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Monday, April 10, 2006

The Gnostic Gospels

I’ve grown increasingly interested in the Gnostic Gospels. I only came to know of their existence and contents in the past year or so. These curious gospels, banned by the “Christian Church” around 200 A.D., present another side of the Christian experience. The newly translated Gospel of Judas raises even more profound questions.
I watched a well-done program about the Gospel of Judas last night on the National Geographic Channel. I found it so interesting,
I watched it again (given that it was immediately repeated). I believe Peter Coyote was the narrator.

Before Constantine, before Catholic Doctrine became the official religion/doctrine of the Holy Roman Empire, Christians came in a wide variety of flavors and sentiments. The Gnostics and Essenes practiced very different, very spiritual hybrids. The Gospel of Judas sheds a bit of light on this. In this Gospel, Judas is presented as the most favored apostle, the most pure, innocent and brave. For this reason, Christ selected Judas to play the fateful role of "betrayer." In one passage, Christ pulls Judas aside and whispers that he will reveal the truth about the kingdom of Heaven...but only to him. He then whispers that it resides inside each of us. Take a moment...breathe this in. Isn’t this what Buddha taught?

Other Gnostic Gospels raise additional interesting questions. For example, the Gospel of Mary (Magdalene) presents a far different picture of Mary than current Christian characterizations. She is not Mary, the repentant whore. She is Mary, a beloved apostle and equal.

It’s my understanding that about thirty gospels once constituted the Christian canon but, since the 2nd century, only four gospels were retained in the New Testament. I find this all so thought provoking. Perhaps I’m overly cynical, but I find it…convenient…that the four gospels retained by the church stress an acceptance of the cruelties of life in expectation of a better afterlife. The four retained gospels stress submission to a higher power. Women, once again, are relegated to second-class status. Mary Magdalene an apostle? No, the patriarchal church elders would have none of that. The four gospels glorify the Resurrection of the Christ. The Gospel of Judas doesn’t mention the Resurrection at all. The message of Judas’ gospel is that Jesus sought to be freed from his mortal coil…to become, once again, the infinite spirit…the spirit residing within each of us.

The Holy Roman Catholic Church proved well suited as an instrument of social control, a tool of empire. How different would this world be if we dedicated ourselves to finding God/Heaven solely within ourselves? Buddhists, by and large, are a peaceful and contemplative bunch. So, too, I would guess, were the Essenes and the Gnostics. Unfortunately, these tribes were slaughtered, exiled and left behind in the dust of history. Have we missed something important here?

* * *

Interestingly (coincidentally) enough, Bernice opened my eyes to a beautiful poem today, just as I was trying to marshal my own thoughts. I think it fits quite nicely.

From Blossoms
By Li-Young Lee

From blossoms comes
this brown bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

Oh, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

* * *

By the way, the very BEST peach I ever had came from a roadside stand in Vermont. I had been criss-crossing New England on another one of my periodical hajj's when I stopped at a small fruit stand in the Vermont mountains. I bought a peach, just slightly smaller than a basketball, and...when I bit into it...the juices flooded my mouth, my shirt, my consciousness, my very soul. I remember that exquisite peach well. We all deserve to feast on a peach like that, if only once in our lives. It is a good thing to taste, and experience, jubilance.

* * *


Blogger Ed said...

The Gnostics had some pretty cool ideas, and the Gospel of Judas is one of the more interesting Gnostic Gospels. The thing I don't appreciate about the Gnostics is that their belief centered around the idea that you had to be initiated into some sort of secret fraternity, "special" in some way, to realize the Divine.

In a way, it was pretty much the exact opposite of what Jesus was all about, which was erasing barriers between man and God, not building them.

While I won't deny the Gnostics add to our knowledge of Jesus -- The Gospel of Thomas especially -- I can't say I find a lot of their writings especially engaging, or even coherent. In large part, I think you had to be there.

But that doesn't justify burying their ideas under some officially approved doctrine. The Church could benefit from open debate about the Gnostic Gospels, rather than dential.

Thu Apr 13, 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

I meant "denial" in the last word above; sorry.

Thu Apr 13, 10:58:00 AM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Good points all, Ed.

Thu Apr 13, 11:36:00 AM  
Blogger Gillette said... funny, Mr. Jonas. I wrote a post on the Gospel of Judas on April 9. Great minds work in same ways...hehehe...or something like that, anyway.

It was a great show, yes? I just saw the book in Border's yesterday and read a bit of it.

It's been awhile since I read much on the Gnostics. Most of my reading was years ago. But if memory serves me, they added to the Stoics' idea of the split of Sex and Spirit, Sex and the Body. They had some pretty trippy ideas about how the world came to be. May be time to go reread some of the books I have on them.

It was fun being reminded of this show and fun to go reread my post. Blessings!

Fri Mar 30, 11:29:00 PM  
Blogger tipota said...

wow. isn't there also something about the conference in constantinople where they decided to heave a good part of the mysticism of the bible out heave ho? i'm not clear on the facts, just some piece of an understanding i picked up somewhere. i like this, it is fascinating, and the poem, just beautiful

Wed Mar 11, 01:12:00 AM  

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