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The Gnostic Apostle Thomas:"Twin" of Jesus


The Gnostic Apostle Thomas: Chapter 7

The Third through the Sixth Acts in the story of Judas Thomas take place after the apostle has left the court of Gundaphorus. Some points in these episodes deserve mention. Among the prominent themes, here and in the remainder of the Acts of Judas Thomas , are sexual abstinence, the exemplary virtue of women inspired by the apostle (the male characters are usually weaker), conversions to worship of Thomas's God by miraculous deeds, and manifestations of supernatural power as being both good and evil.

The Fifth Act is of particular interest. A beautiful woman cries out to Thomas as he enters the city, asking that he hear her story of affliction by the adversary. Coming out of her bath one day, she encountered a man who shamelessly suggested that they live together as husband and wife. She angrily rejected him, but that night he came to her room "and was joined to me in his foul intercourse." And these visits have gone on for five years. She begs Thomas to rid her of the incubus.

Thomas confronts the demon, who complains that the apostle is trespassing on territory belonging to others: "You have power over your own, and we over ours"--a reminder that the demiurge's Powers rule over the body and this world even if spirit will be joined to Spirit. Weeping bitterly over the loss of his "fairest consort," the demon disappears in a flash of fire and smoke. Thomas anoints the liberated woman and many onlookers and prepares to administer the eucharist. His invocation of the Holy Spirit recalls the one recited when Gundaphorus was initiated. It reads in part:

Come, O perfect compassion,
Come, O fellowship of the male,
Come, she that knows the mysteries of him that is chosen,
Come, she that has part in all the combats of the noble champion, . . .
Come, . . the holy dove that bears the twin young,
Come, hidden mother;
Come, she that is manifest in her deeds and gives joy and rest unto them that are joined to her . . . .

Here, even more strongly than in the Gundaphorus episode, there appears a motif often found in Christian Gnostic writings: there is a female element in the godhead, one sometimes identified as Wisdom-Hakhmuth-Achamoth-Sophia. In earthly form she may be one of the Marys: sometimes the Magdalene, sometimes the mother of Jesus, sometimes one hard to link with any specific woman found in the canon.

There follows another long invocation of his God by Thomas, including the words: "Thou that called me apart from all my fellows and spoke unto me three words wherewith I am inflamed, and am not able to speak them unto others." In the Gospel of Thomas a similar enigmatic utterance appears: Jesus took Thomas aside from the other apostles and told him three things. When Thomas returned to his companions, they asked him, "What did Jesus say to you?" Thomas replied that he could not tell them. If he were to tell them, he says, "you will pick up stones and throw them at me; a fire will come out of the stones and burn you up."

These are strong words, appearing in two different Thomas texts presumably written at least half a century, and possibly much further, apart. There has been much speculation as to just what the three secret words might be. Briefly, among the many conjectures offered about the threesome, are these:

The French scholar Jacques-. Menard has suggested that the three words may be those attributed to Jesus in Pistis Sophia , a late Gnostic work (composed of elements probably dating to the third or fourth century) in which Jesus imparts secret wisdom to selected followers, including Thomas and Mary Magdalene. Three times their master cries out three Greek vowels corresponding to " i - a - o": "Iota" is invoked, the text explains, because the All has proceeded from it; "alpha," because the All returns to it; and "omega" because the consummation of all consummations will take place in it.

Whatever the three words may have been, clearly in the culture that produced these sayings it was thought that Jesus had singled out Thomas for special attention. He shared secrets kept from others. He was the apostle.

Twins and Soul Mirrors

The twin motif recurs throughout the Acts of Judas Thomas . An ass's colt in the Fourth Act addresses him as "twin of Christ." A devil-incubus confronted by Thomas in the Fifth Act asks him, "Wherefore are you made like unto the Son of God who has done us wrong? For you resemble him altogether as if you were born of him." Others note the strong resemblance, including a murdered girl restored to life after her sojourn to hell in the Sixth Act. Some Gnostics thought that each soul (in the sense of "spirit"; the terms are not always used consistently) imprisoned in a human body, has a counterpart angel in the heavenly realm to which it is joined at death.

In Buddhist sculpture (especially in the region where Gundaphorus ruled, but a century or so later than his reign) a familiar figure is Vajrapani, or Bearer of the Thunderbolt (vajra ). He appears at the historic Buddha's side in every stage of the Enlightened One's life. He carries a thunderbolt, usually in the form of a short club like a thickened thigh bone, but often he is portrayed in Kushan art in distinctly Greco-Roman form as Hercules, the vajra taking the form of the nude hero's massive club. Vajrapani, faithful companion and guardian of his teacher, came to be regarded as the Buddha's alter ego, his guardian angel, "soul mirror," displaying in his own posture and expression the emotions appropriate to whatever event is depicted in a particular sculpture.

The notion of a spiritual counterpart was to be found in Zoroastrian Iran: a fravashi is both protective angel and spiritual archetype of every human being, inhabiting the body at birth and surviving after death. Specialists in Zoroastrian studies have offered varied theories about the fravashi: as protector, hero, continuation of the self, bringer of good luck, ancestor spirit deserving reverence. Mary Boyce, a British scholar specializing in Iranian religions, concluded that the "developed doctrine came to be that each fravashi existed from beginning of time in a spiritual state; that in due course it is born, clad in a physical body."

The twin motif is only one of several emerging from the Acts of Judas Thomas that set such writings apart from more familiar Christian writings. Among other unfamiliar motifs is the recurring image of a female element in the godhead, sometimes identifiable as Sophia, sometimes as the Mother. The "Five Members of the Mind" recur often in Gnostic writings, most prominently in later Manicheism. The strongly ascetic, or encratite, flavor of Thomas's Acts was characteristic of most Gnostic sects, but was not uniquely Gnostic; as already noted, it was to be found among many early Christians, and even as late as the fourth and fifth centuries among East Syrian Christians.

From the contents of this Gnostic-tinged text, a religious romance of the early third century, we turn to the place where it and earlier Thomas writings are thought to have originated -- the upper reaches of the Euphrates valley. We are coming into true Thomas country.

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The Gnostic Apostle Thomas (c) 1997 Herbert Christian Merillat.