Time magazine's cover story (only available online to subscribers and AOL users) jumps onto the Gnostic bandwagon (not that this web site is immune) to explain why the dozens of alternative gospels, for centuries discarded, are suddenly all the rage.

Writer David Van Biema fairly balances neo-Gnostics' claims that early Christians snuffed out competing views while the orthodox maintain the alt. gospels simply faded into oblivion, as they should have. The current bandwagon, driven first by The Matrix trilogy, and more recently by the novel, The Da Vinci Code, is part of the overall challenge posed by mainline Christians to the orthodox faith. In the 1990s, Van Biema says, they challenged the "historical Jesus" and reduced the Gospels "down to the few verses that seemed factually plausible to them (yes to Jesus' healings, no to his Resurrection)." Then, they went searching for more scriptures.

Van Biema starts his article with a selection from the Gnostic Gospel of Peter in which Jesus is assisted in his resurrection by two men who descend from the sky. The cross follows the three men, "walking" on it's own out of the tomb. Then a voice from the sky asks, "Have you preached to those who are sleeping?" and the cross (not the men) answers yes.

But the interest in alt. versions of the good news is not because the new miracles are better than the old ones. "As Marcus Borg, author of The Heart of Christianity, bluntly puts it, 'There's a lot of interest in early Christian diversity because many people who have left the church—and some who are still in it—are looking for another way of being Christian.' "

Also, the new texts "feed America's ever sharpening appetite for mystical spirituality." Madonna and Britney Spears are promoting Jewish mysticism, so Christians need to counter. Or, as a Zen priest said, "Had I known the Gospel of Thomas, I wouldn't have had to become a Buddhist!"

The new interest has opened up discussions about early Christianity. The early Christians weren't so unified as many lay people thought. Van Biema writes, "The faith's historical silhouette was traditionally thought to resemble that of a hardwood tree: bushy with denominational profusion on top, but plumb line straight in its bottom half, theologically unified down through the hardy 'primitive church' and on, through apostolic roots, to Christ." Some of the newly discovered branches include: the Ebionites, who saw Jesus as the Messiah to the Jews only, the Marcionites, who dropped Jewish references in the new faith and added a god, and the Gnostics, who saw the world as a corpse that one could escape from with a special knowledge and the spark of divinity. In all the branches, Jesus is seen as having "transcendent" importance, writes Van Biema.

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The Gospel of Thomas, like other Gnostic texts, according to Elaine Pagels, author of Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, "encourages the hearer not so much to believe in Jesus, as to (try) to know God through one's own, divinely given capacity."

Many Christians say that what the neo-Gnostics discover in the alt. gospels is already in the original. Van Biema quotes Frederica Mathewes-Green who says such seekers are cherry pickers who take what they want from the new texts and leave the rest. In a Books & Culturearticle, she expands on that, saying what neo-Gnostics pick out of the texts is already a part of orthodox faith. "A look at the supposedly scandalous material comes up short. The most-cited Gnostic text, the Gospel of Thomas, mixes familiar sayings of Jesus with others of more mystical bent. These are sometimes cryptic but hardly outrageous. They're not far different from Christian poetry and mysticism through the ages. Where's the problem?" The problem with the Gnostics is not with the "cherries" neo-Gnostics pick, but with the ones they leave behind. The early church also left those behind.

Van Biema concludes by noting that Americans have always had a Gnostic bent, seeking a personal God to have a personal relationship with. Americans are also highly individualistic and will pick whichever spiritual path they wish to follow. In that way, the Gnostic hype offers hope that those who seek will find, even if what they find is not what they were looking for.

More Articles:

More on the Gnostics:

  • Post-Belief Christianity | This summer, ''Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas,'' by Elaine Pagels, spent 13 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. It was an unusual best seller: a close reading of an obscure Christian text almost 2,000 years old. So what propelled it to mass success? Perhaps it was the book's thought-provoking contention that Christians should not be defined primarily by what they believe. (New York Times)

Virgin of Guadalupe celebration:

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  • Guadalupe: From sacred image in Mexico to U.S. pop-culture icon | How did one of Mexico's most prominent national and religious symbols become an icon of American pop culture? (The Seattle Times)

  • Mexican feast a sign of faith | Friday was a special day for the estimated 122,000 people of Mexican origin living in Ohio and Kentucky. On Dec. 12, many of them gather in Catholic churches for the feast of La Virgen de Guadalupe, or Our Lady of Guadalupe. (The Cincinnati Enquirer)

  • Guadalupe celebration brings Latinos together | The effort of many Mexicans and other Latinos to stay connected to their culture was demonstrated by Thursday night's celebration of La Fiesta de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, or the Festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe. (Willimantic Chronicle, Connecticut)

Carl Henry:

  • Rev. Dr. Carl F. H. Henry, 90, Brain of Evangelical Movement, Dies | The Rev. Dr. Carl F. H. Henry, a theologian who helped move evangelical Christianity from the sidelines to a central place in American religion, died on Sunday in Watertown, Wis. He was 90. (New York Times)

  • Spiritual giant of evangelicals dies at 90 | On the campus of Union University, the center for Christian leadership bears the name of renowned theologian Carl F.H. Henry. Henry, the first editor of Christianity Today, died Dec. 7 at the age of 90, leaving a legacy of leadership not only at Union but also in the evangelical world. (Jackson Sun, Tennessee)


  • The babe in the manger | Amid the holiday hustle and bustle — the parties, the baking, the shopping, the rush to finish everything on the "to do" list — it is still possible, Odessa pastors said, to have a Christmas that is holy as well as merry. (Odessa American, Texas)

  • Thirty-one years of collecting creates large nativity scene | A lot of people have small nativity sets that they put up before Christmas and take down after the holiday season. Few have a complete nativity set depicting the entire town of Bethlehem and surrounding hills as does Nancy Trump of Wallowa. (Wallowa County Chieftain, Oregon)

  • Polish hear lesson for holiday | Caro is far from the war in Iraq, and on a day honoring a Polish Christmas tradition, it may have seemed odd for the local priest to speak about Islam. But the Rev. Dennis H. Kucharczyk figures it's not only appropriate, but sensible. (The Bay City Times, Michigan)

  • 'Dancer's Christmas' is a festive whirl | I hope I don't get Father Robert VerEecke defrocked for this, but his 23d annual production of "A Dancer's Christmas" would in some strict circles be deemed a tad irreverent. (The Boston Globe)

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  • Christmas flora: much more than just evergreen trees | Have you ever looked at that Christmas tree standing in the den, with the angel or star on top, and the family heirloom decorations, and the flashing colored lights, and the tinsel hanging off of it, and the presents under it - have you ever just looked at it and wondered, "Why?" (Tahlequah Daily Press, Oklahoma)

  • Sweet tales, with a hook | True or not, stories about the origins of the humble candy cane add a spiritual reminder amid the bustle of Christmas commerce. (St. Petersburg Times, Florida)

  • Nativity scene comes to life | Parishioners at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church performed the story of Christmas during the annual live Nativity at the 1055 Randolph Road church. Passing motorists and fellow parishioners stopped to watch the 10-minute performances, which had been postponed from last week because of the winter storm. (Middletown Press, Connecticut)

  • Christmas comes early for area military families | There was good news at the Army Reserve center on Sunday afternoon, but no one had planned for the rest of the good news. There was the Christmas party, celebrating what Christians all over the world call the good news, and then there was the other good news, the report that Saddam Hussein had been captured by the U.S. Army near his home city of Tikrit. Perhaps, just perhaps, American soldiers will be a little safer now, people said. (Journal Times, Wisconsin)

  • Evangelical Free Church hosts 'Old-fashioned Christmas' party | The halls of the church were decorated to look like a city street and were filled with visitors. Activities ranged from cookie decorating to Christmas card making, family photos, a living Nativity and horse-drawn sleigh rides; each headed by a Bible verse. (The Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Montana)

  • Pageant to portray the first Christmas | Actors re-enact Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem on Main Street this Sunday. (Cranbury Press, New Jersey)

  • Putting the right spirit back into Christmas | Like a lot of parents, Karen Workman of Weston, Fla., dreads the Season of Gimme—the relentless TV advertising, the boasts her five children hear at school about what other kids are getting for Christmas. (Knight Ridder Newspapers)

  • Christmas, commercial? So what? | As soon as baseball season ends, grumbling about the commercialization of Christmas becomes our national pastime. (Denver Post)

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  • We are all children of the elemental fire | Christmas is supremely a festival of fire and of light. The symbolism is everywhere: the candles, the Yule log, the tree decorations, the coloured lights on all sides, the fact that Dec. 25 comes just after the winter solstice, rebirth of the sun. All religions have festivals of light at one point or another in their calendar. Dec. 25 was the birthday of all the ancient sun-gods, especially Mithras, the arch-rival of the early Christian movement. (Toronto Star, Canada)

  • Man takes on new persona in Christmas play | Dr. Rob Watkins, a tall, blue-eyed, clean-cut man, doesn't normally have long hair. It's a part of his costume. He portrays Jesus in the pageant "Home For Christmas." (The News-Press, Florida)

Christmas around the world:

  • A viking's thirst for Christmas beer | Vikings quaffed it from the horns of their helmets. Norway's first Christians worshipped its warm amber glow. And a thousand years later, the country's love affair with Christmas beer is undiminished. (IAfrica South African News)

  • Simbang Gabi | The nine-day Simbang Gabi tradition began early this morning. Throughout the country, church bells rang long before dawn, summoning Catholics to begin the nineday pre-Christmas celebration. (Manila Bulletin, Philippines)

  • In defence of Christmas | The historical background, date and excesses associated with the celebration have generated controversies and caused some Christians to reject and despise the celebration of this important event. I personally call the so-called areas of controversy the non-essentials of Christmas. They are not strong issues that should stop anyone from celebrating Christmas. (Ghanaian Chronicle, Ghana)

  • Christmas, being and having | This subject is almost de rigueur for this page at this time of year. Year after year we discuss consumerism. We discuss it with more earnestness during Christmas time because Christmas, more than any other Christian feast, flies in the face of consumerism. (Valletta Times, Malta)

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