Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Heresiological Genre

I am utterly fascinated by the writings against the heresies.  I don't know when this obsession started exactly.  I think it was just as I was leaving university and going into adult life.  I can't explain why I find this genre so fascinating other than to point to the fact that I have always been intrigued by gossip.  You know, 'who's gay in Hollywood.'  It might come from being Jewish (we always keep a mental notepad of which celebrities are MOT = member of the tribe).  Who knows.

At least part of the interest is the fact that one can't take these idiotic reports at face value and professional scholars rarely have good instincts.  You have to be in the 'real world' - i.e. to 'know how the world really works' - to have a nose for what doesn't seem kosher in these tomes.

What's wrong with the instincts of scholars?  Well let's start with the fact that to get where they are in academia they have to be able to curb their instincts.  They typically approach matters from the top down - i.e. with a 'model' or a 'set of assumptions' and work from there.

The heresiological genre is built around grotesque caricatures and scholarship has difficulty walking through the 'fun house' with warped mirrors.  They don't even know often times the proper place to begin.  In my estimation the curious and consistent use of Latinized Greek names points to a Roman origin for many of these strange appellations.  One must even leave open the possibility that many of these sects were really the name given been outsiders (non-Christians) to rather ordinary belief systems in the period (late second century).

The one common denominator in these names is that they come from hostile sources.  One cannot overstate the inherent difficulty of using hostile witnesses to get at the truth.  Yet what's even worse is the clear fact that later Church Fathers manipulated what were certainly parodies of original Christian beliefs of the period and then tried to make them seem 'respectable.'  Why?  Because the secular and Christian authorities of the third century hated the 'old' Christianity.  It is difficult to know why - for instance - Irenaeus hates his opponents so much.  The only thing that matters really is to not lose sight of the fact that he does.

Yet to be honest, what fascinates me the most about the heresiological genre is that there were these books being developed which created a fantasy world of sects that never likely existed.  In other words, they were akin to a study of 'sea monsters' or demons that walk the earth.  The question above all others that continually goes through my head is - why were these books so popular?  who distributed them?  why did so many intelligent people (Clement of Alexandria) pay lips service to what were quite clear the worst kinds of books ever written.

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Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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