Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Gnostic Bizzaro World

As my long-suffering blog readers know, I am engaged in a project to read every book in the world, in chronological order, expecting to maybe reach the literature of the nineteenth century or so before the Grim Reaper taps my shoulder.

And as my long-suffering blog readers know, I am currently struggling through the chaotic writings of the Gnostics, who flourished in the first centuries of the Christian era.

The most comprehensive collection of their sacred writings is entitled the Nag Hammadi Library. It's not easy reading, by any stretch of the imagination. Much of it is virtually impossible to understand, although the nature of the translation or my unfamiliarity with the sect may be to blame.

But towards the end of the collection, I have encountered perhaps the strangest document that I have read in my entire life. I literally couldn't help laughing, which I generally try not to do when reading literature that someone else holds sacred.

The Paraphrase of Shem takes some of the Gnostic doctrines at which other texts have hinted, and goes nuts.

It is as if its writer was trying to create a Christian Bizzaro World, or an anti-matter universe, based on the opposite of the Bible. Literally, everything considered good in the Christian Bible is explicitly bad in this text, and everything bad is good. The Creation and the Creator God are evil, for starters. That's well known as a Gnostic tenet, but to continue ... The Flood was an evil idea intended to destroy good people. Sodom was a city of righteous and holy people, destroyed by a vengeful and evil god. And even the Christian hero, John the Baptist, is herein called a demon who used the impure material medium of water to bind souls in his evil baptismal rite.

Interspersed through this strangeness are lurid accounts of demons masturbating and cosmic sexual activity that makes the Biblical Song of Solomon seem tamer than a child's picture book.

It is really, really hard to comprehend that any sane mind, uninfluenced by powerful drugs, could have written this material.

6 comments:

Janice Thomson said...

Gosh that's very interesting ECD. Is it still a valid document and in use today? Strange some of the ideas people follow...

Janice Thomson said...

Oh my goodness I forgot to wish you a happy new year - wishing you peace and joy in 2009. :)

Eastcoastdweller said...

So far as I know, Janice, which isn't much, no religious group holds this text to be scripture today, as the Gnostics are pretty much extinct, as an organized religous body, at least.

And Happy New Year to You, too!

kat said...

Happy New Year to you Sweetie and to all the Books in store for you!

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Appreciated your evaluation of the Gnostic writings. Yet many weird theories still exist which quote Gnostic writings as giving some support to their own claims. Happy New Year.

Trisia said...

Sometimes I wonder if those people actually believed those things and were genuinely fooled, or they simply had a whole lot of fun writing and going wild. Either way, I agree that some bits (I've only bee exposed to small chunks so far) are risible, incomprehensible or (most often) both.

Happy New Year