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Re: "The Lost Gospels"

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  • Gerry
    ... GNOSTIC ... Protestant. ... could ... really ... analogies ... now ... only ... terms ... There definitely seems to be a propensity for confusion when
    Message 1 of 20 , Jan 7, 2004
      --- In gnosticism2@yahoogroups.com, lady_caritas <no_reply@y...>
      wrote:
      > [....]
      > Interestingly in contrast, Elaine Pagels, to whom I also referred,
      > described heresy as "choice" in a recent interview with Mary Alice
      > Williams:
      > http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week706/interview1.html
      >
      > The following comments during the interview, however, elicited a
      > mixed reaction from me:
      >
      > "I'm trying not to use polemical language. After I wrote THE
      GNOSTIC
      > GOSPELS, I realized that the perspective was particularly
      Protestant.
      > It was rooting for the underdog -- in this case the heretics --
      > against the authorities in the church and the bishops and the
      > hierarchy. Now I realize that's a little oversimplified. To write
      > history well, one has to be on both sides of a controversy. You
      could
      > write the history of the Civil War, but if you're only on one side,
      > it's not going to be a very powerful story. In this work, I'm
      really
      > trying to engage the controversy as fully as I can."
      >
      > Here we see Pagels trying to be critically objective about her
      > writing. And, in _Beyond Belief_ she does attempt to offer a
      > balanced presentation. Yet--and here, Gerry, I probably will
      > sound "highly opinionated"--I have difficulty with a couple
      analogies
      > in the comments above. First, realizing she was coming from a
      > Protestant perspective when writing _The Gnostic Gospels_, rooting
      > for the underdog, the "heretics," may be even more oversimplified
      > than she realizes. I understand her sentiment, but Protestants,
      > although considered intransigents by church authorities, were still
      > within an orthodox Christian fold. Gnostics were not, as much as
      > Ebionites, followers of Marcion (with his two gods) and other
      > heretics were not orthodox or rather proto-orthodox. "Heretics"
      now
      > and back then encompass(ed) a wide range of possibilities, quite
      > frankly, some I would have difficulty rooting for.
      >
      > Secondly, regarding her analogy about the Civil War -- Are there
      only
      > two sides? IOW, are we again seeing a predilection for what you
      > labeled "a vast accommodation of mainstream interpretation" in
      terms
      > of orthodoxy or proto-orthodoxy vs. everyone else? History is told
      > in terms of the "victors"? Would Gnostics ultimately even place as
      > much stock in divisive earthly political intrigue or power?



      There definitely seems to be a propensity for confusion when authors
      go out of their way to appear unbiased with regards to all of these
      historical groups. Odd phraseology and overly simplified analogies
      aside, just look at the question posed by Mary Alice Williams that
      prompted the response by Pagels (quoted above):

      Q: You try very hard not to personalize any of this and not to use
      words like "suppress."

      To be fair, Pagels did use the word in an earlier response, but the
      host was far quicker to throw the term out there——on several
      occasions. Indeed, the author tried to stay away from polemical
      language, but does that mean that the facts don't already offer their
      own damning testimony as to what actually transpired? She might have
      cited any number of early Church fathers, or even the edicts of
      Constantine himself, to demonstrate the extent to which people were
      vilified when they resorted to scriptures outside of the canon
      advocated by Athanasius, whose effort to cleanse the clerical
      libraries of heretical influence was cited in the interview. In
      light of that corroborative evidence, I fail to see why a historian
      would shy away from a word like "suppress." While not in itself as
      guilty as some revisionist histories, the avoidance of such a word
      still gives the appearance of whitewashing recorded accounts, as if
      to indicate to some that the persecution of Gnostics never happened.

      The inevitable corruption of politics is bad enough in its own arena,
      but when an author must temper his own writing so as not to offend a
      large section of his would-be readership by simply stating the
      obvious, then I begin to lose hope. As I alluded to in an earlier
      post, when the attempt to write in a manner that appears "unbiased"
      results in little more than a happy and harmonious history wherein
      all parties are portrayed favorably and none did wrong, it makes me
      wish that the author had simply chosen sides from the beginning and
      simply disregarded the pretense of objectivity. Perhaps it's just a
      necessary evil for historians of any age to contend with.



      > Elaine Pagels also seems to be defining "beyond belief" as
      tradition
      > encompassing more than belief, i.e. "There's worship, there is
      > community, there are shared values, there's spiritual discovery."
      >
      > In another interview in _U.S. Catholic_, she seems to be describing
      a
      > more liberal existing tradition (faith, anthropomorphic God):
      > http://www.uscatholic.org/2003/09/featb0309.htm
      >
      > "I'm trying to say there are things beyond belief. Being a
      Christian
      > involves a lot more than just an intellectual exercise of agreeing
      to
      > a set of propositions.
      >
      > Faith is a matter of committing yourself to what you love, what you
      > hope. It's the story of Jesus, which is a story of divinely given
      > hope after complete despair. It's a set of shared values by a
      > community who believes that God loves the human race and wants us
      to
      > love one another. There's common worship, and there is Baptism and
      > Communion.
      >
      > Much of this is very mysterious. It's much deeper than a set of
      > beliefs to which we simply say yes or no."
      >
      > Now, in all fairness, was she simply using wording that would
      relate
      > to a Catholic audience? If so, I nevertheless do not even see her
      > endorsing heterodoxy, let alone Gnosticism, in this article. Now,
      I
      > have no problem with this. Actually promoting Gnosticism
      > specifically may not be her intention. And, I do appreciate Elaine
      > Pagels' and others' scholarly work to correct misinformation about
      > early Christianity.
      >
      > I *do* have difficulty however with others who would use Gnostic
      > scripture in an eclectic manner to inform or enhance an orthodox
      > tradition, in essence making a bigger, grander, all-inclusive
      > tradition of "faith" without considering basic, very significant
      > underlying differences such as mythological/meaning vs.
      > historical/moral approach, soteriological function and concepts
      > of "God."


      Despite your (our) appreciation for scholarly endeavors to address
      the misinformation out there, it is becoming increasingly clearer
      that such efforts may be futile. A pneumatic understanding isn't
      gained simply because a psychic wills it so. I'm skeptical that any
      amount of historical elucidation can play a role in such a personal
      change in perception.


      > I don't view these differences as being reconcilable or even two
      > sides of the same coin or common Civil War. Now, we certainly have
      > seen, in the case of the Valentinians, psychic and pneumatic
      > approaches existing within the same church. However, I see
      Gnostics
      > describing an experience that truly goes beyond belief, not one
      that
      > merely changes the timbre of a faith tradition.
      >
      > I wonder if some scholars agree.
      >
      >
      > Cari


      Perhaps Pagels *was* simply relating to the target audience in
      her "U.S. Catholic" interview quoted above. It's interesting,
      though, that she begins that passage explaining that there is more to
      Christianity than simply swallowing dogma——that "there are things
      beyond belief," and then begins her elaboration in the following
      paragraph, "Faith is a matter of . . . ."

      As I think you're suggesting, every element Pagels proceeds to cite
      at that point can already be found in virtually any example of
      mainstream Christian faith. Well, that works just fine for the
      interview, but to do her own book justice, she would have been better
      off describing as you did——that for many, venturing beyond belief is
      not merely a step, but a leap beyond when compared with their
      previous position grounded in a "faith tradition."

      Gerry
    • Gerry
      ... remember ... her ... meaning ... since ... And somehow, just when we think we re free from them, they manage to track us down for a little renewed torment.
      Message 2 of 20 , Jan 7, 2004
        --- In gnosticism2@yahoogroups.com, lady_caritas <no_reply@y...>
        wrote:
        >
        > Gerry, you're probably asking the wrong person because I can
        remember
        > a few incidents when I was very young that make me twinge when
        > hearing terms like the "true religion" and "aberrant."
        >
        > Now, surely, my playmate down the street wouldn't have known a term
        > like "aberrant" at her young age, but she certainly didn't mince
        her
        > words when indicating she nonetheless had a clear idea of the
        meaning
        > behind this term. I wasn't a member of her "true religion" and
        since
        > I also didn't know the catechism, I was going to hell, you see.
        > Yes, those were her words. I was truly straying from what she had
        > been taught was the "true" path.
        >
        > And, I've been doing my darnedest to keep straying from such mean-
        > spirited opinions ever since... ;-)


        And somehow, just when we think we're free from them, they manage to
        track us down for a little renewed torment. Yeah, it's a bitch,
        alright.

        Your story reminds me of something that happened at work a few years
        ago. A sixteen-year-old girl who was working with us that summer
        told a young friend of mine that he was going to hell because he
        didn't go to church anymore. Geez, the fresh mouths of youngsters
        today! Anyway, after Ben (only 3½ years her senior) got over his
        initial mortification, I further consoled him by pointing out that
        the girl's father, who manages to find other things to do on a
        Sunday, has been told the same thing by his daughter. I suppose one
        has to admire that nepotism doesn't get in the way of her being an
        equal-opportunity offender. ;-)



        > It's very possible that Dr. Ehrman was speaking only contextually
        > from what would be an orthodox viewpoint in particular instances,
        but
        > it would be helpful to clarify this to avoid confusion. Since we
        see
        > him later addressing this particular word, "aberrant," perhaps
        > someone did bring this to his attention or perhaps he even caught
        > this himself. Nonetheless, in the same work _Lost Scriptures_, you
        > mentioned earlier that he equated "heresy" with "false belief."
        > Hopefully, in the future he'll continue to shed light on the
        context
        > of a few questionable terms.
        >
        > On the whole though, you seem to *not* find his writing showing
        > a "penchant for the conventional Christian view." I'll be
        interested
        > to see what your impressions are when you have a chance to hear Dr.
        > Ehrman in person at the upcoming seminar.
        >
        >
        > Cari



        Not only "possible," but I'd say that Ehrman was most definitely
        speaking "contextually" in the above example. It was merely the
        wording of that "context" that I found to be occasionally awkward,
        and potentially misleading.

        Gerry
      • Gerry
        ... http://freshair.npr.org/day_fa.jhtml?display=day&todayDate=12/17/2003 ... [*note: link revised to expedite location of audio file] Hey Rodney. I dug this
        Message 3 of 20 , Mar 4, 2004
          --- In gnosticism2@yahoogroups.com, "Rodney Cecil" <wvdog61@7...>
          wrote:
          >
          >
          > Hey folks,
          >
          > Last night on NPR's Fresh Air, Bart Ehrman (mentioned in
          > the Time article above) discussed his book 'Lost
          > Christianities'. I'll listen to the interview today but I
          > read the section of his book that covered the Gnostics and
          > his presentation was very positive. When he discussed the
          > Gospel of Truth for instance, he described it as a writing
          > that expressed nothing less than sheer joyful abandon.
          >
          > You can listen at the following link:
          >
          http://freshair.npr.org/day_fa.jhtml?display=day&todayDate=12/17/2003
          >
          > Go to the archive section for last night's broadcast.*
          >
          > Peace
          >
          > Rodney

          [*note: link revised to expedite location of audio file]




          Hey Rodney.

          I dug this post up from the December archives. Your description of
          Bart Ehrman's views on the Gospel of Truth had stuck with me,
          certainly during the discussions here of some of his books and
          interviews, and even during my trip to hear him speak last month.
          Along with what I consider to be inconsistencies in his writing, and
          descriptions of another book of his which I have not yet read, I'm
          finally seeing why I've been so puzzled in trying to determine where
          the professor actually stands with regards to Gnosticism.

          Concerning the Gospel of Truth, I should start by pointing out that
          your comments above are sort of a paraphrase of Ehrman's paraphrase
          of the original author of the text, and one should not assume
          that "sheer joyful abandon" is any reflection of his personal
          feelings toward this work in particular, or that such apparent
          jubilation would accurately characterize his assessment of Gnostic
          works in general:

          "These opening lines put the lie to those who may think of Gnosticism
          as some kind of dour, intellectualizing, morally dubious kind of
          religion, for here the joy of salvation is celebrated with
          abandon . . . ." (_Lost Christianities_, pg. 127)

          He's merely reporting on the tone of the original text, as can be
          seen by looking at the first few lines of the actual Gospel. While
          he occasionally seems to get carried away as he discusses either the
          importance or content of a given find that sheds further light on
          Early Christianity (as one might expect of any scholar passionate
          about his field of study), his actual connection to those texts
          impresses me as almost purely academic.

          This isn't to say that Ehrman doesn't know what he's talking about.
          Technically speaking, I've said before that he seems to have a firm
          grasp of those criteria which are used to define the category of
          Gnosticism, and he clearly recognizes difficulties encountered by
          scholars and laity alike in classifying certain groups according to
          whatever simplified definition we choose to use. Also, like you
          observed, I feel that most of his descriptions of this subject are
          very positive, but for me, there has always been some nagging
          suspicion that it is simply not something with which he personally
          relates.

          As I commented to Betty previously, the seminar was called "The Dead
          Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Manuscripts." Regardless of how much
          we may enjoy the Gospel of Thomas, it seems foolish to let that *one*
          text represent the entire NHL. The only other scripture covered was
          The Gospel of Peter, which, of course, is not even part of that
          collection. Very odd, indeed. Still, inasmuch as it's relevant to
          the variety of thought present at the time of nascent Christianity, I
          may take a moment to mention Peter:

          http://www.gnosis.org/library/gospete.htm

          Just as M.R. James notes in the introduction to that translation,
          Ehrman observes two things about the Gospel of Peter: one can find a
          brief indication that there may be a docetic portrayal of Jesus; and
          the account may be seen as having an anti-Jewish bias. As for that
          second part, there is no doubt that numerous factions were vying for
          supporters in the first centuries of the common era. An anti-
          Christian bent can be found from that period in one of the
          benedictions recited in the Jewish "Amidah." Actually more of a
          malediction, the section of that prayer known as "haMinim" (the
          heretics) in the version from the Cairo Genizah is very clearly
          worded against the Christian sectarians. Certainly by the Middle
          Ages, that wording was revised and softened considerably to simply
          denounce the actions of "slanderers," and from what I've read, some
          Jews leave it out altogether today.

          Anyway, as James notes in the translation linked above, this bias is
          accompanied by a "whitewashing" of Pilate. Ehrman usually seems to
          leave that part out when he writes about this gospel, but he gave it
          considerable address in person . . . well, he did after being
          questioned about it, anyhow. LOL The elderly lady seated directly
          in front of me was trying to articulate the point that as anti-Jewish
          rhetoric increased, wasn't it connected to something else? I think
          she was trying to bring up the political power struggle, and as Prof.
          Ehrman kept trying to coax the end of the question out of her, I
          finally whispered to her, "pro- . . . Roman." Well, that seemed to
          work, and he acknowledged at length that it's quite interesting to
          observe how as scriptures gradually became increasingly anti-Jewish,
          Rome was conversely depicted (not surprisingly) in a more and more
          favorable light.

          Back to the Gospel of Thomas . . . some things that the speaker
          pointed out really impressed me, mostly because I was anticipating
          having to make an argument for GTh actually *having* Gnostic
          relevance. In the same book, though, Ehrman actually heads off that
          argument by admitting that some scholars have been quick to make the
          claim that this gospel lacks references to specifically Gnostic
          concepts, but he contends that while it does not elaborate on those
          concepts explicitly, the collection nonetheless "presupposes" an
          understanding of Gnosticism. He likens it to looking in the sports
          page for highlights of a baseball game. For an avid fan to properly
          understand the report, the article need not go into detail regarding
          the evolution of the game or how it is played, whereas someone
          unfamiliar with the sport would be unable to make much sense of what
          he was reading without access to that unwritten, background material.

          Ehrman also mentions in his book how the discovery of GTh supported
          the theoretical Q gospel. Many of those who had previously argued
          against the existence of such a source did so on the grounds that
          they couldn't imagine a gospel that would consist solely of the
          teachings of Jesus, and would also fail to include accounts of his
          crucifixion and resurrection. And yet, Thomas provides clear
          evidence that such scripture could indeed exist. He has further
          elaborated that as some of the sayings in GTh are shorter
          and "pithier" than their canonical counterparts, it would not be out
          of the question to assume that their brevity may indicate older, more
          authentic versions——free from the embellishments of later redactions.

          In another part of the book, this text is depicted in a timeline as
          a "Collection of 114 sayings of Jesus, some possibly authentic,
          others embodying Gnostic concerns, discovered at Nag Hammadi (pg.
          xii)." A Gnostic connection to *some* of the logia seems to be
          almost an afterthought in that passage. Elsewhere in the book,
          Ehrman points out, "This then is the Gospel of Thomas, a valuable
          collection of 114 sayings of Jesus, many of which may reflect the
          historical teachings of Jesus, but all of which appear to be framed
          within the context of later Gnostic reflections on the salvation that
          Jesus has brought (pg. 64)."

          By this point, I was thoroughly confused as to what he was trying to
          convey. In some spots, the Gospel was portrayed as needing to be
          seen entirely within a Gnostic context, and in others, that
          connection is substantially minimized. Other seemingly conventional
          sayings are possibly more authentic than similar ones in the Bible,
          but the more difficult logia are deemed subsequent interpretations by
          the Gnostics, i.e., "inauthentic," based on the dissimilarity of
          those passages to proto-orthodox theology. I was beginning to think
          that this was just a hopelessly muddled basket of apples and oranges,
          at least as far as *he* was attempting to explain it. And this was
          only the beginning.

          Arriving at the lecture hall, I finally recalled what else it was
          that had been gnawing at the back of my mind regarding Bart Ehrman
          and his view of the Gospel of Thomas. I felt sure that I had seen
          comments somewhere that just didn't mesh with what I had been reading
          in the several books I possessed. There it was, though, on the table
          amid numerous other books for sale in the lobby: _Jesus: Apocalyptic
          Prophet of the New Millennium_. As soon as I saw the title, I
          immediately remembered having once read a blurb from his publisher
          while ordering some books on-line:

          "Through a careful evaluation of the New Testament Gospels and other
          surviving sources, including the more recently discovered Gospels of
          Thomas and Peter, Ehrman proposes that Jesus can be best understood
          as an apocalyptic prophet, a man convinced that the world would end
          dramatically within his lifetime, and that a new kingdom would be
          created on earth - a just and peaceful kingdom ruled by a benevolent
          God. . . ."
          http://www.us.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/ReligionTheology/Hist
          oryofChristianity/?view=usa&ci=0195124731

          [BTW, this view probably best represents Ehrman's personal
          understanding of Christianity.]

          That was exactly what had been making me so
          uncomfortable. "Benevolent" or not, the very notion of a personal
          god setting up an earthly kingdom seemed to me to have very little to
          do with Gnosticism. IMO, such a notion is even antithetical to the
          content of the Gospel of Thomas. The fact that the author is alleged
          to use the GTh to support such a theory struck me as utterly
          incongruous with his assertion that the same scripture is best
          understood in a Gnostic context. Even more to the point, he makes
          the opposite claim, also in _Lost Christianities_, on page 64:

          "In this Gospel it is not Jesus' death and resurrection that bring
          salvation. In this Gospel there is no anticipation of a coming
          Kingdom of God on earth."

          Sweeeeeet Pleroma——talk about conflicting reports! And keep in mind,
          this was all before the lectures had even started. ;-) Needless to
          say, I wasn't holding out for much hope that it would turn into a
          fruitful weekend.

          Well, so much for pointing out what I found interesting, objective,
          or even remotely sympathetic regarding a Gnostic viewpoint at this
          event. By this point, I was definitely in a mood, and most
          everything else I noticed simply contributed to the overall feeling
          of being stuck in a hostile environment.

          In the same book, Ehrman places GTh as one of four examples in a
          section called, "PART ONE: Forgeries and Discoveries." Make no
          mistake, it's not listed simply as one of the discoveries, but like
          this, "The Discovery of an Ancient Forgery: The Coptic Gospel of
          Thomas." I mean . . . just how many canonical scriptures does he
          feel were actually composed and/or written by the authority cited by
          the text? It just seems like he's grasping there, or do such
          decisions in the writing of his book reveal an underlying mainstream
          bias? This is definitely something we should ask ourselves when an
          author's textbooks appear in countless classrooms and other books and
          articles are referenced in the popular media.

          That question of bias brings me right back to another point I've
          raised with other books he's written. Once again, we encounter the
          problem of definitions in the introduction to this book. It's really
          one long sentence, so I'll give it all for context. He actually does
          very well, objectively speaking, right up until the last bit of
          elaboration:

          >>And then, as a coup de grâce, this victorious party rewrote the
          history of the controversy, making it appear that there had not been
          much of a conflict at all, claiming that its own views had always
          been those of the majority of Christians at all times, back to the
          time of Jesus and his apostles, that its perspective, in effect, had
          always been "orthodox" (i.e., the "right belief") and that its
          opponents in the conflict, with their other scriptural texts, had
          always represented small splinter groups invested in deceiving people
          into "heresy" (literally meaning "choice"; a heretic is someone who
          willfully chooses not to believe the right things).<< (pg. 4)

          Once again, it's as if he's crossed the line between objective and
          subjective explanation of the term. I mean . . . seriously . . . why
          in the world would anyone "willfully choose" to believe something
          *false*? Does that make any sense at all——other than from an
          orthodox perspective? For the life of me, I cannot imagine why
          someone would write such a thing, especially a scholar, and after
          claiming to give the "literal" meaning of a word.

          Then, there was the whole explanation of how the Syrian tradition
          claimed that Didymos Judas Thomas was the twin brother of Jesus.
          Well, in order to explain that away, Ehrman suggests that we should
          look to precedence in Greek mythology to account for fraternal twins
          in which one is immortal and the other mortal, such as Hercules and
          his twin half-brother Iphicles. You don't say! Does anyone else
          find it odd that in a scripture which we're supposed to view in a
          Gnostic context, we're now asked to resort to mythology in order to
          make sense of an assumption that's based on a literalist
          interpretation? Are y'all feeling my pain yet? ;-)

          Well, just imagine that going to hear a speaker whose motives I was
          questioning by the minute was but a drop in the bucket. It can be
          difficult enough living in a traditionally conservative state and
          hoping to have an open dialogue about this subject at what is
          supposed to be a liberal university. In reactionary times like
          these, though, that ol' Bible Belt seems to tighten up a notch or
          two. To give a brief idea of the other participants attending, here
          is the first question to arise from the audience after Prof. Ehrman
          had concluded his lecture on the Gospel of Thomas:

          "Could you comment on the Council of Nicea and the concept of the
          Trinity?"

          I should have an "LOL" attached somewhere in relation to that, but
          frankly, I'm still not amused by it. At the time that it was asked,
          I was torn between chuckling out loud and releasing an audible
          groan. The moderator in me wanted to stand up and ask the
          gentleman, "What in the world does that have to do with what we've
          just been listening to?" It was un-real, and sadly, somewhat typical
          of the level of thought that didn't go into other questions posed.

          The most productive question (considering we weren't going to learn
          much about Gnosticism!) was raised near the end of the final
          session. The man was probing (at length) into Ehrman's personal
          background, citing the various seminaries and universities he had
          attended and wondering how those differing persuasions had influenced
          his religious views. I was certainly glad he asked. Anyway, it
          yielded one of the speaker's most thoughtful replies. Ehrman said
          that indeed, he had been raised in an evangelical fundamentalist
          background. After that, he became a liberal Christian, and then a
          liturgical Christian, and eventually what he described as an agnostic
          Christian. He claimed that he wasn't able to reconcile the
          disturbing reality of the world around him with what religion had
          taught him. I found this to be particularly poignant.

          Throughout the lecture, he had made comments when speaking of the
          Gnostics that indicated to me that he had no feeling for what they
          were about. He could summarize their feelings of alienation from the
          Source, he related their concept of recognizing a flaw in the world
          around them, he perfectly recounted a Valentinian outline of the
          natures of Man, and he even explained theodicy from a Gnostic
          perspective, but in all this, it was as if to imply that they must
          have been weird to have viewed those things in such a way.

          Given everything I had heard and read from him up to that point, and
          especially after hearing how religion had failed to bring him the
          answers he needed, all I could think was, "the Father's kingdom is
          spread out upon the earth, and people don't see it."


          Gerry
        • wvdog61
          Gerry, I would have responded earlier but my DSL connection was out for a couple days and I ve been playing catch-up since then. First of all, I want to say
          Message 4 of 20 , Mar 7, 2004
            Gerry,

            I would have responded earlier but my DSL connection was out for a
            couple days and I've been playing catch-up since then.

            First of all, I want to say that your post was very informative (as
            your posts always are) and that reading it was a true pleasure. I
            have to admit that a few months ago when I heard you talking about
            attending the seminar I was green with envy, but after your
            critique, I'm glad I didn't use any vaction days from my work or
            spend money for airfare.

            I saw Ehrman's book, 'Lost Christianities", at a Books-A-Million and
            read parts of it for about an hour. Later on I heard that interview
            on NPR. I've never thought that he was a gnostic himself (especially
            after his use of 'forgery' in LC), but felt that perhaps he was at
            least broad enough in his viewpoint to allow that early gnostic
            christians were as fully deserving the name as their catholic
            counterparts.

            I suppose that having found (or been found by?) something as
            transformative and powerful as Gnosis, and being enthusiastic about
            it, I'm happy to hear positive (or at least partly so) things said
            about it from various quarters.

            >Ehrman said
            >that indeed, he had been raised in an evangelical fundamentalist
            >background. After that, he became a liberal Christian, and then a
            >liturgical Christian, and eventually what he described as an
            >agnostic
            >Christian. He claimed that he wasn't able to reconcile the
            >disturbing reality of the world around him with what religion had
            >taught him. I found this to be particularly poignant.

            How sad. The vast highway of Belief->Agnosis->Unbelief is littered
            with such folks.

            >Given everything I had heard and read from him up to that point, and
            >especially after hearing how religion had failed to bring him the
            >answers he needed, all I could think was, "the Father's kingdom is
            >spread out upon the earth, and people don't see it."

            Gerry the fact that Professor Ehrman, like so many scholars, has in
            his hands, before his very eyes, the writings of GTh and so much
            else from the NHL, makes his lack of `sight' a bitter irony.

            From post #9263:

            >On the other hand, I can't imagine how any new discoveries would
            >unhinge my own beliefs. The religious "connection" I feel isn't tied
            >to dogma, or faith, or a personal savior alleged to have existed
            >exclusively in one form or another, if he existed at all.

            >Gerry

            For me that's the utter beauty of the Gnosis. While I do `believe'
            that there was a real person named Jesus who lived and died in
            ancient Palestine, if someone could prove conclusively that he never
            existed it would be of no consequence for having gnosis.

            Peace

            Rodney
          • Gerry
            ... No problem, Rodney. I know how those things go. ... I m very pleased to know that my report of personal disappointment brings you some relief. LOL I
            Message 5 of 20 , Mar 7, 2004
              --- In gnosticism2@yahoogroups.com, "wvdog61" <wvdog61@7...> wrote:
              > Gerry,
              >
              > I would have responded earlier but my DSL connection was out for a
              > couple days and I've been playing catch-up since then.



              No problem, Rodney. I know how those things go.



              > First of all, I want to say that your post was very informative (as
              > your posts always are) and that reading it was a true pleasure. I
              > have to admit that a few months ago when I heard you talking about
              > attending the seminar I was green with envy, but after your
              > critique, I'm glad I didn't use any vaction days from my work or
              > spend money for airfare.



              I'm very pleased to know that my report of personal disappointment
              brings you some relief. LOL I often questioned if it was worth the
              4-hour drive for me even, but in the end, I suppose it was a learning
              experience (even if it wasn't what I had hoped to learn), and who
              says that learning has to be enjoyable.

              The thing is, Rodney, that it would have been fun if we'd had the
              audience peppered with our membership. Just think how we could have
              monopolized the Q&A sessions! As it was, though, the Gnostic
              contingent was considerably outnumbered. If I were you, I'd hang on
              to those vacation days for when Mike brings us news of the next
              Gnosticon conference.



              > I saw Ehrman's book, 'Lost Christianities", at a Books-A-Million
              and
              > read parts of it for about an hour. Later on I heard that interview
              > on NPR. I've never thought that he was a gnostic himself
              (especially
              > after his use of 'forgery' in LC), but felt that perhaps he was at
              > least broad enough in his viewpoint to allow that early gnostic
              > christians were as fully deserving the name as their catholic
              > counterparts.



              At this point, I'm really not sure if it could possibly matter to him
              *who* calls himself a Christian. Ya know, maybe I was just trying to
              be optimistic (which is a stretch for me), but I went through
              numerous books of his over many days' time before it became obvious
              that the introductions to texts in his anthology were mostly synopses
              of the texts themselves, rather than any sort of critical analysis.
              If that was becoming clear to you after an hour in the bookstore, I
              need to listen better to that nagging intuition and quit pretending
              that everyone is as open-minded as I'd like to believe.



              > Gerry the fact that Professor Ehrman, like so many scholars, has in
              > his hands, before his very eyes, the writings of GTh and so much
              > else from the NHL, makes his lack of `sight' a bitter irony.



              My thoughts exactly! Maybe one day, these works will strike him in
              such a way that they will be free of the heretical stigma that must
              haunt him.



              > For me that's the utter beauty of the Gnosis. While I do `believe'
              > that there was a real person named Jesus who lived and died in
              > ancient Palestine, if someone could prove conclusively that he
              never
              > existed it would be of no consequence for having gnosis.
              >
              > Peace
              >
              > Rodney



              Otherwise, what's the point of gnosis, right?

              Gerry
            • mheinich
              Gerry, I realize this is johnny come lately to this message but I am relativily new here. I get the feeling from your post that you did not like the book or
              Message 6 of 20 , Apr 8, 2004
                Gerry, I realize this is johnny come lately to this message but I am
                relativily new here. I get the feeling from your post that you did
                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 his
                book. If I summarized unjustly then I apologize.

                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 the
                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 I
                am wandering off topic.

                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 enjoy
                reading and studing history. So the comments he had about the early
                christian church was fastinating to me. I went out and bought both
                of his "Lost" books. I enjoyed Lost Christianties and found it very
                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 point
                of view quite clearly. Not all books on Religion or History are able
                to pull that trick off.

                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 the
                person it is attributed to, that is by definition then a Forgery. It
                may have been written in their name for a number of good reasons and
                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 were
                transcribing errors over time along with intential changes to the
                books of the new testement to support some groups' or person's views
                very interesting as well.

                Anyway, I did not get as put off or bothered by his treatment of the
                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 seeking
                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.


                --- In gnosticism2@yahoogroups.com, "Gerry" <gerryhsp@y...> wrote:
                > --- In gnosticism2@yahoogroups.com, "Rodney Cecil" <wvdog61@7...>
                > wrote:
                > >
                > >
                > > Hey folks,
                > >
                > > Last night on NPR's Fresh Air, Bart Ehrman (mentioned in
                > > the Time article above) discussed his book 'Lost
                > > Christianities'. I'll listen to the interview today but I
                > > read the section of his book that covered the Gnostics and
                > > his presentation was very positive. When he discussed the
                > > Gospel of Truth for instance, he described it as a writing
                > > that expressed nothing less than sheer joyful abandon.
                > >
                > > You can listen at the following link:
                > >
                > http://freshair.npr.org/day_fa.jhtml?
                display=day&todayDate=12/17/2003
                > >
                > > Go to the archive section for last night's broadcast.*
                > >
                > > Peace
                > >
                > > Rodney
                >
                > [*note: link revised to expedite location of audio file]
                >
                >
                >
                >
                > Hey Rodney.
                >
                > I dug this post up from the December archives. Your description of
                > Bart Ehrman's views on the Gospel of Truth had stuck with me,
                > certainly during the discussions here of some of his books and
                > interviews, and even during my trip to hear him speak last month.
                > Along with what I consider to be inconsistencies in his writing,
                and
                > descriptions of another book of his which I have not yet read, I'm
                > finally seeing why I've been so puzzled in trying to determine
                where
                > the professor actually stands with regards to Gnosticism.
                >
                > Concerning the Gospel of Truth, I should start by pointing out that
                > your comments above are sort of a paraphrase of Ehrman's paraphrase
                > of the original author of the text, and one should not assume
                > that "sheer joyful abandon" is any reflection of his personal
                > feelings toward this work in particular, or that such apparent
                > jubilation would accurately characterize his assessment of Gnostic
                <snip>
              • Gerry
                ... am ... did ... his ... 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
                Message 7 of 20 , Apr 30, 2004
                  --- In gnosticism2@yahoogroups.com, "mheinich" <mheinich@y...> wrote:
                  > Gerry, I realize this is johnny come lately to this message but I
                  am
                  > relativily new here. I get the feeling from your post that you
                  did
                  > 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
                  his
                  > 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
                  the
                  > 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
                  I
                  > 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
                  enjoy
                  > reading and studing history. So the comments he had about the
                  early
                  > christian church was fastinating to me. I went out and bought both
                  > of his "Lost" books. I enjoyed Lost Christianties and found it
                  very
                  > 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
                  point
                  > of view quite clearly. Not all books on Religion or History are
                  able
                  > 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
                  the
                  > person it is attributed to, that is by definition then a Forgery.
                  It
                  > may have been written in their name for a number of good reasons
                  and
                  > 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
                  were
                  > transcribing errors over time along with intential changes to the
                  > books of the new testement to support some groups' or person's
                  views
                  > 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
                  the
                  > 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
                  seeking
                  > 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!

                  Gerry
                • Michael Heinich
                  Thank you for your informed reply. Using different filters , folks can come to different conclusions. I guess I was operating from a place that wasn t much
                  Message 8 of 20 , Apr 30, 2004
                    Thank you for your informed reply.

                    Using different "filters", folks can come to different
                    conclusions. I guess I was operating from a place
                    that wasn't much different then Ehrman's upbringing.

                    I did pass up the opportunity to pick up his
                    "Apocolyptic Jesus" which was one of themes in the
                    book we are discussing. The fact that Jesus behaved
                    or said things that indicated he believed the world
                    was going to end soon.

                    My studies are taking me in different directions.

                    --- Gerry <gerryhsp@...> wrote:
                    > 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.






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                  • Gavin Riggott
                    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
                    Message 9 of 20 , May 1 4:51 PM
                      "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."

                      I've recently purchased some DVDs from The Teaching Company. One set is by
                      Bart Erham, titled "From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early
                      Chrstianity". So far (I'm just over half-way through it), he has mentioned
                      several cases where books in the NT are probably not written by the authors
                      they claim. I don't recall him calling them forgeries, though he might well
                      have done - I wasn't on the look out for it. He has mentioned a couple of
                      Christian apocryphal works though, and didn't seem to treat them any worse,
                      or better, than the pseudopigriphical NT books he discussed. Although he
                      hasn't talked about Gnosticism yet, I suspect that is comming soon, so I'll
                      listen carefully to see if he treats it with a different standard to
                      orthodoxy. I'll get back to you on that if anything interesting shows up.


                      Gavin Riggott
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