Current Introduction to my Book (*UPDATED*)
Note: This is copyrighted and cannot be republished under any circumstances. This is also subject to possible change by the author.
This is what I have thus far as an introduction to my book. (More is written, over a hundred pages currently, but I'm only posting this)
*UPDATE* Upon many requests, I have revised this introduction. The second draft is below (replaced first draft) for your enjoyment and criticisms. Special thanks to Visual_Paradox and GreNME for their great advice on changes.
It is an odd feeling to look back at how this project started, knowing how far I’ve come. Yet, even though it feels like I have trekked across some great distance, the scene which launched this project is clear to me still. It began with a simple question from a friend of mine, “Who were the Gnostics?” He asked because it was a subject I had been studying for personal interest for some years and I had talked to him about them before. This friend tried to explain the Gnostics to his wife one evening and had a problem recalling all the information. He asked me for the short, abridged version of who the Gnostics were and what impact they had on late antiquity. It was at that point when I realized there was no abridged version and no way to shorten such a complex cultural phenomenon as the Gnostics. The topic was so complex that defining them was difficult to do in many of the monographs I had read! So, I did what every honest historian would do; I told him I would get back to him after I wrote something.
On the way home from work that day, I mulled over the possibilities of how I would go about writing a short paper for him to give to his wife. One of the problems I had right from the start was organizing the multitude of thoughts that were rushing through my head. I knew, for example, that there were things I needed to clarify, concepts that needed to be explained and defined, and I would have to use a lot of words that did not exist in dictionaries or thesauri. The task started to seem daunting to me so I called my colleague and friend, Richard Carrier, and took a few minutes to describe my predicament. I wanted to write an article that encompassed a history of Gnosticism, I explained, and how I thought such a thing had been attempted but never really done on a scale of which I wanted to do it. Like a good friend (or perhaps his career as a college professor of antiquity gave him the patience to deal with my long-winded perspective) he asked me some questions and gauged what I was trying to do. His first piece of advice was to form some sort of outline, and followed up that suggestion with something to the effect of, “Why don’t you just write a book? I’d be very interested to read it.” It was a life changing suggestion and one that required some contemplation.
I had known from the start that writing a book would be time consuming and expensive. I also wanted it peer reviewed and, if possible, submitted to a monograph for publication. What I had realized was that if I was going to be taken seriously, I'd have to avoid many of the mistakes that more than a few people which held my position had made. One of those mistakes was ignoring the scientific process of peer review, and that was something that Richard had told me early on. Getting a position into the scholarly community was the one thing that should have been done, but hadn't, as the only way for a consensus was to be determined was to first have a position considered and reviewed. Currently, the consensus was based off of old scholarship, and a refreshing look at the position I held was certainly needed. But to my surprise, when I sat down to write out the outline that night, I realized just how large of a project it really was. In effect, I’d be covering some six centuries of antiquity, starting from the onset of the Hellenistic age, I’d move from generation to generation until the time shortly after the First Council of Nicaea. And, I had surmised, if I were going to present any sort of case at all, I’d probably have to reexamine the whole of Biblical scholarship, which included the Persian period and before. I’d also have to consider a large amount of extrabiblical material, spanning the Egyptian dynasties, the Sumerians, Babylonians, Akkadians, Hittites and other ancient Near Eastern societies. Once you threw in the Greeks, presocratic and Socratic philosophers, the Stoics, Sophists and Naturalists, what I was looking at wasn’t just a book on the Gnostics, but the entire evolution of society through the span of hundreds of years. When I walked back into work the next day and explained the plans I had for the book, my friend looked puzzled. At first he was in shock that I’d take on such a project and then he asked, “Could you at least write something short for me to take home to my wife?”
The only reason I’m relating this story is to give some background into the growth and development of this book. Seldom, I think, do scholars ever start a project and have it end the same way they imagined it would. My positions have changed some since that day on the phone with Richard, and as such my table of contents has altered to reflect those changes. The moment at which you become cognizant of the personal growth that results from the progression that you see in your studies is startling. My growth was minute compared to some of my colleagues. Thomas L. Thompson, while working on his doctoral thesis, completely revised his earlier positions and presented a paper that would be the foundation of a new consensus in scholarship on the historicity and theology of the patriarchal narratives. Initially, I had intended this book to show the evolution of Gnostic thought, but what I ended up with was something quite a bit more extensive, although it is hardly comprehensive.
With that in mind, I’ll explain the scope and purpose of this book. The main position of this paper is to show the evolution of an ancient Near Eastern mystery cult , with a large focus on Christianity, via the events that took place during the time of the second temple period (c. 536 BCE – 70 CE) through the Roman Period up until the Council of Nicaea (c. 325 CE). I’m sure some concern will be expressed with my heavy focus on Christianity, but rest assured it is because Christianity is the only surviving ancient Near Eastern Hellenistic mystery cult we can study today. There will be comparative discussions on other cults as well, mainly regarding how they interacted with each other and early Christianity; such cults as the Orphics, the Mithraics, the Dionysians, and Pythagoreans of the Greek and Roman Empires. Likewise, we shall examine in some detail the cults of the Jews, such as the Therapeutae, the Pharisees, and the Essenes. Not only will we focus on the interactions per se, but also how each interaction influenced a change in many of these cults with regards especially to Christianity, and how altered doctrines based on the confrontations with these cults over the first two centuries Common Era. As a consequence of the research I’ve done, it can be determined that there was no need for a historical founder (Jesus), as well the historicity of Jesus will be brought into question. Please, stay seated. The methodologies deployed here revolve around a growing understanding of the way Gentiles and Jews, and later Christians, understood manuscripts throughout the six-hundred year period that will be covered in many chapters of this book. I broke the book into six sections to deal with specific ideas, patterns and most importantly periods of the cult’s evolution, where I felt it would help the reader grasp the material as it got more detailed.
This book is written for a more scholarly audience, so it had to be written in a very specific format reflecting the needs of the reviewer. The style and manner in which I’ve written this book will reflect a scholarly monograph more than a book written for the layman, so I request patience from you in your reading of the text, and sometimes your diligence, and a promise that I will work to explain as much as possible for the reader and not leave a subject dangling in the air. Anything I have felt may hang up the reader has been explained and all digressions will be in footnotes available to anybody, both layman and scholar alike. I know that some parts of this text may feel as if they drag out, but I have tried to interject some personality into it to remove that dry quality. Part of how I sought to explain things were in the way I formatted the chapters and sections.
The first section, and thus the first part of my methodology, focuses on understanding where my book is not going to head, basically into the realm of apologetics; as well it shows how the misuse of history through apologetics has influenced scholarship and ways in which such bias sparked a quest into a historical Jesus which is not only fallacious, it is not grounded in history but speculation. I have also worked out why such quests are fallacious, and why they need to be rejected by modern scholarship. This is one of my most important sections, as not only will it deconstruct the existing framework of New Testament theology and history, but it also means that it is my duty to provide a better explanation of the events than those which are given by the questers (first – third historical Jesus quests). This section also lays out a clear picture of the trends of the Hellenistic age, and why such an age is vital to the first Christian century during the Roman period. In this section I also look at the psychological mindset of the cult follower, as pertaining specifically to apocalypticists, and how such minds would be adept at succumbing to the sort of literary style and religious dogmas of later Christian centuries. In using the famous Cognitive Triad by Aaron Beck, I shift focus temporarily from history to sociology. This particular chapter will allow the reader to see what sort of drastic changes were taking place, and give a deeper meaning to the Jewish Gnostics and early Christians, the bigger picture so to speak. My first section will wrap up some of the many questions involving the sociological and historical issues of the Hellenistic age, and make way for the following section. Whatever is left will be answered in the subsequent chapters.
The second section deals with mainly extrabiblical subject matter as well, and much of it will focus on the years leading up to the first century Common Era. This will paint the picture of the many types of spiritual cults and texts of those cults that were circulating, giving the third and forth sections depth. Based on the idea that the Hellenistic age was a blending of cultures, the exploration of this sort of melting pot of ideas will establish the foundation of early Christian beliefs, and how the early Christians are in their very nature a finely ground mixture of Greek and Jew, with a dash of Egyptian influence. We’ll also examine the Qumran debate to determine if the Dead Sea Scrolls really had any effect on Christianity, and if this obscure sect could be the elusive sect of the Essenes. I will establish a Christian tradition that also rose out of the Essene sect in this section.
The third section is where we start looking at the New Testament for what it was meant to be viewed as; not as historical narrative, but instead as allegory and reinterpretation. In previous sections I have established specifically the information required to make this position possible, especially in light of the type of genre; Can it be concluded that such a genre existed previously than the first century common era and was it known to the Jews? Such questions will have already been wrapped up, so as to move on to the Gospel accounts and comparatively determine if such trends continue. As we go through each Gospel, we’ll examine the redactions that took place, and how the esoteric teachings of early Christians like the redactor Mark were lost on later generations, whether through persecutions or a misunderstanding of that tradition. Dennis R. McDonald’s ideas will be reviewed as well, as another way to show the Greek link to Christianity, and how not only were the redactors of the Gospels drawing from Jewish traditions but also from those who they tried to gain approval from. This section ends with Luke-Acts and an examination of the doctrines of this second century redaction of Mark and Josephus bring about, including its prolific anti-Marcionite rhetoric; and then I go on to discuss John, and the re-establishing of old traditions lost in the redactor Luke, such as Jesus as the new Moses, and the original Gnostic theme of Mark.
For my forth section, Paul is the theme. I had almost switched the order sections three and four as I have always felt that Paul and the study of Paul are more important to the understanding of early Christianity, however I also knew I could not establish what I wanted to establish with Paul until I had explained in some detail the nature of the Gospels as allegory. It was a tough decision for me, but a friend had suggested that I should perhaps go in the order of the New Testament in the Bible, and as it turned out, I thought it was a good idea. For that reason, and only for that reason, Paul comes after the Gospel accounts here, as I feel that the reason Paul comes after the Gospels in the New Testament is that he supplements the Gospels as additional evidence, at least in the eyes of Christians. I feel that Paul coming after the Gospels in this book will do that as well, but Paul also stands on his own, and in that way also Paul will help explain and validate the previous sections. Paul is such a wonderful character himself, it is impossible for me to sum up the discussion of this section, other then to say that those who read this section will come away with a refreshing look at the epistles of Paul and his theology that was the struggle of second century Orthodoxy and the Gnostics.
Sections five and six are really quite similar, although separate. The fifth section exposes the earliest church fathers and, just as with Paul, allow a fresh new look at them, remiss of the older stereotypes by later Orthodox Christians of the third and forth Christian centuries. We’ll explore the necessity of oral tradition and its esotericism, as well as the nature of both Pauline and Marcan theology, and whether we can even find such theology in these early Christians. The sixth section specifically deals with the final leg of understanding the evolution of a mystery cult—the complete Orthodox remission. In other words, we see the death of the early traditions as they were meant to be, and the establishment of new traditions in its place, with the misuse of documents and figures to establish the complete doctrine and dogma of the newly established Catholic Church. It is, in effect, the death of Christianity and the birth of something that the early Christians would have scoffed at. And more importantly, it is the death of Gnosticism, and the loss of their ways and sacred texts, which finally were removed by the inquisition during the Middle Ages, only to be discovered again at Nag Hammadi, hundreds of years later.
Finally, the conclusion at the end of section six, in which I will lay out a road in which scholarship should be headed, and why. It is a re-examination of the first section, but taking into account all that the previous sections have explained, and why scholarship should examine the claims of this book, the importance of its examination, and also of establishing some sort of consensus whether for or against its conclusions.
Additionally, I’ll leave you with some closing remarks to wrap up this introduction to my book, for those who may agree or disagree with my conclusions. The purpose of this book is to generate a dialog, and as any good historian will tell you, nothing is ever certain and for all my work here, something may be found tomorrow which would complete invalidate it. This is the nature of my passion, but it is not just my passion. Many in the scholarly community share this passion with me, and understood the risks when they got involved; that for all their years studying the subject of classical civilization, their perspectives and inductions could be falsified in a matter of minutes. Yet, as dim as such a thing may appear, it should not be looked at negatively. As a whole, we need to discuss these subjects more, to continually test and challenge our conclusions ourselves in order to continue to grow and evolve as a strong community. Sure, one may look at Socrates as smug in a discussion, but would it also not be prudent to look at Socrates as somebody who first accepts his position as possibly being wrong, humbling himself before somebody he hopes to learn from? I would think such a philosophy should be adopted upon every book that dissents from a cherished position, and in the end only then can one decide if their position is stronger or weaker then the oppositions.
I seek not to debate, but to discuss. I don’t want to prove, but provide. I wish not to insult, but to critically examine and most important I will not preach but explain. I hope those who would look poorly on me understand that even if I come across as blunt, or harsh, even accusative, I have been sure to back up every claim and provide as many sources as have been possible. In the end, if one still feels that I have done poorly, may they voice their opinion and not be looked down upon for it. At the end of the day, that is exactly what I seek: discussion.
--- Rook Hawkins, 2007
 So as to there be no confusion with the terms being used, according to the American Heritage Dictionary (2nd College Edition), it places the following definition to the term ‘cult’, “A system or community of religious worship and ritual”, and also, “An exclusive group of persons sharing an esoteric interest.” These are the definitions in which one shall refer to when using the term ‘cult’ from here on in.