Week 3: New Testament Parables

Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images


Gospel of Thomas: Leaven - Jar

Reading time: 2 minutes. Word count: 400 words.

In this section of Thomas you will find what may be a familiar parable: the parable of the woman and the leaven. Leaven is another word for yeast, which is used to make bread rise. In the Jewish tradition, leaven was put aside during the Passover festival: the bread eaten at Passover is unleavened bread. To make leaven into a symbol of heaven and holiness is a surprising paradox which is typical of many of the parables of Jesus. In this section, you will also find another parable about a woman - the woman and the jar - which is not found in the other gospels. In both cases, Jesus is trying to explain what the kingdom of the Father is like. What do you think it means when he explains the kingdom in terms of this woman and her jar? The parable is highly suggestive - but there is no explanation provided, since there is no frame for the parable. What do you think is the meaning of the parable of the jar?

Patterson and Meyer translation:

Jesus [said], "One who seeks will find, and for [one who knocks] it will be opened."

[Jesus said], "If you have money, don't lend it at interest. Rather, give [it] to someone from whom you won't get it back."

Jesus [said], "The Father's kingdom is like [a] woman. She took a little leaven, [hid] it in dough, and made it into large loaves of bread. Anyone here with two ears had better listen!"

Jesus said, "The [Father's] kingdom is like a woman who was carrying a [jar] full of meal. While she was walking along [a] distant road, the handle of the jar broke and the meal spilled behind her [along] the road. She didn't know it; she hadn't noticed a problem. When she reached her house, she put the jar down and discovered that it was empty."

Jesus said, "The Father's kingdom is like a person who wanted to kill someone powerful. While still at home he drew his sword and thrust it into the wall to find out whether his hand would go in. Then he killed the powerful one."


Lambdin translation:

Jesus said, "He who seeks will find, and he who knocks will be let in."

Jesus said, "If you have money, do not lend it at interest, but give it to one from whom you will not get it back."

Jesus said, "The kingdom of the father is like a certain woman. She took a little leaven, concealed it in some dough, and made it into large loaves. Let him who has ears hear."

Jesus said, "The kingdom of the father is like a certain woman who was carrying a jar full of meal. While she was walking on the road, still some distance from home, the handle of the jar broke and the meal emptied out behind her on the road. She did not realize it; she had noticed no accident. When she reached her house, she set the jar down and found it empty."

Jesus said, "The kingdom of the father is like a certain man who wanted to kill a powerful man. In his own house he drew his sword and stuck it into the wall in order to find out whether his hand could carry through. Then he slew the powerful man."


Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • how does the woman use the leaven?
  • what happened to the woman carrying a jar of meal?
  • why did the man thrust his sword into the wall?

Source: Gospel of Thomas 94-98.
The "Scholars' Translation" of the Gospel of Thomas by Stephen Patterson and Marvin Meyer, in The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholars Version. Polebridge Press: 1992. Website: Gospel of Thomas Homepage.
"Nag Hammadi Library" translation by Thomas O. Lambdin, in The Nag Hammadi Library. HarperCollins: San Francisco, 1990. Website: Gnostic Society Library.


Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM