Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Body: The Non-Canonical Gospels



For Urbantasm, I've been reading up quite a bit on theology, eschatology, and the occult. John Bridge considers himself to be the antichrist, and the novel deals quite a bit with religious themes, particularly concerning the nature of space and infinity. It's been very fascinating, because there's an automatic tension between a lot of these texts, even though they are widely separated in terms of how and why they were composed. The Catholic Study Bible and Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ make cases that are automatically critical of, for example, the non-canonical gospels, and the tension between various modes of fortunetelling and the Catechism is well documented.

I personally accept the arguments for why the canonical texts are such, and why other accounts were not included. In fact, reading these texts makes me particularly grateful that they are not a foundation of our faith, since they are frequently misogynistic and tend to restrict salvation to a narrowly definted elect. Many deemphasize the principle of forgiveness and access to grace. It would seem that the canonical gospels, even if they are considered not as religious texts but as social referendum are both more stable and inclusive, and I'd like to think that this is at least part of the reason why they were ultimately selected.

All this said, however, the non-canonical texts are fascinating... they're fascinating in their diversity and their imagery. The Christ they depict is often more violent -- I was dimly reminded of Tetsuo from Akira -- and the scenes are often apocalyptic and psychedelic. This is the scary looking god with the red eyes in the stained glass windows at St. John Vianny's in Flint:

Jesus said, "This heaven will pass away, and the one above it will pass away. The dead are not alive, and the living will not die. During the days when you ate what is dead, you made it come alive. When you are in the light, what will you do? On the day when you were one, you became two. But when you become two, what will you do?"
- The Gospel of Thomas


Another time he took me and James and Peter to the mountain where her used to pray, and we saw (on) him a light such that a man, who uses mortal speech, cannot describe what it was like. Again he took us three likewise up the mountain, saying 'Come with me.' And again we went; and we saw him at a distance praying. Then I, since he loved me, went quietly up to him, as if he could not see, and stood looking at his hinder parts; and I saw him not dressed in clothes at all, but stripped of those (that) we (usually) saw (upon him), and not like a man at all. (And I saw that) his feet were whiter than snow, so that the ground there was lit up by his feet; and that his head stretched up to heaven, so that I was afraid and called out; and he, turning about, appeared as a small man and caught hold of my beard and pulled it and said to me, 'John, do not be faithless, but inquisitive.' And I said to him, 'Why, Lord, what have I done?' But I tell you, my brethren, that I suffered such pain for thirty days in the place where he touched my beard, that I said to him, 'Lord, if your playful tug has caused such pain, what (would it be) if you had dealt me a blow?' And he said to me, 'Let it be your concern from now on not to tempt him that cannot be tempted.'
- John's Preaching of the Gospel


But the best (in terms of interest), and the worst (in terms of a responsible thesis), is the Infancy Gospel of Thomas:

3:1 The son of Annas the scribe was standing there with Jesus. Taking a branch from a willow tree, he dispersed the waters which Jesus had gathered.
3:2 When Jesus saw what had happened, he became angry and said to him, "You godless, brainless moron, what did the ponds and waters do to you? Watch this now: you are going to dry up like a tree and you will never produce leaves or roots or fruit."
3:3 And immediately, this child withered up completely. Then, Jesus departed and returned to Joseph's house. (4) The parents of the one who had been withered up, however, wailed for their young child as they took his remains away. Then, they went to Joseph and accused him, "You are responsible for the child who did this."
4:1 Next, he was going through the village again and a running child bumped his shoulder. Becoming bitter, Jesus said to him, "You will not complete your journey."
4:2 Immediately, he fell down and died.
4:3 Then, some of the people who had seen what had happened said, "Where has this child come from so that his every word is a completed deed?"
4:4 And going to Joseph, the parents of the one who had died found fault with him. They said, "Because you have such a child, you are not allowed to live with us in the village, or at least teach him to bless and not curse. For our children are dead!"
- The Infancy Gospel of Thomas


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