Monday, April 17, 2006

Gnosticism and the Jews

Misunderstandings and misapprehensions about the Gospel of Judas continue to flow. Secularist commentator Christopher Hitchens, who is apparently completely devoid of elementary knowledge of church history, remarks that acceptance of the Gospel of Judas would help to combat Christian anti-Semitism:

The Judas gospel would make one huge difference if it was accepted. It would dispel the centuries of anti-Semitic paranoia that were among the chief accompaniments of the Easter celebration until approximately 30 years after 1945, when the Vatican finally acquitted the Jews of the charge of Christ-killing.

Christianity, of course, has much to repent of in its treatment of the Jews over the centuries. Nevertheless, when the Church rejected Gnosticism, it was taking a step away from anti-Semitism, not towards it, because the Gnostics despised the Jews, the Jewish God, and Jewish Scripture. As Hyam Maccoby writes,
While anti-Semitism (in the sense of intense dislike of Jews) was not uncommon in the ancient world, it was probably among the Gnostic sects that the most radical form of anti-Semitism originated — the view that the Jews are the representatives of cosmic evil, the people of the Devil. (The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity, p. 186)
Maccoby continues by portraying St. Paul — most unreasonably, in my opinion — as himself an early Gnostic. However, Maccoby's principal thesis is correct.

Gnosticism's intense rejection of Judaism seems to have been overlooked in the modern revisionist rush to anoint the Gnostics as a "healthy corrective" to orthodox Christianity. If the Gnostic version of Christianity had prevailed, Judaism might not have survived.

5 comments:

Karie said...

Hi Edward,
I'm enjoying your blog. I was also a student of Segert at UCLA. I got my MA in NELC in 1984 and my PHD in 1994. Were you in classes with him then?

Justin Jenkins said...

Yes! The same thing annoyed me as I read Hitchens article --- clearly he doesn't really understand Gnostic Christians who thought the Jewish God was the evil creator of the material world ...

Or what about the vision in the G. of Judas where the (Jewish) apostles:

“sacrifice their own children, others their wives, in praise [and] humility with each other; some sleep with men; some are involved in [slaughter]; some commit a multitude of sins and deeds of lawlessness. And the men who stand [before] the altar invoke your [name]”

Humm ...

EMC said...

Thanks for both comments. Yes, I think I do remember you, Karie, although I was starting to work on my dissertation (and therefore was on campus less) around the time you started. I'll keep on eye on the blogs of you both ... they look interesting.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations for getting it right. The Church excommunicated Marcion after he tried to keep Jewish Matthew and parts of Paul out of NT

YOu can also point out that Alfred Rosenberg advocated a more gnostic version of Christianity that would have thrown out Paul and Matthew for being Jewish, and Augustine for being African. Rosenberg was executed at Nuremberg in 1945, the key architect of the "new Christinity" envisioned by the Third Reich.

Elaine Pagels is an interesting scholar, but it is necessary to keep a healthy distance from the new scrolls.

FlamingLib said...

But, but, but, weren't the Essenes Jewish? (They're depicted as such in the Kazantzakis novel, *The Last Temptation of Christ.*) There can be no doubt they were Gnostic as well, having been influenced by the Egyptian healer cult (which included the Arimathean).