Virtual Reality Christianity: The Da Vinci Code and the "Brown-Out" of Historical Christianity, Part Five (Cont.)Wednesday, June 14, 2006
2. What's Up With The Nag Hammadi Library?
Now that we’ve taken a quick tour through the biblical and extra-biblical evidences in favor for an early date, consider the other writings from the group Brown refers to so often in his work, the Nag Hammadi writings, something I’ve also mentioned again and again. This seems like the best spot in which to deal with these writings, so I’ll squeeze them in here.
Discovered just after WWII, Brown’s character refers to these texts as “the unaltered gospels”, and dismisses the NT gospels as mere propaganda. The NT, per Brown’s character, is just a result of male-dominated church leadership inventing the divine nature of Christ to form modern Christianity as we have it today in order to control the worldwide church, oppress women, and repress goddess worship. That would about sum up Brown's whole thesis in one sentence, come to think of it!
But even if we take just a superficial look at the Nag Hammadi writings we see that they are Gnostic in nature. Gnosticism was a multi-faceted, self-contradicting, extremely confusing, esoteric teaching that seemed to plague early Christianity. In short, it was a syncretistic blending of Christianity with pagan religions, beliefs, concepts, ideas, symbols, figures, etc. rolling them all up into one religious ideology. (That’s why, by the way, when we read these writings at many points they sound like the Bible. They had no problems whatsoever plagiarizing parts of the Bible and mixing them with their own religious ideas in order to formulate some new teaching).
Inescapable then was the fact that because all these ideologies stand at some point in conflict with each other, rolling them all up into one happy religious family is a definite recipe for family fights. And that’s just what we find when we study the history of Gnostics and their writings. They were frequently at odds with one another, not the least of which was with orthodox Christians and the local church expressions they represented. Considering it further, one scholar notes that gnosticism was,
“the belief that the present world of space, time, and matter is essentially evil, the creation of a secondary deity, and that salvation will consist of escaping from it into a different sphere altogether both here and hereafter. Gnosticism teaches that some humans at least have within them a divine spark which needs to be uncovered or revealed, giving its initiates a secret “knowledge,” which in Greek is gnosis, hence “Gnosticism.” This enables the initiate to effect his escape (it’s normally a “he”) into a spiritual world.” Now what I want to point out to you, what I don’t want you to miss is what the teachings of gnosticism mean for Brown’s arguments and claims. The very writings and belief systems of gnosticism itself all argue against Brown’s conclusion. There are two main reasons.
* First, the Gnostics believed Jesus was divine and not human at all. For the divine to suffer at all or in anyway be associated with the human was the grossest error a Gnostic could commit. The divine revelation taught, as revealed in several instances, that Jesus Christ never suffered, never died, and was never crucified for such an idea that the divine could suffer the fate of the human was preposterous, at least to a Gnostic. To be sure, Gnostics believed Jesus was divine in a way different than Christianity does today. Their fanciful depictions of Jesus’ divinity are not at all in keeping with the way the apostles and their writings described their eye-witness encounters with Him. Yet in Brown’s theory, these Gnostic gospels which constantly portray Jesus as divine supposedly argue for his humanity instead, and have been covered up and hidden by the church for centuries to hide the true identity of Jesus.
* Second, the Gnostics were male chauvinists who had a very low view of women. Consider passage 114 from The Gospel of Thomas which says,
“Simon Peter said to them [the disciples], ‘Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of Life.’ Jesus said, ‘I myself shall lead her, in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit, resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.’”Hmmm. Strange. This is a gnostic text from the Nag Hammdi writings and it supports a pro-female religion? These writings confirm a goddess-worship theology in the early church? Ironically, these Gnostic gospels for Brown form the foundation of a pro-female religion which liberates women, promoting the divine feminine to the pedestal of honor, reverence, and worship.
What's the analysis? We are back to this strange phenomena of saying that a historical document which argues for A is actually proving B. The Gnostic writings which argue for a divine Jesus and are chauvinist are actually arguing for Jesus’ humanity and for a divine-feminine form of worship. I’m not sure why Brown doesn’t see this nor why he chooses to utilize history this way, but it is constantly confusing and misleading.
At any rate the argument goes as follows. According to Brown, the Gnostics were the especially enlightened, the ones holding the true truth regarding the nature and identity of Jesus. This group believed in special enlightenment for special persons undergoing special initiation rites. Sophie is evidently one of these special persons and her special revelation comes by way of Teabing’s special instruction. Yet strangely he instructs her about things that are not historically accurate.
But the Gnostic element comes out clearly I guess when Sophie and Teabing are supposed to derive conclusions about the Gnostic writings that the Gnostics themselves didn’t write about or believe. Do Teabing and Sophie then receive additional, new, or fresh revelation about what the Gnostics believed? Perhaps in Brown’s mind the real revelation comes to those who are initiated into the secret strand of facts that point to something other than what the facts themselves conclude.
Modern gnosticism says that according to newly received revelation the Gnostics writings on the divinity of Jesus were in all actuality arguing secretly for Jesus’ humanity. And in their surface statements reflecting male chauvinism a modern Gnostic would and should see a deeper reflection of goddess worship. Wow. That’s deep. Is there any significance to the fact that the first four words of John 3:16 spell the word ‘forgodsloved’ which is the Swedish word for meatball? Perhaps John intends to be really communicating a secret family recipe from an ancient, first century Swedish chef and we’ve just now figure out the first clue! What wondrous things in ancient documents we see…things that were put there by you and by me!
In the end, one thing is historically accurate and dependable. The Gnostics were so convinced that their version of salvation was true that they believed Christians were heretics. And conversely, the Christians were so convinced that the Gnostics and their teachings were so completely and utterly opposite of what they had been taught from the apostles that they believed the Gnostics to be heretics. The two camps claimed the label Christian, but they were diametrically opposed to each other.
What is more, the Gnostics themselves argued among themselves about how revelation was received, who could receive it, what initiation rites were the right way, etc., etc., ad nauseum. One group thought that because the body was evil, sex was prohibited. Yet another group thought that if the body was evil it really didn’t matter what you did with it. And what is factual is that even within the varying sects of Gnostics, they clashed with one another in vehemence. What was at stake was salvation, and salvation was based on answering these important questions. So if one sect came to different conclusion from the other sects, then they were going to hell….if there was one. There was no salvation available to them. And this is how each Gnostic sect viewed the other sects.
Brown interprets all of this favorably by seeing a welcome diversity in Christianity in these early years. Logic and common sense see it as two brands of Christianity at vehement odds with one another, and one of those brands as vehemently at odds with itself. There was certainly not a shred of tolerance in the diversity of these early days. Any attempt then to repackage the conflict of the first three centuries as a tolerant and welcome diversity within Christianity is simply insane. If neither group could regard the other’s expressions as valid Christianity, certainly neither group could regard both expressions to be valid.
Tomorrow: How Many Gospels Are There Really and How Did they Make it into the Bible?
 Wright, N. T. “Decoding The Da Vinci Code, in Response 28:2 (Summer 2005), at http://www.spu.edu/depts/ uc/ response/summer2k5/features/davincicode.asp.