Partial Notes: The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels

‘These are the secret words which the living Jesus spoke, and which the twin, Judas Thomas, wrote down.’ Gospel of Thomas 32.10-11, in NHL 118. — p.14.

Another text, mysteriously entitled ‘Thunder, Perfect Mind‘, offers an extraordinary poem spoken in the voice of a feminine divine power. — p.16.

‘Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of a similar sort. Look for him by taking yourself as a starting point. Learn who it is within you who makes everything his own and says, ‘ My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body,’ Learn the sources of sorrow, joy, love, hate . . .If you carefully investigate these matters you will find him in yourself.’ Hippolytus, Refutationis omnium Haeresium 1. — p.18.

As early as the second century, Christians realised the potential political consequences of having ‘seen the risen Lord’: in Jerusalem, where James, Jesus’s brother, successfully rivalled Peter’s authority, one tradition maintained that James, not Peter (and certainly not Mary Magdalene) was ‘the first witness of the resurrection’. — p.39.

Mary  lacks the proper credentials for leadership, from the orthodox viewpoint: she is not one of the ‘twelve’. But as Mary stands up to Peter, so the gnostics who take her as their prototype challenge the authority of these priests and bishops who claim to be Peter’s successors. — p.44.

[Bishop Irenaeus] charges that ‘they boast that they are discoverers and inventors of this kind of imaginary fiction’, and accuses them of creating new forms of mythological poetry. — p.48.

Another group of gnostics, called Sethians because they identified themselves as sons of Seth, the third child of Adam and Eve. — p.50.

Whoever comes to this gnosis — this insight — is ready to receive the secret sacrament  called the redemption (apolytrosis; literally, ‘release’). Before gaining gnosis, the candidate worshipped the demiurge [the creator], mistaking him for the true God . . . — p.62.

. . . gnostic description of God — as Father, Mother and Son — may startle us at first, but on reflection, we can recognise it as another version of the Trinity. The Greek terminology for the Trinity, which includes the neuter term for spirit (pneuma) virtually requires that the third ‘Person’ of the Trinity be asexual. But the author of the Secret Book has in mind the Hebrew term for spirit, ruah, a feminine word; and so concludes that the feminine ‘Person’ conjoined with the Other and Son must be the Mother. — p.74.

Ialdabaoth, becoming arrogant in spirit, boasted himself over all those who were below him, and explained, ‘I am father, and God, and above me there is no one,’ his mother, hearing him speak thus, cried out against him: ‘Do not lie, Ialdabaoth; for the father of all, the primal Anthropos, is above you; and so is Anthropos, the son of Anthropos.’ Gospel of Philip 1.30.6. — p.132.

Some who seek their own interior direction, like the radical gnostics, reject religious institutions as a hindrance to their progress. Others, like the Valentinians, willingly participate in them, although they regard the church more as an instrument of their own self-discovery than as the necessary ‘ark of salvation’. — p.133.

Many gnostics . . . insisted that ignorance, not sin, is what involves a person in suffering. — p.133.

So, according to the passage scholars call the ‘nightmare parable’, they lived

as if they were sunk in sleep and found themselves in disturbing dreams. Either (there is) a place to which they are fleeing, or, without strength, they come (from) having chased after others, or they are involved in striking blows, or they are receiving blows themselves, or they have fallen from high places, or they take off into the air though they do not even have wings. Again, sometimes (it is as) if people were murdering them, though there is no one even pursuing them, or they themselves are killing their neighbors, for they have been stained with their blood. When those who are going through all these things wake up, they see nothing, they who were in the midst of these disturbances, for they are nothing. Such is the way of those who have cast ignorance aside as sleep, leaving (its works) behind like a dream in the night. . . This is the way everyone has acted, as though asleep at the time when he was ignorant. And this is the way he has come to knowledge, as if he had awakened. Gospel of Truth, 71.20-21 in NHL 420. — p.134.

He learns what he needs to know by himself in meditative silence. — p.139

According to the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus praises this solitude: ‘Blessed are the solitary and the chosen, for you will find the Kingdom. For you are from it, and to it you will return.’ — p.149

 

2 thoughts on “Partial Notes: The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels

  1. Somewhat related since you are reading the Bible as literature. The Italian poet and Biblicist Emilio Villa translated the first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible. The intro to his volume of poetry published by Contra Mundum has an interesting discussion about Villa’s treatment of the Bible as literary text. His translation of Genesis, with the Italian and English texts, are also included in the book.

    Liked by 1 person

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