The gnostic gospels are alternative stories and sayings of Jesus with strong gnostic elements in them. These Gospels and the ideas therein were in sharp competition with the doctrines the early Church was trying to perpetuate. Concerned about all of the gnostic texts and varying interpretations springing up, the early Church held several councils to establish canon and then went on to utterly repress the gnostic gospels and their proponents.

The gnostic texts were thought to be lost, victims of the Church's iron fist.

In 1945, they were rediscovered. A couple of Egyptians were digging for natural fertilizer, and they came upon a sealed jar. Thinking it might contain gold, they popped it open, and, to their great disappointment, they only found a bunch of old documents. Fortunately, rather than throwing these old papers away in disappointment, they took the manuscripts back with them. These documents became known as the Nag Hammadi library. They contain, among some other things, many gnostic accounts of Jesus.

Because most people are love to believe a good conspiracy story, and because people tend to think that denying and repressing something is actually confirming its veracity, the stories contained in these gnostic accounts are thought to be somehow more authentic than those contained in Christian canon - after all, why would the Church have tried so hard all that time ago to destroy them if they weren't authentic?

But I've read large chunks of them. They don't simply contain gnostic tendencies and gnostic implications; rather, they are _incredibly_ gnostic. Most of them begin with something along the lines of "These are the secret sayings of Jesus" or "These are the revelations of the mysteries." They stress becoming sober from the drunkeness of this illusionary world. They stress personal epiphany. They call the world a thing of pain and utter evil. And they claim that "the kingdom is inside you and outside you" and that it can be attained by knowing yourself.

The heavily gnostic aspects of these gospels leaves three possibilities as to the nature of Jesus' teachings:

1. They were as Christian canon reports, and the gnostics heavily redacted.
2. They were as these gnostics texts say, and the writers of what became canon heavily redacted.
3. They were a bit of both, and each cause altered them to fit.

What is often forgotten is that the gnostics didn't spring up after Jesus came around; rather, they were operating before as well. It seems possible that Jesus was influenced by them, however it also seems very likely that they would have been quite apt to seize upon Jesus' teachings and try to incorperate these teachings into their current philosophy. Like the gospels of Christian canon that were written by early Christians for early Christians with also the intent of converting pagans, these gnostic gospels were written by gnostics for gnostics (and, perhaps, for the purposes of converting others to gnosticism?). Why, then, should we take the early Church as more apt to redact than these gnostics?

It seems to me that the third case is the most likely, and that both the books of Christian canon and these gnostics gospels were altered versions - or different interpretations - of Jesus' teachings.

Some of the gnostic books contain some pretty startling stuff. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene mentions a very. . .close relationship between Jesus and Mary. The Gospel of Thomas is basically a long list of things Jesus supposedly told his twin brother, Jude Thomas. There are many more. . .Some of them seem to portray Jesus as being very Buddhist in thought. Interestingly, many of them have Jesus saying things very much like what can be found in Christian canon, suggesting that the gnostics and the writers of the canon were working from some kind of common source of the sayings of Jesus (the Q document, or the Quelle). It is very curious to see these wide departures from Christian canon intermixed with these sayings and parables thought to be entirely straight Christianity.

Contrary to the claims of the movie Stigmata, these books are not actively and brutally repressed by the Catholic Church. You can buy a copy of them at your local book store or even find them in many places on the internet (some of them have even been noded onto e2).

". . .have you not understood? do you not want to be filled? Your hearts are drunk - do you not want to be sober?" - From The Secret Book of James 2:2-3

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