Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Like So Many Theisms

I wanted to highlight some work that April DeConick is doing, which she's posted about over at The Forbidden Gospels Blog. In a post from about a week ago she mentioned that she's considering the potential for introducing new language to describe the field that currently is labeled "gnostic or gnosticism":
My reason for this is not that I do not think that gnosticism existed in the ancient world - in fact I do. But the categories have become so abused, that they have become heuristically meaningless for me as an historian of religion. I can't use them without running into walls.

The category is a huge mess and people use these words whatever-which-way they see fit for whatever argument they want to make. If they don't want a particular text to be gnostic, they will say that it doesn't have this-that-or-the-other characteristic that is gnostic. If they want the text to be gnostic, they will say that it has such-and-such characteristic which is gnostic. And then there is proto-gnostic, which means there are elements of gnosticism here, but not enough to make it gnostic yet.

In other words, there's much baggage associated with the terms "gnostic and gnosticism", and DeConick wants to step out of that box as it is constricting and stifles scholarly work! She goes on to suggest two possibilities:
I'm considering two names for this phenonemon. Transtheism or Supratheism. I like Transtheism because "trans" has two connotations: across and above/beyond. ... Supratheism is also possible, although it may indicate too much of a complete transcendence and separation of the God, as if the otherworldly God has no contact with this world (which is not the case in these systems).

Most recently, in a post entitled "Transtheism it is", DeConick has revealed her choice to move forward with, and why:
I have continued to ponder this terminology, and I have fallen in love with it. What it will allow me to do in terms of analysis is truly astonishing. I wish I had thought about this earlier in my career. To name the type of theism that these ancient thinkers were involved in allows me to cross boundaries and open up discussions of their ideology. I am not going to be restrained by previous research and definitions! The limits are gone.

I'm by no means a scholar, but I find this all very fascinating. Also, DeConick's book, the Thirteenth Apostle (about the Gospel of Judas), is soon to be re-released with a revised edition. I hadn't picked it up yet, and now I'm glad I hadn't. I'll be checking the new edition out as soon as I can.