We Spend Our Years as a Tale That is Told

NagHamadi-map

Insomnia takes me to interesting places. About a year ago I turned to the Bible – King James Version, on my Kindle, which actually lists “God” as the author. I started with the easy stuff: Mathew, Mark, Luke and John, Psalms. Familiar soothing material and some of my favorite expressions:

“The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land” (Song of Solomon, 2.12)
“My beloved put his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him.” (SON 5.4)
“It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” (Luk 4.5)
“Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch?” (Luk, 6.40)

Lovely material that eased me back into the arms of Morpheus. All well and good, until I got to Revelation — abandon sleep all who enter here! Leviathon, Babylon, wrath and destruction, mercy for the penitent, rewards for the righteous (neither of which included me). A difficult time ensued. By day I manifested every symptom of chronic sleeplessness. By night, I churned through these revelatory pages. Then I came across Elaine Pagels’ eye-opening book Revelations: Visions, Prophecy and Politics. She explained that in the 4th Century (as Rome was falling) the bishops chose John’s vision from dozens of revelatory texts for inclusion in the official gospel. His version of the apocalypse would, they thought, send sinners screaming into their clutches. It would shore up their authority for centuries to come.

Pagels said the other revelatory texts were less suited to their purposes — gnostic gospels that encouraged people to seek their own revelation through meditation, “dialogue with the risen Jesus.” She said most of these gospels were destroyed but dozens have been found. One collection was discovered in the 1940s buried in a ceramic vase near an ancient monastery: the Nag Hammadi Scriptures.

These include Thunder, the only existing revelatory text believed to be written by a woman — a paradoxical delight. Last night I opened On the Origin of the World and my mind exploded. This unknown (but erudite) author set out to prove that the darkness was not empty; it was a shadow, which of course implies a light – Manichaean duality. On the Origin has hermaphroditic gods, virgin births, layers of heaven, thunder and lightening. And joy. Lots of joy. Eve gives life to Adam. Evil gods are overthrown. As the world (the text) comes to an end ” . . . the blessed spirits immediately reveal the pattern of incorruptibility so as to condemn the rulers and their powers.” (219) You can see why the bishops didn’t choose this one. I recommend it if you’re in the mood for something delightfully revolutionary this week.

Happy Passover! Happy Easter! Happy Spring!

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