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Reaction to Gnostics Shaped Christianity, Scholar Believes

By:Los Angeles Times Service
Date: Fri,26 Dec 2014
Submitter:Adept Yogi

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Claremont Calif - Why has Christianity been predominantly male orientated, both in its theology and leadership?

A woman scholar says part of the reason may have been a second century reaction to Gnostic Christians, who included feminine imagery in their sacred texts and involved women in religious rites.

Elaine Pagels, Chairman of the Religious Department at Barnard College, Columbia University, presented her thesis - part of a book she plans - in a recent lecture at Claremont. She feels that reaction to Gnostic thought and practices were an important early element in influencing Christianity.

Besides describing female emanations from God, some Gnostic Christians claimed that Jesus considered the Holy spirit to be feminine, his ‘’true Mother.’’ And in many Gnostic writings Mary Magdalene and other women follows are prominent in dialogs with Jesus.


Woman sometimes served as deacons or evangelists in the early Christian circles, Ms. Pagels said, but by the year 200 the church father, Tertullian, expressed outrage at the audacious women priests among Gnostic Christians.

‘’They have no modesty. They are bold enough to teach, to engage in argument, to enact exorcisms, to undertake cures, and, it may be, even to baptise.’’

Ms. Pagels has been primarily recognised for historical studies in Christianity and Gnosticism, a field invigorated in recent decades by the discovery of Gnostic manuscripts in upper Egypt, rather than for feminist studies. The more than 50 Gnostic texts are being published fully in English for the first time.

Ms. Pagels is suggesting that Christianity was shaped more than previously thought by reactions to Gnostic thought and practice.


In another Claremont lecture, she said the second century emphasis by the church (and it’s Apostles Creed) on Jesus’ suffering and death was probably promoted not only by the facts but also by the zeal for martyrdom by leaders in Christian orthodoxy.

Church Fathers Ignatius, Irenaeus and Tertullian praised martyrdom as a way to mate the passion of Christ, she said. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, accepted his death sentence circa A.D. 107 with joy.
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