Sunday, December 31, 2006

FIRST SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS

The Gospel. St. Matt. i. 18-25

I am going to take a bit of a detour today, and I ask you to bear with me. In fact, you should find this quite interesting.

Readers of Touchstone, a Journal of Mere Christianity, will see in the January/ February issue something a bit unusual from me. It is a satire on the Historical Critical Method that is, from all evidence, more relevant than I had imagined when I wrote it. As if “The Jesus Seminar” had not been silly enough, and quite deserving of the contempt of every genuine historian, the public will soon be treated to something sillier still, called “The Jesus Project.” One of its organizers, Robert Funk, has said that one of the subjects will be whether or not Jesus ever really lived, claiming that this is a testable hypothesis. I find this almost gratifying, because my soon to be published satire deals with a future book by a historian who argues that George Washington was not a real man in history, but merely a collection of various legends, each containing possible elements of truth. Another of this “Jesus Project” organizers, R. Joseph Hoffmann, said: “the first Jesus Seminar may have been——for political reasons——too reluctant to follow where the evidence led. When you have pared the sayings of Jesus down to fewer than twenty, one begins to wonder about the survivors.” That's rich indeed. The method for "paring down" was a simple vote among the "scholars" as to which sayings they liked or did not like. If every science were so arbitrary we would have no medicine or technology.

Genuine history cannot work this way, but charlatans can do whatever they like. Some of you may wonder what I make of the constant bombardment on the traditional understanding of Jesus Christ that is always popping up on television. The idea that the Church has hidden the facts in a conspiracy of silence seems to be the only subject that these sensationalists want to discuss. Well, of course. After all, to make money, I mean real money, why write the same old story that true historians, hindered by integrity, have been writing all along? Make up something new and novel, maybe even as a novel, or as a new theory for an allegedly scholarly book that can land the author on television. And once on television, we’re (rather, they’re) in the money. “The Jesus Project” will feature, among other unusually prosperous “scholars” Dr. Elaine Pagels. Allow me to tell you who Elaine Pagels is. She was a student at Harvard Divinity School who took the standard Church History course on ancient Gnostic heresies that has been the fare of Divinity students for ages, in fact that my brother Addison took in the early 1980s when Henry Nouwen was there. She wrote her first book on the subject of those Gnostic heresies, and has since based her entire career on the thesis of the same book. Her claim was that she discovered these ancient writings and that the Church has been hiding them away from the world, due to their fear that the Gnostic writings would be discovered, and prove that there were different versions of Christianity from the start. She made up a few fictional items to elaborate on genuine history in the process, such as making up entire passages from her own mind and attributing them to one of the Church fathers.

The basic problem is that she never discovered anything, except for a way to make money; the texts of the Gnostics have been preserved by the very Church that she accuses of censoring them, because only the Church has had an interest in their historical value. And, like all these sensational things that are alleged to be recent discoveries, such as the Judas Gospel, the Church has known about them all along, and if not for the Church they would have been lost. The simple fact is, the Church always knew about these books, and as early as the Epistles of Saint Paul and Saint John, you see the process of discrimination between the teaching of Christ’s apostles and the so-called different versions of the Gospel. The Church has never hidden these things, neither has the Church been afraid of them. The fact is, just as we know today that The National Enquirer should be distinguished from a serious newspaper, the Church knew better than to take every book by every crank into the Canon of Scripture. The only book ever taken seriously by parts of the Church as one that should be considered to have been Divinely inspired, but that did not make it into the final Canon of the New Testament, is The Shepherd of Hermas. However, it has long been available in the edition “The Apostolic Fathers.” It was never hidden or lost.

Nonetheless, TV is constantly advertising the latest new sensation that is supposed to shock and rock the faith of Christians; but it is always an old story, and quite boring. So, if you want to know whether or not I am worried about these things, I am not. If anything, it is very hard to hide my contempt for conmen, sensation mongers and the obvious commercial interests that they pander to. In fact, hiding my contempt is so hard that I gave up even the idea of doing so, and wrote the satire that I have so shamelessly promoted before you all. It is right for me to address this from the pulpit, because it is a matter of pastoral concern that falls under my responsibility. You ought to know that the real conspiracy is not one of silence by a frightened Church, but rather a very simple commercially motivated one, namely book sales.

You see, this is relevant to what we read in today’s Gospel. Some of you are aware that recent versions of the Bible deviate from the word “virgin” in the book of Isaiah when rendering the verse quoted by Matthew. The Hebrew word, alma, is now rendered “young woman.” This is very interesting, because it was the seventy Rabbis, that is Jewish scholars, who translated almah into the Greek word parthenos - when translating the Septuagint, that is, the Greek Old Testament that Saint Matthew quoted. The Rabbis who translated the scriptures into Greek knew perfectly well that Isaiah meant “virgin." You see, that is the only possible meaning that parthenos can have. It is ancient Jewish Rabbinical authority that stands behind the use of the word “virgin” when quoting Isaiah- which explains why it is a sign. What kind of a sign from God would it be that a young woman gives birth? It happens many times every day.

So it is that I would like now to concentrate on two other Hebrew words. The first is the name Jesus, so named, as Matthew tells us, of the angel. I am sure that we all know that this is pronounced Y’shua in Hebrew. It means salvation. When students are learning Hebrew much is made of the rhyming words from Isaiah 33:22: “Adonai Shophtenu, Adonai Machkakenu, Adonai Malkenu, Hu Y’shieynu.” It means: “The LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; He is our Salvation.” And, if you are thinking that that word “salvation”- in this case Y’shieynu, is a form of the name of our Lord, the name Y’shua or Jesus, you are right. When it says the LORD is our Judge, the picture is not the judge who sits in judgment of us, gavel in hand, deciding our fate. That picture is quite true and right, since “we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” But, this word, shophat ( or shophtenu- our judge) is the same as what we see in the title of the Book of Judges (Sepher Shoph’tim). When the people of Israel were oppressed by their enemies, and turned from their sins, several times the Lord raised up different men to deliver them. The Spirit of the Lord would come upon him, he would blow the trumpet and gather the men of Israel into an army, and defeat their foes. This judge is a savior. He comes not to condemn the world, but to save it. He is called as well the Lawgiver and the King. Whatever the world is saying, whatever so-called “new morality” is in fashion- for those of us old enough to remember the “new morality” when it was new- we Christians still live by the laws of our king. This is how we cooperate with the saving of our own souls, and aid the salvation of others. So, the angel said to Saint Joseph, “thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” The little word “from” is very important. Modern affirming religion preaches that he saves us in our sins- in fact that we have no sins, and just need Him to raise our self-esteem. But, the angel said, “thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.”

The other name is Emmanuel, God with us. This is what the Bible has revealed from the beginning, and I do mean Genesis. God made man in His own image, because it was the Divine will from the start to take human nature into the Godhead, for the Word to be made flesh. The Fall of man into sin turned that grace into a rescue mission from sin and death. Life is not a test; it is a shipwreck, because what we need as the miserable offenders that we are, is not a grade at the end, but rather salvation from sin and death. Our Fall into sin and death made the cross of Christ into a necessary part of the Incarnation story. By the cross of Jesus Christ our sins are condemned and forgiven in one Divine action. The emergency of our Fall into sin and death made the Resurrection of Christ, by which death is conquered and eternal life is granted in place of mortality, into part of the Incarnation history. God with us is our salvation. The Word made flesh is our Judge, He is our Lawgiver, He is our King; and as Judge, Lawgiver and King, He is our Salvation.

9 comments:

Londradical said...

ciao

Jordan Stratford+ said...

Her claim was that she discovered these ancient writings and that the Church has been hiding them away from the world, due to their fear that the Gnostic writings would be discovered, and prove that there were different versions of Christianity from the start.

Dr. Pagels has never claimed to have discovered anything. You are no doubt aware of this. So why say what you know is not true?

She made up a few fictional items to elaborate on genuine history in the process, such as making up entire passages from her own mind and attributing them to one of the Church fathers.

While she has been accused of taking some passages out of context to support her thesis, your claim that she "made up a few fictional items" is bearing false witness. Shame on you.

And your use of the term scholar in quotes to somehow imply that Dr. Pagels is not one is simply an ad hominem attack - uncharitable and un-Christian.

Lies and slander. This is what you preach for the first Sunday after Christmas?

Albion Land said...

Mr Stratford,

Welcome to The Continuum, which is a Christian blog.

You post here at my discretion.

V R S N S M V - S M Q L I V B

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Mr. Stratford:

You are simply wrong, and I am quite correct in what I have said. Besides, even the implication that these writings were "hidden" is ridiculous.

Alice C. Linsley said...

The prince of this world has blinded many to this truth, so well stated by Fr. Hart: "what we need as the miserable offenders that we are, is not a grade at the end, but rather salvation from sin and death."

Fr. Robert Hart said...

About Pagel’s claim to have discovered suppressed writings, here are her words from Beyond Belief):
“p.31 When I entered the Harvard doctoral program, I was astonished to hear from the other students that Professors Helmut Koester and George MacRae, who taught the early history of Christianity, had file cabinets filled with 'gospels' and 'apocrypha' written during the first centuries…
When my fellow students and I investigated these sources we found that they revealed diversity within the Christian movement that later, 'official' versions of Christian history had suppressed so effectively that only now in the Harvard graduate school, did we hear about them."

But, the "suppression" she wites about never occurred, and one did not have to explore file cabinets in Harvard to find these Gnostic works. One needed only to read some of the Fathers of the Church, which makes her ignorance until that time (as a Doctoral student) rather puzzling.


First I quote Pagels herself, and then a comment by Matthew Gross (I will prvide the link to the full work by Gross).

On page 97 of Beyond Belief, Pagels has simply invented a lie, or fiction if you prefer, which she repeated later in the book (on p. 176):
“But in 367 [AD] Athanasius, the zealous bishop of Alexandria––an admirer of Irenaeus––issued an Easter letter in which he demanded that Egyptian monks destroy all writings, except for those he specifically listed as “acceptable,” even “canonical” …But someone––perhaps monks at the monastery of St. Pachomius––gather dozens of the books Athanasius wanted to burn, removed them from the monastery library, sealed them in a heavy, six-foot jar, and intending to hide them, buried them on a nearby hillside near Nag Hammadi.”

Gross says it simply: “In this section of the chapter, Pagels continues her claim that Irenaeus and later Athanasius acted in an authoritarian manner, demanding that certain writings be destroyed. Pagels evidence for this is Athanasius’ Easter letter of 367. However, Athanasius letter of AD 367 does not contain any demands that any writings be destroyed. It does not address Egyptian monks at all. It does not name any specific writings other than ones that are acceptable or canonical. At this critical point it appears that Pagelian orthodoxy has slipped into the realm of falsehood, of myth, and of speculation in an attempt to bolster its plausibility.” Gross further writes: "Pagels was forced to mischaracterize the writings of Athanasius and actually resorted at one point to fabricating a quote in order to make her point.”

Here is the Link: http://www.thirdmill.org/newfiles/mat_gross/NT.Gross.Matthew_BeyondBeliefbyElainePagels.html

Other such critiques are available, and here is a link to one more:

http://www.friesian.com/pagels.htm

For now this should keep you busy.

Fr. Robert Hart said...
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Fr. Robert Hart said...
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Fr. Robert Hart said...

This Blog form does not work, so simply Google the words "matthew gross beyond belief elaine pagels", and it should be the third link down.

meanwhile I am disappointed with the blogger format for this limitation.