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Introduction to Gnosticism

Ancient Voices, Christian Worlds

Nicola Denzey Lewis

Publication Date - 16 November 2012

ISBN: 9780199755318

336 pages
7-1/2 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock

The first and only textbook on the fascinating but often obscure topic of "Gnosticism"


Discovered in Egypt in 1945, the fascinating and challenging Nag Hammadi writings forever changed our understanding of early Christianity. State-of-the-art and the only volume of its kind, Introduction to "Gnosticism": Ancient Voices, Christian Worlds guides students through the most significant of the Nag Hammadi texts. Employing an exceptionally lucid and accessible writing style, Nicola Denzey Lewis groups the texts by theme and genre, places them in the broader context of the ancient world, and reveals their most inscrutable mysteries.

Ideal for use in courses in Early Christianity/Origins of Christianity, Christianity to 1500, Gnostic Gospels, Gnosticism, Early Christian Writings, Orthodoxy and Heresy, and New Testament Studies, Introduction to "Gnosticism" is enhanced by numerous pedagogical features, including images of the manuscripts, study and discussion questions, annotated bibliographies, tables, diagrams, and a glossary.

New to this Edition

  • This is a first edition.

About the Author(s)

Nicola Denzey Lewis is an award-winning teacher who has taught Gnosticism for fifteen years at Bowdoin College, Dartmouth University, and Harvard University. An internationally recognized expert in Gnosticism, she is the author of two books and numerous articles on various aspects of Nag Hammadi. She is currently Visiting Associate Professor in Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean in the Department of Religious Studies at Brown University.


"Introduction to 'Gnosticism' packs a great deal of information and insight into marvelously readable language, offering an excellent introduction to the complex and fascinating world of early Christianity--including new discoveries that many scholars have not yet explored."--Elaine Pagels, Princeton University

"The writings discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945 have revolutionized how scholars understand early Christianity and 'Gnosticism,' but the student or general reader may find them confusing and obscure. In this outstanding book, Nicola Denzey Lewis provides a clear and lively introduction to the wide diversity of texts and religious views found in the Nag Hammadi collection. She explains the biblical and philosophical contexts of these writings, clarifies their complex myths and esoteric terminology, and shows how they speak to the perennial religious questions of God, death, and the meaning of the universe. Readers will be grateful to have this book by their side as they explore the fascinating texts of Nag Hammadi."--David Brakke, The Ohio State University

"This book is a godsend for those of us who teach courses in early Christianity. What can one use as a textbook? Now we have the answer in this terrific contribution. Introduction to 'Gnosticism' is skillfully conceived, helpfully organized, and beautifully written, precisely what we have long needed for classroom use."--Bart D. Ehrman, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Table of Contents

    Abbreviations and Signs Used in this Book
    Table of Alternate Names of Tractates
    List of Nag Hammadi Tractates by Codex
    Maps and Timelines
    1. A Fourth-Century Christian Library: the Nag Hammadi Codices
    The Nag Hammadi Manuscripts: Some Specifics
    Why a Codex or Book?
    Making Sense of a Coptic Gnostic Library
    How Unusual Is It to Have These Books?
    How Good Were These Scribes?
    Who Were These Scribes?
    Dating and Locating the Codices
    Were These Texts Really Gnostic Scripture?
    2. The Problem with Gnosticism
    Did Gnosticism Really Exist?
    Hans Jonas and Gnosticism as a Typological Category
    The Messina Definition
    Rethinking Gnosticism: Michael Williams and Karen King
    The "Yale School"
    "Heresy" versus "Orthodoxy"
    Is There Any Truth to the Reconstructions of the Heresiologists?
    Modern Christianity and Ancient Gnosticism
    3. The Roman Empire: Religious Landscapes
    The Nag Hammadi Library in Context
    The Roman Empire
    Religious Contexts
    Other Religions of the Roman Empire
    Elements of Roman Life that Affected Christianity
    4. Christianity in the Second-Century Empire: An Overview
    How did Christianity Work?
    Accommodation versus Non-Accommodation: A Christian Dilemma
    Regional Christianities
    A Glimpse Forward
    5. Gnostic Prayer: Prayer of the Apostle Paul and Prayer of Thanksgiving
    The Prayer of the Apostle Paul: Background
    The Prayer of Thanksgiving: Background
    What Constituted Prayer in the Ancient World?
    Why Did Its Ancient Copyist Choose Prayer of the Apostle Paul to Begin Codex I?
    The View of Jesus in Prayer of the Apostle Paul
    God in the Prayer of Thanksgiving
    The Invisible Aspects of Prayer
    Other Prayers in the Nag Hammadi Library
    Other Prayers Outside the Nag Hammadi Library
    6. Valentinus and the Valentinians
    Irenaeus on Valentinus and the Valentinians
    What Kind of a Christian Was Valentinus?
    The Writings of Valentinus
    Valentinian Teachers and Later Valentinianism
    What Happens to the Valentinians?
    7. Some Valentinian Writings from Nag Hammadi: Tripartite Tractate, Interpretation of Knowledge and A Valentinian Exposition
    Tripartite Tractate: Background
    Interpretation of Knowledge: Background
    A Valentinian Exposition: Background
    What Makes a Text Valentinian?
    Other Signs of Valentinianism from Nag Hammadi
    Valentinians on the Ground
    8. Two Valentinian Gospels: Gospel of Truth and the Gospel of Philip
    The Gospel of Truth: Background
    Language and Imagery in the Gospel of Truth
    The Gospel of Truth's Creation Myth
    Jesus in the Gospel of Truth
    Gospel of Philip: Background
    Jesus in the Gospel of Philip
    Ritual and Sacrament in the Gospel of Philip
    9. The Thomas Literature: The Gospel of Thomas, Book of Thomas the Contender
    Who Was Thomas?
    The End of the World in the Gospel of Thomas
    The Gospel of Thomas's Relation to the New Testament Gospels
    What's Second-Century about This Gospel?
    The Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of John: An Early Christian Conflict?
    Gnosis and Self-Knowledge in the Gospel of Thomas
    Understanding Thomas as Jesus's Twin
    10. Sethian Gnosticism: The Three Steles of Seth
    How the Heresiologists Don't Help
    How to Recognize a Sethian (Text)
    Sethian Typologies
    Four Elements of Sethianism
    A Sethian Case Study: Three Steles of Seth
    Finding Those Elusive Sethians
    11. In the Beginning. Two Creation Myths: Hypostasis of the Archons and On the Origin of the World
    Hypostasis of the Archons: History of the Text
    On the Origin of the World: History of the Text
    The Question of Literary Relationship Between Hypostasis of the Archons and On the Origin of the World
    The Nature of the Archons in Hypostasis of the Archons and On the Origin of the World
    Are These Texts "Retakes" of Genesis or Are They Anti-Genesis?
    Genesis: Questions and Qualms
    Answering Questions, Addressing Qualms
    Reading Genesis Like an Ancient Reader
    Gender and Power: The Rape of Eve
    Rape and Ancestry: Founding a People
    Where Does the Tripartite Division of Humankind in These Texts Come From?
    The Enthronement of Sabaoth
    The End of the Story
    12. A Classic Text: The Apocryphon of John
    Relationship Between the Manuscripts of the Apocryphon of John
    The Secret Book of John and Not-So-Secret Revelations
    Apophatic Theology and the Problem of Creation
    The Structure of the Cosmos
    The Creation of Ialdabaoth and the Repentance of Sophia
    The Creation of Humankind
    Biblical Exegesis in the Apocryphon of John
    The Pronoia Hymn
    Ways Out (of Enslavement)
    Who Wrote, and Read, This Text?
    EXCURSUS: Table of Genesis Comparisons between the Apocryphon of John, Hypostasis of the Archons, and On the Origin of the World
    13. A Classic Text: The Gospel of the Egyptians
    Background and Structure of the Text
    Cosmology of the Gospel of the Egyptians
    The Lower Cosmos and Its Beings
    Recounting Sacred History: A Sethian Mass
    What Are Those Strings of Vowels?
    The Three Descents of Seth
    Baptism in the Gospel of the Egyptians
    How Christian is the Gospel of the Egyptians?
    14. Dealing with Death: First Apocalypse of James, Second Apocalypse of James, Apocryphon of James, Treatise on the Resurrection
    Afterlife Conceptions in the Roman Empire
    What Happened in Rome When Someone Died?
    Did Gnostics Have Their Own Death Rites?
    15. Deconstructing the Divine Feminine: Thunder: Perfect Mind and Trimorphic Protennoia
    The Narrative Structure of Thunder: Perfect Mind
    The Trimorphic Protennoia in Brief
    Wisdom Sayings and "I-sayings"
    Who Is Protennoia/Ennoia?
    The Ending of the Trimorphic Protennoia
    The Trimorphic Protennoia and the Gospel of John
    Thunder: Perfect Mind and Social Violence
    The Question of Audience
    Last Thoughts
    16. What Are Pagan Texts Doing in a Christian Library? Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth; Plato's Republic; Asclepius; Sentences of Sextus
    The Hermetica
    A Few Hermetic Themes
    17. Apostolic Traditions in Conflict: Letter of Peter to Philip, Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles, Apocalypse of Peter
    The Letter of Peter to Philip: Background
    Peter and the Tradition of the Twelve Apostles
    Peter (and Paul) in Acts of the Apostles
    Acts of the Twelve Disciples and Apocryphal Acts
    Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles: Background
    Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles and Allegory
    Apocalypse of Peter: Background
    Are These Petrine Texts Gnostic?
    Authority and Visions: The Post-Resurrection Appearances
    18. Visions of the End! Apocalypses in Nag Hammadi: Apocalypse of Paul, Apocalypse of Adam
    Building a Social Context
    Judaism and Apocalyptic Literature
    Features of Ancient Apocalyptic Literature
    The End of the World as We Know It?
    Apocalypses at Nag Hammadi
    Apocalyptic Passages in Other Nag Hammadi Writings
    19. The Sethian Platonizing Apocalypses
    Zostrianos, Allogenes, and Marsanes
    Greek Philosophy and Gnosticism
    What's Apocalyptic about Sethian Apocalypses?
    Baptism in Sethian Apocalypses
    20. Beyond Nag Hammadi: Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene
    Background of the Codex Tchacos
    Gospel of Judas: Background
    Who Was Judas?
    The Cosmology of the Gospel of Judas
    Is the Gospel of Judas Sethian?
    What the Gospel of Judas Tells Us about Proto-Orthodox Christianity
    A Gospel without Salvation?
    The Gospel of Mary Magdalene
    Gospel of Mary: Background
    Who Was Mary?
    The Cosmology of the Gospel of Mary
    Jesus in the Gospel of Mary
    Salvation in the Gospel of Mary
    What the Gospel of Mary Tells Us about Proto-Orthodox Christianity
    Illustration Credits