Monday, July 2, 2007

Part 2: Your responses to the question, "Why do non-canonical texts make us uneasy?"

Greg Delassu says in the comments:
Tertullian and Origen are just as heretical as the Gospel of Judas or the Acts of Phillip and yet no one supposes that the self-professed orthodox are "afraid" to read Tertullian or Origen. I agree that the vitriol aimed at non-canonical texts (and at those who study them) is largely irrational, but I think this the-orthodox-are-blinded-by-their-fears-and-prejudices line is a poor explanation for that irrationality with little more to back it up other than a popular mythology built up around the idea of the scholarly-hero/Gallileo-contra-mundum.
See Doug Chaplin's self-reflections on his blog.

David Hamilton has posted this in the comments:
I believe that people who are committed to any degree to orthodoxy will always view material such as the gnostic texts as a threat. People who believe that the received tradition is largely correct and this is why Christianity as we know it won the early battles are bound to think of gnostic texts as if they were weeds, so to speak. "We've already beaten these weeds down, so why do they keep reoccuring? Why do they keep coming back?" Such people fear that the battle is not completely won after all, especially if they subscribe to the notion that evil is active in the world.
Leon Zitzer's self-reflections (he has a blog on the historical Jesus), I have moved here from the comments on the previous post:
I think Dr. DeConick is right that these are important questions. Our emotional responses often control our ability to see the evidence let alone to analyze it correctly. Vocabulary or terminology is just one way that scholars, or any authorities really, have to control a discussion and to control what insights are permitted.

Here is one powerful reason why I think so many people are uneasy with gnostic texts or the "new" Gospel of Judas (and why they invent a vocabulary that puts them down or diminishes them): The canonical New Testament (NT)has been around for almost 2,000 years and the control over how they are to be read is well established. There may be alternative voices in the NT but traditionalists feel they have this well under control, so nobody will hear or notice them. But the gnostic texts and the very new Gospel of Judas do not have a long tradition of study behind them. They are not as well controlled as the canonical texts are. So many religious and scholarly authorities feel uneasy with them because they don't own them the way they own the traditional stuff. They have not yet mastered how to totally dismiss them and that worries them. Other voices make them very nervous because it means loss of control; they have not yet figured out a way to make them completely Other.
Jim Deardoff's reflections moved from the comments of the previous post:
What is most disturbing to me is the implicit suggestion by some that any text that once was lost, but now is found, can without careful study be assumed to be an unreliable testimony to the truth of the man known as Jesus.

1 comment: said...

Some of the 'academy' have the texts of the NT so well under their control that they would like to spend five years exploring whether or not Jesus existed. I am talking about The Jesus Project - "The goal is to figure out if Jesus' life served as a basis for the beginning of Christianity, or if his story is a myth that led to the propagation of the religion."
Now that that sounds as though there are quite a few who are uneasy about the canonical NT, let alone gnostic texts. It is a pity that the Jesus Project isn't at the same time considering the possibility that there was indeed a prophet and a real story behind the canonical texts.

The gnostic texts back-up the idea that the 'disciples' were led by a spirit who appeared to them. In the Gospel of Judas, Judas is described as a prophet, and he is a leading prophet. Now these are two conclusions that I have arrived at independently from my readings of the NT and other non-gnostic writings. Fundamental to any uneasiness of the 'academy' with regard to the gnostic texts must be that Jesus appears as a spirit character.