Gospels

Jesus said, “Blessed is the lion which becomes man when consumed by man; and cursed is the man whom the lion consumes, and the lion becomes man.”

-Gospel of Thomas, saying 7.

Robert Funk dates the Gospel of Thomas to the middle of the first century, around the time of St Paul’s first letters; others date it to the second century. Perhaps opinions on this depend on the value assigned to the document: the earlier it is, the more likely it is to be close to the words of Jesus.

Some would call it Gnostic. Again, I have no opinion. I find some Gnostic ideas repellent, for example the idea that spirit, directly created by God, is good, and matter, created by a tainted emanation of God, is evil; but that does not mean that nothing Gnostic has value.

What matters is whether the sayings are true. In this case, I do not know. Is it just a periphrastic way of saying control your anger, do not let it control you? If so, does calling anger a “lion”, with its qualities of power, danger and beauty, add anything? A lion can outrun and outfight a man, though people together can defeat a lion, and a man can make a spear or a cage to kill or subdue a lion.

Or does the saying mean something else entirely? Whatever, I think it is worth meditation.

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The Gospel writers changed their material for their own ends. So, in Mark 6:3, the people of Nazareth refer to Jesus as “Mary’s son”, ie, the bastard, the fatherless one, but Matthew 13:55 has them call him “the carpenter’s son”. It takes away the stigma. They cannot be trusted. Matthew was written long after Jesus’ death, after the temple was destroyed in AD70, and the Jews expelled from Jerusalem, and yet it still has value: it contains the phrase “turn the other cheek”, which I have seen interpreted as meaning extreme pacifism or non-violent resistance, which has been debated for two thousand years and still haunts all Christians, and the wider society.

Some looking at the biblical passages on homosexuality are defending gay people from Christians. For British “Liberal liberal Quakers” I find myself defending the Bible: if they think it condemns gay people, they are likely to condemn it.

For me one lesson of the story of Sodom comes from Abraham pleading with God not to destroy it. God promises not to destroy it if there are ten good men there. So, if there are ten good verses worth chewing over in the Bible, do not throw it out.

The gospel writers make the words of Jesus accessible to people of a wide variety of religious experience and understanding: those who accept the stories naively are exposed to the words. A blessing of the Church being divided, Orthodox, Catholic (and Coptic and others) then all the little protestant sects: there is no one Approved meaning of the words. The words are greater than any one institution’s understanding of them.

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