Gospel of Mark and Gnostic Gospels compared. 1

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by Neil Godfrey

As I continue to read Majella Franzmann’s Jesus in the Nag Hammadi Writings it is interesting to reflect how the distinctive themes of the gnostic texts overlap with themes of the strongest interest among scholars of the Gospel of Mark.

Markan scholarship is signposted by such studies as Wrede’s The Messianic Secret and Weeden’s Mark: Traditions in Conflict, as well as discussions around the gospel’s apparent adoptionist Christology. Wrede’s work attempts to explain why Jesus’ spiritual identity was to be kept secret and Weeden’s book looks at an explanation for the disciples being incapable of understanding their teacher. Kelber’s The Oral and the Written Gospel also argues that the whole of Mark was written as a grand parable.

These studies unexpectedly continue to echo in my head as I read Franzmann’s study. So the Jesus of among authors of the Nag Hammadi texts was:

  1. essentially a being whose true identity was not meant to be recognized when he appeared on earth;
  2. essentially a being who was meant to be incomprehensible;
  3. who gave secret teachings to his disciples;
  4. in a dramatic moment of illumination one disciple alone (whether Thomas, James, Mary Magdalene, Judas, Peter, Paul) does “see” him for who he is — although in the Gospel of Mark Peter’s “insight” proves to be a false one and it is the reader — “let the reader understand” — who is the real recipient of the divine revelation;
  5. essentially a being who originated in heaven whether he also had real human parents (both father and mother) or not (in some texts he did in others he didn’t);
  6. essentially a being whose appearance on earth was marked by events that were forordained or patterned in heaven;
  7. Blindness and nakedness are symbolic of inability to comprehend the spiritual and sinfulness.

I look forward to continuing this book and then the opportunity to write up more comprehensive notes, perhaps a grid, highlighting the prominent features of this “other Jesus”. I do not mean to imply that the author of Mark’s gospel borrowed or adapted his ideas from the gnostics responsible for these texts. No doubt orthodoxy and the simple fact that the originals of the Nag Hammadi texts are dated no earlier than the mid second century would make this impossible. But then I have yet to see any external evidence for the appearance of our canonical gospels that establishes a date much earlier. Ditto for the Pauline canon. And in that Pauline canon we read that that author was at odds with Christianities extolling “other Jesus’s” and “other gospels”. But these are just first-thoughts off the top of my head as I read through Franzmann. No doubt I will have time to reflect more deeply on all the evidence over the coming weeks. But I do find interesting the fact that the author of Mark’s gospel would not appear to be unaware of the sorts of concepts we also find among the Nag Hammadi texts. Or did those gnostic authors really allegorize Mark and a “historical” person with such unprecedented verve?


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