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Know-nothing gnostic

I read The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels some years ago and couldn’t see that there was much there. It’s always been notorious that in the second century and later various speculative writers composed riffs on Christian themes that aroused some interest for a while (although apparently never mass interest). They were debunked and denounced by Irenaeus and others and then declined into a sort of perpetual speculative temptation.

So far as I could tell, Pagels asserted that the gnostic writings should be given status equal to that of the writings generally recognized as canonical, since at the time there was no neutral authority in a position to declare the Church the real church and the gnostics a bunch of weirdos and wannabes, and besides the gnostic writings were better in lots of ways. Apparently because her book said that, Modern Library declared it one of the 100 best books of the 20th century. (It’s one of the 50 worst according to ISI.)

Still and all, she didn’t seem that smart or to-the-point. I couldn’t see that she had many arguments other than assertion. So I found this comment by the theologian David Bentley Hart, and the discussion of which it was part, a great help in connecting my impressions to more knowledgeable views. (Look at the whole thing. “Startlingly brusque” doesn’t begin to capture the flavor.)

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Hart’s articles appear every so often in First Things; he can be blunt and acerbic. I found his comment on Pagels to be relatively tame.

I’ve read the book also; I would recommend it to noone, except as a specimen of a certain type of academic writing popular at a certain time in certain places.

Pagel’s central claim is that the early church offered equal opportunity to men and women, that at some point the men stepped in and established a patriarchy, much to the damage of the church, and because the gnostic strains in Christianity were anti-patriarchal (a non-sensical proposition in and of itself), the church suppressed gnosticism.

It was all part of a patriarchal plot.

Pagels is also part of that more general strain that thinks (or wishes) that some exciting, “new” discovery will uncover the “real” meaning of Christianity in heretofore unknown ancient sources, thereby 1. delivering in one fell swoop new salvific knowledge that has been denied to us for two millennia (usually via the media of the feminine), and 2. discredit all the bad guys who currently run the church and suppress the truth in their continuing will to power.