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BBC Clip on “The Lost Gospels”

On Tuesday the 21st, September 2010, BBC FOUR aired “The Lost Gospels.”   I was one of the talking heads.  The presenter was an interesting fellow, an Anglican priest Pete Owen Jones. The show included several on-location discourses.  They flew me to Egypt for the taping.   Some of it was done near the village of Nag Hammadi, at the spot where the so-called “Nag Hammadi Library” was discovered in 1945.  The fourteen books found in a jar in this wilderness area contain 52 tractates, the famous “Gnostic Gospels.”  The most famous of these was and is the Gospel of Thomas.   The clip here includes a shot in a busy market in Cairo, where we are sipping coffee and thinking deep thoughts together.

In the clip I talk about the Gospel of Thomas, and I would like to make one point before you watch it.  For over a decade now a lot of scholars of Gnosticism have argued that this Gospel is not actually a Gnostic Gospel.  None of the complicated Gnostic mythology that describes the divine realm or the coming into existence of this material realm can be found in Thomas, and so, in this judgment, if anyone reads the Gospel as a Gnostic text, they are reading Gnosticism *into* the Gospel instead of out of it.

I resisted this view for a long time.   But the more I’ve studied the matter, read the texts, and worked on the Gospel of Thomas — especially over the past two years — the more it has started to make sense to me.   Today I would not say what I emphatically state in this clip, that Thomas is (definitely) a Gnostic Gospel.  Instead, now I would say that Thomas certainly can be *read* in a Gnostic way (presupposing all that Gnostic mythology), and that it certainly *was* read in this way in antiquity (it is found in a codex with other texts that clearly are Gnostic, which makes me think that the compiler of the codex read it in a Gnostic way).  But whether its author himself was Gnostic or meant the text to be read Gnostically is something that I don’t think we can say.

The BCC would not allow the following video documentary to be posted publically on Bart’s YouTube Channel, where it can only be viewed for limited and segmented educational purposes.

IF YOU WANT TO SEE THIS CLIP, and everything else of interest on this blog, JOIN!!!  It doesn’t cost much and all the money that comes in goes out to worthy causes!

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York Symposium on Early Christian Apocrypha
Q and The Gospel of Thomas



  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  April 20, 2015

    How neat that you actually went near the village of Nag Hammadi.

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    Triassicman  April 20, 2015

    http://youtu.be/y3fywVlTB98 Is another link I viewed it on. Lip sync is not good though.

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    jhague  April 20, 2015

    Could the gospel of John also be *read* in a Gnostic way? And maybe some other parts of the NT?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 22, 2015

      Yes, it could be. And was!!

      • Avatar
        Teamonger  April 23, 2015

        Could the Gospel of John have originally been a Gnostic-type gospel, expurgated to be made more palatable to the orthodox?

        • Bart
          Bart  April 24, 2015

          Well, there’s no evidence for it, and what we think of as Gnosticism comes from a later period.

          • Avatar
            Teamonger  April 24, 2015

            Randall Helms held some such view, due to controversies surrounding Cerinthus among church fathers. Irenaeus said the John Gospel was written to correct Cerinthus, but Epiphanius argues against those he called the Alogi, who believed it was Cerinthus himself who originally wrote the Gospel. Helms puts forth the notion that Cerinthus did indeed write it, and that it was later revised at Ephesus to be made palatable to the orthodox.

            What about you, Bart? Any pet views on the authorship of the fourth gospel?

          • Bart
            Bart  April 27, 2015

            Nope, I think the author was anonymous — and will always remain that way.

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    SteveWalach  April 20, 2015

    Thanks for the link to the BBC broadcast. The program — which I have yet to watch through to the end — raises the Gospel of Thomas to a higher status among the general public, many of us who probably had only scant awareness, if any, that such a compelling gospel existed.

    Coming as it did in 1945 — the final year of the most murderous war in human history, its discovery takes on a special (salvific?) glow and coming as it did by pure happenstance adds to its unique luster and its genuinely humble 20th Century debut. That its interpretation so confounds even us moderns — and also infuriates so many — is a fair indication why so many of the early church fathers lashed out against it so harshly. However, what were they missing the GTh’s adherents had placed such faith in?

    You contend that the gospels esoteric drift is what especially annoyed the heresiologists. They held — as do so almost Christians today — that salvation can be achieved only through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Such a set up allows the learned and the unlearned equal access, a situation at odds with the esoteric tone of GTh, which you opine is what particularly riled the establishment Christians.

    I think in Irenaeus’s case, it was less his commitment to egalitarianism than it was his umbrage at being told he needed a “second baptism” and that perhaps he — and others — were not “capable of receiving the truth” (E. Pagels, “Beyond Belief,” pp 136 -137.)

    The egalitarianism of GTh is partially established, perhaps, in logion 7, when Jesus implies a child seven days old has knowledge about the “place of Life” and even “the person old in days will not hesitate to ask” that child.

    Perhaps what also vexed the heresiologists was GTh’s fundamental trust in each human being and its lack of emphasis on traditional lines of authority, i.e., apostolic succession. That’s no way to build an institution!

    I find GTh remarkably spiritual but also very much humanistic in post-Enlightenment sense, and a gospel tailor-made for doubters, skeptics, thinkers — and, above all, seekers.

    Any thoughts?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 22, 2015

      My sense is that the Gospel is less interested in seeking than in knowing.

      • Avatar
        SteveWalach  April 22, 2015

        Yes, the gospel itself claims it has the goods, but it also encourages seekers to puzzle out its secret meaning.

        Much different than passively and uncritically believing what one’s been told.

        “Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds…”

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    Judith  April 20, 2015

    What fun getting to see you back then.

  6. gmatthews
    gmatthews  April 21, 2015

    The BBC (not sure which channel exactly other than channel 5) aired “Mysteries of the Bible – Jesus” a couple weeks ago or so. After Larry Hurtado mentioned it on his blog I found a copy and tried to watch it, but they didn’t seem to have much of a budget and the “cheap feel” to the whole thing was really distracting. Anyway, you were interviewed for it. You really get around!

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    Ferlin  April 21, 2015

    One of my favorite documentaries. Thanks for the upload.

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    RGM-ills  April 21, 2015

    Thanks for sharing that. I agree with the Bart from 2010. Enjoyed your part and also the part about Marcion. How would you contrast your thoughts today on Maricon’s theory, versus the days of your first arrival at seminary? The monotheism versus duotheism twist thing. Assuming strong rejection in the early days, but why not embrace it with your latest open-minded, controversial, dogma-busting today self. Not embrace it as a truth, but as an alternative interpretation. You know, as opposed to a trinity-twisting make-it fit theory that won out.

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    Jason  April 21, 2015

    Thanks for taking the time to make this available to us. Membership has its privileges!

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    Baerheim  April 21, 2015

    Thank you for the video. I am sorry that you had to go through all this, but it is very appreciated. Love your work…keep blogging!

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    RonaldTaska  April 21, 2015

    I was able to see about an hour of this video before transmission ended. It is a very clear and organized presentation and is quite good. Dr. Ehrman appears with hat and sunglasses near Nag Hammadi and also at a cafe. The video discusses in depth the diversity of early Christianity, the role of women in the early church, and the human vs. divine nature of Christ as these subjects are presented in Lost Scriptures including the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Phillip, the Gospel of Mary, and the Gospel of Peter. Thanks for the effort required to make the video available to us. .It is an excellent summary of the topics included in Dr. Ehrman’s book entitled “Lost Scriptures.

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    DeeLM1966  April 21, 2015

    Just watched the full program. Very interesting. Thanks for finding a way to make it available.

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    Claudia  April 21, 2015

    I enjoyed this video very much. Thank you for making it available.

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    philprof  April 21, 2015

    Very nice. Thank you for making this available. I think I saw this program a few years ago on BBC America, but it bears a second viewing. It’s a shame that it can’t be made more widely available, since it does such a good job of making both the diversity of ancient Christianities and the process of canonization so clear for a lay audience. (Of course, I suppose we always have the works of Bart Ehrman which are directed to a lay audience….)

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    rivercrowman  April 21, 2015

    Bart, thanks for making this available to us.

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    Wilusa  April 21, 2015

    I just tried to look at it, and it doesn’t work for me! I see a large black screen with a gold column-like thing on the left, and nothing else happens. There’s a blue button on the bottom of the screen; I tried pressing that, but it merely produced a few squiggles. Also a right-arrow and left-arrow on the bottom of the screen, but pressing right-arrow didn’t do anything.

    I’d been using Safari. Got out of it and tried Firefox, but that wouldn’t work either, at least with the version I have. And I’m not willing to go to the bother of getting a new version of a browser I’ve only used once in, probably, several years. (Needed it to update the expiration date of my credit card with PayPal – which, by the way, I really hate.)

    • Avatar
      Support  April 23, 2015

      The video is not Mac, Linux or Windows dedicated, it is merely a MP2 video file, which is common on all the OS architectures. Your computer probably doesn’t have a H.264 codec installed, where it is MP2 encoded as this format does require a resident codec to interpret. If you have a Macintosh, you could install the VLC player for Mac OS X Web Plugin which will provide common and exotic codecs. http://www.videolan.org/vlc/download-macosx.html

      If using Windows, you could install the K-Lite Basic codec package which will provide common and exotic codecs. http://www.codecguide.com/download_kl.htm Hope that helps!

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    johnrobertmack  April 21, 2015

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I’m glad you were able to get permission. I’ve only just dipped my toe in it so far, but any new material on the non-canonical gospels is always exciting.

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    jennybee  April 21, 2015

    Very interesting! Thanks for posting!

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    maryhelena  April 21, 2015

    Thank you for making the BBC FOUR program, The Lost Gospels, available.

    If Christianity is to move forward with retaining some relevance for the 21st century – perhaps it’s time for the Gnostic gospels to have their ‘moment’. Not, of course, a going back to their specific theological ideas but an acknowledgement of what was actually lost – the value of thinking outside the box of orthodoxy. ‘Elitist’ the ‘secret’ knowledge might well be but stretching ones intellect is what has always moved humanity to a more humane society. Among the byways and detours of intellectual evolution progress does emerge…

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    Jana  April 21, 2015

    Very thoughtful and generous. I’ve downloaded it while I could. Thank you. I’m eager to import your Bible book.

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