This July, Sarah returned to The Barn Arts Collective in Bass Harbor, Maine as part of The Hamilton Project. She was there working on a new one person show inspired by her undergraduate work in the Religion Department at Princeton university titled "The Gnostic Gospels Project."
In the couple hundred years after the death of Jesus Christ, we know that his teachings spread throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe. Many of these writings are very well known - the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, for example - but not all of them. In fact, many different sects of Christianity developed their own mythologies and rituals during this early period. This wasn’t such a problem when Christianity was a minority religion of strange people following the teachings of a crucified criminal peasant. But, as Christianity rose to prominence around 200 AD, the leaders of the movement needed to concretely define what “Christianity” meant.
The result was decrees written by these leaders - men like Ireneaus, the Bishop of Lyons, Tertullian, a prolific Christian writer from Carthage, and Hippolytus of Rome - that categorized certain Christian teachings as heretical. Many of these teachings were part of the “Gnostic” Christian movement, led by teachers Valentinus and Theodotus.
By 300 AD, Gnostic Christians were forced to practice in secret or face punishment.
In Egypt, near what would become the city of Nag Hammadi, monks in a monastery devoted to Saint Pachomius struggled with these new developments. Rather than burn the texts that were condemned, however, one (or perhaps many) of the monks collected as many as he could find, packed them in a clay jar, and buried them in a cave on a nearby mountain. This is where they would remain for the next 1,500 years.
But now, they have been found again.
In The Gnostic Gospels Project, Sarah Paton explores ancient heretical Christian texts (from 200 A.D.) that have been newly-discovered (in 1945A.D.) from a modern perspective (right now!), asking: what would it be like to be the first person ever to give a sermon using a gospel? Is there power inherent in religious texts, even if they have been lost? Even if the last person to believe in them died thousands of years ago? And can a not-very-religious-theater-lover and an audience-with-no-idea-what-they-are-in-for find any of that power together?