A Q Footnote (Trash-Talkin’ Elaine Pagels)

By Lee Karl Palo

© 2015 Lee Karl Palo


          I wrote the post about A New Paradigm for Understanding Q in response to a comment made by Elaine Pagels in the PBS documentary From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians. Pagels makes a comment, something to the effect that the author of Q wasn’t interested in the narrative details of Jesus’ life. My first thought was that that cannot be established with any kind of certainty, and is in fact speculation. I figured I could propose a couple of alternative understandings of Q that may be more plausible than Pagel’s concept of Q. To be completely fair, documentaries often pull quotes from longer conversations. This removes the quotes from the speaker’s conversational context and places them within a new context constructed by the filmmaker. Would Elaine Pagels be comfortable with how that line was used? Only she knows for sure.

That said, her quote does seem to typify much of the popular understanding of Q. It also annoys me greatly. Some scholars seem to have an axe to grind with the Christian faith, while others maintain a certain professional detachment that neither endorses nor repudiates faith. There is also a common problem with new discoveries. They tempt people to overestimate the significance of a given discovery. The discovery of the Gospel of Thomas among the Nag Hammadi Library has certainly been significant, and yet its dating to the second century of the Common Era can hardly be ignored when using it to discuss the varieties of early Christianity. It is the culmination of traditions within certain early Christian communities that developed into a written form much later than the Biblical or proto-orthodox traditions. If you want to have a good understanding of the most primitive forms of Christianity, and track its development, you are still better off looking at the Biblical materials, and prioritizing them before you come to later works like the Gospel of Thomas.

Being a fan of professional wrestling and the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche has give me an appreciation for the art of “trash talking” (the poignant use of ad hominems). Analogies are fun to work with, and it is good to keep in mind their limitations. Nevertheless, here is my stab at trash-talking Elaine Pagels…

When it comes to Q, has Elaine Pagels ground up a copy of the Gospel of Thomas, then snorted it—getting high on its Gnostic aroma? Does she then look at all else from out of a Gnostic haze. Coming across the imagined Q source that no one has ever seen, can she think clearly enough to question how similar the religious values of the authors of the respective documents could have been? I think not.

I got to meet Chris Jericho at a book signing (November 2007) for his first autobiographical work. I also got my WrestleMania XIX ticket signed by Chris.

I got to meet professional wrestler Chris Jericho at a book signing (November 2007) for his first autobiographical work. He also signed my WrestleMania XIX ticket. Chris Jericho is a very gifted trash-talker on TV, but is very polite when you meet him.

After writing that it feels like time to go watch the WWE Network (you too can subscribe for only $9.99). There is an episode of the series “WWE Countdown” on the top 10 trash talkers of all-time.

[Trash-talking shouldn’t be taken too seriously. I really don’t bear Elaine Pagels any ill will, but that doesn’t mean I can’t ever voice my disagreements with her.]


© 2015 Lee Karl Palo


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