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9467Re: Lowlights of DSS / NHL Seminar

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  • Gerry
    Apr 30, 2004
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      --- In gnosticism2@yahoogroups.com, "mheinich" <mheinich@y...> wrote:
      > Gerry, I realize this is johnny come lately to this message but I
      > relativily new here. I get the feeling from your post that you
      > not like the book or Ehrman due to his lack of belief or sympathies
      > in Gnostism and some of the inconsistencies that you mentioned in
      > book. If I summarized unjustly then I apologize.

      I'll likewise apologize for taking so long to offer you a reply,
      Michael, but my non-cyber life continues to consume almost all of my
      time lately. I've been trying to keep up with at least reading the
      posts here, but even that only became an option a couple weeks ago
      after I finally got corrective lenses for the first time in my life.
      Now that some degree of clarity has been brought back to me, I'm just
      working toward getting the time I need to look at and read those
      things that I find interesting and which I most enjoy. I hope to
      eventually dig out from under all this tedious stuff that is keeping
      me tied up, but until then, my posting will be sporadic at best, so I
      hope no one will be offended if I'm not prompt in getting around to
      any replies.

      As for your summary (of my summary), I get the feeling that you
      looked back to the final post(s) I submitted on the subject of Prof.
      Ehrman. I still wouldn't say that I don't like him, but since we had
      been discussing him since last year, and my opinion of his works had
      greatly diminished after attending that seminar, you undoubtedly
      picked up on my lack of patience in that post.

      > I found the book very informative and it made me take a closer look
      > at the Gnostic Tradition. I had heard the term Gnostic before but
      > was not familier with it. I am currently trying to reconcile
      > questions that arise in me from reading the books in the NHL and
      > articles I see on gnosis.org. Specially since the books (and
      > sometimes the articles :) ) are not consistent when you read
      > one "book" after the other. That probably isn't the best way, but
      > am wandering off topic.

      Actually, I tried to defend Ehrman on a number of occasions. As you
      noted, some of his works are excellent for helping a person to
      appreciate the diversity of thought among the early Christians. I
      even mentioned that he apparently has a firm grasp of what criteria
      should be utilized in distinguishing Gnostic groups from others of
      their day. My primary beef with him was that because of those
      inconsistencies that I pointed out, tendencies of his that
      occasionally bear witness to his fundamentalist upbringing, I would
      not consider him a good resource for anyone interested in learning
      about Gnosticism. This, in fact, is not his area of specialization
      anyway, but rather, the broader subject of Early Christianity is. As
      such, I'm glad that you found value in his treatment of Gnosticism in
      _Lost Christianities_ and decided subsequently to pursue it further,
      but frankly, I wouldn't trust just anybody to read it with the same
      degree of open-mindedness.

      > I first heard about the books and Ehrman from the NPR interview. I
      > was raised Lutheren but have not been active for awhile. I do
      > reading and studing history. So the comments he had about the
      > christian church was fastinating to me. I went out and bought both
      > of his "Lost" books. I enjoyed Lost Christianties and found it
      > informative from my point of reference which was not a Gnosticism
      > point of reference. I found out things I never knew and it raised
      > alot of questions about my beliefs and what they were based on.
      > His writing was engaging and he was able to present a scholarly
      > of view quite clearly. Not all books on Religion or History are
      > to pull that trick off.

      Engaging, yes. He even has a sense of humor, but as I've pointed
      out, he didn't miss an opportunity to exercise it at the expense of
      Gnostic concepts. That *definitely* rubbed me the wrong way. And
      while his writing is both scholarly AND accessible, it is not always
      objective. This gives me great concern with the rise of
      fundamentalism these days and the proliferation of his books in
      classrooms across the nation. Among people who aren't really
      interested in unbiased interpretations of what they consider to
      be "holy" scriptures, I hate to see careless comments in ostensibly
      scholarly works portraying anything non-canonical as being
      virtually "wicked." That's just unnecessary fuel for their fires.
      Since it's been a while, I am referring there to his habit of
      defining words like "heretic" and "heresy" from an orthodox context.

      > As for the Forgery question that was brought up. At first this
      > bothered me but after thinking about it, it made sense. He is not
      > putting them down or insulting them. He is just stating that he
      > and/or other scholars don't believe that the book was written by
      > person it is attributed to, that is by definition then a Forgery.
      > may have been written in their name for a number of good reasons
      > not necessarily criminal or fraudulent ones. Most of the books of
      > the New Testament get the same charge leveled at them in the book
      > except for some of the letters of Paul. I also found that there
      > transcribing errors over time along with intential changes to the
      > books of the new testement to support some groups' or person's
      > very interesting as well.

      The forgery question struck me in the opposite way. At first, I
      didn't think anything of it, but the more I thought about it, the
      more it puzzled me. For those who haven't read _Lost
      Christianities_, let's point out how Ehrman outlines his book:

      PART ONE: Forgeries and Discoveries
      PART TWO: Heresies and Orthodoxies
      PART THREE: Winners and Losers

      For an even clearer look at the section in question, the first part
      is divided into four chapters covering the following subjects:

      • The Ancient Discovery of a Forgery: Serapion & the Gospel of Peter
      • The Ancient Forgery of a Discovery: The Acts of Paul and Thecla
      • The Discovery of an Ancient Forgery: The Coptic Gospel of Thomas
      • The Forgery of an Ancient Discovery? Morton Smith and the Secret
      Gospel of Mark

      Certainly, Ehrman's wit is apparent even in those headings, but the
      very fact that he chooses to categorize these works generally in this
      way still gives me pause. As you and I have both pointed out,
      canonical books aren't exactly free from the charge of having
      authority unduly attributed to them. Even Ehrman admits this, but
      I'd be curious to see if he presents any NT titles as "forgeries" in
      any of his books or classes. It's one thing to mention this in the
      commentary of a particular scripture, even quite interesting as he
      introduced the subject of forging in antiquity, but it just seems
      dismissive to openly classify the book as such.

      Again, he has commented that the GTh is perhaps the single most
      important find among texts discovered in recent years, but after
      reading a number of his books and even meeting him in person, I'm
      still not sure why it is that he believes this. The chapter
      described above doesn't mention the relevance of the book's being a
      forgery, so it impresses me as needlessly discrediting something (at
      least in some people's eyes) which he inexplicably finds of value.
      Similarly, as I've mentioned previously, if he prefers to regard the
      book foremost as a forgery, then why does he devote time in other
      works explaining the Syrian tradition of holding Judas Thomas to be
      the twin brother of Jesus? And if for some other reason it were
      important for us to consider a literal twin of a literal Jesus, why
      does he then propose the mythological precedent of fraternal twin
      brothers Hercules and Iphicles,——one immortal, the other mortal?
      It's just odd . . . resorting to myth to validate the literal man who
      had nothing to do with the Gospel bearing his name. Should we care?

      > Anyway, I did not get as put off or bothered by his treatment of
      > various books but found it eye opening. He covers alot of ground
      > without bogging down and boring the reader.
      > Too add a little Gnostic flavor I will now butcher a Gnostic verse:
      > I could use saying #1 (or two depending on the translation) of the
      > Gospel of Thomas to trace the beginning of my journey. I am
      > knowledge, what I am finding about early christianity and about
      > gnosticism is astonishing me. Now the verse say that I will rule
      > over the All, but I will settle with I will have control(rule) over
      > my beliefs and will try not to close myself off to the
      > possibilities.

      I'd say you are already headed in a better direction than the
      professor. When he refers to Gnostics as Christians "in the know,"
      it makes me think he's looking at the whole thing as little more than
      a bunch of secret handshakes and whispered mantras that someone's
      keeping from him.

      Here's another book of his (that I picked up in the textbook
      department at UNC) which you may find interesting:

      _The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian
      Writings_. Oxford University Press, Third edition, 2004.

      While at the seminar, I heard part of this book referenced between
      lectures when one of the attendees was "educating" a group of other
      participants as to how Ehrman writes that Gnosticism grew out of the
      beliefs of the Christians from the Johannine community. My ears
      perked up on that note, but I had only had a brief opportunity to
      skim that particular book prior to arriving there. I had a good idea
      which chapter they were talking about, and was curious to see later
      what the author had actually said.

      As it turns out, that chapter is titled "From John's Jesus to the
      Gnostic Christ." What Ehrman sets out to do is to demonstrate that
      the docetic Christology of the Johannine secessionists was at least
      compatible to the views held by certain Gnostic groups. This could
      have facilitated the absorption of one group into another, but he did
      NOT say that one group LED to the other. Once again, it's a matter
      of people seeing what they are inclined to see, and in this case, it
      was probably based on little more than how the title of the chapter
      was worded. Here's what Ehrman actually said regarding this
      syncretic phenomenon:

      "The anti-Gnostic church fathers maintained that Gnosticism was a
      Christian heresy invented by evil persons who corrupted the Christian
      faith to their own ends. A good deal of modern scholarship has been
      committed to showing that this perspective cannot be right, that, in
      fact, Gnosticism originated apart from Christianity but was later
      merged with it in some religious groups, forming a kind of synthesis,
      a Gnostic Christianity.

      "It is difficult to know what cultural forces would have produced
      Gnosticism, but it appears to represent a creative combination of
      diverse religious and philosophical perspectives, melded together in
      an age in which numerous religions and philosophies were widely known
      and often linked. If this is right, then Gnosticism and Christianity
      may have started out at about the same time and, because of many of
      their similarities, which we will see momentarily, came to influence
      each other in significant ways. It is interesting to note that some
      of the Gnostic tractates discovered at Nag Hammadi appear to be non-
      Christian, which would be hard to explain if Gnosticism originated as
      a Christian heresy." (pp. 187-8)

      In this instance, I'm happy to show that Ehrman was NOT representing
      Gnosticism as those people had interpreted. At the same time, if you
      should check out that book, please note the "Something-to-think-
      about" block (Box 11.5) which is on the same page where the above
      passage ends. It begins, "How Do You Know a Gnostic When You See
      One?" Sort of sounds like the start of a bad ethnic joke, doesn't
      it. Well, I spared Betty and Rodney (and the rest of the members
      here) when I wrote about this previously, but here's how
      this "informative" passage ends:

      ". . . No wonder it was so difficult for the anti-Gnostic opponents
      to drive them out of the churches. It was not easy to recognize a
      Gnostic when you saw one."

      Rather equates them with vermin, doesn't it . . . as if the Gnostic
      predilection for metaphorical understanding of scripture necessitated
      the invention of ecclesiastical pest control to exterminate them.

      Again, I think one could find better sources for becoming acquainted
      with Gnosticism, but if Ehrman's books and audio interview worked for
      you, then let's just chalk one up for our side. It's sort of a
      Gnostic take on the when-life-gives-you-lemons scenario. When the
      fox tramples the grapes . . . make wine!

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