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The Gospel Of Thomas

c. 70-150 C.E.

The Gospel of Thomas might well be the most informative discovery about Christian origins in modern history. The gospel was often mentioned in early Christian literature, but no copy was thought to have survived until the discovery of an extant Coptic manuscript at Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945. Since then, part of the Oxyrynchus papyri have been identified as older Greek fragments of Thomas.

Thomas is a pure sayings gospel; that is, like the hypothetical gospel Q, it consists only of a collection of the sayings of Jesus without any extended narrative. While Thomas is not Q, its discovery proves the theory that such collections existed in the early days of Christianity.

While the Coptic MS dates from around the fourth century, there is much debate regarding the original time of composition. Most scholars believe it to be mid-second century, but some have argued for a date as early as mid-first century. The debate centers around whether Thomas is dependent upon the canonical gospels, or is derived from earlier independent traditions. Many of the passages in Thomas appear to be more authentic versions of the synoptic parables, yet it is difficult to account for many of the parallels to "special" Matthean or Lukan material (specific to those particular gospels), unless Thomas used the same sources as each of them.

The discovery of Thomas as part of a gnostic library has led many to believe it a gnostic creation; however, very little of it would have been considered unorthodox to the early church, and what little questionable material can be found is probably a later addition. Thomas does represent a Jewish "Wisdom" philosophy that was embraced by the gnostics—that the kingdom of God is not something we must await, but is in fact already here, if only we can become spiritual enough to see it.

The gospel was most likely composed in Syria, where tradition holds the church of Edessa to have been founded by Judas Thomas, "The Twin" (Didymos). The gospel may well be the earliest written tradition in the Syriac church.