Unrealized Christianity

Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas

Beyond Belief by Elaine Pagels is a book about vanished Christianities. The religion (and Bible) we know today took centuries to solidify and be codified into regulated Catholic practice. For a long time, there were a variety of groups, all calling themselves Christians, who believed a number of different things about this man Jesus. We might never have known the full extent of this variety were it not for the discovery in 1945 of some ancient texts, including the Gospel of Thomas, that had otherwise been completely suppressed.

What does the Gospel of Thomas say that is so dangerous? Essentially, it says the Kingdom of Heaven is within you, and to find it you must turn into yourself rather than to an orthodox clergy. Imagine a Christianity where Jesus is a more accessible role model, in the sense that any of us can become like him, or even surpass him, in becoming one in spirit with the Father. This is the promise of some of the suppressed books of early Christendom. If that sounds like heresy, it’s only because those who defined it as heresy won. A Buddha-like Jesus was appealing to many, but it presented a number of problems to the young and struggling Church. If anyone can claim equality with Jesus, how are unity and order to be maintained? How is one to distinguish charlatans from holy men? Best to draw the line at one Christ and be done. Of the four “approved” Gospels that got into the Bible, Pagels makes the point that one, the book of John, can be read as an explicit polemic against the Gospel of Thomas.

Final score: John 1, Thomas 0.

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