Monday, June 12, 2006

Elaine Pagels on The Da Vinci Code

I just stumbled across this opinion piece by Elaine Pagels that seems to have escaped the blogosphere (though if it didn't, I suppose I apologize for the old news, though only half-heartedly, since that would only emphasize the dilettantism of the 'blog). Pagels has declared that it is what is true, rather than the plentiful factual errors, that have kept Brown on the best-seller lists.

What has kept Brown on the bestseller list for years and inspired a movie is, instead, what is true -- that some views of Christian history were buried for centuries because leaders of the early Catholic Church wanted to present one version of Jesus' life: theirs.

Yet when addressing this, Pagels seems to grasp at straws, for example:

Second, in texts that the bishops called ``heresy,'' Jesus appears as human, yet one through whom the light of God now shines. So, according to the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus said, ``I am the light that is before all things; I am all things; all things come forth from me; all things return to me. . .

Yet this isn't quite true, or at least not true enough that Pagels' is leading the reader, rather than informing them. That "Jesus appears as human. . ." in the Gnostic gospels implies, to the lay readership (which her opinion piece is obviously directed to), that what Brown has to say is more or less accurate--the Gnostic gospels do portray a more human Jesus. Pagels is surely aware that this is false. She is also surely aware that many--arguably most--commentators do not see Thomas as Gnostic, and that "Jesus appear[ing] as human" is one of the reasons for that.

Pagels goes on:

People might end up thinking that they could be like Jesus themselves and, in fact, the Gospel of Philip says, ``Do not seek to become a Christian, but a Christ.'' As Irenaeus read this, it was not mystical language, but ``an abyss of madness, and blasphemy against Christ.''

This is just a nitpick, but in for a penny, in for a pound, as they say. I'm not aware of any commentator who would date the GPhillip early enough for Irenaeus to have read. I'll welcome any correction on this, of course.

Perhaps most notably, Pagels writes:

Worst of all, perhaps, was that many of these secret texts speak of God not only in masculine images, but also in feminine images. The Secret Book of John tells how the disciple John, grieving after Jesus was crucified, suddenly saw a vision of a brilliant light, from which he heard Jesus' voice speaking to him: ``John, John, why do you weep? Don't you recognize who I am? I am the Father; I am the Mother; and I am the Son.'' After a moment of shock, John realizes that the divine Trinity includes not only Father and Son but also the divine Mother, which John sees as the Holy Spirit, the feminine manifestation of the divine

It seems unfathomable for one as versed in Gnosticism as Pagels to suggest that the "feminine" is emphasized in Gnosticism. Perhaps she should have flipped back to Thomas; saying 114 might have refreshed her memory. Compounding this illusory notion, Pagels does, in fact, turn to saying 114:

We hear Peter saying to Jesus, ``Tell Mary to leave us, because women are not worthy of (spiritual) life.'' Peter complains that Mary talks too much, displacing the role of the male disciples. But Jesus tells Peter to stop, not Mary!

Pagels must be hoping her readers don't have access to the text of GThom., for, while Jesus does indeed tell Peter stop, the reasoning he gives can hardly be considered a pro-feminism rationale.

Writes Pagels:

No wonder these texts were not admitted into the canon of a church that would be ruled by an all-male clergy for 2,000 years.

While I hate to get in the way of good, solid historical-revisionism, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that there were a great many reasons on the list ahead of maintaining the patriarchy.

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