Interfering with the Dead


  • Edward Colless


An ancient library of what has become known, if contentiously, as the “gnostic gospels” was accidentally exhumed in 1945 from a monastic grave - yard in Nag Hammadi in Egypt. Among these esoteric texts, most of which were lost to history since their hasty burial in the fourth century, the Gospel of Thomas has an especially piquant pedigree. Cited throughout early Christian literature as an exceptionally heretical and prohibited text that had been purportedly composed in the first century CE, its cryptic (when not incomprehensible) apothegms are claimed to have been secret knowledge written by the twin brother of Jesus Christ. This claim, even taken as figurative, poses a modest predicament for the archaeology of Christian theology. However, taken as an artifact of media archaeology, this text – one of its verses, in particular, which proposes an equation of knowledge and death – extends a dark perspective on our own contemporary cultural imperatives with embodiment and performativity.