Self-Knowledge, Gender Roles, and the Making of the Secret Gospels: A Chapter in the Sociology of Nonknowledge



In addition to the four canonical gospels of the Bible's New Testament, some so-called apocryphal gospels have also been discovered to exist. Although the process by which the four gospels by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were determined to be the core gospels was completed by the late second century AD, it is generally held that the exclusion of other gospels was an incremental process that was finalized more than a century later. This article explores the inclusion and exclusion of texts in the New Testament canon by reference to the sociological notion of ignorance, or “nonknowledge.” It is argued that the strategic use of nonknowledge can be shown to have achieved an “unknowing” of things that had previously been known among the early Christian community. Underpinning this argument is the suggestion that at least part of the success of Christianity during the first 100 to 200 years AD was due to many Christian women not only occupying a special position in their communities but also being seen as having been favored with knowledge about God. Such women were subsequently marginalized and knowledge about their role suppressed. The article concludes by noting that the formal exercise of control over what ought (not) to be known is part of the normal process of establishing stability and order in a bounded institution. This in turn promises to deliver insights for the sociological analysis of historical cases in many other areas.