Emendation on Gospel of Thomas: Saying 50

 

In Stevan Davies' annotated edition of the Gospel of Thomas, saying 50 is rendered as follows:

 

Jesus said: If they ask you, "Where are you from?" reply to them, "We have come from the place where light is produced from itself.  It came and revealed itself in their image."

   If they ask you, "Are you it?" reply to them, "We are his Sons.  We are chosen ones of the living Father."

   If they ask you, "What is the sign within you of your Father?" reply to them, "It is movement.  It is rest."

 

Obviously the place in this saying that stands out as most difficult of interpretation is the sentence: "It came and revealed itself in their image."  Here even the pronouns do not make sense in context.  Davies comments in his note:

 

Saying 50a is literally impossible to understand.  They key elements are the referents of the pronouns, and we do not know what each pronoun refers to.  Revealed in "their image"?  We have no way of knowing what that means because we have no answer to "they who?"  "It came" or "He came"?  Who?  This is incomprehensible.

 

I believe in fact that this "incomprehensibility" is out of rhetorical bounds even for the Gospel of Thomas.  The sentence in question is most likely a scribal gloss, and the passage should therefore read as follows:

 

Jesus said: If they ask you, "Where are you from?" reply to them, "We have come from the place where light is produced from itself."  (It came and revealed itself in their image.)

   If they ask you, "Are you it?" reply to them, "We are his Sons.  We are chosen ones of the living Father."

   If they ask you, "What is the sign within you of your Father?" reply to them, "It is movement.  It is rest."

 

Possibly the scribe who added the gloss is commenting on the disciples themselves--saying that the light came and revealed itself in their image.  If this is not a scribal gloss, then I would suggest that the possessive pronoun "their" is a scribal error and should read "our."  But I believe the former suggestion, namely a gloss, is more reasonable.

 

Checking with other English editions of the text, I find that they all render the passage similarly to Davies: i.e., the sentence in question is put inside the quotes.  Thus with Marvin Meyer's translation and Bentley Layton's in The Gnostic Scriptures.

 

The Gospel of Thomas is full of paradox and presents many hurdles to clear explication.  Has this perhaps led scholars in places to read as conundrums what are in fact accidents of textual transmission?

 

Stevan Davies' and Marvin Meyer's editions of Thomas are the best available (see links below).

 

Eric Mader

July 2007

 

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Professor Davies writes me as follows regarding this:

 

I think your suggestion is quite good. Thomas itself, and Nag Hammadi documents in general, do show a great many scribal glosses and, while they are almost always judgement calls, they should be more frequently included in translations than they are. My book on the Secret Book of John tries to show that that text is filled with glosses to the point where, if you are not looking for them, the text is literally nonsense.  Thomas not so much, but some.

 

Bear in mind that neuter and masculine pronouns in Coptic are the same, it = he, and that just makes it all the more confusing.  One may translate as follows: "If they ask you, 'What is the sign within you of your Father?' reply to them 'He is movement. He is rest.'"  This is more striking, but is it more accurate? I don't know how questions like this can ever finally be answered.

 

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No scholar ever will define precisely what gnosticism was or is, but its negations are palpable.  Nothing mediates the self for the Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas.  Everything we seek is already in our presence, and not outside our self. . . .  There is light in you, and that light is no part of the created world.  It is not Adamic.  I know of only two conditions essential to the gnosis: Creation and fall were one and the same event, and what is best in us was never created, so cannot fall.  --Harold Bloom, in his gnostic reading of the Gospel of Thomas, printed in Meyer's edition of the text

 

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Check Davies' *The Gospel of Thomas: Annotatated and Explained* at Amazon.com

 

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Check Meyer's edition of *The Gospel of Thomas* at Amazon.com

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