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Of course, the official representatives of the various orthodox churches would probably dispute this in the strongest terms. They generally hold that the New Testament is a completed work of revelation, a done deal.
Today, however, increasing numbers of Christians are nassenes with the standard salvation formula. They find the liturgy tiresome and the rituals and sacraments empty exercises. They are distrustful of doctrines and are not persuaded by pat answers to profound questions. They find neither comfort nor inspiration in tedious sermons and they resent ministers who lay guilt trips on members of the congregation. Indeed, many are angry because they believe they have been deceived or lied to by the Church.
As a result, they tend to regard not only Church corruption but all of the above as symptomatic of a deeper malady: Some, despite their misgivings, choose to remain naassenees the Church. Others have voted with their feet and have left.
Yet all crave devotion and all secdets in search of deeper answers about their faith. These Christians should read on. This book has been written with them in mind, which brings us back to the matter of origins.
Scholars generally agree that during its first centuries Christianity faced serious competition from gnlstic rivals, including Mithraism, Judaism, the official cults of Rome, various other pagan Mystery religions, and Gnostic Christianity. But among these rivals, the last was viewed as by far the most pernicious threat and why were Gnostic Christians considered so dangerous?
In fact, so closely did Aecrets Christians mimic the genuine article that even priests could not always discern the subtle differences between the true and the false. For which reason, we are informed, many were sdcrets into error. Bishop Irenaeus was one of the first to warn his fellow Christians about the insidious danger. He was also the first to use the term Gnostic, based on gnosis, the Greek word for knowledge. The crux of the problem was that these Gnostics claimed to be in possession of an advanced form of Christianity involving secret teachings, a claim the orthodox bishops flatly denied.
Irenaeus penned a lengthy treatise to unmask the hoax, and about forty years later another Church father Bishop Hippolytus, compiled a ten-volume opus of his own. These antiheretical writings earned Irenaeus and Zecrets a reputation as authorities on the matter of heresy, and their views exerted an enormous influence on the subsequent development of Christianity.
The orthodox bishops who came gnostlc them followed in their footsteps, which is how tradition works. Even today Irenaeus and Hippolytus nsassenes a special place of respect among orthodox scholars and are studied by each new generation of Christian theologians.
The orthodox view is that the Christian faith owes nothing to Gnosticism. Gnostic Christianity was a later development, an errant stepchild of the second and third centuries C. According to this view, it naasseness no part in the formative period of Christianity, nor was it a tradition in itself.
Indeed, it borrowed or stole everything from orthodox Christianity. In the scholar G. The Nature and History of Gnosticism, agreed.
Such was the view of W. Albright, one of the leading biblical scholars of the twentieth century.
Gnostic Secrets of the Naassenes : Mark H. Gaffney :
No wonder that the orthodox. Even those scholars who have struck a more sympathetic tone have usually imputed a negative value to Gnosticism, suggesting, for example, that it was a form of escapism. Robinson exemplified this trend. Robinson headed up o team of scholars who prepared an important compendium on Gnostic Christianity, The Nag Hammadi Library, first published in gnoetic to which we will make frequent reference.
This encompasses the mainstream of opinion—. How, then, do we account for the remarkable resurgence of interest in Gnosticism over the past two centuries?
It appears that we Christians have been drawn to it, despite ourselves, like moths to the flame. Our fatal attraction to a notorious creed is no fluke; it is a real phenomenon, well attested to by the many papers and books that scholars grind out each year on the subject.
The naasenes in Gnosticism is genuine enough, yet there is also something irksome about the scholarship to date. Such has been my experience. I have read many of scerets studies, and in every single case they have failed to persuade me that the authors have done more than scratch the surface. Given the negative impression that these studies almost always generate, their typically dismissive conclusions are not surprising. If the scholars are to be believed, Gnosticism was a very strange religion.
While I am the first to agree that some of the Gnostics were more than a little strange, in the following pages I hope to show that the general negative impression is a false one, a mere artifact. The problem, as we shall see, has nothing to do with Gnosticism—it has everything to do with the adequacy of scholarship itself. In the following chapters we will break new ground by entering into the world of the Gnostics.
We are going to try to understand their spiritual world as they themselves understood it—indeed, as they experienced it—an unprecedented leap for scholarship.
In the process of allowing the Gnostics to speak for themselves and tell their own very different story, we will arrive at conclusions that are utterly subversive to orthodox Christianity and which, I predict, will eventually stand tradition on its head.
We are going to examine powerful evidence that the Gnostic element was present nxassenes Christianity from the beginning, and was, in fact, the very heart of the teachings of Jesus.
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We will discover that the Gnostic controversy that developed in the second century C. This historic watershed has come within reach thanks to a serendipitous confluence of events. During the same period that witnessed the modern revival of interest in Gnosticism, archaeologists, meanwhile, were busy amassing an enormous amount of documentary evidence about the ancient world, and this included sensational discoveries.
After many frustrating delays, the trove was finally published in its entirety in Doubleday, and also upon apocryphal scriptures such as the Book of Jasher meaning the Upright and pseudoepigraphic scriptures such as the Book of Enoch, both of which came to light after having been lost for many centuries.
Our primary source document, however is the most important of all from the standpoint of illuminating Christian origins: The Refutation disappeared for many centuries after it was written and was not discovered until The first English translation appeared in and stirred a brief flurry of interest, but unfortunately other archaeological discoveries at the turn of the twentieth century overshadowed it.
An adequate commentary did not appear until Now, at long last, thanks to the corroborating scriptures unearthed at Nag Hammadi, its true importance can finally be established, because a portion of the Refutation, found in Book 5, is one of the keys to early Christianity. I shall never forget the first time I opened this part of the Refutation, known as the Naassene Sermon, a remarkable polemic aimed at one of the Gnostic groups, the Naassenes.
Even though I knew almost nothing about Gnosticism and even less about Hippolytus, I was captivated from the start, but it took years of further study before I penetrated the document.
These Naassenes were among the first Christians to be declared heretical. Hippolytus placed them squarely at the head of his index and devoted five substantial chapters to refute them, more space by far than he allotted to any other heterodox group.
This is the surest indication of the odious importance he attached to them. Indeed, Hippolytus leaves no doubt: Whether Hippolytus believed that he had succeeded we cannot know. Too many centuries stand between then and now. We have no information about when the Naassenes were finally dispersed; Hippolytus is our only source.
Indeed, we have no information about the sect at all except what he preserved in his Refutation. Fortunately, as we shall see, this is sufficient, because Book 5 of his treatise includes a long, rambling monologue that Hippolytus himself surely did not compose. Rather, it appears to have been recorded verbatim. This text, known as the Naassene Sermon, will serve as the main focus of our study, and it has a great deal to teach us about our Christian origins. See the appendix for the text of the Sermon.
Over years of study, as I delved deeper into the Naassene Sermon and explored its many scriptural citations, my first intuition was confirmed. I was amazed to discover that its unknown author s wielded an encyclopedic command of scripture, a fact that is not necessarily evident from a superficial reading. I also found buried in the text a wealth of thematic connections and, by implication, a coherent body of teachings. I was no less impressed by the clarity, insight, integrity, and originality of the Naassene interpretation of the evolving Judaic tradition that had reached its culmination in the birth and life of Jesus.
I was persuaded that several scholars were right to conclude that Hippolytus had stumbled onto one or more mystical writings that were never intended for public consumption and had embedded them in his Refutation. The Naassenes claimed to have acquired their mystical teachings from James the Just, the brother of Jesus Refutation 5. Evidence that we shall examine in the chapters that follow suggests that they were not.
In the process of compiling for posterity the false beliefs of the sect he most despised, Hippolytus may have unwittingly preserved a vital link to the original Nazarene community in Jerusalem—hence to Jesus himself! This is why the Naassene Sermon is so important to us. It is ironic that his very ignorance enhances his credibility as a witness: His acerbic attempts to discredit Naassene belief are plainly refuted by the very material he compiled and recorded. In reading the Naassene Sermon, what becomes strikingly obvious about the sect is its syncretism.
Unlike the institutional Church, which sought to sever every link with antiquity, this group insisted on maintaining continuity with the past. In this respect, strangely enough, the Sermon finds strong support in archaeology, which has amply demonstrated that Christianity did not arise in a vacuum.
Gnostic Secrets of the Naassenes : The Initiatory Teachings of the Last Supper
It is an interesting bonus that ot the process of rediscovering those old links we gain a deeper appreciation of what makes Christianity unique—an appreciation the Naassenes plainly shared more than 1, years ago. I should mention, at this point, my disenchantment with the term Gnostic. I hesitate to use the word both because of its negative associations and because Th believe that the Naassenes never referred to themselves as such, except, perhaps, in a general sense.
If asked, they probably would have described themselves as disciples of Jesus. The term, however, has no suitable alternative, so I will use it throughout the following chapters with this caveat. As I continued to delve into the text of the Sermon, I discovered a stunning attempt—insofar as I know, unprecedented in the Judeo-Christian tradition—to describe firsthand, using symbolic and figurative language, an elevated spiritual experience.
I am not referring to a momentary epiphany or a flash of insight satori ; I mean the ultimate experience. In the following pages we will present this evidence and go even further by showing the precise points of correspondence between Gnostic Christianity and the spiritual traditions of India and Tibet— thus mapping out the common ground between East and West. I am aware that this is an ambitious book. It should be read in sequence, beginning to end, with a couple of exceptions: