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Thomasine Christians and Others, From After the New Testament

In this thread of posts I have been reproducing my comments on Gnosticism from the 2nd edition of my anthology, After the New Testament. In addition to the Sethians and the Valentinians, scholars talk about the school of Thomas and about yet other Gnostic groups that are not easy to identify with any of the other three or to group together in any meaningful way. Gnosticism was a messy group of religions! Here is what I say in the Introductions to the Thomasines and the Other Gnostic groups in the book.



A number of books from the early Christian tradition are connected with a figure known as Didymus Judas Thomas. The word “Didymus” means “twin” in Greek; so too the name “Thomas” means “twin” in Aramaic. And so this person is Judas, or Jude, the twin. But the twin of whom? In our earliest surviving Gospel, Jesus himself is said to have a brother who is named Jude (for example, Mark 6). And in later traditions, especially from Syria, this Jude was thought to have been a twin of Jesus himself. In fact, in some traditions – including the Acts of Thomas that we have already seen (Chapter 2) – Thomas is Jesus’ identical twin. How Jesus could have a (mortal) twin if he was born of a virgin is something these traditions never explain.

There appears to have been a range of Christians who especially revered Didymus Judas Thomas.   And who better to acclaim the truth among Jesus’ earthly associates than his own identical twin brother?   Several of these books share important views and concerns, making it appear that these Thomasine Christians may have been their own Christian group, sharing key theological views and accepting various literary texts associated with Thomas.

Among these texts would be …

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The Gospel of Thomas: An Overview
The Valentinian Gnostics from After The New Testament



  1. Avatar
    godspell  August 27, 2018

    There was this English girl I had a crush on in high school (father had moved to America for work) who first told me about the Gnostics–she kind of considered herself one (again, high school). I just nodded politely, while suppressing some very non-spiritual impulses, and it didn’t work out, but that’s how I first heard about it. Later, I read Pagels.

    I think a lot of the fascination with Gnosticism is that it’s Jesus without what we now call Christianity. It’s more intellectual, more unorthodox, more individualistic, less moralistic. It’s less about creating a coherent institution with rules and authority structures, which is one reason it didn’t last long. In the 1970’s, that was very attractive to some people, and maybe it still is.

    And yet, as you’ve explained, it’s hardly in tune with modern attitudes towards sexuality and other issues–it takes a very selective reading to get that out of it. And because it had such a short history, it didn’t really cohere into any kind of established religion, which I suppose might have defeated the whole point of it.

    And there are still people who consider themselves Gnostics. I also knew a man who considered himself a Celtic Christian (and knew several times as many languages as you, believe it or not). His only published work is a book about how to pray like a Celtic Christian. But he was still kind of sort of a Catholic. Well, if Catholicism can contain something like Santeria, why not? It kind of sort of includes me too.

    But I’m not a Gnostic. (Though I’d have converted if it meant getting to date that girl.)

  2. Lev
    Lev  August 27, 2018

    “And in later traditions, especially from Syria, this Jude was thought to have been a twin of Jesus himself.”

    That’s interesting. Is there a name for these Syrian traditions, or have you got the title for the texts please, Bart?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2018

      The Acts of Thomas. I’ll be talking about it later on the blog.

  3. Avatar
    ardeare  August 27, 2018

    I know of one present church, a very large church who teaches that the story of the serpent found in Genesis should be interpreted as the devil taking on the form of humanity and having sex with Eve. Afterward, she has sex with Adam. The result is heteropaternal superfecundation twins; Cain and Abel.

    • Avatar
      Hormiga  August 28, 2018

      > heteropaternal superfecundation twins

      You have taught me a new term. Now I’ll have to figure out how to incorporate it into party conversation. 🙂

  4. Avatar
    Hume  August 27, 2018

    I think I found a discrepancy, let me know if it’s true. On Sam Harris’s podcast you stated that some of Christianity has been appropriated from paganism, you mentioned a son of God living in heaven. However, anytime I’ve asked you about the links between paganism and Christianity on this blog, you’ve been tepid or more than tepid about their link. Could you square this circle for me?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2018

      Not sure what you mean about “tepid.” I certainly don’t think that someone “made up” Jesus to make a Jewish “son of God” like the others, but I also certaintly think that stories about Jesus were affected by pagan understandings of what a son of God was. I’ve always said both things, and their not at all at odds!

  5. Avatar
    fishician  August 27, 2018

    Unrelated, but a couple of questions as I read through your PhD dissertation: 1. What does the term “critical” text mean? 2. Were there any Church Mothers?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2018

      A “critical text” is one that scholars have reconstructed based on the surviving witnesses (manuscripts; versions; quotations of church fathers), as they try to determine what the original must have been. The text reconstructed cannot be found in that exact form in any of the surviving witnesses: it is reconstructed one verse, one word at a time. Mothers: yes indeed! But there are not many writings by them, especially in the early centuries that textua critics focus on.

      • Avatar
        Hormiga  August 28, 2018

        I’ve long thought it unfortunate that the scholarly usage of “criticism” and “critical” diverges so far from the common meanings of the words, and not in a good way. “Analytical” would be better, though not perfect.

        • Bart
          Bart  August 29, 2018

          My sense is the problem is with the “common” meanings — they are the ones that have “changed.”

  6. Avatar
    Alfred  August 28, 2018

    “How Jesus could have a (mortal) twin if he was born of a virgin is something these traditions never explain”.

    I am not sure an explanation is needed. Twining involves either the presence of two eggs, each becoming fertilised or the splitting of a single egg after fertilisation. The latter twins are identical, the former merely siblings of the usual sort. If a miraculous insemination is to occur, after which normal processes take place either scenario is possible, although the multiple egg option would also require two acts of miraculous fertilisation so would be at least twice as miraculous!

    • Bart
      Bart  August 29, 2018

      But wouldn’t that make the twin as fully divine as the other? That’s the problem.

  7. Avatar
    rich-ilm  September 26, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman –
    Looking online for a copy of your NT textbook for a reference. If you had to pick one, would you recommend The New Testament or A Brief Introduction to the New Testament? Any particular edition? Seems that Brief is newer version? thx,

    • Bart
      Bart  September 28, 2018

      The longer one is the most useful, I think; go for the sixth edition.

  8. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  October 11, 2018

    Has anyone written, for a general audience, on the question of Sirach’s influence on the teachings of Jesus in the NT? I’m reading Sirach and have found several sayings that seem close to Jesus sayings, for instance on divorce and judging others.

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