The Gospel of Thomas and the Platonists on Stability

In: The Gospel of Thomas and Plato
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In the previous chapter, I argued that the Thomasine expressions ⲟⲩⲁ ⲟⲩⲱⲧ and ⲙⲟⲛⲁⲭⲟⲥ express the Platonist idea of oneness as perfection. An important detail, however, was left unexplained, though it certainly deserves to be discussed in detail. Two of the sayings that deal with oneness as perfection, Gos. Thom. 16:4 and 23:2, associate oneness with “standing”:

Gos. Thom. 16:4

Gos. Thom. 23:2

ⲁⲩⲱ ⲥⲉⲛⲁⲱϩⲉ ⲉⲣⲁⲧⲟⲩ ⲉⲩⲟ ⲙ̄ⲙⲟⲛⲁⲭⲟⲥ

ⲁⲩⲱ ⲥⲉⲛⲁⲱϩⲉ ⲉⲣⲁⲧⲟⲩ ⲉⲩⲟ ⲟⲩⲁ ⲟⲩⲱⲧ

And they will stand as solitary ones.

And they will stand as a single one.

In what follows, I argue that “standing” in these, as well as in a few other Thomasine sayings, denotes the Platonist idea of divine stability; it is, therefore, no coincidence that these two metaphysical concepts, stability and oneness, are brought together. I first discuss interpretations of Thomasine “standing” by April D. DeConick, Michael Allen Williams, and Robert Murray, and argue that the context of the Thomasine sayings that deal with “standing” does not support the proposals of these scholars. I then discuss the multifold meanings of the expression ⲱϩⲉ ⲉⲣⲁⲧ⸗ in these sayings as well as in their Greek Vorlagen. Finally, I discuss the Platonist parallels to the sayings that seem to refer to “transcendental ‘standing.’ ”1

DeConick, Williams, and Murray on “Standing” in the Gospel of Thomas

Before I discuss different contexts in which the expression ⲱϩⲉ ⲉⲣⲁⲧ⸗ is used in the Gospel of Thomas, I would like to offer a brief survey of scholarly opinions regarding Thomasine “standing.” First, according to DeConick, “standing” in sayings 16, 18, and 23 refers to the attainment of angelic status and participation in “the cultic service before God’s throne.”2 The angels are “described as those who ‘stand’ before God” in a number Jewish apocalyptic texts (1 En. 39.12–13; 47.3; 68.4;3 2 En. 21.1; T. Ab. A7.11; A8.1). The expression can also be applied to the righteous ones, who thus assimilate to the condition of angels (Ascen. Isa. 9.9; 2 En. 21.3; 22.6–10).

Second, Williams has suggested that there was a connection between the practice of “standing in one place, absorbed in prayer and contemplation”4 attested among Christian monks (see, e.g., Palladius, Hist. Laus. 43.2) and the “standing” in the Gospel of Thomas. Since the Syrian monks, according to Theodoret of Cyrrhus (Hist. rel. 27.1), also practiced continual standing, it is possible that the designation ‮ܒܢܝ ܩܝܡܐ‬‎, “covenanters,” could also mean “those who are characterized by the upright stance”;5 this Syriac term, in turn, “could very well illuminate” the language of standing in sayings 16, 18, and 23 of the Gospel of Thomas, “which seems to have a Syrian ancestry.”6

Third, Murray also tried to connect Thomasine “standing” with the traditions of Syriac Christianity.7 In the Syriac-speaking area, the word ‮ܝܚܝܕܝܐ‬‎ designated ascetics that “formed a kind of ‘church within the Church’ called the ‮ܩܝܡܐ‬‎.”8 When the aspirants were baptized, they swore to celibacy and joined this “covenant.”9 The very semantics of the term ‮ܩܝܡܐ‬‎ hints at the baptismal context: in the act of baptism, “a new member ‘took his stand’ for Christ and in the name of Christ.”10 Since the Syriac Vorlage of the Gospel of Thomas spoke of “standing” as a single one, ‮ܝܚܝܕܝܐ‬‎,11 Thomasine sayings 16, 23, 49, and 75 bear evidence of “an early Judaeo-Christian baptismal exhortation.”12

Although all these interpretations are quite insightful, none of them is supported by the text of the Gospel of Thomas. First, sayings 16, 18, and 23 neither mention nor even allude to the notion of angels and their heavenly liturgy. Angels are mentioned in the Gospel of Thomas twice, in Gos. Thom. 13:2 and 88:1,13 and both times in a context that can be hardly interpreted as sympathetic. In Gos. Thom. 13:2, Simon Peter says that Jesus is “like a righteous angel,” but his view is inferior to the one of Thomas (Gos. Thom. 13:4).14 Jesus is clearly much more than an angel, and, since, according to saying 108, our ultimate goal is to become like Jesus, it is very unlikely that assimilation to the angels is to be seen as a worthwhile enterprise.

Moreover, it is unlikely that we can learn anything useful from the angels. The meaning of Gos. Thom. 88:1, “the angels and the prophets will come to you and give to you those things you (already) have,” is uncertain, but since many believed that the law of Moses was given through angels (Jub. 1.27; 2.1; Gal 3:19), it is probable that Jesus in saying 88 denies the authority of “the law and the prophets”—i.e., of the Hebrew Scriptures.15

Second, it is unlikely that Thomasine sayings ever refer to the practice of standing. While there are two sayings that clearly mention literal standing, sayings 75 and 99 (see below, pp. 135–137), neither of them allude to any such practice. Moreover, it is doubtful that literal standing is implied in sayings 16, 18, and 23. It is much more likely that these sayings describe not the means of spiritual progress, but its outcome. Finally, in light of the fact that physical standing was generally associated with worship and prayer,16 it is quite telling that the Thomasine attitude towards prayer is profoundly negative: Jesus refuses to fast and pray in saying 104, even claiming that prayer leads to condemnation in Gos. Thom. 14:2.17

Third, there is no reason to suppose that sayings 16, 23, 49, and 75 are somehow connected to baptism. Although Jonathan Z. Smith and several other scholars after him have tried to place a number of Thomasine sayings, especially saying 37,18 within a baptismal context, their attempts were hardly successful.19 Moreover, as Risto Uro has pointed out, some of Thomasine regulations seem to be incompatible with any “type of baptismal process we know about from other first- and second-century sources.”20 For instance, while Did. 7:4 exhorts the one being baptized to fast one or two days prior to his or her baptism, Gos. Thom. 14:1 claims that fasting is sinful.

The Varieties of “Standing” in the Gospel of Thomas

The expression ⲱϩⲉ ⲉⲣⲁⲧ⸗ is used seven times in the Coptic Gospel of Thomas—viz., in sayings 16, 18, 23, 28, 50, 75, and 99. Since the Coptic text of the Gospel of Thomas is a translation from Greek, it seems necessary to discuss the terminology employed in the Greek Vorlage of the Gospel of Thomas before proceeding to the analysis of Thomasine “standing.”

In the vast majority of instances where the Sahidic New Testament reads ⲁϩⲉⲣⲁⲧ⸗ (in Sahidic Coptic, the stative form ⲁϩⲉ is often used instead of the infinitive form ⲱϩⲉ), the Greek text reads ἵστημι.21 There is little doubt that, as a rule, ⲱϩⲉ ⲉⲣⲁⲧ⸗ in translated Coptic texts renders ἵστημι in their Greek Vorlagen.

The same certainly holds true for the Gospel of Thomas for the following reasons. First, P.Oxy. 1.1 preserves the beginning of the Greek text of saying 28, and there is no reason to doubt that it is identical to the Vorlage of the Coptic text:

Gos. Thom. 28:1 (P.Oxy. 1.1)

Gos. Thom. 28:1 (NHC II)

λέγει Ἰ(ησοῦ)ς· ἔ[σ]την ἐν μέσῳ τοῦ κόσμου καὶ ἐν σαρκὶ ὤφθην αὐτοῖς.

ⲡⲉϫⲉ ⲓⲥ︦ ϫⲉ ⲁⲉⲓⲱϩⲉ ⲉⲣⲁⲧ ϩⲛ̄ ⲧⲙⲏⲧⲉ ⲙ̄ⲡⲕⲟⲥⲙⲟⲥ ⲁⲩⲱ ⲁⲉⲓⲟⲩⲱⲛϩ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ⲛⲁⲩ ϩⲛ̄ ⲥⲁⲣⲝ

Second, the phrasing of Gos. Thom. 99:1 is remarkably similar to that of Matt 12:47 and Luke 8:20. The expression ⲁϩⲉⲣⲁⲧ⸗ in the Sahidic version of Luke 8:20 corresponds to ἵστημι in the Greek text, so we can be fairly certain that the same Greek verb was used in the Vorlage of the Gospel of Thomas. The following synoptic table compares Gos. Thom. 99:1 only with Luke 8:20, because the Sahidic New Testament, as well as a few other important witnesses, omits Matt 12:47:22

Luke 8:20 (NA28)

Luke 8:20 (sa 1)

Gos. Thom. 99:1

ἀπηγγέλη δὲ αὐτῷ·

ⲁⲩϫⲓ ⲡⲟⲩⲱ ⲇⲉ ⲛⲁϥ ϫⲉ

ⲡⲉϫⲉ ⲙ̄ⲙⲁⲑⲏⲧⲏⲥ ⲛⲁϥ ϫⲉ

ἡ μήτηρ σου καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοί σου

ⲧⲉⲕⲙⲁⲁⲩ ⲛⲙ̄ ⲛⲉⲕⲥⲛⲏⲟⲩ

ⲛⲉⲕⲥⲛⲏⲩ ⲙⲛ̄ ⲧⲉⲕⲙⲁⲁⲩ

ἑστήκασιν ἔξω

ⲁϩⲉⲣⲁⲧⲟⲩ ϩⲓ ⲡⲥⲁ ⲃ̄ⲃⲟⲗ

ⲥⲉⲁϩⲉⲣⲁⲧⲟⲩ ϩⲓ ⲡⲥⲁ ⲛⲃⲟⲗ

ἰδεῖν θέλοντές σε.

ⲉⲩⲟⲩⲉϣ ⲛⲁⲩ ⲉⲣⲟⲕ23

I proceed now to the discussion of the various aspects of the meaning of “standing” in the Gospel of Thomas. It is evident that neither Greek ἵστημι nor Coptic ⲱϩⲉ ⲉⲣⲁⲧ⸗ has only a single meaning. It is the context rather that determines if it is to be understood either literally or figuratively.24

I suggest that ⲱϩⲉ ⲉⲣⲁⲧ⸗ denotes one of the three following kinds of “standing” in the Gospel of Thomas: (1) literal standing, (2) standing as presenting or revealing oneself, and (3) transcendental standing.

1 Literal Standing in Sayings 99 and 75

It seems that ⲱϩⲉ ⲉⲣⲁⲧ⸗ in Gos. Thom. 99:1 refers to literal standing. Gos. Thom. 99:1 serves as the narrative framework for Gos. Thom. 99:2–3. When the disciples mention his relatives standing outside, Jesus uses this opportunity to define who his real relatives are:

99:1 ⲡⲉϫⲉ ⲙ̄ⲙⲁⲑⲏⲧⲏⲥ ⲛⲁϥ ϫⲉ ⲛⲉⲕⲥⲛⲏⲩ ⲙⲛ̄ ⲧⲉⲕⲙⲁⲁⲩ ⲥⲉⲁϩⲉⲣⲁⲧⲟⲩ ϩⲓ ⲡⲥⲁ ⲛⲃⲟⲗ 99:2 ⲡⲉϫⲁϥ ⲛⲁⲩ ϫⲉ ⲛⲉⲧⲛ̄ⲛⲉⲉⲓⲙⲁ ⲉϯⲣⲉ ⲙ̄ⲡⲟⲩⲱϣ ⲙ̄ⲡⲁⲉⲓⲱⲧ ⲛⲁⲉⲓ ⲛⲉ ⲛⲁⲥⲛⲏⲩ ⲙⲛ̄ ⲧⲁⲙⲁⲁⲩ 99:3 ⲛ̄ⲧⲟⲟⲩ ⲡⲉ ⲉⲧⲛⲁⲃⲱⲕ ⲉϩⲟⲩⲛ ⲉⲧⲙⲛ̄ⲧⲉⲣⲟ ⲙ̄ⲡⲁⲉⲓⲱⲧ

99:1 The disciples said to him: “Your brothers and your mother are standing outside.” 99:2 He said to them: “Those here, who do the will of my Father—they are my brothers and my mother. 99:3 They are the ones who will enter the kingdom of my Father.”

As Stephen J. Patterson has pointed out, Gos. Thom. 99:3 is the Thomasine addition to its source.25 Although this addition does not contribute much to the content of the saying, it certainly refines its literary form: while Gos. Thom. 99:1 and 99:2 contrast blood relatives with spiritual ones, Gos. Thom. 99:1 and 99:3 contrast those who “stand outside” with those who “go inside” (ⲃⲱⲕ ⲉϩⲟⲩⲛ). Thus, “standing outside” is meant literally in Gos. Thom. 99:1 and then reinterpreted allegorically as spiritual imperfection in Gos. Thom. 99:3.

In a similar fashion, ⲱϩⲉ ⲉⲣⲁⲧ⸗ refers to literal standing in saying 75. Quite remarkably, saying 75, just like saying 99, contrasts “standing outside” with “going inside”:

75 ⲡⲉϫⲉ ⲓⲥ︦ ⲟⲩⲛ ϩⲁϩ ⲁϩⲉⲣⲁⲧⲟⲩ ϩⲓⲣⲙ̄ ⲡⲣⲟ ⲁⲗⲗⲁ ⲙ̄ⲙⲟⲛⲁⲭⲟⲥ ⲛⲉⲧⲛⲁⲃⲱⲕ ⲉϩⲟⲩⲛ ⲉⲡⲙⲁ ⲛ̄ϣⲉⲗⲉⲉⲧ

75 Jesus said, “Many are standing at the door, but it is the solitary who will enter the bridal chamber.”

D.F. Bumazhnov has recently suggested that saying 75 refers to “religiously motivated standing.”26 His hypothesis is based on the observation that saying 75, along with Gos. Thom. 16:4 and 23:2, depicts “single ones” as “standing.” Since “standing” in Gos. Thom. 16:4 and 23:2 appears to have a technical or semi-technical meaning, this may also be the case with saying 75.

This suggestion is, however, problematic. While sayings 16:4 and 23:2 associate “standing” with being either ⲟⲩⲁ ⲟⲩⲱⲧ or μοναχός, saying 75 claims that standing at the door of the bridal chamber is the lot of those who are not μοναχοί. Moreover, as I have pointed out in the previous chapter (p. 120), saying 75 belongs to the thematic unit of sayings 73, 74, and 75. Each of these sayings is built on a particular metaphor (73: religious instruction is the gathering of the harvest; 74: entering the world is diving into a well; 75: salvation is entering a bridal chamber), and each contrasts the many with the few. “Standing” in saying 75 should thus be seen as the vehicle of the saying’s metaphorical language: while the grooms (i.e. the μοναχοί) enter the bridal chamber, the suitors (i.e., the spiritually weak) stand outside. It follows, therefore, that “standing” here is meant literally and is not used in a technical sense.

One may even conclude that “standing” plays no meaningful role in this metaphor: the saying simply emphasizes the fact that the suitors are not allowed to go inside the bridal chamber; it does not elaborate on the things they are doing outside. Indeed, while, as I have already pointed out, ⲱϩⲉ ⲉⲣⲁⲧ⸗ usually renders ἵστημι, there are notable exceptions to the rule. According to Crum,27 ⲁϩⲉⲣⲁⲧ⸗ in the Sahidic Bible occasionally renders εἰμί (see Num 5:13, Isa 14:13, and Wis 9:9). The most remarkable example, not listed by Crum,28 is the Sahidic version of Mark 15:40:

Mark 15:40 (NA28)

Mark 15:40 (sa 1)

ἦσαν δὲ καὶ γυναῖκες ἀπὸ μακρόθεν θεωροῦσαι.

ⲛⲉⲩⲛ̄ ϩⲉⲛϩⲓⲟⲙⲉ29 ⲇⲉ ⲁϩⲉⲣⲁⲧⲟⲩ ⲙ̄ⲡⲟⲩⲉ ⲉⲩϭⲱϣⲧ̄30

We may very well encounter a similar phenomenon in saying 75, in which case “standing” would be an irrelevant detail, just like it is irrelevant here in the Sahidic version of Mark 15:40. Unfortunately, it does not seem possible to reconstruct the exact phrasing of the lost Greek Vorlage of saying 75. Even so, while one may suspect that in this particular case ⲱϩⲉ ⲉⲣⲁⲧ⸗ renders Greek εἰμί, ἵστημι at least appears to be a better candidate, because it contributes to the antithetic structure of the saying.

There are three pairs of opposites that are contrasted here: first, the few (ⲙ̄ⲙⲟⲛⲁⲭⲟⲥ) and the many (ϩⲁϩ); second, being inside the bridal chamber and being at its door; third, going and standing. “Standing,” therefore, should be regarded as an important antithetical component of the parallel structure of the saying.

What is quite remarkable is that in both cases where “standing” is meant literally (Jesus’ relatives standing outside in saying 99 and suitors standing at the door of the bridal chamber in saying 75), it is associated with being “outside” and contrasted with “going inside.” Moreover, in both cases this literal standing is allegorically interpreted as spiritual imperfection, which prevents an individual from being saved, and, in turn, is contrasted with cases where “standing” is meant metaphorically, referring to divine stability (see the discussion of sayings 16, 18, 23, and 50, below).

2 “Standing” as Presenting or Revealing Oneself in Saying 28

In saying 28, “standing” has a different meaning. As I have already pointed out, thanks to P.Oxy. 1.1, the beginning of the saying is preserved in Greek. BDAG mentions Gos. Thom. 28:1 among the examples where the verb ἵστημι means “to come up in the presence of others,” “to appear.”31 It is worth noting that ἵστημι ἐν μέσῳ, the very same expression we encounter in P.Oxy. 1.1, occurs also in other early Christian texts in similar contexts.32 What is perhaps even more important for the present discussion is that both Gos. Thom. 28:1 and 28:2 have a parallel structure:

28:1a ⲡⲉϫⲉ ⲓⲥ︦ ϫⲉ ⲁⲉⲓⲱϩⲉ ⲉⲣⲁⲧ ϩⲛ̄ ⲧⲙⲏⲧⲉ ⲙ̄ⲡⲕⲟⲥⲙⲟⲥ 28:1b ⲁⲩⲱ ⲁⲉⲓⲟⲩⲱⲛϩ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ⲛⲁⲩ ϩⲛ̄ ⲥⲁⲣⲝ
28:2a ⲁⲉⲓϩⲉ ⲉⲣⲟⲟⲩ ⲧⲏⲣⲟⲩ ⲉⲩⲧⲁϩⲉ 28:2b ⲙ̄ⲡⲓϩⲉ ⲉⲗⲁⲁⲩ ⲛ̄ϩⲏⲧⲟⲩ ⲉϥⲟⲃⲉ
28:1a λέγει Ἰ(ησοῦ)ς· ἔ[σ]την ἐν μέσῳ τοῦ κόσμου 28:1b καὶ ἐν σαρκὶ ὤφθην αὐτοῖς
28:2a καὶ εὗρον πάντας μεθύοντας 28:2b καὶ οὐδένα εὗρον δειψῶ(ν)τα ἐν αὐτοῖς.
28:1a Jesus said: “I stood in the middle of the world, 28:1b and in flesh I appeared to them.
28:2a I found all of them drunk. 28:2b None of them did I find thirsty.”

Both Gos. Thom. 28:1 and 28:2 comprise two sentences that use different yet not dissimilar phrasing to make the same point. “Everyone” and “being intoxicated” in Gos. Thom. 28:2a correspond to “none of them” and “being thirsty” in Gos. Thom. 28:2b. In a similar manner, Gos. Thom. 28:1 parallels “being in the middle of the world” (28:1a) and “being in flesh” (28:1b), as well as “standing” (28:1a) and “being visible” (28:1b).33

Thus, the literary structure of Gos. Thom. 28:1–2 indicates that in this saying ἵστημι designates presenting or even revealing oneself, as it does in the other examples listed in BDAG, s.v. “ἵστημι,” B.2.

3 Transcendental “Standing” in Sayings 16, 18, 23, and 50

It is now time to turn to the notion of “standing” in sayings 16, 18, 23, and 50. As Williams has pointed out, the verb ἵστημι “has a long history in the Greek literature as a technical term for Rest (vs. Motion).”34 A number of Middle Platonists and Platonizing authors used this verb to describe stability as an attribute of ultimate reality and, consequently, stability as human perfection. In what follows, I argue that ⲱϩⲉ ⲉⲣⲁⲧ⸗ in sayings 16, 18, 23, and 50 should be interpreted against the background of this Platonist notion of transcendental “standing.”

Platonists on Transcendental “Standing”

Before I discuss the notion of transcendental “standing” in the Gospel of Thomas, I would like to outline the history of the use of the term among Platonists. I will start with Plato and then discuss the Middle Platonists: Alcinous, Philo, Numenius, and Clement of Alexandria.

1 Plato

It is worth noting that Plato himself did not often use the verb ἵστημι to describe noetic stability. Williams refers to the following two Platonic passages in his monograph:35

These forms are like patterns set in nature (τὰ μὲν εἴδη ταῦτα ὥσπερ παραδείγματα ἑστάναι ἐν τῇ φύσει), and other things resemble them and are likenesses; and this partaking of the forms is, for the other things, simply being modeled on them.36

My friend, there are two patterns set up in reality (παραδειγμάτων ἐν τῷ ὄντι ἑστώτων). One is divine and supremely happy; the other has nothing of God in it, and is the pattern of the deepest unhappiness.37

The problem with these two passages (pace Williams) is that, though they apply the verb ἵστημι to the forms and patterns, it is doubtful whether this verb describes their immovability. In both cases, stability of the noetic realm is hardly the issue; the emphasis is not on “standing” (as opposed to “movement”), but rather on “being.” According to LSJ, s.v. “ἵστημι,” B.I.1, this verb is often used as “merely a stronger form of εἶναι, to be in a certain place or state” (hence, Plato’s modifiers ἐν τῇ φύσει and ἐν τῷ ὄντι). I am inclined to think that the translations quoted above render these two passages quite accurately.

Moreover, in Sophista, where ἵστημι does refer to stability, Plato seems to decline to use the term with regard to ultimate reality:

Visitor: But for heaven’s sake, are we going to be convinced that it’s true that change (κίνησις), life, soul, and intelligence are not present in that which wholly is (τὸ παντελῶς ὄν), and that it neither lives nor thinks, but stays changeless, solemn, and holy, without any understanding (σεμνὸν καὶ ἅγιον, νοῦν οὐκ ἔχον, ἀκίνητον ἑστὸς εἶναι)?
Theaetetus: If we did, sir, we’d be admitting something frightening.38

Although Plato does not apply the verb ἵστημι in its technical sense to the noetic realm, the myth Socrates narrates in Phaedrus portrays the perfect souls (i.e. gods) as “standing” on the back of heaven, τὸ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ νῶτον. This myth describes the procession of gods led by Zeus and headed toward the place beyond heaven, ὁ ὑπερουράνιος τόπος. Once they have completed their ascent, they devote themselves to the contemplation of true being, ἡ οὐσία ὄντως οὖσα (Phaedr. 247b–c):39

But when the souls we call immortals reach the top (ἄκρος), they move outward and take their stand on the high ridge of heaven (ἔστησαν ἐπὶ τῷ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ νώτῳ), where its circular motion (ἡ περιφορά) carries them around as they stand (στᾶσαι) while they gaze (θεωροῦσι) upon what is outside heaven.40

While “standing” here is meant literally, the image of the divine souls “taking their stand” on the heaven is probably not supposed to be taken at face value, rather serving as an allegory. As Williams has pointed out, in his myth “Plato stresses the antithesis between the realm of stability and the realm of confusion and disturbance.”41 The contemplation of true being, enjoyed by the divine souls, is contrasted with the constant struggle between the “charioteer” and his “horses”—i.e., the antagonistic forces of the human soul. This struggle brings about “disorder, conflict, and excessive sweat (θόρυβος καὶ ἅμιλλα καὶ ἱδρὼς ἔσχατος)” (248b). It follows, then, that the “standing” of gods hints at their stability as opposed to the endless unrest of human souls.

2 Alcinous

Unlike Plato, the Middle Platonists did not have any reservations with regard to transcendental “standing.” A graphic example of this remarkable shift comes from Alcinous. One of the sections of his handbook, Didasc. 10.4, “is devoted to an exposition of the ‘negative’ method (κατὰ ἀφαίρεσιν) for attaining an understanding of the nature of God.”42 In the final remark of this section, Alcinous makes a striking revision of Parm. 139b.43 While, according to the first hypothesis of Plato’s Parmenides, the One (τὸ ἕν) “is neither at rest nor in motion (οὔτε ἕστηκεν οὔτε κινεῖται)” (139b; trans. M.L. Gill and P. Ryan), Alcinous declares that God (“the first intellect,” ὁ πρῶτος νοῦς, and “the first god,” ὁ πρῶτος θεός) “neither moves anything, nor is himself in motion (οὔτε κινεῖ οὔτε κινεῖται).”

The readers of the handbook might be surprised to learn that God bears no relationship to motion, since, earlier (Didasc. 10.2), Alcinous attributes to God the characteristics of the Aristotelian “unmoved first mover,” τὸ πρῶτον κινοῦν ἀκίνητον (Phys. 267b; Metaph. 1012b; 1074a).44 It is worth noting that Alcinous does not contradict himself. According to him, “the mind of the whole heaven,” ὁ νοῦς τοῦ σύμπαντος οὐρανοῦ, is moved by God in the same way that “desire,” ἡ ὄρεξις, is moved by “an object of desire,” τὸ ὀρεκτόν.45 The cosmic mind is moved not by God, but rather by its own longing for God,46 from which premise Alcinous concludes that God does not move anything.47

Yet, for the purposes of the present discussion, what Alcinous does not say is more relevant than what he does. Unlike Plato, he does not claim that God is not at rest. On the contrary, throughout his handbook, Alcinous describes God as motionless, ἀκίνητος. As John Whittaker pointed out, Alcinous revised Plato’s formula in order to bring it into accordance with the Middle Platonist conviction that supreme reality is immovable.48 Alcinous does not speak about transcendental “standing,” but this passage from his handbook explains why others did.

3 Philo

As Williams has pointed out, it is in the works of Philo that we find the well-established usage of the term ἵστημι “as a description of the transcendent realm.”49 Just like “the first intellect” of Alcinous, Philo’s God is the Aristotelian “first mover”: “that which is [i.e., God] moves and turns all else, but is itself exempt from movement and turning (τὸ ὂν τὸ τὰ ἄλλα κινοῦν καὶ τρέπον ἀκίνητόν τε καὶ ἄτρεπτον)” (Post. 28; trans. F.H. Colson and G.H. Whitaker, altered). Elsewhere, Philo makes the same point, saying that God moves everything, though He is “the one who always stands,” ὁ κατὰ τὰ αὐτὰ ἑστώς (Mut. 54).50 The paradox of divine immovability, Philo says, is that “whereas the heavenly bodies as they go past moving objects (τὰ κινούμενα) are themselves in motion (κινούμενοι), God who outstrips them all is motionless (ἑστώς)” (Post. 19; trans. F.H. Colson and G.H. Whitaker).

“The standing one,” ἑστώς, is one of Philo’s favorite epithets of God that refers to the divine stability (see, e.g., Somn. 1.246; 2.221; Mut. 57). It is this stability that is implied whenever the Pentateuch speaks of God “taking His stand.” For instance, εἱστήκει in Exod 24:10 is Moses’ testimony to God’s immutability, τὸ μὴ τρέπεσθαι τὸ θεῖον, “for by the standing (στάσις) or establishment (ἵδρυσις) he indicates His immutability (τὸ μὴ μεταβάλλειν)” (Somn. 2.222; trans. F.H. Colson and G.H. Whitaker).

Divine “standing” is eternal: “for in God’s case standing is not a future but an ever present act (οὐ γὰρ στήσεται ὁ θεός, ἀλλ’ ἀεὶ ἕστηκεν)” (Post. 30; trans. F.H. Colson and G.H. Whitaker). It is also autonomous: nobody should think that something assists God in standing firm, τὸ παγίως στῆναι (Somn. 1.158). Stability is inherent to other divine entities as well. “Standing,” στάσις, is the prerogative of both that which is (τὸ ὄν) and its word (ὁ τοῦ ὄντος λόγος), “which it calls its covenant (διαθήκη)” (Somn. 2.237; trans. F.H. Colson and G.H. Whitaker, altered). Elsewhere, Philo says that chance, τὸ τυχηρόν, should be subordinate to wisdom, τὸ φρόνιμον, “since the unstable (τὸ ἄστατον) ought to be guided on its course by the stable (τὸ ἑστώς)” (Mut. 91; trans. F.H. Colson and G.H. Whitaker).

“Standing” is what distinguishes God from his creation. According to Philo, “quiescence and standing are characteristic of God, but change of place and all movement that makes for such change is characteristic of creation (θεοῦ μὲν ἴδιον ἠρεμία καὶ στάσις, γενέσεως δὲ μετάβασίς τε καὶ μεταβατικὴ πᾶσα κίνησις)” (Post. 29; trans. F.H. Colson and G.H. Whitaker, altered). When Abraham falls on his face (Gen 17:3) before “the standing one,” he intends to demonstrate that, unlike God, he “is never firmly set in a stable position (οὐδέποτε ἐν ταὐτῷ βεβαίως ἱδρυμένος)” (Mut. 55; trans. F.H. Colson and G.H. Whitaker). According to QG 1.42, humankind had stability and immovability “before there was any tasting of evil [i.e., before the Fall]” and lost it “after they had come into association with deceit” (trans. R. Marcus). At the same time, as they ceased to be immovable, they started to live under the delusion that there was alteration and change in God himself.

Only the most advanced human being, the sage (ὁ σοφός), can regain this stability that was so tragically lost. In Somn. 2.219 (cf. 2.297; Leg. 3.71; 3.204), Philo alludes to Plato’s enigmatic statement in Tim. 53d.51 According to Plato, there are principles, ἀρχαί, that are more ultimate than the triangles, but they “are known only to God and to men who are His friends (ἀνδρῶν ὃς ἂν ἐκείνῳ φίλος ᾖ)”—i.e., to philosophers.52 According to Philo, when the Pharaoh in Gen 41:17 says, “I thought I stood (ᾤμην ἑστάναι),” he reveals his ignorance of the fact that “to be unswerving and stable belongs only to God and to such as are the friends of God (μόνῳ θεῷ τὸ ἀκλινὲς καὶ πάγιόν ἐστιν οἰκεῖον καὶ εἴ τις αὐτῷ φίλος)” (trans. F.H. Colson and G.H. Whitaker). Thus, Philo’s “friends of God,” the sages,53 not only know that God is free from alteration, but are also themselves immovable.

As Harold Tarrant has pointed out, ὁμοίωσις θεῷ κατὰ τὸ δυνατόν, “becoming as like God as possible” (Plato, Theaet. 176b), is “the standard goal of Middle Platonism.”54 Philo is no exception to this rule. It is through the assimilation to God that one acquires immutability:

Proximity to a stable object (τὸ ἑστώς) produces a desire to be like it (ὁμοιότητος ἐφίεσθαι) and a longing for quiescence (ἠρεμία). Now that which is unwaveringly stable (τὸ ἀκλινῶς ἑστώς) is God, and that which is subject to movement (τὸ κινητόν) is creation (γένεσις). He therefore that draws nigh to God (ὁ προσιὼν θεῷ) longs for stability (στάσις), but he that forsakes Him, inasmuch as he approaches the unresting creation (γενέσει τῇ τρεπομένῃ προσιών) is, as we might expect, carried about.55

According to Philo’s vivid simile, God is like a straightedge, κανών, to a person that wants to assimilate to Him: just as a straightedge straightens crooked objects, so also God makes moving objects immovable.

Stability (στάσις) and immutable quiescence (ἠρεμία ἀκλινής) are those which we experience at the side of God, who Himself always stands immutable (παρὰ τὸν ἀκλινῶς ἑστῶτα ἀεὶ θεόν), for a correct straightedge (ὑγιὴς κανών) necessarily straightens all that is set beside it (τὰ παρατιθέμενα).56

For I take it that, just as crooked things are straightened by a true straightedge (κανὼν ὀρθός), so moving things (τὰ κινούμενα) are brought to a stop and made stationary (ἵσταται) by the force of the standing one (ὁ ἑστώς).57

As Williams has pointed out, with regard to achieving immutability, Philo considered two figures from Israel’s history as paradigmatic, Abraham and Moses.58 Whenever the Pentateuch mentions their “standing,” it in fact refers to their immovability. While Jacob received his new name from an angel, it was the unchanging God (ὁ ἄτρεπτος θεός) himself who gave Abraham his new name (Gen 17:5). God did it in order that “the standing he was about to receive” (τὸ μέλλον στήσεσθαι) might be firmly established by “the one who stands and is always the same” (ὁ ἑστὼς καὶ κατὰ τὰ αὐτὰ καὶ ὡσαύτως ἔχων) (Mut. 87). When the Pentateuch says that Abraham “was standing before the Lord” (Gen 18:22), it means that he had an unchanging soul (ἄτρεπτος ψυχή), and, when it says that he “drew near” (Gen 18:23), it implies that only an unchanging soul stands (ἵσταται) near the standing God (ὁ ἑστὼς θεός) (Post. 27).

In a similar fashion, “the always-standing God” (ὁ ἑστὼς ἀεὶ θεός) honored Moses with a gift akin to His “entirely unswerving and unwavering power” (ἡ ἀκλινὴς καὶ ἀρρεπὴς πρὸς πάντα δύναμις). Thus, when He says to Moses, “Stand here with me” (Deut 5:31), He is commanding him to put off the dispositions of the unstable soul (ἀβεβαίου ψυχῆς διαθέσεις)—i.e., doubt and hesitation—and to put on the firmest and most constant disposition (ἡ ὀχυρωτάτη καὶ βεβαιοτάτη διάθεσις)—i.e., faith (Conf. 30–31).

The last quoted passage is of special interest, since it explains what transcendental “standing” means with regard to human individuals. Faith, in the sense of firm conviction, is that which distinguishes a sage, like Abraham or Moses, from a fool (ὁ ἄφρων); it is in the nature of the latter “never to plant himself firmly and fixedly on any principle” (ἐπὶ μηδενὸς ἑστάναι παγίως καὶ ἐρηρεῖσθαι δόγματος) (Post. 24; trans. F.H. Colson and G.H. Whitaker; cf. Leg. 3.53).

Other important aspects of transcendental “standing” are quiescence (ἠρεμία) (see, e.g., Deus 23), peace (εἰρήνη) (Somn. 2.229), and tranquility or inner calm (εὐστάθεια) (Post. 28), enjoyed by the “standing” sage. The latter term deserves additional commentary. According to BDAG, s.v. “εὐστάθεια,” it is “a favorite term for describing stable political conditions.” Others have pointed out that, in applying the term εὐστάθεια to the human soul, Philo follows a well-established philosophical tradition that goes back to Democritus.59 What is remarkable about Philo’s use of the term is that he associates it with the transcendental “standing,” which comes as no surprise, since εὐστάθεια and ἵστημι derive from the same root.

In the Philonic corpus, εὐστάθεια denotes both the tranquility of the state (see, e.g., Flacc. 94) and that of the soul. The inner εὐστάθεια is a natural product of piety (εὐσέβεια) (Conf. 132). Along with εὐνομία, “good order,” εὐστάθεια springs from education (παιδεία) and virtue (ἀρετή) (Post. 118).

The soul’s tranquility (εὐστάθεια) is far more important than that of the state. In a similar fashion, the riot (στάσις) in the soul is far more dangerous than that in the state (Philo’s word play seems to be intentional). God, according to Philo, “rejoices at the firm establishment of good order and tranquility (εὐνομίας καὶ εὐσταθείας βεβαίωσις), at the abolishing of wars and riots (στάσεις), not only those which occur between cities, but also of those that arise in the soul; and these are greater and more serious than those, for they outrage reason, a more divine faculty than others within us” (Post. 184; trans. F.H. Colson and G.H. Whitaker, altered). In fact, political unrest is a mere imitation of the restlessness of the soul; the former will vanish as soon as the latter is no more:

From this it appears that states would have done rightly if before bringing against one another arms and engines of war, with the enslavement and complete overthrow of the enemy in view, they had prevailed on their citizens one by one to put an end to the riot (στάσις) which abounds within himself, and which is so great and unceasing. For, to be honest, this is the archetype (ἀρχέτυπον) of all wars. If this be abolished, neither will those occur which still break out in imitation (κατὰ μίμησιν) of it, but the human race will attain to the experience and enjoyment of profound peace (βαθεῖα εἰρήνη), taught by the law of nature, namely virtue, to honour God and to be occupied with His service, for this is the source of long life and happiness (πηγὴ εὐδαιμονίας καὶ βίου μακραίωνος).60

The concluding remark of this passage brings up the last but not the least important aspect of Philo’s notion of εὐστάθεια: the soul’s tranquility results in happiness, εὐδαιμονία. The same holds true for transcendental “standing.” The “standing” sage, according to Philo, is near divine happiness (θείας εὐδαιμονίας ἐγγύς) (Cher. 19). An unidentified Greek fragment from QE (fr. 12 Petit) puts it even more emphatically: “Unswerving and unwavering standing in God alone is the consummation of happiness (πέρας εὐδαιμονίας τὸ ἀκλινῶς καὶ ἀρρεπῶς ἐν μόνῳ θεῷ στῆναι).”61

4 Numenius

A short comment on Numenius’ Platonism should perhaps precede the discussion of his notion of noetic stability. As John M. Dillon has pointed out, one of the distinctive features of Numenius’ metaphysics is “the distinction made between the Supreme God and the Demiurge.”62 Numenius calls his supreme god “the first god,” ὁ πρῶτος θεός (frs. 11–13, 15–16 des Places), and “the first mind,” ὁ πρῶτος νοῦς (fr. 17 des Places), identifying him with “that which is,” τὸ ὄν (frs. 2–4a, 5–8 des Places), and “the Good,” τὸ ἀγαθόν (frs. 2, 16, 19–20 des Places).63

Another distinctive feature of Numenius’ philosophy is its “marked dualism.”64 Matter and the first god are “completely unrelated and eternally opposed principles.”65 Thus, according to Calcidius’ report of Numenius’ doctrine, “God is the principle and cause of all good, matter of all evil” (fr. 52 des Places = Calcidius, Comm. Tim. 296; trans. J.C.M. van Winden).

Numenius’ dualism is manifest in his emphasis on noetic stability as opposed to the instability of the sensible realm. Quite a few surviving fragments of his lost work De bono employ the verb ἵστημι and describe this stability as transcendental “standing.”

According to Numenius, matter does not “stand” and, therefore, cannot be τὸ ὄν, “that which is”:

So it is well stated in the argument that, if matter (ἡ ὕλη) is infinite (ἄπειρος), it is undefined (ἀόριστος); and, if undefined, irrational (ἄλογος); and, if irrational, it cannot be known (ἄγνωστος). But as it cannot be known it must necessarily be without order (ἄτακτος), as things arranged in order must certainly be easy to be known: and what is without order, is not stable (τὸ δὲ ἄτακτον οὐχ ἕστηκεν): and whatever is not stable cannot be that which is (ὅ τι δὲ μὴ ἕστηκεν, οὐκ ἂν εἴη ὄν).66

At the end of this fragment, Numenius concludes that “the only nature that stands (αὕτη … φύσεων πασῶν μόνη ἕστηκε)” is the incorporeal, τὸ ἀσώματον (fr. 4a des Places = Eusebius, Praep. ev. 15.17.8). Later on, he identifies the incorporeal with “that which is” (fr. 6 des Places). The most detailed description of “that which is” is given in the following passage:

For that which is (τὸ ὄν) is eternal (ἀΐδιον) and constant (βέβαιον) and always remains the same (ἀεὶ κατὰ ταὐτὸν καὶ ταὐτόν). It has not been generated and destroyed, nor increased and diminished: nor did it ever yet become more or less: and certainly neither in other senses nor yet locally will it be moved (κινηθήσεται). For it is not right for it to be moved, either backward or forward: nor upward ever, nor downward: neither to the right hand nor to the left shall that which is ever pass: nor shall it ever be moved around its own center; but rather it shall stand fast (ἑστήξεται), and shall be fixed and set firm (ἀραρός τε καὶ ἑστηκὸς ἔσται), ever in the same conditions and same mode (κατὰ ταὐτὰ ἔχον ἀεὶ καὶ ὡσαύτως).67

Elsewhere, Numenius argues that, while that which is “remains the same and always stands” (μένει κατὰ τὰ αὐτὰ καὶ ὡσαύτως ἕστηκε), the corporeal realm is in flux (ῥεῖ) and, therefore, is not (οὐκ ἔστιν) (fr. 8 des Places = Eusebius, Praep. ev. 11.10.12–13). Thus, “standing” is a distinctive feature of that which is; it is “standing” that distinguishes the noetic realm, which is, from matter, which is not.

The last passage by Numenius I would like to discuss deals with the appropriate ways to approach “the Good,” τὸ ἀγαθόν (which, as I have pointed out, is identical to “that which is,” τὸ ὄν). According to Numenius, “the Good” is incorporeal and, therefore, cannot be apprehended from any sensible object that resembles it (ἀπὸ ὁμοίου αἰσθητοῦ). Hence, one should

withdraw far from the things of sense, and commune with the Good one on one, where there is neither man nor any other living thing, nor body great or small, but a certain immense, indescribable, and absolutely divine solitude (ἐρημία θεσπέσιος), where there are the abodes, amusements, and splendors of the Good, and the Good itself, that which is quiescent (τὸ ἤρεμον), the guiding power, graciously floats upon being (ἡ οὐσία) in peace (εἰρήνη) and benevolence.68

As I have pointed out earlier, transcendental “standing” in the Philonic corpus is often associated with quiescence, ἠρεμία. According to Numenius, the supreme god himself (who is so consistently described as “standing”) is identical to τὸ ἤρεμον, “that which is quiescent.”69 It is evident, therefore, that for both Philo and Numenius immovability is intimately related to tranquility and peace.70

5 Clement of Alexandria

The last figure that I would like to discuss in this survey is Clement. It is worth noting that Clement was familiar with Philo’s corpus. Since transcendental “standing” was one of Philo’s favorite topics, it comes as no surprise that “standing” comes up in a passage where Clement draws his material from Philo.

As Annewies van den Hoek has pointed out, Strom.–52.1 is heavily dependent on Post. 22–28.71 The following passage both illustrates Clement’s dependency on Philo and introduces the topic of divine immutability:

Philo, Post. 27

Clement, Strom.

ὄντως γὰρ ἀτρέπτῳ ψυχῇ

πρὸς τὸν ἄτρεπτον θεὸν μόνῃ πρόσοδός ἐστι.

ὄντως γὰρ ἀτρέπτῳ

πρὸς τὸ ἄτρεπτον ἡ προσαγωγή.

For access to the immutable God is only for a truly immutable soul.

For approach to the immutable is for that which is truly immutable.

In the very next sentence (Strom., Clement cites Gen 18:22 and Deut 5:31 as examples of this principle: “Hence (οὕτως), ‘Abraham was standing before the Lord and drew near, saying’ (Gen 18:22), and it is said to Moses, ‘Stand here with me’ (Deut 5:31).” Clement borrows both of these quotations from Post. 27–28, and, just like Philo, interprets them as references to transcendental “standing.”72

Moreover, Clement occasionally speaks of transcendental “standing” even when he is not borrowing from Philo. In Strom., he says that when the Gnostic enters the Lord’s dwelling-place, he becomes “light that stands firm, always remains the same, and is absolutely and in every respect immutable,” φῶς ἑστὸς καὶ μένον ἀϊδίως, πάντῃ πάντως ἄτρεπτον. Notably, the passage in question begins with the description of spiritual progress as movement towards “the supreme place of repose (ὁ κορυφαῖος τῆς ἀναπαύσεως τόπος)” (Strom. Like Philo and Numenius, Clement associates transcendental “standing” with tranquility.

Finally, it is worth noting that the passage quoted above (Strom. is parallel to Strom., where Clement speaks of “God’s stable permanence and his unchanging light, which no form can catch (τὸ ἑστὸς καὶ μόνιμον τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ τὸ ἄτρεπτον αὐτοῦ φῶς καὶ ἀσχημάτιστον)” (trans. J. Ferguson). It is by no means a coincidence, then, that Clement’s understanding of human perfection is similar to his description of the deity. As Walther Völker points out, “Vergleicht man beide Stellen miteinander, so erkennt man sofort, daß Clemens vom Gläubigen eine ἐξομοίωσις πρὸς τὸν θεόν, eine Nachfolge Gottes, fordert und seine Schilderung des Gnostikers in enge Berührung mit dem Gottesgedanken bringt.”73

Transcendental “Standing” in the Gospel of Thomas

I now proceed to a discussion of the impact of the Platonist notion of transcendental “standing” on the Gospel of Thomas. As I see it, there are two reasons why it is likely that Thomasine sayings 16, 18, 23, and 50 allude to said notion.

(1) First, as I have tried to demonstrate in chapter 4, the motif of “becoming one” in Gos. Thom. 16:4 and 23:2 (quoted above, p. 130) stems from Platonist metaphysics. Since “oneness” as perfection is a Platonist motif and since Gos. Thom. 16:4 and 23:2 associate “oneness” with “standing,” it seems reasonable to read the Thomasine sayings about “standing” against the background of Platonist metaphysics.

Moreover, the association of “oneness” and “standing” appears to be quite natural for Platonist thought, since both “oneness” and “standing” are attributes of ultimate reality. As Williams has pointed out, Philo provides us with a good example of such an association.74 In Gig. 52, Philo contrasts uttered speech with silent contemplation. “That which is in the form of utterance (τὸ μετὰ λόγου τοῦ κατὰ προφοράν)” (Philo borrowed this term from the Stoics; see SVF 2.135) is not constant (οὐ βέβαιον), because it is a dyad (δυάς). In contrast, “the speechless contemplation by soul alone of that which is (τὸ ἄνευ φωνῆς μόνῃ ψυχῇ τὸ ὂν θεωρεῖν)” is very firm (ἐχυρώτατον) because “it is made stationary in accordance with the indivisible monad (κατὰ τὴν ἀδιαίρετον ἵσταται μονάδα).”

Thus, unlike uttered speech, silent contemplation is firm, because it is intimately related to the monad. The monad, in turn, is characterized not only by oneness (hence its indivisibility), but also by stability and firmness.75

The same divine qualities are attributed to the μοναχοί of saying 16 and to the chosen ones of saying 23. According to saying 23, the exceptional individuals whom Jesus deems worthy will, just like Philo’s monad, enjoy oneness and stability:

23:1 ⲡⲉϫⲉ ⲓⲥ︦ ϫⲉ ϯⲛⲁⲥⲉⲧ̣ⲡ ⲧⲏⲛⲉ ⲟⲩⲁ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ϩⲛ̄ ϣⲟ ⲁⲩⲱ ⲥⲛⲁⲩ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ϩⲛ̄ ⲧⲃⲁ 23:2 ⲁⲩⲱ ⲥⲉⲛⲁⲱϩⲉ ⲉⲣⲁⲧⲟⲩ ⲉⲩⲟ ⲟⲩⲁ ⲟⲩⲱⲧ

23:1 Jesus said: “I will choose you, one from a thousand and two from ten thousand. 23:2 And they will stand as a single one.”

Gos. Thom. 16:4, on the other hand, opposes “standing” to the struggle and unrest described in Gos. Thom. 16:1–3:

16:1 ⲡⲉϫⲉ ⲓⲥ︦ ϫⲉ ⲧⲁⲭⲁ ⲉⲩⲙⲉⲉⲩⲉ ⲛ̄ϭⲓ ⲣ̄ⲣⲱⲙⲉ ϫⲉ ⲛ̄ⲧⲁⲉⲓⲉⲓ ⲁⲛⲟⲩϫⲉ ⲛ̄ⲟⲩⲉⲓⲣⲏⲛⲏ ⲉϫⲙ̄ ⲡⲕⲟⲥⲙⲟⲥ 16:2 ⲁⲩⲱ ⲥⲉⲥⲟⲟⲩⲛ ⲁⲛ ϫⲉ ⲛ̄ⲧⲁⲉⲓⲉⲓ ⲁⲛⲟⲩϫⲉ ⲛ̄ϩⲛ̄ⲡⲱⲣϫ ⲉϫⲛ̄ ⲡⲕⲁϩ ⲟⲩⲕⲱϩⲧ ⲟⲩⲥⲏϥⲉ ⲟⲩⲡⲟⲗⲉⲙⲟⲥ 16:3 ⲟⲩⲛ̄ ϯⲟⲩ ⲅⲁⲣ ⲛⲁϣ̣ⲱ̣ⲡ̣ⲉ̣ ϩⲛ̄ ⲟⲩⲏⲉⲓ ⲟⲩⲛ̄ ϣⲟⲙⲧ ⲛⲁϣⲱⲡⲉ ⲉϫⲛ̄ ⲥⲛⲁⲩ ⲁⲩⲱ ⲥⲛⲁⲩ ⲉϫⲛ̄ ϣⲟⲙⲧ ⲡⲉⲓⲱⲧ ⲉϫⲙ̄ ⲡϣⲏⲣⲉ ⲁⲩⲱ ⲡϣⲏⲣⲉ ⲉϫⲙ̄ ⲡⲉⲓⲱⲧ 16:4 ⲁⲩⲱ ⲥⲉⲛⲁⲱϩⲉ ⲉⲣⲁⲧⲟⲩ ⲉⲩⲟ ⲙ̄ⲙⲟⲛⲁⲭⲟⲥ

16:1 Jesus said: “Perhaps people think that I have come to cast peace upon the earth. 16:2 But they do not know that I have come to cast dissension upon the earth: fire, sword, (and) war. 16:3 For there will be five in one house: there will be three against two and two against three, the father against the son, and the son against the father. 16:4 And they will stand as solitary ones.”

In this saying, Jesus proclaims that he has come not “to cast peace (ⲟⲩⲉⲓⲣⲏⲛⲏ) upon the earth” (16:1) but “to cast dissension upon the earth: fire, sword, (and) war (ⲟⲩⲡⲟⲗⲉⲙⲟⲥ)” (16:2). As I have pointed out earlier, Middle Platonists associated transcendental “standing” with peace and tranquility; it is perhaps because of this association that “standing” comes up at the end of the saying. In Gos. Thom. 16:4, Jesus develops the argument about the dialectic of war and peace that he initiated in Gos. Thom. 16:1–2. His point is that stability can be acquired only as the result of a long process. It is only after one dissolves his or her family ties and becomes a μοναχός that he or she can “stand.”

(2) The second reason why I think it is likely that the Gospel of Thomas is familiar with the idea of transcendental “standing” is due to the peculiar phrasing of saying 50. In a similar way to Clement and his “standing light,” φῶς ἑστός, the author of this saying speaks about the light that “took its stand.” There is little doubt that, just like in Clement, the “standing” of the light in saying 50 refers to the light’s immutability:

50:1a ⲡⲉϫⲉ ⲓⲥ︦ ϫⲉ ⲉⲩϣⲁⲛϫⲟⲟⲥ ⲛⲏⲧⲛ̄ ϫⲉ ⲛ̄ⲧⲁⲧⲉⲧⲛ̄ϣⲱⲡⲉ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ⲧⲱⲛ ϫⲟⲟⲥ ⲛⲁⲩ ϫⲉ ⲛ̄ⲧⲁⲛⲉⲓ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ϩⲙ̄ ⲡⲟⲩⲟⲉⲓⲛ 50:1b ⲡⲙⲁ ⲉⲛⲧⲁ ⲡⲟⲩⲟⲉⲓⲛ ϣⲱⲡⲉ ⲙ̣̄ⲙ̣ⲁ̣ⲩ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ϩⲓⲧⲟⲟⲧϥ ⲟⲩⲁⲁⲧϥ ⲁϥⲱϩ[ⲉ ⲉⲣⲁⲧϥ] ⲁ̣ⲩⲱ ⲁϥⲟⲩⲱⲛϩ ⲉ̣[ⲃ]ⲟⲗ ϩ̣ⲛ̄ ⲧⲟⲩϩⲓⲕⲱⲛ 50:2 ⲉⲩϣⲁϫⲟⲟⲥ ⲛⲏⲧⲛ̄ ϫⲉ ⲛ̄ⲧⲱⲧⲛ̄ ⲡⲉ ϫⲟⲟⲥ ϫⲉ ⲁⲛⲟⲛ ⲛⲉϥϣⲏⲣⲉ ⲁⲩⲱ ⲁⲛⲟⲛ ⲛ̄ⲥⲱⲧⲡ ⲙ̄ⲡⲉⲓⲱⲧ ⲉⲧⲟⲛϩ 50:3 ⲉⲩϣⲁⲛϫⲛⲉ ⲧⲏⲩⲧⲛ̄ ϫⲉ ⲟⲩ ⲡⲉ ⲡⲙⲁⲉⲓⲛ ⲙ̄ⲡⲉⲧⲛ̄ⲉⲓⲱⲧ ⲉⲧϩⲛ̄ ⲧⲏⲩⲧⲛ̄ ϫⲟⲟⲥ ⲉⲣⲟⲟⲩ ϫⲉ ⲟⲩⲕⲓⲙ ⲡⲉ ⲙⲛ̄ ⲟⲩⲁⲛⲁⲡⲁⲩⲥⲓⲥ

50:1a Jesus said: “If they say to you: ‘Where did you come from?’, say to them: ‘We came from the light, 50:1b the place where the light came into being on its own accord and established [itself] and became manifest through their image.’ 50:2 If they say to you: ‘Are you it?’, say: ‘We are its children, and we are the elect of the living father.’ 50:3 If they ask you: ‘What is the sign of your father in you?’, say to them: ‘It is movement and repose.’ ”

As one of the most puzzling sayings of the whole collection, saying 50 seems to deserve special commentary. According to Antti Marjanen, this saying is an instruction that Jesus “gives his disciples who have to explain their identity.” The purpose of the instruction is extremely ambiguous. Admittedly, “the non-identification of the interrogators with archontic powers, the fact that the interrogators are not portrayed as hostile figures as well as the lack of explicit evidence of a mystical visio Dei experience” suggest that the saying can be seen as “simply a catechesis created to give the audience of the Thomasine Jesus answers to fundamental questions which occupied people’s minds everywhere in antiquity.” On the other hand, saying 50 “has its closest parallels in those Gnostic texts which describe the post-mortem ascent of the soul past archontic powers back to the realm of light.”76

For the purposes of the present discussion, it is perhaps sufficient to accept that (i) the context presupposed by the instruction is that of either a trial or a test, and (ii) the questions asked during the interrogation have right answers and such answers must be known in order to pass the test.77

The first puzzle of the saying is the meaning of ⲧⲟⲩϩⲓⲕⲱⲛ, “their image” in Gos. Thom. 50:1b. The possessive article ⲧⲟⲩ- is in third person plural and, therefore, refers neither to the interrogators nor to the addressees, since in this case one would expect to find the possessive article either in second- or first-person plural (i.e., either ⲧⲉⲧⲛ̄- or ⲧⲛ̄-). An ingenious solution to this problem has been offered by April DeConick. According to her, there were several stages in the textual history of saying 50. The initial response to the first question (Gos. Thom. 50:1a) “has been redacted at some point in the history of the transmission of this saying in order to explain the light origin in more detail.”78 Thus, Gos. Thom. 50:1b is a later addition to Gos. Thom. 50:1a; it is no longer a part of the direct discourse, but rather an explanatory note added by an anonymous commentator. In her translation of saying 50, DeConick thus puts quotation marks around Gos. Thom. 50:1a and places Gos. Thom. 50:1b in parentheses.

The weakness of DeConick’s hypothesis is that, unlike in academic English, Coptic does not possess quotation marks and parentheses. The Coptic text of saying 50 betrays no indication that would help its ancient reader understand Gos. Thom. 50:1b as a comment on Gos. Thom. 50:1a. If Gos. Thom. 50:1b were to be understood as an explanatory note, it would have to have been introduced as an explanatory relative clause (i.e., by ⲉⲧⲉ ⲡⲁⲉⲓ ⲡⲉ or by another, similar expression). Grammatically, ⲡⲟⲩⲟⲉⲓⲛ in Gos. Thom. 50:1a and ⲡⲙⲁ in Gos. Thom. 50:1b stand in apposition. The only natural way to understand Gos. Thom. 50:1 is to see Gos. Thom. 50:1b as a continuation of the direct discourse amplifying the “light” of Gos. Thom. 50:1a. Thus, Gos. Thom. 50:1b should be seen as part of the answer to the first question of the interrogators. Consequently, it seems unproductive to speculate about the redactional activity behind saying 50, since the alleged addition of Gos. Thom. 50:1b does not help to uncover the referent of ⲧⲟⲩϩⲓⲕⲱⲛ.79

The most appealing explanation of ⲧⲟⲩϩⲓⲕⲱⲛ has recently been offered by Christian Tornau, according to whom, ⲧⲟⲩ- of the Coptic text renders ἑαυτῶν of the Greek Vorlage.80 It is important to keep in mind that, in Greek, (i) the reflexive pronoun can be used in place of the possessive one, and (ii) the reflexive pronoun of the third person can be used in place of that of the first or second person. Thus, ἑαυτῶν in the Greek Vorlage of saying 50 would have been used in the same sense as it is in Heb 10:25—namely, as an equivalent of ἡμῶν.

It is possible, therefore, that the translator misunderstood the Greek text of saying 50, or rather, as Plisch puts it, “simply translated it too mechanically.”81 It is also possible that the Greek Vorlage of the Coptic translation was corrupt and had αὐτῶν instead of ἑαυτῶν, or that the Greek text was correct, but the translator misread it.

The “image,” therefore, belongs to the addressees. When they are asked about their origins, they are supposed to say that they come from self-generated immovable light, which produced their image. This image, as I will argue in chapter 8, is identical with the “new” image that replaces the “old” one (Gos. Thom. 22:6), the image of the father (Gos. Thom. 83:2), and the images that neither die nor reveal themselves (Gos. Thom. 84:2).

The second puzzle of saying 50 is the second question asked by the interrogators: ⲛ̄ⲧⲱⲧⲛ̄ ⲡⲉ (“Is it you?” in the translation by Thomas O. Lambdin; so also the Berliner Arbeitskreis). Plisch finds the phrasing of this question “strange” and suggests an emendation: ⲛ̄ⲧⲱⲧⲛ̄ ⟨ⲛⲓⲙ⟩, “Who are you?”82 According to him, those who wish to make sense of the Coptic text as it stands have to “understand the question as a direct reaction” on the part of the interrogators to the first answer—i.e., “Is it (really) you?”83

I am inclined to think, however, that there is hardly anything “strange” about the phrasing of the second question. The sentence ⲛ̄ⲧⲱⲧⲛ̄ ⲡⲉ in fact belongs to pattern 10 of Bentley Layton’s classification of nominal sentence patterns.84 The subject of the sentence is ⲛ̄ⲧⲱⲧⲛ̄, and the invariable pronoun ⲡⲉ, the predicate; ⲡⲉ is anaphoric (or retrospective)—i.e., it “refers back to some item outside of the present sentence which was already mentioned in the text.”85 Thus, ⲡⲉ represents an outside item (i.e., the antecedent) and predicates it to the subject of the sentence. I suggest that the antecedent of ⲡⲉ is ⲡⲟⲩⲟⲉⲓⲛ. The question that the interrogators ask is, therefore, “Are you it?” In other words, in Gos. Thom. 50:2, the interrogators inquire whether the addressees are the light that was mentioned in Gos. Thom. 50:1.86

The proposed interpretation of the second question fits nicely with the rest of the saying and has certain implications for the understanding of the second answer. When the addressees say ⲁⲛⲟⲛ ⲛⲉϥϣⲏⲣⲉ, they mean, “We are its children” (i.e., “We are the children of the light”), not “We are his children” (pace the Berliner Arbeitskreis).

In the next sentence, the addressees add, “And we are the elect of the living father.” As I have argued in the previous chapter (p. 125), ⲛⲙⲟⲛⲁⲭⲟⲥ ⲁⲩⲱ ⲉⲧⲥⲟⲧⲡ, “the unique and elect,” in Gos. Thom. 49:1 is clearly a hendiadys. In a similar fashion, “the children of the light” and “the elect of the living father” in Gos. Thom. 50:2 can hardly be anything other than a hendiadys. Thus, Gos. Thom. 50:2 identifies the father with the light.

This brings us to the last detail of Gos. Thom. 50:2 that is of particular interest for the present discussion—the notion of election. The addressees of saying 50 recognize themselves as the elect of the immovable light. Saying 50, therefore, establishes a connection between transcendental “standing” and election. This very connection is also established in saying 23 (quoted above, p. 150), where Jesus says that the chosen ones “will stand as a single one.” Thus, just like Philo and Clement, the Gospel of Thomas reserves transcendental “standing” to the most commendable individuals: in Philo, it is the sages who “stand”; in Clement, the Gnostics; in the Gospel of Thomas, the elect.

Unlike the first two puzzles, the third is not of a linguistic nature but rather of an exegetical one—namely, the meaning of the expression “movement and repose” in Gos. Thom. 50:3. It seems natural to assume that the third answer of the addressees is an integral part of saying 50 and should not be isolated from its immediate context.87 Since, as I have tried to argue, Gos. Thom. 50:1 refers to the concept of transcendental “standing,” it is likely that the competent reader of the saying was supposed to recognize and make sense of its Platonizing language. It seems reasonable, therefore, to approach “movement and repose” of Gos. Thom. 50:3 from the perspective of Platonist metaphysics.88

The third question asked during the interrogation is “What is the sign of your father in you?” In other words, the interrogators inquire, “Is there anything in you that would prove your alleged kinship with your father?” The addressees who claim to have come from the divine light and to be its children are now supposed to say whether they share any divine attributes with it (it should be kept in mind that, according to Gos. Thom. 50:2, “the light” and “the father” are two different names for the same ultimate reality).89

Let me now proceed to the third answer. On the one hand, there is little doubt that it is supposed to be seen as a paradox—i.e., it combines two mutually exclusive elements. On the other hand, “movement” (Coptic ⲕⲓⲙ renders Greek κίνησις) and “repose” seem to be an unusual pair of opposites, at least at first sight. The antonym of κίνησις is στάσις, not ἀνάπαυσις. There is, however, a way to explain why these two elements are opposed to each other and how their polarity can be transcended.

I would like to start with “repose.” As I have pointed out, stability is an important feature of ultimate reality both in Platonism and Gos. Thom. 50:1. This stability, often described as “standing” (στάσις), is emphatically associated with tranquility, peace, and quiescence. Numenius even goes as far as to say that ultimate reality is τὸ ἤρεμον, “that which is quiescent.” It is possible, therefore, that the “repose” that Gos. Thom. 50:3 pairs with “movement” hints at the notion of divine immovability, which is intimately related to tranquility.

It is worth noting that when Philo speaks of pious and impious humans in Abr. 27, he contrasts exactly these two terms, κίνησις and ἀνάπαυσις. According to Philo, the opposite (τοὐναντίον) of repose is “unnatural movement,” ἡ παρὰ φύσιν κίνησις,90 which is “the cause of turmoil and disorder and riots and wars (ταραχῶν καὶ θορύβων στάσεών τε καὶ πολέμων αἰτία).” It is the wicked people (οἱ φαῦλοι) who pursue this movement. Unlike them, those who value nobleness (οἱ καλοκἀγαθίαν τετιμηκότες) pursue “a life which is quiescent, silent, steadfast, and peaceful (ἠρεμαῖος δὲ καὶ ἡσυχάζων καὶ σταθερὸς ἔτι δὲ καὶ εἰρηνικὸς βίος).” There can be little doubt that just like this passage contrasts movement and repose, so also it contrasts the four outcomes of movement and the four predicates of noble life:




ἠρεμαῖος (sc., βίος)


ἡσυχάζων (sc., βίος)


σταθερός (sc., βίος)


εἰρηνικὸς βίος

Thus, according to this passage, Philo associates repose with peacefulness and steadfastness; just like he contrasts repose with movement, so also he contrasts peacefulness with wars and steadfastness with riots (cf. a similar word play in Post. 184, quoted above, p. 145). Repose, therefore, belongs to the same domain as stability, peace, and quiescence. As this passage demonstrates, “movement” and “repose” did constitute a conceivable pair of opposites in the symbolic universe of ancient Platonism.

A much more difficult question is the meaning of “movement” in Gos. Thom. 50:3. Indeed, immovability is the distinguishing feature of ultimate reality. Yet surprisingly there is a place where movement marries rest. The most important piece of evidence is the following passage from Numenius’ De bono:

Now the modes of life of the first god and of the second are these: evidently the first god will be at rest (ἑστώς), while the second on the contrary is in motion (κινούμενος). So then the first is engaged with the intelligible realm, and the second with both the intelligible and sensible. And be not surprised at my saying this, for you are going to hear something far more surprising. For instead of that motion (κίνησις) which belongs to the second I assert that the rest (στάσις) which belongs to the first is an innate motion (κίνησις σύμφυτος), from which both the order of the world (ἡ τάξις τοῦ κόσμου), and its eternal continuance (ἡ μονὴ ἡ ἀΐδιος), and its preservation (ἡ σωτηρία) is diffused throughout the universe (τὰ ὅλα).91

According to Numenius, there is a paradox that lies at the core of ultimate reality: the first god’s rest (στάσις) is his innate movement (κίνησις σύμφυτος) and is the cause of the order, continuance, and preservation of the world. Previous scholarship has noted that the notion of God’s κίνησις σύμφυτος could have been inspired by Soph. 248e (quoted above, p. 139), where Plato attributes movement, κίνησις, to “that which wholly is,” τὸ παντελῶς ὄν.92 Regardless of whether or not he had this particular Platonic passage in mind, it is clear that Numenius adhered to the idea that ultimate reality has a dynamic aspect. As Dillon puts it, Numenius’ first god “produces the stability and order of everything else” and, therefore, “must have motion in some sense.”93

Thus, the “standing” god of Numenius is not entirely deprived of movement. It is worth noting that a somewhat similar train of thought occurs in Philo’s exegesis of Exod 17:6. While the initial text of Exod 17:6 LXX read ὅδε ἐγώ (rendering Hebrew ‮הִנְנִי‬‎), Philo attests an alternative reading (ὧδε ἐγώ), which allows him to interpret Exod 17:6 as a reference of God’s omnipresence:

“Here I stand there before you were” (ὧδε ἐγὼ ἕστηκα ἐκεῖ πρὸ τοῦ σέ) (Exod 17:6). He shows hereby that He subsists (ὑφέστηκε) before all created being, and that He who is here exists also there and elsewhere and everywhere, for He has filled all wholly and entirely and left nothing where His presence is not. For He does not say “I will stand here and there,” but even now, when I am present here, I stand at the same time there also. My motion is not one of transference in space, where the traveler leaves one place when he occupies another, but it is a motion of self-extension and self-expansion (τονικὴ κίνησις).94

In this passage, Philo uses the concept of “tonic movement” (a Stoic expression, cf. SVF 2.448; 2.450–451; 2.864; Marcus Aurelius, Medit. 6.38) in order to explain how his “standing” God can be omnipresent. This movement is unique, since it has nothing to do with changing from one location to another. It is a type of movement that is compatible with immovability.

Thus, both Numenius and Philo claim that the “standing” God moves and rests at the same time. In order to describe this paradox, they introduce new varieties of movement: κίνησις σύμφυτος, in the case of Numenius, and τονικὴ κίνησις, in the case of Philo. I believe that these two examples of divine “motionless motion” are important for understanding Gos. Thom. 50:3.

Although movement is not explicitly attributed to the light, Gos. Thom. 50:1 reports that it was involved in a certain creative activity. Despite its immovability, the light is not entirely passive: it generated itself before it “stood,” and, after it “stood,” it produced the image. Thus, it is possible to surmise that “movement and repose” refer to the dialectic nature of ultimate reality: its stability goes hand in hand with its creativity.

It is also conceivable why the addressees are supposed to say that they somehow share these two divine attributes. As I have tried to argue, Gos. Thom. 16:4 and 23:2 envision human perfection as stability. But this stability is not lifeless and static. Just like the self-generated light revealed itself in the image, so is it also the nature of the children of light to radiate light. According to Gos. Thom. 24:3, the light that does not shine is darkness:


ⲟⲩⲛ̄ ⲟⲩⲟⲉⲓⲛ ϣⲟⲟⲡ ⲙ̄ⲫⲟⲩⲛ ⲛ̄ⲛⲟⲩⲣⲙ̄ⲟⲩⲟⲉⲓⲛ


ⲁⲩⲱ ϥⲣ̄ ⲟⲩⲟⲉⲓⲛ ⲉⲡⲕⲟⲥⲙⲟⲥ ⲧⲏⲣϥ


ⲉϥⲧⲙ̄ⲣ̄ ⲟⲩⲟⲉⲓⲛ


ⲟⲩⲕⲁⲕⲉ ⲡⲉ


There is light within a person of light,


and it lights up the whole world.


If it does not shine,


it is darkness.

It seems that the structure of Gos. Thom. 24:3 is chiastic: if there is light (A), then it shines (B); if it does not shine (B′), then there is no light (A′). This is a simple truth formulated as a paradox: to shine is in light’s nature; if light does not shine, it is darkness.95

It is reasonable to suggest that the “people of light” of Gos. Thom. 24:3 and the “children of light” of Gos. Thom. 50:2 refer to the same group of commendable individuals. Thus, I conclude that, by their “movement,” the addressees of Gos. Thom. 50:3 mean their radiance. They claim that their stability does not interfere with their luminous nature. They are at rest, yet they shine. A somewhat similar notion occurs in Alcinous’ handbook (Didasc. 10.2), who says that God is motionless, yet acts (ἐνεργεῖ) upon the cosmic mind in the same way the sun acts upon vision.96

It is difficult to ascertain what exactly this movement/radiance means with regard to the addressees of saying 50. While the self-generated light of Gos. Thom. 50:1 seems to assume a demiurgic role of some sort, the “movement” of the “children of light” probably refers to a different type of activity. The most likely option is religious instruction. The use of light imagery in Gos. Thom. 33:2–3 supports this interpretation:

33:1 ⲡⲉϫⲉ ⲓⲥ︦ ⲡⲉⲧⲕⲛⲁⲥⲱⲧⲙ̄ ⲉⲣⲟϥ ϩⲙ̄ ⲡⲉⲕⲙⲁⲁϫⲉ ϩⲙ̄ ⲡⲕⲉⲙⲁⲁϫⲉ ⲧⲁϣⲉ ⲟⲉⲓϣ ⲙ̄ⲙⲟϥ ϩⲓϫⲛ̄ ⲛⲉⲧⲛ̄ϫⲉⲛⲉⲡⲱⲣ 33:2 ⲙⲁⲣⲉ ⲗⲁⲁⲩ ⲅⲁⲣ ϫⲉⲣⲉ ϩⲏⲃ̄ⲥ︦ ⲛ̄ϥⲕⲁⲁϥ ϩⲁ ⲙⲁⲁϫⲉ ⲟⲩⲇⲉ ⲙⲁϥⲕⲁⲁϥ ϩⲙ̄ ⲙⲁ ⲉϥϩⲏⲡ 33:3 ⲁⲗⲗⲁ ⲉϣⲁⲣⲉϥⲕⲁⲁϥ ϩⲓϫⲛ̄ ⲧⲗⲩⲭⲛⲓⲁ ϫⲉⲕⲁⲁⲥ ⲟⲩⲟⲛ ⲛⲓⲙ ⲉⲧⲃⲏⲕ ⲉϩⲟⲩⲛ ⲁⲩⲱ ⲉⲧⲛ̄ⲛⲏⲩ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ⲉⲩⲛⲁⲛⲁⲩ ⲁⲡⲉϥⲟⲩⲟⲉⲓⲛ

33:1 Jesus said, “That which you (sg.) will hear in your (sg.) ear preach into the other ear from your (pl.) housetops. 33:2 For no one lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel, nor does he put it in a hidden place, 33:3 but rather he sets it on a lampstand so that everyone who enters and leaves will see its light.”

According to Gos. Thom. 33:2–3, the light should not be hidden (ϩⲏⲡ); on the contrary, everyone should see it. Just like the self-generated light revealed itself (ⲟⲩⲱⲛϩ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ) in the image, so also the children of light are supposed to proclaim the truth to those less advanced in their spiritual journey. Their mission is to enlighten the world (Gos. Thom. 24:3).

The last saying that I need to discuss before I conclude this chapter is Gos. Thom. 18:3. I believe that the notion of the self-generated light from Gos. Thom. 50:1 is crucial for the understanding of the notion of “standing” in Gos. Thom. 18:3:

18:1 ⲡⲉϫⲉ ⲙ̄ⲙⲁⲑⲏⲧⲏⲥ ⲛ̄ⲓⲥ︦ ϫⲉ ϫⲟⲟⲥ ⲉⲣⲟⲛ ϫⲉ ⲧⲛ̄ϩⲁⲏ ⲉⲥⲛⲁϣⲱⲡⲉ ⲛ̄ⲁϣ ⲛ̄ϩⲉ 18:2 ⲡⲉϫⲉ ⲓⲥ︦ ⲁⲧⲉⲧⲛ̄ϭⲱⲗⲡ ⲛ̄ⲧⲁⲣⲭⲏ ϫⲉⲕⲁⲁⲥ ⲉⲧⲉⲧⲛⲁϣⲓⲛⲉ ⲛ̄ⲥⲁ ⲑⲁϩⲏ ϫⲉ ϩⲙ̄ ⲡⲙⲁ ⲉⲧⲉ ⲧⲁⲣⲭⲏ ⲙ̄ⲙⲁⲩ ⲉⲑⲁϩⲏ ⲛⲁϣⲱⲡⲉ ⲙ̄ⲙⲁⲩ 18:3 ⲟⲩⲙⲁⲕⲁⲣⲓⲟⲥ ⲡⲉⲧⲛⲁⲱϩⲉ ⲉⲣⲁⲧϥ ϩⲛ̄ ⲧⲁⲣⲭⲏ ⲁⲩⲱ ϥⲛⲁⲥⲟⲩⲱⲛ ⲑϩⲁⲏ ⲁⲩⲱ ϥⲛⲁϫⲓ ϯⲡⲉ ⲁⲛ ⲙ̄ⲙⲟⲩ

18:1 The disciples said to Jesus: “Tell us how our end will be.” 18:2 Jesus said: “Have you already discovered the beginning that you are now asking about the end? For where the beginning is, there also will be the end. 18:3 Blessed is he who will stand at the beginning. And he will know the end, and he will not taste death.”

The beatitude that Jesus says here, “Blessed is he who will stand at the beginning,” is quite peculiar. As I have tried to argue in this chapter, “standing” is an important part of the Thomasine metaphysical vocabulary. It seems legitimate, therefore, to suggest that the phrasing of Gos. Thom. 18:3 is meaningful and that the saying refers to the notion of transcendental “standing.”

While the disciples of saying 18 do not know about the beginning, the addressees of saying 50 are well aware of it. They know that in the beginning the divine light generated itself, “stood,” and produced their image. It seems reasonable to surmise, then, that “to stand in the beginning” means to imitate the primordial light that “stood” after it generated itself.

As I have pointed out earlier, there is a notable similarity between Clement’s “standing light,” φῶς ἑστός, and the light that “stood” in Gos. Thom. 50:1. It is also worth noting that Clement considers becoming φῶς ἑστός to be the final stage of spiritual progress: it is the perfect Gnostic who transforms into φῶς ἑστός. It is possible, therefore, that the beatitude of Gos. Thom. 18:3 refers to the same transformation into the standing light.


In this chapter, I have discussed the significance of Platonist metaphysics for the understanding of the notion of “standing” in the Gospel of Thomas. I began with a survey of the interpretations of Thomasine “standing” offered in the publications by DeConick, Williams, and Murray. These interpretations, though quite ingenious, are not appealing, because they do not seem to do justice to the Thomasine context in which the notion of “standing” occurs.

I then made an attempt to classify various aspects of the meaning of “standing” in the Gospel of Thomas. First, there are two cases of literal standing: in saying 75, suitors stand at the door of the bridal chamber, and, in saying 99, Jesus’ relatives stand outside. Interestingly, both relatives and suitors stand outside and are contrasted to those who go inside. Furthermore, in both cases, this contrast between going and standing serves as an allegory for excellence and imperfection. Thus, these two instances of literal standing allegorized as imperfection may be seen as a counterbalance to the cases where “standing” is meant metaphorically and refers to divine stability. Second, there is one saying, saying 28, where “standing” refers to presenting oneself, which is evident both from the saying’s structure and from the parallels from other early Christian texts. Finally, sayings 16, 18, 23, and 50 refer to the notion of transcendental “standing,” which, I believe, is one of the many instances where the Gospel of Thomas is indebted to the Platonist tradition.

Having surveyed various perspectives on the notion of transcendental “standing” in Plato, Alcinous, Philo, Numenius, and Clement, I turned to the metaphysics of sayings 16, 18, 23, and 50. There are two reasons why it is likely that these sayings refer to transcendental “standing.” First, sayings 16 and 18 associate “standing” with oneness. As I have demonstrated in chapter 4, the Gospel of Thomas borrows the notion of oneness as perfection from the Platonist tradition. Since both oneness and “standing” are divine attributes, it seems natural to assume that Thomasine “standing” also comes from Platonism. In fact, Philo associates oneness with “standing” in Gig. 52 and thus provides us with an important parallel to sayings 16 and 18. Second, the notion of the light that “stood” in saying 50 is remarkably similar to Clement’s notion of “standing light.” It seems reasonable to suggest that the Gospel of Thomas, Philo, and Clement speak the same language and that, when it comes to the foundations of metaphysics, all of them have similar views.

Just like Philo and Clement, the Gospel of Thomas applies the concept of transcendental “standing” to both ultimate reality and human individuals. Its metaphysics of “standing” can be summarized as follows. Ultimate reality is self-generated immovable light. Paradoxically, this “standing” light is not deprived of movement, as it revealed its creative nature by producing the image. Similarly, the worthy individuals who will assimilate to immovable light and “stand” will not be entirely passive either. Since they are luminous beings, it is in their nature to shine—i.e., to proclaim the truth to others. The truth that these less spiritually advanced individuals are yet about to learn pertains to what happened in the beginning—i.e., how the light came to be, “stood,” and produced the image; for such an individual, spiritual progress means to imitate this process and thus to become a “standing” light.

Finally, it is worth noting that the metaphysics of “standing” present in sayings 16, 18, 23, and 50 has remarkable similarities with other Platonist and Platonizing texts discussed in this chapter. First, according to Philo, human beings can regain the divine stability and immutability that humanity tragically lost only once they have advanced to the stage of being friends of God and sages. According to Clement, it is the sole prerogative of the Gnostic to transform into “standing light.” Similarly, according to the Gospel of Thomas, only the chosen ones will “stand” (sayings 23 and 50). Second, Philo and Numenius recognized an intimate connection between stability, on the one hand, and peace and quiescence, on the other; the Gospel of Thomas also seems to be aware of this connection (sayings 16 and 50).


I borrow this expression from Williams 1985, 74.


See DeConick 1996, 90; cf. Robbins 2013, 128–129.


DeConick and Robbins refer to 1 En. 68.2, which is clearly due to a misprint.


Williams 1985, 87.


Williams follows the suggestion made by Adam 1953–1954, 224–228. It is worth noting that, although Võõbus 1958, 98–99, criticized this suggestion, it may be accurate. The Syriac noun ‮ܩܝܡܐ‬‎, “covenant,” comes from the verbal root ‮ܩܘܡ‬‎, “rise up,” “stand.” As Griffith 1998, 232, points out, “It is the nature of Semitic languages and their semantics to employ polyvalent terms. Given the presumption that all forms derive from a particular set of root consonants, they carry a reference to all the other lexical possibilities implicit in their shared roots.”


See Williams 1985, 89–90.


A similar attempt has recently been made by D.F. Bumazhnov, who also relates sayings 16, 23, and 75 to ‮ܩܝܡܐ‬‎, but does not offer any interpretation of Thomasine “standing.” See Bumazhnov 2011.


Murray 2004, 14.


See Murray 2004, 15.


Murray 1974, 78.


Murray assumes that both ⲙⲟⲛⲁⲭⲟⲥ and ⲟⲩⲁ ⲟⲩⲱⲧ render ‮ܝܚܝܕܝܐ‬‎ (ibid., 70). See chapter 4 for my critique of this theory.


Murray 2004, 16; cf. Murray 1974, 68–70, 77–78.


Plisch 2008, 64 and 198 (cf. Schenke 2012, 882–883), argues that the noun ⲁⲅⲅⲉⲗⲟⲥ in sayings 13 and 88 means “messenger” rather than “angel,” but his arguments do not seem appealing. First, since some angels are evil (Matt 25:41), there is no reason why the others cannot be called “just” (saying 13). Second, ⲛ̄ⲁⲅⲅⲉⲗⲟⲥ ⲙⲛ̄ ⲛ̄ⲡⲣⲟⲫⲏⲧⲏⲥ is not necessarily equivalent to οἱ ἀπόστολοι καὶ προφῆται of Did. 11:3.


In this respect, Gos. Thom. 13:2 is similar to Gos. Thom. 114:1, where Peter also expresses an inadequate opinion that is later corrected by Jesus; cf. Uro 2003, 90.


The same idea seems to be present in saying 52, where “twenty-four prophets” probably stand for the Hebrew Scriptures; see Miroshnikov 2012, 183.


Cf. Williams 1985, 91.


For a detailed analysis of these sayings, see Marjanen 1998b, 170–172.


See Smith 1978, 1–23; Davies 1983, 117–137; MacDonald 1987, 50–63.


See the discussion in Uro 2003, 70–72.


Uro 2003, 72.


See Wilmet 1957–1959, 2:1155–1160.


It is worth noting that, since Matt 12:47 is necessary to the flow of the narrative, it must have been in the original text. Metzger 1994, 26–27, argues that it “apparently was accidentally omitted because of homoeoteleuton”: verses 12:46 and 12:47 both end with λαλῆσαι.


Quecke 1977, 156.


Thus, for instance, as Alexey Somov has recently shown, in certain early Jewish and early Christian texts, ἵστημι “occasionally represents the concept of resurrection”; see Somov 2017, 207–208.


See Patterson 1993, 68. Whether saying 99 is dependent on the Synoptic tradition or draws on a source that was parallel to it is a matter of debate. Patterson 1993, 67–68, champions Thomasine independence from the Synoptics; Gathercole 2012, 196–198, argues against it. I am inclined to agree with Kloppenborg 2014, 213, who has recently called Gathercole’s arguments into question and concluded that saying 99 may well represent “an independent performance of the saying.”


Bumazhnov 2011, 77.


See Crum 1939, 537b.


I borrow it from Wilmet 1957–1959, 2:1156.


It should be noted that at least one manuscript, sa 16L, reads ⲛⲉⲩⲛ̄ ϩⲟⲓⲛⲉ; see Balestri 1970, 135. This reading must be regarded as a corruption of ⲛⲉⲩⲛ̄ ϩⲉⲛϩⲓⲟⲙⲉ.


Quecke 1972, 176.


Cf. Robbins 2013, 132.


See BDAG, s.v. “ἵστημι,” B.2.


Cf. Jeremias 1958, 71.


Williams 1985, 39.


Ibid., 41.


Parm. 132d, trans. M.L. Gill and P. Ryan.


Theaet. 176e–177a, trans. M.J. Levett and M. Burnyeat.


Soph. 248e–249a, trans. N.P. White.


This passage has two remarkable parallels in Plato’s corpus. First, Plato makes the same connection between literal standing and contemplation in his accounts of Socrates’ trance-like states in Symp. 175a–b and 220c–d. Second, Plato’s description of gods standing on heaven while they are carried around by its revolution is reminiscent of Tim. 40a–b, where “the heavenly race of gods (οὐράνιον θεῶν γένος)”—i.e., the fixed stars—follows two motions, axial rotation and circular revolution (cf. Taylor 1928, 225), but is “immovable and stationary (ἀκίνητον καὶ ἑστός)” with respect to the other five motions.


Phaedr. 247b–c, trans. A. Nehamas and P. Woodruff.


Williams 1985, 75.


Dillon 1993a, 107.


Cf. ibid., 108.


Cf. Dillon 1996, 283.


As Dillon 1993a, 103, points out, this is one of the “salient features” from Aristotle’s “unmoved mover” that Alcinous grants to his God (cf. Metaph. 1072b: God moves “by being loved,” ὡς ἐρώμενον).


Cf. Dörrie et al. 2008, 328–329; Alt 1996, 15.


Cf. Dörrie et al. 2008, 337: “Gott bewegt nicht so, daß er dabei selbst bewegt bzw. verändert würde. In diesem Sinne ist ihm Bewegen und Bewegtwerden abzusprechen.”


Cf. Whittaker 1976, 158.


Williams 1985, 42. For some discussions of transcendental “standing” in Philo, see, for instance, Pascher 1931, 228–238; Völker 1938, 326–327; Williams 1985, 25–27, 42–43, 76; cf. Grundmann 1971, 7:644–645.


Unfortunately, the Greek text of this sentence is corrupt, but the underlying idea is clear.


Cf. Amir 1983, 204; Winston and Dillon 1983, 261. It is worth noting that the notion of “God’s friend (φίλος θεοῦ)” frequently occurs in the works of Philo. This Philonic notion is inspired not only by Timaeus, but also by the biblical passages like Exod 33:11 LXX (see Mos. 1.156; cf. Sacr. 130; Ebr. 94).


Cf. Taylor 1928, 364.


See Her. 21: οἱ σοφοὶ πάντες φίλοι θεοῦ, “all the sages are God’s friends.”


Tarrant 2007, 419.


Post. 23, trans. F.H. Colson and G.H. Whitaker.


Gig. 49, trans. F.H. Colson and G.H. Whitaker, altered.


Post. 28, trans. F.H. Colson and G.H. Whitaker, altered.


See Williams 1985, 27.


See Amir 1983, 201–203; Winston and Dillon 1983, 261–262.


Post. 185, trans. F.H. Colson and G.H. Whitaker, slightly altered.


In fact, it can even be surmised that Philo considered stability to be one of the prerequisites of salvation. See, e.g., QE 2.40—a passage which draws inspiration from the myth of the ascent of the soul in Plato’s Phaedrus (discussed above, pp. 139–140)—in which the souls that lack steadfast desire for God are drawn to the depths of Tartarus (according to Yli-Karjanmaa 2015, 185, this phrase “is meant as a reference to their ending up in a new incarnation”).


Dillon 1996, 367.


Cf. Dodds 1960, 12.


Dillon 1996, 374.


Turner 2001, 389.


Fr. 4a des Places (= Eusebius, Praep. ev. 15.17.3), trans. E.H. Gifford, altered.


Fr. 5 des Places (= Eusebius, Praep. ev. 11.10.4–5), trans. E.H. Gifford, altered.


Fr. 2 des Places (= Eusebius, Praep. ev. 11.22.1), trans. E.H. Gifford, altered.


Cf. Pépin 1992, 302.


As Runia 1995, 200, points out, the similarity between Numenius’ and Philo’s treatment of the theme of transcendental “standing” is rather striking. It is worth noting that, while Philonic influence on Numenius is impossible to prove, we can be certain that Numenius read Jewish scriptures and gave them allegorical interpretation (fr. 1b des Places = Origen, Cels. 1.15; fr. 1c des Places = Origen, Cels. 4.51). It is possible, therefore, that in using “standing” as an epithet of God both Numenius and Philo were inspired by the same biblical passages (e.g., Exod 24:10).


See van den Hoek 1988, 161–163.


Cf. Williams 1985, 55.


Völker 1952, 513.


See Williams 1985, 43.


For a discussion of the role of the monad in Philonic corpus, chapter 4.


Marjanen 1996, 34.


Perhaps the identity of the interrogators is not revealed in order to point out that the content of the conversation is more important than its context. In other words, the context is intentionally universal: we are presented with questions that people must face whenever they are on a spiritual journey.


DeConick 1996, 65.


One could perhaps suggest that Gos. Thom. 50:1b was initially a marginal gloss that was eventually interpolated into the main text by a careless scribe. This does not seem to be a likely option, however, since no other traces of mechanical interpolation are attested in the Gospel of Thomas. For a detailed discussion of the phenomenon of mechanical interpolation, see Wildberg 2013, 144–150.


See Tornau 2008, 358–359.


Plisch 2008, 131; see also the discussion of Gos. Thom. 61:2 as a literal rendering of a Greek idiom and Gos. Thom. 7:2 as an erroneous translation of the double nominative in chapters 6 and 7.


This emendation was proposed already in the editio princeps—see Guillaumont et al. 1959, 28–29. This is also suggested by the Berliner Arbeitskreis—see Bethge et al. 2005, 532.


Plisch 2008, 130.


See Layton 2011, 220–221 (§ 282).


Ibid., 208 (§ 267).


Cf. the Finnish translation by Marjanen and Uro: “Oletteko te se valo?” (“Are you that light?”) (Dunderberg and Marjanen 2005, 303).


Pace Davies 1992, 670, who understands “movement and repose” as a reference to the seven days of creation that “begin with the Spirit moving upon the waters” and “conclude with a day of repose.” While this interpretation is certainly very appealing, it does not take into account the fact that saying 50 does not seem to contain any allusions to the biblical creation narrative.


The Platonist background of Gos. Thom. 50:3 was first suggested in Patterson 2013, 54–59. Although my conclusions are somewhat different from Patterson’s, it was his research that instigated my interest to the metaphysics behind Gos. Thom. 50:3.


It is worth noting that in the context of a heavenly ascent narrative ⲡⲙⲁⲉⲓⲛ, “the sign,” may have various meanings; cf. the discussion of the term ⲡⲓⲥⲏⲙⲓⲟⲛ, “the sign,” in the Apocalypse of Paul (NHC V 23.22–26) in Kaler 2005, 266–268. Yet the modifier ⲉⲧϩⲛ̄ ⲧⲏⲩⲧⲛ̄ and the answer of the addressees both indicate that “the sign” in Gos. Thom. 50:3 refers to a certain inner quality.


Philo borrows this expression from the Stoics. According to SVF 3.476, a passion of the soul (τὸ τῆς ψυχῆς πάθος) is an unnatural movement (κίνησις παρὰ φύσιν); cf. SVF 3.462.


Fr. 15 des Places (= Eusebius, Praep. ev. 11.18.20–21), trans. E.H. Gifford, altered.


See, e.g., Krämer 1964, 70; des Places 1973, 110.


Dillon 1996, 369.


Sacr. 67–68, trans. F.H. Colson and G.H. Whitaker, altered.


Alexey Somov has drawn my attention to a similar paradox in Mark 9:50, where Jesus exhorts his disciples not to become ἅλας ἄναλον, “unsalted salt”; for discussions of this metaphor, see, e.g., Nauck 1952, 173–176; Latham 1982, 227–228; Garlington 2011, 740–742.


Alcinous probably alludes to the sun simile from Resp. 508a–b; cf. Whittaker and Louis 1990, 22; Dillon 1993a, 103.

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