Thursday, October 20, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 2 (Elaine Pagels)

The Gnostic Gospels by Michael_Kelleher
The Gnostic Gospels, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Pagels, Elaine
The Gnostic Gospels

Not sure about this one. It looks like something I would have bought for a high school or early college religion course (I went to Catholic high school and college, in case you're wondering). But I have no recollection of ever studying it in school. I do recall reading it at some point, possibly in New York, possibly in Ecuador.

I could have bought it for a high school religion class at my high school book store. My brother might have bought it for one of his high school classes and I could have taken it from him. It could have been my mother or father's. I might have taken it from the volunteer house library in Ecuador. Equally, I could have bought it in Ecuador or New York City.

There, that narrows it down.

from The Gnostic Gospels

Scholars investigating the Nag Hammadi find discovered that some of the texts tell the origin of the human race in terms very different from the usual reading of Genesis: the Testimony of Truth, for example, tells the story of the Garden of Eden from the viewpoint of the serpent! Here the serpent, long known to appear in Gnostic literature as the principle of divine wisdom, convinces Adam and Eve to partake of knowledge while "the Lord" threatens them with death, trying jealously to prevent them from attaining knowledge, and expelling them from Paradise when they achieve it. Another text, mysteriously entitled The Thunder, Perfect Mind, offers an extraordinary poem spoken in the voice of a feminine divine power:

For I am the first and the last. I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin....
I am the barren one, and many are her sons....
I am the silence that is incomprehensible....
I am the utterance of my name.

These diverse texts range, then, from secret gospels, poems, and quasi-philosophic descriptions of the origin of the universe, to myths, magic, and instructions for mystical practice.

Why were these texts buried-and why have they remained virtually unknown for nearly 2,000 years? Their suppression as banned documents, and their burial on the cliff at Nag Hammadi, it turns out, were both part of a struggle critical for the formation of early Christianity.

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