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Saturday, August 24, 2013

My Views on "New" Gospels and their Purveyors

Recently, on Huffington Post, I read an interview with Elaine Pagels discussing her new book on Revelation.  After I read that she thinks John was a Jew who believed in Jesus and didn't like the Roman state, I nodded in agreement, and said a hearty "Ho-humm" to myself.

Franky, Elaine Pagels is one of the most over-rated scholars writing about New Testament-related themes.  I've been profoundly unimpressed with her work ever since people near and dear to me gave me her _Gnostic Gospels_ (1979) to "set me straight" about my confessional Protestant orthodoxy.

In _Gnostic Gospels_, Pagels resoundingly flunks Ecclesiastical History 101.  She posits that the Nag Hammadi texts were hidden by Coptic monks facing persecution from Athanasius, the 4th century orthodox bishop of Alexandria.  However, Gnosticism was a phenomenon of the 2d and early 3d centuries, not the 4th.  Athanasius and his colleagues at Nicaea in 325 whose opinions he defended were fighting Arians and Semi-Arians, not Gnostics.  Moreover, Athanasius was more often than not on the receiving end of persecution, being exiled three times to the Rhine frontier by Constantine's Semi-Arian successors.  As for the Coptic monks, their dean, the redoubtable hermit Anthony, came out of the desert to show support for the beleaguered Athanasius.

Further, Pagels seems to think that the Coptic "Gospel of Thomas" (probably written a couple of generations after Judas Didymus Thomas was martyred) is more pro-woman than the canonical Scriptures.  The work ends with these words:

Simon Peter said to them: Let Mary go away from us, for women are not worthy of life.  Jesus said: Lo, I shall make her a male, that she too may become a living spirit, resembling you males.  For every woman who makes herself a male will enter the kingdom of heaven. (Logion 114).
It seems that the pseudo-Peter and the pseudo-Jesus of the pseudo-Thomas are in agreement that women as women aren't subjects of salvation.  Yet for all its supposed "misogyny", the canonical, 66-book Bible never seems to suggest that Sarah, Rebecca, the Hebrew midwives, Zipporah, Miriam, Mary, Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Priscilla, and all those other wonderful sisters will not be walking around the new heavens and new earth after the resurrection of the saved with two X chromosones, or will somehow sprout external genitalia.

Pagels apparently likes the Jewishness of John of Patmos.  Yet this is quite an inconsistency with her long championship of 2d century Gnosticism, which demonized the Old Testament and relegated its God to something far inferior to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Had Pagels' beloved Gnostics "won", Christianity would never have developed a bad conscience over anti-Semitism.

Pagels is the purveyor of a myth that mitred, monarchical 4th century bishops determined the New Testament canon on the basis of whether or not a text would support their claims to power. Yet somehow, she never explains why these same purveyors of monepiscopacy allowed Luke-Acts and Philippians into the canon, when the former uses presbyter and bishop interchangeably in Acts 20, and the latter begins with a salutation to plural bishops in the single city of Philippi. She isn't alone in purveying this myth (Bart Ehrman also comes to mind). Perhaps her unsubstantiated reconstructions of Christian history are necessary to get around Irenaeus in Lyons, Clement in Alexandria, Origen in 'Eretz Yisroel, and Tertullian in North Africa all seeing four and only four Gospels during the 2d century.  Or, perhaps, Pagels is someone without the slightest feel for the flow of history.  Or, perhaps, as a latter-day Gnostic, she is more comfortable with myth; and thus joins a crowd of people who, claiming to find the true "historical" grounding of Christianity, are themselves lousy historians.

Pagels, the Jesus Seminar, and their ilk are lionized and feted by the media because liberal religion is finally waking up to the fact that it gets no aid or comfort from the canonical Scriptures.  It must therefore clutch at straws like the mystical but misogynistic Pseudo-Thomas. No wonder the academic study of the Bible and religion are in such a sorry state.

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