The Gnostic Gospels

I’m a bit travel restricted for the present, so I have not yet had a chance to scoot up to the lights of Broadway and catch the production of “Wicked.”

Wicked tells the story of Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz) and Glinda (the Good Witch of the North), who struggle through opposing personalities and viewpoints, rivalry over the same love-interest, reactions to the Wizard’s corrupt government, and, ultimately, Elphaba’s public fall from grace.

It reminds me of the problems created by discovery of the Gnostic Gospels, which tell the story of Jesus from the standpoint of the disciples other than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Gospels that were destroyed as the Roman Catholic Church ascended to power as the universal Christian church.  It is not difficult to understand why the Gnostics had to be suppressed, beginning in the 4th century AD.  After all, their gospels told of a very different Jesus than the one we grew up with.  Not to mention Mary Magdalene as the true leader of the disciples and the wife of Jesus.  And the Gnostics believed that any one of us could become the sons and daughters of God, given sufficient introspection, meditation and good deeds.

If that sound suspiciously like Buddhism, it may not be a coincidence.  I have always believed that Buddhism does not compete with my Southern Baptist Christianity, but enhances it.  And while Jesus lived long after the Buddha, there is nothing to say that Christianity was not influenced by Buddhism during the years that Jesus was wandering before his return to Jerusalem.

Nonetheless, I am struck less by that parallel than the fact that the Gospel of Judas, one of the Gnostic gospels, may be a fake of sorts.  Unlike the older gospels of Timothy and Simon Peter, which have caused their own stirs in the Christian faith, the gospel of Judas seems to have turned the Biblical story on its head in the same manner that “Wicked” turns on its head the familiar and accepted story of the Wizard of Oz.

What if the Wicked Witch of the West was really the heroine, cast into disrepute in later, revised accounts?  What if Judas, far from being the traitor who betrayed Jesus, was in fact welcomed into Heaven as one who had faithfully accepted public scorn for carrying out the will of God in sending Jesus to his death?  What if, hundreds of years after the death of Jesus, the Gnostics decided to have a little fun with the uptight folks at the Vatican by producing an ancient scroll that turned the Bible on it head?

The gospel of Judas was studied for months, and was found to be real.  Not a fake.  On the other hand, it was likely not written by Judas, since it can be dated some three hundred years after his death.  The Gnostic who wrote it wanted to boink organized Christianity, and succeeded.  Unfortunately, that success led the government in Rome to track down and imprison – or kill – the Gnostics.  Not exactly a fun response to a little friendly sarcasm.

But there is a part of me that understands the passion of the Gnostics for their own Christian beliefs.  And makes be believe somehow that had I been born in the third or fourth century, AD, I would likely have been one of them.

What, did you really think that Oswald shot JFK?

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