09 September 2008


Recently I watched a film about the Gospel of Thomas called Stigmata (released in 1999). It was apparently quite successful commercially and its appeal seems to depend on sadism (flashbacks to crucifixion) and sex, the latter associated with implicit attacks on the Catholic church for being repressive and promoting celibacy. The Church is supposed to see the Gospel of Thomas as a threat to its authority. In reality I don’t see why it should, as it has very little explicit content; being vague and allusive on normal terms.

The saying from the Gospel of Thomas that was quoted in the film was ‘the Kingdom of God is inside you and it is all around you’, followed by ‘it is not found in structures made of stone and wood’, which is not in my editions at all. And in the text it is ‘the Kingdom’, not ‘the Kingdom of God’.

However, the piece about ‘The Kingdom is within you and without you’ can be taken to refer to ‘what is in your mind now and the everyday life around you’, or it can be taken to refer to the salient features of some kind of mystical experience, with inconceivable information being present in your mind and also being there to be read off from the surface of everything which is existing around you. This would be, however, entirely outside ‘normal’ experience.

Taking it the first way, as the film probably wished to suggest, leads to the modern outlook of preoccupation with ‘real life’ and the physical world, including plenty of sex.

The expression ‘The Kingdom of God’ used in the film is not used anywhere in Thomas, where, if ‘Kingdom’ is qualified at all, it is in the forms ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ and ‘Kingdom of the Father’. The word God is very rarely used in Thomas, perhaps not at all outside the saying ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, to God the things that are God’s, and to me that which is mine.’ In place of God, the expressions used are ‘the Father’ or ‘the Living One.’

Incidentally, the film claims, inaccurately, that the Gospel of Thomas is in Aramaic, this increasing its claim to authenticity, since it is supposed to have been the language spoken by Christ. In fact the Gospel of Thomas is in Coptic, which was a mixture of Greek and ancient Egyptian. However, it is said that there are signs of a Hebrew or Aramaic linguistic origin, which is a problem for modern Christian scholars who would like to ascribe its divergences from the Synoptics to some non-Christian source.

Note about usage of the word ‘rich’ in various gospels

The concept of ‘rich’ has entirely different connotations in the Gnostic gospels from those it has in the Synoptics.

In Thomas, the word ‘rich’ appears to refer to emotional richness, freedom from conflict, hence freedom from belief in society. ‘Let he who is rich become a king.’

In the Synoptics, ‘richness’ is usually associated with something negative. The way this is normally interpreted is that wealth and trading activities are seen as morally suspect. Hence the supposed wrath in the Jerusalem temple. But perhaps it really refers more broadly to being well set up. How about ‘rich in socially conferred approval or status’? People who have socially conferred status do not seem to feel free to use their own judgement in supporting a victim of social oppression, or in any other way of which society would disapprove. They are committed to having no views independently of the social consensus which has rewarded them.

‘It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a person with social position to do anything against the will of society.’

A well-known philosopher, who grudgingly conceded I was a ‘genius’, said he could not write a puff for my book Letters From Exile (or, presumably, use his influence to help me to get any reviews for it) because if he did his colleagues would ‘think he had lost his marbles’. But he was retired and his career could hardly have been damaged, whatever they thought.

We appeal for £1m as initial funding for a social science department in my unrecognised and unsupported independent university. This would enable it to publish preliminary analyses of areas in the history of ideas that are currently being ignored because they do not fit with the prevailing ideology.