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Quite remarkably, John W. Marshall, the only scholar who went to the trouble of bringing Thomas
into the discussion of the historical Jesus as a Cynic, did not list Thomas 36 and 78 among the sayings
that suggest practices resembling those advocated by Cynics.92 It is likely, therefore, that the
similarities between these two sayings and Cynicism should be explained instead by the widespread
ethos shared by various contemporary groups and individuals.
Even so, drawing an analogy between Thomasine theology and Cynic traditions may still be a
worthwhile enterprise in that it would bring new insights and prevent us from making certain farreaching conclusions. As Risto Uro has pointed out, the ethical radicalism that places Thomas in close
quarters with the Cynic tradition does not necessarily point to the fact that Thomas was a product of
the tradition of wandering charismatics. Cynic traditions of ethical radicalism were often transmitted
“in circumstances that were neither ‘extreme’ nor ‘on the fringe of society.’”93 Similarly, the radical
overtones of sayings 36 and 78 may have nothing to do with the social reality behind Thomas.
An important landmark in the history of research on Thomas and Greco-Roman philosophy is
the collection of essays by Uro published in 2003.94 In this work, Uro acknowledges the Platonizing
tendencies in Thomas: he speaks of “the general Platonic flavour of the gospel”95 and admits that
Thomas contains “a Platonic cosmology”96 and “Platonic-Christian ideas about immortality and
afterlife.”97 Uro’s main concern, however, is the ideological affinities between Thomas and Stoicism.
According to Uro, the Stoic “understanding of the body and the world comes surprisingly close to
that expressed in Thomas.”98 Uro argues that these affinities are present in sayings 56 and 80.
According to these two sayings, the world is not worthy of those individuals who realize that it is a
body (σῶμα) and a corpse (πτῶμα). In Uro’s view, while the idea that the world is a body was accepted
by various schools, Thomas is remarkably similar specifically to Stoicism, since “Stoic philosophers
could teach their students to regard their bodies as if they were dead.”99 With these parallels in mind,
Uro points out that from the Stoic point of view the body belongs to the realm of the “indifferents”
(τὰ ἀδιάφορα = indifferentia), or “middle things” (τὰ μέσα = media), arguing that it is possible to read
sayings 56 and 80 “as expressing indifference, rather than strong hostility with respect to the outside
world” and that the metaphor of “the world as a corpse” could encourage “moderate or internalized
detachment and not necessarily extreme asceticism.”100
Uro’s line of argument is nuanced and avoids any sweeping generalizations. He does not claim
that Stoicism influenced Thomas in general or sayings 56 and 80 in particular; rather, he seems to
argue that a Stoic-minded reader would have recognized the affinities between sayings 56 and 80 and
certain Stoic concepts (i.e. that the world is a body and that bodies are corpses), interpreting these
two sayings from a Stoic perspective. While we have no knowledge of the ancient Stoic-minded
readers of Thomas, which means that Uro’s proposal is ultimately a thought experiment, it is certainly
an important contribution to the overall discussion of the ancient readership of Thomas.
See Marshall 1997, 56–7.
Uro 2006, 28.
See Uro 2003.
Uro 2003, 63.
Uro 2003, 46.
Uro 2003, 70.
Uro 2003, 6.
Uro 2003, 69.
Uro 2003, 69 and 70.