A provocative study of the gnostic gospels and the world of early Christianity as revealed through the Nag Hammadi texts.
It has been said that history is written by the winners. One of the books recently finished, and used by Brown (and possibly also Perdue in Daughter of God) is Pagels' The Gnostic Gospels. What a thought provoking work. In this case, the 'winner' was a unified church. How to summarize what happened? The book itself is only 151 pages - but the intro prior to the main thesis of the book is over 35 pages. The intro lays out the basis for the 151 pages that follow.
As the church was forming, there was an organized group that became the orthodoxy of the 'only holy apostolic and catholic church' (I think that is the wording, I'm not a Catholic). The church was organized along strict hierachical lines. But the 'losers' in the early development were a group that felt that each individual had the knowledge (gnosis) to determine what the right spiritual search/meaning/path was for them - therefore very loosely organized at best.
Much of the work used for this philosophy was writtne down and saved by monks near Cairo and hidden when the church determines that history should be written by the winners, er, wait, when they decided that anything outside the agreement enforced by Constantine was heretical and must be destroyed. The dating on these texts is concurrent or prior to the texts used in the New Testament - ranging from about 60 to 120 AD. These monks hid the scrolls & parchments in large pottery, which was discovered about 60 years ago after 1000 years in hiding.Read more ›
Pagel's study is not without it's flaws. It is quite brief, and does not cover gnostic theology or studies with real depth beyond the conflicts of doctrine. It's also expected that the reader is already familiar with the gnostic texts- this is not an overview of gnosticism. But other than that, I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to study gnosticism and it's discontents.
Unlike Gnosticism (which refers to the individual search for the knowledge of god within), orthodox Christianity was organized and external. Key aspects of orthodox Christianity included a hierarchical structure (priests, bishops and the pope); a belief in male supremacy; and doctrinal conformity (belief that god became man, died and was resurrected from the dead, i.e., the message of the four gospels of the new testament of the bible).
The psychological reality is that most people are afraid of the unknown and prefer to have direction in spiritual matters so the orthodox approach had great appeal for the masses. However, in spite of the dominance of orthodoxy, over the course of the twenty centuries or so since Jesus lived and died, some individuals such as Blake, Dostoevsky, and saints like Teresa and Francis probably experienced something akin to the Gnostic path.Read more ›