Bruce: Part of understanding what gnostic sources actually do is to reacquire their purchase on cosmology, and that I think is now occurring in the discussion of what gnostic authors meant to say. But the other way in which I refer to a new Gnosticism is a direct contradiction of a classic gnostic postlude, namely the notion that matter inherently should be seen as being corrupt and often evil. And we can see this I think on page 2 in my quotation from David’s work, From God and Good, where the angels want to go another way at the moment of creation, “Do not create, admonish the angel of light, there will be too much suffering, and so on through, the litany of angels.”
This is an interesting reversal of the gnostic cosmology. In the gnostic cosmology, the source is portrayed as having pure consciousness and the angels become defective, and so we have the result of Pistis Sophia devolving into matter. But in this picture that David gives us, David suggests that matter should no longer as in the Platonist assumption, be regarded as inherently febrile or evil. Instead, matter itself becomes a form of risk, which the source takes despite the advice of the angels.
This leads to another interesting difference that one can see in the new Gnosticism as compared to the old. When one looks at the application of the same metaphor, and this you will see on page 4 of the handout, when I look at the way in which the metaphor of the fishermen is used. David suggests we look at the fishermen as reeling in the line ever since that initial moment of creation, contravening the advice of the arch angels, hour after hour, day after day, year after year, century after century, and on and on. It was not easy reeling in an entire cosmos even if you were the eternal metaphysical cosmic fishermen.
Gospel according to Thomas from Nag Hammadi, looks at the work of fishing in a different way. “Son of man is like a wise fisherman who casts his net into the sea and drew it up from the sea full of little fish. Among them, the fishermen found a fine large fish. He threw all the little fish back into the sea and easily chose the large fish.” He’s only looking for certain resonances with his own identity. All others can be dispensed with.
This is an example of what it means, it seems to me, to step away from the view of matter being inherently inferior and to considering the possibility that matter is actually an instrument of consciousness rather than inherently antipathetic to it.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank especially our presenters for coming today. Many of you have come from far field. It’s our business insofar as there is business this evening to see to it that we all get settled. I’m happy to take questions, objections and the rest now or to wait for that to unfurl during the next few days. I hope that the program is set up so as to allow for there to be a free exchange whenever any of us feels that’s appropriate, and that’s about what I have to say this evening.
Gary, have I omitted something?
Bruce: Gary is my co-chair and so he--
Gary: It’s a delight to have you all with us. Are you taking questions now, Bruce, or shall we--?
Bruce: Do you feel like it, Gary? I think we have dinner for the presenters at 7. I think that was our agreement, right? So that means that we’d have time now to discuss and how we want to discuss is a matter for us to establish as ethos.
Audience: Maybe over a glass of wine or a more informal way?
Bruce: That’s another way. [Laughter] Yes please, Larry?
Larry: I’m willing to make a comment. I was just waiting to say it’s not like a class where the bell rang and everybody’s--
Bruce: Everyone leaves, right?
Larry: But we’re not eating until 7.
Bruce: Exactly, there’s time. That was the idea.
Larry: I found this very interesting, a good example of why it’s worth coming to learn things we don’t know as oppose to going to conferences where you see the same Kabbalah because I would not have come at this from the Gnosticism point of view. I would have come in it from the point of view of Kabbalah, which David and I have discussed many times. But of course Gnosticism is essentially the root of Kabbalah because much of Kabbalah is looking like a kosher Gnosticism. It’s not our subject today, but I was very happy, but of course I knew that I would hear this from some of your work with the reasonable view of these gnostic texts and not all this idiocy that we hear, but pass over that, because I’m sure that’s not really relevant today.
But what I wanted to say is that I still noted down the fact that it seems to me that some of when you read the paragraph, and let’s make believe that David wrote, now what someone thought when they’re not here, someone different, then he can answer you. “Tell you what, this is how I thought of it, not that way,” [inaudible 07:06] because readers, so in the short outline which you gave. So it seems that [inaudible 07:17] not saying it myself, not to anyone else because they understood you, that we’re as an agnostic system, this situation of essentially emanation [PH] results in a negative result, in a failure, which is similar to the breaking of the vessels of Kabbalah.
It resulted in David’s system a success. This gets to something I always ask myself about the [inaudible 07:42], which is I guess the best example of later Jewish, semi-Gnosticism mixed with Neoplatonism, etc. etc. And the question that we couldn’t figure out is why would God set up a situation in which the vessels would break, because as opposed to in your situation in which it’s an emanation who goofs up. It’s also an emanation in Kabbalah because once you get to creating the world, it’s not the direct.
But still it seems to me that what David is saying, what Kabbalah said, is that it is an intentional situation in a certain sense that the story has to work out this way because we need this to, which differs very differently from this mess of junky, moist whatever it is, which seems to be an unsuccessful pregnancy, as you said, or no, as the text there said. So that’s the first topic that I had.
The second topic I have is timeframe, and I haven’t really thought this out at all really. But there’s a big irony in a certain sense that as you mentioned in your discussion before that -- just the day before -- two days ago, I had a whole conversation with my wife about the big bang theory because people thought the big bang theory is the proof that really the basic essence of Genesis with [inaudible 0a8:45] was true. Of course, the big bang theory, it isn’t exactly the same and this time thing comes in there.
But I think the notion of Genesis also is never mind for a moment, Augustine who says this, but I think the notion of Genesis is that there is -- that what we call time is irrelevant until there’s a creation and that seems to be very clear because first, you’ve got to stick up the bodies we feel -- the heavenly bodies, what time is? So it seems to me that that is also right there in Genesis and we’ll call it the myth for a moment, that -- meaning myth in the good sense -- that there’s no time beforehand. And it seems to me that the whole religious tradition has never been bothered by the thing that Hawkins [PH] says and all this kind of thing that, “What do you mean? There couldn’t be God because he couldn’t exist if there is no time because there is no time so he couldn’t have existed before creation.”
Somehow or another that doesn’t seem to bother us because we assume that God is beyond time and therefore that you can’t even measure it that way. So what are you talking about? So anyhow, this is a long set of comments, but I hope that it’s helpful in some way because it really got me thinking in a different direction than previously on this topic.
Bruce: Thank you, Larry. Just to reply briefly and then I do want to come to Peter. On the issue of the Kabbalah, I agree with you that it is on the whole, more accurate to say that Kabbalah is a version of Gnosticism than the reverse, especially Lurianic Kabbalah. On the other hand, I have to admit I just want to say, as it were by way of footnote, that I still have some regard for Robert Grant’s suggestion. I think he was the first to make it. David Flusser made it as well, but I think Robert Grant was there first, that one possible route of Gnosticism was itself [inaudible 10:57], one of the roots of the Kabbalah, but that’s a nicety.
On the issue of time, what I find most fascinating about Augustine’s approach is first of all, that he is establishing that from the 5th century, you have a view of time which is completely unlike anything that has to do with the creationist debate of the moment. As it happens, next spring I’m teaching a course on evolution with our professor of biology, and our purpose is to set side-by-side, scientific and theological understandings in their time and to talk about their relationship. And I’ve been astounded at the way in which Augustine’s understanding of simultaneity and creation has in recent discussion been entirely clear. [PH] You might understand that as being the result of ideology, triumphing entirely over knowledge or there being an actual reconfiguration of the way in which Christians are approaching this text because I think that Augustine and Origin [PH] and Jerome [PH] -- I mean Jerome is actively speaking with Rabbinican [PH] to locketers [PH] when he interprets Genesis 1.
I would tend to agree, that the attempt of the interpreters is to construct a view of what it means to live without time at that moment. It may not resolve any questions in itself, but I think that is their attempt. Professor [inaudible 12:46]?
Audience: Sorry, if I could say two things. I think there are two wonderful things on what this means. One is that you’re confronted with different approaches [inaudible 13:02] important questions. Another is the danger of oil meeting water and let me expand on that for just a moment.
I think what’s fascinating to [inaudible 13:17] talking about people’s attitudes to a cultural [inaudible 13:22], but it was a little more than that. It was simply an exposition of how people thought in the past in response to the great things that have super powers. [PH] It seems to be the role of some of us here who are hardnosed to various degrees of an enormous scale to listen to your arguments. To say that on a whole, we thought it was nonsense [PH] and that it’s our role to [inaudible 14:01] what we see as the insights and hallucinations and comprehensions that science can bring to the kind of [inaudible 14:10] that we are concerned.
I think in a word, everything that’s just been said by you this evening, although fascinating at an intellectual level, has no relevance whatsoever to an understanding of the nature of the word. Philosophy, historical philosophy and its obscure antist [PH] cousin, theology, really has confused. I think what you have to do is to sit back and let the scientists tell you what the truth is and try to let you incorporate that into your world.
So philosophy in the past has been a complete waste of time and it’s up to us [inaudible 15:00], scientists, to put you right and maybe the pleasure of this meeting will be to put you on the right path to understanding in the future.