Philo's guide to decoding the Hebrew Bible

The study of religious or heroic legends and tales. One constant rule of mythology is that whatever happens amongst the gods or other mythical beings was in one sense or another a reflection of events on earth. Recorded myths and legends, perhaps preserved in literature or folklore, have an immediate interest to archaeology in trying to unravel the nature and meaning of ancient events and traditions.

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Post by seeker » Sat Jul 26, 2008 7:30 pm

Forum Monk wrote: You are probably correct and for the moment my thoughts on the matter are a bit scattered. I know what I want to say, just not sure how to say it right now.
Consider an idea. This environment, with all these people expecting a Messiah (or Christ since a lot of them spoke Greek) start to be called Christians (or maybe even thought of themselves as Christians). Now the particular Christ they worshiped may wasn't necessarily Jesus. Mandaeans, for example, worshiped John the Baptist, a lot of them simply held to the idea that a Christ was coming.

In that environment a number of people became 'the Christ', ranging from Pythagoras (yes the one who made us all hate triangles) to Julius Caesar who rose three days after his death as a new deity in Rome. People were so desperate for saviors that a guy named Alexander of Abonutichus defrauded people by naming a sock puppet Glycon the snake God and then tried to get ladies to immaculately conceive with him (its true, look it up).

Alexander was able to pull this fraud off because people were expecting a savior to show up that would fit certain characteristics. The gross outlines of what a Christ would be were fairly well known, it was just a matter of doctrine that would determine the details.

The result is that, early on there were only vague outlines of a Christ story. Paul refers to 'Christ crucified' but doesn't mention details like the Sermon on the Mount or the changing of water into wine because crucifixion and betrayal were characteristics a Christ had to have while the Sermon on the Mount was doctrinal, to be written later, as was the changing of water to wine.

If we suppose that a Christ lived then Paul was unable to quote him, even when it served his purpose to do so, and ignored the opinions of the people who actually met him. A more likely story is that Paul's vision was of a savior, a Christ, who fit his expectation of what a Christ should be. Not a Jewish Messiah, a king who would lead the Jews to a new kingdom but a Gnostic Christ, personal savior of mankind who would redeem sins and grant an eternal spiritual life.

That is the crux of it though, when you boil it all down. The one common denominator of Gnosticism was the notion of salvation and Saviour, a Christ. All of the Gnostic sects have that notion in common though not always in the exact same way.

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Post by Minimalist » Sat Jul 26, 2008 7:41 pm

Probably the ideal place to post Richard Carrier's essay on "Kooks and Quacks of the Roman Empire."


http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ ... kooks.html
We all have read the tales told of Jesus in the Gospels, but few people really have a good idea of their context. Yet it is quite enlightening to examine them against the background of the time and place in which they were written, and my goal here is to help you do just that. There is abundant evidence that these were times replete with kooks and quacks of all varieties, from sincere lunatics to ingenious frauds, even innocent men mistaken for divine, and there was no end to the fools and loons who would follow and praise them. Placed in this context, the gospels no longer seem to be so remarkable, and this leads us to an important fact: when the Gospels were written, skeptics and informed or critical minds were a small minority. Although the gullible, the credulous, and those ready to believe or exaggerate stories of the supernatural are still abundant today, they were much more common in antiquity, and taken far more seriously.
Something is wrong here. War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption, and the Ice Capades. Something is definitely wrong. This is not good work. If this is the best God can do, I am not impressed.

-- George Carlin

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Post by Forum Monk » Sat Jul 26, 2008 9:04 pm

seeker wrote:If we suppose that a Christ lived then Paul was unable to quote him, even when it served his purpose to do so, and ignored the opinions of the people who actually met him. A more likely story is that Paul's vision was of a savior, a Christ, who fit his expectation of what a Christ should be. Not a Jewish Messiah, a king who would lead the Jews to a new kingdom but a Gnostic Christ, personal savior of mankind who would redeem sins and grant an eternal spiritual life.
A couple of points. It is quite clear to me at least, that christians are more than a little over enthusiatic when they try to visualize the impact of Jesus in his world when he was living. For example, they visualize a big uproar during the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an entire city reacting to the event, when in reality it was more than likely largely unnoticed or considered another in a series of minor disturbances which barely roused the attention of those living on the nearby streets. There is no reason to believe that Paul had any contact with Jesus or his followers prior to the trial of Stephen. There is a good possibility Paul resided in Taursis and only occasionaly came to Jerusalem during ceremonial times. Prior to his conversion, Paul's vision of a messiah would have been the classic Pharisaic vision: a king, a deliverer, the lion of Judah. All of that changed later on the Damascus road and in the years prior to commencing his public ministry.

Another key point. Paul's ultimate realization of Christ as savior, redeeming sins, the cross, shedding blood for forgiveness and as the lamb of God, is identical to the reality that the disciples who witnessed the events of his life taught. So Paul did not in the end preach a different Christ than say the Christ whom Peter preached.
That is the crux of it though, when you boil it all down. The one common denominator of Gnosticism was the notion of salvation and Saviour, a Christ. All of the Gnostic sects have that notion in common though not always in the exact same way.
No doubt you are correct: 1. salvation 2. Saviour 3. christ. three common elements in the POV of gnostics and chritians alike. BUT - the key is the relationship between the three, the rationale and purpose of each, how they functioned, and most importantly - to whose ultimate glory.

Many religions points of view had those basic elements as has been happily pointed out by Ishtar and others over the last year. The difference is in the details. Indeed, the whole difference is in the details and some would say the difference between truth and error and life and death is in the details.

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Post by Forum Monk » Sat Jul 26, 2008 9:13 pm

A few stupid questions for Ishtar or whomever feels inclined to help me out.

The gnostics believed that salvation was obtained through a secret knowledge. So, how was the secret transferred to the adherent (or initiate if you prefer) and how did the knowledge bring about his salvation? What did the adherent need to do to acquire the desired result?

:?

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Post by Forum Monk » Sat Jul 26, 2008 10:21 pm

Another dumb question, especially in light of seeker's recent posts pointing out the differences between modern concepts of religion and 1st century concepts.

Considering the books of Nag Hammadi texts date at earliest 2nd century and may reflect only the views of a coptic sect in egypt, how does one know that the gnosicism Paul may of encountered in Asia Minor is the same as we think it was today and so how can we be certain he was not attacking it?

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Post by Minimalist » Sat Jul 26, 2008 11:19 pm

It is quite clear to me at least, that christians are more than a little over enthusiatic when they try to visualize the impact of Jesus in his world when he was living. For example, they visualize a big uproar during the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an entire city reacting to the event, when in reality it was more than likely largely unnoticed or considered another in a series of minor disturbances which barely roused the attention of those living on the nearby streets.

If there was no imminent danger why was the sanheddrin so terrified that they had to break every law they were supposed to uphold to hold on trial on Passover?

Without multitudes proclaiming Jesus as the "Messiah" why the rush to kill him? Tampering with the story as told leads to other problems.

It really isn't that hard to envision a system in which scattered groups...call them christians or gnostics... separated from each other except for an occasional letter developed their own traditions. We don't really know when they were first written down for certain. That each group's traditions and understanding took on a different slant makes perfect sense to me and some may have shared their ideas with nearby groups. But I think your point is well taken, Monk. We lack the ability to compare gnostic or the eventual 4 orthodox texts from the same time period so we really can't be sure what they said. We are lucky to have what we have. Ehrman makes the point that these were copied and re-copied and re-copied by, in most cases, non-professional scribes or literate laymen and the inadvertent errors introduced into the text would be replicated in subsequent copyings so that in short order the text would deviate wildly from the original.

As it happens we have the statement of Pliny the Younger as to the beliefs of the christians or gnostics that he questioned as Governor of Bythinia in Asia Minor. "Paul" if he existed, or even if he were a composite figure, would have been in Asia Minor some 50 years prior to Pliny but note what Pliny says and Pliny is not preaching. He is merely giving a factual report of his inquiries to the Emperor.

http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/jod/texts/pliny.html
They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food--but ordinary and innocent food.
Note that Pliny is concerned about "political associations" not religious matters and after giving them the opportunity to swear allegiance to Roman gods (including Trajan) they were released. Interesting that at this time period ( c 112 AD) the "christians" were singing a hymn to Christ "as to a god"... not "as a god."
Something is wrong here. War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption, and the Ice Capades. Something is definitely wrong. This is not good work. If this is the best God can do, I am not impressed.

-- George Carlin

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Post by Ishtar » Sun Jul 27, 2008 1:20 am

Monk and Min

When John Baptist preached that he had come to baptise with water but that another greater than him would baptise with fire, what did he mean?

Matthew 3:11
But he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:


This is the only surviving reference to the double initiation (psychic and pneumatic: water and fire/light) that has been allowed to survive in the canon, since Iranaeus threw out the Gospel of Thomas and replaced it with John.

"Jesus said, 'It is to those who are worthy of my Mysteries that I tell my Mysteries.'" ~ The Gospel of Thomas

The Gospel of Thomas was uncovered at Nag Hammadi, but other fragments had been found before that at Oxyrhynchus. Some scholars date it to 50 AD because it's similar to Mark which is also dated to that time. But the dating of Mark is in itself tenuous. Some argue for a later date because Thomas's Jesus talks of a mystery, a secret initiation and is full of Gnostic characters like the demiurge, archons and aeons and so on... but there's is a circular argument based on the false premise that the Gnostics were after the fact.

An interesting historical side note is that Iranaeus' men forgot to tell India that Thomas was no longer kosher. So for many centuries after that, the Indian canon consisted of Matthew, Mark, Luke and Thomas.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Thomas
The earliest surviving written references to the Gospel of Thomas are found in the writings of Hippolytus (c. 222-235) and Origen (c. 233).[7] Hippolytus wrote in his Refutation of All Heresies 5.7.20:

"[The Naassenes] speak...of a nature which is both hidden and revealed at the same time and which they call the thought-for kingdom of heaven which is in a human being. They transmit a tradition concerning this in the Gospel entitled "According to Thomas," which states expressly, "The one who seeks me will find me in children of seven years and older, for there, hidden in the fourteenth aeon, I am revealed." ....
Elaine Pagels, Professor of Religion at Princeton believes that another argument for the early date is that there seems to be conflict between the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas.
Certain passages in the Gospel of John can only be understood in light of a community based on the theological teachings of the Gospel of Thomas. John is the only one of the Canonical Gospels that gives Thomas a speaking part - indicating respect for the Thomas community. This is because the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas are theologically similar in almost every respect except one. In the story of Doubting Thomas, the Johannine Community is theologically rebutting the Thomas community. The Johannine Community believes in a bodily resurrection; Thomas community believes in a spiritual resurrection — and completely rejects a bodily resurrection. So the Gospel of John has Thomas physically touch the risen Jesus and acknowledges his bodily nature.
Justin Martyr (c 100 CE) had no knowledge of the four gospels or of Acts (much less of Paul). So I would put it to you that Iraneus's act eighty years later of putting together the four gospels and leaving out Thomas was the first act of a Literalist Christianity that only practises the first, the water baptism, the psychic initiation.

And it wasn't long before they all had forgotten that there ever was a second initiation.
Last edited by Ishtar on Sun Jul 27, 2008 1:54 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Post by Ishtar » Sun Jul 27, 2008 1:39 am

Forum Monk wrote:Another dumb question, especially in light of seeker's recent posts pointing out the differences between modern concepts of religion and 1st century concepts.

Considering the books of Nag Hammadi texts date at earliest 2nd century and may reflect only the views of a coptic sect in egypt, how does one know that the gnosicism Paul may of encountered in Asia Minor is the same as we think it was today and so how can we be certain he was not attacking it?
That is not such a dumb question.

I don't know if you read my post (before last) about the Valentinians' interpretation of Paul, but that is one way. Valentinus, their leader, is dated to c 100 CE. But there are other ways:

The Gospel of Thomas, mentioned above, is one.

Another is comparing it to the Greek Mystery schools teachings, which were the seed bed of Christian Gnosticism.

Also Philo (c 20 BC) taught about the Sophia and the Logos - this ties in with the Nag Hammadi text Pistis Sophia, proving at least that this concept had a much wider audience than just the Coptics.

But because much of the Gnostics' literature was destroyed by the Literalists, we mainly know about their beliefs from the writings of the Literalists who were attacking them. Thus, in my last post, Hippolytus wrote in his Refutation of All Heresies 5.7.20:

"[The Naassenes] speak...of a nature which is both hidden and revealed at the same time and which they call the thought-for kingdom of heaven which is in a human being. They transmit a tradition concerning this in the Gospel entitled "According to Thomas," which states expressly, "The one who seeks me will find me in children of seven years and older, for there, hidden in the fourteenth aeon, I am revealed."

But personally I don't think you should get bogged down in archons and aeons and demiurges and the like. These are not literal beings but in themselves are archetypes - metaphorical characters brought together to act out Platonic stories below which lie ineffable truths that cannot be put into words.

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Post by Ishtar » Sun Jul 27, 2008 2:58 am

Here is a third century amulet featuring a crucifixion.

Image

But it is not Jesus on the cross. As the inscription shows, it is Orpheus Bacchus also known as the crucified and resurrected Osiris-Dionysus who all scholars agree was worshipped around the Mediterranean for centuries before the time of Jesus.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osiris-Dionysus

The Roman Mithras was also crucified, in stories that existed prior to the time of Jesus.

In the Mithraic rites that took place where the Vatican stands today, the priests would say:

"He who will not eat of my body and drink of my blood, so that he will be made one with me and I with him, the same shall not know salvation."

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Post by Forum Monk » Sun Jul 27, 2008 5:33 am

Ishtar wrote:Some scholars date it to 50 AD because it's similar to Mark which is also dated to that time. But the dating of Mark is in itself tenuous. Some argue for a later date because Thomas's Jesus talks of a mystery, a secret initiation and is full of Gnostic characters like the demiurge, archons and aeons and so on... but there's is a circular argument based on the false premise that the Gnostics were after the fact.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Thomas
The earliest surviving written references to the Gospel of Thomas are found in the writings of Hippolytus (c. 222-235) and Origen (c. 233).[7] Hippolytus wrote in his Refutation of All Heresies 5.7.20:

"[The Naassenes] speak...of a nature which is both hidden and revealed at the same time and which they call the thought-for kingdom of heaven which is in a human being. They transmit a tradition concerning this in the Gospel entitled "According to Thomas," which states expressly, "The one who seeks me will find me in children of seven years and older, for there, hidden in the fourteenth aeon, I am revealed." ....
Elaine Pagels, Professor of Religion at Princeton believes that another argument for the early date is that there seems to be conflict between the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas.
Certain passages in the Gospel of John can only be understood in light of a community based on the theological teachings of the Gospel of Thomas. John is the only one of the Canonical Gospels that gives Thomas a speaking part - indicating respect for the Thomas community. This is because the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas are theologically similar in almost every respect except one. In the story of Doubting Thomas, the Johannine Community is theologically rebutting the Thomas community. The Johannine Community believes in a bodily resurrection; Thomas community believes in a spiritual resurrection — and completely rejects a bodily resurrection. So the Gospel of John has Thomas physically touch the risen Jesus and acknowledges his bodily nature.
Justin Martyr (c 100 CE) had no knowledge of the four gospels or of Acts (much less of Paul).
It is important to note tha Justin Martyr also had no knowledge of the Gospel of Thomas. According to the Wiki article you cite above:
Nevertheless, scholars generally fall into one of two main camps: an early camp favoring a date for the "core" of between the years 50 and 100, approximately before or contemporary with the composition of the canonical gospels and a late camp favoring a date in the 2nd century, after composition of the canonical gospels .[14]
The scholarship is saying that parts of the book may have existed in the 50-100 timeframe but it was added to over the years and eventually evolved into the tome we have today. I think it best to maintain conservative dating, Ish, as I have tried to do. It was the later additions which likely disqualified the book's "worthiness" for inclusion in the canon.

EarlyChristianWritings.com is not nearly so generous with the dating.
The Gospel of Thomas is extant in three Greek fragments and one Coptic manuscript. The Greek fragments are P. Oxy. 654, which corresponds to the prologue and sayings 1-7 of the Gospel of Thomas; P. Oxy. 1, which correponds to the Gospel of Thomas 26-30, 77.2, 31-33; and P. Oxy. 655, which corresponds to the Gospel of Thomas 24 and 36-39. P. Oxy 1 is dated shortly after 200 CE for paleographical reasons, and the other two Greek fragments are estimated to have been written in the mid third century. The Coptic text was written shortly before the year 350 CE.

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Post by Ishtar » Sun Jul 27, 2008 6:24 am

Monk, I don't think we agreed to take the dating of the Early Christian Writings website for our benchmark.

Early Christian Writings is a good source of authentic texts ... because you can't argue with those. They are what they say they are. The dating is another matter. I wouldn't even accept dating from sacred-texts com. It's not what they're expert at. They're expert at presenting the texts.

The owner says:

http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/intro.html
My judgments concerning the authenticity and dating of the documents concerned are made in the best tradition of biblical scholarship.
I consider 'best tradition of biblical scholarship' a contradiction in terms and so I certainly won't be accepting any conservative dating from them. But if "the scholarship" are saying that "it has been added to over the years", I think you should tell us how they know that, and upon what they are basing that belief? Do they have the originals to compare the NH or Oxyrhyncus ones to? I think not.

The only later argument I have heard is circular, as I pointed out before: scholars saying it must have been added to later because it's Gnostic, and the real Jesus predates Gnostic Christianity. However, as we now know that is almost certainly not the case, I'd be interested to hear why they think it has been added to.

Mani propagated the Gospel of Thomas - that gives at least the early 200s. That's 150 years earlier than your conservative date.

And the fact is, none of the gospels can be attested earlier than Iranaeus (c 180 AD), while the Gnostic Society Library reports that the Oxy papyruses of Thomas "date to between 130 and 250 CE."

On Wiki, all three of the Oxys of Thomas date to 200 CE, and not later as your bibilical scholars are pushing for. You can check it here.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P.Oxy.

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Post by seeker » Sun Jul 27, 2008 7:54 am

Forum Monk wrote: A couple of points. It is quite clear to me at least, that christians are more than a little over enthusiatic when they try to visualize the impact of Jesus in his world when he was living. For example, they visualize a big uproar during the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an entire city reacting to the event, when in reality it was more than likely largely unnoticed or considered another in a series of minor disturbances which barely roused the attention of those living on the nearby streets. There is no reason to believe that Paul had any contact with Jesus or his followers prior to the trial of Stephen. There is a good possibility Paul resided in Taursis and only occasionaly came to Jerusalem during ceremonial times. Prior to his conversion, Paul's vision of a messiah would have been the classic Pharisaic vision: a king, a deliverer, the lion of Judah. All of that changed later on the Damascus road and in the years prior to commencing his public ministry.
Let's run with that supposition for a moment. Jesus toils in relative obscurity and only afterwards, after a guy who never knew him has a vision that compels him to spread the word about him. In the meantime the guys who actually knew Jesus are unable to stir up all that much interest in a guy who worked miracles in front of witnesses and die in obscurity.

We have choices to make about this story. If Jesus worked all these miracles then how is it he got so little recognition? If he didn't really do the miracles then they must have been attributed to him afterwards, a situation which begs the question of what else was just attribution. Either way the story begins to fall into the pattern of the stories around other savior entities of the time.
Forum Monk wrote:Another key point. Paul's ultimate realization of Christ as savior, redeeming sins, the cross, shedding blood for forgiveness and as the lamb of God, is identical to the reality that the disciples who witnessed the events of his life taught. So Paul did not in the end preach a different Christ than say the Christ whom Peter preached.
Well, we don't really know what it was that Peter may have preached do we? We do know that Paul's doctrine, as you have stated it, is completely consistent with a Gnostic view of the Saviour while the later mainstream view rejected Gnosticism.
Forum Monk wrote:No doubt you are correct: 1. salvation 2. Saviour 3. christ. three common elements in the POV of gnostics and chritians alike. BUT - the key is the relationship between the three, the rationale and purpose of each, how they functioned, and most importantly - to whose ultimate glory.

Many religions points of view had those basic elements as has been happily pointed out by Ishtar and others over the last year. The difference is in the details. Indeed, the whole difference is in the details and some would say the difference between truth and error and life and death is in the details.
The question though is when those details were worked out. The point of Ishtar's original post is that the Gnostic view of the notion of a savior led to an evolution from a 'christ' to the Christ, from the Gnostic view to the modern Christian view. The evidence that Gnostic ideas preceded Christian origins and led to an evolution of Christ like characters until a sort of ultimate ideal of that character was achieved seems to exist.

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Post by seeker » Sun Jul 27, 2008 8:09 am

Forum Monk wrote:A few stupid questions for Ishtar or whomever feels inclined to help me out.

The gnostics believed that salvation was obtained through a secret knowledge. So, how was the secret transferred to the adherent (or initiate if you prefer) and how did the knowledge bring about his salvation? What did the adherent need to do to acquire the desired result?

:?
First of all that is far from a dumb or stupid question. A lot of people have great difficulty discussing topics that touch on beliefs they hold closely. You should be commended for considering this discussion as openly as you appear to do.

I think Ishtar pointed out a reference in the bible to Jesus purposeful use of parables. There is actually a decent book that discusses in good detail the transmission of mysteries. It is The Jesus Mysteries: Was the "original Jesus" a Pagan God? By Timothy Freke, Peter Gandy. The basic idea was that a person gained secret knowledge by going through rites designed to create the feeling that the initiate was experiencing various aspects of the Saviour's life. Essentially the initiate becomes the Saviour by experiencing those events and purifying his own soul.

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Post by rich » Sun Jul 27, 2008 8:14 am

Seeker wrote:
The evidence that Gnostic ideas preceded Christian origins and led to an evolution of Christ like characters until a sort of ultimate ideal of that character was achieved seems to exist.
I agree - the OT is rife with gnostic ideas right from Genesis 1 all the way thru. Of course the problem with that is the oldest known versions of the OT are how old? The Dead Sea scrolls are the oldest aside from the Codex Sinaiticus. And I don't think they predate the 1st century. Or are there older?

And also - in one section in the NT I think I remember someone writing "until the Christ was made perfect" which also fits. But it could still be a different sect than gnostics that picked up on this and started it. I still feel it was the result of at least 2 differing sets of beliefs even at the start.
i'm not lookin' for who or what made the earth - just who got me dizzy by makin it spin

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Post by seeker » Sun Jul 27, 2008 8:37 am

Forum Monk wrote:Another dumb question, especially in light of seeker's recent posts pointing out the differences between modern concepts of religion and 1st century concepts.

Considering the books of Nag Hammadi texts date at earliest 2nd century and may reflect only the views of a coptic sect in egypt, how does one know that the gnosicism Paul may of encountered in Asia Minor is the same as we think it was today and so how can we be certain he was not attacking it?
Ish already beat me to this one but here's a thing to consider that she may have not mentioned. The fact is that most of our knowledge of mystery religions comes from the writings of early Christian leaders in opposition to them. Justin Martyr rather famously wrote,
“When we say that God created and arranged all things in this world, we seem to repeat the teaching of Plato; when we announce a final conflagration, we utter the doctrine of the Stoics; and when we assert that the souls of the wicked ... after death, will be ... punished, and that the souls of the good ... will live happily, we believe the same things as your poets and philosophers ... When ... we assert that the Word, our ... Jesus Christ, who is the first-begotten of God the Father, was not born as the result of sexual relations {between a mortal man and a mortal woman}, and that He was crucified, died, arose from the dead, and ascended into Heaven, we propose nothing new or different from that which you say about the so-called sons of Jupiter {sons of Zeus}.”
Later apologists like Clement, Origen etc referred to 'the holy mysteries' and considered their members 'initiates' clearly using the language of Gnosticism as a lure to new membership. All of this suggest an intellectual millieu that understood and revered Gnostic concepts to some degree.

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