Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sayings Gospel of Thomas: Geography and Places

The Gospel of Thomas, an early collection of Jesus' sayings, is more focused on Jesus than the alternative gospels we have recently looked at (Gospel of Mary, Gospel of Truth). Most of the sayings found in the Gospel of Thomas are recognizable from the canonical gospels. I think the most unfortunate thing about this sayings collection is that it does not make any effort to record the settings in which the sayings originally occurred. Without context, the point of a saying is not always clear. And because there is no context -- mostly a series of quotes attributed to Jesus -- there are relatively few references to places or geography. But here, there are at least some.

Here are the references to identifiable places in the Gospel of Thomas:
  • Samaria
  • Judea
That's a short list. Both entries on the list come from a single saying; it can be seen here as saying #60 in this translation. Both "Samaria" and "Judea" refer to areas or regions. Here we do not see references to specific cities, villages, towns, peoples' homes, or other specific buildings the way we see in the canonical gospels.

There are a few places where the sayings hinted at their original settings:
  • "Your brothers and your mother are standing outside." (#99)
  • "No prophet is accepted in his (own) village." (#31)
Like so many of the sayings in the Gospel of Thomas, modern students of the New Testament will recognize these sayings of Jesus from the Biblical gospels. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus is not completely cut off from the physical and historical world -- but that is not the main interest of whoever collected the sayings. The main interest is the sayings of Jesus. Whatever Jesus' historical setting was, it does not seem to be of any direct interest to the person who collected the sayings.

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