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A New Key to Understanding the Gospel of Thomas and other Lost Scriptures
By PETER NOVAK
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Peter Novak
All rights reserved.
Relics of an Ancient War: The Lost Scriptures of Early Christianity
When war is declared, truth is the first casualty.
At the start of the twenty-first century we find ourselves in the middle of a religious war. Islamic terrorists have attacked America, Israel, Spain, France, and Russia in recent years, and the president of the mightiest nation on Earth has openly doubted if the West can ever win this war against these religious extremists. Most perpetrators of suicide operations around the world for the past ten years have professed to be devout Muslims, but their claim to representing true Islam has been widely disputed. Their fellow Muslims around the world have not universally united in support of this jihad against the West—but they have not done so in condemnation of it either. This should not surprise us, because Islam was born with a warlike nature, and aggression will probably always be in its blood. Although Mohammed preached peace, history leaves no doubt that he supported the use of violence for the advancement of Islam, and his followers have never forgotten that injunction. This distinguishes Islam from other religious approaches, such as Buddhism, that are not so warlike.
Official Christianity, the foundation of Western civilization, was also born of war, and will probably always have war in its blood as well. By this, I do not mean the original religion Christ taught, but rather the imposter that came later and modified His teachings. This imposter shows no evidence of being the true offspring of the Prince of Peace, but seems instead to be, much like Islam, born of a warlike parentage. The official church has been in a fairly constant state of war since its inception, fighting the Jews, the Gnostics, the Muslims, dissenting sects, and even a good portion of the scientific community. True Christianity, however, unlike that imposter that came later, could not have been originally a warlike religion. Its Founder never carried a sword, refused to defend Himself when attacked, and taught His followers to "love their enemies," "give to those who ask," "worship not money," "turn the other cheek," and "resist not evil." Not only did the Founder of Christianity go quietly like a lamb to His own slaughter, he also actually told His disciples that if they wanted to be saved, they would have to follow His example and do the same. There seems little doubt that that person is not represented by our Western civilization today. He is not represented by our politicians, or our priests, or by Wall Street, academia, or Hollywood. He is virtually unknown. And so are His true teachings.
That could be a problem just now. While the Islamic militants attacking the West believe they are being loyal to Mohammed's teachings in fighting this war, anyone acquainted with Christ's Gospel knows He did not advocate warfare. For the West to respond in kind to these terrorist attacks violates the teachings of our religion's Founder, putting us in the untenable position of trying to win a religious war by betraying our religion, even as our enemy remains loyal to his. Such a strategy provides them a formidable psychological advantage.
These terrorists already enjoy at least one advantage over the West. Islam is visibly growing stronger and more robust around the world, while Christianity seems to be dying the fabled "death of a thousand cuts." In Europe, once the stronghold of a vast Christian Empire, an increasing percentage of the population considers religion irrelevant. In America, Christianity's supposed new center of gravity on the planet, a corrupt ministry's sexual and financial scandals have managed to make the vulgarities of popular television seem tame by comparison. And in science, more and more evidence is piling up in support of reincarnation, an idea which, if true, spells doom for conventional Christian theology.
Still, despite all the systemic weaknesses of modern Christianity, the only way the West is going to win this war is to stay united and focused, and in this particular conflict that means we have to remain true to our cultural and religious ideals, whatever they may be, at least as much as our enemies do to theirs. Make no mistake about it, this is a conflict over cultural ideals and perspectives, and if we are less devoted to our cultural vision than these Islamic militants are to theirs, we will be at a serious disadvantage. Once, all wars were "religious" wars, and some would say that reality has never really changed. People used to believe that an army's strength stemmed from the god it fought for; people today might instead say that an army's true power is found in the ideal it uses to rally people to its cause. In either case, if we find ourselves entering a conflict that is at odds with our cultural ideals and religious vision, our hearts will not be in the struggle. And a halfhearted army rarely wins wars, especially against an enemy as single-minded as the suicidal militants facing the West today.
If this conflict did not come to us dressed as a religious war, these sorts of ideological issues might not bring the same weight to bear on our psyches that they do today. But this is, at least in the minds of the Islamic jihadists attacking us, an authentic religious war. And if truth be told, our response has largely been cut from that same cloth. Immediately after 9/11, images of the American president preaching at church podiums were broadcast all over the world. Bush characterized our enemy as pure "evil" and labeled his war against them a "crusade," using terminology guaranteed to reawaken memories of other religious wars. But even with all this posturing, it was still surprising when Bush promoted a general who openly argued for religious war. In the summer of 2003, Lt. Gen. William "Jerry" Boykin was made deputy undersecretary of defense after spending the previous two years giving public speeches condemning Islam as a tool of the devil, preaching that the Christian God is "bigger" than Allah, and that America's war on terrorism is a Christian fight against Satan. This rhetoric so outraged the Church of England that Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams scolded both Bush and Britain's Tony Blair for using religious language and Christian imagery to justify their war against Iraq.
Is this truly a religious war, or is it just being made to appear as one? Certainly a great many on both sides of the conflict view it as such. Unfortunately, defining this conflict in religious terms may have a psychological downside that Bush and Blair failed to anticipate. It has become clear from the last century's archaeological finds that what the world follows today is not Original Christianity, but a heavily edited, modified, and incomplete substitute.
From a purely political perspective, the timing for such revelations couldn't be worse. At a time in history when most educated people assumed the days of religious wars were long behind us, events beyond our control seem intent on thrusting our world into yet another one. But at the same time, archaeology informs us that everything we thought we knew about Original Christianity may be wrong, disarming us of our faith at the very moment we need it most.
Accusations about Christianity having been corrupted long ago are nothing new. From its very inception, sects began splitting off from the main trunk of the faith, accusing the church of betraying and corrupting Christ's original teachings. This accusation has been repeated by every denomination of Christianity.
While these sects don't agree on what the true teachings of Original Christianity actually were, they do agree that those original teachings were betrayed and corrupted. Solid proof to back up those claims came in 1945, when a large cache of previously unknown early Christian scriptures was unearthed in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, a small southern village on the west bank of the Nile. These 52 early Christian writings had once so threatened the official church that it sought out and destroyed all existing copies and murdered any poor soul who happened to be caught in possession of one of these illegal scriptures. The only reason any copies of these works remained to be found at Nag Hammadi is because the official church never knew they were buried there.
The Lost Gospels
Never before had such a collection been recovered; this find brought the first serious defeat to the church's 2,000-year censorship campaign, which had alienated the world from the earliest flowerings of Christian thought. Thanks to that censorship, some of the teachings and recurring themes in these early scriptures now seem totally alien to Christianity. In the Gospel of Thomas, for example, we are repeatedly instructed to "make the two one"; in the Gospel of Philip, we are told that Jesus Himself "divided" in two when He died; in the Secret Book of James, we read that salvation revolves around the relationship between one's own soul and spirit; in the Gospel of Mary, we are warned against having a divided heart; and in the Gospel of Truth, we learn that Jesus' mission was to repair a great division. This theme of division and duality obviously permeated early Christian thought, but was later erased from the canvas of history.
A great many of these lost scriptures have been dated to the first or second century, making them some of the earliest Christian literature. Despite that, these teachings were erased from the church's legacy; we never inherited them because the church didn't want us to. For 1,500 years, from Constantine's conversion in the fourth century until the end of the Spanish Inquisition in 1834, the church burned these books and killed their owners. It was the longest censorship campaign in human history.
There is no way to calculate how much we lost. Although a few listings of titles of missing early Christian scriptures still exist, we know these listings aren't inclusive. They are just the only listings that managed to survive the editing process of the church. Still, they are enough. They make it clear that many more early Christian scriptures once existed. In the first centuries of the church, the faithful once read the following, alongside the familiar titles in today's Bible:
The Acts of Andrew
The Gospel of Andrew
The Gospel of the Twelve Apostles
The Gospel of Barnabas
The Gospel of Bartholomew
The Gospel of Basilides
The Gospel of Cerinthus
The Revelation of Cerinthus
Epistle from Christ to Peter and Paul
The Gospel of the Egyptians
The Gospel of the Ebionites
The Gospel of the Encratites
The Gospel of Eve
The Gospel of the Hebrews
The Book of the Helkesaites
The Gospel of Hesychius
The Book of James
The Acts of John
The Gospel of Jude
The Acts of the Apostles by Lentitus
The Books of Lenticius
The Acts of the Apostles by Leucius
The Acts of the Apostles by Leontius
The Acts of the Apostles by Leuthon
The Gospel of Lucianus
The Gospel of Marcion
The Gospel of Matthias
The Traditions of Matthias
The Gospel of Merinthus
The Gospel of the Nazarenes
The Acts of Paul and Thecla
The Acts of Paul
The Preaching of Paul
The Revelation of Paul
The Gospel of Perfection
The Acts of Peter
The Doctrine of Peter
The Gospel of Peter
The Judgment of Peter
The Preaching of Peter
The Revelation of Peter
The Acts of Philip
The Gospel of Philip
The Gospel of Scythianus
The Acts of the Apostles by Seleuccus
The Revelation of Stephen
The Gospel of Thaddaeus
The Epistle of Themison
The Acts of Thomas
The Gospel of Thomas
The Gospel of Titan
The Gospel of Truth
The Gospel of Valentinus
Today's official New Testament only offers its readers the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, along with a handful of letters from Paul, Peter, James, and Jude. Early congregations also read dozens of gospels and holy scriptures that no longer exist. All we have left today are a few of the titles, which stand as witness to the power and thoroughness of the church's censorship campaign. Although only eight authors are represented in the official New Testament, in the earliest years of Christianity the faithful read the work of at least 38 additional authors that we know of. The earliest disciples spent their lives teaching a literate culture about Christ, and, as Luke himself testifies, a great many written works emerged from their passionate commitment to that mission:
Many have taken pen in hand to draw up an account of the things that have taken place among us, just as they were handed down to us from the first eyewitnesses and ministers of the word. Since I have perfectly followed all these things from the very beginning, it therefore seemed good for me to also write you an orderly account. (Luke 1:1-3)
Before Luke got around to writing his version of events, many others had already done so. The official church, however, condemned all of those early reports, all except the 27 books that made it into the New Testament. In making those decisions, the church demonstrated favoritism toward one author in particular: Paul, who wrote 14 of the 27 books in the New Testament—and never even met Jesus in the flesh. Today the official church embraces Paul's letters as the standard by which all other Christian scripture is to be judged, primarily because his work, before the discovery of the Gospel of Thomas, seemed to be the oldest surviving Christian literature. Paul's writings were given preference over a great many other scriptures, including many allegedly written by some of the actual Twelve Apostles, such as Peter, James, Andrew, Thomas, and Philip. The church's only possible defense of this would be if all those writings were falsely attributed and were not actually written by the true Twelve; for if they were authentic, then the testimony of those who spent a year or more being instructed by Christ during His ministry would surely be preferred over someone who had only had visions of Him after His Resurrection.
The church does deny that these scriptures were written by members of the original Twelve. There are two things wrong with this position, however. First, if these scriptures were not originally written by the apostles, then where are the scriptures they wrote? Luke says that a sizable percentage of the apostles wrote their recollections or teachings. If these recently discovered scriptures are not the ones they wrote, then where are the ones they did write? Second, a very good case can be made that both the Gospel of Thomas (found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945) and the Gospel of Peter (found in Akhmim, Egypt, in 1886) actually date from the mid-first century, which is exactly when the Twelve would have been most likely to produce written works.
We know our lists of lost works are incomplete, because the Nag Hammadi find contained no fewer than 41 early Christian scriptures that we'd never heard of. Their titles had previously appeared in no list, no correspondence, no surviving document of any kind. These scriptures were considered so dangerous to the church that not one mention of them was allowed to survive. In the last century, for example, we discovered that there had once been a Gospel of Mary. We never knew that because the church didn't want us to. If the church had wanted that text to survive, no power on earth could have erased it from our heritage.
These texts and all trace of them were to be rooted out, the church decided. History was wiped clean of any memory or mention of the ideas in these works, until their texts were unearthed in Egypt.
How many more were there? Were there another 41 scriptures written in the earliest years of the church that we still don't know anything about? Were there a hundred? Two hundred? There doesn't seem to be any way to know. If the church could successfully erase all memory of these 41 scriptures, it could do anything; 1,500 years is a long time to get a story straight.
Truth through Censorship
The official church openly admits this censorship. It claims that all these lost texts were erroneous representations of Christianity and so deserved to be destroyed; and in support of that position, it points to some extant writings of early church figures that say as much. This argument is disingenuous, however, for the church is arguing its case with evidence it has admitted tampering with. For all we know, the vast majority of Christians in the first two centuries preferred these forbidden scriptures over those the official church canonized. But now that all evidence that might have reflected this has been erased, we will never know. As soon as the official church began tampering with the evidence, it lost all credibility.
Excerpted from ORIGINAL CHRISTIANITY by PETER NOVAK. Copyright © 2005 Peter Novak. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
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