The Mystery of Saying 17 of the Gospel of Thomas: “What the Eye Has Not Seen, and the Ear Has Not Heard”, by James Bean
One of the most mysterious verses of the Gospel of Thomas is saying 17: “What your own eyes cannot see, your human ears do not hear, your physical hands cannot touch, and what is inconceivable to the human mind — that I will give to you!” (Saying Seventeen, Lynn Bauman translation, The Gospel of Thomas — Wisdom of the Twin).
This to me portrays Jesus as a living spiritual master offering an initiation to his students, imparting to them techniques whereby they may be able to develop spiritual seeing and transcendental hearing in order to explore the Kingdom of the Heavens, an unseen present-tense Kingdom of God that’s available right now in the living present, not a future hypothetical Kingdom up in the sky in the bye-and-bye.
A version of saying 17 is quoted by Paul in I Cor. 2, the same chapter where Paul is battling with a competing faction in the early church referred to by some as the “wisdom Christians”. Probably the quotation of this rather “Thomasonian” passage by Paul in I Corinthians chapter two is no coincidence as the Gospel of Thomas is a wisdom gospel, a collection of sayings to be contemplated: “Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death.” (GoT, Saying 1) It’s as if the intent of the compilers of GoT is to have people contemplate the meaning of each saying (lexio divina) and this will lead to new understandings or revelations. In his letter (epistle) Paul said, “it is written”, but doesn’t say where it’s written or attribute the quote to Jesus. But the Gospel of Thomas does directly attribute it to Jesus, and as you’ll see below there are other extra-canonical scriptures of early Christianity that also characterize it as a saying of Christ, and somewhat similar to a couple of other sayings of Jesus found in the New Testament gospels.
Various versions of that axiom of wisdom about what “the eye has not seen and ear has not heard” eventually turned up in many other scriptures of the East and the West.
In the Ethiopian Bible is preserved a Jewish apocryphal text that reminds me of an NDE (Near Death Experience):
“And this angel said to me, Isaiah, son of Amoz, I set you free; for you have seen what no mortal man has ever seen before. Yet you must return to your garments of flesh until your days are completed. Then will you come up here again.” (Ascension of Isaiah 11: 34)
Jesus-Yeshua — Essene/Ebionite Judaism/Jesus Movement, Israel/Syria:
“How privileged are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. I swear to you, many prophets and righteous ones have longed to see what you see and didn’t see it, and to hear what you hear and didn’t hear.” (Matthew 13: 16–17 = Q/Luke 10: 23–24 — New Testament and Sayings Gospel Q)
“His power will be given to them, which no eye has seen nor ear heard, and they will rejoice in My Kingdom.” (Jesus, apocryphal “Testament of the Lord in Galilee”)
“The rest of you shall inherit the kingdom of heaven, whose delights no ear has heard described, which no eye has seen and which has not appeared in the human heart.” (Jesus, Apocryphal Gospel of John)
Yeshua says, “What your own eyes cannot see, your human ears do not hear, your physical hands cannot touch, and what is inconceivable to the human mind — that I will give you!” (Jesus/Yeshua, “Gospel of Thomas”, Saying 17)
“It is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.’” (I Corinthians 2: 9, Paul, Orthodox New Testament)
A Manichaean scripture from Central Asia:
“…that I may redeem you from death and annihilation, I will give you what you have not seen with the eye nor heard with the ears nor grasped with the hand.” (Turfan fragments, translated in “Gnosis On The Silk Road,”)
The 10th Century Persian Sufi Master Abd al-Qadir al-Jalani quotes an interesting passage from the Quran:
“I have prepared for My righteous servants that which no eye has ever seen, of which no ear has ever heard, and of which has never occurred to the heart of man.” (“Concerning the Affirmation of Divine Oneness”, Al-Baz Publishing)
From a prayer found in the Mandaean scriptures of Iraq:
“Thou hast showed us that which the eye has not seen, and caused us to hear that which the human ear has not heard. Thou has freed us from death and united us with Life, released us from darkness, and united us with Light…. Thou hast shown us that which the eye has not seen, and caused us to hear that which the human ear has not heard.” (“Canonical Prayer Book of the Mandaeans”, E.S. Drower)
The Divine Eye According to the Buddha — India, Tibet, Nepal, China, Japan:
“With the Divine Eye, which is purified and surpasses the human, a bhikkhu surveys a thousand worlds. Just as a man with good sight when he has ascended to the upper palace chamber, might survey a thousand wheel-rims, so too, with the Divine Eye, which is purified and surpasses the human, a bhikkhu surveys a thousand worlds.”
The Divine Ear According to the Buddha:
“I have proclaimed to my disciples the way whereby with the Divine Ear element, which is purified and surpasses the human, they hear both kinds of sounds, the divine and the human, those that are far as well as near. Just as a vigorous trumpeter might make himself heard without difficulty in the four quarters; so too, I have proclaimed to my disciples the way whereby with the Divine Ear element… far as well as near. And thereby many disciples of mine abide having reached the consummation and Perfection of Direct Knowledge.” (“The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha — A Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya,” Teachings of the Buddha, translated by Bhakkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom Publications)
India, Guru Nanak:
“We speak without tongue,
we see without eyes,
we hear without ears,
we walk without feet, and
we work without hands.”
Sant Kabir, India:
“May I see You with my eyes,
hear Your Sound
with my own ears.
Speak Your Name
in my own words, O Lord;
rest Your flower-like feet
on my heart.”
(“Songs of Kabir From the Adi Granth”,
translated by Nirmal Dass, SUNY Press)
ALSO SEE the article: Summarizing the Spiritual Message of the Gospel of Thomas: https://medium.com/@SantMat/summarizing-the-spiritual-message-of-the-gospel-of-thomas-by-james-bean-90862170ac8a