Iconology and Iconography are both words that try to define truth. Erwin Panofsky suggests iconography defines historical ideas interpreted through artwork, while iconology explains iconography. Iconology is someone analyzing one personality who has created one work of art. According to Panofsky’s view, iconology identifies the underlying principles that form the basic attitude of a religious or philosophical perspective. An iconological investigation concentrates on the social-historical influences and values that the artist might not have consciously brought into play but are nevertheless present. The artwork of iconography is seen as an artistic document and represents a truth about a historical time in a certain way.
What is truth?
The Gnostic ideas from Nag Hammadi texts, Dead Sea Scrolls and Akhmim codex at one time must have held truth for someone. I have a question for the established church today. What is truth? The difference between Iconography and Iconology is perspective. The subtle difference between one mind and another may not make a difference in the end.
According to tradition, a heretic is one who deviates from the true (christian) faith. But what defines that “true faith”? On a previous post of mine called Christ and Aliens, I document my desire to keep a flexible and somewhat humorous mind when it comes to truth. I quietly pause when I hear there is only one truth!.
History has evidence of a rich plethora of ideas which flourished before the time of Christ, documented in text and images in iconography. Unfortunately, Christianity, as it was forming, lost many early ancient texts when they were destroyed or hidden. The destruction of the Library in Alexandria Egypt wiped out much of the Essence recorded history. A fire in the time of Julius Ceaser, 48 BC, burned who knows what. The Aurelian massacre in 270 AD and the decreed by Coptic Pope, Theophilus in 391 AD contributed to more literary loss and destruction. Four hundred years later, the Muslims sacked and destroyed icons and ancient manuscripts.
And of course we have the library of the Vatican, which has not been accessible to all. So when we speak of “biblical truth”, we must remember it is a limited truth given to us through the filtered decisions and debates of early scholars in the time they lived.
Study and Compare
Archaeologists over the past hundred years have been unearthing lost texts that might deepen our spiritual vocabulary. Their findings allow us to rethink time tested slogans and preconceived understandings of who we think Jesus was and how we are to become spiritual people. Hopefully, we will continue to look forward to the work of contemporary scholars who study and compare traditions, as their work promises to newly inspire the evolution of the human spirit.
Many ideas we associate with Eastern religions emerged in the first century through the Gnostic movement in the West, some roots are found deeper in the Hebrew teachings. Most would agree our Christian institutions, have condemned the Gnostic movement and its teachings. We are told to be cautious of Gnostic teachings, to never trust a heretic, and the holy bible is God’s final word. No one needs to be threatened by rethinking and reintegrating old teachings with new perspectives. The mature Christian knows that heretical thought is not always of the devil and doubt brings the mind into new perspectives about truth.
Fertile Ground and Gnosticism
Essene means “sprouted bread”. Because of newly discovered text found within the past 100 years, the bread we have been digesting within the Judea-Christian tradition is waiting to sprout.
The Essene communities were said to have been lead by a group of “Teachers of Righteousness”. They were groups of philosophers, living in Palestine, Syria and Judea. Their formation was a sect of Judaism that flourished from the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century. Friends of Jesus would have known of them and had opinions about their ideas.
Most scholars believe that the community named the Qumran (also named Sadducee ) produced the Dead Sea Scrolls and might have been an offshoot of the Essene. These lost teachings have been unacknowledged by the traditional Christian church and synagogue.
The truths debated about Iconography, Gnosticism, and what is Heresy take time. For instance, the DEAD SEA SCROLLS comprise some 981 different texts, discovered between 1946 and 1956 in Qumran, Egypt. They are said to have been written by the Jewish sect called the Essence 300 BC to 100 AD. I find it significant that these texts took over 30 years to become public in 1991, when the Biblical Archaeology Society published the “Facsimile Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls”.
This happened after intervention from the Israeli government and the Israel Antiquities Authority. Since they seem to have a significant Judea-Christian message, now may be the time to reflect on the passages for guidance and insights and look towards reconciliation between the faiths.
Truth disguised as Heresy
I believe deep meditation, listening to the spirit, and a good deal of silence teaches without words. This quality of silence is core to understanding iconography, Gnosticism, and the truth within heresy. Knowledge can and will guide us, change, and shift tradition. The texts discovered in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, also called the Nag Hammadi Codex II, dated to the 4th century.
Earlier still, the GOSPEL OF MARY written on a 5th-century papyrus codex was discovered in 1896. Written in Greek, the Akhmim Codex was found in Cairo Egypt and published in 1983. It is interesting not only this text was found earlier than the others mentioned above but they do not consider it a REAL gospel, rather a non-canonical gospel. The term ‘gospel’ is a label for any written text whose focus is on recounting the teachings and/or activities of Jesus during his adult life.
Scholars say these texts are only fragments, yet even as fragments the words and message fall within our modern context. My book, In Light of Women, highlights the Mary Gospel text as I wrote my icons to reflect the words and understood them as a truth. We live in an age where the church community reads and writes. Not so with the early Christians. The mass was given in Latin around the world until 1965 and until then communicants were instructed to read the bible only when assisted. Ironically prayer is the foundation for inspired Iconography, Gnosticism, Heresy and Truth. Great teachers have been called names and condemned for centuries.
Text from the Gnostic Gospel of Philip
All that is composite will decompose and return to its origin, but those who are awake to reality without beginning or end know the in-created the eternal.
All the words we hear in this word only deceive us. If they were in the temple space, they would keep silent and no longer refer to worldly things. In the Temple all is silent.
Light and Dark, life and death, right and left are brothers and sisters. They are inseparable. This is why goodness is not always good, Violence not always violent, life not always enlivening, death not always deadly.
Great questions arise from words like these. Iconography, Gnosticism, Heresy and Truth. are not new, only the teaching sounds new. Peace on the Planet