The Gospel of Thomas


Empty Desert ?

The word empty is used several times in the Gospel of Thomas:

#28.9   that empty they came into the world .
      .10 and that empty they seek to go out of the world again.
#61.15 When he is emptied
#97.6   and the flour streamed out behind her on the road.
      .11 she found it empty.

These are translations of two related Coptic words. In #28 it is CHOWEIT which Crum gives as a verb to pour, to empty, to discharge; and Metanoia translate as the verb se deverser = to empty and as etre vide = to be empty or as a noun = void, emptiness. In #61 it is the second of the related words CHEW which Crum gives as to be desert, to be laid waste, to be destroyed; and Metanoia translate as etre desert = an adjective uninhabited or noun a desert. In #97.6 it is CHOWO which Crum gives as equivalent to CHOWEIT, and in #97.11 it is CHOWEIT.

So what we are dealing with here is a concept that is associated with the adjective empty, and the active verb to empty and the passive verb to be emptied (and hence the nouns emptiness or void), and also the adjective uninhabited and noun a desert.

In our little island in a temperate climate we can have no real awareness of an empty, uninhabited desert. Wherever you are a person or house is likely to be seen. Whichever way you look there will be trees and beyond them some hills will arise. But even though the climate of Palestine was more temperate in Jesus' time, he and all his listeners must have been fully aware of the desert around them and deeply aware of its emptiness. For us to fly over it gives the same impression—something entirely different from anything in Europe.

In the language of parables that Jesus used and his listeners understood and which we have to rediscover if Thomas is truly to speak to us—those Coptic words are likely to carry more than their literal meanings that Crum gives.

In that language of parables the desert is not empty—it becomes filled.

With what can it be filled? As one goes into it, devoid of all encumbrances and distractions, it can only be filled by oneself. There can be nothing else.

And what happens when one enters into a desert? Such vast spaces create through their immensity an awe, a wonder, an expansion of the inner Being.

So what is Jesus trying to say to us? There is the removal of something, an emptying, and yet something else is to be found to engender that awe and wonder.

There is nothing to help us in the Hebrew or Christian scriptures nor in the thinking of the great Churchmen. We have to look elsewhere—as the Metanoia scholars did. It can be found in Vedanta, especially advaita Vedanta (the adjective is literally non-dual). The emptying is the quenching of ahamkara, and the fulfilment is the finding of the Real Self.

Frequently in Thomas Jesus prompts us in this way. For the fulfilment he uses the words the One and the All. There cannot be anything greater than this, it fills us with the ultimate wonderment.

It is only our ahamkara that obscures in our daily life the immensity of the indwelling Real Self.