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Re: Gnostic claims to Paul of Tarsus

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  • 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 1 of 5 , Mar 4, 2005
      --- 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

      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.

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