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Gospel of Thomas and the Christian Apocrypha

Of course I read Thomas and I have read hypothetical reconstructions of Q and all of those kinds of things.  Thomas, I like, because there’s some good sayings in it that, that aren’t elsewhere; and, also makes persuasive, at least for an amateur like me, the notion that there could very well be another source of exactly that kind, that just has the attitudes and sayings and so on listed, which then somebody took the imaginative effort to incorporate into a, into a story, into a Gospel.

 I love ‘Be Passersby’, um, you know, it’s Jesus urges his, his disciples in Thomas, and there’s something beautifully, sort of, as I say, very, uh, uh, sort of Jack Kerouac about it.  It’s very much kind of “On the Road”.  And I know there are disputes about what Jesus might have meant by saying it… but, what I read in this is detach yourself, detach yourself, don’t…cause this is what He says elsewhere all the time; don’t, you know, God will take care of things.  I mean that’s the beauty of um, the lilies of the field.  He doesn’t say, you know, put a penny aside for tomorrow; He says, look nature takes care of itself, the birds eat, the, the flowers are beautifully clad, stop, don’t worry so much; you know, be a passerby, just watch life happen.  And, it’s a wildly, irresponsible piece of advice to give, but it, it echoes to my mind with the, the most appealing sides of Buddhism, for instance, too, that sense that um, you don’t have to invest as much in the drama of the world as you think you do, you can pull back from it, detach from it.  I like that very much.

 So, I have looked and read those things.  On the whole, and I, this is uh, uh, I suspect, perhaps, a surprising remark from an infidel, but I think they did a good job of editing the thing, that is, you don’t find a lot in the Apocrypha, though there’s a lot that’s interesting.  There’s not a lot that has the dramatic impression, the centrality that the, that the four Gospels we know do.

  • Adam Gopnik

    Adam Gopnik is a staff writer for The New Yorker  magazine. His recent books of essays include Paris to the Moon (2000) and Through the Children’s Gate (2006).