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The Gospel of Thomas (Pynchon): Abandoning Eschatology in Gravity’s Rainbow

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It is tempting to read Thomas Pynchon’s sprawling masterpiece Gravity’s Rainbow—with its shell-shocked refugees fleeing across a missile-pocked, post-war landscape—as an eschatological text that plays out religious end-times scenarios. However, an invented citation from the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas included as a chapter epigraph—“Dear Mom, I put a couple of people in hell today”—suggests that we should do otherwise. In grafting a playful fragment about Jesus, judgment, and hell onto Thomas, Pynchon parodies a common need to read eschatological themes back into non-eschatological texts. In doing so, he also provides a powerful heuristic for interpreting his own book. Ultimately, Pynchon’s own rocket-gospel is likewise a non-eschatological text. Like Thomas, Gravity’s Rainbow stymies readers’ efforts to derive a clear eschatology from it—or to read one back into it. In this essay, I contend that Pynchon enacts a number of strategies to keep his audience from reading classic end-times scenarios into his own work, all of which are prefigured by the Gospel of Thomas.

Affiliations: 1: Marymount Manhattan College


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