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[gthomas] Copts, gnostics, & GOT

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  • Mike Grondin
    This is in answer to Penny Villegas s questions under a different title. I don t claim to be an expert in these matters, but I ll say what I think I know,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 3, 1999
      This is in answer to Penny Villegas's questions under a different title. I
      don't claim to be an expert in these matters, but I'll say what I think I
      know, subject to correction by others.

      > Question 1: I have a confused understanding of the gnostics. In some
      > they are seen as mystical purists. In others, as rigid and negative. I
      > understand the root of the word, but why is there a connection to the GOT?
      > Or the other gospels?

      The term "gnostics" covers many groups with surprisingly dissimilar
      viewpoints (so different, in fact, that some scholars think the term
      "gnosticism" is not at all helpful and ought to be dropped). I would
      certainly classify all these groups as "mystics", but none of them that I'm
      aware of could be regarded as "rigid and negative". On the contrary, these
      groups were notorious for coming up with their own original accounts of the
      nature of the heavens, creation, etc. And they were not any more negative
      than the centrist Christians who attacked them.

      The connection between gnosticism and "the other gospels" is a very large
      area, and one on which I'm not qualified to speak. The connection with GOT,
      however, is very plain and simple: the Coptic GOT was found within a large
      group of other writings with marked gnostic character. Perhaps the
      particular group of gnostics who put together the "Nag Hammadi library"
      merely found it congenial to their views. Perhaps they worked it over to
      their own liking. In any case, they gave it a position of great prominence:
      within the most important book in their collection (Codex 2), and there
      second only to the "Apocryphon of John", evidently their most esteemed work.

      The question of whether the Coptic GOT is basically a gnostic document or
      not is a subject of no small debate. I think it's clear that for the most
      part it is not.

      > Question 2: What is the connection with this gospel (or any of the gospels)
      > to the Copts? I visited their church in Cairo--including a beautiful and
      > strange (by my RC experience) mass. I know they claim to be the original
      > Christians.

      The current Christian Coptic church traces its origins to Mark, who, legend
      has it, wrote his gospel in Egypt. But this church, in spite of having
      split from Rome early on, is basically a "centrist" and "orthodox" church;
      it has no greater affinity to the gnostics than any other orthodox
      Christian church. The only thing in common is the geographic location in
      Egypt. But the Nag Hammadi books were the product of a group of monks not
      under the control of the central church hierarchy in Alexandria. In fact,
      the reason that these monks hid these books in the first place was probably
      that the central church authorities had begun sending emissaries south to
      take control of these independent monasteries, and to force them to conform
      to centrist church doctrine.

      I know that this message may raise as many questions as it answers, but I'm
      gonna leave it up to you or others to ask any further questions that seem
      necessary to clarify this picture.

      Best wishes,
      Resources for the Study of NH Codex2

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