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A paper I wrote for my gnosticism class, that i thought might be helpful here.

The Kingdom in the Gospel of Thomas

The Gospel of Thomas(Layton, Bentley (Tr.) The Gnostic Scriptures, Doubleday, New York, 1987. Unless otherwise noted.) deals with the kingdom in essentially two different ways: what the Kingdom is (or more usually what this kingdom is like) and how one can get there. The former type of statement is usually in the form of a parable: an allegorical story describing something that the kingdom represents. The second type is usually more straightforward, at least in the sense that it includes descriptions of the types of people and behaviors that enters the kingdom. Unfortunately, these directives are usually hard or impossible to decipher making them little easier to read than the descriptions of the Kingdom. Still, certain themes seem to run through the methods of attaining the Kingdom and through the descriptions of what exactly that Kingdom is and by tracing these we can begin to get a sense of the Thomasine Jesus’ meaning.

Three major themes seem to run through the gospel in general and in specific in through descriptions of attaining the kingdom: something untapped or unnoticed but omnipresent, detachment from the traditional meaningless aspects of life, and the dichotomy between dualisms and singularities. Sayings three and 113 are the most direct examples of the first major theme in passages about finding the kingdom. Saying three talks about the fallacy of looking for the kingdom in space, “If those who lead you say to you, ‘See the kingdom is in heaven,’ then the birds of heaven will precede you/ If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you./ But the kingdom is inside of you. And it is outside of you.” Likewise, saying 113 talks similarly about looking for the kingdom in time as well, “ ‘It is not by being waited for that it is going to come. They are not going to say, “Here it is” or “There it is”/ Rather, the kingdom of the father is spread out over the earth, and people do not see it.’” The important thing about these two sayings is that the solutions are compatible: in saying three, the kingdom is within and without you and saying 113 takes that a step further saying that the kingdom is spread out over the entire earth but it is not seen.

Harold Bloom (Bloom, Harold. “‘Whosoever Discovers the Meaning of these Sayings’ … A Reading. from Meyer, Marvin (ed.) The Gospel of Thomas), in his interpretation of the gospel, takes these sayings to mean that in order to find the kingdom, it is, “required … that we bring the axis of vision and the axis of things together again. The stones themselves will then serve us, transparent to our awakened vision.” The second sentence of that phrase alludes to saying nineteen: “Jesus said, ‘Blessed is that which existed before coming into being. If you exist as my disciples and listen to my sayings, these stones will minister unto you.’” The concept of existing before coming into being is an important one to the gospel and, indeed, to gnosticism in general; this concept of the unworldly self, free from the corruption of having actually been brought into being, this inward divine element is present throughout the text. But what does having this uncreated element have to do with the omnipresence of the kingdom? Consider the phrasing that Bloom uses: ‘axis of vision’ and ‘axis of things.’ The world is the axis of things and the axis of vision is what you use to interact with that world of things, the interface between one’s uncreated self and the axis of things. Thus one’s uncreated self and the uncreated universe MUST be independent of the world of time, space, and matter.

The second major theme, as the first, is prevalent throughout the text. The concept of removing oneself from the weight of your earthly obligations in order to gain something else is clearly important in this text. Saying sixty-four, which is a parable about a man who holds a dinner and those who he invites to dinner declining his invitation because of more pressing business, concludes with Jesus saying, “‘Buyers and traders will not enter the place of my father.’” While this seems like a fairly blunt statement, the parable illustrates why traders and such cannot enter the places of his father: they are too preoccupied with their own business, too tied to the world, to be able to answer when they are called. He states the same thing much more plainly in saying twenty-seven: “‘If you do not abstain from the world you will not find the kingdom.’”

Closely related to these is saying forty-nine: “Jesus said, ‘blessed are those who are solitary and superior, for you will find the kingdom;/ for since you come from it you shall return to it.’” Those who are solitary have less connection to that which is around them than those who are not solitary, they are less invested in the world and more able to abstain from it, to walk away from the things.

Saying twenty-two, one of the more enigmatic in the gospel, bridges the gap between this theme of removal from the world and the odd duality/singularity dichotomy that runs through this text. Starting simply enough, Jesus makes the claim that infants, or “little-ones” as the text calls them, nursing resemble those who enter the kingdom. However, when his disciples ask if they should become like little ones Jesus gives a long winded and obfuscated reply:

“When you make the two one and make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside and the above like the below, and that you might make the male and the female be one and the same, so that the male might not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye and a hand in place of a hand and a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image – then you will enter the.”

Following the trend of detachment being a path to the kingdom, the little ones resemble those who enter the kingdom because they have so few worldly attachments – nothing except the milk that they must have to support themselves. But if this is the reason then why must the disciples perform these seemingly impossible tasks in order to enter the kingdom Look at the tasks that Jesus gives again; most of them have some analog somewhere else in the gospel. Both making the inside like the outside and making the above like the below resemble saying three’s statement that the sea and the sky are equally void of the kingdom and the inside and outside are equally full of it. The eye is referred to in sayings twenty-five and twenty-six, both using the eye as a metaphor for interacting with one’s sibling. Thus, making eyes in place of an eye could well refer to in some way becoming one’s own sibling, something that would sound absurd if not for the prevalence of dualistic personalities and Thomas’ nature as Jesus’ twin; Jesus’ sibling. And note that the word is sibling, not necessarily brother or sister; perhaps becoming one’s own sibling is necessary to make the male and the female one and the same or, more in general, to have two natures simultaneously – to be able to pluck both the mote and the beam from one’s own eyes. Making the hand in place of the hand, if referring to right and left hands (right and left hand dichotomy used in saying sixty-two), in this light once again shows this process of becoming one through becoming two, uniting two opposites into a single whole, balancing but not canceling each other. As to making the image in place of the image, look at saying eighty-four:

“Jesus Said, ‘When you see your resemblance you are happy. But when you see your images that came into existence before you and are neither mortal nor visible, how much you will have to bear!’”

Here there are two different images, one which is visible and is familiar, and another which is neither visible nor even mortal, a visage too perfect, perhaps, to see. Making an image in place of an image could refer to bringing this timeless, invisible visage into the place of one’s own image, allowing one to experience it. Consider this with Bloom’s argument of aligning the axes of vision and the world of things; they’re really more or less the same thing.

It now seems that this saying offers a fairly clear outline of how to achieve the kingdom: first recognize that the kingdom is everywhere, next recognize that it cannot be sought physically, and then to reach out to one’s own soul, to become both the worldly body and the divine soul separately and equally, and with this mixture to finally seek the kingdom. And thus, infants resemble those who achieve the kingdom because they are the closest to having equally developed ethereal and mortal natures, having few connections to the world and few confusions in their perceptions.

So one can achieve the kingdom by removing oneself from the trappings of one’s life, by developing their unseen preexisting image equal to one’s mortal image, but what is this kingdom that is achieved We know that it is spread across the earth and that it is both inside and outside of everyone but we don’t know what it is. What it isn’t is an afterlife; while many passages in the gospel speak of “not tasting death”, it is fairly clear that the kingdom of Thomas is something that can and should be achieved during life, unlike the kingdom of the canonical gospels which is fairly clearly an afterlife. Unfortunately, most of the descriptions of the kingdom in the gospel are in the form of parables making them harder to decipher. What’s more, most of these parables compare the kingdom to a person who performs certain actions which leads one to ask if the kingdom itself has some sort of spirit of its own. These parables have some common points that can be looked at to give us a better picture of what exactly this kingdom is. Most importantly in many of them there is either a hidden, a lost, or a seemingly insignificant object of great value. In 107 it is the largest sheep who has gone astray, in 109 it is a treasure that is buried and forgotten. In ninety-seven it is meal lost along the road. While with what we know this hidden or secret treasure would be consistent with the kingdom itself only in saying twenty where the kingdom is compared to a sprouting mustard seed is the kingdom described as the obscured object. Rather, in most of them the kingdom is identified with the person who loses or has no knowledge of or makes use of this treasure. This, along with the kingdom being described as over the earth and inside and outside of people, leads to a reading of the kingdom as more a state of being than anything else and these parables are meant to illustrate various states of those within the kingdom. In this reading, the woman in saying ninety-seven has finally achieved the kingdom and in so doing realized that she wasted all of her life and spilled all of the meal, the time, the resources, that she had because she never knew the proper path before.

So the kingdom is a state of being, a state of knowledge that is not necessarily happy, (saying two states that upon finding one will become disturbed), but that is a way to experience things in a more direct manner, by distancing oneself from the false rituals of daily life and brining oneself closer to one’s spiritual nature. It is a sort of objectivity born of unattachment that removes the beams from ones eyes and allows one to see things for what they are. The kingdom of Thomas is merely the world but man cannot see it because his eyes are clouded. Only through a either complete lack of knowledge (as a little one) or true knowledge, the ability to see seemingly contradictory things as similar and valid, can one see the kingdom for what it truly is: truth and therefore, as Keats would argue, beauty.