An obscure gospel

May.27. 2017

I’ve referred to a rather obscure gospel a few times.

Why my preference for this particular gospel? Instead of the other four (the synoptic gospels as they are known)?

It goes back to my research scholar days.

Whenever a work exists in different versions and had undergone editions and revisions, it is always preferable go to the earliest version.

But how do we determine chronology when it is not clearly established as is the case with these gospels?

We look for other clues to help us find it.

The first is the leaner is better theory.

Editors and revisers tend to add rather than subtract. So a leaner version is usually an indication that it is an earlier one and truer to the original source.

The second is consistency of content.

Let’s say there are two versions of one work and both have content that are the same and content that are different.

First, we conclude that the content that is present in both works is probably reliable and authentic since it appears in both versions.

And that the content that is present only in one version is added material.

Then we examine the added content for consistency.

We determine if the added material in each version is consistent with the content that is present in both versions and which we have established to be reliable.

If it is consistent, the version with the consistent content is probably more reliable and vice versa.

The Gospel of Thomas is written in sutra form, basically a list of about 110 wisdom sayings. There are almost no narratives of any kind.

About 60% of the wisdom sayings in the Thomas gospel are also found in the four synoptic gospels.

The rest are mostly narratives and attempts to legitimize the great teacher as a divine being.

Using the lean theory, we can establish that the Thomas gospel is earlier, which means it is probably more reliable.

This is supported by the consistency clue.

One can surmise that the following happened.

After the great teacher had died, his followers began to collect his teachings and assemble them into compilations.

In time, probably a few compilations emerged and circulated, among them, the Gospel of Thomas.

As his followers expanded, an organization grew around his legend and persona and as is common with many great people after they died, a process began to deify him.

Within the organization, efforts were made to standardize his teachings as well as to solidify his new status as a divine being.

And so the four gospels were born, each with their own attempts to establish his divinity with many reverse prophecies and supernatural accounts.

It is possible that as his deification process began, accounts of his “supernatural” exploits began to be circulated and the four scribes were just adding these accounts to the text. Or they might have simply made them up.

Whatever the case might be, we’ll never know.

The true history of what really happened is forever lost to us (unless we happen to build a time machine one day).

But using the plausibility test and considering all the factors, and looking in from the outside, this is really the only plausible explanation for the two differing types of gospels.

And if it were not for some brave monks in the desert of Egypt, the true original gospel might have been lost to us forever, so effective was the establishment machinery in quashing all dissenting literature.

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