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Gnosticism Interview/Debate with Freke, Goodacre, Green


BBC Radio 4 programme: Beyond Belief, 07 Mar episode: Gnosticism


The following transcription is by Michael Hoffman (Egodeath.com), March 12, 2005, for my own personal, non-commercial use.


Michael Green -- http://www.wycliffe.ox.ac.uk/info/embg.html

Timothy Freke -- http://www.jesusmysteries.demon.co.uk/home.html

Mark Goodacre -- http://www.theology.bham.ac.uk/goodacre/publics.htm


The Da Vinci Code

Dan Brown


March 2003


Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (Vintage)

Elaine Pagels


May 2004


The Gnostic Gospels

Elaine Pagels





This is BBC Radio 4.  It's time for Beyond Belief with Ernie Rea. 


Ernie Rea: Hello.  In my local bookshop there's now an entire row devoted to spin-offs from the Da Vinci code.  Most of them seem to take it seriously.  And the front window's full of Dan Brown's books.  I have read the Da Vinci code.  It's got a terrific opening: a murder in the Louvre, graphically described.  And from there, it spans about 700 fairly tedious pages, travelling back in time to unearth a secret about the origins of Christianity, which has supposedly been concealed for centuries by the Catholic Church.  And on the last pages, that secret is revealed, in one of the most banal and incredible endings I've read in any novel, for a long long time.  So what's its appeal?  The bizarre secret it purports to uncover is to do with Gnosticism, and it's Gnosticism that we're going to discuss this afternoon.  Joining me are Dr. Mark Goodacre, Senior Lecturer in New Testament Studies at the University of Birmingham; Tim Freke, author of a number of books on Gnosticism including The Jesus Mysteries and Jesus and the Goddess; and Canon Dr. Michael Green, Senior Research Fellow at Wycliff Hall in the University of Oxford.  We'd better start at the beginning, and Timothy, I'd like to tell me what you believe about the earliest Christian communities.


Tim Freke: Well I think the earliest Christians were Gnostics.  It's a radically different approach to the traditional history we've been told in Sunday school, but actually what we have is Christianity emerging from Gnosticism, that Gnosticism -- which is a search for enlightenment, gnosis, awakening -- is a movement which exists throughout the ancient world.  And at the center of these Gnostic groups is a myth.  This myth was about a dying and resurrecting godman, who is born of a virgin, changes water into wine at a wedding, all of the stories that we associate with the story of Jesus, in fact.  Here is a group of very early Christians, who believe that Jesus is mythical.  Their great heresy is they say, Jesus never came in the flesh.


Ernie Rea: Well I want to come to those people in a moment, but Michael, Jesus was one myth among many, expressing similar themes.


Michael Green: Well, first of all, what Tim has done I think is to resurrect a theory of a very odd scholar, a chap called Professor Wells, of London University, who argued that Jesus never lived.  But if you're going to believe that, you've got to cope with Roman sources like Tacitus, and Pliny, who are very firm on the historicity of Jesus. You then have to cope with two major references in Josephus, and then of course you come to the Christian material itself, like 1 Corinthians 15, where the apostle Paul writing in the mid-50s said that he passed on to them what was traditional when he himself became a Christian in the early 30s.  That's taking you back to within 3 or 4 years of the resurrection itself.  I agree with Tim that there was a lot about dying and rising gods, but the radical difference of Christianity is this: that mythology was never associated with a known person that people had walked around the streets with, and had seen risen from the dead.


Ernie Rea: Mark, I suspect that you would affirm very definitely the existence of Jesus.  Would you also affirm the existence of Gnostics among the early disciples of Jesus?


Mark Goodacre: I don't think amongst the early disciples in the sense that any of the twelve themselves were kind of proto-Gnostics or anything like that.  What I think what I would be keen to affirm is that you have something that is *similar* to gnosis, Gnosticism, whatever you want to call it, already in the pages of the New Testament. 


Ernie Rea: Where?


Mark Goodacre: Well Michael referred to 1 Corinthians 15.  If you turn a few pages back in 1 Corinthians, you can find Paul actually polemicizing against a group who seemed to think the word 'knowledge', the word 'gnosis', is important.  We want to get away from this idea that the 1st Century was this wonderful, pure, orthodox Christianity which later got corrupted.  I think that kind of picture isn't one that anyone serious holds any more.


Ernie Rea: So would we agree, all of us agree, that the picture of 1st Century Christianity is much more diverse than for instance is suggested in the Book of Acts, where we're told that the disciples held all things in common, including a central basic set of beliefs.


Tim Freke: Absolutely.  We need to question all of these presuppositions.  I would have to disagree with just about everything that Michael said.




Michael Green: Good for you, Tim!


Tim Freke: I mean OK, it is the status quo, we've had it for an awful long time.  What amazed me was that Michael actually reiterated, as he must, exactly the arguments of what we would call Literalist Christians, Christians who believe in a literal figure of Jesus, at the time.  And there's no one denying the similarities between the Jesus story and the pagan stories.  There's just two explanations.  One is, look, the Gnostic explanation, which is fundamentally that Jesus is the same figure and they call him by the names of the pagan dying and resurrecting godman, and then there's the Literalist explanation, which is the one Michael's given, which is, "No no the difference is, somebody came and actually *lived out* this myth."  Now that's the fundamental difference between the Literalist Christians who've become the Holy Roman Empire and give us all the forms we have of modern Christianity, and the Gnostics.


Mark Goodacre: I think you have to be careful of this idea that people that thought that Jesus was a real historical figure are some kind of literalists.  I mean, you can have atheist Biblical scholars that would defend very strongly the historicity of Jesus. You know, and that's the majority view, it's basic.


Tim Freke: Of course you're right, but I mean, in the ancient world, I'm saying that if you want to understand the major schism which is going on, and of course it's a caricature because it's always far more complicated than when you get close up, but the fundamental division is between those who are saying, as Michael's just said, "No no no, somebody came and *lived out*, he *really did* die and resurrect," and those that are going, "No no, this is an allegorical myth; *you* must *mystically* die and resurrect."


Ernie Rea: Now the reason that we know that there were Gnostic Christians is a discovery that was made in 1945 of very precious texts, a place called Nag Hammadi in Egypt.  I want, Mark, you to tell me the story of that discovery.


Mark Goodacre: It's a lovely story actually.  Amazingly enough, they were discovered by someone called Mohammed Ali, and he was actually looking for fertilizer.  He was in a bit of a bad mood as far as we can tell, because his father had recently been murdered; he was actually out to avenge his father's death.  But when he was digging around looking for fertilizer, his spade hit something hard, it turned out that the thing it had hit was a pot, and that the pot contained a whole bunch of codices, ancient books.  12 of them, plus a bit of a 13th tucked into another one.  And he was terribly disappointed; he was hoping he would found some treasure or something.  And you get some idea of just how disappointed he was, in that when he got them home, his mother apparently put some sheets of one of them on the fire to keep them warm, cause it was a little bit of paper, you know might as well at least keep themselves warm with these texts.  The great thing is, they turned out to be primary sources; for the first time we actually got some really good, extensive documentation of all sorts of different early, what we would call 'Gnostic' or 'heretical' Christians actually believed.


Ernie Rea: And how did they differ from the canonical gospels?  For instance, one of them was called the Gospel of Thomas.  What was the difference between that and the Gospel of Mark, and Matthew, Luke, and John?


Mark Goodacre: Well with the Gospel of Thomas, the first thing that you notice, well first of all it claims to be written by Jesus' twin brother, so that for starters is quite interesting.   But then when you read the text, there's no narrative at all, and in particular, there's no narrative of death or resurrection.  In fact, you could actually get all the sayings in the Gospel of Thomas, jumble them all up, re-stack them together, and you'll find that it's very difficult to tell any difference; it's really hard to work out any kind of consistent thread going through it.


Tim Freke: I think the Gospel of Thomas, it's a beautiful book, my favorite bit in it is where these words of wisdom are put into the mouth of Jesus, of "I'll show you what no eye can see, what no ear can hear, what cannot be touched, and what cannot be conceived by the mind."


Michael Green: That happens to come in the New Testament. <laughs>


Tim Freke: It does too, of course, because for me, Michael, the New Testament is a Gnostic work.  It's been misunderstood, it's been distorted, but I'm saying look, that is a Gnostic myth.


Michael Green: Well you ought to read 1 John, then!


Tim Freke: Certainly, by the end of it, we get a whole load of stuff which is deliberately against the Gnostics, because we've got this massive schism, but fundamentally, the message which you have there is it.  Now what is it you can't see, you can't touch, you can't... It's awareness, it's what is being aware at this moment.


Michael Green: Tim, you've already given your view of Gnosticism; may I just summarize one or two contrasts between that and New Testament Christianity?  Gnosticism rejected the body and saw it as a prison for the soul; Christianity sees that the body can be the temple for God's Holy Spirit.  Gnosticism rejected the Old Testament and portrayed the god of  the Jews as an evil spirit; Christianity saw the Old Testament as the mother of the Christian faith, and that's why Gnostics really were nonstarters in the early Church, because they rejected the scriptures that the Church had.


Mark Goodacre: I think one thing that we have to be careful of there is that most of these Gnostic texts are drawing on Christian imagery, and quite often putting a new spin on them, so you do get all these terms like 'redemption', 'revelation', 'truth', 'knowledge', all of which essentially are derived right from the earliest time, and this is why, when you read the New Testament, you find that quite often people are taking for example Paul's teachings and doing things with them that he doesn't like, you know I mean, he's actually talked about 'knowledge' meaning you know, "I'm going to teach you all about Jesus and you know, how he came and died and rose again" and all the rest of it, but then his opponents have taken the word 'knowledge', twisted it and done strange things with it.  And that's why I think, it's always murky when you're looking at Gnosticism, because what's happening is you've got interaction moving between what we would call 'orthodox' or early orthodox Christians and what became Gnostic.


Ernie Rea: Michael can I ask you this, do you think that Christianity would have been substantially different if one of these Gnostic gospels, let's say the gospel of Thomas, had been included in the canonical bible?


Michael Green: If would have been very different, and I'll tell you why.  One of the essential things in the Gospel of Thomas is that "what lives within us will save us."  There's a saying that says "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you."  Now that is very very different from seeing Jesus Christ as the savior.  So there'd be a massive contradiction if this was included in the 4 gospels.  But it isn't a *gospel*; it's a collection of disparate sayings.  And there's quite a lot of those cruising around the ancient world, that were not drawn into the 4 gospels; the 4 gospels, nobody sat down and chose them, they chose themselves as being ones that came from apostolic roots, that were widely recognized, and that nourish people's souls.


Tim Freke: How do gospels choose themselves, Michael?


Michael Green: They chose themselves because they were never doubted by any serious people.


Tim Freke: Well you're defining 'serious' as people who agree with you, is that right?


Michael Green: No, I'm thinking of the 2nd and 3rd Centuries. 


Tim Freke: Just like George Wells was "strange" because he didn't agree with you.


Michael Green: He's not a New Testament scholar at all.


Tim Freke: What I hear and it's interesting cause it reminds me, what reminds me so much of the same things that were going on in the ancient world.  We're having the same debate now, and the same use of language, you know; what I see is this huge attack of Gnostics, they're, you know "heretics", or they're "strange", like you're saying about George Wells, or -- it's the same language, the same explanations, and tragically, what we've inherited is the outer mysteries, without the inner mysteries; the outer mysteries which were all about somebody else doing it for you, obeying the rules, being good, rather than the inner mysteries, which go with them, in every spiritual tradition I've studied, which is about waking up to who you really are, which is finding God within you, and knowing that to be what you are.  And because we've lost that, we've had a dogmatic, authoritarian, barbaric, fascism of the soul for 2000 years, which has given us the most bloody religious history that anyone could imagine, which is still going on to this day.


Michael Green: The division between inner and outer mysteries is, I think, rubbish, and it's in startling contrast to the New Testament, that says that the great mystery which God has revealed, which probably *is* language derived from the mystery religions, but listen to the content, it's so different, it's that Christ is in you, the hope of glory, ...


Tim Freke: I agree.


Michael Green: ... and that's available for every man, says Paul, ...


Tim Freke: Yes!


Michael Green: ... that's why he proclaims all over the place, ...


Ernie Rea: Well, let me remind you that we're listening to Beyond Belief, and today we're discussing Gnosticism, and with me are Michael Green, Tim Freke, and Mark Goodacre.  In her books, Professor Elaine Pagels covers much of the same territory as Dan Brown in the Da Vinci Codes.  The main difference is that her books are grounded on solid academic research.  And -- oh yes -- she writes well, too.  Her first book was The Gnostic Gospels, published in 1979.  Her most recent book, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, spent more than three months on the New York Times bestsellers list.  But her religious upbringing was much more conventional than her books might suggest.


Elaine Pagels: I was brought up in a Protestant family, but not a particularly religious one, so when I was an adolescent, I fell in love with an evangelical Christian church, because it had enormous intensity and commitment and passion.  I was in that church for about a year, when one of my close friends was killed in an automobile accident, and the people in the evangelical group said, "Well was he born again?"  And actually he was Jewish, and he was not part of this Christian community, and I would say "No", and they would say "Well, then he's in hell."  So at that point, I realized that my own sense of what was spiritual truth did not accord with what I was hearing in that church, and I decided I'd have to try to find out what about it was so powerful and so important.


Ernie Rea: How did that resonate with what you discovered in the Gospel of Thomas, for instance?


Elaine Pagels: Well first of all, it took me to look at the beginnings of Christianity and the New Testament.  I was quite taken aback by the recognition that there were other gospels, and in some of the texts we then called 'Gnostic', the Gospel of Thomas, there are sayings of Jesus that also have a very powerful and resonant appeal.  For example, the saying about "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.  If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you."


Ernie Rea: Now, in the late 1980s, you experienced great tragedy, or two tragedies, in your life.


Elaine Pagels: I did.  My late husband and I had a son, who died of a very rare lung disease when he was 6, and about a year after that, my wonderful husband was killed in a hiking accident in the mountains.  He was always a hiker and a climber.  He was a physicist and those scientists love the mountains, and that's what happened.


Ernie Rea: Tell me about what sort of impact that had upon you.


Elaine Pagels: Well it was of course utter devastation, and it did bring up the central theme of the work very powerfully, the question of "What is it I still love about Christian tradition, and what is it that I don't love?"  What I couldn't love about it was the claim that it was the only true religion.  That's obviously not part of the original gospel of Jesus, 'cause Jesus never is even said to have said those things.


Ernie Rea: "I am the way the truth and the life, no man cometh to the Father but by me"?


Elaine Pagels: That of course is in the Gospel of John, and there is not a New Testament scholar I know who would say that that sounds like the original teaching of Jesus.  It's probably an interpretation of Jesus that comes in the second generation.


Ernie Rea: Do you think there's something lacking in orthodoxy that is to be found in the Gospel of Thomas?


Elaine Pagels: It's not that the Gospel of Thomas is simply an alternate to, say Mark.  But rather, if one takes them together, I think yes, one finds a fuller sense of early Christian tradition.


Ernie Rea: That was Elaine Pagels, and I'd like to know, Michael Green, what you made of that.  What she liked about Gnosticism was its inclusivity.


Michael Green: I have to disagree, because it wasn't at all inclusive.  The different Gnostic groups hated each other almost as much as they hated the orthodox Church.  They said things like, "Blessed are the solitary and the chosen, for you will find the kingdom."  They called themselves one of a thousand, or two of ten thousand.  They were the isolated elite intellectuals, and real Christianity had its arms open to all believers.


Ernie Rea: That phrase that one of you quoted before, "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you."  It's got a sort of New Age ring to it.


Tim Freke: Carl Jung called the Gnostics, he related to them very strongly, he saw them as proto-psychologists, and I think they do speak very strongly to the modern age, which is why there's so much interest in them now.  I think people are sick to death with dogma.  They've been sick to death with being told to believe things with no evidence; they're looking for something which they can experience themselves, and that really is the rebirth of the Gnostic spirit.  Now within that of course, there's all sorts of mad things going on, but that's it's happening, that the Da Vinci Code is happening -- I personally don't agree with what it says, but *that* it's happening, is really important because it shows this looking for something more, and looking for something which we know to be real *for ourselves*, not because we're *told* it.


Mark Goodacre: Sure, but one of the problems I think with lots of the Nag Hammadi texts, and the Gospel of Thomas is like this, is it's difficult to work out what on Earth they're *talking* about lots of the time.  My first impression, I can remember it well when I first read Thomas, I thought "Is this character on drugs?"  Yeah, you're just looking at this, one after another after another sayings.  I mean, as an historian, as an intellectual, I *love* these texts, because you know, you keep coming back and you never really solve the mystery.


Tim Freke: What is so difficult I think in opening up other possibilities to the traditional mindset, is that we have been entrenched in an understanding which doesn't work, and we need to go back and be willing to question each and every assumption that we are making about what Christianity is about.


Michael Green: I'm very happy to do that, but I think you'll have to agree with me that we have manuscripts of the entire New Testament by about a hundred and fifty A.D., that we have in fact a fragment of St. John's gospel, before a hundred and twenty A.D., and we have the thing called the Edgerton papyrus, which is again about that time.


Tim Freke: Michael, Michael, look, what you're saying is from a very narrow presupposition.  If you look at it in the wider context, not just of studying Christianity as if it existed in isolation, but as an integral part of the ancient world, it all looks very very different, doesn't it?


Mark Goodacre: I think one of the things that's disappointing about studying Gnosticism if we *solely* look at it as "Is it early, is it this, is it that?" is that you don't ask lots of the very interesting questions that Elaine Pagels for example is asking, about what they can tell us about the development of Christianity, what they can tell us about development of religious movements in the ancient world, and I think sometimes we do get bogged down in "Did Jesus really say this?", "Is this document first-century?", and so on, and I kind of, yeah, I mean, that's one level of question, but the documents have got much more to tell us about the way that Christianity developed and how it battled these things out; I mean, I think one of the things I rather like about studying this is that it reminds us that there isn't one glorious golden age once upon a time, but that there were real-life battles that people were prepared to go to the stake for, or at least if not the stake, the lions; I mean lots of people really felt these things terribly strongly and were willing to die for them, so you know there's a fascinating sort of web of interweaving questions to speak of.


Ernie Rea: It cannot be denied that there was a conflict between these two worldviews -- the Gnostic worldview and what eventually became the orthodox Christian worldview, that resulted in a victory for the orthodox at the time that Constantine became Roman Emperor.


Michael Green: But long before that, you've got Justin, you've got Tertullian, you've got Irenaeus...


Tim Freke: But these are fighting, ...


Michael Green: Oh they *are* fighting!


Tim Freke: I mean, isn't it interesting that they're writing volumes and volumes attacking these heretics, ...


Ernie Rea: It's a real fight...


Tim Freke: ... you know, because there's clearly very, they really feel threatened by these people, because, you know, they're losing their people; I suggest they're a very small group in Rome at this time with hardly any support whatsoever.  The irony from a Gnostic perspective or for someone who's interested in gnosis is that the historicity or otherwise of Jesus is kind of a side issue, it's not really that important; it's only important to people who think that believing there was one will save your soul; what *matters*...


Ernie Rea: Well it may be a side issue, but just let's clarify: you *don't actually believe* that Jesus existed?


Tim Freke: No, any more than Osiris or Dionysus or Serapis, or any of these figures.  But it really is a side issue.  What's of more interest, personally speaking, is, what *understanding* can it give us as opposed to the traditional Christian understanding?  And is it something which can give us a deeper understanding of this great mystery of life, or not.  *That's* the really interesting question.


Michael Green: The difference is absolutely fundamental, it seems to me, between these two positions.  Gnosticism says that self-knowledge can save us.  It's a sort of narcissism, it's an idolatry.  And that's what you find in Thomas; we've talked about this text: "If you bring forth that which you have in you, that will save you."


Tim Freke: Michael, can I just disagree with you just there for a second, 'cause I think that's really interesting, ...


Michael Green: Please, yes?


Tim Freke: ... 'cause I would say the complete opposite is the truth: that believing that somebody, else -- a man in history -- can save you, is a kind of idolatry.  Self-knowledge, for the Gnostics, is the discovery that we are all God.  It is the complete opposite of idolatry; it's the overcoming of the idea that we're separate from each other altogether, and disengaging with that belief, and discovering a much deeper part of ourselves where we're all one.  Surely, that can't be idolatry.


Michael Green: Surely, isn't it true to say that the supreme idolatry is to say that we are gods?


Tim Freke: If Tim said he was God, that would certainly be true, or if Michael indeed said it -- I don't think you're likely to -- but the whole essence of the gnosis is not that *Tim* is God, but that there is *only* God, and that Tim is an appearance, as is Mark, as is the rest of us.


Ernie Rea: But let's turn to the 21st Century, to get back to the Da Vinci Code.  I do want to ask why it's so successful and what there is in the contemporary psyche which resonates with the message.  Is it about finding God within?  Is it because we're so disillusioned with institutions and orthodoxy?  What is going on that makes this book such an amazing success?


Mark Goodacre: It's based on a large part of it is that we are living in a kind of secular world, at least in contemporary Britain, but the secular project, if you want to call it that, has failed.  I mean as a Christian myself, I would say that people do have a deep yearning inside for God; I think it's been put there by God.  And therefore, when we're faced just by more and more and more materialism, people go looking for stuff.  Now, what I tend to find disappointing as a Christian is that people go looking in all this nonsense, like the Da Vinci code, rather than going to Church where they might actually find the answers they were looking for, so I mean I would say it's a failure of the secular materialistic project, if you want to call it that, in the contemporary Britain.


Tim Freke: I think you're right, and I think that the reason people aren't going to church is that they've been there, we've done that, it hasn't worked, it hasn't given us what we want, and people are looking somewhere else.  If we can find that thread, not go back to Gnosticism in the ancient sense because a lot of it's very old, and very strange, and full of weird myths, and all the rest of it.  But if we can find the spirit of what that "waking up" is, and reinterpret it for today, then I think that could be what we're looking for.


Ernie Rea: And perhaps recreate a different myth, that has got a contemporary resonance, but has got the same themes as the older ones.


Tim Freke: And people are doing that; I mean, The Matrix is a Gnostic myth, of waking up from the way things seem, to a deeper reality, and that's the message of Gnosticism, that there is a deeper reality to wake up to.


Ernie Rea: Michael, I wonder how an orthodox Christian reacts to the need of contemporary society to reformulate these old Gnostic myths.  What does it say about our attitude to orthodox Christianity?


Michael Green: What I think it says is this: that a lot of the new Gnosticism, especially with this talk about the "sacred feminine", and all that, is not a nice cuddly goddess, who will look after us.  It is actually talking about what the philosophers call 'monism', that everything is one, and there is nothing more in this world, and that is so different from the New Testament that says "Yes, there *is* a creator of this world, and of you, and he's willing to relate to you, and he's done all that's necessary to bring you into touch."  And you see, just the other thing is this, that Gnosticism talks about the salvation of those who happen to have the divine spark in them, but 2/3 of humanity, according to the Gnostics, haven't got this at all.  And real Christianity relies not on, for rescuing the divine spark, but on the sheer generosity of God, whose free gift is eternal life for all who will repent and come to Jesus.


Tim Freke: Michael, I feel that the reason, that, from where I'm coming from, that you've completely misunderstand Gnosticism, is 'cause you see this as an either/or thing; it's either that it's all one, or that you have this relationship -- you're a separate being in relationship to God or unto each other.  Gnosticism isn't just saying it's all one.  It is saying that there is a one which is appearing as many; it's *both*, and that's *why* it's one, because we are both separate as human beings, and essentially one and that's the divine spark in each of us.  This is why the Gnostics in the early Church -- again I feel that we're reiterating exactly the debates they had.


Michael Green: Yes, we are.


Tim Freke: They used to really annoy what became the orthodox because they would agree with them.  And I would agree with you, that I think there's both, that we are both one and we are many, and it's not an either/or, which is what you're setting up.


Ernie Rea: That to me is the fascination of these discussions: that we seem to be recreating debates that have resonated down history, and that are therefore contemporary.  As we draw this program to a close, I want to ask all three of you this question: do the so-called Gnostic gospels have anything at all to add to our store of knowledge of who Jesus was or is?


Mark Goodacre: Yes, I think so, but the difficulty is, we need to separate off our desire to know more about the historical Jesus from the fact that we've discovered a whole store of documents that purport to give sayings of him.  And unfortunately, even the very best source amongst all of these, the Gospel of Thomas, is still familiar with Matthew, Mark, and Luke at least; it knows those gospels quite well, so it may just have some independent knowledge, it may be interacting with some oral traditions, but I'm afraid it doesn't add a great deal to our historical knowledge, unfortunately -- not of Jesus; what it does tell us about is the development of early Christianity.


Ernie Rea: Michael, as you read them, do you derive any benefit from them?


Michael Green: No I don't think I do.  I would agree with all that Mark has said there; far from giving us new things, they are actually controverting the main thing about the historical Jesus that he was talking about.  And that is that the divine Lord himself has united himself with human flesh.  And in that way, he really is the bridge between God and man, because he's got a foot in both sides, if you like.  But in Gnosticism, the heavenly Christ comes on the human Jesus at his baptism, and disappears before his death; there's no real unity at all.  So, far from being a great help to understanding, I think it's a hindrance to understanding the Jesus that we find in the New Testament.


Ernie Rea: Tim, as the sole Gnostic on this program, I think the last word has to be with you.


Tim Freke: Well of course they *don't* give us *any* information about the historical Jesus, because there *is* no historical Jesus...




Tim Freke: ... and what the Gnostic texts do, is that they show that if we are willing to not hold onto this crazy idea that "there are 4 gospels" when we know that there were probably hundreds, some of which we now have, a small fragment of which we now have, we can see that early Christianity was quite, quite different to the picture that the traditional Church has painted for us.


Ernie Rea: Well there we must leave it.  My thanks to Marc Goodacre, Tim Freke, and Michael Green.  I'll be back at the same time next week.  Until then, goodbye.

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