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Volume 7l:2 April 2007 Table of Contents - - Talking about the Son of God: An Introduction ............................. 98 Recent Archaeology of Galilee and the Interpretation of Texts from the Galilean Ministry of Jesus Mark T. Schuler .................................................................... 99 Response by Daniel E. Paavola .............................................. 117 Jesus and the Gnostic Gospels Jeffrey Kloha ..,.............. .................................. ......................... 121 Response by Charles R. Schulz ........................................ 144 Ref ormation Christology: Some Luther Starting Points Robert Rosin ............................................................................. 147 Response by Naornichi Masaki .............................................. 168 American Christianity and Its Jesuses Lawrence R. Rast Jr ................................................................. 175 Response by Rod Rosenbladt ................................................. 194 Theological Observer The Lost Tomb of Jesus? ........................................................ 199 CTQ 71 (2007): 121-144 Jesus and the Gnostic Gospels Jeffrey Kloha I. Why Are We Talking about the Gnostic Gospels?' If we were to discuss Christology, and specifically the relationship between the Christology of the 'gnostic' gospels and the Christology of the canonical gospels, this would be a short paper because there is no Christology in the gnostic gospels. More precisely, we could consider the Christology of Seth because the Gospel of Judas calls Seth-not Jesus- the "Christ." That, however, is not the challenge, but the fact that the questions raised by the gnostic gospels go to the very heart of the Christian faith: Who is Jesus? What did he do? What is the human condition and humanity's place in the world? What is our relationship to the divine? What is the nature of salvation? Indeed, what is Christianity? The issue is what was done with and to Jesus in the second century. The problem facing the church is how to account for these "newly discovered" or previously "lost" texts. They were written by people in the second century who claimed to be followers of Jesus yet present an entirely different perspective of him. Beyond those questions, a further requirement is to help students, pastors, teachers, and the people in our pews deal with the challenges that these texts present to creedal Christianity. The problem is acute, since they have heard and have read that these texts give us a "better" Jesus than the one that we proclaim. Previous generations fought over the Bible. For better or for worse, the battle used to be over creationism, Jonah, the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, and how many Isaiahs there might be. Above all, however, the battle was fought over the first century and Jesus. Historical criticism attacked the text and replaced its authority with reconstructed sources, but historical criticism has now run its course. To be sure, there is still a Jesus Seminar, but "the Quest for the Historical Jesus" did not bring an end to historic, creedal Christianity. The Jesus of history could not be pried away from the church, and so the church is now the target. The battleground has changed. The nature of Christianity in the second century, rather than the first century, is debated. What was Christianity 1 Quotations of gnostic texts are from James M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hanlrnadi Library in English, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988). Jefiey Kloha is Associate Professor of Exegetical Theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. like after Jesus? Or, as it is more often stated, what were "Christianities" like? It is no longer assumed that the same Christian faith was preached everywhere by all. Rather, some took Jesus and ran one way, some another. Some died out early, like the Nazoreans. Others died out later, like the so-called Gnostics. The Nazoreans may have simply been too indistinct from Judaism and too small to be sustainable. The Gnostics, it is argued, were viciously attacked by what later were called "orthodox" or "catholic Christians" and were persecuted out of existence. Is orthodox Christianity merely one possible outcome of the teachings of Jesus? Bart Ehrman's way of framing the issue is typical: "What if it had been otherwise? What if some other form of Christianity had become dominant, instead of the one that did?"2 He continues, In anticipation of these discussions, I can point out that if some other form of Christianity had won the early struggles for dominance, the familiar doctrines of Christianity might never have become the "standard" belief of millions of people, including the belief that there is only one God, that he is the creator, that Christ his son is both human and divine. The doctrine of the Trinity might never have developed. The creeds still spoken in churches today might never have been devised. The New Testament as a collection of sacred books might never have come into being. Or it might have come into being with a completely different set of books . . . ."3 Now that these "lost" or "hidden" or "secret" gospels have been made known to our conspiracy-loving culture, we can no longer appeal simply to "the Bible" or "the Divine Inspiration of the Bible." After all, how does one externally prove that the Bible is inspired and inerrant when other books make identical claims to divine origin and authority?4 The canonical books, whether sixty-six or seventy-three or eighty-one (depending on the division of Christianity), are no longer the only game in town. 2 Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Chn'stianities: The Battle for Scripture and tlw Faiths We Never Knew (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 5. This book is marketed as a textbook for undergraduate classes in religion. 3 Ehrman, Lost Christianities, 6. 4 I recently presented a weekend seminar on the gnostic gospels for University of Iowa students at St. Paul's Lutheran Chapel. During one of the breaks, a couple of students pulled me aside to discuss the question of how we know that we have the right Bible. One student had recently been challenged by a non-Christian and was forced to acknowledge that he had no idea how we got the Bible, how we know that it is the right one, or where to begm the discussion. Kloha: Tesus and the Gnostic Gospels 123 The purpose of this paper is to begin to formulate a response to the rise of the use of gnostic texts in the life of the church. One unacceptable response is to pretend that there is not a problem. If the circus that accompanied the Gospel of Judas and The Da Vinci Code proved anything, it is that people will hear about this. It would be better if our pastors and people heard about it first from us. Another unhelpful response is simply to label all the gnostic material non-Christian and be done with it. This does not work for the thinking layperson. I have had the opportunity to offer numerous seminars on the gnostic materials to groups of lay people and pastors. The reactions are always interesting. The pastors typically think it is all just weird, but it never fails that during one of the breaks someone comes up to me and wants to talk further about the role of women, the historicity of Jesus, or the development of the creeds. Something they have read or seen on television about these materials made more sense to them than the pat answers they typically receive from us. We can decry the American suspicion of authority and institutions, love of conspiracy theory, passion about gender issues, and general rejection of the Christian world view, but this is our context. Not to give answers only leads people to question the message we preach. In this paper, I will not propose solutions, but will lay out the issues surrounding these gnostic writings, discuss how they are analyzed, and suggest areas where we need to be engaged in the debate.5 11. Re-imagining Christianity The definition of "ancient" and "early" has changed. It sounds impressive to talk about a "historic liturgy of the ancient church," but there is little, if any, firm textual evidence for it until the fifth, or maybe the fourth, century. This is as far removed from the apostle Paul as we are from Johann Gerhard. It sounds convincing to say that the Nicene Creed traces back to AD 325 and that we have references to regulae from 150 years earlier, but those regulae are a bit amorphous and varied, and it is clear that the Council of Nicea was an end point in the development of specific articulations of doctrines rather than the consensus of the previous 250 years. The fourth century is too late, too recent, and too reflective of its own theological interests and controversies to help us understand-let alone critique - what Christianity was in the second century. j I will not state the obvious points, such as the fact that the canonical Gospels are reliably dated to the first century but that no gnostic gospel, save the Gospel of Thomas (which will be discussed further below), can be dated in the first half of the second century, and most much later. The second century, however, is shrouded in unknowns. New Testament textual critics have long recognized that there are huge gaps between the composition of the New Testament writings and the great codices of the fourth century, with only a patchwork of fragmentary papyrus manuscripts from the second and third centuries.6 The situation is the same for writings from the second century. Apart from Irenaeus, piecing together orthodox Christianity is a difficult task. Now there is a whole group of writings, typically labeled "gnostic," that often have Christian elements and that, for the most part, were composed as early as the mid- to late-second century. What is Gnosticism? It used to be easy to deal with the Gnostics. They were considered part of another religion, as distinct from Christianity as Islam or Buddhism. Alternatively, Gnosticism was considered aberrant, a corruption of orthodox Christianity. All this has changed. Among the most significant issues is the definition of Gnosticism itself. In contemporary literature on Gnosticism there is considerable debate-at times even confusion- regarding terminology. No one in the ancient world describes themselves as followers of "Gnosticism," as if it had a known and recognized set of shared characteristics. In fact, the word itself does not occur until the seventeenth century, though, of course, gnosis and gnostikoi are both ancient terms. Moreover, there are only indirect references to people calling themselves "Gnostics." This confusion applies also to the texts themselves. Though I have titled this study "Jesus and the Gnostic Gospels," none of the writings that I will discuss use the word "gnostic." Cristoph Markschies opens his primer on Gnosticism with this caveat: "[Tlhere is no usage of this term ['gnosis'] on which there is consensus in every respect and which is accepted everywhere. Nor, things being as they are, can there be, since any definition remains somewhat arbitrary."7 After the fashion, writers in the second century did not refer to religious adherents by collective names, like "Christian" or "Gnostic," but by the 6 See especially Barbara Aland, "Die Rezeption des neutestarnentlichen Textes in den ersten Jarhunderten," in The New Testament in Early Christianity, ed. Jean-Marie Sevrin, Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium 86 (Leuven: Leuven University Press; Uitgeverij Peeters, 1989), 1-38; and William L. Petersen, ed., Gospel Traditions in tlle Second Century: Origins, Recensions, Text, and Transmission, Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity 3 (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989). 7 Cristoph Markschies, Gnosis: An Introduction, trans. John Bowden (London; New York: T & T Clark, 2003), 1. Kloha: Jesus and the Gnostic Gospels 125 founder or leader. One can read about Valentinians, Marcionites, followers of Basilides, Nicolatians, and, on occasion, Gnostics. Indeed, Irenaeus's magnum opus is titled "Disproof and Refutation of Gnosis Wrongly So- Called," yet this book discusses dozens of teachers and groups, only one of which he describes as giving themselves the name "Gnostic."8 Ireneaus also labeled this group followers of a certain Mercellina and described them as people who worship images of the great philosophers, such as Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, and Jesus. It is not clear, however, that all references to "Gnostics" refer to the same groups. Clement, for example wrote, For I know that I encountered some sort of sect, and its leader claimed that he fought pleasure with pleasure. This noble Gnostic (for he said that he was a Gnostic) deserted to pleasure through feigned combat, since he said that it is no great thing to avoid pleasure which had never been enjoyed, but it is something to avoid it after having been involved in it, so he trained [to avoid pleasure] by indulging in pleasure.9 Later in the same writing he accused the followers of Prodicus, who also called themselves Gnostics, of the same abandonment toward pleasure.10 Earlier still, Justin Martyr conceded to his Jewish interlocutor that many groups called themselves Christians, such as Marcionites, Valentinians, Basilidians, and Saturnilians." Later, Hippoplytus claimed that only a single group, the "Naassenes," called themselves "Gnostics."~2 It cannot be questioned that many groups used the name "Christian" in the second century, including those that were then, and would be today, considered "heretical" by orthodox standards.13 Furthermore, these groups cannot be considered entirely non-Christian. The first Christian commentary on a New Testament writing, in the ancient sense of that term, is by Heracleon, a follower of Valentinus, whose commentary on John is quoted extensively by Origen. Moreover, both Marcion and Valentinus relied heavily upon the Pauline Letters. Valentinus himself wrote something like a commentary on them. The writings drawn upon by the "Gnostics" seem to be identical to the writings 8 Irenaeus, Adversus huereses 1.25.6. Clement of AIexandria, Stromata 2.20; my transIation. lo CIement of Alexandria, Stromata 3.4. " Justin Martyr, Dialogus cum Ttyphone 35. '2 Hippolytus, Refutatio omnium hueresium 5.6. l3 See also the survey in Michael Williams, Rethinking "Gnosticism" (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), 33-43. used by the "orthodox," specifically the four Gospels and the Pauline Letters. The writings ignored by the Gnostics, such as what came to be called the Catholic Epistles, are the same writings that were generally ignored by the orthodox until much later. Furthermore, in his sermon Gospel of Truth, Valentinus did not reflect the grand cosmology so typical of Sethian Gnostics. His creator is described positively, Jesus is the primary savior, and the world is not so much evil as a place of ignorance. The goal is not, as is often typical in gnostic thinking, to escape the flesh. Instead, the Son by his death on the cross makes the Father known, and through this knowledge ignorance is done away with so that salvation is achieved. Valentinians also observed the Eucharist and, surprisingly, accepted marriage, which many Gnostics (and some later Christians) did not.'" Nor were Gnostics completely independent of early Christian communities. In the late fourth century, Epiphanius reported a remarkable autobiographical story of a group in Egypt who called themselves "Gnostics" (one of only a handful so labeled in his Panarion). A long passage describes their attempts to lure him into heresy by sending beautiful women to seduce him physically and spiritually. Epiphanius received strength from the Lord to resist, then reported the group to the bishop and - here is the important point - the bishop, "finding out which ones were hidden in the church . . . they were expelled from the city, about eighty persons, and the city was cleared of their tare-like, thomy growth."l5 It is also worth pointing out in this report that Epiphanius fled only after "reading their books," which means that he must have spent some time among them though without converting. Although this group of self-described "Gnostics" had their own teachings, evangelism methods, and books, they still were "in the church of this unnamed Egyptian city. The confusion is compounded by recognizing that the use of the term gnosis by theologians of the early church (such as Bamabas, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and before them even Paul) parallels common 14 Karen L. King. What is Gnosticism? (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003), 159-162; see also April D. DeConick, "The Great Mystery of Marriage: Sex and Conception in Ancient Valentinian Traditions," Viligiae Christianae 57 (2003): 307-342. fi Epiphanius, Panarion; in The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Book I, Sects 1-46, trans. Frank Williams, Nag Harnrnadi Studies 35 (Leiden; New York: E. J. Brill, 1987),98. Kloha: Jesus and the Gnostic Gospels 127 vocabulary and themes in Greco-Roman thought and not specific "gnostic" or "gnosticizing" tendencies.16 It may be surprising to learn that the term "gnostic" appears nowhere in the Nag Harnmadi documents, the Gospel of Thomas, or the Gospel of Judas. There are other names, like "Sons of God," "the elect," "descendants of Seth," "children of the bridal chamber," and the "fourth, kingless and perfect race." The last designation is particularly significant in one respect, for Christians of the second century referred to themselves as "children of the third race," that is, that Christians superseded Jew and Gentile. With the name "children of the fourth race" the Nag Hammadi group was distinguishing itself from Christianity by claiming to supersede it." Providing a definition of what is "gnostic" is therefore extremely difficult. The point of debate is this: Is the phenomenon of gnosis a single religion, or a movement which goes beyond the limits of a single religion?ls In Gnosis: An Introduction, Cristoph Markschies provided a slight tweaking of the classic description: 1. The experience of a completely other-worldly, distant, supreme God; 2. the introduction, which among other things is conditioned by this, of further divine figures, or the splitting up of existing figures into figures that are closer to human beings than the remote supreme 'God'; 3. the estimation of the world and matter as evil creation and an experience, conditioned by this, of the alienation of the gnostic in the world; 4. the introduction of a distinct creator God or assistant: within the l'latonic tradition he is called 'craftsman' -Greek demiurgos - and is sometimes described as merely ignorant, but sometimes also as evil; 5. the explanation of this state of affairs by a mythological drama in which a divine element that falls from its sphere into an evil world slumbers in human beings of one class as a divine spark and can be freed from this; 16 See the entries in G. W. H. Lampe, A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961). S.V. "yvljo~i". l7 Markschies, Gnosis: An Introduction, 10-11. 16 Markschies, Gnosis: An Introduction, 19. 6. knowledge ('gnosis') about this state, which, however, can be gained only through a redeemer figure from the other world who descends from a higher sphere and ascends to it again; 7. the redemption of human beings through the knowledge of 'that God (or the spark) in them' (TestVer, NHC IX, 3, 56, 15-20), and finally 8. a tendency towards dualism in different types which can express itself in the concept of God, in the opposition of spirit and matter, and in anthropology.19 Two scholars, however, have argued strongly against continued use of the term "Gnosticism," primarily because of its negative associations of not being "Christian." In his book Rethinking "Gnosticism," Michael Williams proposed an alternative designation: "demiurgical traditions," or, more specifically, "biblical demiurgical traditions": By "demiurgical" I mean all those that ascribe the creation and management of the cosmos to some lower entity or entities, distinct from the highest God. This would include most of ancient Platonism, of course. But if we add the adjective "biblical," to denote demiurgical traditions that also incorporate or adopt traditions from Jewish or Christian Scripture, the category is narrowed significantly." This definition has the advantage of not employing anachronistic terminology, but without the adjective "biblical," as Williams himself admits, the definition covers too broad a spectrum to be useful. With the adjective "biblical," however, there is (intentionally or unintentionally) perhaps a tooclose connection with Jewish and Christian materials, for many of the Nag Hammadi texts themselves show a "demiurgical" foundation but make no reference to Jewish or Christian narratives. Karen King offered a different approach. She eschewed any definition as confining and impacting negatively the study of the texts. For example, after presenting a paper at the International Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) meeting in Helsinki in 1999, a paper which became the opening chapter of her book What is Gnosticism?, King was pointedly asked by one participant to clarify how she would define the term "Gnosticism." King refused to offer a definition. She claimed that her only interest was to: '9 Markschies, Gnosis: An Introduction, 16-17 20 Williams, Rethinking "Gnosticism," 51-52. Kloha: Jesus and the Gnostic Gospels 129 consider the ways in which the early Christian polemicists' discourse of orthodoxy and heresy has been intertwined with twentieth century scholarship on Gnosticism in order to show where and how that involvement has distorted our analysis of the ancient texts. At stake is not only the capacity to write a more accurate history of ancient Christianity in all its multiformity, but also our capacity to critically engage the ancient politics of religious difference rather than unwittingly reproduce its strategies and results.2' What this passage encapsulates is the program of much of recent scholarship on early Christianity and "Gnosticism." The early polemicists, whether intentionally grabbing power or not, marginalized Gnosticism as heretical and lifted up the emerging orthodoxy as the only "everywhere and at all times" truth of Christianity. Modem scholarship is able to strip away that faqade and expose the arbitrariness of ancient Christianity and its modem adherents. This apparently means that any approach taken by a Christian researcher would inevitably result in a skewed understanding of Gnosticism. King wrote again: "[Tlhe problem of defining Gnosticism has been and continues to be primarily an aspect of the ongoing project of defining and maintaining a normative Christianity."" From its very conception, then, this essay apparently is doomed to be skewed, and I would agree with such an assessment. Since any orthodox Christian researcher would not be a part of the community that wrote, preserved, and continued to be shaped by gnostic texts, he or she will inevitably misinterpret and read them against what is already familiar. Then again, no modem interpreter, including King herself, could be described as a member of such a community or as one who is free from his or her own agenda. In addition, I would argue that given King's pessimistic outlook on the use of language-if every use of a term like "gnostic" does violence to it - then by the same argument neither she (nor we) should use the term "Christian," for every use of that term will also inevitably be an attempt either to defend an orthodox perspective or to re- imagine Christianity in new terms. One of King's goals is to bring these previously ignored so-called "gnostic" materials into conversation with historic Christianity. For example, she wrote, "Far from unmaking Christianity or denigrating theological enterprises, elucidating this " Karen L. King, "The Origins of Gnosticism and the Identity of Christianity," in Wns There a Gnostic Religion?, ed. Antti Marjanen, Publications of the Finnish Exegetical Society 87 (Helsinki: Finnish Exegetical Society; Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2005), 118. 22 King, "The Origins of Gnosticism," 116, and Wrat is Gnosticisnz?, 18. complexity will ground theological reflection in more accurate historical and theological reflections of the ancient mate1-ial."~3 Her criticism of biblical scholarship vis-a-vis Gnosticism concludes with this call: The goal is not to destroy tradition but to open up space for alternative or marginalized voices to be heard within it. A fuller historical portrait of religious piety can enrich the funds of religious tradition, providing more complex theological resources to attend to the complex of issues of our own day. One's own faith is not diminished by hearing other voices; it may be strengthened and enriched.24 That such a paragraph could only be written by a twenty-first century American seems not to trouble KingE Nonetheless, this paragraph reflects the wider thinlung of much of our society, and our typical response-sola scriptura! - is simply no longer effective. Not all researchers who use the term "Gnosticism" do so in an attempt to compare it to Christianity, especially in the last decade. Marvin Meyer, for example, published yet another collection of gnostic gospels that interprets the texts on their own terms without comparison to the canonical gospels. His definition of Gnosticism is this: Gnosticism is a religious tradition that emphasizes the primary place of gnosis, or mystical knowledge, understood through aspects of wisdom (often personified wisdom) presented in creation stories, particularly stories based on the Genesis accounts, and interpreted by a variety of religious and philosophical traditions, including Platonism, in order to proclaim a radically enlightened way of life and knowledge.26 3 King, What is Gnosticism?, 150. 24 King, What is Gnosticism?, 246. 15 The last sentences of her book contain a hint of recognition that hers will likely not be viewed as the last word: "Ours is a post-colonial and postmodem world, struggling with the complex legacies of the increasingly pluralistic and multicultural globe we inhabit. It is essential that we gain a critical grasp on these discourses in order to disentangle them from our own work. Yet we do so with respect and appreciation for the contributions of scholars whose work constitutes our own past, knowing that our own enterprises will effect only a partial revolution, and no doubt will be subject to the critical hindsight of those who follow." King, Wuzt is Gnosticism?, 247. King comes perilously close here to assuming that she has a modernist, detached perspective, though the last sentence at least leaves open the possibility that her own work is as contextual as those who preceded her. 26 Marvin W. Meyer, T7w Gnostic Gospels of lesus: The Definitive Collection of Mystical Gospels and Secret Books about Jesus of Nazareth (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, ZOOS), xiii. Kloha: Jesus and the Gnostic Gospels 131 To put things in a less scholarly way, it seems that gnostic language and thinking was "in the water" of the Greco-Roman world. It drew heavily on the thought patterns of both Judaism and Platonism. Some groups, notably the Sethians associated with the Gospel of Judas, have an identifiable outlook. To the casual observer, others may have been simply another strain of Christians. James Robinson noted, Gnostic Christians surely considered themselves the faithful continuation, under changing circumstances, of that original stance which made Christians Christians. But the "somewhat different terms" "under changing circumstances" also involved real divergences, and other Christians clearly consider Gnosticism a betrayal of the original Christian position. . . . But the Nag Hammadi library also documents the fact that the rejection was mutual.27 Two elements deserve further discussion: the mention of "real divergences" and the "mutual rejection." Both will be addressed below. The question of the relationshp between catholic Christianity and Gnosticism is not as easily explained as was once thought. The implications of this in our own context, when many voices are claiming that creedal Christianity was never and should not be the only game in town, are considerable. Gnosticism is not what we thought it was; therefore, we are told, Christianity also cannot be what we thought it was. 111. Theology and Proclamation in a New Historical Context: The Challenge of the Gnostic Gospels How does the church respond? Francis Pieper's theology, formulated in response primarily to modernism, does not answer the questions being raised today. Once Pieper had his "all Scripture is theopneustos" answer to the question of biblical authority, the rest of his dogmatics was relatively easy. Pieper never had to deal with the Gnostics, and, while he had challengng issues in his own modernist context, the answers he gave to those questions are ineffective in a pluralistic, non-foundational context. The risk we run is even greater than that we faced with historical criticism. At least in that debate everyone was a modernist, that is, everyone saw some kind of authority in Jesus and believed that he could be historically and accurately reconstructed, at least to some extent. In our present-day context, however, such chutzpah is not tolerated. We are reminded that there is no unmediated description of Jesus. The texts were written by individuals who were part of communities that had their own questions 27 James M. Robinson, introduction to The Nag Hammadi Library, 4. and issues. They were copied - and sometimes altered - by later communities who both reinterpreted and at times rewrote those narratives to suit their ever-changing situation.= Issues of community identity and differentiation from other communities were involved in this process, and the Jesus depicted in the gospels - whether canonical or gnostic - is simply assumed to be "someone's take on Jesus." In a forum such as this, it is impossible to "solve" the problem of the gnostic gospels. To my knowledge, no book or article has been written by a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod theologian that analyzes or responds to these texts. Here I will lay out some areas for further investigation that I would encourage pastors and theologians to pursue. These are neither exhaustive nor the only fruitful lines of argumentation for a "response to," or classroom approaches to, the challenges of the gnostic gospels.29 Purity, Syncretism, and Genuine Christianity Since Walter Bauer's Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christianity," the reigning assumption in early church studies is that the classic model of the development of theology cannot be born out by the evidence. That is, rather than a single orthodoxy that was later corrupted by various heresies, orthodoxy was only one-and by no means the inevitable- outgrowth of varied expressions of religious belief and practice, all of which claimed derivation from, and faithfulness to, the life and teachings of Jesus. While Bauer's thesis is not, of course, without criticism, any casual perusal of the Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen that stops at the early third century will uncover themes, language, and argumentation that sound little like that of Athanasius or Augustine, let alone Luther or Pieper. For example, Tertullian, who coined the use of trinitas, had essentially a modalist view 28 For example, Bart Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: nw Effect of Early Christological Controversies on tlw Text of the New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). This is not the place to assess Ehrman's thesis and conclusions. Although factors other than "orthodox corruption" can account for some of the alterations, some examples are irrefutable. 29 For example, the fact that the teachings of Jesus in the gnostic gospels are all narrated in post-resurrection settings (e.g., the Gospel of Mary, the Apocryphon of fohn, the Gospel of Philip). The Gospel of Judas is an exception in that it is set during the week of Jesus' passion. The post-resurrection setting is employed because Jesus' resurrection is viewed as his release into the physical realm from which he is able to bring gnosis. Walter Bauer, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, ed. Robert A. Kraft and Gerhard Krodel (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971 [German, 1934)). Kloha: Jesus and the Gnostic Gospels 133 of the Trinity and would be regarded as "heretical" according to later definitions of orthodoxy. This, of course, is not news. It is news, however, that some researchers wish to define gnostic material as just another form of Christianity in the second century. In order to do so, the charge of "syncretism" must be done away with; that is, they must deny the existence of a "pure" Christianity that, when corrupted by foreign elements, thereby produced "Gnosticism." King, for example, acknowledged that a standard definition of "syncretism" would apply to gnostic materials: they are subject to "amalgamation, of blending heterogeneous beliefs and practices."31 King also argued, however, that every religion, including Christianity, would fit this definition of syncretism and that both the ancient and modem charge of "syncretism" against Gnostics simply represents identity discourse and boundary-setting, in particular a defense of one's own already held ideas.32 Yet this relegation of the term "syncretism" fails when it comes to the person of Jesus and specifically to the question of whether or not the gnostic materials present anything remotely connected to the Jesus who walked the earth. There is firm textual evidence that Sethian Gnostics grafted Christian elements onto an already existing framework. Some of their writings contain no Christian elements, such as the Three Steles of Seth, which is essentially a description of hymns of praise sung to a gnostic "Trinity": the first stele is a hymn to the self-begotten Son, the second to the male virgin Barbelo (who is at the same time the mother, incidentally), and the third to the Unbegotten Father. Even though there is a "self- begotten Son" in this text, there is no trace whatsoever of Christian thinking or influence, though Jewish and neoplatonic traditions pervade the text.33 Other writings do show an adoption of Christian thinking. A remarkable pair of texts in this connection is Eugnostos the Blessed and the Sophia of Jesus Christ. Eugnostos is a very early text, most likely first-century BC, which describes the existence of an invisible, heavenly world beyond the physical world. This world is not accessible, the text pointedly states, to philosophers (specifically, Stoics, Epicureans, and Babylonian astrologers). 31 Peter van der Veer, "Syncretism, Multiculturalism and the Discourse of Tolerance," in Syncretism/Anti-Syncretism: The Politics of Religious Syntksis, ed. Charles Stewart and Rosalind Shaw (London: Routledge, 1994), 208, quoted in King, What is Gnosticism?, 223. 32 King, M'hnt is Gnosticism?, 222-224. 33 See James E. Goehring's introduction to the Three Steles of Seth, in Robinson, The Nag Hanlmadi Library, 396. It describes the ruling hierarchy of five beings who create successive worlds. The last, of course, is the realm of the immortal man, though this section may be a later addition. At some point, however, the text was adapted for a different cause: the Sophia of Jesus Christ takes the text of Eugnostos and places it on the lips of Jesus, who becomes the figure that makes known the revelation. Several disciples become Jesus' discussion partners, though only the disciples who typically appear in gnostic texts, such as Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, and Mary (never Peter or Paul). Philip asks the first question. Jesus appears after his resurrection, but "not in his previous form, but in the invisible spirit. And his likeness resembles a great angel of light" (Soph. Jes. Chr. 91,lO-13). Jesus asks the disciples "What are you searching for?" and Philip responds, conveniently, "For the underlying reality of the universe and the plan" (Soph. Jes. Chr. 92,3-5). The final prediction of Eugnostos is applied to Jesus: "All I have just said to you, I said in the way you might accept, until the one who needs not be taught appears among you, and he will speak all these things to you joyously and in pure knowledge" (Eugnostos 90,4-11; cf. Soph. les. Chr. 114, 5-8). The only "Christian" element in the Sophia of Jesus Christ is the presence of Jesus as a character, but he is a character who merely mouths an already extant philosophical treatise. The Gospel of Judas is another example. There is nothing about the person of Jesus, the disciples, or Judas that is not found in either the canonical gospels or Sethian Gnosticism. The use and adaptation of Jesus in such texts is an area that requires further investigation. Gnostic Thought in Judaism and Neoplatonism The popular impression given of the gnostic materials is that they are all about Jesus. Many gnostic texts, however, entirely lack Christian elements. James Robinson concluded, "Some traits previously thought to be characteristic of Christian Gnosticism have been shown by the Nag Hamrnadi library to be originally non-Christian."% Some texts, in particular Sethian ones, have no Christian influence, such as Allogenes, Marsanes, and the Thought of Norea. Other texts, such as Zostrianus and the Apocalypse of Adam, have themes that are only slightly related to Christianity. Some have a thin Christian veneer in that there are characters found in Christian texts but little else. Among these writings are the Trimorphic Protennoia, the Gospel of the Egyptians, and the recently recovered Gospel of Judas. Others, such as the Hypostasis of the Archons, Melchizedek, 3 Robinson, introduction to The Nag Halnmadi Library, 7. Kloha: Jesus and the Gnostic Gospels 135 and the Apocryphon of John, might be considered to represent a form of "Christian Gnosticism." The last text is frequently singled out as an example of the Christian-ness of the so-called "gnostic" texts.35 Furthermore, a monolithic religion did not exist in the Greco-Roman period, if it ever had. One cannot speak of "Judaism" and come up with a set of beliefs and practices that would reflect those of every member of that group. The Essenes, for example, held to a dualism that would not have been foreign to gnostic thinkers. Some of the texts, particularly among Sethian Gnostics, draw heavily upon Old Testament passages and characters, even if they eschew the world view and description of God in the Old Testament. The basic gnostic cosmological narrative has numerous parallels, including Platonic systems. Some individuals apparently took this similarity and adapted it even further toward a gnostic perspective. The neoplatonist Plontinus took umbrage at this adaptation. According to his student, Porphyry, There were in [Plotinus's] time many Christians and others, and sectarians who had abandoned the old philosophy, men . . . who . . . produced revelations by Zoroaster and Zostrianus and Nicotheus and Allogenes and Messos and other people of the kind, themselves deceived and deceiving many, alleging that Plato had not penetrated to the depths of intelligible reality. Plotinus hence often attacked their position in his lectures, and wrote the treatise to which we had given the title "Against the Gnostics."" Notably Porphyry assigned the title "Against the Gnostics" to Plotinus' treatise, yet said that these texts came from "Christians and others." To Plotinus, at least, there was not much difference between Gnostics and Christians. Furthermore, he described "revelations" of Zostrianus and Allogenes, both which are titles of works found at Nag Harnrnadi. Therefore, James Dunn's conclusion seems reasonable: 35 See Alastair B. Logan, who states: "[Mly second presupposition is that one is justified in seeking both a cent~al core of ideas, a myth or myths based on and concretely expressed in a rite of initiation as a projection of Gnostic experience, which holds it together, and in treating it as a valid form (or forms) of interpreting Christianity." Gnostic Truth and Christian Heresy: A Study in the History of Gnosticism (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 19%), xix. See also Karen L. King. The Secret Revelation of John (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006). Porphyry, Vita Plotini 16; translation from Robion, introduction to The Nag Hnmmndi Library, 9. The more obvious interpretation of the Nag Hammadi documents is that they are all typically syncretistic: they draw upon bits and pieces from a wide range of religious influences in the ancient world, including Judaism and Christianity, but including others, too. As such they are totally explainable in terms of what we know about second and third century Gnosticism.37 Gnostics against the Christians A fruitful area of investigation is the anti-Christian polernic of the gnostic writings. This has long been known from the Apocalypse of Peter: They [the catholics] will cleave to the name of a dead man, thinking that they will become pure. . . . And there shall be others of those who are outside our number who name themselves bishop and also deacons, as if they have received their authority from God. They bend themselves under the judgment of the leaders. These people are dry canals. (Apoc. Pet. 74,13-15; 79,22-31; cf. 73) This anti-Christian (or to be more neutral, anti-catholic) rhetoric is seen very strongly in the Gospel of Judas. In two passages, the twelve disciples, who stand for the Christians, are worshipping what is called "their god." In the first, the disciples are offering sacrifices but Jesus rejects their actions. The second is even more striking. After walking in on their celebration of the Eucharist, Jesus laughs at the disciples. They respond, "Master, why are you laughing at [our] prayer of thanksgiving? We have done what is right." He answered and said to them, "I am not laughing at you. are not doing this because of your own will but because it is through this that your god [will be] praised." They said, "Master, you are [ . . . ] the son of our god." Jesus said to them, "How do you know me? Truly [I] say to you, no generation of the people that are among you will know me." (Gos. Jud. 34,lO-15) Striking in both of these anti-catholic passages is the rejection of catholic ritual, worship, and even the Eucharist. In addition, a title of Jesus from the Synoptic Gospels, as well as a confession of the early church, is specifically rejected: Jesus is the "Son of your God," that is, "you call him Son of God but we do not." The Gospel ofJudas is one text, in particular, which requires further study. I hesitate to say much about this text right now, in spite of the whirlwind 37 J. D. G. Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1986), 98. Kloha: Jesus and the Gnostic Gospels 137 of the initial publication. If you recall, the text was hailed as providing an alternative view of Jesus' suffering and death-Jesus actually wanted Judas to betray him. This was connected, at least in scholarly circles, to various theories to explain Jesus' death. Maybe he actually was in league with Judas; maybe he wanted to die to spark a rebellion. When other scholars actually looked at a translation of Judas, however, it was soon recognized that there is but a single passage referencing Jesus' "request" for betrayal (Gos. Jud. 56). Furthermore, there is no passion story, and the actual act of betrayal is an anti-climactic conclusion to the grand Sethian cosmology laid out in the text (Gos. Jud. 58). In addition, there is no consensus regarding the purpose of the text, nor indeed its translation. During the November 2006 SBL meeting, a panel of experts, including Marvin Meyer, Karen King, Elaine Pagels, and Craig Evans, gave their reflections on the text six months after its initial publication. It should be noted that there was a delay in the publication of the Coptic editio princeps until several months after the first translation was published. This is highly unusual. Typically a critical edition of a text is produced and translations are provided either concurrently or shortly thereafter. Not so with Judas. Three books, including translations, were available on Monday of Holy Week 2006, the day after the National Geographic special aired, and only a few weeks before the release of The Dn Vinci Code movie. At this SBL session, King and Pagels argued that the text was not anti-Christian but an anti-clergy invective aimed at those who encourage Christians to martyrdom. They considered it a Christian polemic against other Christians and their blood-thirst for martyrdom. It was not mentioned that Seth is called the Christ in Judas (Gos. Jud. 52) and that Jesus is the Son of their God (Gos. Jud. 34). Their thesis was met with a subdued reaction and was vastly overshadowed by the other panelists, who discussed that the Gospel of Judas had been not only misunderstood but even mistranslated. It was all over the blogosphere, of course, though there have not yet been any journal articles on the topic. One Gospel of Thomas scholar, April DeConick, described it this way: My examination of the Coptic transcription has led me to think that certain translational errors and one mistaken reconstruction of a Coptic line led the team to the erroneous conclusion that Judas is a saint destined to join the holy generation of the Gnostics. The result is that certain claims have been made by the National Geographic that the Gospel of Judas says things it just does NOT say: Judas is the perfect enlightened Gnostic; Judas ascends to the holy generation; Jesus wants Judas to betray him; Jesus wants to escape the material world; Judas performs a righteous act, serving Jesus by "betraying" him; Judas will be able to enter the divine realm as symbolized by his vision of the great house; as the thirteenth, Judas surpasses the twelve disciples, and is lucky and blessed by this number.% Whatever the outcome of the scholarly debate about Judas, this serves to highlight the difficulties involved in the use of these texts. The communities that produced them, the rituals and beliefs behind them, and the rhetorical goals which led to their composition are all lost. Studies of these gnostic writings are in their infancy. Nevertheless, the anticatholic perspective of many of these texts does show a differentiation between those who used texts like Judas and those who did not. This differentiation should not be minimized as we seek to answer the question of what Christianity looked like in the second century. The Historical Jesus and the Gospel of Thomas The Gospel of Thomas is unique among the writings found at Nag Hammadi, as well as unique among early Christian literature. It is a different form of a text called a "gospel," for a "gospel" is what its subscript says it is, at least in the Coptic translation. Thomas has no narrative, no birth, no passion, no deeds, and no miracles. It is simply a collection of sayings without a narrative context. In Thomas, one begins to see some of the formal features that would be encountered in the "gnostic" gospels but no blatant gnostic perspectives or tendencies. Originally written in Greek, parts of Thomas were known beginning in the early twentieth century with two Greek fragments found at Oxyrhynchus. These were not properly identified as containing sayings matched by the Coptic version of Thomas found at Nag Hammadi until fifty years later. Some of the 114 sayings found in Thomas are remarkably similar to those in the Synoptic Gospels. For example, "He who does not hate his father and mother cannot be my disciple, and he who does not hate his brothers and sisters and does not take up his cross as I have will not be worthy of me" (Gos. Thom. 55).39 In at least one case, Thomas preserves a form of the text that has been virtually lost in the transmission of the canonical Gospels. In Matthew 6:28 the standard text reads: "And concerning what you wear, why are you concerned? Consider the lilies of the field, how fhey increase; they do not labor or spin" (emphasis added). 38 April Deconick, "The Forbidden Gospels Blog: January 2007" entry for "Monday, January 29, 2007," The Forbidden Gospels Blog, http://forbiddengospels.blogspot.com/ 2007-01-01-archive.hm. See now April D. DeConick, The Thirteentlz Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says (London: Continuum, 2007). 39 Cf. Matt 10:38; 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 923; 14:26,27. Kloha: lesus and the Gnostic Gospels 139 "How they increase" seems out of place here; what does "increasing" have to do with either lilies or clothing? The original hand of Codex Sinaiticus, alone among all the witnesses, reads, "Consider the lilies of the field, how they card; they do not labor or spin" (emphasis added). That is, the lilies are not involved in clothes production; they do not card the wool, labor over it, or spin it into clothing. This may be dismissed as an "improvement" to the text, but Papyrus Oxyrhynhcus 655, one of the few Greek fragments of the Gospel of Thomas, reads: "How much more valuable are you than the lilies, which do not card nor spin" (Gas. Thom. 36). While Thomas is not identical to Codex Sinaiticus, it is based on a text that has been lost to all Greek manuscripts but one. The corruption in other manuscripts is easily explained: rQg 06