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The Gospel of Thomas: The Gnostic Wisdom of Jesus [Paperback]

Jean-Yves Leloup
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

24 Feb 2005
One of the cache of codices and manuscripts discovered in Nag Hammadi, THE GOSPEL OF THOMAS, unlike the canonical gospels, does not contain a narrative recording Christ's life and prophecies. Instead it is a collection of his teachings: in fact what he actually said. These 114 logia or sayings were collected by Judas Didymus Thomas, whom some claim to be Jesus's closest disciple. No sooner was this gospel uncovered from the sands of Upper Egypt than scholars and theologians began to bury it anew in a host of conflicting interpretations and polemics. While some say it is a hodgepodge from the canonical gospels, for others it is the source text from which all the gospel writers drew their material and inspiration. In this new translation of THE GOSPEL OF THOMAS, Jean-Yves Leloup shows that the Jesus recorded by the infinitely sceptical and infinitely believing Thomas has much in common with Gnostics of non-dualistic schools. Like them Jesus preaches the coming of a new man, the genesis of the man of knowledge. In this gospel Jesus describes a journey from limited to unlimited consciousness. The Jesus of Thomas invites us to drink deeply from the well of knowledge that lies within not so that we may become good Christians but so we may attain the self-knowledge that will make each of us too a Christ.

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The Gospel of Thomas: The Gnostic Wisdom of Jesus + The Gospel of Philip: Jesus, Mary Magdalene and the Gnosis of Sacred Union + The Gospel of Mary Magdalene
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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Inner Traditions Bear and Company; New edition edition (24 Feb 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594770468
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594770463
  • Product Dimensions: 22.7 x 15.4 x 1.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 495,297 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Leloup ("The Gospel of Mary Magdalene; The Gospel of Philip"), founder of the Institute of Other Civilization Studies and the International College of Therapists, reminds readers early in his introduction that 'whether we like it or not, Yeshua of Nazareth was not a writer. It is therefore impossible to speak of 'the authentic words of Jesus'.' Because spoken words, later recorded, bear the indelible imprint of the listener, Leloup emphasizes that they represent only part of the truth; he invites us to consider the Gospels as a whole as '[d]ifferent points of view that exist both within us and outside of us, in historical and meta-historical dimensions.' Thus he humbly offers his translation as one among many. Following the complete text of the Gospel of Thomas, presented in both Coptic and an elegantly translated English (by Joseph Rowe, from the French) Leloup delicately unfolds its petals of meaning, "logion" (saying) by "logion". Simultaneously inspiring and enlightening, his interpretation far surpasses mere exegesis, instead intricately melding the now with the then, the self with the Christ. Paraphrases from Meister Eckhart intermingle with quotations from Kafka and Dostoyevski, which coincide with wide-ranging religious references--from Judaism and Greek Orthodoxy to Krishnamurti and Shankara. If ever a translation of Thomas's gospel merited a place in a reader's back pocket, this is it."

About the Author

Jean-Yves Leloup is the founder of the Institute of Other Civilization Studies and the International College of Therapists. His other books include the bestselling "The Gospel of Mary Magdalene" and "The Gospel of Philip." He lives in France.

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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Meditations on the logia 22 Sep 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Although Leloup regards Thomas as "gnostic", though not in a dualistic sense, he invites us to read Thomas alongside the canonical gospels to see another facet of Yeshua (as he somewhat pedantically calls Jesus). This comes as a refeshing change to those who will either reject Thomas totally or regard it as completely undermining the authenticity of the canonical gospels.

After the introduction comes the complete Coptic text with opposing translation. The Coptic text contains editing marks (lacunae, corrections, reconstructions from the Oxyrhynchus papyri etc.) without any explanation, and has presumably just been lifted from some more scholarly source. The translation is somewhat loose and makes certain changes to the manuscript text without comment (for example in the logion of the lion eating the man and vice versa, the meaning has been modified for what is presumed to be a scribal error).

Following this Leloup provides not a commentary as such but more like a meditation around each logion in turn. In each meditation he may bring in other sources, from Tanakh and New Testmament, patristic writings, mediaeval mystics, other gnostic sources, even other religions - Leloup is clearly quite erudite. (Sometimes one wonders whether Leloup might be of the "all religions are equally valid" school of thought. I tried to find out more info about Leloup and his "Institute of Other Civilization Studies" without success. His photo on the back cover with thick bushy beard makes him look every bit the self-styled holy man.)

This is certainly worth having for anyone interested in the Gospel of Thomas, though perhaps should not be the only translation/commentary to get. I would recommend reading it alongside others.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars what a corker 16 April 2006
By simo
I puchased this gospel some time ago, it astonished and amazed me that a truth of such magnitude could have been dismissed by the early church fathers. This gosple is wonderful and very revealing to say the least, i have read it three times now and still use it as a point of refrence in my study, leloup's translation is easy reading and very logical giving a clear understanding of this ancient text. It is great to have a chance to read this gosple and gain insight into the writings of other Apostles rather than the better known canonical four. If you do anything before you die read this gospel!!! recorded to be just under 2000 years old, but oh my well worth the wait. Very enjoyable read.
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69 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect Translation, Perfect Commentary 17 Aug 2005
By Jon Zuck - Published on
If you're interested in Thomas, but baffled but what translation/edition/commentary to get, look no further. This is the one. Most English translations of Thomas are a bit too scholarly, detached and clinical. In addition, almost all are translated by non-mystics. The fact is that it takes a mystic to understand a mystic. Liberals and conservatives alike are baffled by the teachings of the greatest mystic, Jesus of Nazareth, and concretize his teachings in unintended ways. Another problem is that editions which offer commentary or history vary greatly in quality and relevance. Some might dwell on Coptic grammar, or speculations (more likely assertions) of what might or might not have been gnostic beliefs, or whether Thomas is gnostic or not, or "authentic" or not, rights and wrongs in Church history, etc.

Leloup avoids these irrelevancies, and treats the text gently from his own wisdom, which is considerable. He seems a most intelligent mystic who knows the path the Jesus describes in Thomas. The layout of the book could not be better. The first 50 pages present the English translation side-by-side the Coptic, and the remainder is a saying-by-saying commentary (with numerous references to relevant Bible passages). Newcomers will undoubtedly want to read the short gospel straight through, and those who are already convinced of Thomas' worth will probably go straight to the commentary which Leloup says are more like meditations springing up from the "tilled earth of silence."

The translation here by Leloup and Rowe is brilliant. Instead of a word-for-word literalism, he uses a principle more like the dynamic equivalence which most modern Bible translations use. An example of the difference:

Where most translations of the prologue and first saying follow very closely to this:

"These are the secret words of the living Jesus, which Didymus Judas Thomas wrote down.

"And he said, 'whoever finds the meaing of these words will not taste death.'"

The Leloup/Rowe translation gives us:

"These are the words of the Secret.
They were revealed by the Living Yeshua.
Didymus Judas Thomas wrote them down.

And Yeshua said,
'Whoever lives the interpretation of these words
will no longer taste death.'"

All of the minor changes are significant, and I greatly feel, enhance the intended meaning. Whether or not the words were meant to be secret (and they're not now!) the whole theme of the gospel is the Secret of the Kingdom, the Secret of true Life. "words of the Secret" is a brilliant choice, as is "lives the interpretation" over "finds the meaning." Anyone who has spent any effort on spiritual practice soon learns that a solely intellectual understanding of spirituality counts for nothing.

Lastly, Leloup's phrase "will no longer taste death," brings home that we are in death, and in the process of dying. This Kingdom that Jesus preaches is a transforming awareness and renewal by God's Spirit that obliterates the taste of death. We become alive, immersed in the awareness of the One who really is, ruled by God, the Kingdom of the Father.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Different Take on Early Christianity 6 Mar 2012
By Robert Lebling - Published on
In AD 397 at the Council of Carthage, the bishops of the Christian Church, under the direction of the Emperor Constantine, compiled the collection of scriptures we call the New Testament. This collection consisted of gospels, epistles and other writings related to the life of Jesus Christ and his Apostles. Many works did not make the cut at Carthage, either because they were considered spurious or because they did not meet the doctrinal requirements of the Roman Church.

The rejected works became known as the Apocrypha. The Church did its best to root out and destroy these writings, but a number of them survived. One of the survivors is the Gospel of Thomas, one of 53 ancient parchments known as the Nag Hammadi library, discovered in the desert of upper Egypt in 1945, which have revolutionized the study of early Christianity.

The Gospel of Thomas is not a narrative of the life of Jesus, but rather a collection of his reputed sayings and aphorisms. The document was first translated into English from Sahidic Coptic, an Egyptian tongue that succeeded the language of the Pharaohs, in 1959. The Apostle Didymus Judas Thomas is perhaps best known to us today as "Doubting Thomas," because, as the story goes, he refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until he put his hand in his lord's wounds.

In this edition, French scholar Jean-Yves Leloup has given us a new translation of the Gospel of Thomas, alongside the original Coptic text, as well as a commentary on each of the 114 logia, or sayings, of Jesus (here called by his Aramaic name Yeshua) that were collected by Thomas.

Here, for example, is one of the shorter logia (singular: logion):

Logion 82
Yeshua said:
Whoever is near to me
Is near to the fire.
Whoever is far from me
Is far from the Kingdom.

This particular saying demonstrates well that the Gospel of Thomas is both independent of the canonical New Testament and parallel to it. The saying was quoted by a number of early Christian writers, including Origen.

Interestingly, in the Gospel of Thomas (Logion 12), Jesus names his brother James, and not Peter, as Christ's successor on earth. He tells his disciples: "Go to James the Just: All that concerns heaven and earth is his domain." There was in fact a Jerusalem-based Christian church under James's leadership, which eventually lost out to, and was eliminated by, the Rome-based church of Peter and Paul.

The Gospel of Thomas, like the rest of the Nag Hammadi parchments, is an example of Gnostic Christianity, a strain of belief that focuses on the quest for self-knowledge, and on becoming one with the universe and God. This approach was considered heresy by the Roman Church.

Leloup's commentaries focus on these reputed aphorisms of Jesus as examples of Gnostic wisdom, compares them with canonical New Testament materials and presents them as nuggets for personal meditation.

Even those who do not choose to use the Gospel of Thomas for their own self-enlightenment will find this material fascinating. The sayings, presented by Thomas as the actual words of Jesus, offer a different and refreshing glimpse into the early Christian world.

[A version of this review appeared in Mysteries Magazine in 2005.]
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing 5 Mar 2007
By KA - Published on
I find it very interesting that most people don't know the history of the Bible and how it came to be. Most Christians simply accept the four gospels with no questioning of any sort. I would imagine that other religious doctrines share much of a not exactly linear history like the Bible does. Aren't all religions essentially historical mythology?

Most believers will accept the Bible at face value and never even think outside the pages of the book. Little do Christians know that there is much more to the story than we know or so it seems. There are many more than just four accounts of Jesus' life. Why aren't these in the Bible? Who had the authority or rather the audacity to lay into a manifest only 4 gospels?

I found this book to be quite an intriguing read. Much more mystical and less fire and brimstone that the Bible tends to be. I found this book to be quite an inpirational read. Wonderful to see a Christ that was as human as all of us. And that's just the point Christ was trying to make. We are no different than he is, we are not apart from him. We are all the same, all children of God or Energy or the Universe, whatever you want to call it.

This gospel was a refreshing read and one the mirrors other books or articles I have read on Buddha, Judaism and Hinduism. I don't believe in the supernatural part of Christianity I was exposed to. Well at least not any more. Most religion is mythological and metaphorical and has much to teach us but we all know that most of us get "caught in the metaphor" as Joseph Campbell put it. The purpose I now believe is to transcend the metaphor.

I would never have the conceit to say one religion should reign over another because there is so much similarity between all the world religions (all religions for that matter) that it amazes me how we still compartmentalize this religion versus that religion.

But that's a much bigger issue than my little ole review here. I give the book four stars because I felt that the author's interpretation could have been a little more detailed. Some of the logions in the book are interpreted by a mere paragraph and I am sure there is much more history there than just one paragraph. Nonetheless, this book is a wonderful read! I highly recommend it!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lotus Guide Review by Rahasya Poe 4 Sep 2009
By Rahasya Poe - Published on
The Gospel of Thomas: The Gnostic Wisdom of Jesus
By Jean-Yves Leloup
ISBN 1-59477-046-8 (Inner Traditions, 2005)

The Thomas manuscripts discovered at Nag-Hammadi in 1945 were quickly buried beneath a mountain of conflicting interpretations from "scholars." Now, Jean-Yves Leloup gives a page-by-page clear translation of some of the best gnostic scriptures I've read, especially in light of the early Sumerian clay tablet information that has been published in the last 40 years. Thomas makes it clear that the message of Jesus was nondualistic and told of the coming of a "new man" in our time based on inner and outer knowledge. Since these manuscripts predate the gospels by centuries, they will be an important read for anyone looking for truth and not simply wanting to validate preexisting beliefs.

Rahasya Poe, Lotus Guide magazine [...]
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good eye opener 14 May 2012
By patriot301 - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have been questioning some of the teachings laid down by the church lately and this book has supplemented some of my recent understandings on the reason of our existence. While Thomas has been generally labelled a 'doubting Thomas', this book gives you a new perspective on why he did what he did.
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