In the mid-20th century, two farmers made a great discovery in Nag Hammadi, Egypt: a trove of biblical manuscripts that supplied insight on the divisions within the Christian church. The Nag Hammadi Library, as the place became known, comprised at least 50 previously unseen gospels and codices, including the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, which derived from faiths and beliefs declared to be heresies.
In the early years of the Christian faith, preachers and supposed prophets were ubiquitous, and many beliefs and practices contradicted one another. Once the Christian faith consolidated into a single church, the Bible underwent changes, and parts became omitted; everything not included in the orthodoxy either got wiped out or condemned as heretical.
The Gospel of Thomas is among the many Gnostic gospels that the church doesn't want you to read. This text, among others, has led readers to question whether or not Jesus had a twin brother. Though some scholars aren't convinced, the Gospel of Thomas does present ideas and concepts absent from the church's canonical gospels.
The opening sentence of the Gospel of Thomas reiterates the relationship between Jesus and the supposed author: "These are the secret words which the living Jesus spoke, and the twin, Didymos Judas Thomas wrote them down."
Described as "the twin," the writer of Jesus' words has the first name Didymos, which translated from Greek means "twin." Moreover, the author's last name, Thomas, also means "twin" when translated from Aramaic.
Some scholars believe that "twin" refers to Thomas as Jesus' literal relative, while others think that some people saw Thomas as Jesus' closest apostle.
The first logion in the Gospel of Thomas could stand as a promise of immortality: "Whoever finds the interpretation of these sayings will not experience death." While most regard this claim as an abstract promise of redemption in the afterlife, some modern scholars, like Lance S. Owens, believe that audiences during the time of the gospels might have had a contextual understanding disparate from that of many modern readers.
Owens argues that the people of the gospel's time saw the teachings of Jesus as a personal revelation describing the relationship between humanity and the divine. The person develops a spiritual connection with God, becoming a conduit for the divine. Next, they may experience a form of transcendent vision to reveal the real message of the Gospel of Thomas.
Thus, any modern interpretation would fail to find the gospel's true meaning without this ancient understanding, which Owens calls the "visionary hermeneutics."
If Thomas were Jesus' literal twin brother, this relation could call into question the veracity of Jesus' resurrection. Long before the Gospel of Thomas's discovery, some hypothesized that Jesus was never resurrected; rather, a twin or lookalike made the ultimate sacrifice in his place or impersonated him after his passing.
The interpretation of Thomas as a literal twin brother reinforces the possibility of the substitution hypothesis proposed in Islamic theology. Residents of the small mountain village of Shingo, Japan, also believe Jesus may have faked his passing; however, they theorize that Jesus escaped to Japan - where he had supposedly studied theology as a young adult - to live out his natural life, then was eventually laid to rest on the island country.
Though it never openly states Gnostic beliefs, the Gospel of Thomas features some Gnostic implications, most notably about withholding secret wisdom or knowledge. As the BBC puts it, according to the Gnostics, "Jesus was a disembodied spirit come to deliver selected souls from matter by revealing secret 'knowledge'" - and it is this mystical association with Gnosticism that compelled the public to view it as heretical.
The early church fathers empathically contested Gnosticism from the 2nd century through the 9th century, but the Gospel of Thomas proved especially infuriating to them.
Early church theologian Cyril of Jerusalem said of the book, "Let none read the gospel according to Thomas, for it is the work not of one of the Twelve Apostles, but one of Mani's three wicked disciples." He references the Persian mystic called Mani of Ctesiphon, founder of the Gnostic religion, Manichaeism.
Furthermore, Bishop Eusebius said the Gospel of Thomas was part of a group of texts "so completely out of accord with true orthodoxy that they clearly show themselves to be the fictions of heretics."