Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Creativity of Elaine Pagels

We all know Elaine Pagels, neo-Gnostic extraordinaire, has a habit of being, well, very creative when it comes to dealing with the relationship between orthodoxy and heresy in 'early' Christianity.

So, today at my wrath is a little dip into the Gospel of John and its use in the debate of orthodoxy and heresy in 'early' Christianity. (Note, by early, of course, I mean not all too early Christianity addressed by Bauer, Ehrman and Pagels in their respective works.) As I have often noted, the Gospel of John reflects metaphor and monotheism of Second Temple Judaism. For example, the issues of the divine Word (logos), light and darkness, etc can all be linked to the environment of Second Temple Judaism. The so-called Hellenistic prologue engaging with the divine Logos is simply a Jewish Christian exegesis on Genesis expressing Jesus' identity as (1) a part of the unique identity of YHWH (analogous to Wisdom) and (2) in terms familiar to Jews in the period (e.g. the light-darkness metaphors of John with 1QS). As I contend, we have no reason to suggest Hellenistic concepts or later gnostic dualism.

Now, we may very well excuse those who did not appreciate the 'Jewishness' of the fourth Gospel pre-DSS days or while it was fashionable to date it late pre-P52. Yet despite these recent discoveries and approach of recognising John as "the gospel most clearly engaged with Judaism" and "perhaps the most Jewish of the canonical gospels" we still have the same arguments being pushed. Pagels and Koester are just so hesitant to let the issue of John as necessitating Gnostic communities to drop despite Bauer's thesis on Gnosticism in Egypt falling on itself. As noted by Roberts (Manuscript, Society and Belief in Early Christian Egypt) we simply don't have the physical evidence to backup the conjecture that Egypt was majority Gnostic in the 'period of silence'. Furthermore, as Llewellyn has shown in New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity vol 7, there is nothing to suggest that the Egyptian community was Gnostic by use of the Gospel of John. It has been shown that the use of John in the period of alleged Gnosticism was no different to that of when we knew it was dominated by orthodoxy. Furthermore, as hinted to above, there is no reason to suggest that John necessitates Gnosticism - especially if we agree with Roberts that the silence may account for a group of Christians in close communion with Diaspora Jews. (Note to self, look up papyri letter on Christians hiding in Jewish synagogues to avoid sacrificing to the pagan gods.)

So, what has this to do with the creativity of Pagels? Well, it was a long seqway into the issue of Pagels misrepresentation of Irenaeus in order to argue that the Gospel of John was the Gospel of the Gnostics later appropriated into Christianity. On pp. 149-150 of Beyond Belief Pagels states:

Irenaeus complains that Velntinus's disciples were "always quoting the Gospel of John," while suprisingly prominet "fathers of the church," including three of his revered mentors, apparantly were not.
To back this up Pagels cites Against the Heresies 3.11.7. Now, this is probably one of the most famous quotes of Irenaeus so it is dangerous to misrepresent it, but Pagels seems to have no qualms about it. In her opinion it seems, Gnosticism is the truth - and equally as legitimate. And with this in mind, she need not (1) establish the existence of a Gnostic Jesus or (2) existence of primitive Gnostic Christianity (or probably because no matter how hard she tried she could not).

So, what does AH 3.11.7 say? Is Irenaeus really complaining about the heretics using texts while the orthodox do not? Clearly not.

Irenaeus is making a clear points that even the heretics use the Gospel of John. The section Against the Heresies 3.11.7 is an exhortation of the four-fold gospel tradition.

Irenaeus says:

"So firm is the ground upon which these Gospels rest, that the very heretics themselves bear witness to them, and, starting from these [documents], each one of them endeavours to establish his own peculiar doctrine."
Clearly, it is an exhortation of the authoritative nature of the 'canonical' gospels. One would even make a better case that Irenaeus is exagerating the use of the gospels by the heretics. He lists the Ebionites as abusing Matthew; the docetics (?) abusing Mark; Marcion's abuse and redaction of Luke; and the Valentians abusing John. They all do this in an attempt to justify their erroneous and "pecular doctrines" with the true gospels. However, as Irenaeus goes to demonstrate, their exegesis cannot consistently be supported by the text corpus.

So, when one is free to abuse the primary texts so readily on what basis should we trust her case for Gnosticism?

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