His disciples said, when will you be revealed to us and when shall we
see you. "When you disrobe without being ashamed and and take up your
garments and place them under your feet and trample on them like
little children, then you will see the son of the living one and not
Jonathan Z. Smith concluded back in 1966 that the elements of
undressing, being naked without shame, treading on garments, and being
like little children were only found together in ‘baptismal rituals and
April De Conick and Jarl Fossum reject a baptismal basis for the saying
in their article, ‘Stripped Before God: A New Interpretation of Logion
37 In the Gospel of Thomas’ VC 45 (1991) 123-150.
A&J (April and Jarl) say 37 is an encratite work, as is the Gospel of
Thomas. They cite a definition of encratism as ‘self control’. It’s both
a tendency and a sect, involving renunciation of this world expressed
through abstinence from meat, wine, marriage, and property. Hence they
focus on a renunciation of the body that they see symbolized in
disrobing and treading on the clothing underfoot.
But the image here is of naked children joyfully trampling their
clothing. Have you ever seen a 5 year old running around naked. This is
an event of laughter and exuberance, not of ascetic, stiff upper lip
celibacy. Jesus’ emphasis was on eating, drinking, celebrating, and
having fun at the messianic banquet, not on the asceticism of John the
Baptist and his followers. To put the emphasis on the renunciation of
the body is to miss the point entirely. The attainment is not in moving
away from the body but in moving toward being clothed with the joy of God.
The Gospel of the Egyptians cited by Clement of Alexandria has a saying
that links trampling with another Thomas saying: Salome asks a question
and Jesus says, “When you have trampled on the garment of shame and when
the two become one and the male with the female (is) neither male nor
female.” Here the two become one. You go beyond male and female. You do
not stay male and female and grit your teeth to keep your sexual
feelings under control. Keep seeking until you find Wonder and then you
will reign over the All, including your body.
I suggest that the fundamental feeling in trampling on the garment of
shame is not renunciation but triumph. Asceticism is not the way to God
but the consequence of finding God.
“Unless you fast from the world” is one saying in GTh that A&J cite as
evidence for the encratite nature to the gospel of Thomas. But another
is “Don’t do what you hate”. This includes fasting, prayer and charity.
You might injure your spirit if you perform these duties outwardly but
inwardly hate what you are doing. This does not sound anything like
encratite renunciation to me. Fasting from the world is much more likely
to be an attitude of detachment (‘be a passer by’) than a renunciation
of meat, wine, property or sex. The attitude of Paul to celibacy seems
relevant to me here. It’s recommended, but if you hate it, don’t force
yourself. Better to marry than to burn.
A&J say that logion 37 does not relate to baptism, but rather to
unction/anointing with oil:
In the 300s Jerome describes how the candidate is said to remove the
‘tunic of skins’ and upon arising from baptism dons the ‘garment of
Christ’ which is a white linen robe.
How far back does this disrobing-rerobing baptismal ritual go? If it is
early, then A&J may be incorrect. Charles Geischen in his article
Baptismal Practice and Mystical Experience in the Book of Revelation has
a discussion of the white garments: “Several texts [in Revelation]
testify that the white garment is already a possession of followers of
Jesus on earth, long before their glorification in heaven.” He believes
that baptismal practice was based on the ordination of priests in
Judaism with its anointing and vestment rituals. He concludes that the
white-garment imagery in Revelation probably reflects both baptismal
practice and theology.
There are a couple of items that connect the Transfiguration, where J’s
garments shine with light, with Baptism. Foremost is the voice from
heaven, the same voice that spoke at the baptism of Jesus, saying much
the same thing. There is also the introductory time period, ‘And after
six days’. This is the same time period that appears in the Secret
Baptism outlined in the letter of Clement of Alexandria discovered at
Mar Saba (don’t bother me with the hoax hypothesis, it requires Morton
Smith to be an idiot, which he clearly was not). If the transfiguration
is a baptismal pericope as opposed to a misplaced resurrection story
(the usual theory), then baptism in the latter half of the first century
probably involved stripping off the clothes, symbolic of the physical
body of sin, and replacing it with the light body of God’s Glory as in
‘an image in place of an image.’
The problem with A&J’s discussion of baptism in relation to #37 is that
they artificially sever what they call unction from baptism. Their
definition of baptism is too narrow. If you look at baptism broadly and
include anointing with oil, sealing with the Name, immersion in living
water, and donning a white robe, symbolic of receiving the garment of
glory, then #37 retains its baptismal basis.
For example they cite several Gnostic texts as mentioning trampling such
things as the garment of flesh, death, and the power of the devil, in
conjunction with anointing with oil (unction): a Manichaean psalm, a
Valentinian fragment, and the Hypostasis of the Archons. All of these
become part of the evidence for the connection of #37 with baptism if
one views baptism as including anointing with oil.
> Ron McCann's explanation in message 5104:
> 1) When they can strip naked
> publically, 2) when they can do so without shame, and 3) when they
> can do so without FEAR, THEN they will see Jesus again. Our author
> here seems to be clearly flagging Genesis 2 where, after the
> disobedience, A & E (1) realized they were naked (2) hid themselves
> in shame of their nakedness, and had to be clothed, and (3)
> experienced fear of God. The last line- "and you shall not fear"
> addresses this last issue. Prior to the Fall, these were not issues.
> The author seems to be saying "when you acquire the state of pre fall
> Adam, you will see me again"- that is- when you reverse the Fall of
> Man and re-enter Paradise. Jesus will meet them in Paradise. In the
> cool of the evening.
This gives us the Thomasine idea of what 'becoming a little child
again' means. It is a return to the
innocence of Eden, an abolishing of body shame.
Jesus forgave sins. Did the follower of Jesus live in a state of
Edenic sinlessness? Of childhood innocence. The previous saying to
37 mentions Jesus' teaching about not worrying about clothing. J also
teaches about not worrying about the future. If you are not worrying
and are cared for by the father, you are back in the Edenic state.
Admission to the kingdom was via baptism. If you are born again, if
you become a child again, by baptism, then the kingdom may well be the
psychological state of Adam and Eve in Eden: beloved by god, needs
provided for, no worries, no work, seeing the beauty, sense of
dominion over all things, no shame, no guilt.
Again, the baptismal sign of this state may have been the ability to
strip in public and immerse yourself in living water. Sins forgiven,
right with god again, the body is purified with water and the soul is
filled with the holy spirit.
I am also reminded that portions of the Jerusalem temple were said to
be symbolic of the garden of eden. (See Margaret Barker's book Gate
there actually is a time in john/jesus
practice where one publically disrobes.
In John's baptism one confesses one's sins to the assembled crowd and
then enters the Jordan, presumably naked. According to Josephus
writing on John's baptism, baptism was the outward sign of the inward
change. In other words, one confessed, was forgiven, was no longer
ashamed, and could strip in public and receive the baptismal water as
the outward sign.
The didache, I believe, says that christian baptism should be done in
living water, but if not available, etc. This means that early
Christain baptism was still an immersion baptism not a sprinkling
When will you see Jesus - in baptism, when you feel forgiven enough
and open enough to strip in public, you will recieve the son of the
living one, the spirit of Jesus, and not be afraid.
Trampling on the garments probably refers to putting off the body and
being clothed in light, symbolized by recieving a white robe at
baptism, a custom that I believe goes back to New Testament times.
Here stripping in public functions as a test of one's internal state,
something like fire-walking in new age psycho/religion.