Behold! Another book review. Have a few disclaimers: This one came to me via the Speakeasy Theological Review Network, full disclaimer here. And also… ::waves:: Hi. My name’s Sare and I’m a non-dualist. I’m also a mainstream protestant priest. These two things don’t always match up in my life. Until today.
Overview: 5 stars of 5
The Hidden Gospel of Thomas: Commentaries on the Non-Dual Sayings of Jesus by William G. Duffy (website, amazon) is an excellently written, coherent, cohesive argument for a non-dualistic reading of the entire extant Gospel of Thomas and a profoundly insightful commentary on the same through a non-dualistic lens.
This, friends, is the book I’ve been waiting for, and when it finally arrived (oh, Pandemic, how you have disturbed shipping expectations), I had to fight my husband to read it first. We compromised and two bookmarks lived in it for some time. And do still.
Under no circumstances should you skip the Author’s Introduction. It contains his vital, extremely academic, but entirely lucid rationale for a non-dualistic reading of the text, plus a cogent explanation of what true non-dualism is. This very academic introduction and its absolutely essential nature is the only reason Readability is not rated A+, and that’s a tricky thing: The sterling quality of the introduction puts this commentary in the upper eschelons of biblical commentaries for academic and sermon prep use, but it also detracts from its use for those who don’t have advanced theological degrees. Still, do not skip the introduction even if you lack an advanced degree in theology! Just skim over the bits that are over your head but keep reading because there are essential stage-setting, useful, and down-to-earth bits of the introduction that will give you so much clarity as you approach the Gospel of Thomas and Duffy’s interpretation and commentary of it.
The actual commentary gets A+ with bonus smiley faces. It is clear, it is illuminating, it is thought-provoking, it is life changing. It is, dare I take a theological stand, the sort of life-changing wisdom that Jesus of Nazareth was known for, finally explained with clarity.
We live in a time… No, let me back up. We have always lived in a time, all throughout recorded history, we have lived in a time when the semi-enlightened and entirely enlightened members of the human race have walked among us, teaching a few, living their lives, changing the world in discernible ways. And their stories, and their wisdom has been often passed down by the people who were so inspired by their presence in their lives. This… this is a beautiful thing.
But let us NOT under any circumstances imagine that the average Jane and Joe who got to sit at the feet of the masters and let their wisdom wash over them… that these normal, average, not remotely enlightened people understood what the hell was being told them in any deep way. And the very deepest teachings were hard, friends. I mean, riddle me this, Batman: “Love your neighbor as yourself, and you’ll figure out from there what love of God really is,” is a fair translation/interpretation of one of Jesus’ most popular teachings. But can you do it, and can you do it all the time your conscious mind is awake? Intellectual assent is only one part of a piece of wisdom. The greater part is putting it into practice. And you know how huge swaths, centuries long, of the early and middle church interpreted this saying? “Unimportant. Let’s kill infidels instead.” So… not even intellectual assent on that one for a while.
So, hard teachings require a) intellectual assent, and b) actual repeated practice for decades and decades per person, per generation. But you know what very likely happened instead for the vast majority? We can’t prove it conclusively, but that’s history for you. What very likely happened instead of the intellectual assent and repeated practice for hard teachings… Instead, the students and recorders of such wisdom of the masters… they watered down the hard teachings instead. They edited. They added. They put ‘clarifying material’ after a simple, hard statement that in fact ended up entirely changing the point of the original statement. This has (arguably) happened in the Christian gospels and this has (arguably) happened in other religion’s wisdom literature as well.
What this commentary does is provide a key (non-dualism) to what are otherwise encoded statements that were not likely changed by the recorder, Thomas. Thomas provides statements. This gospel isn’t a story telling the life and times of Jesus. It’s a text full of sayings. ‘And then Jesus said…’ is a common beginning to a verse. And the sayings are sparse and without explanation, which as the current biblical historical method of analysis likes to consider, means they are more likely to be true sayings.
And the relevance (ah, behold, the point:) comes from the fact that even today, too many of us humans stand on our soap box and give moral weight to the hatred that spews from our mouths. We say that God blesses our hatred, and our judgments, and whether or not we are religious people who say it just like that and using those words, or we are figures from other aspects of our common and civic life who say that is moral and right and just to hate, demean, and belittle, behind these seemingly non-religious words stands centuries of moral doctrine of extreme hatred of others unlike ourselves that comes from the worst possible interpretations of various world religions.
And this book, friends, is the best possible interpretation. And that is why it is profoundly relevant to our times.
I have so much love for this book. I have to go read it again.
Fine Print: This book was provided for me for free by the Speakeasy Theological Review Network in return for a full, unbiased review. Full disclaimer here.