The Hollywood Gospel and its Scholars

Lessons from Stigmata


  • Richard Gregg Walsh Methodist University in Fayetteville



Stigmata, Gospel of Thomas, American mythology, individualism


Stigmata, a 1999 film, dramatizes the recovery of a lost Jesus gospel by placing it within the story of the possession of an atheist beautician, who is also a stigmatic. The discovery of the reason for her possession and her exorcism leads ultimately to the publication of the lost, now found gospel. Stigmata cadges selections from the Gospel of Thomas together to create this gospel, which is a version of the Hollywood gospel hallowing the heroic individual above all things and empowering the fantasy of the subjective, expressive individual. This Hollywood gospel—unlike the Gospel of Thomas—is also scientific (or, at least, empirical and pragmatic), materialist, and democratic. It is, in short, a belated, peculiarly American form of gnosticism. Intriguingly, Stigmata’s drama also sheds some light on scholarship, revealing among other things the cultural embeddedness of scholarship and its interaction with popular fiction, particularly at the points of lost gospels and the notion of heroic individuals struggling against corrupt institutions.

Author Biography

Richard Gregg Walsh, Methodist University in Fayetteville

Professor of religion and co-director of the honors program at Methodist University


Asgeirsson, Jon Ma., April D. DeConick, and Risto Uro, eds. 2006. Thomasine Traditions in Antiquity: The Social and Cultural World of the Gospel of Thomas. Leiden: Brill.

Baigent, Michael. 2006. The Jesus Papers: Exposing the Greatest Cover-Up in History. New York: Harper San Francisco.

Baigent, Michael and Richard Leigh. 1991. The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception. New York: Touchstone.

Baigent, Michael, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln. 2004 (1982). Holy Blood, Holy Grail. New York: Delta.

Blanton, Ward. 2007. Displacing Christian Origins: Philosophy, Secularity, and the New Testament. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Bloom, Harold. 1992. American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Boer, Roland. 1997. Novel Histories: The Fiction of Biblical Criticism. Playing the Texts, 2. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.

Borg, Marcus J. 1985. Jesus: A New Vision. San Francisco: Harper and Row.

Copper, Philip. N. d. “Stigmata.” Available at stigmata.html. Accessed March 26, 2007.

Crossan, John Dominic. 1991. The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant. New York: Harper San Francisco.

Ehrman, Bart. 2003. Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and Faiths We Never Knew. New York: Oxford University Press.

Fox, Richard Wightman. 2004. Jesus in America: Personal Savior, Cultural Hero, National Obsession. New York: Harper San Francisco.

Lee, Philip J. 1987. Against the Protestant Gnostics. New York: Oxford University Press.

May, Rollo. 1991. The Cry for Myth. New York: Dell. Pagels, Elaine. 2003. Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas. New York: Random.

Patterson, Stephen J. 2000. “Now Playing: The Gospel of Thomas.” Bible Review (December): 38–41, 51–52.

Pelikan, Jarislov. 1985. Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Prothero, Stephen. 2003. American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Uro, Risto, ed. 1998. Thomas at the Crossroads: Essays on the Gospel of Thomas. New York: T and T Clark.

Reichs, Kathy. 2005. Cross Bones. New York: Scribner.

Robinson, James M., ed. 1990. The Nag Hammadi Library in English. 3rd, rev. ed. New York: Harper San Francisco.

Smith, Huston. 1991. The World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions. Rev. ed. New York: Harper San Francisco.

Tabor, James D. 2006. The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Walsh, Richard. 2003. Reading the Gospels in the Dark: Portrayals of Jesus in Film. Harrisburg: Trinity.

-----. 2005. “Three Versions of Judas Jesus.” In Those Outside: Noncanonical Readings of Canonical Gospels, edited by George Aichele and Richard Walsh 155–181. New York: T and T Clark.

Williams, Michael. 1996. Rethinking Gnosticism: An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Wright, N.T. Wright. 2006. Judas and the Gospel of Jesus: Have We Missed the Truth about Christianity? Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

Žižek, Slavoj. 2001. On Belief. New York: Routledge.



How to Cite

Walsh, R. G. (2010). The Hollywood Gospel and its Scholars: Lessons from Stigmata. Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts, Cultural Histories, and Contemporary Contexts, 4(1), 95–111.