Re: "The Lost Gospels"
- --- In email@example.com, lady_caritas <no_reply@y...>
> Interestingly in contrast, Elaine Pagels, to whom I also referred,
> described heresy as "choice" in a recent interview with Mary Alice
> 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
> GOSPELS, I realized that the perspective was particularlyProtestant.
> It was rooting for the underdog -- in this case the heretics --could
> 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
> write the history of the Civil War, but if you're only on one side,really
> it's not going to be a very powerful story. In this work, I'm
> trying to engage the controversy as fully as I can."analogies
> 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
> in the comments above. First, realizing she was coming from anow
> 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"
> and back then encompass(ed) a wide range of possibilities, quiteonly
> frankly, some I would have difficulty rooting for.
> Secondly, regarding her analogy about the Civil War -- Are there
> two sides? IOW, are we again seeing a predilection for what youterms
> labeled "a vast accommodation of mainstream interpretation" in
> of orthodoxy or proto-orthodoxy vs. everyone else? History is toldThere definitely seems to be a propensity for confusion when authors
> in terms of the "victors"? Would Gnostics ultimately even place as
> much stock in divisive earthly political intrigue or power?
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 thereon 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" astradition
> encompassing more than belief, i.e. "There's worship, there isa
> community, there are shared values, there's spiritual discovery."
> In another interview in _U.S. Catholic_, she seems to be describing
> more liberal existing tradition (faith, anthropomorphic God):Christian
> "I'm trying to say there are things beyond belief. Being a
> involves a lot more than just an intellectual exercise of agreeingto
> a set of propositions.to
> 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
> love one another. There's common worship, and there is Baptism andrelate
> 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
> to a Catholic audience? If so, I nevertheless do not even see herI
> endorsing heterodoxy, let alone Gnosticism, in this article. Now,
> have no problem with this. Actually promoting GnosticismDespite your (our) appreciation for scholarly endeavors to address
> 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."
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 twoGnostics
> 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
> describing an experience that truly goes beyond belief, not onethat
> merely changes the timbre of a faith tradition.Perhaps Pagels *was* simply relating to the target audience in
> I wonder if some scholars agree.
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 dogmathat "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 didthat 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."
- --- In firstname.lastname@example.org, lady_caritas <no_reply@y...>
> Gerry, you're probably asking the wrong person because I can
> a few incidents when I was very young that make me twinge whenher
> 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
> words when indicating she nonetheless had a clear idea of themeaning
> behind this term. I wasn't a member of her "true religion" andsince
> I also didn't know the catechism, I was going to hell, you see.And somehow, just when we think we're free from them, they manage to
> 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... ;-)
track us down for a little renewed torment. Yeah, it's a bitch,
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 contextuallybut
> from what would be an orthodox viewpoint in particular instances,
> it would be helpful to clarify this to avoid confusion. Since wesee
> him later addressing this particular word, "aberrant," perhapscontext
> 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
> of a few questionable terms.interested
> On the whole though, you seem to *not* find his writing showing
> a "penchant for the conventional Christian view." I'll be
> to see what your impressions are when you have a chance to hear Dr.Not only "possible," but I'd say that Ehrman was most definitely
> Ehrman in person at the upcoming seminar.
speaking "contextually" in the above example. It was merely the
wording of that "context" that I found to be occasionally awkward,
and potentially misleading.
- --- In email@example.com, "Rodney Cecil" <wvdog61@7...>
> 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:
>[*note: link revised to expedite location of audio file]
> Go to the archive section for last night's broadcast.*
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
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:
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
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 versionsfree 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. . . ."
[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 Pleromatalk 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
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
>>And then, as a coup de grâce, this victorious party rewrote thehistory 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 allother 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
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."
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
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 saidHow sad. The vast highway of Belief->Agnosis->Unbelief is littered
>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
>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.
with such folks.
>Given everything I had heard and read from him up to that point, andGerry the fact that Professor Ehrman, like so many scholars, has in
>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."
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 wouldFor me that's the utter beauty of the Gnosis. While I do `believe'
>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.
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.
- --- In firstname.lastname@example.org, "wvdog61" <wvdog61@7...> wrote:
> Gerry,No problem, Rodney. I know how those things go.
> 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 (asI'm very pleased to know that my report of personal disappointment
> 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.
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
> I saw Ehrman's book, 'Lost Christianities", at a Books-A-Millionand
> read parts of it for about an hour. Later on I heard that interview(especially
> on NPR. I've never thought that he was a gnostic himself
> after his use of 'forgery' in LC), but felt that perhaps he was atAt this point, I'm really not sure if it could possibly matter to him
> least broad enough in his viewpoint to allow that early gnostic
> christians were as fully deserving the name as their catholic
*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 inMy thoughts exactly! Maybe one day, these works will strike him 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.
such a way that they will be free of the heretical stigma that must
> For me that's the utter beauty of the Gnosis. While I do `believe'never
> that there was a real person named Jesus who lived and died in
> ancient Palestine, if someone could prove conclusively that he
> existed it would be of no consequence for having gnosis.Otherwise, what's the point of gnosis, right?
- 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 email@example.com, "Gerry" <gerryhsp@y...> wrote:
> --- In firstname.lastname@example.org, "Rodney Cecil" <wvdog61@7...>
> > 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:
> > 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,
> 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
> 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
- --- In email@example.com, "mheinich" <mheinich@y...> wrote:
> Gerry, I realize this is johnny come lately to this message but Iam
> relativily new here. I get the feeling from your post that youdid
> not like the book or Ehrman due to his lack of belief or sympathieshis
> 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
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 lookthe
> 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 (andI
> 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. Ienjoy
> was raised Lutheren but have not been active for awhile. I do
> reading and studing history. So the comments he had about theearly
> christian church was fastinating to me. I went out and bought bothvery
> of his "Lost" books. I enjoyed Lost Christianties and found it
> informative from my point of reference which was not a Gnosticismpoint
> 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 areable
> 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 thisthe
> 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.It
> may have been written in their name for a number of good reasonsand
> not necessarily criminal or fraudulent ones. Most of the books ofwere
> 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 theviews
> 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 ofthe
> various books but found it eye opening. He covers alot of groundseeking
> 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 aboutI'd say you are already headed in a better direction than the
> 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
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
"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!
- 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.
Do you Yahoo!?
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- "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.