The opening words, sometimes referred to as the prologue or incipit, of the Gospel of Thomas (Coptic version) are:
“These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down.” (Lambdin)
We can find parallels to this type of an introductory formula in several places. For example, just as the Gospel of Thomas begins by identifying its contents as the (secret) words which Jesus spoke, the book of Deuteronomy begins by stating that it contains the words that Moses spoke:
“These are the words that Moses spoke to Israel in the Transjordan”
Other parallels to this same type of formula may be found in both orthodox and Gnostic Christianity:
Luke 24:44: “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you”
The (Second) Apocalypse of James: ”This is the discourse that James the Just spoke in Jerusalem, which Mareim, one of the priests, wrote.”
The Book of Thomas the Contender: “The secret words spoken by the Saviour to Judas Thomas and which I have written down; I, Matthias, who heard them while they spoke together”
Keeping these examples in mind, it is interesting to note the beginning of the recently published Gospel of Judas:
“The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week three days before he celebrated Passover.”
When we compare the above examples, we note the following:
o The Gospel of Thomas, The Book of Thomas the Contender, and The Gospel of Judas all use the term “secret” (or “hidden”)
o The Gospel of Thomas, The Book of Thomas the Contender, and The (Second) Apocalypse of James name the author
o Among the Christian examples, The (Second) Apocalypse of James is unique in that the formula is applied to the words of someone other than Jesus
o The book of Deuteronomy specifies the audience as “Israel.” The Gospel of Luke specifies the audience as “you” (i.e., the disciples of Jesus). The Book of Thomas the Contender and The Gospel of Judas specify the audience as particular disciples (Judas Thomas and Judas Iscariot, respectively).
o Among the Christian examples listed here, the version of the formula that appears in Luke 24:44 is unique in at least two respects: 1.) It does not appear at the beginning of the work and 2.) the speaker of the words is identified in the first person (“the words which I spoke”)
o The Gospel of Judas does not speak of the “secret words” or "secret sayings" that Jesus spoke, but instead describes the “secret account of the revelation” that Jesus spoke. Compared to the other examples, the change seems arbitrary and secondary.
o In similar fashion, that fact that it is not Jesus who speaks the secret words in The Book of Thomas the Contender but instead the secret words are spoken by “the Saviour” also seems like a secondary change.
Any comments, observations, opinions?
- Kevin Johnson
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