special to CWNews.com
Apr. 24 (CWNews.com) - Two weeks ago, at the height of the Gospel of Judas mania, a Google News search of "Elaine Pagels" plus "expert" scored 157 hits; she was the media's prime go-to person for a scholarly read on the import of the Coptic manuscript. Pagels was most often cited in stories such as the following from the NYT:
Elaine Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton who specializes in studies of the Gnostics, said in a statement, "These discoveries are exploding the myth of a monolithic religion, and demonstrating how diverse -- and fascinating -- the early Christian movement really was."
I am going to demonstrate that Professor Pagels's media reputation as a scholar is undeserved, her reputation as an expert in Gnosticism still less so. The case for the prosecution will require some careful reading. Those who want to follow along with the sources at their elbow should find a copy of Pagels's 1979 book The Gnostic Gospels (NY: Random House). Those who have some Latin and a library handy may want the Sources Chrétiennes edition of Irenaeus' Adversus Haereses (ed. Rousseau & Doutreleau, Paris: Cerf, 1974, 1982) and can bookmark page 278 of Vol. 211 and page 154 of Vol. 294.* Others can get most of the gist from the translation available in Vol. 1 of The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951), with a finger in pages 380 and 439. OK, to work.
Pagels's The Gnostic Gospels is in large measure a polemic against St. Irenaeus (approx. 130-202 AD), Bishop of Lyons and a Father of the Church, and is aimed in particular against the defense of ecclesial orthodoxy offered by Irenaeus in his work Against Heresies -- which was written in Greek but which survives, for the most part, in an ancient Latin translation.
In a chapter called "One God, One Bishop," Pagels is concerned to show that the doctrine of monotheism and the hierarchical structuring of the Church were mutually reinforcing ploys designed to consolidate ecclesiastical power and eliminate diversity -- specifically, the diversity that Pagels finds in the Gnostics whom Irenaeus was at pains to refute. Pagels claims that Valentinian Christians (disciples of the Gnostic Valentinus) "followed a practice which insured the equality of all participants" and put the bishop Irenaeus in a double-bind situation by ignoring his orders.
Read the whole thing here.