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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
    Wilusa  April 21, 2015

    I then used Triassicman’s link, and *that* did work. Thanks, Triassicman! After watching it for a few minutes, I no longer found the poor lip-sync distracting.

    I looked at the whole thing, but I had hoped there’d be more about the Gospel of Thomas. It was great to see Bart…and have him show up again, ten minutes before the end.

    But I’m so sick of all this ranting about Mary Magdalene! And I noticed the narrator never mentioned the *silliness* of fragments he wanted viewers to take seriously: Mary Magdalene’s “vision” of Jesus’s pulling a woman out of his side and then having sex with her (causing Mary to faint); a gigantic Jesus and a talking cross coming out of the tomb in the Gospel of Peter.

    Wasn’t he going too far in saying that in the Gospel of Peter, Jesus *doesn’t die*? (Why would he have been in the tomb, if he hadn’t died?) And did the Ebionites really believe “the Christ” was a separate entity who left Jesus when he was on the cross? I thought that was the belief of some Gnostics.

  2. Avatar
    jerryb  April 21, 2015

    Bart, thank you so much for including this video. I’ve read your book, “Lost Christianities” a number of years ago, and the video was a great refresher, and visual treat. One thing I enjoy about listening to you speak, is that you have the ability to make complicated subjects simple to understand. This speaks highly of your understanding on your subject matter. Please keep up the fine work. You have one loyal reader, listener and video watcher.

  3. Avatar
    Philbert  April 21, 2015

    Hi Bart, Thank you for the link we watched the video and it was awesome.

  4. Avatar
    DarrinOren  April 21, 2015

    Hi Bart,

    Just finished the BBC special. Enjoyable. Nice synopsis on much of what I gad already read from your books. What I have enjoyed most in this particular encounter is the humility with which you have revealed your progression of thought/belief regarding The Gospel of Thomas and Gnosticism. This vulnerability on your part is, perhaps, the main reason I kept reading Misquoting Jesus when my Western Evangelical hardwiring kept demanding a ctl+alt+del. I have since completed nine more of your books.

    Also, I was tracking with you the first time you explained the occurence of False Memories in your recent posts. I think this is even more common in groups/institutions than with individuals. I can have a memory personally that is completely accurate, partially false or completely false, that will likely remain if it is not challenged by someone else. If I bring that memory to my community, even if it is 100% true, it stands to be challenged and compromised. If someone else in the community has a, even slightly, less true memory from mine, there is a good chance that a compromise is pending – if only for “unity’s” sake.

  5. Avatar
    Retsbewt  April 21, 2015

    Interesting documentary posing the paradox that orthodoxy, though exclusionary, was necessary for the survival of Christianity as a religious movement. And now that many texts have been recovered and made better known, for example, in Dr. Ehrman’s writings, what next? Most Christians have little knowledge, or selective knowledge, even of the canonical books. It seems likely that the lost writings will remain esoteric knowledge, however interesting and meaningful they may be. OTOH, if the writings of Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard and Mary Baker Eddy can attract large numbers of followers, perhaps we could see a revival in our own time of Gnostics or Ebionites! Thanks for the link.

  6. Avatar
    Pamela  April 22, 2015

    I wish I could have watched, but had no success in opening. I am right in the middle of your Lost Christianities course through the Great Courses series. The class is outstanding and I believe this video would have complimented very well. Thank you for your work and knowledge – changed my life!

  7. Avatar
    AlaskaRoy  April 22, 2015

    So you’re agnostic on the gnostic, then?

  8. Avatar
    Teamonger  April 22, 2015

    An excellent survey of the early Christianities. I would’ve liked to have seen more emphasis on the question of which version may be most historically “true” to the actual Jesus and disciples, and the criteria by which such judgements might be made. For example, the apocalypticism of a gospel, or lack thereof…

  9. Avatar
    rosannemartino  April 22, 2015

    Thanks for posting this. Good to hear other people thinking about these things, especially the “canonization” of the NT.

  10. Avatar
    nudjnudj  April 23, 2015

    We’re British, so we have to ask Rev. Jones: was Tom Baker your favourite Doctor? You’ve got the hat and the curls even if your scarf isn’t quite right.

  11. Avatar
    nudjnudj  April 23, 2015

    BBC Four have definitely dropped the programme from their On Demand. Bastards. Channel Four would never do that. Okay, we’re back to trying to watch it here before the wankers pull it down.

  12. Avatar
    nudjnudj  April 23, 2015

    Finally got to see this all the way through. Thank you for preserving it from the small minds at Auntie Beeb who have the courage to produce controversial documentaries but not to stand by them. Must question one assertion though. If Constantine ever “converted”, it was on his death bed. And just to be on the safe side, he had “last rites” performed by priests of several religions. Hard to see him as a Christian hero when he murdered most of his family. The victory of Orthodoxy is more about worldly power than righteousness. In the end, my husband who was raised Anglican and I who was raised Jewish have come to the conclusion that monotheism in all its forms leads to intolerance and judgmentalism. Can you cite any moment in history when polytheists engaged in religious wars? Remember the Roman persecution of Christians (such as it was) was political not theological. It was like Jehovah’s Witnesses refusing to salute the American flag. Only monotheism with its insistence on One True God leads to Crusades and Jihads.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 24, 2015

      Well, certainly Hindus have been involved with religious wars. And Romans did persecute some marginal groups.

  13. Avatar
    Wilusa  April 23, 2015

    Am I alone in not having a high opinion of the documentary? Stuff like suggesting “Maybe Mary Magdalene should have been the first Pope”?!? And suggesting early Christians needed to believe Jesus had really suffered because “the Romans” were “slaughtering thousands” of them, and they could only believe their cause justified enduring that if *he* had been willing to suffer? Remembering things Bart has said, I think that claim of a “slaughter of thousands” by “the Romans” is exaggerated.

    The thought that if those many sects had survived a little longer, and Constantine hadn’t seen Christianity as a faith well-enough united that he could use it as a unifying force in the Empire, *Christianity itself might have died out*…I confess I wish that had happened, and we were just studying *all of it* as a collection of weird little sects some ancients believed in.

  14. Ryan Pence
    Ryan Pence  April 24, 2015

    So happy to have download access to this Doc. Thanks for making it available to us! This blog is really something. There is so much knowledge available throughout it. This blog really is a treasure trove of education. Thanks again!

  15. Avatar
    Jason  May 3, 2015

    I know this is a late addition to this thread so I hope you see it, Bart. I watched this video again today after watching “Raiders of the Lost Ark” last night and something kind of bothered me-I have to ask, did the BBC have any part in picking your wardrobe, or was the hat of your own choosing?
    (if tags don’t work, I apologize for this:)
    It just kind of seems like there might have been some subtle anti-atheist casting going on there…

    • Bart
      Bart  May 4, 2015

      Completely my choice and my hat! It’s what I wear in places like Egypt!

  16. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  August 10, 2015

    Again sorry for randomly blogging but seems as if I’m only caught in the mysteries.

    Im sorry but Luke 7 47 sounds a little like Gospel of Thomas line ;114

    I love the Lost Gospel BBC show by the way how I found you Bart 🙂
    So you give all your new students a pop quiz of how much they know when they start your class and you buy them dinner
    How many books are in the NT 27 thats easy give me something hard !

  17. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  August 10, 2015

    Again sorry for randomly blogging but seems as if I’m only caught in the mysteries.

    Im sorry but Luke 7 47 sounds a little like Gospel of Thomas line ;114

    I love the Lost Gospel BBC show by the way how I found you Bart 🙂
    So you give all your new students a pop quiz of how much they know when they start your class and you buy them dinner
    How many books are in the NT 27 thats easy give me something hard !
    Again in Luke with
    Gospel of Thomas Line 46 / Luke 7 28
    Easy I can do this all day

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