Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Gnosticism in the media

GNOSTICISM has been getting some attention recently in odd corners of the new media.

First, Neo-Pagan magician Aidan Kelly has a four-part (ongoing?) series of blog posts on his interactions with Gnostic literature and scholars of Gnosticism over the past four decades:

The Fascinations of Gnosticism, Part I

The Fascinations of Gnosticism, Part II

The Fascinations of Gnosticism, Part III

The Fascinations of Gnosticism, Part IV: The Gospel According to Mary

Excerpt from the last:
The traditional conservative attitude toward Mary’s prominence in these writings is to assert that these Gnostics just made that up. But why would they? Women had no religious (or any other) authority in that misogynistic civilization. Unless she had been important from the very beginning of the movement, no one would ever have later claimed any authority for her.

Obviously, the implications of all this are still being worked out. I’ll have more to say later. But remember, the history of modern religious scholarship is still the history happening right now of beating the conservatives on their heads with facts, and of their fighting back against having to retreat, step by step.
That's a bit simplistic, but whatever. Specialists agree that the Gospel of Mary consists of legends about Mary made up long after the fact. The place of women in first-century Christianity is a separate issue, on which we have relatively little evidence and about which there is much discussion. But second- to fourth-century apocryphal traditions are of very limited usefulness as sources for the first century.

I have commented some years ago on the question "Was Jesus married to Mary Magdalene?"

[UPDATE: See also the essay by April DeConick noted in the next post.]

The series is interesting for its 60s countercultural appropriation of the Gnostic texts.

Second, a very different political appropriation of Gnosticism, which at least is something different from America always being the Roman Empire:

David Solway: The Ideology of the Left: Gnostics of Our Time (PJ Media).
To conclude. The psychology of the Left, despite certain asymmetries, is intrinsically a Gnostic one. The analogy is premonitory. For just as Gnosticism proved unsustainable as a resilient and effective theology, since it could not address the needs of the human spirit bound in time to an ineluctable world, so the theory of utopian socialism that animates the orphic community, in any of its manifold incarnations, can only distort the quest for human betterment. It can only reproduce — or worsen — the original flaw it seeks to transcend.
I'm not quite as sure as Mr. Solway is that Gnosticism as a theology is out of the running (see, e.g., above), but be that as it may.

This one got some attention from the mainstream media as well: Out of Mani, One: The philosophical roots of the Obama cult (James Taranto, WSJ).

It occurs to me that it is just possible that some of my academic readers may disagree with the politics of Solway's and Taranto's essays and, moreover, that some of those who disagree may be tempted to write and tell me so. Please restrain yourselves. My interest is sociological and I already get to hear more than enough political opinions from my Facebook friends.