Tag Archives: attention

Broken Jars and Bloody Swords

1 Feb

“Jesus said: The kingdom of the [Father] is like a woman carrying a jar full of meal. While she was walking [on a] distant road, the handle of the jar broke (and) the meal poured out behind her on the road. She was unaware, she had not noticed the misfortune. When she came to her house, she put the jar down (and) found it empty.”
– Gospel of Thomas, saying 97

“Jesus said: The kingdom of the Father is like a man who wanted to kill a powerful man. He drew the sword in his house and drove it into the wall, that he might know that his hand would be strong (enough). Then he slew the powerful man.”
– Gospel of Thomas, saying 98

Few early Christian texts have drawn so much attention and have provoked so much debate as the Gospel of Thomas. Its time of composition and relationship to the New Testament remain contested, and its contents are often more enigmatic than elucidating. Take a gander at saying 11, for example: “On the day when you were one, you became two. But when you become two, what will you do?” What could that possibly mean? (Another post, another day.)

Two of these sayings, however, unlike many others in the Gospel of Thomas, lack canonical parallels: sayings 97 and 98. And, while usually each saying is read in isolation, evocative contrasts arise when reading these two bizarre and lonely lines together. Let’s get to it!

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Thecla at the Window

14 Dec

If you’ve heard of the early Christian saint Thecla, you may know of her legendary counter-cultural exploits. When Paul won’t baptize her, she baptizes herself; she is condemned for refusing a man’s advances (that is, attempted rape) and bravely faces a lion, a bear–and killer seals!–in an arena; and although Paul initially rejects her discipleship, she nonetheless pursues a humble life of teaching and travel.

With all of these vivid moments to come in the Acts of Paul and Thecla, it’s easy to forget the first time we see her: Thecla simply sits at a window. Listening carefully, she offers all of her attention toward Paul’s excessive praises of virginity and preachings on Christ. Knowing what’s to come for this mighty woman, she may seem uncharacteristically silent, small, and passive in this scene; her mother describes her as “clinging to the window like a spider.”

Even here, however, Thecla’s power emerges. We learn from her mother’s laments to Thecla’s fiance that she hasn’t eaten or drunk for three days. Embarrassed over her child’s behavior, her mom “wonders how a virgin of her great modesty exposes herself to such extreme discomfort.” Leave it to Thecla to turn sitting and listening into extreme sports, which they can be, in such levels of intensity.

And the intensity of her devotion stands out throughout the text, starting with Thecla’s rapt attention. Only after listening for three days straight does she begin her adventures facing down ‘the establishment,’ who’s always trying to burn her crispy or feed her to some bloodthirsty seals; miraculous divine assistance arrives just in time, however, to protect her from all kinds of doom.

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