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1. Ancient Gnosticism: Traditions
2. Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient
3. What Is Gnosticism?
4. A Dictionary of Gnosticism
5. Gnosis: The Nature and History
6. Gnosticism and Christianity in
7. Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism, &
8. Forbidden Faith: The Secret History
9. Pre-Christian Gnosticism: A Survey
10. Gnosticism and Early Christianity
11. The Allure of Gnosticism
12. Neoplatonism and Gnosticism (Studies
13. Beyond Gnosticism: Myth, Lifestyle,
14. Images of the Feminine in Gnosticism
15. Rethinking "Gnosticism": An Argument
16. From Jewish Magic to Gnosticism
18. The Interruption of Eternity:
19. Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism,
20. A Separate God: The Christian

1. Ancient Gnosticism: Traditions And Literature
by Birger A. Pearson
Paperback: 362 Pages (2007-06-20)
list price: US$25.00 -- used & new: US$14.42
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Asin: 0800632583
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Even as public interest is attracted to this esoteric religion, Escholars have debated its origins, its relationship to Judaism and Christianity, and even whether one distinctive and separate Gnostic "religion" ever existed. Birger Pearson's expert and accessible introduction brings the reader into the debate. Directly addressing the nettling questions of origins and definition, Pearson situates the advent of Gnosticism within the Greco-Roman religious world and critically appraises the sources. With illustrations, maps, timeline, and bibliography, Pearson's volume facilitates the pursuit of gnosis, at least historically, by general readers, students and scholars alike. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (2)

5-0 out of 5 stars Pearson's guide for the perplexed on Ancient Gnosticism

"A lucid summary of a vast body of ancient literature...One can hardly find a better guide to the various movements active in early Christian centuries and the vast array of literature that they produced."Harold Attridge, Dean of Yale divinity

"Orthodox Christianity was deeply and profoundly influenced by its struggles with Gnosticism in the second and third centuries," wrote Lance Owens, editor of The Gnosis Archive website. This may be evident, but Owens was misled by Walter Bauer's conclusion, of (Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, 1964/71), that orthodoxy was just one of many forms of early Christianity, stating that "Gnosticism was, at least briefly, in the mainstream of Christianity."

Ancient Gnosticism:
Birger Pearson, one of few experts on early Christianity not taking Bauer theory for granted, pursued a unique approach to ancient gnosticism mystery that changed the conception of many, including some Copts who followed with fascination an aspect of their own culture, expressed in Alexandrine Neoplatonic religious fantasy. In his survey of the Gnostic traditions and literature, ancient Gnostic thought may have preceded Christianity, flourishing in B. C. Alexandria. Pearson's study of primary literature emanates from a non disputed platform, of the Chenoboskion Coptic library, discovered near Nag Hammadi. In the preface he recounts how he was hooked on Gnosticism after a seminar held in Harvard by Utrecht eminent scholar Gilles Quispel on the Apocryphon of James before its publication in 1964.

After introducing Gnosticism, through quotations of early Church fathers, its famous teachers, and recorded 'heresies,' the author, proceeds with a lucid selection of the Gnostic writings from the book of Allogenes all the way to the Codex Tchacos, part of which became a recent best seller as the 'Gospel of Judas.' In his procession through the vast array of breath taking literature, he captures the reader's imagination in a tour de force of Gnostic fantasy.
In the Epilogue, Pearson describes 'The persistence of Gnosticism,' as his evident conclusion on manifestations of ancient Gnosticism survival, from Herod's Syria/Palestine to the contemporary Iran. He even posts a recent wedding photo of Mandaeans remnants taken on the banks of Karun river in Ahwaz, that brings them back to life as a surviving relic of ancient Gnosis.

Engaging Author:
Birger Pearson is an outstanding Coptologist, and a leading expert on Gnostic literature. His books, The roots of Egyptian Christianity and 'Gnosticism, Judaism, and Egyptian Christianity' offer clues to the roots of Coptic Monasticism by its Jewish Therapeutae founders.

5-0 out of 5 stars Accessible to religious scholars and lay readers alike.
Written by Gnosticism expert Birger A. Pearson (Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies, University of California Santa Barbara), Ancient Gnosticism: Traditions and Literature is an overview of all primary literary evidence for ancient Gnosticism, offering a crystal clear introduction to each writing, including the recently published "Gospel of Judas". Chapters cover the classic schools of Christian Gnosticism, Hermetic Gnosis, Manicheism, and the Mandaeans. Chapters are keyed to standard translations of Gnostic writings, including "The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The International Edition" edited by Marvin W. Meyer, for easy cross-reference. Maps and recommendations for further reading round out this comprehensive introduction to who the Gnostics were and what they believed, accessible to religious scholars and lay readers alike. ... Read more

2. Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing
by Stephan A. Hoeller
Paperback: 272 Pages (2002-07-01)
list price: US$16.95 -- used & new: US$8.99
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Asin: 0835608166
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Gnosticism developed alongside Judeo-Christianity over two thousand years ago, but with an important difference: It emphasizes, not faith, but direct perception of God — Gnosticism being derived from the Greek word gnosis, meaning "knowledge." Given the controversial premise that one can know God directly, the history of Gnosticism is an unfolding drama of passion, political intrigue, martyrdom, and mystery.
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Customer Reviews (20)

4-0 out of 5 stars Good information, wrong empahasis
I have mixed feelings about this book.In many respects it is an excellent introduction to Gnosticism, rich in detail and remarkably lucid.Hoeller clarifies many, but not all of the important distinctions between Gnosticism and the Orthodox Christianity that defeated and suppressed it.Though Hoeller emphasizes aspects of Gnosticism that don't appeal to me and gives less attention to other facets I find more appealing, I do believe that the reader of this book will emerge with a clear understanding of the relationship between the Pleroma, Sophia, the Gnostic Christ, and the material world.Gnostic sources such as the Pistis Sophia the Nag Hammadi Library are well described, and so are the scanty bits of knowledge currently available about Gnostic sacraments and church organization. The book also has a good section on how Gnostic influences re-emerged in later religious movement such Catharism.What spoils this book for me is Hoeller's shockingly hostile remarks aimed at environmentalists and those who engage in politics, hoping to help bring about the justice and compassion of the Kingdom of God. Hoeller is correct when he suggesting that most Gnostics believed our world to be the flawed creation of a lesser and somewhat incompetent god.Though little is currently know about Gnostic ethics, I would suspect that Gnostics had much of the same concern for compassion and justice that is found in other non-Gnostic sources like the Gospel of Luke.If the spark of the divine is in this messy world we live in, and, if that spark is discovered at the center of one's being, what logic says that one should reject the world and concentrate exclusively and solipsistically on that spark as one strives for personal salvation?Consider this:The alchemists were heavily influenced by Gnosticism, but instead of rejecting the world they sought to spiritualize matter, turning symbolic lead into symbolic gold.One Gnostic ritual that existing literature names but doesn't describe is the Bridal Chamber.This may well have been a marriage of the spiritual and the physical.Carl Jung thought the greatest theological event of his lifetime was when the Catholic Church adopted the doctrine of the Assumption (that the Virgin Mary ascended physically into heaven.).The physical world was brought into the Pleroma and made one with the spiritual.Maybe that is what gnosis is really all about.

4-0 out of 5 stars A Fantastic Introduction...
I greatly enjoyed the book. I have been a non-religious practitioner of Gnosticism for almost a decade and decided to check out the religious form. For those new to the concept of Gnosticism, the book lays out the basic tenets of the belief system, introduces some specific myths, and discusses the relevance of the Nag Hammadi Library. The one downside is there is some repetition of a few topics which can be a little 'dry'.

1-0 out of 5 stars Very Disappointing
I do not believe i have read a book written in a worse manner. Firstly, there are constant references to Jung and depth psychology, as if either had any importance to the history of gnosticism, and this detracts very much from the readability of the book. Secondly, the author makes almost as many references to ideas shared between gnosticism and "esoteric" spirituality without expounding on them, leaving the reader confused about some of the more troublesome beliefs of gnosticism. thirdly, the writing is almost intolerably lax (a chapter subtitled "will the real gnostic please stand up?" comes to mind), and the author seems to make assumptions about the level of familiarity of the reader with gnosticism. fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, it feels as though there is very little information about historical gnosticism.
for another review that i felt was honest, though a bit harsh, see the other one star review.

5-0 out of 5 stars Hard to imagine a better introduction to gnosticism
This is a wonderful book.I love this book, from the cover with the colourized woodcut of the Quester breaking through to another world, to the informative back cover.I recommend it to anyone interested in Gnosticism, the history ofChristianity, or even to someone justlooking to read something learned, fascinating, but unusual.I particularly recommend it to the person who may feel they have gnostic sensibilities.To such a person this book will be a revelation.In Gnosticism Dr. Hoeller took so many of what were to me intriguing loose ends and wove them into the beginnings of a substantial personal gnostic fabric.After reading this book, I was left feeling much happier in the knowledge that I was following, and indeed was a part of, an ancient tradition, and that there have always been others, and are currently a significant minority of others, who think in a similar way to me.Indeed, the book leaves one with the feeling that doors have been opened, but that, consequently, much more can now be accomplished, always bearing in mind that, 'The subject (Gnosticism) is not one that lends itself to an all too elementary treatment; rather, it requires a certain subtlety of thinking and a proclivity for an intuitive perception.' Preface, xi.

While Dr. Hoeller is always a consummate scholar, the book is written in a contemporary, readable, and extremely entertaining style.It has an excellent index, bibliography, and a helpful glossary.Highly recommended.

4-0 out of 5 stars A Great Introduction
This is a great place to begin for the seeker who wishes to learn about the path of Gnosticism.The problem is that Gnosticism is largely an umbrella term for a wide body of sometimes conflicting beliefs and traditions, which pre-date even Christianity.Much of the books available, while scholarly, are often long-winded and confusing.Perhaps this is due to the nature of the Gnostic path itself, being heavily based on myth and symbol, unique to each individual.Dr. Stephan A. Hoeller, whose contributions to the 20th century Gnostic revival are immeasurable, has done a fine job of assembling some of the basic tenets, influences, and history of Gnosticism, in this introductory book. ... Read more

3. What Is Gnosticism?
by Karen L. King
Paperback: 368 Pages (2005-04-30)
list price: US$20.50 -- used & new: US$11.98
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Asin: 0674017625
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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A distinctive Christian heresy? A competitor of burgeoning Christianity? A pre-Christian folk religion traceable to "Oriental syncretism"? How do we account for the disparate ideas, writings, and practices that have been placed under the Gnostic rubric? To do so, Karen King says, we must first disentangle modern historiography from the Christian discourse of orthodoxy and heresy that has pervaded--and distorted--the story.

Exciting discoveries of previously unknown ancient writings--especially the forty-six texts found at Nag Hammadi in 1945--are challenging historians of religion to rethink not only what we mean by Gnosticism but also the standard account of Christian origins. The Gospel of Mary and The Secret Book of John, for example, illustrate the variety of early Christianities and are witness to the struggle of Christians to craft an identity in the midst of the culturally pluralistic Roman Empire. King shows how historians have been misled by ancient Christian polemicists who attacked Gnostic beliefs as a "dark double" against which the new faith could define itself. Having identified past distortions, she is able to offer a new and clarifying definition of Gnosticism. Her book is thus both a thorough and innovative introduction to the twentieth-century study of Gnosticism and a revealing exploration of the concept of heresy as a tool in forming religious identity.

(20050401) ... Read more

Customer Reviews (13)

2-0 out of 5 stars Too much critiquing and not enough contribution
Karen King's book is a thorough and innovative introduction to the twentieth-century study of Gnosticism and a revealing exploration of the concept of heresy as a tool in forming religious identity. She asserts that "Gnosticism" exists solely as a modern reification, a terminological construct deriving ultimately from an early Christian discourse of orthodoxy and heresy, which has now taken on an independent existence. King explains, "My purpose in this book is to show how twentieth-century scholarship on Gnosticism has simultaneously reinscribed, elaborated, and deviated from this discourse." (p. 54)

In order to account for the disparate ideas, writings, and practices that have been placed under the Gnostic rubric, King argues that one must first disentangle modern historiography from the Christian discourse of orthodoxy and heresy that has pervaded and distorted the story. King observes: "[T]he problem of defining Gnosticism has been and continues to be primarily an aspect of the ongoing project of defining and maintaining a normative Christianity." (p. 18) What is Gnosticism? evaluates and critiques the "discourse of orthodoxy and heresy" in ancient sources, in the work of early twentieth-century scholars, and in contemporary scholarship.

The 1945 discovery of the 46 Nag Hammadi texts play an important role in the evaluation and critique of the discourse of orthodoxy and heresy. These texts challenge historians of religion to rethink not only what "Gnosticism" means but also the standard account of Christian origins. Because scholars prior to 1945 had only a very limited number of primary sources that early members of the Christian mainstream had termed "Gnostic," the Nag Hammadi treatises have had a profound impact on our understanding of early Christianity as richly diverse in doctrine and practice.

The various Nag Hammadi treatises defy the tidy systems of classification and categorization established by earlier generations of scholars. Even post-Nag Hammadi typologies of Gnosticism are strained when applied to the doctrinal diversity reflected in the forty-six texts. As King notes: "[T]he problem with variety is not variety itself; the problem is trying to force multiform, irregularly shaped objects into square essentialist definitional holes." (p. 168)

King offers an extended examination of early twentieth-century historiography to consider the ways in which the early Christian polemicists' discourse of orthodoxy and heresy has been intertwined with twentieth-century scholarship on Gnosticism in order to show where and how that involvement has distorted our analysis of the ancient texts. (p. 19) She argues that modern scholarship employs the term "Gnosticism" as a rhetorical tool to produce a normative vision of Christianity, which only serves to reinscribe a discourse of orthodoxy and heresy established by certain Christians of the second and third centuries. (p. 68)

King's text builds a historiographic genealogy and focuses consistently on the early part of the twentieth-century's scholarship, telling the story of how the reification of "Gnosticism" came to be from within the broader social and intellectual matrix of twentieth-century interests and movements. However, King spends more time critiquing scholarship than solving the essential problem she raises: is there a future for studying Gnosticism without "Gnosticism"? While she evaluates and critiques certain methodologies and scholars, King stops short of offering a concrete new direction that is more than merely qualification of the term and conception of "Gnosticism." She writes: "It is important not so much to eliminate the term per se, but to recognize and correct the ways in which reinscribing the discourse of orthodoxy and heresy distort our reading and reconstruction of ancient religion." (p. 218)

King's book explains clearly that early Christianity was much more diverse and pluriform than anyone could have suspected a century ago. The new discoveries of 1945 have asked new questions about pluralism, colonialism, difference, and marginality. In this book, King contributes to the enterprise of rewriting the history of Christianity by examining how modern historiography came to invent Gnosticism, largely out of early Christian polemics intersecting with post-Enlightenment historicism and colonialism. She masterfully identifies where certain assumptions that were formed in ancient battles against heresy continue to operate in the methods of contemporary scholarship and continue to support particular notions of religious normativity and operations of identity politics in our own day.

5-0 out of 5 stars A helpful overview of a complex field
King, who has published widely in the field of gnostic literature,provides a good overview of scholarly writings on gnosticism, evaluating the different views on the subject in a scholarly way that is easy to understand without in any sense being oversimplified.Gnosticism has long been understood as a perversion of "normative" Christianity (and, of course, there's disagreement over what that was or is); this has led people to evaluate gnosticism in light of Christianity rather than looking at what gnosticism is in and of itself; there is still disagreement over the roots of gnosticism and how its original practitioners understood it.King's work addresses the issues that have become attached to the study of this movement, interpreting them and offering her own conclusions as well.Chapter titles include "Gnosticism as Heresy," "Adolf von Harnack and the Essence of Christianity," and "The History of Religions School."She deals with the Nag Hammadi finds in some depth as well.

This book would be particularly helpful for people who are new to the study of Gnosticism; it is not necessary to be a scholar to understand King's writing.

3-0 out of 5 stars Gnosticism: Not defined here
Karen L. King is a religious historian that in this book reexamines the concept of Gnosticism. She attempts to sort out conflicting interpretations of those controversial beliefs in early Christian history. Drawing on the Nag Hammadi texts discovered in Egypt in 1945, King maintains that the understanding of Gnosticism has been distorted by hostile commentaries of early Orthodox Church partisans. Though she has nothing to support this hypothesis of a so-called power struggle. Her point that there probably is no entity called "Gnosticism" is deserving of discussion and research.

5-0 out of 5 stars Understand ancient religion, not the unreal polemical category "Gnosticism"
This book by Karen King is not about Gnosticism, because Gnosticism never existed.This book is about the history of the modern folly of inventing an unreal category and then purporting to describe it.This book is about the history of modern scholarship of a fabricated construct labelled 'Gnosticism'.King reveals Gnosticism as an artificial, synthetic, nonexistent entity.Ancient and modern studies of Gnosticism have approached the subject with motives of defining true Christianity.No individual writing fits the various definitions of Gnosticism.Gnosticism is an unreal, artificial, false, and harmful category.All definitions of 'Gnosticism' have always been artificial and unreal and have heavily misrepresented, to the point of complete polemical fantasy, the writings they purport to generally categorize.

The only way we can begin to understand the writings that have been lumped together into the fantastically ill-fitting category of 'Gnosticism' is to read each individual writing and analyze it in its cultural context.Individual writings must be considered individually on their own terms: what was the actual context for the writing?What did the author mean and mean to accomplish?How did various audiences of that writing read it; what did that particular writing mean to them?King provides a concrete example of such an approach to understanding ancient religious thought on its own terms, in her subsequent book The Secret Revelation of John.

Michael A. Williams falls into the same kind of trap as other scholars in his advice to rename the chimera of Gnosticism 'Biblical Demiurgicalism'.We can hint at the problem by stating that there were diverse Chrisitianities, diverse Judaisms, diverse Gnosticisms, and diverse paganisms, but such a move isn't effective; grossly oversimplifying reification instantly sets in again.It's not merely that there were diverse variants of Gnosticism.Rather, there were diverse combinations of philosophy, quasi-Christian, quasi-Jewish, quasi-Hellenistic, and quasi-Persian elements all over the map.It is not the case that certain of these combinations clearly group together forming a distinct, discernible religion that was or should be called 'Gnosticism'.

King reveals it as embarrassing how modern scholars were so uninterested in understanding each so-called 'gnostic' writing on its own terms, and were wholly motivated by polemic and apologetic concerns, to define who are the true Christians.They have been motivated by theological concerns, while claiming to be presenting scientific history.Various groups of ancient writers were involved in a project of deliberate hermeneutic and polemical reinterpretation of various venerable source materials; modern scholars need to read the resulting writings as such.

King provides various other detailed points about the modern and ancient folly that has brought about the completely problematic framework that is now failing and collapsing, for defining a category of 'Gnosticism'.This book stands to become a classic, a turning point, in conjunction with Michael A. Williams' book Rethinking 'Gnosticism'.

Readers might feel that this book fails to provide a definition of Gnosticism.The publisher doesn't seem to understand the book; they miss the point of the book: the front flap claims that 'she is able to offer a new and clarifying definition of Gnosticism'.She does not; she disproves that the category 'Gnosticism' maps to a set of writings or distinct grouping of ancient practices.King predicts that the term 'Gnosticism' will fall into disuse as providing no explanatory value, and calls for understanding ancient religious practice and individual writings on their own terms, with special attention to hermeneutic and polemical strategy in the writings.

5-0 out of 5 stars From polemics to pragmatics
King has done historians of philosophy and religion an immense service with this study.A thorough, comprehensive and closely analysed investigation of the historiography of "Gnosticism", this book will keep students and scholars engaged for some time.Although the title isn't answered in a strict, straightforward manner, the content of the book demonstrates why this is nearly impossible.In fact, King even offers the views of those who would dispense with the term altogether.In the end, the author shows that a tight definition of the term is of less importance than gaining an understanding of what Gnosticism is about.

The author starts from a firm position."Gnosticism" in the West has long been labelled a "heresy" among the Christian churches.Most of the Christian churches, at least, since there are those who have adopted some tenets of Gnosticism into their creeds.The early Christian movements, striving for survival in the "pagan" Roman Empire, all sought some form of unity and discipline as a foundation.They sought an "orthodoxy" under which to operate.Others, nearly as many in number, granted the individual the primary role.The former group, typified by the bishop of Lyons, Irenaeus, laid the beginnings of what would become "orthodox" Christianity.They decreed the "outsiders" as "heretics".King brings Irenaeus and other critics of non-conformity together under the rubric of the "polemicists".For centuries, what we knew of the Gnostics was contained in the writings of those who condemned them.

The era of "Higher Criticism" of biblical texts may have helped foster modern examination of Gnostic writings.Among the leaders of this "wave" of research was Adolf von Harnack.Von Harnack viewed Gnosticism as an offshoot of Greek - or Hellenic - culture and philosophy.If anybody can be named as detaching Gnosticism from being a branch of Christianity, it is this scholar.Casting Christianity against a Hellenic background, von Harnack sought to find elements that would give the movement unique status and explain its expansion.

Following von Harnack, more [mostly] German scholars in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries formed the Religious History School.King examines the work of such figures as Richard Reitzenstein, Wilhelm Bousset, Rudolf Bultmann.Detaching Jesus from traditional Christianity, these scholars developed what has come to be known as the "Gnostic Redeemer" myth.Revising the roots of the Jesus myth, they pushed the story back in time and place to the Persian [Iran] region.It migrated westward to be absorbed by peoples along the Levant, thence into western Europe.The essence of this version of Christianity centres on Jesus lacking a human body, and providing a more direct link to the Deity.King notes how strong a challenge this proved to orthodoxy, since it transformed how followers of this idea viewed their relation to the deity.

For King, two books published in the mid-1930s, set a new course for Gnostic scholarship.Walter Bauer and Hans Jonas reset the definitions [each had his own] of Gnosticism, while at the same time increasing awareness of its impact.Bauer granted Gnosticism a more substantial role than the early Christian condemning writers had done.Jonas wanted a clear identity to define a "movement" within Eastern Mediterranean concepts, but set apart from Hellenist philosophies.

It was the Nag Hammadi finds in 1945 that led to the greatest crisis in definition for Gnosticism.The forty-six books unearthed from an Egyptian hillside has sparked a new wave of scholarship, but little more in clarifying meaning.The Nag Hammadi texts, King notes, vary in definition and relationship to both Jesus and the deity.Although the role of Mary Magdalene has been raised from the licentious woman depicted in the Synoptic gospels, little else is cleansed of confusion.Reflecting on the Nag Hammadi scripts, modern scholarship has attempted new definitions.Although Michael Williams has gone so far to suggest scrubbing the term altogether, King sees his proposed substitute as too cumbersome.Besides, she notes, a new term doesn't make its definition more specific.

There are those who carp that King doesn't answer the question posed in the title.Her answer to that charge lies in the text itself.The vast literature on "Gnosticism" can't answer that question, why should she bear the onus of defining the undefinable?What she has accomplished is an articulate call for either a better term, clearly expressing meaning, or wiser analysis of the writings.Since Gnosticism has been applied to frameworks running from an "Oriental philosophy" to a "competitive Christianity", easy definitions will remain elusive.

A further question, only lightly touched on here, is whether "Christian Gnosticism" is a true challenge to "orthodox" Christianity.Given that the works King cites, from Ireneaus through the Nag Hammadi texts, display a wide variation in how Jesus is to be considered and how humans relate to their deities, it's clear that there is room for yet more scholarship.King proposes finding a pragmatic solution that will shed the ancient duality the polemicists began centuries ago.[stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada] ... Read more

4. A Dictionary of Gnosticism
by Andrew Phillip Smith
Paperback: 296 Pages (2009-11-17)
list price: US$19.95 -- used & new: US$11.62
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Asin: 0835608697
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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A Dictionary of Gnosticism is a scholarly yet accessible guide that covers the people, mythology, movements, scripture, and technical terms related to this pre-Christian Western religion. It contains nearly 1700 entries, from Aachiaram, an angel in the Secret Book of John to Zostrianos, a third-century Gnostic text, and is a reliable reference for the Nag Hammadi library and other Gnostic texts. An introduction explains who the Gnostics were and provides a whirlwind tour through the history of this captivating movement.
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Customer Reviews (2)

4-0 out of 5 stars very resourceful
this book makes it a handy reference in researching the terms i encounter when studying gnosticism. it simplifies the need to search the key terms i encounter. want to know something about origen? instead of searching a lot of pages in the internet, get your hands on the book and see the term origen.. though, it still needs an updated version. lots of space unused.

5-0 out of 5 stars Useful in digging for truth
This book is a terrific reference for anyone interested in religion, mysticism, esoterica, ancient history and any form of Gnosis from ancient to modern. Though it would appear at first glance to be a basic dictionary of words rarely used and seldom contemplated in the average everyday world, it is a storehouse of clues to the origins of Western esoterica and literary fancy. Take "AEEIOUO," an entry on page 5. Reminiscent of the Caterpillar's song in Lewis Carol's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" it is also the (Greek) vowels chanted repetitively in certain forms of magic derived from Gnostic texts ... a little online cross-research explains that according to the Nag Hammadi, Aeeiouo is the shape of the Self Begotten Soul. (In Greek, Alice happens to mean "truthful.")

The Nag Hammadi codices are outlined beginning on page 168 where it is explained that the "tractates in the codices are in Coptic, but scholars believe they were originally composed in Greek."

What's a "tractate"? Look it up on page 247 where you can also brush up on the word "transcendence" contrasted with "immanence" on page 124.

A Dictionary of Gnosticism will help you comprehend Plato's Timaeus from which the concept of the "demiurge" originates, as well as modern film concepts. The 1999 movie "The Matrix" is explained on page 156 where "archon" equivalent characters (agents) govern reality "on behalf of the entity that created the world". The demiurge in Gnosticism is compared to the machines in the Matrix.

Try Googling all that! It is wonderful to have this handy Gnostic dictionary at one's fingertips as a quick reference for looking up some of the more obscure terms of Gnosis ("direct spiritual experience") - but it also helps in grasping much of what more mainstream literature and contemporary media have been trying to tell us all along. The truth is in between the lines ... or in the process of "inverse exegesis." Make up your "Nous" or mind and avoid the "interdict" if you are a heretic. Explore Pistis Sophia. Use this quick reference manual of Gnostic terms as a springboard for further inquiry. Ablanathanalba.

... Read more

5. Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism
by Kurt Rudolph
Paperback: 432 Pages (1987-05-06)
list price: US$23.95 -- used & new: US$6.96
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0060670185
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Presents a readable and appealing introduction to what otherwise might seem an inaccessible religion of late antiquity.

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Customer Reviews (15)

5-0 out of 5 stars A nice book to add to my collection
After reading some of this book at the library I knew I wanted it for my own Gnostic book collection.The author does a very good job of explaining what Gnosis is and is not.It is very informative on the history of this ancient religion as well.

2-0 out of 5 stars A surefire cure for insomnia
Kurt Rudolph, GNOSIS - The Nature & History of Gnosticism. New York: Harper and Row, 1987. Paperback, 413 pages. ISBN 0060670185

If you are having trouble getting to sleep this ponderously Germanic book is just the thing for you. It is tedious, dull, obscure, uninspired, and written in a crabbed, turgid, and plodding style that will soon have you struggling manfully to keep your eyes open before you surrender to the inevitable, drift off into the welcoming arms of Morpheus, and sink into blissful sleep on his bosom.

Rudolph has succeeded brilliantly in taking one of the most fascinating and exciting subjects of all - a path of inner knowledge that has been lost to us for almost two millennia and whose recovery ought to be cause for joyous celebration - and turning it into an exercise in sheer boredom.

Do not waste your hard-earned cash on this book. Apart from being excruciatingly dull, the HARPER PAPERBACK EDITION is very poorly produced and printed on a cheap flimsy rough-textured newsprint that soon yellows and is extremely unpleasant to the touch.

Instead you should get hold of a copy of John Lash Not in His Image: Gnostic Vision, Sacred Ecology, and the Future of Belief This is a book that, far from putting you to sleep will electrify you, and you will come away from it actually understanding something about the real nature of Gnosticism and much else besides.

For other books on Gnosticism please check out my Listmania list: GNOSTICISM - Path of Inner Knowledge.

2-0 out of 5 stars Overly complex
I am not overly involved in religious studies and I do not know TOO much about Christian history. However, I do have a college course on the Torah, a college course on the New Testament and a complete reading of the New Testament. I also heard a little about Gnosticism and it interested me so I decided to pick up this "introductory" text to learn the basics. Unfortunately, this isn't an introductory text at all.

I really don't care about the history of Gnostic belief nor the politics of it nor the problems with interpretation just WHAT IT IS. I want analysis of the texts and an understanding of core beliefs. I spent about half an hour reading from the beginning, but it was completely irrelevant toward "what it is" so I tried skimming and skipping chapters to see if the rest of the book delves into the basic beliefs. I never found a good description and instead found wording as if I already understood Gnosticism and also had the vocabulary of a PHD degree holder. For a layman this is too much to deal with. I'm buying another book on the subject.

5-0 out of 5 stars Great Alternatives in Speculating at the Whole Scheme of Things

"Gnosis is one of the great alternatives in looking at the whole scheme of things and our place in it ... the Gnostics probably were the first who saw the theme of the stranger in the world. That makes them, the Gnostics, a world historical event."Hans Jonas

Prologue to a Commentary:
Gazing at the title, while I was checking my comments on "The Nature and History of Gnosticism," shortly after the train left Charlotte to Raleigh, NC, the gentleman sitting to my right asked nicely if I could briefly explain to him what is Gnosticism. While Rabbi Akiba explained Judaism during the hearer sustained standing on one leg, it took me a while to expound Gnosticism (Ca. 40 minutes), the train then has already arrived at Salisbury, NC.

Comments on K R's Gnosis:
A generation after Hans Jonas published "The Gnostic Religion" (English edition), another serious German scholar wrote the state of the art work on the Gnostic phenomenon. His able editor McL. Wilson and translators would not be content with translating the quotations from the German version, but took the original ancient languages quotations in view.

Nature and Structure:
The Sources: This review of the quotations from Church fathers writings, older sources in Corpus Hermeticum, Pistis Sophia,... to Mandean books, followed by research history, basically of German scholars Walter Bauer, von Harnack, Bousset, to Jonas is the most elaborate. His story on the Coptic Gnostic library discovery is the most complete. Leading roles of Coptologists Togo Mina, Pahor Labib, and Victor Girgis were acknowledged together with European scholars, Puech, Quispel, and Doresse.
Two comments, on Christology and Gnostic sources in the Koran, Please go to "Venture to Explore Gnosis," Guide to read the complete review.

Comparative Christology:
Professor Rudolph quotes the German Dogmatic scholar Adolph von Harnack that the Gnostic Docetism helped clarifying and development of the Alexandrine pneumatic Christology, which St. Cyril called Hypostatic Christology. It is evident that the center of Gnostic thought was in Second/ Third century Alexandria whose theological think tanks criticized Gnostic doctrines, starting with Clement and Origen, and culminating with Athanasius Universal Canon of NT/OT Scripture, directed against the danger of Gnostic fake Gospels.

The end of Gnosis:
In the Epilogue, the author concludes, "The gnostic schools, with the exception of Manicheism, did not succeed in becoming broad mass movements, above all, too hostile to the world. ..., account must be taken of the fact that the Christian Church, by adapting to its environment, and by accepting the legitimate concerns of Gnostic theology into its consolidating body of doctrine, developed into a forward looking ideology.

Peers Acknowledgement:
Professor Kurt Rudolph is described by James Robinson as "the world's leading expert on the only branch of Gnosticism that has survived down to the present." Birger Pearson call him, "the preeminent living authority on the Mandean Religion.

* In admiration of the efforts of my learned mystical friend Dr. Gaston des Harnais, who is currently translating "The Gospel of Thomas," from a Greek version.

5-0 out of 5 stars Gnosticism 101
If your passion is Gnosticism than this book is for you.One you would keep in your library.Very complete.I wish I owned the hard cover.This book will orient you to Gnosticism complete.I recommend reading this book BEFORE you read the Nag Hammadi Library.Not a book for everybody simply because you may not want to go into this much detail on the subject.After reading this book I can read more detailed Gnostic scriptures and have a much better understanding of what it is I am reading.This book was originally written in German by the Gnostic Scholar Kurt Rudolph.I enjoyed this book! ... Read more

6. Gnosticism and Christianity in Roman and Coptic Egypt (Studies in Antiquity and Christianity)
by Birger A. Pearson
Paperback: 320 Pages (2004-03-19)
list price: US$49.95 -- used & new: US$21.99
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Asin: 0567026108
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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An important addition to the Studies in Antiquity and Christianity series. This book, by one of the world's most renowned experts on Coptic Christianity and Gnosticism, contains the results of research that Pearson has conducted over the past several years. The first chapter alone is ground-breaking and contributes in significant ways to our understandings of the development of early Christianity in Egypt. In that chapter Pearson discusses current research on topics ranging from the growth of the Egyptian Christian hierarchy, the spread of Christianity from Alexandria into the Egyptian countryside, the origins of Egyptian monasticism (an important topic in itself!), to Gnostic literature and Hermetic literature. In other chapters, Pearson nimbly ranges over a number of other topics from the Acts of Mark to Enoch in Egypt to Gnostic ritual and Gnostic iconography. This book is a classic of scholarship on early Christianity and adds immeasurably to our knowledge about these matters. ... Read more

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5-0 out of 5 stars Excellect Scholarship -- Primer on Subject
This book is a collection of essays by the author of which only the first and longest one was not previously published.For everyone interested in the development of early Christianity or Gnosticism (which the author treats as a separate religion) in Egypt, this work is literally required reading.It is at its best as a primer into the various sources and how they fit into a mosaic of Christian and Gnostic development.

The essays deal with the following subjects, each in its own chapter:
(1) Current issues in the study of early Christianity in Egypt.
(2) Christian and Jews in First Century Alexandria.
(3) Ancient Alexandria in the "Acts of Mark."
(4) A Coptic Homily "On Riches" attributed to Saint Peter of Alexandria.
(5) Enoch in Egypt.
(6) A Coptic Enoch Apocryphon.
(7) Gnosticism as a religion.
(8) Gnostic Ritual and Iamblichus's treatise "On The Mysteries of Egypt."
(9) Gnostic iconography.
(10) The figure of Seth in Manichaean literature.

The author argues that early Christians were part and parcel of the Jewish community of Alexandria before Trajan's extirpation of the Jews of Alexandria, and that their development was distinct from Christianity's development in Rome, Syria and elsewhere.Coptic was developed as a language in translating the Christian and Old Testament books from Greek into a language for Egyptian use, and Christianity and Gnosticism (growing out of Jewish origins separately from Christianity) came closely together for a period (actually certain Christian leaders adopted some Gnostic mysticism in their development of Christianity) before separating permanently.He also argues that Gnosticism is indeed a religion and worthy of independent study.

Author Pearson brings together sources from the Old and New Testaments, the Apocrypha, Dead Sea Scrolls, Nag Hammadi codexes, Hellenistic Jewish writers, Patristic literature and various other letters, codexes and writings.The end notes are copious and form excellent avenues for further study by themselves.

As the author states, this work offers a window into the world of early Christianity and Gnosticism in Egypt, and provides an excellent primer for further study and research.

I highly recommend this work for everyone interested in the early development of Christianity. ... Read more

7. Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism, & Early Christianity: Fourteen Leading Scholars Discuss the Current Issues in Gnostic Studies
 Paperback: 332 Pages (1986-11)
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Asin: 0913573167
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8. Forbidden Faith: The Secret History of Gnosticism
by Richard Smoley
Paperback: 256 Pages (2007-05-01)
list price: US$15.95 -- used & new: US$2.46
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Asin: 0060858303
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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The success of books such as Elaine Pagels's Gnostic Gospels and Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code proves beyond a doubt that there is a tremendous thirst today for finding the hidden truths of Christianity – truths that may have been lost or buried by institutional religion over the last two millennia.

In Forbidden Faith, Richard Smoley narrates a popular history of one such truth, the ancient esoteric religion of gnosticism, which flourished between the first and fourth centuries A.D., but whose legacy remains even today, having survived secretly throughout the ages.

... Read more

Customer Reviews (14)

5-0 out of 5 stars Excellent overview
I've read several books on Gnosticism. Some academics seem to think that these ideas only exist in words in books. I became interested in Gnosticism after having a few mystical experiences myself, and knew Gnosis was an experience and not just "ideas." This (copyright 2006) has the best overview of Gnostic and Gnostic related thought through western history and other books on Gnosticism I've seen. While it is not clear what actual experiences Smoley has had, he is clear that this subject is about religious experiences and not just theories, and that the history of western religion has largely been an issue of the scribes and pharisees vs the mystics. So far the pharisees have taken over every religion in the west. But he offers hope. Quite insightful.

5-0 out of 5 stars Covers a Lot of Ground Extremely Well
If you have an interest in the development of Christianity, the Western Mystery Tradition or heresiology, this book by Richard Smoley proves to be an interesting read.

The book itself is written at a level where only a basic knowledge of Christian history and theology is required to get a grasp of the thesis of the book.Smoley takes the reader through nearly 2200 years of Gnostic thought and history, starting with Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism and running through modern times, including the popular perceived offshoots such as the Albigensian Cathars, the Rosicrucians, the Freemasons, the Knights Templar all the way to Jung, Blavatsky, the DaVinci Code and the Matrix.

While he tries to cover a lot of ground in a relatively short book, you get the flavor of Gnostic themes as an ever evolving, ever present element interweaving itself through Christian history.Smoley discusses not only the history, but the theology and the psychology of the various Gnostic themes, explores and discusses common information like the Nag Hammadi library and the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as reviews basic mainstream Christian theology in a compare and contrast exercise including a look at "mainstream" Christian (both Western and Orthodox) mysticism and prayer practices.

If you have an interest in this topic, this is a good read.

5-0 out of 5 stars Hey, what about scientology?
This is an excellent book, and functions as a survey of the ramifications of gnosticism over the centuries and up to the present day, dipping into such esoterica as the divine cobbler Jacob Boehme and the anti-gnostic Eric Voegelin. Many of the treatments are maddeningly short, but Smoley's reach is admirably broad. Modern examples include Carl Jung, the Matrix, and the Da Vinci code.

But not a word about Scientology! Here is perhaps the most intense and religious re-appropriation of gnostic thought in the modern world. Sure, it is a cult founded by a greedy charlatan. Sure, it might be a danger to life and limb to deal with them disparagingly in a book such as this. Yet it seems essential to include them in this kind of survey, since their theology is lifted practically wholesale from the Gnostic legacy and updated with exotic science fiction alien over-gods and gnosis-detecting "clear"-o-meters.

5-0 out of 5 stars vevry educational
I found the book well written and very educational. It was exactly what I was looking for when I ordered the book. Gnosticism has captured my curiosity for a long time.The book gives a good historical evolution of gnosticism

4-0 out of 5 stars Insightful but incomplete
Infamous Eve: A History
I found Smoley's "Forbidden Faith" insightful.The part about the Gnostic idea of not belonging to this world and therefore not being any segment of the groups who are expecting some apocalyptic resolution to fix it was perhaps a bit confusing.His explanations of the original Gnostic ideas tends to be misleading to those who do not understand that gnosis is the metaphysical practice of knowing there is more to ourselves than what our physical senses lead us to believe.
Not belonging to this world relates to our souls coming to this plane to learn through limited sensory perception.This is not the world of our soul, but it is not a place to be denigrated.Rather it is a temporary home for souls to direct energy to raise Universal Consciousness.Each soul comes into the Earth plane to carry out a mission.It comes forth, it creates, it designs, and it causes actions because it is to experience, learn, and express its "self".
Those who do practice gnosis are making an effort to have conscious contact with powers greater than themselves to gain emotional security that adds to the Universal Consciousness and they also take actions to resolve our current life problems in the here and now rather than look for a resolution caused by God ending this world's existence or by elevating their mental consciousness to the level of not caring.

May Sinclair, PhD, Author, Infamous Eve, A History

... Read more

9. Pre-Christian Gnosticism: A Survey of the Proposed Evidences
by Edwin M. Yamauchi
Paperback: 280 Pages (2003-10)
list price: US$28.00 -- used & new: US$25.25
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Asin: 1592443966
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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5-0 out of 5 stars Important, balanced, and brilliant.
Yamauchi's book "Pre-Christian Gnosticism" is a survey of all the different scholars who argued that early Christianity borrowed, or was influenced by, the Gnostics.

Could any scholar be more balanced? Yamouchi is simply wonderful in his careful discussion of all the evidence. Without exception, he is fair to each scholar's opinion.

Indeed, he scarcely gives his opinion until the last few chapters. Then, after a careful weighing of the various arguments, he finds:

"An impressive array of scholars both in the past and in more recent times have come to the conclusion that the Gnostic Redeemer figure as described by Reitzenstein and Bultmann, and as attested in the Hymn of the Pearl, the Manichaean and the Mandaean tests is simply a post-Christian development dependent upon the figure of Christ, rather than a pre-Christian myth upon which the New Testament figure of Christ depends" (p 165).

And again, "As Wilson states: 'The myth of the Urmensch-Redeemer has been adequately examined by others, and the view that such a myth, if it ever existed, exercised a formative influence on the early Church is now generally rejected" (p 166).

Many scholars now argue that the evidence suggests that the Gnostics borrowed ideas from Christianity, not the other way around.

In conclusion, Yamouchi writes:

"In the case of the New Testament texts we have not Gnostic texts which are older, and the evidences which have been adduced to prove the priority of Gnosticism over Christianity have been weighed in this study and found wanting" (p 186).

Anyone interested in this topic should also read the other famous study on Gnosticism, "A Separate God, The Origins and Teachings of Gnosticism" by Simone Petrement. ... Read more

10. Gnosticism and Early Christianity
by Robert M. Grant
 Hardcover: 249 Pages (1967-03)
list price: US$14.95
Isbn: 0231029233
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11. The Allure of Gnosticism
Paperback: 244 Pages (1995-03-01)
list price: US$30.00 -- used & new: US$18.69
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Asin: 0812692780
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Gnosticism is far more than an ancient Christian and Jewish heresy. It arises in many religions as the belief in a radical dualism both in human beings and the cosmos: immateriality is perceived as good and matter as evil. In the modern age, Gnosticism is very much alive, focused on the belief that human beings are alienated from their true selves. Modern Gnosticism continues to espouse a radical dualism, but this can take a psychological, social and political, rather than a metaphysical form. Among the writers and thinkers of the last two centuries who can be labelled Gnostics are: Hegel, Blake, Goethe, Schelling, Emerson, Melville, Byron, Yeats, Hesse and Toynbee. This text is a collection of 16 essays illuminating Gnosticism in its relation to such issues as Jungian thought, the nature of evil, the place of the feminine, communism and fascism, existentialism, Christian scriptures, Kafka and Buddhism. ... Read more

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3-0 out of 5 stars A collection of essays related to gnosticism
I guess this is a tolerable introductory book to gnosticism with its collection of essays from various contributors. There is a short article of the Nag Hammadi discovery included in it, and a few articles about Buddhism's relation to Gnosticism, but I liked especially Murray Stein's psychological take on the "Gospel of Truth." Because in it, the battle of good against evil is represented as if it was, in psychological terms, the battle of the honest Self against the pretended ego... -Sure provides some food for thought.

4-0 out of 5 stars A useful and thought-provoking series of essays
Books on "gnosticism" often tend either to be in the academic stratosphere,or full of new age sensationalism. This volume is very useful in that it presents a variety of interesting viewpoints from (mostly) recognized scholars in the field. It's quite accessible and the closing chapter on modern gnostic revivals is of particular import for those seeking to comprehend the continued draw this ancient philosophy -- as radical or paranoid it may be -- exerts upon some elements of our society today. (I adopted this for use in an undergraduate course on gnosticism I teach.) ... Read more

12. Neoplatonism and Gnosticism (Studies in Neoplatonism)
Paperback: 548 Pages (1992-07-07)
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Asin: 0791413381
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13. Beyond Gnosticism: Myth, Lifestyle, and Society in the School of Valentinus
by Ismo O. Dunderberg
Hardcover: 336 Pages (2008-03-21)
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Asin: 0231141726
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Valentinus was a popular, influential, and controversial early Christian teacher. His school flourished in the second and third centuries C.E. Yet because his followers ascribed the creation of the visible world not to a supreme God but to an inferior and ignorant Creator-God, they were from early on accused of heresy, and rumors were spread of their immorality and sorcery.

Beyond Gnosticism suggests that scholars approach Valentinians as an early Christian group rather than as a representative of ancient "Gnosticism"-a term notoriously difficult to define. The study shows that Valentinian myths of origin are filled with references to lifestyle (such as the control of emotions), the Christian community, and society, providing students with ethical instruction and new insights into their position in the world. While scholars have mapped the religio-historical and philosophical backgrounds of Valentinian myth, they have yet to address the significance of these mythmaking practices or emphasize the practical consequences of Valentinians' theological views. In this groundbreaking study, Ismo Dunderberg provides a comprehensive portrait of a group hounded by other Christians after Christianity gained a privileged position in the Roman Empire.

Valentinians displayed a keen interest in mythmaking and the interpretation of myths, spinning complex tales about the origin of humans and the world. As this book argues, however, Valentinian Christians did not teach "myth for myth's sake." Rather, myth and practice were closely intertwined. After a brief introduction to the members of the school of Valentinus and the texts they left behind, Dunderberg focuses on Valentinus's interpretation of the biblical creation myth, in which the theologian affirmed humankind's original immortality as a present, not lost quality and placed a special emphasis on the "frank speech" afforded to Adam by the supreme God. Much like ancient philosophers, Valentinus believed that the divine Spirit sustained the entire cosmic chain and saw evil as originating from conspicuous "matter."

Dunderberg then turns to other instances of Valentinian mythmaking dominated by ethical concerns. For example, the analysis and therapy of emotions occupy a prominent place in different versions of the myth of Wisdom's fall, proving that Valentinians, like other educated early Christians, saw Christ as the healer of emotions. Dunderberg also discusses theTripartite Tractate, the most extensive account to date of Valentinian theology, and shows how Valentinians used cosmic myth to symbolize the persecution of the church in the Roman Empire and to create a separate Christian identity in opposition to the Greeks and the Jews.

... Read more

14. Images of the Feminine in Gnosticism (Studies in Antiquity & Christianity)
by Karen L. King
Paperback: 480 Pages (2000-09-01)
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Asin: 1563383314
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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5-0 out of 5 stars Reference Work
Let me explain why I believe that this book deserves 5 stars.I have not read every word of this book. I have read some of the articles, and I keep ithe book as a reference work. It is scholarly. It is well-documented.These are serious scholars. The articles are well-written and almost entertaining to read.They are not trying to hide anything. Everything is out in the open for all to see.They see nothing wrong with Gnosticism or any other heresy, actually. This book is a series of scholarly papers written by prominent feminist theologians from several different Christian religious backgrounds, including Roman Catholic.

I am not a feminist.In fact, I am against feminism in most of its forms. I am especially against liberation theology, which is what feminist theology is part of.

However, this is a great reference work for those who are interested in the topic of Gnostic influences in Christianity and the rise of neo-Gnosticism.

A warning, though, for those who are orthodox in their faith.You will see pretty much every heretical doctrine about the person of Christ, the Trinity, Christology, and more explained and defended by the authors of these articles.

Even so, for the Evangelical it should show you where some of the doctrines are coming from that are being promoted openly even in Evangelical feminism.It is a dangerous, toxic book for those who accept its tenents.

It may be eye-opening for some, as it has been for me.It confirmed for me the real originsof some of the things that I was seeing defended even by Christian feminists and their unwitting sympathizers.

No, not all egalitarians are guilty of this, so I don't want to paint with too broad a brush.Dorothy L. Sayers was one who in her time staunchly defended orthodoxy, for example.There are others.

So, I give 5 stars for the quality of scholarship and writing. I give strong cautions because of the toxic nature of what the authors are defending.

... Read more

15. Rethinking "Gnosticism": An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category
by Michael Allen Williams
Paperback: 360 Pages (1999-04-12)
list price: US$37.50 -- used & new: US$29.99
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Asin: 0691005427
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Most anyone interested in such topics as creation mythology, Jungian theory, or the idea of "secret teachings" in ancient Judaism and Christianity has found "gnosticism" compelling. Yet the term "gnosticism," which often connotes a single rebellious movement against the prevailing religions of late antiquity, gives the false impression of a monolithic religious phenomenon. Here Michael Williams challenges the validity of the widely invoked category of ancient "gnosticism" and the ways it has been described. Presenting such famous writings and movements as the Apocryphon of John and Valentinian Christianity, Williams uncovers the similarities and differences among some major traditions widely categorized as gnostic. He provides an eloquent, systematic argument for a more accurate way to discuss these interpretive approaches.

The modern construct "gnosticism" is not justified by any ancient self-definition, and many of the most commonly cited religious features that supposedly define gnosticism phenomenologically turn out to be questionable. Exploring the sample sets of "gnostic" teachings, Williams refutes generalizations concerning asceticism and libertinism, attitudes toward the body and the created world, and alleged features of protest, parasitism, and elitism. He sketches a fresh model for understanding ancient innovations on more "mainstream" Judaism and Christianity, a model that is informed by modern research on dynamics in new religious movements and is freed from the false stereotypes from which the category "gnosticism" has been constructed. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (9)

4-0 out of 5 stars good arumentation, but his way of correcting the problem is wrong
i agreed with all his notions that gnosticism is such a wide category that cannot be pinned down to one set of characteristics, however his notion that it should all be changed to 'biblical demiurgical traditions' is also wrong.Changing the name of the category will not change the fact that all the old misconceptions will also come along with it.also if he perceive 'gnosticism' to really mean heretical, then whats the problem with using this term?

4-0 out of 5 stars Taking it a little too far
Michael Allen William's "Rethinking `Gnosticism': An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category" has become very influential within scholarly circles. Few books or articles about Gnosticism have been written since this book which do not, at the least, address his argument. Scholars are now much more careful to acknowledge that "Gnostic" is a widely varying and loosely constructed model.
In his book, Williams attempts to show that no proposed definition of Gnosticism fits the varying currents and ideologies normally categorized as "Gnostic". His approach is to examine common characteristics attributed to Gnosticism and illustrate Gnostic ideologies where such a trait is absent. His argument is well constructed and persuasive. However, it contains some notable flaws.
Although Williams is absolutely correct that no one definition of Gnosticism can do justice to all the ideologies which fall under it, this is in no way unique. Similar arguments have been made to dismantle terms like "syncretism," "paganism," and even "magic". Yet, as most scholars have argued since the publication of Williams' book, large categories like Gnosticism serve only as a starting point. Few of these umbrella terms could accurately describe all their subsets. The word Gnostic still gives an outline of various movements. Terms such as "Sethian" or "Valentinian" fill in the sketch. In this capacity, Gnosticism is still a useful model.
All in all, I highly recommend this book for anyone who has already made some study of early Christian history and/or Gnosticism. If nothing else, it certainly allows one to understand just how variant Gnostic circles could be.

5-0 out of 5 stars The definitive argument for reviving the spirit
Michael Allen Williams has produced an outstanding work which I suspect will pull the rug out from under the feet of anyone who thought they understood Gnosticism. His approach is so thorough and so fresh that I still haven't gotten up from off the ground.

Here are just a few of William's observations:

1) That that which we consider Gnostic was not necessarily world rejecting but was often world embracing, a positive effort to make sense of Jewish and Christian teachings in light of Platonism and other teachings current in the world at that time.

2) The myth of the demuirge was not "anticosmic" and may have led those who accepted it to greater, rather than less, involvement in the greater society. The modern label of "anticosmic" seems to Williams a cliche which fails to capture the ethical concerns of the early Christians who consider Gnostic. This calls into question Carl B. Smith's definition of Gnostic in his recent work "No longer Jews" which, though written after Willams work, relies on a negative anticosmicism as a key part of Smith's narrow definition of Gnosticism.

3) Williams notes that "everything we know from these sources [ e.g. those grouped as "gnostic"]themselves suggests not persons who were defiantly indifferent to all questions of right and wrong in human behavior and human relationships, but rather persons who quite often appear to be preoccupied with the very issue of achieving (or restoring) human excellence."

4) William calls into question Carl B. Smith's later view in "No Longer Jews". Williams writes that "I do think that it is probably a mistake to single out Jewish tradition, or those 'fringes' of Jewish tradition, as the locale for the origin of the entire diverse assortment of phenomena usually called 'gnosticism'. It is true that Smith opts for a narrower definition of Gnosticism but that definition is in conflict in its assessment of "anticosmicism" with William's view. Who is right I leave to the scholars but it makes me wonder if Smith's certainty is misplaced when a scholar of the apparent caliber of Williams differs. To be fair to Smith, he often refers to Williams in "No Longer Jews" and appears to constructively challenge Williams assessment but not enough to alleviate my concerns based on the issues Williams raises.

5) Williams see innovation as a key theme for the "Gnostic" groups who have been accused of being parasites. Williams suggests they may have functioned as "antibodies" and not "parasites". Innovation would count if Christian teaching were understood to be dynamic rather than a one-time static dump from heaven to earth. One would wonder reading Williams why Darrell Bock"The Missing Gospels" why Bock went to such lengths to distance the activities of the first century of Christianity with those of the second.

6) That "Gnostics" are characterized by revolt seems misleading to Williams, who favors innovation as a way to understand the efforts of various "Gnostics".

7) Williams favors "biblical demiurgical" as a way of understanding the early Christians who did could not accept that the cosmos was created by their God. The use of a new term (albeit this one a mouthful) avoids theconfusion that one might feel when reading on the back cover jacket of "No Longer Jews" that that book provides an extensive survey of the issues surrounding the rise of Gnosticism". Smith's survey doesn't include a great deal about Gnosticsm as most people would understand it to be until one encounters in the book Smith's narrowing definition.

Exposed to Williams and to "Rethinking Gnosticism" I greatly appreciate his scholarship conducted in a spirit of openness. I suspect this is the kind of openness of thought that the early Gnostics aspired to.

5-0 out of 5 stars Demiurgal urges
"Gnostics" have had a bad press, especially among orthodox Christian historians. They've been booted out of the household of faith, pontificated over and generalized to death. Williams does the decent thing and brings them out from under the grey clouds of polemic so we can get a clearer view.

Untangling some of the specific groups that have been squeezed into the "gnostic" pigeonhole, it becomes apparent that these people were as different in their day as differing sects in American Christianity are now.

I wouldn't make this my first venture into reading on this subject - but it will be stimulating for anyone who knows the basics. Anyone who wants to make an intelligent comment on "gnosticism" in the early church needs to come to grips with the issues Williams raises.

Readable and provocative... what more could you ask!

3-0 out of 5 stars A Timely Rethink
After reading one book which specifically mentions and disagrees with Michael Allen Williams' position, ("No Longer Jews: The Search for Gnostic Origins" by Smith), I figured that "Rethinking 'Gnosticism'" would be an important read.

Williams' basic position is that there is not enough evidence to support and maintain the category of "Gnosticism", and he proposes a term "biblical demiurgic tradition". Throughout the book, Williams systematically addresses central issues that have been cited as making up the Gnostic category, such as Gnostic interpretation, concepts of the body, ethical issues, and so on.

I would like to mention a couple of examples where I find Williams' discussion lacking. These are only examples, and will precede some good points from "Rethinking 'Gnosticism'" as well.

Firstly, Williams largely presents the category of Gnosticism in very simplistic terms, claiming that it is presented as "cliche" or "caricatures" of the religions so categorised. For ethics, Williams presents the ascetic or libertine options as the ones emphasised by previous understandings of Gnosticism. In contrast, while these elements have been discussed by other authors of note, they have not been presented in a way that obscures the complexity of Gnostic ethics in all its range, (a point in reference would be the Valentinians, who were very mild, middle-of-the-road types). In this sense, Williams seems to be shooting at shadows a bit.

Secondly, Williams claims that the Gnostics had, at times, a more positive attitude to the body. While there is great complexity and variation among differing Gnostic sects, the basic negative view is fairly consistent. Even the Valentinians take a reasonably negative view to it, though they are relatively mild by Gnostic standards. The apparent positive statements and knowledge Gnostics found "encoded" in the body that Williams mentions do not negate this underlying negativity to the material world overall and the body in particular.

While I disagree with Williams' overall position, I still feel that this book has definite value for someone studying Gnosticism's history and controversies. Williams reminds us that we must not get trapped by the "cliches and caricatures" that can easily influence our understanding. He does well at reminding the reader of some of the complexities of Gnostic thought.

One aspect I particularly thought Williams handled well was the aspect of asceticism and libertinism. He draws out important details and discusses the evidence in fresh ways. While I do not think the evidence is there to support his position of throwing the category of Gnosticism out of the window, he does make some interesting and strong points in the details. While this is not consistently so, Williams does raise some very good issues.

Despite some of the problems I have with Williams' overall conclusions, his book is an important contribution to the study of Gnosticism. He has dared rock the boat and get some rethinking going, which is always healthy. I would recommend the book to anyone who seeks an understanding of the problematic side of studying Gnosticism.

... Read more

16. From Jewish Magic to Gnosticism (Studien Und Texte Zu Antike Und Christentum)
by Attilio Mastrocinque
Hardcover: 244 Pages (2005-01)
-- used & new: US$105.00
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Asin: 3161485556
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Paperback: 252 Pages (1990-01-01)
list price: US$21.00 -- used & new: US$17.81
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Asin: 0800637410
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Customer Reviews (1)

5-0 out of 5 stars Amazing contribution...
This book is an amazing contribution to the consideration of the origins of gnosticism.

It makes clear that Gnosticism was NO mysticism, it was not Buddhism in Hellenistic guise, it was a religious theology that came out of circumstantial historical events.

If you study Gnosticism...this book is a must have for your personal library... ... Read more

18. The Interruption of Eternity: Modern Gnosticism and the Origins of the New Religious Consciousness
by Carl A. Raschke
 Hardcover: 271 Pages (1980-02)
list price: US$46.00 -- used & new: US$34.14
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Asin: 0882293745
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19. Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition
by Gershom G. Scholem
 Paperback: Pages (1965)

Asin: B003EANS0M
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20. A Separate God: The Christian Origins of Gnosticism
by Simone Petrement
 Paperback: Pages (1993-10)
list price: US$18.00 -- used & new: US$17.64
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Asin: 0060664215
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
An eminent French scholar examines the fascinating myths and ideas of Gnosticism, discussing all of its doctrines and themes. Petrement's analysis of these and other Gnostic documents constitutes a comprehensive new introduction to the ideas of the Gnostics that sheds fresh light on New Testament studies. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (2)

5-0 out of 5 stars A Separate God
Pétrement discusses the principle Gnostic doctrines, including the Two Gods (the Unknown God and the lower Demiurge, or Creator God, which she interprets is a distinction between the God of the Gospel and the God of the Old Testament), the Seven Creator Angels, the Mother, the God Man, the savior/revealer, docetism, Gnostic dualism, and salvation by gnosis. She argues that Gnosticism originated as a dualistic interpretation of the theologies of Paul and John. It is the cross of Christ, which in the Gnostic interpretation separates God from the world, The Transcendent from the Creator, constituting what Pétrement calls A Separate God.

A very interesting book.

5-0 out of 5 stars A "must" for those who value the contributions of the Gnostic Christians
Originally published in French in 1984 and in English translation in 1990, this extraordinary work presents a Christian origin for Gnosticism as most likely based on the documents Pretrement had available (which includes the Nag Hammadi texts although she acknowledges that these need further study).The Gospel of Judas would seem to in no way weaken her position.

I am a lay person so it is difficult for me to assess conflicts between Petrement's hypotheses and those of other scholars. Petrement makes many speculations and not infrequently makes assertions on details which I am unable to evaluate the soundness of. However, in the main, she seems to reason well, citing what seems to be good support in Bible texts as well as texts from the Gnostic Christians and heresiologists.

In "Rethinking 'Gnosticism'", Michael Allen Williams does fault Petrement for trying to find a single origin for Gnosticism and for believing that only Paul's work could trigger the development of Gnosticism but he calls "A Separate God" a "learned and truly ambitous book".

Petrement presents Gnosticism as a development within early Christianity (by the 2nd century with "gnosticizing" influences in the 1st century) in an effort to further distinguish New Testament teachings from those of the Old Testament. Hence Gnostic Christians were at the other end of the spectrum from Jewish Christians. Jewish Christians would have regarded even the Pauline and Johanine communities as pagan (Christian) and even more pagan the Gnostic Christians but Petrement places the Gnostic Christians squarely within Christianity in their concerns and self-identity. Jewish Christians favored the Gospel of Matthew, Gnostic Christians favored the Letters of Paul and the Gospel of John. Gnostic Christianity is no more a "pagan reaction" to Christianity than Christianity is a "pagan reaction" to Judaism, although certainly many pagans who became Christians were attracted to Gnostic Christian teachings as the kind of Christianity that spoke to their condition in a way that Jewish Christianity failed to do.

Petrement works with details of available texts but adds her own understanding of what motivated the early Gnostic Christians and how they might have understand their teachings to represent a saving knowledge.

Petrement's investigation becomes so detailed that, at times, I felt in danger of losing the forest for the trees. However, I found many sections helpful such as that on "realized" eschatology and on Apollos (with speculation by Petrement as to whether Apollos may have written the "Gospel of John").

The book is organized into consideration of the general problems of Gnosticism, the questions of "Can the Principal Gnostic 'Myths' be Understood on the Basis of Christianity" and "Can the Principal Characteristics of the Gnostic Doctrines Be Understood on the Basis of Christianity", and "How Gnosticism Could Have Been Formed". Petrement takes issues with claims that the Nag Hammadi texts reveal non-Christian works that suggest Gnosticism had a non-Christian origin. She cites many scholars who differ and explains why she doesn't accept their positions: it doesn't appear she has ignored or glossed over any contrary evidence or hypotheses.

I'd expect that this book belongs in the library of anyone who values the contributions of the Gnostic Christians. At the least, it was not a work I have been able to digest in one reading. It is clear already to me however that Petrement has made sense of the unusual early Gnostic Christian theologies and their possible historical development.

See also A History of Gnosticism ... Read more

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