Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 056 The world is a corpse
Early Christian Writings Commentary
Title: Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 56
Subheading: This page explores modern interpretations of the Gospel according to Thomas, an ancient text preserved in a Coptic translation at Nag Hammadi and Greek fragments at Oxyrhynchus. With no particular slant, this commentary gathers together quotations from various scholars in order to elucidate the meaning of the sayings, many of which are rightly described as “obscure.”
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Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman write: “Knowing the world is equivalent to finding a corpse (or, in the parallel Saying 80, a body); this knowledge and this discovery are evidently regarded as good, for the world is not worthy of the discoverer (cf., Hebrews 11:38, and page 77). Knowing the world, then, must be truly knowing it for what it is. But we must also consider one more saying (109).
The world is not worthy of the one ‘who will find himself.’ We conclude that Saying 57 , like these variants we have cited, is based on the verse which in Matthew (10:39; cf., Mark 8:34-35) follows the verses cited in Saying 56 . ‘He who finds his soul [life] will lose it, and he who loses his soul for my sake will find it.’ Either Thomas simply mystifies his readers by speaking of a corpse or he uses ‘corpse’ as the equivalent for ‘body’ and hence for ‘self.’ The Naassenes used ‘corpse’ of the spiritual man (Hippolytus, Ref., 5, 8, 22).”
F. F. Bruce writes: “To say that the world is not worthy of someone (cf. Hebrews 11.38) is to commend him; therefore (strange as it may seem) to find a corpse is praiseworthy. The Naassenes, according to Hippolytus, spoke of the spiritual body as a ‘corpse’. [The reason for this strange use of ‘corpse’ was that the spiritual essence is ‘buried’ in the body as a corpse is buried in a tomb (Hippolytus, Refutation v.8.22).]
But the analogy of Saying 111 (‘as for him who finds himself, the world is not worthy of him’) suggests that here ‘corpse’ means ‘body’ as used in the sense of ‘self’. If so, we may have a cryptic parallel to the canonical saying about gaining the world and losing one’s own self, or vice versa (Luke 9.24f.; Matthew 16.25f.), which follows a saying about denying self and taking up the cross (cf. Saying 55).”
Stevan Davies writes: “Gos. Thom. 56 is a scribal alteration of saying 80, the word ptoma having been substituted for soma.”
Kurt Rudolph says of Saying 56: “in saying 80 the same is said, but instead of ‘corpse’ the reference is to the ‘body’ of the world).”
Funk and Hoover write: “The fact that there are two versions suggests that some such saying might have circulated previously in an oral form. Yet both sayings deprecate the created world in a way that is typical of Thomas (27:1; 110; 111:3) and atypical of Jesus. Furthermore, the notion that the world is evil, or corrupt, and is to be shunned is common in other Gnostic writings. The Fellows therefore concluded that this saying, in both its forms, originated in early Christian circles such as the one that produced the Gospel of Thomas. It represents Gnostic tendencies of one branch of the Christian movement.”
Gerd Ludemann writes: “Thomas 80 corresponds to Thomas 56, the only difference being that there we have ‘body’ instead of ‘corpse’. For Thomas this world is a sphere opposed to God. So the commandment is to abstain from it (21.1). But the Gnostic must first recognize it as an anti-world in order to be able to turn to the true life. Cf. Gospel of Philip 93: ‘This world is an eater of life. Because of this, none of those who are nourished on the [truth] will die. Jesus came from that place and brought food from there. And to those who wished he gave [life, so that] they will not die.'”