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Re: Fwd: Gnostic claims to Paul of Tarsus

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  • pmcvflag
    This post from Lady Cari clarifies things a great deal (and as always, provides better perspective for the conversation). I had been under the impression that
    Message 1 of 5 , Feb 28, 2005
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      This post from Lady Cari clarifies things a great deal (and as
      always, provides better perspective for the conversation). I had
      been under the impression that the book dealt with the origins of
      Paul's theological thinking, and I am happy to hear that was a
      misconception on my part. What Lady Cari outlines for us here makes
      infinitely more sense.

      As we talked about previously, understanding Paul in an historical
      way is pretty limited, and our only recourse then is his few
      accepted writings (roughly half of what is attributed to him in the
      New Testement). The problem is, hermeneutics.... how are we to
      interprate these writings? Obviously many people from many movements
      saw Paul as their own, and the "orthodox" view of who Paul is
      obviously doesn't stand up.

      The only question to be answered here then would be, who Paul was in
      the understanding of, and how Paul was interprated by, the Gnostics.

      PMCV


      ________________Cari's Post_____________________________

      Hello everyone! There are certainly many members here who have read
      or are at least familiar with Elaine Pagels's _The Gnostic Paul_,
      which we've alluded to before in discussion.

      PMCV, Dr. Pagels offers a detailed exegesis of various letters
      attributed to Paul. Perhaps you or others might have specific
      questions or verses in mind that others or I could address either in
      summary or by quoting from Dr. Pagels's book.

      Her introduction clarifies in detail hermeneutical history related to
      Paul. She also states her specific focus ~

      "…on Paul _as he is being read in the second century_. The subject
      is, of course, not Paul himself but `the gnostic Paul' -- that is,
      the figure that emerges from second-century gnostic sources. This
      investigation into the history of hermeneutics makes no attempt to
      reconstruct a historical account of the apostle himself, or of the
      issues he confronted in his own communities. Instead the task is to
      investigate how two conflicting views of Paul emerge and develop as
      early as the second century."

      Dr. Pagels's study includes evidence from sources such as 1) extant
      fragments of such teachers as Valentinus, Ptolemy, Heracleon, and
      Theodotus; 2) passages of Valentinian exegesis from accounts of
      specific heresiologists she enumerates; and 3) citations and
      allusions to "Pauline" texts found in Nag Hammadi writings (those
      generally considered Valentinian).

      In her introduction, Elaine Pagels also mentions Paul's sense
      of "dual responsibility," which ~

      "impels Paul to write his letters, as he preaches, `in two ways at
      once.' As he proclaims the savior to psychics in terms they can
      grasp, so he addresses to them the outward, obvious message of his
      letters. But to the initiates, who discern `the truth' hidden there
      in `images,' he directs his deeper communication: they alone
      interpret pneumatically what psychics read only literally."

      And, as such, Dr. Pagels discusses letters ~

      "which (according to extant evidence) the Valentinians considered
      Pauline: Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians,
      Colossians, and Hebrews. (The very few references to 1-2
      Thessalonians are discussed in other sections.)

      "Examination of the Greek and Coptic texts is, of course, essential
      for scholarly evaluation of the evidence cited. For the reader's
      convenience, however, sections of the Greek texts of the epistles
      (selected according to availability of corresponding Valentinian
      exegesis) have been included and translated to indicate the textual
      basis of the gnostic reading (e.g. 1 Cor 2:14a: `the psychic does not
      discern pneumatic things'). Passages of Valentinian exegesis are
      cited below the text under discussion. Where no Valentinian
      citations are extant for a certain passage, the Pauline text is
      omitted."


      I hope this little summary offers a bit of help to get things
      started.

      Cari
    • Gerry
      ... If we re being honest here ... a good, fresh fig is hard to come by! As for Paul, I think you have echoed similar observations that we have made in the
      Message 2 of 5 , Mar 4, 2005
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        --- In gnosticism2@yahoogroups.com, pmcvflag <no_reply@y...> wrote:
        >
        > [...]
        >
        > I'll be honest, I could frankly give a fig if Paul turns out to be
        > Gnostic or not (though I doubt the debate will be solved any time
        > soon). Some have pointed out Paul's literary achievements, while
        > others have blamed him for the fall of Christianity....
        >
        > PMCV




        If we're being honest here ... a good, fresh fig is hard to come by!

        As for Paul, I think you have echoed similar observations that we
        have made in the past concerning the historicity of Jesus. If
        our "faith" is dependent upon placing all our eggs in one basket,
        historically speaking, then there is potential that we could be
        headed for major disappointment. On the other hand, if we find value
        not only in the message, but also in the allegorical understanding of
        it, then debate about the nature of the messenger becomes almost
        inconsequential.

        When Mike made his Jekyll/Hyde comparison to Paul, he really summed
        up how our perception of this figure can simply result from the
        varied perspectives of whichever groups were looking to capitalize on
        the authority of his teachings. As Cari already pointed out, this is
        the very dichotomy in _The Gnostic Paul_ that Elaine Pagels explores:

        "When we compare the heresiological accounts with the newly available
        evidence, we can trace how two antithetical traditions of Pauline
        exegesis have emerged from the late first century through the
        second. Each claims to be authentic, Christian, and Pauline: but
        one reads Paul _antignostically_, the other _gnostically_.
        Correspondingly, we discover two conflicting images of Paul: on the
        one hand, the antignostic Paul familiar from church tradition, and,
        on the other, the gnostic Paul, teacher of wisdom to gnostic
        initiates!" (pg. 5)

        Indeed, this difference in perspective is not something to be
        dismissed. Folks around here may know that I love to rant about this
        subject anyway, but I ran across an example a couple weeks ago that
        offered almost more of a stark analogy than even I should care to
        see: The writer (I believe from some Johannite order) sought to
        demonstrate his assertion that Gnostic sects lacked the "personal
        accountability" of their orthodox counterparts [sic!].

        In my mind, that was a flawed proposition from the start, so I held
        little hope of finding his argument even remotely amusing, but when
        he proceeded to present it in such simplistic terms, I could easily
        see how his perspective (no matter how limited it might have seemed
        to me) could lead him to that conclusion. In short, Gnostics had
        either the demiurge or Sophia to serve as culprits for the error they
        saw pre-existent in the world around them, while the orthodox
        believer blamed mankind (him- or herself included) for bringing about
        the virtual ruination of an otherwise perfect world.

        Two distinct perspectives, to be sure——but the common thread in the
        author's assertions was that both viewpoints were based on literal
        assumptions. How could one possibly hope to appreciate an accurate
        understanding of Gnostic thinking through such a shallow approach!
        Of course, even in spite of such superficial interpretations, one can
        easily question the validity of his allegation simply by examining
        the proposition a little more thoroughly.

        Consider, for instance, how "responsibility" is allegedly borne in
        that original fall. The mainstream faithful could still choose to
        see the serpent as the true source of corruption in the story (the
        devil-made-me-do-it attitude) . . . simply reiterating the ostensibly
        humble notion that Man is a weak creature (far removed from the
        perfection of God) and easily swayed by temptation. Indeed, a far
        cry from the elitist-sounding Gnostic notion that we are perfect
        beings trapped in an inherently flawed world. Finger-pointing
        loopholes in the conventional position aside, does this simple
        admission (that we sinful creatures are to blame for the evils of the
        world) really amount to "personal accountability"?

        With regards to the orthodox perspective, I have a hard time seeing
        anything genuinely "personal" or even "accountable" if the concept
        involves passing the buck to someone else, both in terms of who might
        have initially brought about that downfall and who else would have to
        ultimately pay the price for the wrongdoing. Looks like a bunch of
        scapegoating going on there. When blame for any original
        transgression can be rationalized away, and atonement ultimately
        comes vicariously, it's simply difficult to find anything personally
        accountable about it.

        By reducing myths to literal claims, the proponent of this argument
        neglected to understand how personally and profoundly a Gnostic might
        actually relate both to these stories and the dramatis personae
        therein. Are these characters simply abstract actors playing out
        roles in some nebulous realm . . . or real players in our own world,
        but out of sight——behind the wizard's curtain? Do their foibles and
        virtues have no bearing as we examine our own lives? Is there
        another who absolves us of seeking our own salvation, and could that
        someone undergo a personal transformation FOR us? If we merely see
        them AS stories meant to make us feel good about ourselves, then we
        would be missing something of considerable importance.

        This distinction is what brings me to harp ad nauseam on what
        separates Gnosticism from orthodoxy . . . how simply substituting one
        demiurge with another doesn't a new & improved understanding
        make . . . how reciting Gnostic terms within a pistic perspective
        fails to appreciate their true meaning . . . how, despite certain
        apparent similarities, apples are not the same as oranges, and
        shouldn't be confused as such.

        In the end, how devastated should we be if someday it were somehow
        proved that Paul never even existed . . . or that he was, in reality,
        staunchly anti-gnostic? Frankly, I think it would make the writings
        of Valentinus and his cohorts all the more remarkable. I'm impressed
        enough just to imagine that they so eloquently elaborated on the
        tradition of their predecessors, but if it became necessary one day
        to postulate that they either completely concocted those scriptures
        or otherwise skillfully twisted the words of their adversaries as
        they did . . . solely as a means of further offering insights into
        their own vastly different perspective (one that still resonates with
        many of us here today) . . . well, that would be an extraordinary
        accomplishment indeed.

        Gerry
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