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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Christianity Turned Upside Down?

Over at First Things, an interesting site, Richard John Neuhas has some things to say on the ostenible "Gospel of Judas". After basically making fun of the people who take a gnostic account from 300 years after the fact at face value, Neuhas finishes up with this, a point which I think has applicability to the political realm as well.

Which is not to say that there are not serious matters engaged by the discussion of the “Gospel of Judas” and other imaginative reconstructions of Christianity from the apostolic era to the present. The gnostic pseudo-gospels and related texts purport to be for the “knowers” who are equipped to deal with the “secret sayings” of Jesus and other matters unfit for the great unwashed. In his book The American Religion, Harold Bloom contends that most Americans are gnostics at heart, believing that they possess a “divine spark” that is spiritually serviced by whatever “works for me.” There is more than a little to that. It results in religions, typically called Christian, ever so much less interesting than Christianity.

The desire to "know what others don't" is universal. Everyone wants to be in the illuminati. Everyone wants the small bit of knowledge that isn't commonly known, whether it concerns religion, politics, or even sports. It's why services like ESPN "Insider" make money. It's why being "underground" is often enough of a tribute to ensure support for an otherwise untalented band. It's the reason that conspiracy theories are so popular. Nobody wants to be stuck with the sometimes pedestrian truth. Not pedestrian because of its inherent worth, but because of its acceptance by others. The gnostics were such a people. I think Neuhas correctly points out that it happens to be a problem in modern religion as well (although I think we'd differ widely on who would be included in the definition). However, it's a problem in modern politics and culture as well. I'm not saying it doesn't affect me as well. After all, I'm a libertarian. I just think it's an important point to make.


I didn't read the whole article because it's 3:30 and I still haven't finished con law for tomorrow, but I had to laugh at how you posited it:

After basically making fun of the people who take a gnostic account from 300 years after the fact at face value

What is Christianity other than that (give or take 200 years or so)?
The difference is between accounts written probably 20 to 25 after the events talked about, and an account written by a peculiar sect with an axe to grind that was written 300 years after the events. You could argue that the early Christians who wrote the gospels had axes to grind as well. But I'll trust personal accounts from the same time period over accounts from 300 years later that happen to illustrate a specific doctrine of a tiny sect every time.
The same time period? All research I've seen puts the earliest written accounts of anything related to Jesus, etc. no sooner than 100 years post-ascension.
Of course when they were written and whom they were written by is an object of faith. But unless I'm mistaken (and I'll try to research this) Oxford University has a copy of Matthew from the late 50's AD. But I'll check on it.
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