Q&A: The Gospel of Mary, fringe sects, and grass eaters...our author replies.
Why do you think there has been such an outpouring of interest in Gnosticism in the last few years?
I think many people are interested in the soul of Christianity, or the inner energy that made early Christianity so powerful and fascinating, and so they seek out the Gnostics as representing something more spiritual and less rule-based [than modern Christianity]. There is also the curiosity factor: People think that Gnosticism included hidden knowledge that was suppressed by the Church. That isn’t the case—"gnosis" was widely debated, though certain kinds of Gnostic sects were considered fringe.
What does the Gnostic text “The Gospel of Mary” tell us about the relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus? Does it imply that they were married?
No indeed! All it says is that some disciples thought Jesus loved Mary more than the disciples. The rest is made up by people who have a great fantasy life. And it is fantasy!
Which of the early Christian or Gnostic sects is the most interesting to you personally?
I am most fascinated by the Boskoi, the Grazers. They had a concrete plan to live in the Garden of Eden, and they carried it out despite all the social pressures to conform. They were radical "back to the earth" people who loved God and the world God made. We could use more of that today, given what we are doing to the physical world we live in.
In the book, you describe the Encratites, who were concerned with bodily purity. Yet another group, the Carpocratians, believed in indulging their lusts. How could such diametrically opposed versions of Christianity evolve from the same source?
It's really simple. If you're saved by your knowledge (gnosis) and not by what you do in your life, then what you do becomes neutral or irrelevant. So some could experience everything (the Carpocratians) and others could experience nothing (the Encratites), and they are spiritually equal.