Gnostic Texts - Poem by gershon hepner
Described as snobbish and elite
by Garry Wills,
what the Church wished to delete
provides me thrills.
I’m thinking of the Gnostic text
that, somewhat rude, is
opposed to those disciples vexed
by deeds of Judas,
proposing that he was opposed
which Christians have so long supposed
to be the bomb
that made so popular the myth
this text explodes.
Like Pagels, I am happy with
such Gnostic codes.
Inspired by “Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity, ” by Elaine Pagels and Karen L. King (New York: Penguin,2007) , and Gary Wills’s description of second century Gnostic texts such as “The Gospel of Juddas” as “elite and snobbish” in his book “What The Gospels Meant, ” reviewed by David Gibson (“What Jesus Really Did, ” NYT, March 2,2008) :
“What the Gospels Meant” starts straightforwardly with a helpful explanation of just what a Gospel is: “a meditation on the meaning of Jesus in the light of sacred history as recorded in the sacred writings.” Wills then parses the Gospel of Mark, the earliest account, as a “report from the suffering body of Jesus, ” written to comfort early Christians facing persecution. Matthew’s is the teaching Gospel, recounting many of Christianity’s most familiar sermons. The erudite Luke presents “the reconciling body of Jesus, ” a Gospel of poignant stories like the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan that display the humanity of Jesus and the universality of his message. John is, as ever, the theologian, a prophetic voice from “the mystical body of Jesus.” Yet the paradox of modern Christianity is that the growth of biblical scholarship, and the fervor of believers in sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) , has done so little to affect the mass of biblical illiterates who proclaim their convictions about what Jesus would do while knowing precious little about what he actually did or, more important, what he meant. Neo-atheists aren’t much better, sneering at Christians but displaying ignorance about Christianity. And neo-Gnostics — academics and acolytes who claim to channel the rebel spirit of various early Christian offshoots — routinely confer on “elite and snobbish” (Wills’s phrase) second-century texts an authority they rarely grant to the canon. Such literalism sustains a fragile faith.
In this sense, Wills is a dangerous man. He does not create a foolish consistency out of differing Gospels, but underscores the attributes of each narrative to highlight truths more crucial than whether there were four discrete Evangelists, or whether three wise men actually followed a star in the East. The credulous will be shocked by his rationality, while skeptics will be scandalized by his respect for the faith. To be sure, Wills includes asides that will win few points with Rome, like his claim that the virgin birth “is not a gynecological or obstetric teaching, but a theological one.” And he throws in facts that can be mischievously tossed out at family gatherings or, worse, to the pastor after Sunday services — for example, that the crown of thorns was probably a wreath of acanthus leaves. (Wills also provides his own translations of the original “marketplace” Greek, though I’m not sure that killing the “pampered” calf or hearing that the Word became flesh and “bivouacked with us” will catch on.)
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