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Paterson Brown's Argument

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  • M.W. Grondin
    A couple days ago, on one of my infrequent checks of changes to the Wikipedia article on GosThom, I ran across a link added by GThomas member and Metalogos
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 18, 2011
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      A couple days ago, on one of my infrequent checks of changes to the
      Wikipedia article on GosThom, I ran across a link added by GThomas
      member and Metalogos site-owner Paterson Brown. The link was to a
      short article written by himself and posted to Metalogos, titled "Are the
      Coptic Gospels Gnostic?" Now as some may know, "the Coptic Gospels"
      is Brown's reference to the three NH texts which have the word 'Gospel' in
      their titles, namely Thomas, Philip, and the Gospel of Truth (the latter
      two sometimes described as 'Valentinian'.) These three texts have been
      something of a specialty for Brown, and in this article, he presents a
      nicely-structured (whether sound or not) logical argument that none of
      them are gnostic. (He uses small-g 'gnostic' in his argument, though the
      view he describes seems to be that of big-g Gnosticism.)
       
       
      Brown's argument centers not on what the texts in question say about the
      world, but on something they say little or nothing about directly, namely
      what Brown calls "the basic reality and sanctity of incarnate life".
      He lists a number of passages from each of the texts that he believes
      support this concept, which he takes to be antithetical to "gnosticism".
      To my mind, many of these passages don't seem to be saying anything
      of the kind, but I leave that to the reader to evaluate. What I will say is
      that there is at least one passage in the Gospel of Philip that seems to
      count against Brown's view:
       
      "The world came about through a mistake. For he who created it wanted
      to create it imperishable and immortal. He fell short of attaining his desire.
      For the world never was imperishable, nor, for that matter, was he who
      made the world." (NHL, p.154)
       
      The problem is, though, that although this passage seems to bear on the
      general question, it doesn't say anything directly about the concept with
      which Brown is concerned. It says that the world was created by a perishable
      being - who thereby cannot be the Christian god - but it doesn't necessarily 
      imply that "incarnate life" isn't real and "sanctified" in some sense (unless we
      infer that nothing perishable can be one or both of these, which isn't too far a
      stretch, come to think of it). Aside from that, however, if the supposition of
      a limited creator-god is a sign of "gnosticism", and so is Brown's concept,
      then there must be more than one such sign, and a text might exhibit some of
      them while failing to exhibit others. Unfortunately, this is rather fatal to Brown's
      argument, as his first premise asserts that there's only one such "sign". (In the
      alternative, one might see the concept of a limited creator-god as a sign of
      Marcionism, I suppose, but I don't recall anyone finding Marcionism in GPh.)
       
      There are other arguments. As I recall, GThomas member Jordan Stratford
      has a different argument that purports to show the opposite of Brown's.
      Both arguments appear to be based on premises about what "Gnosticism"
      or "gnosticism" must be, which Williams and others have argued is a question
      impossible of resolution. Nevertheless, I don't suppose that folks will ever
      stop trying, as long as it's perceived as a question the answer to which has
      important consequences, whether in terms of modern-day religions or other.
       
      Mike Grondin
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