The Gnostic Apostle Thomas: Chapter 24
Saying 22 of the Gospel states most vividly and fully the recurrent theme. Jesus sees infants being suckled. He tells his disciples that these infants are like those who enter the kingdom. “Shall we then,” they ask, “as children, enter the kingdom?” This prologue calls to mind, of course, the familiar saying from the canon: “Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
“Little children,” however, became a code-word for the Gnostic elect, who, like them, were or ought to be free of carnal attachments, living lives undistracted by allurements of the flesh. (In three other Sayings, Jesus refers to those who will find the kingdom as “children.”)
“Male and Female into a Single One”
The main interest of Saying 22, however, lies in what follows the disciples’ question. Jesus replies: “When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner as the outer, and the upper as the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male shall not be male, and the female shall not be female: . . . then you will enter [the kingdom].”
The theme of two-in-oneness appears repeatedly in Gnostic literature. Three variations on it come from the Acts of Judas Thomas . In addition to Mygdonia’s words, already quoted, we might remember that her husband Karish dreams of the eagle that snatches up two partridges and two doves. The following morning he is puzzled when he puts his left shoe on his right foot. In Thomas’s long prayer before his martyrdom, he recites his efforts to carry out his mission, and says: “The inside I have made outside, and the outside [inside], and thy whole fullness has been fulfilled in me.”
In the apocryphal Acts of Peter , to explain why he is being crucified upside down, Peter says: “Concerning this the Lord says in a mystery, ‘Unless you make on the right hand as what is on the left and what is on the left hand as what is on the right and what is above as what is below and what is behind as what is before you will not have knowledge of the kingdom.'”
A writing traditionally called 2 Clement , possibly from second-century Egypt, is an anti-Gnostic preaching. (The document is usually paired in later collections with a letter from Pope Clement I in Rome to the church in Corinth, called l Clement , although there no connection in date or origin or subject matter between the two texts). It quotes, as coming from “the master himself,” the saying “When the two shall be one, and the outside as the inside, and the male with female neither male nor female,” but strips it of mystical meaning and gives it a bland interpretation more palatable to anti-Gnostic Christians.
Here, says the writer in 2 Clement , the two are one when we speak truth to each other; the inside is the soul and outside the body, and we should let the soul be evident in good works just as the body is visibly evident. As for “the male with the female,” it simply means that a Christian brother should not think of a sister-Christian as female, nor the sister think of him as a male. “When you do these things, he says, my father’s kingdom will come.”
The most interesting thing about the passage from 2 Clement is the obvious effort to counteract a Gnostic interpretaton of a saying that was acknowledged by the writer to be the authentic words of Jesus.
The so-called Gospel of Philip (one of the Gnostic, probably Valentinian, texts found at Nag Hammadi) says that light and darkness, life and death, right and left, “are brothers of one another, they are inseparable.”
The core message of the Gospel of Thomas appears in Saying 22 and the other logia that ring changes on the theme of two-becoming-one, looking back toward the androgynous unity that existed before the diversity found in worldly creation. Sayings 11, 16, 22, 61, 87, 106, and 114 bear on this theme of unity, and some readers find a similar message in sayings that give the “solitary” or “single one” a special status. Some, who agree that the two-becoming-one theme is at the heart of the Gospel, regard it principally as part of an early baptismal rite. It can be seen. as a dramatization of “the initiate’s putting off the body, putting on light, and returning to sexual oneness”–to the androgynous primal Adamic human being. It was, in this view, a mystery rite ensuring the initiate of oneness with God and with one’s heavenly mate.