« What are Deists? | Main | Why did people support some books being in their canon, and not others? »

What about the gnostic gospels? Were they condemned because their view of women was more positive than canonical works'?

If you're curious about this, I highly recommend reading the gnostic gospels themselves in translation (you'll find them in The Complete Gospels, or in Bentley Layton's The Gnostic Scriptures), rather than reading books only ABOUT the gnostic gospels.

The final saying of the Gospel of Thomas is fairly typical, I find, of gnostic attitudes toward women. In it, Peter says to Jesus, "Lord, let Mary depart from us, for she is a woman, and therefore is not worthy of life."  Jesus says in response, "No, for I shall make her male, and then she shall be as worthy of life as are you males. For any woman who does not make herself male will not enter the kingdom of heaven." What I think you'll find if you read gnostic gospels is that they portray women as being capable of spirituality, but only if they reject their sexuality.

In contrast, the canonical gospels portray women as followers of Jesus who were among the earliest and most important witnesses to Jesus' resurrection. Romans, Paul's letter to the churches in Rome, commends in chapter 16 Phoebe, "an outstanding apostle," in Paul's words, who most probably was the one who carried the letter to Rome and was then in charge of reading and explaining it to congregations there (no small theological feat, for such a complicated letter!). And in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul tells those who wish to be celibate within their marriage that they should only refrain from sex for a limited time, and they should come together again soon. Both the gnostic gospels and the documents in our New Testament are products of a patriarchal culture, but the New Testament documents have a far more positive view of women, and especially of women's sexuality. I highly recommend Neil Elliott's Liberating Paul for more information on Paul and women's leaderhsip and spirituality.

03:57 PM | Permalink


By the way, I forgot to add that while I think the Gospel of Thomas' attitude toward women is pretty much like the attitude toward women in many gnostic documents, I wouldn't actually say that the Gospel of Thomas is gnostic -- mostly because it was written before people seem to have started calling themselves *gnostikoi* ("gnostics," or as some people translate the term, "know-it-alls" or "knowing ones").

Not that this is important for answering the question posed -- I just don't want to get in trouble if Bentley Layton (who was one of my professors at Yale) happens to see this!



Posted by: Sarah Dylan Breuer | Feb 12, 2005 10:51:40 PM

Thanks for posting this! Wahoo! The gnostics are spun in so many fantastic ways. It boggles the mind.

Posted by: Tripp | Feb 27, 2005 7:34:25 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.