Are they considered on topic? They are not primary texts as they do not appear in any Judeo-Christian canon. However, we also allow the direct examination of secondary texts. Should Gnostic texts be considered valid secondary texts that are open for direct examination?
3FWIW: I think the category needs nuancing - not all Gnostic texts are equally interesting, relevant, or important for BH.SE. See @JackDouglas's contribution, below. If they are taken as an undifferentiated lump, it makes things difficult.– DɑvïdOct 11, 2014 at 11:10
@Davïd good call.– DanOct 13, 2014 at 15:29
ScottS wrote the following in a comment on another answer, which I think is very clear and helpful (emphasis mine):
...they are undoubtedly a special category of tertiary, as the controversy around them is whether the "Gnostic gospels" deserve a canonical (primary) position, and if secondary writings from those therefore deserve such status. So it seems a level of "direct examination" should be allowed in the context of discussing how/why they did not historically meet canonical status, while avoiding direct examination of text critical matters related to them
The whole area is rather specialist and not necessarily of direct interest to our target expertise, but like ScottS, I think these texts are a special category because of the questions on canonicity.
I propose that we go further though, and allow any question on Gnostic texts that intersects with our core subject, not just those that directly ask about how/why they did not historically meet canonical status. By this reasoning, we would also allow questions
- on comparative theology between the Gnostics and mainstream texts
- about authorship and date of authorship
- on the Gospel of Thomas (see David's comment below for why)
and the like.
This is similar to a loose interpretation of Dan's 'tertiary' answer minus the word 'indirect':
The Gnostic texts should be considered tertiary texts and are thus only open to
indirectexamination where they help shed light on primary or secondary texts.
2Sounds about right to me, too -- although I do think the Gospel of Thomas is in a "special" category. The major gospel parallels volumes include it, e.g., Aland's Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum (which devotes Appendix 1 to it), or Funk's New Gospel Parallels (Vol. 2, which presents it following gJohn). gThomas clearly has an importance for the canonical gospels that (AFAIK) is not the case for the other Gnostic writings in relation to the rest of the NT.– DɑvïdOct 11, 2014 at 10:53
The Gnostic texts should be considered tertiary texts and are thus only open to indirect examination where they help shed light on primary or secondary texts.
3I (and church history) would seem to classify them as tertiary, since they were considered non-canonical by (loosely) orthodox Christianity. Yet they are undoubtedly a special category of tertiary, as the controversy around them is whether the "Gnostic gospels" deserve a canonical (primary) position, and if secondary writings from those therefore deserve such status. So it seems a level of "direct examination" should be allowed in the context of discussing how/why they did not historically meet canonical status, while avoiding direct examination of text critical matters related to them.– ScottSOct 10, 2014 at 19:51
I don't think the distinction between secondary and tertiary text has any particular bearing on this issue. What matters is whether the expertise necessary to construct informed answers on topics ranging through manuscript evidence, historical religious context, translation, and interpretation is the same expertise that we apply to texts belonging to various Biblical canons.
In keeping with this earlier guidance from SE staff, I think we should scope the site around the area of expertise rather than the covers of any particular book. Questions about about apocryphal texts such as the gospel-of-thomas or even the epistle-of-barnabas seem like they should be on topic for both direct inquiry as well as in relation to our primary sources.
While allowing for examination on Gnostic gospels, using areas of expertise to define the scope of the site does rule out the inclusion of most other religious texts on the basis that the languages and religious context are so different that a different area of expertise is necessary to handle them.
The implication is that other Hebrew or Koine text's are on-topic such as the works of Plutarch and Polybius and probably Koine texts important to contemporary Greek religion. I think blundin had right when he said: "the understood common definition of the field limits it to Christian and Jewish texts" Oct 10, 2014 at 12:44
@JackDouglas That's why I included the "historical religious context" in the list of things the expertise had to overlap in. Plutarch would definitely not qualify nor would other Greek philosophers of the era. Gnostic texts, while arguably neither Christian nor Jewish, do because of the derivative nature and the impact the mere existence of such texts had on the formation of the canons in the first place (a distinction Polybius can't claim).– CalebOct 10, 2014 at 13:20
What you say in your comment isn't at all clear in your answer: your list of topics doesn't constrain the texts as written. "historical religious context" could apply to non-religious texts. I agree (I think) that we should permit questions on Gnostic texts (as defined by Wikipedia) because they are of interest to our experts but I think we do need a specific guideline that relegates them to lower importance - I think they are basically 'curiosities' to our experts. Oct 10, 2014 at 14:50
@Caleb The problem with 'expertise' is that any "expert"(as long as he/she has the right name badge) can conjure up any sort of criteria to make it acceptable-providing it is laden with obscure linguistics and footnoted with appropriate head-nods. Canon, and the process of determining canon, is what separates screed from what we have determined as Scripture. And canon has already been decided for us. A tertiary reference at best, simply to validate the authentic is in my view as far as one would care to allow heretical and condemned texts.– TauOct 10, 2014 at 22:45
btw I haven't DV'd your answer and am still considering upvoting - your point about area of expertise is spot on. However I think it is worth commenting on what that area of expertise is in the real world of BH - and from the conversations I've had, that doesn't really extend to most of the Gnostic works (those gospel-of-thomas seems to be an exception). Oct 12, 2014 at 14:29
@Caleb BTW, where do we 'fit' the gospel of Marcion? He gives direct references to Luke, yet suffers universal rejection from Irenaeus, Tertullian, and other early church fathers. Perhaps(daen is good at this) a list needs to be posted as what constitutes "Gnostic texts" which we can agree fall into this category.– TauOct 12, 2014 at 22:14
The Gnostic texts should be considered secondary texts and are thus open for direct examination.
I have to agree, but I don't consider them. Maybe I should say, I won't consider them, when I post a question or answer. Each of the books that were rejects from the canonization of the Bible were done for a reason which is easily discovered with a little google-ing. So I don't invest time in them any more. But then, that is just me. Jun 12, 2015 at 3:10
1That's a different issue than the texts themselves being on topic. We still want questions of interest to experts, not LMGTFY questions.– DanJun 12, 2015 at 18:33
I agree, and I'm not disparaging that. I am just saying that me, and people like me, will probably just ignore those questions. I whole heartily recommend people bringing up such questions and see who responds. Sorry if there was any confusion from me on that. Jun 12, 2015 at 21:17
The Gnostic texts should always be off topic on this site. They are not open to direct nor indirect examination.