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