can inherit the
So, it would appear, Proto-Thomas reflects the perspective of the uppermost
strata of society, particularly the landed gentry, while Pre-Thomas reflects
the perspective of the middle and lower strata of society, i.e., from the
merchant class down to the poverty-stricken.
When we come to the late strata material, it appears to reflect the
socio-economic perspective that we find in Pre-Thomas.
Particularly important is 21, "Mary said to Jesus, 'Whom are Your disciples
like?' He said, 'They are like children who have settled in a field which
is not theirs. When the owners of the field come, they will say, 'Let us
have back our field.' They (will) undress in their presence in order to let
them have back their field and give it back to them. Therefore I say to
you, if the owner of a house knew that the thief is coming, he will begin
his vigil before he comes and will not let him dig through into his house of
his domain to carry away his goods. You, then, be on your guard against the
world. Arm yourselves with great strength lest the robbers find a way to
come to you, for the difficulty which you expect will (surely) materialize.
Let there be among you a man of understanding. When the grain ripened, he
came quickly with his sickle in his hand and reaped it. Whoever has ears to
hear, let him hear."
Here, we first have a group of homeless people who settle in someone else's
field. Second, we have an owner of house who is not rich, for he has no
servants to arm and wait with him for the robbers, and then we have someone
who reaps and, so, is a temporary laborer or tenant on a rich man's estate
or else a poor peasant with his own small holding. In short, these people
range from the middle class to the most poverty-stricken.
Note, too, how virtuous the homeless ones are. When the owners of the field
come and ask them to leave, they do so. Even more telling, they literally
take the clothes off their backs and leave them for the owners as a rental
payment for the use of the field--preferring to be not only homeless, but
naked as well, to cheating the owners!
Another key unit is 86, "[The foxes have their holes] and the birds have
[their] nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head and rest."
Here, Jesus is pictured as poor and homeless.
So, to conclude, it appears that Proto-Thomas reflects the perspective of
the very highest strata of society, particularly the rich landlords. In
contrast, both Pre-Thomas and the latest strata reflect the perspective of
people from the middle class down to the most impovrished. Indeed, it
appears that, in both, the main focus is on people who are desperately poor.
So, in Pre-Thomas, those who are poor and hunger are blessed while, in the
late strata material, Jesus is poor and homeless and the poor and homeless
TWO RADICALLY DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES II
It appears that both Proto-Thomas and the latest strata material reflect a
Gentile perspective, while Pre-Thomas appears to reflect a Diaspora Jewish
Proto-Thomas is written from a Gentile perspective. So, in 43, the
Proto-Thomas Jesus looks down on the Jews, telling his disciples, "But you
have become like the Jews, for they love the tree and hate its fruit (or)
love the fruit and hate the tree."
Too, let us look at 99, "The disciples said to Him, 'Your brothers and Your
mother are standing outside.' He said to them, 'Those here who do the will
of My Father are My brothers and My mother. It is they who will enter the
Kingdom of My Father.'" The message, i.e., salvation depends solely on
obeying the will of God, is one that would have been embraced by Gentiles
who liked the monotheism of Judaism, but didn't want to have to become Jews
in order to worship Him and be saved.
Again, let us look at 6, "His disciples questioned Him and said to Him, 'Do
You want us to fast? How shall we pray? Shall we give alms? What diet shall
we observe?' Jesus said, 'Do not tell lies, and do not do what you hate, for
all things are plain in the sight of heaven. For nothing hidden will not
become manifest, and nothing covered will remain without being uncovered.'"
According to 6, then, what one needs to do to be saved is to be honest and
obey a negative version of the Golden Rule. Things required by the Law of
Moses, such as fasting, prayer, alms-giving, and avoiding unclean foods,
then, do not need to be observed.
Again, let us look at 90, "Jesus said, 'Come unto me, for My yoke is easy
and My lordship is mild,...". Here, I suggest, the easy yoke of Jesus is a
morality that does not require one to obey the Law of Moses.
By the time Paul wrote Galatians (53 CE?), the three pillars had conceded
that Gentile followers of Jesus do not need to obey Mosaic Law, so unit 6
appears to reflect a moral code that could have been adopted by Gentile
Christians from, say, c. 50 CE onwards.
(Note: According to Paul, the pillars did tell him to remember the poor.
Compare 95, which exhorts one to lend money without interest to those who
cannot pay it back. This, technically, is not alms-giving, but it does
fulfill the requirement, of the pillars, to remember the poor)
The situation is different in Pre-Thomas. There are no disparaging remarks
about Jews in it. There is no blanket rejection of the Law or of
traditional Jewish piety.
There is a rejection of fasting, circumcision, and observing the Sabbath.
The rejection of fasting might come from the historical Jesus: who, the
evidence suggests, rejected fasting.
The rejection of circumcision and of observing the Sabbath, though, suggests
that we are dealing with Diaspora Jews trying to integrate themselves into
In this regard, it is significant that they justified their non-observance
of the circumcision and Sabbath ordinances by spiritualizing them--see 27b,
"If you do not observe the Sabbath as a Sabbath, you will not see the
Father", and 53b, "Rather, the true circumcision in spirit has become
Such spiritualization of the circumcision and Sabbath ordinances, so that
they don't need to be observed in a literal sense, was done by some Diaspora
Jews. So, in Mig (91-92), Philo castigates some of his fellow Alexandrian
Jews for doing this, "It is quite true that the Seventh Day is meant to
teach the power of the Unoriginate and the non-action of created beings.
But let us not for this reason abrogate the laws laid down for its
observance....It is true that receiving circumcision does indeed portray the
excision of pleasure and passions, and the putting away of the impious
conceit,...but let us not on this account repeal the law laid down for
So, I suggest, Pre-Thomas reflects the perspective of Diaspora Jews trying
to hold on to their Jewishness, yet seeking to become integrated into
Gentile society. Indeed, the only thing that keeps them from being fully
integrated into Gentile society was an apparent unwillingness to give up the
ordinances regarding clean and unclean foods.
In this regard, the incident recorded at Antioch by Paul in Galatians is
important. At the time (c. 50 CE), Christian Jews there were freely eating
with Gentile Jews--which meant that these Christian Jews were not observing
the ordinances regarding clean and unclean foods. However, when some
messengers came from James, the head of the Jerusalem Church Council, these
Christian Jews withdrew from table fellowship with Gentile Christians.
Perhaps, then, Pre-Thomas reflects the perspective of Diaspora Christian
Jews who are trying to balance integrating themselves into Gentile society
with pressure from Palestinian Christian Jews to maintain obedience to at
least the dietary ordinances of the Law.
.When we come to the latest strata material, what we find is a radical
rejection of the Law and, even, the prophets.
See, for example, 52, "His disciples said to Him, "Twenty-four prophets
spoke in Israel, and all of them spoke in You.' He said to them, 'You have
omitted the one living in your presence and have spoken (only) of the dead."
Particularly important is 14, "Jesus said to them, 'If you fast, you will
give rise to sin for yourselves; and if you pray, you will be condemned; and
if you give alms, you will do harm to your spirits. When you go into any
land and walk about in the districts, if they receive you, eat what they
will set before you, and heal the sick among them. For what goes into your
mouth will not defile you, but that which issues from your mouth--it is
that which will defile you.'"
Note that, in 14, the most emphatic rejection of the Law comes with respect
to its dietary ordinances. Those who insist on obeying these dietary
ordinances are dead wrong because what goes into your mouth cannot defile
The rejection of the Law and the prophets in the latest strata material
reflects, I suggest, a Gentile perspective. Further, judging by its
emphatic insistence that the dietary ordinances of the Law are wrong, I
think that it reflects the perspective of Gentile Christians who belong to
the same Christian community as some Jewish Christians who maintain the
legitimacy of these dietary ordinances of the Law.
It is in this latest strata material that we find unit 12, which exalts
James the Just.
At first glance, this is difficult to reconcile with the rejection of the
Law found in this material: for James had been known for his zeal in
observing the Law.
However, we need to take into account two things. First, according to Paul
in Galatians, the three pillars (the chief of whom was James) gave him
permission to preach a gospel of freedom from the Law to Gentiles, but to
remember the poor. Second, this would have been music to the ears of
Gentiles rejecting the observance of the Law, particularly those who were
So, I see nothing inconsistent with the latest strata material reflecting
the perspective of Gentiles, most of them poor, who rejected the Law of
Moses, yet also containing an idolization of James: for it is he who had
officially granted Gentile Christians the freedom to not obey the Law and he
had been deeply concerned over the plight of the poor.
So, to conclude, both Proto-Thomas and the latest strata material appear to
reflect a Gentile perspective. Conversely, Pre-Thomas appears to reflect a
Diaspora Jewish perspective.
THREE GROUPS, ONE CHURCH
If all three strata in GTh come from the same church, to be called the
Thomas church, then the Thomas church consisted of three groups.
First, there was a Gentile group from the highest level of society,
particularly rich landowners. They rejected the Law and observed a basic
ethic of being honest and obeying the Golden Rule. It is they who were
responsible for issuing Proto-Thomas. They presumably constituted the
leadership of the Thomas community, with one or more of their residences
used for the worship services.
Second, there was a Diaspora Jewish group, ranging from the middle class to
the poverty-stricken. They were trying to integrate themselves into Gentile
society, and spiritualized the Sabbath and circumcision ordinances of the
Law to justify not observing them. However, perhaps because of pressure
from Palestinian Christian Jews, they maintained obedience to the dietary
ordinances of the Law. It is they who were responsible for Pre-Thomas.
Third, there was a Gentile group, ranging from the middle class to the
poverty stricken. They rejected both the Law and the prophets. It is they
who were responsible for the latest strata material in GThomas.
In this case, on socio-economic issues, the main tension in the Thomas
church was between, on one hand, the rich and powerful leadership and, on
the other hand, the "peons" consisting of those from the middle class down
to the poverty-stricken.
However, in this case, on Jewish-Gentile issues, the main tension in the
Thomas church was between, on hand hand, the Gentiles and, on the other
hand, the Diaspora Jews. This tension would have been greatest during the
Jewish revolt of 66-70 CE..
(Continued in the post VI of a IX post series)
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