Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Reworking of Gnostic or Christian text - You Decide

One of the reasons I read so many academic works is to broaden my knowledge, but also to challenge my world view and see if it can be turned on its head.

Whilst reading “The Ancient Jewish Mysticism” by Joseph Dan recently, one such a moment of “oh wow!” occurred. If you don't want to read the whole extract, just skip to the third paragraph.

“The Ancient Jewish Mysticism” by Joseph Dan

“...The study of the Nag-Hammadi library has brought about a series of changes in the conception of the spiritual world of the Gnostics. It became clear, for example, that the extreme dualistic view, which opposes the good, concealed of with the wicked god who created the world, is not shared by all Gnostic sects. In many of the works this conception is totally absent. The divine world of the Gnostics, it has become clear, is much more complex and varied than one might have assumed from the polemic works of the Church Fathers. The Gnostic literature is one with many shades and different literary forms, to an extent not imagined before the discovery of the library.
However, the most important discovery in this library, as far as we are concerned, is evidently the fact that not all of the Gnostic literature is Christian. There is no doubt that all of the Nag-Hammadi writings which we have were written centuries after the emergence of Christianity- evidently in the 3rd and 4th centuries. Yet a number of striking occurrences in this library show that not all these Gnostic writings were composed under Christian influence or in the Christian domain.
The most striking example relates to two works in this library. One is known as The Sophia (i.e. the supreme wisdom) of Jesus Christ, and the second as Eugnostos, The name of the second work is derived from the name of the author of the epistle which is the major part of the work, and has no special theological significance, The first work, as its name indicates, is clearly a Christian/Gnostic work, which quotes various sayings in the name of Jesus. In the second work there is no hint of Christianity or its views (studies which have tried to prove a Christian influence on Eugnostos have only proved the opposite – their authors have had to resort to marginal and insignificant points, which have reinforced the view that this work is far removed from Christianity.) However, the most surprising thing to emerge from the study of these two texts is that they are but a single work. The Sophia of Jesus Christ is nothing but a reworking of Eugnostos to make it Christian, by addition at the beginning and end of a number of clearly Christian elements.
We therefore have the choice of deciding whether a certain editor deleted the Christian parts of The Sophia of Jesus Christ or the reverse: that a certain editor took a non-Christian gnostic work and added an external veneer to it in order to give the work a certain Christian character. As it would be more logical to assume that in the 3rd or 4th century an editor would attempt to impart a Christian character to a non-Christian work than the reverse, it is very likely that here we have clear proof that the Christian Gnostics used non-Christian works that preceded them, and imparted a Christian character to these works. This implies that a non-Christian gnostic literature existed, which to a certain extent served as a source and basis for the literature of the Gnostic Christians. This is enough to undermine to a large extent the belief in the conception held of the Gnostics by the Church Fathers, namely that they were a heretical movement which grew out of Christianity. Eugnostos is not a work that denies Christianity, but one which belongs to a religious movement which did not know of the existence of Christian scriptures, and the Christian doctrine was simply not within the spiritual purview of its creators...”