(PDF READ) [What Is Gnosticism?] ¹ Karen L. King

  • Hardcover
  • 343
  • What Is Gnosticism?
  • Karen L. King
  • English
  • 07 August 2020
  • 9780674010710

Karen L. King é 4 Read & Download

What Is Gnosticism? Read & Download Î 104 A distinctive Christian heresy A competitor of burgeoning Christianity A pre Christian folk religion traceable to Oriental syncretism How. The title of this book What is Gnosticism is a trick uestion Gnosticism doesn t exist other than as a concept that was reified as scholars projected a working construct back onto the ancient world In short Gnosticism is a modern and acceptable and scholarly sounding term for heresy Hairesis the Greek basis for our word heresy referred to a coherent doctrine or tendency a school of thoughtand had a generally positive connotation It was for the early Christian heresiologists which for Karen King is synonymous with polemicists that heresy became pejorativeThe early centuries CE were the wild wild west of Christian theology There was not yet a canon There was not yet an established authority There was no common creed Instead there were diverse groups each claiming to be based on the revelation of Jesus Christ and all jockeying for position and power The major aim of crying heresy was to define orthodoxy Of course to groups that later came to be considered heretical they were the orthodox while for them the proto orthodox Bart Ehrman s term were hereticalSo while the goal of the ancient heresiologists might seem to have been to eliminate their outside competitors their real goal was to carve out what would be considered orthodoxy in a sense to create Christianity And their big problem was not what was different but what was too similar It was what was similar that was threatening and troublesome The heresiologists had to take the alleged insiders that were also claiming to be Christian and turn them into outsiders When that works and it does the similarities of the other group become nigh invisible and only the differences remain apparentKaren King paints the early Christians as embedded in their Mediterranean culture They had two challenges first to distinguish themselves from the surrounding cultures and second to avoid appearing new One cute way I ve heard that latter bit expressed is that you couldn t just go make up a religion in your garage Probably Ehrman but could be John Madden The Romans didn t like new More than any other ancient culture Judaism provided the raw materials for establishing Christian identity while simultaneously raising the uestion of how they would set themselves apart from it How could they reinterpret Scripture and Judaism so that they could be used to serve Christian ends p 40 A fine line too much Judaism and they wouldn t stand out as separate too little and they would lose out on the prestigious heritage and scriptureAnd here King makes a point at which I arrived at independently several years ago so it is always a relief to see my idea was not so far out in left field that no one else had ever thought of it The Judaism in Christianity is not Judaism it is part of Christianity King calls that the Christian construct of Judaism It is not made up out of whole cloth because it had to have some basis but its purpose is to be a foil for Christianity So here s what happened Whatever was unpopular in the Roman Empire was polemically called Judaism for example circumcision food laws and whatever was popular was appropriated for Christianity for example monotheism ethics So psalms prophets Christian right And it worked so well that still today in America I ve heard disapproving reference to an Old Testament God and Old Testament justice to criticize such diverse segments as the Arab Middle East conservative Christians or of course Jews anything perceived by the critics as not us And yet per King that self same text represents the prestigious scripture at the foundation of ChristianityBefore there was Christian scripture to appeal to the powers that were to be argued that only they understood the revelation of Christ and only they interpreted scripture the only scripture that existed at the time correctlyThe polemicists attributed all the positive traits to true ChristianityTheir main line of argument was the claim that they alone properly understood the ancient Scriptures The problem with this argument was that various Christians interpreted the Scriptures uite differently an unacceptable situation given the apologetic and polemical importance of their exclusive claim to Scripture Indeed a single true interpretation of Scripture was vital to the polemics of Christian theologiansinsofar as constructing a usable Judaism was rhetorically intertwined with the discourse of orthodoxy and heresy The charge of Judaizing could be used not only to distinguish Christians from Jews but also to identify heretics p 43By the fourth and fifth century after Constantine and with episcopal authority and imperial patronage in place some stable and monolithic unity had been achieved Power had been consolidated the power to simplify the picture into one of Christians Jews and pagans to enforce practice and doctrine and most significant to declare opponents to be hereticsKaren King explains early on that she continues to use the term Gnosticism not as an ancient religion or set of groups in antiuity but as a problematic term whose use needs to be reevaluated Historically Gnosticism is a term that belongs to the discourses of normative Christian identity formation that have been used to 1 label early forms of Christianity that approved either too much or too little of Judaism 2 label segments of Christianity that allegedly had been contaminated by outside forces or 3 designate groups that held some semblance to Christianity but were not Christian p 4Maybe the reader can begin to see the problem with saying what Gnosticism was if you believe it actually existed in the world as a religion at some point What Gnosticism is is a grab bag of whatever characteristics that normative Christianity wanted to eliminate from its self definitionWebster s will not inform you of that per King Webster s talks about the ancient Gnostics and so forth Gnosis is esoteric knowledge of spiritual truth held by the ancient Gnostics to be essential to salvation Gnosticism is The thought and practice esp of various cults of late pre Christian and early Christian centuries distinguished by the conviction that matter is evil and that emancipation comes through gnosis Gnosis for the Greeks meant knowledge but in pre modern and modern theological discourse it came to stand for false knowledge that is heresy There were no ancient groups known in ancient times as gnostics and gnosis was not used pejoratively in ancient times Modern bible scholarship began in Germany at which point calling others heretics would no longer do New rhetoric was called for The term Gnosticism might first have been used in the 17th century in anti Catholic polemics by a Protestant theologian in the sense of a false prophecy that seduces true Christians to idolatryKaren King exhaustively documents the early modern scholars in the service of demonstrating her thesis First was Adolf von Harnack Here were the clear indicators of Gnosticism according to Harnack 1 two Gods an inferior creator God and a supreme God 2 The God of the Old Testament is the inferior creator God 3 matter is independent and eternal 4 creation is the product of an evil or rebellious God or as indicative of a fall 5 evil is a force inherent in matter 6 God s unity was dispersed into other powers and heavenly beings Aeons 7 Christ revealed a previously unknown God 8 Gnostic Christology departed in several possible ways from Jesus being both fully human and fully divine and identified his saving power with undoing the unnatural connection to matter 9 humans were divided into classes depending on whether they had spirit and soul or a material nature only and only the spiritual could have Gnosis and salvation 10Gnosticism rejected the second coming the resurrection of the body and the final judgment and 11 Gnostics ethics were tied to the contrast between the physical and spiritual elements of human nature and so were limited in practice to either asceticism or libertinism from pp 62 63 From our vantage point today it s not too hard to see what was going on with the characteristics of so called Gnosticism being the unwanted leftovers from Christian identity formationNext come the History of Religion scholars One of Karen King s favorite terms is reinscribing as when she characterizes those scholars as reinscribing the ancient heresiologial rhetorical tools re using them in new language in modern discourse for example anti Catholic polemicThose scholars had available for study both new and older archeological materials from for example Manichaeism and Mandaeism I had been familiar with Manichaen as a pejorative term used today to refer to dualistic thinking but I didn t know there had actually been a Mani One of the sad aspects of all this is that the materials and ancient groups such as they were were of interest to those scholars of the late 19th and early 20th century only for the light they might shed on early Christian origins For example the Mandaeans who at one point were suspected to have been a group that considered John the Baptist the messiah and to have been his followers But once it was established the dates didn t add up and this group did not precede Christianity all interest was lost and study was dropped like the proverbial hot potato I remember a story about the Mandaeans that appeared after the Ira invasion in 2003 about how this ancient religious culture centered between the Tigris and Euphrates and that permitted no intermarriage and no conversion was being decimated by the war and romanticized links to John the Baptist were still being touted although the fine print toward the end said that origin had been discreditedThe time period in which those scholars were working was the same age during which a nationalistic and romantic interest in the volk was arising as well as the preoccupation with Aryan versus Semitic so in their work all the characteristics deemed inconsistent with Christian values were sloughed off onto a Judaism portrayed during this period as ignorant and crude Jesus was being dissociated with Judaism they were considered at opposite poles per one scholar and Judaism was identified with politico nationalism legalism and an unhealthy apocalypticismIn that we can see Karen King s point about how the History of Religion scholars reflected reinscribed the techniues of the ancient heresiologists in splitting what they disliked off from Christianity and blaming it on JudaismIn keeping with the underlying colonialist mentality the East was compared unfavorably to the West East was passive stagnant and derivative compared to Western rationalism and creativity And yes East was Semitic It still sounds odd to hear the Middle East and Islam called Oriental although I now know it was a conventionIt s ironic that when Gnostics or others incorporated and shared various aspects of theology with Christianity thus seeming to loom threateningly over them and too close for comfort they were viewed as unoriginal and derivative even parasitic but when Christians themselves incorporated certain admired aspects first of Judaism and later from surrounding cultures that s just fortuitous materials provided by God Syncretism is as syncretism doesAlthough I m highlighting these negative aspects of the scholarship of that time Karen King does have reference to all their innovations But in this book she s highlighting the underlying polemical dynamics which is contributing to my slantAlong came the Nag Hammadi finds in 1945 that really undermined the older scholarship since the actual documents said to have been the products of Gnosticism failed to convincingly exemplify the supposedly typical characteristicsIn both ancient heresiology and reflected also in the modern study of Gnosticism are three themes to which Karen King returns repeatedly origins purity and essence The language of orthodoxy over against heresy returns to those themes again and again They constitute in large part the heresiological rhetoric In simplistic terms origins means that what came first is what is true ie uncorrupted and in discussion of origins we get genealogical language Purity is over against syncretism with syncretism identified with inauthenticity Last is essentialism which I m finding most difficult right now let s say it s the identification of the phenomena the basic types that represent the religion Those scholars who were trying to establish the essence of Gnosticism ended up ascribing to it the characteristics of tendencies they abhorred in their own day and age eg Nihilism The problem with genealogy origins purity and essence is that they don t exist in the real world That s what King is saying We can apply overly simple ideas to the ancient world without anyone back then raising a fuss because they re gone The situation then however just as in our own age was a jumble a cacophony There is no direct lineage that leads from a certain specified beginning to some other point There is no faith that is not syncretic And when we try to specify the essential types of any tradition we end up hiding variety and we end up with oversimplification and stereotypingThe Christian formulation of Judaism ignored the multiformity of Judaism and that of early Christianity Christian rhetoric while painting Christianity and Judaism as clearly separate ignored the ways in which for each of them identity formation had mutual and reciprocal effects p 40 And so she s saying there are implications for Christianity in that it can t be something totally different and original as it would like any than anything else can And historiography needs to be distinguished from theologyAlso the language of orthodoxy of origins purity and essence is at bottom the language of power so for her the use of such rhetoric becomes a matter of ethicsOne reason I read this book was because another author Bart Ehrman said in one of his books that Gnosticism came from Judaism Oh great I thought I referred obliuely to that issue in this review although it may not be the one in which he made that claim The one thing that you can hear Christians deploring as much as Judaism is Gnosticism I had never before heard Gnosticism blamed on Judaism I wrote to him but no luck So when I saw this title I thought I would find out Well I did For a certain period of time recently it was the scholarly fashion for some not Jews I think that Gnosticism originated from Judaism How could that be you may ask First Jews are saying God is one and then Jews are turning around and talking about an evil creator God Jews are toasting L Chayim to life and then turning around and saying life is an evil creation keeping us from reuniting with God Judaism isn t as dualistic about the flesh as Platonism influenced Christianity and yet we are supposed to have suddenly turned into believers that our souls are imprisoned in the fallen fleshWell it turns out the proponents of that theory are relying on crisis to justify that thinking The destruction of the Temple and the decimation after the Jewish Wars I know what they are talking about for example the destruction of the way of life of the Inca by Pizarro I used that example in another book review for those who enjoy very long reviews of esoteric books on theological matters Hey but the Inca were just destroyed they didn t suddenly invent another religion that was the opposite of the one they had previously practiced Especially one that is suspiciously like Christianity Especially one that conveniently places the blame for anti Judaism on JudaismCould be that old heresiological dynamic at work once again And nothing originates cleanly and in a directly linear manner from anything else That is Karen King s lesson Yet still as we saw with the dictionary definitions old and engrained and useful ways of thinking do not just get up and slink awayAnother reason I read this book is because a couple of years ago I read an article about Karen King If you will recall she is the Jesus wife scholar the one who put her reputation on the line regarding that fragment about which although the case isn t settled there is uestion That article I read speculated that if the fragment was found to be inauthentic it might be a career ender for her Well I very much liked something she was uoted as saying along ethical lines in that article so I decided I would look at her books to see if I wanted to read one before the hypothesized career end This is the one I choseThe book was maddening in its academese and over inclusiveness At one point I said it was dissertation like in its seeming fear of leaving out a single scholar or work There was a uote I read recently about academese to the effect that a sentence contained an idea but the idea couldn t escape Haha a Gnostic sentence in which an idea is evilly imprisoned Well most of her ideas could escape but a lot of them were fluttering around impotently like flies that accidentally hatched inside the house The reader has to try to corral themWhy this difficulty with vagueness Sometimes unclarity can be a matter of code words geared to the elect and intended to elude others but that s not the trouble with this book I don t want to say political correctness That term doesn t capture the right shade of meaning I think Karen King wants to be careful She isn t wanting to do the very thing she is criticizing polemicizing against anyone and for the most part she does succeed Another conseuence of unclarity is the evasion of controversy She is so vague and academic that I don t think anyone is after her or was in 2003 when the book was published for undermining the foundations of Christianity or such like I don t think she was interviewed on Fox News as Reza Aslan was Who knows If you do please let me know Such uestions were not yet of interest to me then If people really read this book some might be up in arms There s that much in it about story Story is the basis of this book and that s why I gave it a 4

Read What Is Gnosticism?What Is Gnosticism?

What Is Gnosticism? Read & Download Î 104 Must first disentangle modern historiography from the Christian discourse of orthodoxy and heresy that has pervaded and distorted the sto. don t let the number of pages fool you a third of it is bibliography and footnotes haha suckers and the other two thirds is about well what the title pretty much spells out for you literally

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What Is Gnosticism? Read & Download Î 104 Do we account for the disparate ideas writings and practices that have been placed under the Gnostic rubric To do so Karen King says we. Despite the seemingly simplistic title this is not exactly a primer on the subject but it does serve as a useful introduction nevertheless King essentially spends the book denoting the trouble with defining the term gnosticism and then covering the history of its definitionGnosticism in its earliest variety was simply heresy If something did not fit into what became Christian orthodoxy early writers termed it gnostic or often heretical because the gnostic term itself didn t really come to be until the Middle Ages and even then regular usage only really comes into being much laterAttempts to define and determine the origins of gnosticism begin to make some real headway under Adolf von Harnack who tied it to the hellenization of Judaism and Christianity The History of Religions school said not uite finding ways to tie it to ancient Eastern philosophies in for example Iran Still other scholars tied it into pre Christian Jewish ideas In general it would be easiest just to say that gnosticism is syncreticBut this still begs the uestion of what gnosticism is King spends the rest of the book looking at various definitions and then also at primary documents from the gnostics themselves One trick with regard to discussing gnosticism has been that has largely been defined by its enemies But when we look at so called gnostic documents suddenly there is not as much unity of belief and heresies are not the same across the board One could easily point to various origins or create various definitions depending on the document examined For this reason the term gnosticism may better be simply jettisoned As King notes early Christian teachings were in flux and one can t really say that there was a uniform alternative