In 1945 two brothers were looking for fertilizer at the base of cliffs in the Egyptian region of Nag Hammadi. They found a huge earthen jar that contained twelve books bound in gazelle leather. These books are one of the most important archaeological finds of the twentieth century. Now known as the Nag Hammadi Library, they contained a complete manuscript of the Gospel of Thomas. It was one of fifty-two manuscripts in twelve books. The text was written in Coptic, the form of the Egyptian language spoken during later Roman imperial times. Scholars have been able to reconstruct the Gospel of Thomas in Greek, the probable original language of its original composition, although it possibly was originally written in Syriac or Aramaic.
Estimates of its date of origin range from 50 to 140 CE. It is not possible to attribute the authorship of the Gospel of Thomas to any particular sect with complete certainty. It has been published on the Internet. (http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/gosthom.html).
It consists only of sayings of Jesus, 114 in all, in no particular order. Each saying is preceded by the phrase “And Jesus said.” Like Q, the Gospel of Thomas does not refer to Jesus as “Christ,” “Lord,” or “Son of Man” in any of them, but simply as “Jesus.” Also, like Q, it lacks any mention of Jesus’ birth, baptism, miracles, travels, death, or resurrection. This is further evidence that suggests many of the details about Jesus’ life were made up by evangelical Gospel authors.
Thomas’ Jesus is depicted only as a fellow human being. Jesus does not ask for subservience from his followers but asked them to discover their own true nature, which was a very “Gnostic” idea.
The Gospel of Thomas does not list the canonical twelve apostles, although it does mention James, the brother of Jesus in saying number 12:
“The disciples said to Jesus, ‘We know that You will depart from us. Who is to be our leader?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Wherever you are, you are to go to James the righteous, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.’” If Yeshua actually said this, it was a ringing endorsement of his brother.
Over half the sayings in Thomas are similar to sayings and parables found in the canonical Gospels, which suggests that Thomas is also based on the Q document, along with the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Some scholars have even speculated that Thomas may in fact be “Q.” Neither had any narrative connecting the various sayings, but rather than Q and Thomas being identical, it is more likely that the author of the Gospel of Thomas incorporated roughly the first two thirds of Q into his writing, not being aware of the final part of Q.
Conservative Christians today who happen to know about the Thomas Gospel consider it as an example of one of the early heresies and in opposition to the “real” church. Yet the reality is that Thomas may well have predated the gospels.
Why has there only ever been one copy of it found? Around 370 CE, the Archbishop of Alexandria, in Egypt, ordered the destruction of “heretical” writings. Thomas’ Jesus did not support the orthodox story. An unknown individual or group obviously valued these sayings, so they were buried to prevent them being destroyed by the pyromaniacs of Christian orthodoxy.
No one knows if there is a genuine connection between the gospel of Thomas and Yeshua. In one respect it is a mute point. In my opinion there are no pearls of wisdom to be discovered on reading Thomas. It is only important in the sense that it proves there were many people in early times who didn’t think Yeshua was divine, and, if there is a real connection, Yeshua himself was one of them.