Gospel of Thomas Saying 9

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This Gospel of Thomas Commentary is part of the Gospel of Thomas page at Early Christian Writings.

Nag Hammadi Coptic Text

Gospel of Thomas Coptic Text


(9) Jesus said: Look, the sower went out, he filled his hand (and) cast (the seed). Some fell upon the road; the birds came, they gathered them. Others fell upon the rock, and struck no root in the ground, nor did they produce any ears. And others fell on the thorns; they choked the seed and the worm ate them. And others fell on the good earth, and it produced good fruit; it yielded sixty per measure and a hundred and twenty per measure.


(9) Jesus said, "Listen, a sower came forth, took a handful, and cast. Now, some fell upon the path, and the birds came and picked them out. Others fell upon rock, and they did not take root in the soil, and did not send up ears. And others fell upon the thorns, and they choked the seed; and the grubs devoured them. And others fell upon good soil, and it sent up good crops and yielded sixty per measure and a hundred and twenty per measure.


9 [9]. Jesus says: "See, the sower went out. He filled his hand and scattered <the seed.> Some fell on the path: birds came and gathered them. Others fell on rocky ground: they found no means of taking root in the soil and did not send up ears of corn. Others fell among thorns; <these> stifled the grain, and the worm ate the <seed.> Others fell on good soil, and this <portion> produced an excellent crop: it gave as much as sixty-fold, and <even> a hundred and twenty-fold!"

Funk's Parallels

Luke 8:4-8, Luke 8:11-15, Matt 13:3-9, Matt 13:18-23, Mark 4:2-9, Mark 4:13-20, InThom 12:1-2, ApJas 8:1-2, 1 Clem 24:5.

Visitor Comments

Compare with Qur'an, 57:20-21.
- dustonthepath

It is unclear in the scholarly quotes how this is being taken. It appears perhaps that it is being taken that the sown seed are souls who prosper or not dependent on where they are sown. I believe the sown seed refers to the words of wisdom spoken by Jesus (or others) which can either be heeded and understood producing good fruit, ignored on stony soil, lost among the weeds of competing thoughts or perverted into something else entirely.
- active-mystic

If this is to be interpreted at all and not just basic agriculture, I'd say: keep an open mind, concentrate on what you're doing, do not dismiss new things and you will see, you will learn and find, thus becoming aware of being the living fatherīs child.
- thinking aloud

It seems to me that the use of 60-fold and 120-fold in Thomas is good evidence that at least some of Thomas is not derived from the synoptic Gospels, but is a separate tradition branching off at least prior to Mark. The original parable was probably spoken in Aramaic, which I believe used the Babylonian base-60 number system. In this system, the progression 30, 60, 120 would have been natural whereas 30, 60, 100 would not. The use of 100 in the synoptic gospels was probably a mistranslation from the time of Mark.
- Daniel

I think the most likely interpretation of this is a caution to the missionaries that not everyone will be converted, and not to get dispirited by the failures as not everyone is "good earth." [This is the interpretation of Mark 4:13-20. - PK]
- Ed

Corn is a Meso-American grain. The Doresse "ears of corn" translation is inappropriate.
- jconner149

Not everybody recognises a true teacher. This either/or situation is poetically expressed by gradations for the audience. Nevertheless, it is still 100% either/or.
- Thief37

The birds will gather, the rock will stand, the thorns will choke, and the worm will eat. If the seed is God's word, it will fall unto unwanton ears, some will hear what others will use, many will understand if they nurture and cultivate the word.
- Taurus

The soil is the composite mind/heart/heaven, which is like a garden. The sower is the myriad of influences, especially the ego. The seed is the seed of virtue, or the means by which virtue is inculcated. These teachings are among those seeds, and due to their oblique nature cannot all take root in all minds. In some minds too many conflicting desires and ideas reside, thus many seeds are choked out and consumed by the worm of desire which lives at the root of our preferences. The well-worn road corresponds to the conditioned element of the mind which has hardened such that nothing can take root. Considering the individual as a myriad of selves and a composite of influences is essential to this interpretation.
- slur

Cast forth the "seed" (teaching and understanding of the Lord). Some will be taken by the birds and beasts (consumed by the worries of the world), some will fall on rock and produce not (minds of rock, "Stupid mind like concrete, all mixed up and permanently set"), some will fall among thorns and were choked off and the worms ate them (the mind was fertile, but too fertile, and there were too many things pulling at the potential, and the "worms," false teachers, consumed them). Some seeds fell on good earth, were watered and cared for, and grew to produce more seed (believers to spread the faith).
- StarChaser

The seeds are of mankind. In the absence of self-knowledge, there is no everlasting life. The road, the rock, and the thorn, each in its own way, prevent spiritual realization. The represent Spiritual Ignorance, intolerance and hate. The canon collectively seems to miss the point in leaving out the original fates: Consumption by birds, starvation from lack of root and corruption by the worm.
- Dennis H. Sheehan

The author Thomas is creating a comparison between a handful of seeds and mankind. The sower in the parable seems to represent God, the one who creates life, and like a gardener or farmer he places seeds on to the earth. The earth in this parable is represented by four distinct elements, the road, rock, thorns and soil. These four elements together represent the different conditions of the world, as well as different conditions that mankind faces. To elaborate an example can be provided, the thorns, which are prickly and choke can represent a harsh, poor existence and so on. It seems that in this metaphor Thomas has an elitist view when it comes to idea of mankind and those who are true believers. The seeds, which represent mankind, cannot really become fruitful and live unless they are placed in the right conditions. This is obviously not in their power. And so, it is a small group of people who can truly recognize the true message of Jesus, and it is these few people like the seeds who can truly, grow, develop and mature. It is these few who have been lucky enough to be in the right conditions. Thomas is portraying a view that those who are truly illuminated or understand the message are so because of fate, and so they cannot really help being that way. This view creates a barrier between those chosen persons, i.e. the seeds that fell on the good soil, and all the other seeds, which represent the rest of mankind, which will not make it. This elitist view is evident in other sayings in the Gospel of Thomas.
- student

Scholarly Quotes

Marvin Meyer writes: "In each occurrence of the parable in the New Testament, the author has added an allegorical interpretation of the parable and placed it on the lips of Jesus (Matthew 13:18-23; Mark 4:13-20; Luke 8:11-15). Stories similar to the parable are known from Jewish and Greek literature. Thus Sirach 6:19 says, 'Come to her (that is, Wisdom) like one who plows and sows, and wait for her good crops. For in her work you will toil a little, and soon you will eat of her produce.' In his Oratorical Instruction 5.11.24, Quintilian writes, 'For instance, if you would say that the mind needs to be cultivated, you would use a comparison to the soil, which if neglected produces thorns and brambles but if cultivated produces a crop. . . .'" (The Gospel of Thomas: The Hidden Sayings of Jesus, pp. 72-73)

F. F. Bruce writes: "This is another version of the parable of the sower (or the parable of the four soils), recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels (Mark 4.3-8; Matthew 13.3-8; Luke 8.5-8). The worm that attacked the seed sown among thorns is peculiar to this version. The 'rock' instead of 'rocky ground' is distinctively Lukan; the statement that the seed sown there 'sent forth no ears up to heaven' has been recognised as a Naassene thought. [Hippolytus (Refutation v.8.29) reproduces the Naassene interpretation of the parable.] The statement that the first lot of seed fell 'on' (not 'by') the road probably reflects the sense of the Aramaic preposition used by Jesus in telling the parable (the preposition may be rendered 'on' or 'by' according to the context)." (Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament, p. 116)

Joachim Jeremias writes: "Here, as additions to the synoptic form of the parable, we have the antithesis '(did not strike root in the earth and sent up no ears to heaven)', the mention of the worm and the increase in number, 120." (The Parables of Jesus, p. 28)

Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman write: "Thomas adds a few details. The sower 'filled his hand' before he cast the seed; this looks like no more than an attempt to indicate the fullness or completeness of the sowing (of souls or spirits). But when we read that the seed which fell on 'the rock' (so only Luke) not only had no root but also 'put forth no ear up to heaven' we are confronting a combination of this parable with the Naassene doctrine of the heavenward ascent of the good seed. The seed which fell upon thorns was not only choked but also eaten by the worm - presumably the worm of Gehenna (cf., Mark 9:48), though Thomas does not say so, since, like other Gnostics, he doubtless holds that hell is on earth. The good fruit, unlike the bad, is brought forth 'up to heaven,' sometimes sixty-fold, sometimes one-hundred-twenty-fold. Thomas feels free to give these figures since Matthew has one hundred, sixty, and thirty; Mark has thirty-sixty-one hundred; and Luke has simply one hundred. His figure is more logical; one hundred twenty is twice as much as sixty." (The Secret Sayings of Jesus, pp. 127-128)

R. McL. Wilson writes: "In particular he [Quispel] claims as evidence [for primitivity] the reading 'on the road,' for which he has found parallels in Justin Martyr and in the Clementine literature. Moreover, Clement of Rome quotes the opening words in this form rather than that of our Gospels. Bartsch, however, argues that the chance is a corection of the synoptic version, and regards the differences in Thomas as the result of condensation in the paraenetic tradition. Luke's version indeed is an intermediate stage between those of Mark and of Thomas. The correction is certainly very natural, and scholars have long recognized that the synoptic 'by the wayside' goes back to a misunderstanding of the Aramaic; but this does not necessarily preclude the possibility that two Greek versions were current. The question should probably be left open, since the evidence is scarcely decisive either way. Grant and Freedman see here only a few additions to the canonical parable, and quote the Naassene exegesis; the form in which the Naassenes cited the parable was apparently not exactly that of Thomas, but 'based on a mixture of Matthew and Luke.' In this connection it is interesting to see what the Gnostics, or others like them, could make of an apparently innocuous parable: Puech quotes in another connection, and Doresse adduces at this point in his commentary, an interpretation given by the Priscillianists, to the effect that this was not a good sower, or he would not have been so careless; in fact, he was the God of this world, sowing souls into bodies. The passage is quoted by Orosius (c. A.D. 414) from the Memoria Apostolorum, a work of uncertain date, and it is not clear how far back this interpretation can be traced. We cannot say that this was how Thomas understood the parable, but such an exegesis is certainly in the Gnostic tradition." (Studies in the Gospel of Thomas, pp. 98-99)

Funk and Hoover write: "Thomas has preserved what the Fellows take to be the form of the parable that is closest to the original. The seed is first sown on three kinds of ground that fail to produce: the road, the rocky ground, and among the thorns. When sown on good soil, the seed produces yields at two different levels: sixty and one hundred twenty. Originally, the yields were probably thirty, sixty, one hundred, as Mark records them, although the doubling of sixty to one hundred twenty may have been original. The structure probably consisted of two sets of threes: three failures, three successes." (The Five Gospels, p. 478)

Gerd Ludemann writes: "The comparison between the versions of Mark and Thomas indicates that there is a far-reaching agreement, with two exceptions: first, the conclusion differs in that Mark speaks of fruit thirtyfold and sixtyfold and one hundredfold, while Thomas speaks of sixty and one hundred and twenty measures. Secondly, in mentioning the rocky ground on which the seed fell Mark additionally writes that the rising sun contributed to the withering (Mark 4.6), whereas Thomas is silent about this. On the whole we must regard the version of Thomas as older than that of Mark, because it is simpler." (Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 28)

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Gospel of Thomas Saying 9

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