From the day it was unearthed by a farmer in the Nile Valley in 1945, the Gospel of Thomas has been a polarizing artifact. The peasants of Nag Hammadi fought over the ancient library that contained it. Egyptian officials had to wrestle it from the hands of thieves and smugglers. Scholars squabbled over the glory that would come with its translation and publication. And when it finally made its way to the light of day, interpreters could not agree on its significance. Was it the discovery of lifetime that would change everything we know and think about Jesus and the origins of Christianity? Or was it just another obscure heretical writing destined to become a small footnote in a monograph on Egyptian Christianity and its quirky past? Most scholars got their first look at the Gospel of Thomas in 1959, when Antoine Guillaumont, Henri-Charles Puech, Gilles Quispel, Walter Till, and Yassah ʿAbed al Masih published it in a remarkable editio princeps that appeared simultaneously in English, French, German, and Dutch—the languages of twentieth century Europe (notably, not Arabic, the language of twentieth century Egypt.) Christian Europe was then on the cusp of theological revolution, a revolution from which it has never recovered. Could believers still believe? Could they believe in miracles? Could they believe in the resurrection of the dead? Could they believe in the divinity of a human being? Modernity’s war against traditional religious beliefs was reaching a climax in the 1950s and the European churches were in the front lines of the fighting.
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