The Gospel of Thomas and Plato : A Study of the Impact of Platonism on the Fifth Gospel
Contributor(s)Helsingin yliopisto, Teologinen tiedekunta
Helsingfors universitet, teologiska fakulteten
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Theology
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AbstractIt is no secret that Christian dogmatic theology adopted a generous number of its concepts from Platonist philosophy; by the time of the Cappadocian fathers, it was customary to talk about divine matters in Platonist terms. It is, however, much more difficult to track the Platonist influence during the formative centuries of Christianity. In the last decades, the academic community has gradually come to realize that research into the Platonizing tendencies of early Christian texts may shed new light both on their meaning and their historical context. This study advances along this path. Its focus is on the Gospel of Thomas, an early Christian sayings collection. The core hypothesis of the study is that Platonism in its “Middle” form had a significant impact on this text. An inquiry into the Gospel of Thomas with this particular viewpoint has not been done systematically prior to this dissertation. At least nineteen Thomasine sayings (i.e. one-sixth of the entire collection) were in some way influenced by the Platonist tradition: ● Sayings 56 and 80 make use of the Platonist notions that the world is a body and that every human body is a corpse in order to express a view of the world that is essentially anti-Platonist: the world is nothing but a despicable corpse. ● The opposition of the body to the soul portrayed in sayings 29, 87, and 112 presupposes a stark dualism of the corporeal vs. the incorporeal and appears to be indebted to Platonist anthropology. ● The Thomasine notion of being/becoming oua (sayings 11 and 106), oua ouōt (saying 4, 22, and 23), and monakhos (sayings 16, 49, and 75) has the closest parallels within Platonist speculation about oneness as an attribute of a perfect human, a perfect society, and God. ● The expression ōhe erat⸗ in sayings 16, 18, 23, and 50 reflects the Platonist usage of the Greek verb ἵστημι as a technical term for describing the immovability of the transcendent realm. ● Thomas 61 appropriates the opposition of being equal (to oneself) vs. being divided from the Platonist metaphysics of divine immutability and indivisibility. ● The imagery of the lion and the man in saying 7 portrays the struggle between reason and anger and is derived from Plato’s allegory of the soul, reinterpreted from a Middle Platonist perspective. ● The notion of the image in sayings 22, 50, 83, and 84 should be interpreted against the background of the Middle Platonist metaphysics, where the Greek term εἰκών came to designate both the model (= παράδειγμα) and its imitation (= ὁμοίωμα). These nineteen sayings and, consequently, the Gospel of Thomas as a whole bear testimony to the fact that, during the nascent years of Christianity, certain individuals acknowledged de facto that the Platonist tradition possessed theoretical principles, concepts, and terminologies that could adequately describe and convincingly explain the nature of ultimate reality. Although the Gospel of Thomas is neither the first nor the only early Christian text with Platonizing tendencies, it appears to be an important witness to the early stages of the process that eventually led to the formulation of Christian dogmas in Platonist terms.