Monday, May 10, 2004

Pagels answers Witherington on Thomas

The sixth and final intalment of the Scholarly Smackdown on beliefnet between Elaine Pagels and Ben Witherington III, "Did Paul Distort Christianity", has now been published:

Scholarly Smackdown Round 3: Elaine Pagels

Pagels's post is (at the very least) a useful summary of her thinking on The Gospel of Thomas, on which she clearly thinks that Ben Witherington III's thinking is out of date since she refers repeatedly and disparagingly to what they learned in graduate school, e.g. here:
A further indication that Thomas is not "Gnostic," by your own definition, is that it does use the Old Testament in a very positive way—just as the Gospel of John does. Both frame their views of the gospel with midrashic interpretations of Genesis 1. Recognizing this has led scholars far beyond what you learned as a graduate student from Bruce Metzger, and what I learned in graduate school. That's why those of us working in this field—including Birger Pearson—have come to recognize these texts not as "Gnostic"—whatever that fuzzy term meant—but as early Christian, and immersed, like all the early Christian sources we know, in the Hebrew Bible.
Final reflection on the two Beliefnet Scholarly Smackdowns: so far they are a useful but flawed experiment. What they have been good at has been giving the reader a flavour of each of the author's views. They are useful mini-articles. What they have been less good at has been the (unfortunately titled) "smackdown" of the title, which I am told is a wrestling analogy. There is precious little wrestling here! Because the scholars concerned (Crossan, Pagels and Witherington) have been encouraged to write relatively lengthy, self-contained emails, the actual critical engagement has been too limited. There has been too much talking past one another. If you want a good quality of interaction, I still think you have to go a long way to beat Xtalk at its best. It's not always at its best, of course, but when it is it's the most stimulating around.

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