Wednesday, May 25, 2005

postal scrotum: Panty Girl and John

Andy writes:

Re: Panty Girl
Wow, you have a conundrum on your hands. On the one-hand, you don't want to feed her ego TOO much (by staring at her crotch without speaking for 10 minutes, for example). If you do, she'll be proud of her power, then freak from the embarrassment.

On the other hand, you don't want to ignore or downplay her attempts at turning your crank. Because then you'd have a woman scorned to deal with. And that's just no good. Unless she turns up in your apartment naked arguing that bean paste makes for the best stew broth.

Re: "Ave, Dr. Hodges!"
You said, "Personally, I'm partial to the notion that the Fourth Gospel is shot through with Gnosticism, even if John's version of Jesus doesn't follow the Gnostic model in crucial ways. There's too much light/dark, spirit/flesh dualism to rule Gnosticism's presence out (not that your paper was doing that, though it seems to imply that scholars reach too quickly for the Gnostic interpretation)."

Is it possible that John was using the repeated, stark contrasts of light/dark to emphasize the Christ duality? I mean, in my Lutheran Confirmation classes, the duality of Christ (Human and God) was a main emphasis (as I recall). I know Gnosticism is a good fit as a duality explanation, but wouldn't Occam's Razor better explain the dual-nature bit?

You also said, "I also tend to think that Jewish thinkers have always been adept at taking surrounding cultural tropes and subverting them-- witness how the Hebrews took Canaanite deities and demonized then, or how Jesus-- very much a Jew-- subverted prevalent Jewish preconceptions about purity, morality, etc. to make his points."

Is it 'subverting the points' the right description? Or is it better said, 'speaking to people in a way they understand'? Lots of folks try to 'learn the lingo' when working in a sales job, or when talking to rabid Star Trek fans - wouldn't delivering a sermon fall into the same category? I mean, if I was delivering something like the sermon on the mount, I think using cultural references the locals knew well would be a good (and easy) way to do that.

Again, just an Occam's Razor look at things. The engineer in me really want to boil the explanation down to a one-line (and hopefully simple) cause


I don't think Panty Girl is going to be a problem. The term's almost over and I'm not about to be a horndog.

As for the Gospel of John...

Yes, I suppose it's possible that Christ's dual nature was being emphasized; I'm no Bible scholar and am out of the loop on the most recent research and discussion. I think my query to Dr. Hodges should have been clearer. For me, there's a real question as to what constitutes Gnosticism. I'd have to do a lot more reading, but my superficial impression is that Gnosticism might be something of a scholarly construction in the same way that Hinduism is. (Wikipedia's entry on the subject seems to be missing some crucial information. The entry is thorough, but doesn't seem complete.)

Hinduism is an umbrella term for a whole network of beliefs and traditions that share quite a bit of overlap on certain basic metaphysical and cosmological points, but vary widely once you move from general to specific. (In modern India, the notion of "the Hindu" has more of a political resonance than a religious one, and is rooted in feelings of independence from the British Raj and the definition of a people in contradistinction to Islam.)

I don't think any scholar would argue that Gnosticism is a single -ism, but I'm curious to read more about what exactly a Gnostic worship service would have been like, and whether so-called "Gnostic texts" present a coherent body of belief, or are more of a patchwork.

If they are a patchwork, this proves nothing about the nature of Gnosticism: the Christian scriptures had patchwork origins as well, undergoing plenty of cullings and redactions. This applies to the more widely-known Hindu scriptures, too (cf. Rg Veda 10.129; the final line-- "or perhaps he knows not"-- is likely an addition to the original text, which alters the theology immensely), and to just about any other set of scriptures: even something as short as the Tao Te Ching was heavily redacted and represents several points of view.

But Gnosticism is often mentioned as growing up in parallel with (or outright piggybacking on) other traditions. One can speak of Gnostic Judaism and Gnostic Christianity; one can also speak of Gnosticism that borrows Judeo-Christian tropes, but it's devilishly hard to point to stand-alone Gnosticism. It's in that spirit that I asked Dr. Hodges my question: if Gnosticism is less a solid movement and more a cluster of free-floating memes, would it be wrong to label as "Gnostic" those elements of John's gospel that correspond to the scholarly construction we call Gnosticism?

Again, I'd have to read more. Maybe I'm way off base to look at Gnosticism as a scholarly construction. Gnosticism does have a pretty distinct cosmology, and it's unrealistic to expect it to be totally different from competing thought-systems in the Middle East. Ethical dualism as articulated in philosophy and religion is arguably pancultural, and dualism-- the realm of this/that, yes/no, matter/spirit, etc.-- is simply a function of the human mind. Whether the mind's functions reflect an objective dualism in reality or are merely a subjective construct is a discussion for another time.


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