Skip to comments.Pseudogospels and Hype
Posted on 04/07/2006 5:15:00 PM PDT by sionnsar
Well what do you know. Another pseudogospel, namely the Gospel of Judas, has been dug up from the ancient circular file and is now being flogged by tendentious media hype.
Look, I find noncanonical writings interesting. Heck, I own the two volume Old Testament Pseudepigrapha by Dr. James Charlesworth (a prof of mine during my Duke days, by the way) . . . and Ive actually read some of it! And such writings give interesting insight into the religious isms and spasms of their day.
But to flog the Gospel of Judas and such as undermining the validity and historicity of scripture or somehow revealing some new truth about Jesus is bunk. All the Gospel of Judas reveals is that every age has its dissidents and revisionists . . . which isnt much of a revelation.
And as The Pontificator points out, it also reveals how gullible people are.
I can hardly wait until the DaVinci Code movie comes out.
The silly fuss about the Gospel of Judas has reminded me of a book that needs wider publicity: Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way (2001) by Philip Jenkins. Jenkins is Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University. I believe he is an Episcopalian.
Jenkins is a distinguished historian, but he is not a biblical scholar, which is what makes this book particularly helpful. He does not live in the myopic world of New Testament studies and so is able to see matters from a much wider, untendentious perspective.
Despite the claims of their advocates, the problems with taking the hidden gospels as historical sources are, or should be, self-evident. The idea that these documents have opened a window on the earliest days of Christianity stands or falls on whether they were written at a primitive stage in that story, and much depends on determining the dates at which these texts were written. The scholarly literature offers a very broad range of datings for these texts, but the consensus is that most of the works found at Nag Hammadi belong to the late second and third centuries. This is much later than the canonical gospels, on which the Gnostic works can often be clearly shown to depend. While the Gnostic texts are ancient, their value as independent sources of information is questionable, so that the canonical gospels really are both more ancient and authoritative than virtually all their rivals.
Far from being the alternative voices of Jesus first followers, most of the lost gospels should rather be seen as the writings of much later dissidents who broke away from an already established orthodox church. This is not a particularly controversial statement, despite the impression that we may get from much recent writing on the historical Jesus. The late character of the alternative texts is crucial to matters of historicity and reliability. Historical research is as good as the sources on which it relies, and to the extent that the latest quest for the historical Jesus is founded on the hidden gospels, that endeavor is fatally flawed .
For the same reasons of history and chronology, it is difficult to see the hidden gospels as crucial new sources about the development of the church, or the relationship betwen orthodoxy and heresy. These texts depict a world of individualistic mystics and magi whose unfettered speculations are unconstrained by ecclesiastical structures, and it is common to suggest that this freewheeling situation represented a primitive reality which was ultimately destroyed by the emerging hierarchical church. But the institutional church was by no means an oppressive latercomer, and was rather a very early manifestation of the Jesus movement. We have a good number of genuinely early documents of Christian antiquity from before 125, long before the hidden gospels were composed, and these give us a pretty consistent picture of a church which is already hierarchical and liturgical, which possesses an organized clergy, and which is very sensitive to matters of doctrinal orthodoxy. Just as the canonical gospels were in existence before their heterodox counterparts, so the orthodox church did precede the heretics, and by a comfortable margin. And for all its flaws, that church has by far the best claim to a direct inheritance from the apostolic age. Despite all the recent discoveries, the traditional model of Christian history has a great deal more to recommend it than the revisionist accounts.
Why is the American public so gullible, and why this hunger for an esoteric Jesus? Jenkins addresses these questions throughout his book, but one point in particular I found illuminating: late 19th-early 20th century occultists, theosophists, and esotericists helped fertilize and prepare the public imagination for the esoteric Jesus. Long before Elaine Pagels, Madame Blavatsky, in her magnum opus Isis Revealed (1877), argued that Gnostics represented the earliest and most authentic doctrines of Christianity, which were later perverted by the so-called orthodox. In 1887 Arthur Lille published his book Buddhism in Christendom; or, Jesus the Essene. In the 1890s the Archko Volume, which purported to offer the official records of the trial and death of Jesus, with letters attributed to Pilate, Caiaphas, and others attracted interest. Particularly influential was Nicholas Notovichs The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ, from Buddhistic Records (1894). Notovich claimed to have discovered documents from Jesus teenage days in India. Further details about Jesus life and true teachings were offered to the fascinated, uncritical, and gullible public in Levi Dowlings Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ (1908) and Rudolph Steiners The Fifth Gospel (1917). And we shouldnt forget the channelled revelations of Edgar Cayce.
Should we be surprised that the media is now hyping the Gospel of Judas? The hunger of Americans for the esoteric Jesus appears to be insatiable.
The final paragraph from Jenkins confirms that these hyped pseudogospels actually provide a teachable moment that Church precedes Canon; a good time to dust off Irenaeus and review the necessity of Councils in judging orthodoxy and thus determining which writings are in keeping with right doctrine.
In this present madness this historical review simultaneously judges both revisionist and inerrant fundamentlist.
How long do you think it will take for the MSM to recognize the difference between "early christianity" and gnosticism?
I haven't read this gospel but listened to small clips on the news. After a few sentences it was clear the theology was gnostic and not christian.
Here's the big thing:
The Gnostics weren't there, and believed that historical truth could be revealed to the inner soul by occultic means, and then published as fact the revelations they received. The Gnostics make no claim to having any historical information, whatsoever. They literally dreamt it all up. So why are modern people taking Gnostics' word for historical events?
Answer: For the same reason that feminists disapproved with liberating the most-oppressed women in the world from behind their burqas: Because the Gnostics' enemy is their enemy. I mean, for crying out loud, it's called the GOSPEL of JUDAS!!! Who did Judas tell this gospel to? After all, he was dead before he ever spoke to anyone that the disciples would have considered credible. It's internally inconsistent with having been witnessed! It's like the Monty Python scene: "Yes, but if he was dying, why would he write, 'AAaaaaaaaarrgh'?"
But do any of the newstories tell us that the Gnosics were occultic ascetics who made up histories out of thin air and who died out because they believed all sex to be evil? Ya know, I'd bet if all those sh!t-for-brains women who just LooooOOooooOOOoooce Dan Brown for attacking the church for its supposed "hatred" of sexuality (read, promiscuity) who that little tid-bit, they'd be a little more hesitant proclaiming the gnostics their sexual liberators.