More popularly but not as recently, A. Powell Davies also argued that orthodox Christianity existed in the midst of various other competing religious ideologies. After an intense struggle between such differing philosophies, orthodoxy triumphed in the third century AD.^6 Thesis of Pagels
Elaine Pagels advanced a related thesis in her volume The Gnostic Gospels,^7 in which she brought some of the conclusions of various esoteric discussions to the attention of the general public. She holds that the second century church included a wide variety of options, since canonical, theological and ecclesiastical views had not yet been settled. Differing texts and traditions, both Gnostic and orthodox, circulated alongside each other.^8
A struggle ensued, and orthodox beliefs prevailed. Thus, one of the several, competing options elevated itself above the others and became predominant. But, far from distinguishing itself as the superior historical and theological view, orthodoxy achieved victory largely on political and social grounds. Those who disagreed with these dogmatic assumptions were simply viewed as heretics.^9
Pagels also raises other issues, such as the possible Gnostic interpretations of certain of Jesus’ teachings, and the question of deciding between the conflicting itineraries of the orthodox and Gnostic traditions. She concludes that Gnosticism remains, even today, “a powerful alternative to what we know as orthodox Christian tradition.” But, presumably, conclusions must be reached on more solid grounds than they were in the early centuries after Christ.^10
Besides questions related to the milieu in which orthodox Christianity asserted itself, at least one other major issue needs to be introduced at this point. Earlier, we briefly mentioned differences among contemporary scholars with regard to the dating of the original Gnostic treatises. One particular case perhaps needs to be mentioned, both because of its crucial nature in the present discussions and as an actual example of the importance of these dating concerns. The case in point here
5 Wisse’s essay is included in Charles Hedrick and Robert Hodgson, eds., Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism, and Early Christianity(Peabody: Hendrickson, 1986). For an insightful critique, see James L. Jaquette’s review in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Vol. 32, No. 1, March, 1989, pp. 120–122.
6 A. Powell Davies, The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls(New York: New American Library, 1956), especially p. 120.
7 Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels(New York: Random House, 1979).
8 Ibid., pp. xxii-xxiv.
9 Ibid., pp. 29, 32, 56, 170–171, 179–181.
10 Ibid., pp. 12–13, 20, 84–90, 112–114, 177–178.
From Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus – Ancient Evidence For The Life Of Christ (in print at Amazon)
concerns the Gospel of Thomas, which is chiefly characterized as a document which purports to record 114 secret sayings of Jesus, but with very little narrative about his life.
Classically dated from about AD 140–170, a major effort has been made by scholars who argue on behalf of the Gnostic tradition that Thomas ought to be viewed, at least in part, as a much earlier document. It is variously asserted that the tradition behind the book is more ancient than the actual writing or even that the composition of the book dates from the first century. Thesis of Robinson and Koester