Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Still Scratching the Surface of Christianity

It is a new year, 2020. Yet whatever is going on inside me in this moment has its origins in all my pasts, and its fulfillment will be in all my futures. What is happening is part of a process of becoming or indeed many processes, perhaps. It does not restrict itself to a timeline defined by numbers, but only by changes in awareness, and those changes, that movement, is vital.
          Of late, I have been increasingly drawn to the study of the Nag Hammadi scriptures, and through that towards a renewed interest in orthodox, Christian scriptures. The distinction between the two sets of writings is blurring and beginning to fade. And this is right and appropriate. Perhaps and finally, I am beginning to scratch significantly, the surface of real Christianity. (Ref. my blog post of 27.4.2013, "L'Abbaye de Boquen.") Again, I find myself needing to write to clarify my thoughts, and to answer some impulse within me. It seems to offer me no rest, yet I feel that I am the least able person to express something that seems to be so far beyond me and my abilities to express what I might understand. However, I must at least try.
          I will begin with the Gospel of Philip, for no other reason than that it insists on drawing my attention to itself. So:-

The Gospel of Philip (Coptic Text: NHC II,3: 51,29 - 86,19)

In the introductory remarks of this gnostic gospel the authour of "Lost Scriptures", Bart D. Ehrman, points out certain emphases in contrast such as those who can understand and those who cannot; between knowledge that is exoteric (available to all) and that which is esoteric (available only to insiders); between the immature outsiders (regular Christians, symbolically called "Hebrews") and the mature insiders (Gnostics, symbolically called "Gentiles").
          Those who do not understand, the outsiders with only exoteric knowledge, err in many of their judgements -- for example, in taking such notions as the virgin birth or the resurrection of Jesus as literal statements of historical fact, rather than symbolic expressions of deeper truths.
          The first question that arises for me, and one to which I need give answer, concerns my place on the spectrum of exoteric/esoteric knowledge. That will begin to be addressed in my next post.


  1. I haven't looked at the book in a good while now but Stephen Hoeller's Gnosticism - Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing provided a fascinating introduction to the history of the Gnostics.

    Happy New Year, Tom, to you and yours.

    1. Hello Susan. How lovely to meet up with you again. :) I too have read that book, and quite recently. I agree with your assessment.

  2. Hi Tom,
    A welcome return in the New Year to see you posting again. There was certainly a lot more diversity in early Christianity circa the 3rd century than exists today. Even so, as you would be no doubt aware, the oldest gospel of Mark makes no mention of a virgin birth or to the events post Christ’s death as per the other Synoptics. Bart D. Ehrman, is an excellent scholar, but he has moved from agnostic to atheist as he struggles to continue to believe when faced with the reality of suffering, like many.
    Whilst I hasten to add I am no expert on the gnostic tradition I don’t see where they differ markedly with the orthodox texts except in evoking different myths or allegories emergent of that culture then. But to me they remain essentially Jewish to ultimately all go back to their OT roots.
    Best wishes

    1. One aspect of gnostic belief systems which I find particularly satisfying is that for all the efforts of Bishop Irenaeus and like-minded Church Fathers, they could never eradicate gnostic writing from the orthodox church except by eradicating the New Testament entirely, and maybe large sections of the Old Testament as well.

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