One of the ironies of contemporary spirituality is surely the popularity of the Gnostic gospels amongst those seeking a more human, down to earth Jesus, for the Jesus of the Gnostics is far more alien and inhuman than the Jesus of the New Testament.
Do I exaggerate?
Consider this flashback episode from The Acts of John:
.... Sometimes when I meant to touch him [Jesus], I met with a material and solid body; but at other times when I felt him, his substance was immaterial and incorporeal, as if it did not exist at all ... And I often wished, as I walked with him, to see his footprint, whether it appeared on the ground (for I saw him as it were raised up from the earth), and I never saw it. (§ 93)
The closest the New Testament gospels come to this are the transfiguration and walking on water accounts, neither of which affirm an immaterial Jesus. And even the appearance accounts (which are post- not pre- resurrection) don’t go as far.
So, contemporary interest in the Gnostic gospels has long been a puzzle for me. To be honest I wondered how much of the interest was due to ignorance about what the Gnostic gospels actual said.
But Epstein’s article on Post-Atheism has helped me clarify some of my thoughts. In essence I sense that what is happening is that the “obvious” mythological character of the Gnostic gospels creates a plausibility structure for treating the New Testament as “obviously” mythological as well. This facilitates not only the “demythologization” of Jesus for those who find the miraculous objectionable; it also facilitates alternative myth validation for those seeking a more “inclusive” and consumer friendly Jesus.
In such fashion, Jesus becomes a messenger without a message. He is stripped of his revelatory power and becomes, himself, the deepest of mysteries. Intellectual honesty requires us to profess agnosticism about the historical Jesus; assurance becomes heretical; God remains unknown; all that remains is Jesus the mythological mirror of the human soul.