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    Don Schweitzer. Martin Luther. The Other Gospels. David W. The Imitation Of Christ. Philip Johnson. Be Compassionate Luke Warren W. The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque. One basic problem is the claim that the hidden gospels contain a wealth of information that is new and incendiary. To the contrary, much of what was uncovered is not relevant to Christian origins, while what is relevant is not new, still less inflammatory.

    ~ Why Stringent Guidelines Matter ~

    Many conservative scholars are thoroughly unconvinced by arguments for the revolutionary significance of the lost gospels, even for outstanding texts like Thomas. Despite the claims of their advocates, the problems with taking the hidden gospels as historical sources are, or should be, self-evident. The idea that these documents have opened a window on the earliest days of Christianity stands or falls on whether they were written at a primitive stage in that story, and much depends on determining the dates at which these texts were written.

    The scholarly literature offers a very broad range of datings for these texts, but the consensus is that most of the works found at Nag Hammadi belong to the late second and third centuries. This is much later than the canonical gospels on which the Gnostic works can often be clearly shown to depend.

    While the Gnostic texts are still ancient, their value as independent sources of information is questionable, so that the canonical gospels really are both more ancient and authoritative than virtually all their rivals. This is not a particularly controversial statement, despite the impression that we may get from much more recent writing on the historical Jesus.

    How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way

    The late character of the alternative texts is crucial to matters of historicity and reliability. Historical research is as good as the sources on which it relies, and to the extent that the latest quest for the historical Jesus is founded on the hidden gospels, that endeavor is fatally flawed. For the same reasons of history and chronology, it is difficult to see the hidden gospels as blowing the whistle on the machinations of the early church or the relationship between orthodoxy and heresy.

    These texts depict a world of individualistic mystics and magi whose unfettered speculations are unconstrained by ecclesiastical structures, and it is common to suggest that this freewheeling situation represented a primitive reality which was ultimately destroyed by the emerging hierarchical church.

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    But the institutional church was by no means an oppressive latecomer and was rather a very early manifestation of the Jesus movement. We have a good number of genuinely early documents of Christian antiquity from before , long before the hidden gospels were composed, and these give us a pretty consistent picture of a church which is already hierarchical and liturgical, which possesses an organized clergy, and which is very sensitive to matters of doctrinal orthodoxy.

    Just as the canonical gospels were in existence before their heterodox counterparts, so the orthodox church did precede the heretics, and by a comfortable margin. Despite all the recent discoveries, the traditional model of Christian history has a great deal more to recommend it than the revisionist accounts.

    Contrary to some recent writings, the scholarly world did not flounder in ignorant darkness until illumination came from Nag Hammadi. Basic to the dramatic account of the rediscovered gospels is the idea that they restored to the world knowledge that had been lost for many centuries. At last, we are told, after 1, years, we finally hear the heretics speak for themselves. The problem with this approach is that many of the insights about early Christianity found in the lost texts had been known for many years before the Nag Hammadi discoveries and had, in fact, already penetrated a mass audience.

    With few exceptions, modern scholars show little awareness of the very active debate about alternative Christianities which flourished in bygone decades so that we have a misleading impression that all the worthwhile scholarship has been produced within the last thirty years or so.

    What do the lost gospels tell us about the real Jesus?

    To the contrary, much of the evidence needed to construct a radical revision of Christian origins had been available for many years prior to the s, if not the s. Through the nineteenth century, the idea that Gnostics might have kept alive the early truths of Jesus was familiar to critical religious thinkers, some on the far fringes of academe, others more respectable.

    And a century ago, people dreamed of finding actual documents to verify these theories. Over the last two or three centuries, scholars and activists have periodically rediscovered the notion that the historical Jesus was a subversive individual mystic whose suppressed doctrine survived in the teachings of lost heresies and hidden gospels. Particularly between about and , a cascade of new discoveries transformed attitudes to early Christianity, both the mainstream and the heretical fringes.

    The most exciting find involved portions of the Gospel of Thomas located in Egypt, then known simply as the Sayings of Jesus.