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Re: Lowlights of DSS / NHL Seminar

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  • 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 1 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 2 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 3 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 4 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 5 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 6 of 20 , May 1, 2004
                "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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