Who Wrote Thomas and Q?
When I was an undergrad, I took a poetry class—one of three genre courses required for the creative writing major at UCSD. Because things happen during any semester, assigned content gets cut, shifted to different days, or supplemented, depending on unforeseen issues (such as bad weather, which is really not an issue very often in San Diego) or the class simply gets backed up—occasionally class discussion squeezes out important work, which must then be accounted for elsewhere in the semester. This is mostly why content gets nixed, even after it has made it on the syllabus. The professor knows the content well enough to realize certain readings/writers are more important than others, and so the lesser content loses out.
For this poetry class, I don’t recall what necessitated tweaking the syllabus, all I know is that near the end of the term, some room had to be made.
The gay poets were cut, for as our professors said, “they weren’t that important anyway.”
Although he later apologized to the class—after the comment had been passed around the department—we never did get to those gay poets, so I have no idea what I missed (although, I suppose I could have read up on them on my own, but I lacked the time then, or at least I thought I did). But even if I had, I would have missed his expert insight into these authors, and isn’t this what we go to school for? If he said they weren’t important, were they insignificant?
He’s a famous poet, my former instructor, and perhaps to him they were, but his opinion was all we heard. Most in the class, I’m sure, were fine losing them. After all, the gay clique seemed to be the only ones who circulated the comment. Even worse, perhaps: what if he hadn’t included gay poets in the first place?
Readers of the New Testament are familiar with the four Gospels, and I had no idea there were more. I’d heard bits of information that others existed, but I assumed that they were worthless or else they would have been included, right? As Helms points out, there are MANY more gospels, and of these, Helms asserts that Thomas, Peter, “Signs Gospel,” “Q Gospel,” and Secret Mark are also important.
Then why does he only discuss two of these?
He doesn’t really address this question in detail—focusing on these two will help readers understand some of the other gospel content “hidden” in John (101), but he does bring up the very important issue of how we think about the four gospels in the New Testament: they were not the first—nor should they be thought of as the final—words on Jesus’ life. And if people think of these four as the only true ones, dismissing other gospels as “fiction,” Helms suggests that these overlooked gospels are just as likely to contain theological liberties as Luke (100).
But why the disparity? Why would these four have been chosen over others? Helms mentions how—unlike today (his words)—the Church of 1900 years ago was quite divided, with several different “sects” competing for their take on who Jesus was—some saw a teacher of wisdom, some believed he never appeared in the flesh on Earth, some accepted him as God crucified for our sins (101). Helms contends that the four gospels we know are attempts to unite these versions.
Before people cry conspiracy too loudly (okay, just me), he points out that old gospels became lost because people no longer had use for their content, and therefore no longer copied them—why write out something by hand if you don’t like it? Since, he contends that Matthew and Luke both intended to render Mark superfluous (101), we almost lost Mark this way (101).
So how did he get his hands on these lost gospels? He mentions the places to find them, in books published after a monumental 1945 discovery of ancient documents in Egypt, by pure chance. But what is in them?
Q and Thomas are both collections of Jesus’ sayings that lack a narrative context (102). They also share much content. In Thomas’ 114 sayings, for example, 44 are similar to Q. He details several of these (109-11).
Of these sayings, one stands out: basically, the kingdom of heaven is within each person, and the way to know of “one’s own true inner divine nature” (105) involves getting to know yourself, and when that happens, you will return to the “pre-material, pre-divided state,” which neutralizes gender, ending all sexuality.
This, Helms suggests, is why the Thomas gospel was shunned (105-6), and also extends his argument as to why a female authorship of Luke would not be embraced. He doesn’t bother to acknowledge what this would do to the Bible’s (and the Church’s) stance on homosexuality.
He doesn’t really deal with Q, other than to say that it differs mostly in Q’s apocalyptic slant. In contrast, Thomas is anti-apocalyptic: the kingdom of God is already here, men just don’t see it (106). Therefore, there is nothing to look forward to, you should feel hope and love now (106).
This is really the second major argument as to why these Gospels were lost. He stresses that the “tension” between the apocalyptic and anti-apocalyptic stance is crucial to understanding John (109). But his point is clear: if you don’t hold fear over people, how can you get them to fall in line?
Although the shortcomings of these gospels demonstrate why they were obsolete and disappeared from the Bible as a result; however, now that they’ve been rediscovered, why not return them? Why not let people have all the information they might need rather than telling them what is true or not? Clearly various people have had a host of different ideas about their faith and how to interpret and understand it. Why shouldn’t we?