Minutes for the Seminar on
Religious Studies 535, University of Pennsylvania, Spring 2005,
Robert A. Kraft
Week #14 -- 19 April 2005 --
submitted by Caroline Kelly
During the first hour of class, Carl Pfendner delivered a
review of Gnosticism and Later Platonism: Themes,
and Texts, John Turner and Ruth Majercik, eds. Discussion growing
this report included the definition of the terms theurgy (rituals that
thought to provide a connection with the divine) apophatic (negative
or defining the divine in terms of what it is not) and Neoplatonism
under Plotinus of Platonic and "Middle Platonic" ideals into a
way of life). Professor Kraft wrapped up the discussion by
that Plotinus and his followers were unhappy with the theology and
concretization of the Gnostics but if one scrapes away the rhetoric,
the two "dualistic" perspectives are fairly similar, despite the
undeniable variety to be found
among both Platonists and Gnostics. In antiquity,
may have traveled long distances through trade routes, as well as by
other means. This raises the question: to what extent can we trust
itinerant merchants accurately to disseminate philosophical views? As a
segway, Professor Krafts ask if Irenaeus, like the
Hippolytus, was critical of philosophy?
Before turning to Irenaeus, we briefly touched on
purported new findings of a team from ISPART
CPART), Brigham Young University, which recently met in England at Oxford to
employ MSI images (that is, at all
ranges of the light band) to read papyri. The results of this process
expected to be published in the next few weeks, but the initial news
media report was rather sensationalistic.
The second half of class
was devoted to
the final three sections of book 1 of Against Heresies.
of Lyons was originally form Asia
Minor and seems, from his own
account, to retain close ties to that
region as well as to Rome. He was a Greek speaker and his work was originally
Greek (although most of its survives in Latin or Armenian), which
questions about the intended audience. We might expect congregations in
speak Latin. There was already a tradition of anti-heretical writings
Christian circles before Irenaeus. Justin Martyr for instance wrote a
work or works (now
lost) against Valentinus and Marcion.
The first passage, entitled
by modern editors) "Doctrines of Various Other Gnostics Sects, and
the Barbeliotes or Borborians" (AH 1.29) selfconsciously marks
the beginning of a new section, in which Irenaeus
moves away from the immediately previous discussion of “mild
heretics” such as Tatian's "Encratites" (focussing on prohibiting
marriage and certain foods; AH 1.28) into descriptions of
various Gnostic systems (traced back to
Simon Magnus, hence “Simonians” -- see AH 1.23 and 29).
His descriptions of Gnostic systems sometimes seem confused.
For example, his opening
statement in the next section identifies Bythus [Depth], the Father of
the All, as the "first man,"
a confusing combination:
again, portentously declare that
there exists, in the power of Bythus [Depth], a certain primary light,
incorruptible, and infinite: this is the Father of all, and is styled
man" (AH 1.30).
In this second section,
which has the heading "Ophites and Sethians" although neither term is
found in the text, it is not clear what group or groups are being
described (traced back to Valentinus in AH 1.30.15 !). An association
of Ophites (from Greek
οφις [ofis], a serpent) with
the "serpent" of the Eden story is reasonable but a Sethian
association with that tradition is less obvious (Seth is mentioned as
an important figure in AH 1.30.9). Connections with
serpent imagery are clear and some of the language is reminiscent of
the reading of entrails as a means of revelation:
“This son is Nous
himself, twisted into the form of a
serpent; and hence were derived the spirit, the soul, and all mundane
from this too were generated all oblivion, wickedness, emulation, envy,
death. They declare that the father imparted still greater crookedness
serpent-like and contorted Nous of theirs, when he was with their
heaven and Paradise” (30.5);
“But the others coming and
admiring her beauty, named her Eve, and falling in love with her, begat
her, whom they also declare to be the angels. But their mother (Sophia)
cunningly devised a scheme to seduce Eve and Adam, by means of the
transgress the command of Ialdabaoth. Eve listened to this as if it had
proceeded from a son of God, and yielded an easy belief. She also
to eat of the tree regarding which God had said that they should not
eat of it.
They then declare that, on their thus eating, they attained to the
that power which is above all, and departed from those who had created
“For some of them assert that Sophia herself became the serpent; on
which account she was hostile to the creator of Adam, and implanted
knowledge in men, for which reason the serpent was called wiser than
all others. Moreover, by the position of our intestines, through which
the food is
conveyed, and by the fact that they possess such a figure, our internal
configuration in the form of a serpent reveals our hidden generatrix”
despite such confusions, there is a clear distinction between the
and this one, two different
cosmological systems are being described. This section (30)
is very detailed,
especially when compared to both what precedes and to the following
section, on the "Cainites" (31).
Overall, there are various points of contact
accounts and the NHL
materials but sometimes these are not obvious or are only approximate.
Kraft concludes that general correspondences between the two work
overly detailed ones. Questions about how Irenaeus obtained his
information are also significant for the study of the early history and
development of Christian "Gnosticisms."
Finishing assignment: complete research papers and do the "exit
interview," thinking gnostically!
Week #13 -- 12 April 2005 --
submitted by Carl Pfendner
The majority of class time was taken up by two presentations.
Liza Anderson presented on Birger Pearson’s Gnosticism
and Christianity in Roman and Coptic Egypt. This work attempts to
the beginnings of Christianity in Egypt
and also attempts to clear up the use of the term “Gnosticism” as a
historical category. Jasmine Landry presented on Karen King’s The
Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the
First Woman Apostle. This work provides an exegesis of the themes
meaning of the Gospel of Mary and places it in the context of the
patriarchal early Christian church.
presentation there was a discussion over the
terms King used to translate specific words from the original Coptic,
particularly the term “realm” instead of “kingdom” (in "kingdom of God"
contexts). “Kingdom” frequently has
the connotation that the region must be ruled over by a specific type
of ruler which is one
reason why King uses “realm,” a more neutral term that does not imply
of hierarchical structure of authority. This interpretation seems to
the Gnostic rejection of the demiurge as a tyrannical and corrupted
thus supports King’s use of “realm” instead of the more traditional
This debate is not limited to King, and many authors attempt to take
account modern and ancient connotations of the original term with
degrees of success and accuracy (e.g. "divine rule" as an alternative).
One also needs to take into account
the meaning of the whole phrase “kingdom
of God” as well as the
of each individual word.
King also chooses to translate the more
traditional “Son of
Man” as “child of true Humanity.” Again, although King explains her
in the book, Professor Kraft pointed out that she chose to insert the
“true” to indicate something about the nature of the phrase. King seems
want to remove any sense of gender from the term as well by rendering
the overly literalistic term "Man" by its more generic meaning of
We then continued into a short discussion of
books such as King’s. We briefly discussed the events surrounding the
rise of Scholars
Press under the leadership of Robert Funk (also of "Jesus Seminar"
fame) and the creation of Polebridge Press as a replacement of
sorts when Funk was removed from his earlier position.
Relating to chapter 13 of King’s book, someone
King thought that the Gospel of Mary
and the issues around it were
representative of inner conflict within Gnosticism. The answer was that
seems to say that it represents conflicts within Christian groups but
necessarily limited to Gnostics.
Professor Kraft also briefly discussed Montanism
strong association with women. It might have been possible that this
association with the rejected message of Montanism would have pushed
from any interpretation that put women at the forefront of the religion
seems to suggest the Gospel of Mary
After this extended discussion over Jasmine’s
we returned to Liza’s presentation, where someone (I believe it was
what was the main defining feature of "Gnosticism" according to
Pearson. The question concerns the central component of the religion
and a few
examples were given: Christianity and Buddhism seem to revolve around a
Islam seems to revolve around a concept; etc. Therefore given this
what was Gnosticism’s central element? The conclusion was that
not really identified in a unified or centralized form so nothing could
be said about this. Would their contemporaries have even used the term
“Gnostic”? Again, we come up with an answer that reflects the lack of
definition of the tradition; there wasn’t really a “Gnosticism” that
identified and described in some clear institutional form, but
individual people were clearly seen as “Gnostic.”
After the discussions over the presentations were
we continued with a quick look at
Gnostic practices and their description in
the texts we read for the class. We identified the first and second of
practices as baptism and chrismation, which were frequently connected
other by a larger ritual. According to the extant church orders by the
end of the 2nd
century CE as described by Hippolytus, the full
ritual for the introduction
of a new Christian into the community included the following
stages, at an annual Eastertime ceremony:
- Catechesis – preparatory instruction
- Prayer and Fasting
- Anointing with oil of exorcism
- Baptism (by immersion)
- Anointing with oil of thanksgiving (reception of holy spirit)
This seems to have been a
particularly common ceremony and it is not really
surprising that elements of it appear in the Gnostic texts. More
noteworthy is the
introduction of the "bridal chamber" as a "sacrament" (i.e. used in the
texts as similarly sacred, along with baptism). It was pointed out that
we know from Methodius that similar bridal
chamber imagery appears by the early 4th century in
mainstream Christian contexts.
We further examined the use of
quotations in the texts we
have encountered so far, comparing the Epistle
of Barnabas as an example. We also
reviewed the types of references we had encountered as well. For
references, we returned to the Exegesis of the Soul (which
includes a quotation
from Homer’s Odyssey), the Testimony
of Truth, and Silvanus. For inverted
quotations we returned to the Apocryphon
of John, which frequently uses biblical quotations in a
negative sense (i.e.
“it is not the way Moses wrote and you heard”) to show the faultiness
“orthodox” tradition. We also reminded ourselves of the Second Treatise of the
Great Seth and the Testimony of Truth, which turn
the creation and fall stories
on their heads in an implicit reference to the stories from Genesis. Thus it
seems clear that the intent behind scriptural allusion or quotation in
Gnostic contexts can vary from text to text. Possibly lying behind this
is the assumed inability of the average person to know which texts are
following and which are not. The only solution to this would have been
inducted into the “mysteries” of some Gnostic tradition thus gaining
knowledge of true scripture as opposed to false scripture and thus
understanding the target texts to their fullest.
In order to explore this subject more broadly, it
to try to reconstruct the full range of "authoritative literature" that
authors might have had available. For a reasonably comprehensive list
of early Christian writings, including the
books of early Christian literature,” Professor Kraft pointed to
Goodspeed/Grant’s A History of Early
Christian Literature (which is organized by type, e.g. gospels,
etc.) particularly the introduction and chapter 16. Professor Kraft
prologue to the Gospel of Luke very seriously: “Many writers have
draw up an account of the events that have taken place among us,
traditions handed down to us by the original eyewitnesses and servants
gospel” (Luke 1.1-2). This indicates that there were a multitude of
texts of which
people, such as “Luke,” knew, and that they sometimes had these in mind
composing their own works. In order to reconstruct this for oneself,
Kraft suggested that one should revisit the course syllabus and
for both RelS 535 and 135. Furthermore Professor Kraft pointed out that
texts come to us only in fragmentary form and that sometimes we can
texts together. Mention was made of the German series entitled Kleine Texte für Vorlesungen und
Übungen, which conveniently gathers and presents
some of the fragmentary materials (among other things). And new
discoveries are made every now and then, such as the recently
of the Savior.”
Final class assignment: review and sample what Irenaeus has to
say about various gnostic groups and views in his AH
1, and especially the
final three sections of that book, on miscellaneous sub-sects
(Barbelites/Borborites, Ophites-Sethians, Cainites).
Week #12 -- 05 April 2005 --
submitted by Elizabeth "Liza"
Anderson (remembering St. Vincent Ferrer)
Class began with a report
by Virginia Wayland on Gedaliahu A. G.
Stroumsa's Another Seed: Studies in
Gnostic Mythology (1984). In this work, he examines the
background of the biblical exegesis from which gnosticism developed in
order to analyze the organizing principles of gnostic mythology.
Question: Why does Stroumsa
focus so much on the Apocalypse of Adam? Does he claim it as a
Answer: He leaves its origins
open; it may very well be an older, pre-Christian text.
Question: Why does he focus so
much on the interpretation of Genesis? What about the rest of the Bible?
Answer: Because our sources do
the same thing. Genesis, especially the first few chapters, is
clearly a background for many of the Gnostic texts in a way that other
parts of the Bible are not. To get a more complete understanding,
perhaps we should add another appendix to the NHL review
site on references to Jewish history and tradition.
A difficulty that we face in studying gnosticism is that we know almost
nothing about the social context that produced it; however, to put
matters in perspective, we know almost nothing about the social context
for other early religious "movements" as well, such as apocalypticism
(to be studied in this seminar next term).
Question: Does Stroumsa have a
clear concept of what "Sethian Gnosticism" is, or a specific list of
texts that are "Sethian"?
Answer: Kind of, but he doesn't
hold himself to that. He starts with a basic framework, but
allows it to be somewhat porous. This is not illegitimate;
indeed, it may be necessary; but it is frustrating.
Question: When did "Gnosticism"
Answer: Well, that depends on
your definition of "Gnosticism." Tell me what you mean by
"Gnosticism," and your answer will be in your definition.
Robert M. Grant is a (good Anglican, now retired) scholar from the
University of Chicago who said that "Gnosticism" was the product of
frustrated apocalypticism. Then he abandoned that theory, which
displeased people like Danielou, who liked his first idea better.
According to Stroumsa, Sethian Gnosticism grew out of some strains of
apocalyptic Jewish thought, which emphasized the theme of present evil
and a split between heaven and earth. But in apocalyptic thought
it is the righteous who are saved, whereas the gnostics are born pure.
Tangent: We've all been
brainwashed to think of "authorship" and "textual integrity" in a very
modern sense, but these ancient texts were much more composite and
evolved. Furthermore, editors and compilers were probably not
usually very worried about systematic theological consistency -- they
just took a lot of nice old stuff and put it together.
Question: Does Stroumsa draw
any connections to later Jewish Kabbalistic thought?
Answer: He does refer to later
Midrashim (6th-7th century), but finds it unlikely that these actual
represent gnostic traditions. Rather, this is a parallel
Major Tangent: Discussion of Rabbi
Yochanan Ben Zakkai coming before Vespasian after the destruction
of the temple.
Question: What does Stroumsa
say about Seth in the Manichean tradition?
Answer: He refers to some
Chinese Manichean sources; [RAK] You'll have to look it up yourself,
Protestation: But I can't read
Response: Well, what else are
you doing this weekend?
Finally, this week's assignment.
We started by going back to our Review of
the Nag Hammadi Library in English page and looked at section
10 on the followers of Jesus.
We've probably said enough about Judas Thomas by
now that we all should have at least some sense of what's going on
there. The problem is that there are just too many people named
Judas in the early Christian tradition, and the sources don't always
specify to which one they are referring. But at least you can now
all say something reasonably intelligent (or at least intelligible)
about what all of the craziness around being the twin of Jesus might
mean. The canonical description of Thomas as a doubter in the gospel of
John may be a reaction to traditions like this where Thomas is such an
important figure. On the other hand, in the canonical tradition,
Peter also messes it all up pretty badly and still comes back strong,
so it could be that that's just the way that you treat your hero.
There's an old book by J. Rendel
Harris (a good Quaker who also
taught at Haverford college) called The Twelve Apostles, which was
written in 1927 (thus, before the Nag Hammadi texts were found), in
which he examines the problem of the competing lists of disciples,
including who gets to be named first in different lists. This
raises lots of questions, even without the Nag Hammadi texts. For
example, are Peter and Cephas (in Galatians 2) really the same person
(an early tradition distinguishes between them)?
Question: Which disciples are
named in the Gospel
Retort: You mean you haven't
memorized the Gospel of Thomas yet? What have you been doing with
your time? Slacking off! [wink, wink, wink!] Okay, okay, let's
just look it up.
In browsing the text of the Gospel of Thomas online, we first we came
to the mention of "James the Righteous for whom heaven and earth came
into being" (12). What does his title "the righteous" mean?
It's hard to say precisely. In some contexts, "the righteous one"
can actually be a synonym for "messiah." One of the somewhat
eccentric scholars of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Robert Eisenman, thinks
that the references to "the righteous" in those texts refer to this
Jacob/James -- see the richly detailed and generally positive
presentation of Eisenman's throries by Robert M. Price.
According to the canonical tradition, Jacob/James was the brother of
Joshua/Jesus but not one of the "apostles." James became the
leader of the Christian community in Jerusalem, and was martyred around
the year 62. Depending upon which tradition you want to believe,
he was either pushed down the stairs of the temple and stoned to death,
or else he was beaten to death with a fuller's club. For more
information, check the old DCB -- Dictionary
of Christian Biography by William Smith and Henry Wace.
There are a lot of competing stories about James floating around, which
can sometimes be a headache, but it shows that he was an important
figure for a lot of different groups of people. James was just
recently in the news with the discovery of an ossuary
which was inscribed "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus," which
caused quite a stir because, if authentic, it would be the earliest
archaeological link to the New Testament record. ProfessorKraft's
consistent opinion on the matter has been "so what?" If it's real
or fake, it still tells us next to nothing. (Indeed, when he was
in the museum where it was being exhibited in Toronto, he didn't even
go to see it.)
"Do you write home and tell your parents that they can read your
minutes online? You should. Maybe they would send you some
extra spending money -- or disown you!"
Back to the apostles in the gospel of Thomas. Simon Peter fails
his theological test by saying that Jesus is like a righteous
angel. Eventually this idea comes into disfavor, but it was
around in early Christian circles; e.g. Justin Martyr (2nd century
Christian apologist) also refers to Jesus as an "angel." This is
followed by Matthew calling Jesus a "wise philosopher," and the
episode with Thomas in which that apostle receives from Jesus dangerous
secrets that would harm the others to hear (13).
What does it mean to say that heaven and earth came into being for the
sake of James? In Rabbinic Judaism, according to one midrash, the
world was created for the sake of Torah. But what is this saying
about James from a gnostic standpoint, where heaven and earth coming
into being is not really such a great thing? But is this saying
from a gnostic mind? Is it from Jesus? From another earlier
source? Is this a generic way of saying "he's a good guy"? At a
guess, this is probably an order "Jewish Christian" saying, since it
seems to be a positive statement in this context, which it would not be
from a typical gnostic perspective. Of course, there are also
those who argue that the Gospel of Thomas is not really a gnostic text
at all, but rather an ascetic text, so they might make a different
Professor Kraft: Have I completely confused you enough yet? These
are all wonderful questions that have no definitive answers.
The other reference to Peter is at the end of the text where he says,
"let Mary leave us because women are not worthy of life," and Jesus
responds by saying the he "will make her male." Is this the same
message that Paul gives us in Galatians -- "in Christ there is neither
male nor female"? Probably, actually, but unfortunately this is
rather more difficult language that reifies the gender distinction
rather than dissolving it. And, it does seem to imply at least
that maybe women start at some kind of disadvantage, although that may
not be its intention.
We need quickly to look at the female followers of Jesus before class
ends. It is claimed that there were "seven" -- including at least
one Mary, Martha, Salome, and Arsinoe. There are too many women
named Mary in early Christian sources. Here, we might assume it
means Mary Magdalene, but care is needed. Salome is said to share
a couch with Jesus (GThom 61), which some people interpret sexually,
while others envision a banquet setting. But even if it is sexual
imagery, what does that mean coming from a group that doesn't endorse
propagation? The class appears unconvinced. Professor
Kraft: "Come on! You're trying to imagine them as disreputible and I'm
trying to rescue them!"
What does "Mary" mean? From the Hebrew Miriam. The meaning is not
known for certain, but there are several theories including "sea of
bitterness," "rebellion," and "wished for child." However it was most
likely originally an Egyptian name, perhaps derived in part from MRY
"beloved" or MR "love", which then came into Hebrew. While we're
at it, Salome was probably derived from an Aramaic name which was
related to the Hebrew word ShaLoM meaning "peace". Martha means
"lady" or "mistress of the house" in Aramaic, and Arsinoe is a Greek
name which means "woman of uplifted mind" [so finds Liza].
Class concluded with a brief debate on whether punctuation belongs
inside or outside of quotation marks, in which it was generally agreed
that the British way (outside the quotes) makes much more
logical sense in most instances, but since American
publishers and stylists prefer it inside, we'd best do it that way.
Next assignment: section 11 of the review, on practices
Week #11 -- 29 March 2005 --
submitted by Elizabeth Anderson (Easter Octave/Feast of John Keble)
Class began with a report by Caroline Kelly on The Gnostic Paul by Elaine Pagels. Pagels
discusses second century Valentinian exegesis of "Pauline" texts in
this work, which was written early in her academic career. A
critique is that it seems to be a strung out version of her work on
Heracleon rather than all of the Nag Hammadi material, which may have
been necessary at the time, but still makes some of her generalizations
difficult to accept.
Tangential question (left over
from last week): Are there still Manicheans in China? Answer:
Maybe. There were some not that long ago still around writing in
Sogdian. But according to google, the religion seems to have died
out in the first decades of the 20th century. There is a useful
website overview of the history
of Manicheism in China (thanks, Liza).
To start with today's material, we returned to the review of
the Nag Hammadi Library in English web page and looked at appendix
one: References to the Crucifixion/Death of Jesus. Some of
these fit our preconceptions of gnosticism, such as in the "laughing
savior" motif, a typical docetic interpretation ("docetic is from the
Greek "to seem" and refers to the belief that Christ only seemed to
have a human body and to suffer and die on the cross). The Letter from Peter to Philip
says that Jesus was a stranger to suffering. Other texts,
however, seem to say that he did suffer and die. These may be
playing with the gnostic category of syzygy, "twinship." They may
mean it literally, but they may mean that it was the earthly
counterpart to the heavenly Christ who suffered. Maybe in another
generation of scholarship we'll have a better idea of whether there's a
consistent gnostic view. When we ask whether the "real"
historical Jesus suffered and died, we may not be asking the same
questions as the ones that they were asking and answering in these
texts. Still, some of the more graphically historical language
surprised students of gnosticism when these texts were
discovered. (Although not as surprising in a text like the Gospel of Philip, since that
probably doesn't reflect a homogeneous understanding.)
Question: Were some of these
originally non-gnostic texts that were later "gnosticized"?
Maybe. But for that matter, was someone like Paul "gnosticized,"
or was he "historicized"? He was probably somewhere in between,
with an apocalyptic, dualistic outlook. The Dead Sea Scrolls are
another example of this, although the different poles of existence are
not separated by the same gulf as in gnostic writings. Philo is
another example, although he leans closer to the separated dualism of
the gnostics. Still, Philo maintains some continuity between the
creation of the world by God and what's going on now; he just tends to
give psychological interpretations of many things. Someone like
Irenaeus is in a more concrete, material and "historical" world.
Question: Is there a connection
between Judas Iscariot and Judas the Twin? Maybe. For that
matter, what about Simon of Cyrene carrying Jesus' cross? Where
does that name and tradition come from?
We begin to get a view of these early traditions no sooner than 30-40
years after the death of Jesus, and by then we already have traditions
that are quite diverse. How do you explain it? Presumably
someone was inventing or modifying or things were simply mutating
naturally if you want to be more charitable. For example,
Professor Kraft was brought up to believe that "son of man" was a
special term in the tradition, used only by Jesus (except for Stephen
in Acts 7.56). Then the Nag Hammadi texts came out, and the term
was all over the place, used by others as well as by Jesus! Was
the term first reserved to Jesus and then they decided to make it more
general, or was it general and the writers of the canonical gospels
decided to make it more specific? A major problem is that even
academics have been brainwashed (conditioned) to see things through the
lens of the canonical gospels, and so it's hard for this new material
to get a hearing on its own terms. The fact that the canonical
tradition is also a living tradition makes it hard to overcome its
influence. As for the title "son of man," Professor Kraft would
guess that it was probably widely used in antiquity. In semitic
languages, kinship language like that would be common (ben adam, bar
enosh), with the general meaning of "human." This filters out
into an apocalyptic focus on an individual, such as in the book of
Daniel (7.14), or to a view of the "son of man" as a prophetic agent,
as in the book of Ezekiel (2.1 and passim).
Either someone put these two views together for the case of Jesus or
(more likely), they had already been put together before this (e.g. in
the "Similitudes" of Enoch, if
it is earlier). Most gnostic texts use the term in the
prophetic/revelatory sense. The problem with the synoptic gospels
is that many of the references seem to be Jesus referring to someone
else in (Mark and) Luke, although the Matthean version changes some of
these references to "I the son of man" or similarly (e.g. Luke 6.22 //
Matt 5.11). Luke's genealogy of Jesus, which goes back to "son of
Adam, son of God," is unusually placed after the baptism (where Jesus
is declared to be God's "son"; Lk 3.23ff), unlike Matthew's, which is
at the beginning of the birth story. (If you are mathematically
alert, Matthew's final list of 14 generations is missing a generation,
unless perhaps "Jesus" and "Christ" count as two generations! See Matt
1.17.) So what's the answer? "You're not going to get any
conclusive answers out of me! You should know that by now!"
Next we looked at the Second Treatise of the Great Seth,
doing a search for the word "laugh" in order to find passages relevant
to the "laughing Savior" motif. We found that several characters
are referred to as "laughingstocks" -- the archons, the biblical
prophets, etc. Some gnostic traditions have a "Messiah/Christ"
appearing every so often in the passage of time, with Jesus the most
Question: Are there other kinds
of early Christian texts in which there are multiple Messiahs?
That's a good question. It's possible that there were some
Jewish-Christian groups that had that view. The Dead Sea Scrolls,
at least, mention multiple Messiahs (priestly, royal/military), but
apparently appearing at the same time.
Professor Kraft: But we have strayed far from the true
path! Back to the topic we were discussing. Virginia:
No, don't stop now! Go on to "I am Christ the Son of Man; I am an
ineffable mystery to you." Kraft: "I am an ineffable mystery to you!"
Well, I'll go along with that!
Anyway, within gnostic circles the whole idea of salvation has to do
with doing away with differences and individuality, trying to restore
the broken unity. Ultimately they're trying to do away with
male/female, with material bodies, etc. Thus, don't be "doubled
minded." Don't have a divided orientation (this admonition is
also common in early non-gnostic Christian literature, but often with a
more ethical focus).
Professor Kraft: "The tangential information that I supply to those of
you who would be pneumatics is that if you might think of the 'monad'
as the number one, for many in the ancient and gnostic worlds,
unity/monad is not a number -- you have to get to 2 (division) before
you have a number. I learned this from Philo!"
This lead to a tangential discussion on Galatians 3.16-20. "Now the
promises were made to Abraham and to his seed; it does not say, 'and to
seeds,' as referring to many; but as to one, 'and to your seed,' who is
Christ. My point is this: the law, which came four hundred thirty years
later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to
nullify the promise. For if the inheritance comes from the law, it no
longer comes from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through
the promise. Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions,
until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made; and it was
ordained through angels by a mediator. Now a mediator involves more
than one party; but God is one." This would make good sense if
Paul is even a quasi-gnostic. What does he think that he's
proving/affirming by saying that God is one?
Having discussed references to the death
of Jesus in gnostic texts, we moved on to references to his birth/incarnation.
But the nativity isn't really such a major topic in the Nag Hammadi
texts. There are a few references, possibly referring to the
twinship between the begotten one and the unbegotten one.
If anyone comes across references to Jesus' baptism, or other such
things that would make good appendices, send them in and we'll add them
to the review page.
Next time: Continue with the sections of the Review that follow the discussion
about Jesus, looking especially at how the associates of Jesus
(including the women) are handled, and moving to the section on practices
Week #10 -- 22 March 2005 --
submitted by Jasmine Landry
Class began with William Babcock's
book review and discussion of the Mandeans,
a possibly pre-gnostic group studied carefully by Lady Drower
since the 1920s.
Living in southern Iran and numbering around 15,000 today, the
Mandeans are the only surviving gnostic-like religion. In fact, the
term "Mandean" means "the knower" and is a semitic form of the Greek
In addition to Lady Drower, Kurt Rudoph has studied Mandean origins,
placing them possibly as early as the first century. His approach is
like that of the earlier
Schule" (history of religions
scholarship), which compared religions, looking for influences --
especially in the Near East.
Questions of origin
arise when scholars try to categorize Mandeans as "eastern" or
"western" because their origins are murky. One can
at their canonical texts for some clues. Also, scholars have found
magic bowls (2nd-6th century) decorated with religious texts and
bowls are wonderful because they can be dated, but they also suggest a
very different religion from the texts. Also, one cannot place too
much importance on the bowls' divine figures because magic tools
have the names or images of many divinities that might give power to
the magician. And like most magic things, we don't know how the
Mandean bowls were used. These bowls might represent a fringe aspect
Mandeans may have migrated from the West (Palestine). They call their
baptismal waters "Jordan," possibly a brand name -- like we
tissue "Kleenex." Yamauchi suggests the Mandean term for baptismal
water may have migrated from even
further west, based on the existence of a similar term in the
Minoan language. He also points out
that the Minoans had magic bowls. Dr. Kraft described this
proposed history as "1000 years of maybes."
From his conservative Protestant perspective, Yamauchi may want to see
Babylonian/Sumerian origins coupled with western migration to form
the Mandean cult near the end of the second century (rather than
Palestinian first century origins). However, his evidence to support
this position isn't particularly strong. His
conclusions may be colored by what he hoped to find. Obscurum
per obscurius -- explaining what is obscure by means of what
is even more obscure!
Mandeans as we know them have come through an Islamic frame for
hundreds of years. Perhaps the reason Jesus is portrayed relatively
and John the Baptist more positively in some Mandean texts has as much
to do with Islam as
Another obstacle to the study of Mandean roots is the fact that a
plague in the 1600s wiped out much of the priesthood. And similar to
the Samaritans, who still exist today, most Mandean texts have been
recopied in modern times making it harder to determine how old those
texts are, and what they may have looked like centuries ago. We have
very little information about early
Christianity in that eastern area.
The MANI CODEX:
This "recent" discovery tells something about Mani's background --
can believe it. He came from a Jewish/Christian baptizing group (Elkesaites),
could be related to the Mandeans. The codex pages
are about the size of a large postage stamp,
written in beautiful Greek, approximately 23 lines per page and nearly
A tangent on the realities of life in scholarship on "obscure"
"Let's do some Jesus."
- language studies have been cut/scaled
(who teaches Mandean language?)
- classes are offered on types of groups, rather than on specific
groups (Gnostics not Mandeans as such)
- the looting of the museum in Baghdad lost a lot of important
pre-Islamic stuff from the region
- The practicality for ancient religious studies is hard to argue
(what do you tell your father?)
- An old solution is endowed chairs on obscure fields and topics at
universities. But academic politics greatly influence these.
NHL Review (10)
Focus on Jesus and his followers
- Mostly Passion and
- Emphasis on teachings
- Absence of healings and miracles -- Since the body is
corrupt, a gnostic probably wouldn't be concerned about healing the
physical. The physical world
was created in ignorance or out of necessity, not because it is
However, the NHL does provide
some surprising references to a more physical view of Jesus
-- in some texts he does live
and die, which years
back would've been unexpected in gnostic materials.
- Baptism is an important theme/ rite in
gnostic Christianity. It
would be interesting to see how much is written about Jesus's own
baptism in the NHL materials.
- Gospel of Philip: "Jesus appeared -- Jordan -- the
fullness of the
Kingdom of Heaven. He who was begotten before everything was begotten
- Gospel of Philip: "by perfecting the water of baptism, Jesus
it of death. Thus we do go down into the water, but we do not go down
into death, in order that we may not be poured out."
- ADOPTIONISTS believe Jesus was chosen by God to be the
his baptism. Luke's portrayal of this scene (3.22), in some
manuscripts, may preserve an adoptionist outlook ("You are my son,
today have I begotten you"), which is then modified in other
manuscripts ("You are my beloved son, in you I am well pleased").
- Covenant Renewal. This language reflects an old Israelite
belief that the new king being inaugurated
a representative ("son") of God.
The Gospel of Philip is NOT presented as words of Jesus. It has one
"Lord said," that unfortunatey is followed by [...], then the term
"Christians." "Christian" appears six times in the Gospel of Philip.
Acts and 1 Peter are the only two books of the New Testament that use
the term "Christian." By the 150s, outsiders tried to distinguish
between various types of "Christians." Hippolytus says one subgroup of
- 3 Marys in the Gospel of Philip
- the "seven women"
- Gospel of Philip: "Mary Magdalene [...] loved her more than
disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the
disciples [...] They said to him, 'Why do you love her more than all
There has been a revival of interest in early Christianity, especially
in prophecy. But what does "prophecy" mean? Is it only prediction?
Advice? The Didache advocates testing your prophets. And
along with prophecy is the question of revelation. Revelation is
found in letters to churches, as well as advocacy in the name of Jesus.
Early traditions about Jesus are found in two qualitatively different,
least in ancient times) equally "authoritative" ways: in a historical
(narratives about Jesus) and as teachings given by Jesus. It is
difficult to distinguish which of Jesus's
instructions to the apostles were originally transmitted in a
post-resurrection context and which were in a
historical context (during his lifetime).
If you're creating a red-letter bible, do you include the words of
Jesus in the book of Revelation?
- - The Acts of the Apostles has the
resurrected Jesus hanging out with his followers
for 40 days at the beginning of the book.
- Some NHL texts spell
out in great detail what Jesus said to his apostles after the
- Mark has a secrecy motif. The apostles don't understand Jesus
the end. But then how did they figure out the message to spread?
- Montanism is an example of a revelatory prophecy. Montanus, an
Christian prophet, spoke in the name of Jesus and God. "I am God's
lyre," meaning that God plays and music/message comes out. In his
presentation, he (and his associates Pricilla and Masimilla) are just
The Synoptic Gospels may be reactions to different Christian
perceptions of history. A conflict over history arose in the
first/second century between Christians with an investment in history
(proto-orthodox) and those less concerned with history than revelation
(gnostics). How far back does this conflict go? We can't be sure.
Possibly even to Jesus' time.
More preserved texts support historical interpretations, but the
historical side ultimately "won" in the long run, which would
why their texts were better preserved. There were people in the 1st
century who shared this less historical kind of mindset. Were they in
Were they Jewish? We don't know. Philo in Alexandria could be one
example, or even a root.
Other literature of the time and place emphasized the apocalyptic
interpretation of Jesus and his message. We can't be certain, but
many respected scholars (Dr. Kraft included) believe Jesus and his
crew were more likely to be Jewish apocalypticists than gnostic
dualists. But perhaps another group of
early followers were proto-gnostic.
Traditions about Mani may have been passed down more accurately since
he was a strong
personality intending to start a new religion with a defined set of
scriptures and teachings. Jesus probably was NOT trying to start
a new religion, so his teachings could more easily be interpreted in
ways, even at the initial level. This is somewhat parallel to Paul's
teachings and personality. Diverse
groups also liked and adopted him and his writings. Comparing how
different ancient people's lives and teachings were transmitted raises
relevant to the interpretation of Jesus and his message. What
are the appropriate analogies? Can we
say John the Baptist // Jesus // Paul ? They may be close enough in
geography and culture, but the specificity of a particular figure can
warp the parallels. The parallels are largely known through literature.
raises additional questions because if Jesus was a yokel from
Nazareth, his presumably uneducated base would be unlikely candidates
to write anything. We must be skeptical when anyone asserts anything
about Jesus himself.
Assignment: Continue with the materials about "the
historical Jesus" in the Review, including
the two appendices.
Week #09 -- 15 March 2005 --
submitted by Jasmine Landry
Class began with Tom's report on No
Longer Jews: The Search
for Gnostic Origins by Carl B. Smith, II. After his thorough
report, Dr. Kraft raised the issue of credentials. For religious
studies, a scholarly background from a well known University or
program is preferable to pastoral experience and study at lesser-known
institutions. Smith's credentials are bolstered, however, because he
worked with the well-respected Dr. Edwin Yamauchi.
Dr. Kraft also added that often when "conservative" scholars look at
there is an inclination to distance gnostics from the earliest
Christians. Some such scholars have a simplistic understanding of
the beginnings of both Christianity in general and gnostic Christianity
in particular. Conservative scholars sometimes
try to deny the existence of gnosticism among the earliest Christians,
thus making it
impossible to interpret Paul, for example, in a gnostic light.
While Tom commended Smith's book for its lack of bias, the very nature
of Smith's thesis -- that gnosticism began at a specific time and place
-- supports this conservative perspective. Members of the class pointed
out that this stance requires a narrow definition of gnosticism, and
requires a condensed lineage for the different sects and varieties. It
to imagine how, by the mid 2nd century, there were so many varieties
of gnosticism in so many different locations if they all began with the
Jewish revolt in 115-117 CE as Smith argues.
As a logistical note, Dr. Kraft asked that all reports and papers be
submitted on a disc as well as in hardcopies for the class. That way
he can (with the authors' permission) post the reviews online, and
himself not have to
deal with the dreaded email attachments. The presentation dates for
are on the website now.
We then turned to the Kraft-Timbie Review of the Nag Hammadi
Dr. Kraft's own training emphasized "form criticism," analyzing
the form in
which things are recorded and transmitted, examining how societies
preserve and record
materials. Rudolf Bultmann notably studied the development of the
tradition by examining form. For example, from Matthew and Luke one
can identify the "Q" source of sayings; but even within Q, there are
legal sayings, apocalyptic sayings, encouragement sayings, etc.
Dr. Kraft doesn't find any pattern of forms grouped by codex in the
NHL. However, it has been suggested that some codices may move
from primordial subjects to more clearly Christian ones.
Narrative Stories.-- There
isn't much there. Why? Maybe the NHL was a collection of
shorter materials, or perhaps the anti-historical bias of some gnostic
groups lessend this sort of focus.
- Letter of Peter to Philip is
structurally similar to the non-gnostic Epistle of the Apostles
(starts with a letter, then describes a lengthy discourse by Jesus).
Perhaps the Epistle of the Apostles
was imitating gnostics as a
- Acts of Peter and the Twelve (Eleven?) Apostles
- Act of Peter (Berlin Codex)
- In the Canonical scriptures: Gospel of Mark, Acts
of the Apostles
- Some materials use narrative to connect dialogue or
monologue. Others have a few lines of narrative only in the opening
or closing lines. The full list is in the NHL review
Reports.-- Presentations of the
words of Jesus, many of which are
- Gospel of Thomas
Dialogues.-- Prevalent in the
- Not all have a specified context
from Plato's Republic discuss The Good. We
sure why this is included. No explanation is given.
has a dialogue between Trismegistus (Hermes, the messenger God) and
Asclepius (healing God). This dialogue seems to fit better with the
gnostic materials due to its vocabulary (mystery, ignorance,
intercourse, secret, etc.). But while you can read this in a gnostic
way, a gnostic interpretation is not obvious or necessary.
Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth discusses powers,
lights, the kingdom of power. It has "oo ee ooo eee"s. Some of
words sound Semitic. The best strategy for figuring out pronunciation
and spellings within a text is to look at biblical or otherwise
recognizable names in the text,
see how they're spelled, and use that spelling pattern to decode others.
There is a great deal of variety within this category. For example, is
Hebrews (in the NT) a
letter? Some scholars distinguish between informal "letters" and more
formal "epistles." There are also treatises in letter form.
(a type of monologue).-- E.g. Thunder,
Perfect Mind; "I am the" (list of opposites).
- Some seem from a female perspective, perhaps that of Sofia?
Sofia figure in these materials seems similar to a gnostic (not
canonical) Jesus, but find important differences in the details.
- Trimorphic Protennoia
am the Mother and the Father" dualism (again);
exist in the manner of Three [drawn geometric figures] which are
- Reducing and overcoming divisions to get back into the One is
idea of salvation here.
- Silvanus and Sextus are more
"outsiders" to gnosticism whose writings are included in the NHL.
They are ethical literature, which we also find in medieval copies.
didactic essays, sermonic teachings
- Contain cosmogenies
- Discuss salvation and the fate of the soul.
E.g. Thought of Norea.
was Norea: Noah's wife? Seth's sister? A daughter of Adam and Eve?
character was picked up by the Mandeans.
We don't know how much importance was placed on texts like those in
the NHL. We don't know how they were used or understood by those who
wrote them. The closest we can get is with texts that call themselves
liturgical, but those are few.
After finishing the form section of the
Kraft-Timbie NHL Review, the class was introduced to Dr. Kraft's M.R.James
Students who want to get involved should write Dr. Kraft a note. The
plan is to fill in more information (in different colors according to
source) about various names and characters, such as Norea (information
has been added based on this class discussion).
For next class, look at the Content section of the Kraft-Timbie NHL Review.
How much NHL material would be included in a next-generation "New
Testament Apocrypha"? Looking at like-things together, see how Jesus is
portrayed in different sources. Compare and contrast the details of
Jesus's life and death across sources. Years ago, people would say
gnostics didn't hold that Jesus was actually (physically) crucified;
this is no longer the case. Categorizing is difficult; what are
the appropriate standards?
Week #08 -- 01 March 2005 -- submitted
by William Babcock
We opened by discussing the schedule for presentations, as found at the
end of these minutes.
Turning to the texts, the first subject was the Sophia of Jesus Christ, a
question-answer dialogue with the savior in which Mary, Matthew, and
Judas are also involved. The notions of Sophia (wisdom) and Pistis
(faith) were evidently important in gnosticism. They also represent
another gnostic duality, as they are both represented by different
archons. The Pistis Sophia was a Coptic
gnostic text from the Askew codex published in the 20's,
thus preceeding the discovery of the Nag Hammadi collection. Pistis Sophia and the Nag Hammadi
text illuminate one another mutually. There are also some texts in the
Berlin Codex that are considered to be gnostic and are included in the
We next turned to the Gospel of Thomas. This work
contains 114 sayings of Jesus with a brief introduction. "Jesus" is
abbreviated in the Coptic (IC overlined) as in the frequent formula
"Jesus said." In the Gospel of
Thomas, a few of the disciples are present questioning Jesus.
There are occasional brief visual episodes (e.g. "they saw ..."), but
almost no narrative. Tom wondered whether this work has had much effect
on the canon lists of mainline denominations. Professor Kraft was
doubtful; the Gospel of Thomas
has enjoyed much influence outside academics, similar to Dominic
Crossan's "fifth gospel" (of Peter), and in the textbooks at secular
universities like Penn. We knew three small fragmentary Greek portions
of the Gospel of Thomas in
Greek before the discovery of the full text at Nag Hammadi in the
Oxyrhynchus Papyri, containing sayings of Jesus. The Coptic fills in
the missing Greek text about which earlier publications speculated, and
thus providing an unusual opportunity to check scholary intuitions.
Discovery of the Gospel of Thomas
has proved important for discussions about the hypothetical "Q
(sayings) source" in the canonical synoptic gospels, which contains
sayings of Jesus common to Matthew and Luke but not in Mark. The Thomas material now proves that
such collections existed, and provides some
There is much
debate about how old the Gospel
of Thomas may be, as well as about its outlook. Some see it
simply as an "ascetic" work, while others see it as fully "gnostic,"
which of course depends on one's definition of gnosticism. If one
places emphasis on the cosmological elements of gnosticism, then the Gospel of Thomas is not
particularly gnostic, though it still would have been palatable to
gnostics. If, however, one places emphasis on the 'revealed' and
generally dualistic aspect of gnosticism, then the Gospel of Thomas is gnostic.One
main emphasis of the Gospel of Thomas is to deny the world so that
one does not see death, that the flesh is to be condemned, in which
sense it could be considered (at least) ascetic. Since the oldest
fragments (Greek) are from around 200 CE, the
discussions about dating seem to range from late first to middle second
Who is this twin, Judas Didymus Thomas? In the canonical sources,
Thomas is a doubting figure, unable initially to believe in the
resurrection of Jesus. (Jacob/James, another "brother of Jesus,"
similarly is little mentioned in the canonical gospels.) Thus, Thomas
(and James) is (are) rather mysterious from the point of view of the
canonical sources, where Peter and John are most important. Lists in
the canonical gospels and Acts mention a few more of "the apostles,"
and in later church calendars, holy days are devoted to the less known
apostles along with elaborate hagiographical traditions about some of
them. It is thus a question whether the canonical sources deliberately
exclude certain apostles from mention. We get hints of such an agenda
from Origen and Clement at the end of the 2nd century CE. The main
problem is that there are few sources to provide details relating to
such developments, although there are many possibilities.
The notion of Jesus having a twin seems to have been gnostic and fallen
outside the mainstream purview. The Ascension
chapter 11, provides a scene that could accommodate the idea of a real
birth along with the appearance of the heavenly baby -- with Jesus as
the heavenly baby and Judas Thomas ("twin") the earthly one. But such a
solution is not spelled out in any ancient source. Another "brother of
Jesus," namely Jacob/James, appears especially in
connection with leadership in the Jesus movement in Jerusalem, where
relatives of Jesus seem to be in authority until the end of the second
revolt, about 135 CE. The traditions are, however, frustratingly
While the "Q source" is defined by the canonical gospels, it presumably
derives from a larger stratum of sayings tradition that is harder to
pin down, so we know little about what was happening when these
materials were being collected. Papias (130-140 CE) is quoted as
referring to "Matthew" collecting the "logia" of the Lord in Hebrew (or
Aramaic), which were then variously translated. Does this mean oracles
(sayings) of Jesus, or could it be oracles ( prophecies) from Jewish
scriptures? Was there a single early collection of sayings of Jesus
that was gradually expanded, or should we think of a broad "stream" of
tradition containing various sayings attributed to Jesus that later
came to be gathered into works such as Gospel of Thomas or used by authors
such as the synoptic gospel writers?
We next discussed the
Jesus Seminar, which deals with the authenticity and date of the
various sayings (and deeds) attributed to Jesus in early Christianity,
including Gospel of Thomas.
It was organized by Robert Funk, and had the practice of its members
voting with beads of various colors. They tried to determine which
sayings were more "primitive" (e.g. translated from semitic) and thus
probably older, relying on such criteria as whether a given saying was
"apocalyptic" in tone.
In the final saying of the Gospel of
Thomas, Simon tries to have Mary dismissed from the group, but
Jesus' response that she will become "male" perhaps reflects Pauline
ideas about there being neither male nor female in the kingdom of God.
"Man" in Greek is either anthropos (sometimes general, for humanity) or
aner (usually specific, male). It is difficult to determine what lies
behind the Coptic for "male" here. Otherwise, regarding women and
the Gospel of Thomas, Salome
is said to have shared a couch with Jesus, although it is not
clear whether this is simply meal imagery (reclining on couches to eat)
or sexual. More generally, the Gospel
of Thomas reflects "realized eschatology," or the idea that the
kingdom/rule of God is already present instead of still expected it the
future. This is again similar to Paul's view, and the fact that there
were other features in Paul that were comfortable to "gnostics" was
Gospel of Mark" is only known from excerpts from an alleged letter
of Clement of Alexandria. Morton Smith claims to have found this letter
copied onto the endleaves of a printed edition of the Apostolic
Fathers from the 18th century in a Palestinian monastary (dating to the
5th/6th century CE). He thought, and many have concurred, that the
letter reflects the writing style of Clement. The book with the letter
is probably currently in Constantinople.
We next turned to discussion of the Gospel of the Egyptians. This
is not a gospel in the traditional sense but concerns cosmogeny and how
the various powers came forth. Seth is held in this work to be a
manifestation of the savior and in opposition to Cain. There is a
question how much the average gnostic would have known about this
cosmogeny, cosmology, and theology. There may have been different
levels of knowledge based on the level of initiation an individual
gnostic had achieved. The vowels in these texts are of magical
significance and have affiliations with PGM (Papyri Graecae Magicae)
texts. ΙΗ (I + long E) is another abbreviation of Jesus, and YAO (ΙΑΩ)
is probably a shortened version of the tetragrammaton, or revered
special name of the Jewish deity (YHWH).
Assignment for 15 March (after spring break): review the materials in codex 4 (which
you have seen before) and focus on the "categories
and contents" section of the Kraft-Timbie review of
The tentative book review/report schedule for the rest of the term is
as follows (plus Liza Anderson):
15 March -- Tom Curley (new scholarly introduction to Gnosticism)
22 March -- William Babcock (Mandaean gnosis)
29 March -- Caroline Kelly (Pagels on the gnostic Paul)
5 April -- Virginia Wayland (tba)
12 April -- Jasmine Landry (tba)
19 April (last class) -- Carl Pfendner (gnosis and the Philosophers)
Week #07 -- 22 February 2005 --
submitted by William Babcock
Class opened with the perusal of a website about the Villa
dei Misteri accessed via a link in the minutes from the
previous class session (the Villa was a topic of conversation towards
the end of our previous meeting). The Villa dei Misteri is located
outside Pompeii, the famous Roman archeological site in south-central
Italy that was destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE. The
equally delightful, evocative, and enigmatic series of colorful
frescoes that adorn one of the Villa's main rooms have been subjected
to various interpretations. One theory holds that they represent the
stages of initiation into the Dionysian Mysteries/Cult of
Bacchus. The frescoes depict a number of different scenes that
present an array of interesting figures and objects. There is, for
example, a scene that seems to depict a dinner party, while in another
fresco there is a mysterious scroll. Other mysterious elements include
a scene where an individual is washing his/her hands, a scene that
potentially depicts a figure in a trance-like state, the unexplained
appearance of a mask, a flute, and a (reflective?) bowl, a winged
creature, and a mysterious 'ideal' Madame. But perhaps the most
intriguing scene is that depicting a throne and a bridal veil because
it potentially represents the last stage of the mysteries. According to
Professor Kraft, the series of frescoes appears complete, although
there was some uncertainty regarding one side of the room that was
difficult to see in its entirety from the photographs provided on the
The discussion then turned to the possible connections between the
various 'Mystery Religions' and gnosticism. At least one parallel is
the institution of initiation, where a member ascends from the level of
neophyte to that of adept in the group. However, although a common
organizational structure may have been shared by Mystery Religions and
gnostic groups, it is likely their respective theoretical/theological
dimensions were at least partly distinct. But on the organizational
level, some other possible common elements include initiatory baptism,
the institution of the priesthood, and a secret rite of passage -- such
as the lifting of the veil (in the gnostic "bridal chamber"?)-- that
leads to full membership and/or knowledge. There is much theorizing
about the origins of the Mystery Religions. Some have claimed, for
example, that the Orphic Mysteries were strongly influenced by India,
and that was also the religious matrix of aspects of
neo-Platonism. Although such speculation lies within the realm of
possibility, there is not enough evidence to either confirm or deny
such theories. Tom raised the question whether certain forms of Tanta
concerned with recognition of the self might be related to gnosticism.
Professor Kraft felt that a more likely explanation is that different
cultures come up with similar concepts to deal with common intellectual
Our next topic was the terminology we employ in discussing the Nag
Hammadi texts and similar collections. We must realize that the
imposition of such labels as 'gnostic' is, to a great degree, a modern
innovation. Furthermore, it is important to be specific about the
definition of such popular terms in order to avoid confusion and/or
superficial analysis. Even in the ancient world, a variety of different
names or titles can and were used to signify individual things or
people. One example is Jesus of Nazareth, who is known as Jesus,
Christ, the Son of Man, the Lamb of God etc. even in the first couple
centuries of Christian history.
Having addressed some methodological issues, we now concentrated on the
of the Soul" (also known as the "Hymn of the Pearl")
for most of the remaining class time. There is a debate regarding the
original language of composition of this work, as it is preserved in
Syriac and Greek manuscripts of the Acts of Thomas. Thus, when
making a translation, there is an initial question of what original
language one should assume. Some would locate its place of composition
in Edessa, and attribute it to the (Valentinian?) Bardaisan/Bardesanes
(c 200 CE), supposed author of the surviving Book of the Laws of the Nations (a
work that is not overtly gnostic) and reputed to be a prominent
psalmist (for which reason he was sometimes referred to as the 'David
of Syria'). The parabiblical Odes of Solomon represent a
similar genre and "gnostic" tone, with Syrian connections. Another
possibility is that the Hymn of the Soul is evidence of a 'Bardaisan
School' of liturgical writing. In any case, Bardaisan is the earliest
"church father" of Edessa of which we have knowledge, with Ephrem
appearing later in the 300's ce. Bentley Layton suggests 368 CE as a
possible date of composition, which would place it within the period of
time in which the Parthian Empire controlled Edessa (beginning in 175
CE). The language of the Greek manuscript is characterized by Layton as
"unclassical and obscure" and as reflecting "late Hellenistic taste,"
features that may indicate both the bilingualism and the outlook of the
author (possible characteristics of an individual living in Edessa in
369 CE). Layton provides a helpful chart of the 'Myth of the Soul' in
his seminal Gnostic Scriptures,
which organizes the overarching structural elements of works that are
held to contain at least elements of this myth.
The Hymn of the Soul has been preserved in two versions of a larger
collection concerning the exploits of the apostle Thomas which,
like many such religious genres, is a fluid tradition, and thus
susceptible of numerous combinations of relevant materials. The Hymn of
the Soul is a focused work, and not necessarily "gnostic," although it
is easy to interpret it as such since it is associated with the
gnostic Acts of Thomas.
The traditions about the apostle Thomas focus on his identity as the
twin of Jesus and, indeed, he is also known as Judas Thomas
Didymus -- somewhat of an overstatement, as both "Thomas" (Aramaic) and
"Didymus" (Greek) mean "twin" in their respective languages. The
association of the Syriac and Greek titles is interesting because it
indicates a degree of bilingualism in this tradition, and there are
other semitic elements that recommend this view. The context in the Acts of Thomas into which the Hymn
of the Soul is inserted is a scene in which the Apostle finds himself
in prison and, after praying, begins to sing. In most texts of the Acts of Thomas, the Hymn of the
Soul is not present.
In terms of content, the Hymn of the Soul is a hymn that recounts a
prince's foray into Egypt to procure a magical pearl, an expedition
that initially meets with failure and the dissipation of the
prince until his parent's intervention in the form of a reminder
telegram. Upon receiving this telegram, the prince secures the pearl
and returns home. It is unclear whether he meets his twin in the
journey. Upon returning home he receives a set of royal regalia that
may be subjected to a gnostic interpretation, as there are such phrases
as "remember you are the son of kings." There is also the possibility
that the message the king and queen send to the prince resonates with
the seven seals mentioned in the Apocalypse. This is perhaps unlikely
as the letter is sealed in the way that most letters in the ancient
Mediterranean world would be sealed. There is an abundance of garment
imagery in the Hymn of the Soul and there are references to "strips of
filthy garments" that may represent gnostic distain of the physical
body. Also, the fact that the prince finds knowledge in the telegram
may reflect his achievement of gnosis. Many interpreters suggest that
this is not a simple story, but rather
a metaphor of the gnostic 'Redeemer Myth'. If the work is seen as a
the Syriac version is slightly preferable to the Greek because it is
Syriac poetry than the Greek version is Greek poetry. The 'Redeemer
Myth' is not as detailed in other early sources such as Paul's Philippians (i.e. Christ's emptying
of himself), or 1Timothy (cf.
3.16 "the mystery of godliness" hymnette), not to mention the Apocalypse or the Odes of Solomon.
We next wondered about parallels between the presumably gnostic Acts of Thomas and the Hymn of the
Soul. Professor Kraft directed us to the Stith
Thompson Motif-Index of tale-types as well as Fraser's Golden Bough for a
more thorough exploration of the theme of the 'Redeemer Myth.'
The Apocryphon of John was the next
topic of discussion. This text is relatively clear and mentions the
female "virginal spirit" Barbelo, whose name is also associated with
the "Barbelo-gnostic" sub-group (so Irenaeus). Both the Hypostasis of the Archons and
the Apocryphon of John quote
canonical sources. The Exegesis on the Soul also,
interestingly, quotes Homer's Odyssey.
This use of the Odyssey is
similar to what we find in Philo's works (it is quoted in the same
way). Doubtless, the Odyssey
was part of the education of Alexandrian intellectuals, and Origen also
quotes this work. The question is whether either author considered this
text to be authoritative as they did Greek Jewish scriptures (LXX/OG)
and the emerging Christian scriptures. Allegory could be employed to
derive a number of meanings from the Odyssey
(or elsewhere!). Origen uses such stories as the long-lived Methuselah
to point out the need for allegorical interpretation (humans don't
literally live that long, so this tells us that scriptures must mean
something other than literal), as does Clement. Philo, in his
discussion of Jewish scriptural passages, also presents alternative,
The possible connection of the Nag Hammadi collection to the nearby Pachomian
monastery was the next focus. Specifically, one wonders whether the Nag
Hammadi collection was associated somehow with the library of the
(perhaps it was the excess of a purge or a private collection of one of
the monks). Perhaps these materials were dropped by a waylaid traveler
or even stolen. We know that a conservative movement emerged in Egypt
under such figures as the patriarch Shenoute. The founding figures of
Egyptian monasticism like Pachomias and Anthony, however, left no
writings. Indeed, we know of Anthony's life through his laudatory and
"orthodox" biography composed by Athanasius (also known for his Festal
Letter of 367 that provides the first "complete" NT canon list).
Accordingly, some scholars have begun to question how "orthodox"
Anthony really was, which makes his various "sayings" important sources
of evidence and potentially throws light on the possible backgrounds of
the Nag Hammadi corpus.
Back to the Apocryphon of John:
Moses also appears as a false prophet in some Pseudo-Clementine
passages. Autogenes means "self-begotten." There are various Semitic
names in gnostic literature -- ex. Eleleth, Oriel (Light "or" of God
"El"), Sammael ("Blind to God "), Yaldabaoth ("child" of bosheth
"corruption"?). There are various angels mentioned. Various
combinations of vowels yield variations on Yao, a shortening of the
Tertragrammaton (Y-H-V-H). The serpent is a negative figure in the Apocryphon of John, and is here a
corrupting influence. In some gnostic traditions the serpent was a
positive figure that brought knowledge to Adam (Naasenes, Ophites
-- both words for "serpent"!). Another interesting gnostic tradition is
that of the "Laughing Savior," in which Simon (who helped by carrying
the cross) is crucified and Jesus stands on the hill opposite Golgotha
laughing (an Islamic connection here?). In the Apocryphon of John, Adam has
Epinoia, in contrast to the chief archon. Adam, however, suffers from
forgetfulness. This note led us into a discussion of these texts'
epistemological vocabulary. Pronoia is another such term.
We next discussed Thomas the Contender, which
begins like the Gospel of Thomas
by referring to "secret words." There is no Didymus (Greek "twin")
reference in this text. Here, Jesus teaches while walking about,
somewhat like Aristotle. There is a high probability that the Gospel of Thomas, Thomas the Contender, and the Acts of Thomas, represent a common
tradition. The oldest complete manuscript of the Gospel of Thomas is 3rd/4th century
CE and in Coptic, while the earliest manuscript of the Acts of Thomas is a Syriac
manuscript dated 7th/8th century CE, with Greek manuscripts from about
12th/13th/14th centuries CE. There is evidence of the belief that
Thomas is the twin of Jesus in the Thomas tradition. In the Acts of Thomas there is an
especially high degree of "twin language." Thomas, as the twin of
Jesus, was held to have special knowledge of Jesus, and a colorful
hagiographical tradition developed around this identity. Thomas is
included among Jesus' circle of 12 followers in the canonical
materials, while another "brother of Jesus," Jacob/James is not. The
twinship of Thomas and Jesus can also be understood in the sense of the
gnostic mind-matter dualism where Jesus is the "spiritual" twin and
Judas Thomas the "earthly" twin.
There is also an Infancy Gospel of Thomas, and
traditions about Thomas undertaking a mission to India which is present
in the Acts of Thomas. The
vocabulary of the tradition is apocalyptic, employing such words as
Hades and Tartarus. Some have defined gnosticism as "frustrated
apocalyptic." Mani is perhaps an example of such a movement.
Assignment: familiarize yourselves with codex 3
materials; we will also take a closer look at the Gospel of
Thomas. For some "variety" outside the NHL texts, become more
familiar with the "Secret
Gospel of Mark," and the Odes of Solomon
(some of which are quoted in Pistis Sofia;
see also Mead's
introduction to the latter).
Week #06 -- 15 February 2005 --
submitted by Tom Curley
We began this week's session with Doug Finkbeiner's excellent book
review/presentation on The
Gospels by Elaine Pagels. Doug offered a very concise and
thorough summary, which Dr. Kraft thought was "dead on" in most of its
assessments. A lively discussion on Doug's remarks followed with
excellent questions posed by many. Dr. Kraft commended Pagels as one
offering a more sympathetic perspective on gnostic writing and history
than most scholars who tend to address the material in a more
antagonistic manner. Questions and discussion focused on some theories
of the political and sociological aspects of the Nag Hammadi Library
at the time of the authorship and transmission of the various writings.
In the context of Doug's review, it was noted that the Gospel of Philip
offers references to sacraments that are suggestive of a structure of
initiations and or hierarchical system.
A few minutes were spent critiquing the spelling on the draft of last
weeks' minutes. Suggestions were made to help the poor soul, who (among
other things) insists on spelling Philip with two "l"s, even in the
original draft of these very minutes! (A google search finds 1,640 for
"Phillip," some of which have both spellings, and 11,000 for "Philip,"
so Tom is not alone; but the Greek is "Philip.")
At 3:40 pm we turned our attention to the screen with regard to last
week's (edited and corrected) minutes. Dr. K pointed out some problems
with the hyperlinks to Early
Christian Writings pages that he had added, and suggested we scroll
down to previous week's links to the same material in order to get to
an accessible site. He also suggested that we could go directly to the Nag Hammadi Library
Codex Index site to get working links.
Dr. Kraft also drew our attention to two links added at the end of the
minutes from week 5. The first one is the University of Helsinki site
which Dr. Kraft cited as good source of reliable information. The
second suggested site entitled "Valentinian Gnosticism" was
viewed by Dr. Kraft as one sympathetic to Gnosticism and gnostic
revival, yet also containing some sound, accurate entries. It was noted
that the host of this site is the Manichean Orthodox Church. (I
found an interesting link here called "The Gospel of Marcion and
the Gospel of Luke compared," a text written in 1900 by a Charles
B. Waite). This is an extensive website with many fascinating links.
In reviewing the minutes from last week, Dr. Kraft warned us that many
websites that claim to offer Clement of Alexandria's excerpts of
Theodotus are actually misleading (including the link he initially
added to last week's minutes!). Clement wrote two works of "excerpts"
that are preserved (in addition to his Stromateis/Stromata
["Miscellanies"], which also contain excerpts), one called "The Excerpts of the
Prophetic Scriptures" (beginning "Those around Sedrach") and the
other "Excerpts of Theodotus," a Valentinian teacher (beginning
"Father forgive them" -- Jesus' words from the cross). Most of
the web sites have wrongly attached the "Theodotus" ascription to the
excerpts from prophetic scriptures (as in the above link).
We then returned to the last segment of the previous week's
reading assignment, The
Gospel of Philip. We began with a search for the term "Hebrew,"
which occurs in the opening segment: "A Hebrew makes another Hebrew,
and such a person is called 'proselyte'" (convert) -- that Greek term
is similarly used in the phrase "proselytes of the gate" or "God
fearers," denoting persons sympathetic to Judaism but who refused to be
circumcised, and thus were considered incomplete Jews. We also found it
a couple of paragraphs later, distinguished from "Christian": "When we
were Hebrews, we were orphans and had only our mother, but when we
became Christians, we had both father and mother." Later, "She
[Mary] is a great anathema to the Hebrews, who are the apostles
and the apostolic men." Then: "He who has received something other than
the Lord is still a Hebrew." And finally, "'Jesus' in Hebrew is 'the
Clearly the term "Hebrew" is used the Gospel of Philip in various ways,
The "anathama" passage (above) begins "Some said, 'Mary conceived by
the Holy Spirit.' They are in error. They do not know what they are
saying. When did a woman ever conceive by a woman?" It was noted that
the Hebrew word for "spirit" (RUAcH) is feminine, although the
corresponding Greek (PNEUMA) is neuter -- sometimes the Greek feminine
"wisdom" (SOFIA) is introduced into such a context, and much later,
Jewish Kabbalistic texts include references to divine feminine aspects.
But how is Mary "a great anathema to the Hebrews"? Are the traditional
"apostles and apostolic men" being criticized? Was the aforementioned
"error" the failure to recognize Joseph as father of Jesus, as opposed
to "THE divine Father"? There are no clear answers, and it is possible
to construct arguments in more than one direction.
- As an identifiable language ("Hebrew" can also mean a form of
writing a Semitic language);
- As a condition somehow distinct in some way from full-fledged
In the final passage, on the meaning of various names/titles, it is
interesting that Philip
neglects to mention the meaning of Messiah/Christ as "anointed," while
giving the less obvious meaning of "the measured."
We then searched the term "Jew" in Philip.
The first passage (If you say, "I am a Jew," no one will be moved) ends
with numerous missing sections which make it difficult to arrive
at a full understanding of what Philip is trying to say. In the second
passage, the paragraph that begins "A horse sires a horse," we find
allusions to symbolic terminology such as "the bridal chamber," but
again, too many lacunas/gaps to make sense of the larger context.
Doug asked about the passage starting "God is a man-eater," which led
to a brief discussion about "sacrifice" and related matters. Dr. Kraft
cited Philip's allegorical use of the term "sacrifice" in general in
this context, and mentioned that the Egyptians also used and worshipped
animals. All in all, despite various suggestions from classmates, it
was concluded that it is hard to define. [Note subsequent
email discussion on these themes.]
The mention of "sacrifice" led us to a passage on "Jerusalem": "There
were three buildings specifically for sacrifice in Jerusalem."
Dr. Kraft again commented on the missing words and the metaphorical
connections of certain terms and ideas, such as the "veil" of the
temple and "wedding chambers." A question was asked if there is a
connection between use of "veils" as discussed metaphorically in some
gnostic texts and the potential origins of traditional use of bridal
veils up until today. Dr. Kraft said possibly, and that there is a lot
of literature available with regard to women and their dress habits,
and added that the gnostic reference to the torn veil (of the Temple)
could also refer to the shedding of earthly garments/bodies. Regarding
wedding traditions, Kraft recalled that at the "Villa
dei Misteri(i)" (Villa of the Mysteries) in Pompeii, which he once
studied with a teacher/colleague of his (Gunther Zuntz at Manchester
ENG) who once arranged a series of images within his office to emulate
the Villa, one would have been required to
walk past each
image with each representing a stage of initiation, concluding with
last panel that featured a matron on her throne-like seat wearing a
ring -- presumably the owner/lady of the Villa?
We then moved on to search for use of the term "Christ" in the Gospel of Philip. Dr. K began with
the paragraph that starts "Christ came to ransom some," and remarked on
its features, which included:
This reminded Dr. K of the "Hymn of the
Pearl/Soul," which he asked us to review for next week. (See notes
at end of this week's minutes).
- predestinarian elements -- he "laid down his life from the
very day the world came into being";
- something about a pledge to those set apart -- "those whom he
gave as a pledge according to his plan"
- a more universal approach yet references the redeemer myth, but
here it refers to not just a specific subset that are redeemed, but
everyone -- "the good people in the world as well as the evil"
Continuing the search, Dr. K remarked generally about encrypted truths
that were important to the gnostics. Many examples can be found in the
first three chapters of the book of Genesis -- e.g. the "Tree of
Knowledge" along with the "Tree of Life," the Serpent as
revealer, eviction to prevent defication (becoming as gods). Before
moving on we looked at a line toward the end of the paragraph starting
"Truth did not come into the world naked," which ends "For this person
is no longer a Christian but a Christ." A short discussion followed,
again with allusion to "the bridal chamber" rite that appears so
frequently in G.Philip.
We then moved on due to time constraints to look at the "Prayer of the
Apostle Paul." Dr. K remarked that there isn't much there. For
starters, it is "acephalos" meaning it's "got no head" - the beginning
is missing, but only a few lines. There are a few references of
interest in this short text (on the front flyleaf of the codex) as it
is one of several early writings attributed to Paul, of questionable
authenticity. It could be the work of a later Christian "apostle" (in a
loose sense of the term) also named Paul. It was noted that the title
in the colophon was still in Greek as opposed to Coptic which is
typical of the majority of the Nag Hammadi codices.
We moved on to the Williams translation of the Apocryphon of James. Dr. K
pointed out that this work may not have had a specific title. It's
characterized by its brevity, is composed in a narrative prose
beginning with a letter that references a "secret book", which could be
the source of the title as "Apocryphon" can mean "secret." The work is
also similar to some pseudo-Clementine writings. This work may also
ring bells for some as Morton Smith included in his book entitled The
Secret Gospel of Mark similar evidence for a select inner
group of apostles to whom secret material is divulged by Jesus at
Gethsemane. There are numerous references to an inner circle of
followers that are close to Jesus, which included women. (As a side
note, Elaine Pagels addressed this point). Interesting is the
prohibition about divulging this apocryphon to "many," since frequently
"the many" refers to the (Jewish, Christian, etc.) community in general
in early Jewish and Christian literature -- "take care not to rehearse
this text to many."
Various related observations and queries were offered here:
For next week: Review the Hymn of the Pearl, also known
as the Hymn of the Soul (from Acts
of Thomas 108). There may be different translations due to
different Greek and Syriac
manuscripts (and other
considerations). It is still debated whether the original
language was Greek or Syriac, and what its background
- The similarity to the Ethiopic "Epistle of the Apostles," in
form (a letter containing a long narrative about Jesus revealing things
to his disciples) was noted, although the contents and emphases of
these writings differ.
- "The Apostolic Constitutions" also are similar in some ways, and
are allegedly authored by the Apostles.
- There are a variety of traditions about how much time the
resurrected Jesus spent with the apostles: gnostic writings offer the
most extended reference - 550 days, or, about one and a half years in
this text, which is contrasted with the 40 days mentioned in the
canonical Acts of the Apostles
and other greater or lesser amounts of time; Clement of
Alexandria refers to a gnostic tradition of three and a half years.
- What was Jesus doing in the 550 days mentioned here, presumably
since the apostles last saw him? Usually such texts have him
instructing his apostles, but that is clearly excluded here. Good
- Why or why not were these writings written "in the Hebrew
alphabet"? Perhaps it reinforces the idea of protection and being
secretive. Most of the Dead Sea Scrolls are in Hebrew. Otherwise, the
main literature preserved from that period and area is in Aramaic, not
Hebrew. But "Hebrew alphabet" here may refer to the form of writing
(e.g. "Paleo-Hebrew") rather than the actual language. What we call
formal Hebrew today was actually the Aramaic "square script" and could
be used both for Hebrew and for Aramaic. The whole question of Semitic
scripts and languages at that time is being reexamined today in view of
much new evidence such as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
- Is this text considered "gnostic" only because it was found in
Nag Hammadi? It's a fascinating methodological problem, similar to Gospel of Thomas (is it "gnostic"
or only "ascetic") and some other NHL texts. These works are clearly
appropriate for the monastic ideal of fighting Satan and perceived
"error," and are susceptible to various interpretations (including
"gnostic"), but the precise orientation of their authors is not always
- One interesting parallel between the Nag Hammadi codices and the
Qumran scrolls is the proximity of inhabited sites nearr the location
of the finds -- for Nag Hammadi, the Pachomian monastery, for the
Scrolls, the Qumran ruins. Do the Nag Hammadi works have any
relationship to the nearby monks or their monastery? Were the codices
hidden during an attack? Were they stolen from the monastery, or
perhaps expelled? Conclusions on such matters influence basic
assumptions for understanding the texts.
- Williams suggests that the part about martyrdom may be a later
interpolation (e.g. "become seekers for death"), which is certainly not
impossible, although probably not necessary for understanding the text.
Note that invoking "interpolation" is at least as old as Marcion, and
was guarded against by the author of Revelations
[SIC !]. This is not a modern idea created by us critics.
Also, become acquainted with the material in codex 2. At
least read the introductions and samplings of each tractate, and
perhaps at least the full text of The Gospel of Thomas.
Before we left, Dr. Kraft introduced a new publication entitled No Longer Jews by Carl B. Smith, which includes some
contributions by well known scholars of gnosticisms. Tom will do a book
report on it for presentation at a date to be announced.
Week #05 -- 08 February 2005 --
submitted by Tom Curley
Class began with a review of the assigned readings for this
week: Gospel of Truth, the Valentinian Exposition,
Gospel of Philip (see the end
of last week's minutes).
All three are identified by modern scholars as "Valentinian" in some
sense in that all share a similar outlook. The Gospel of Truth is, by comparison,
relatively "neat" in its coherence
and continuity, whereas the Gospel
of Philip seems incoherent with reference to organization,
possessing no rhyme nor reason to its order. Sometimes it resembles a
collection of sayings joined by "Stichworte" -- "catch words" -- that
could represent an anthology culled from a preacher's handbook, but
even this is not a consistent feature. Clement of Alexandria (?)
provides an example of such compilations in his collection of
Valentinian "Excerpts from Theodotus" (often confused with "Prophetic
Excerpts"!). The Gospels of Truth
and Philip are relatively
complete, whereas the Valentinian
Exposition is very fragmentary. One has to pay attention to the
number of the line one is reading to determine how many are missing.
The Valentinian Exposition
deals in part with cosmogonies and we wish there was more of it to
compare against other Nag Hammadi codices and the anti-heresy accounts.
After this overview, we embarked on a more focused examination of
the Gospel of Truth. Robert Grant was
among the first commentators on this work, which was among the first of
the Nag Hammadi translations. The codex in which it appears was
smuggled out of Egypt, made its way to Europe where it became called
the "Jung Codex." It is now back in Cairo.
Irenaeus refers to a Gospel of Truth,
attributing it to the Valentinians (AH 3.11.9). George MacRae says
the Nag Hammadi text was only "perhaps" written by Valentinus as its
authorship remains uncertain.
The Gospel of Truth gets its
title from the opening passage since it apparently had no explicit
title in the manuscript, unlike some of the other Nag Hammadi
treatises. It is one of the tractates that have a Nag Hammadi
duplicate (in codex 12), but the version in codex 1 is more complete.
One characteristic is its basic concept of
predestination/predeterminism. It also reflects the three basic
distinctions in Valentinian religious anthropology:
1) Gnostics or Pneumatics (Greek
"knowledge," "sprit") -- the knowers, who cannot be otherwise;
2) Hylics (Greek "matter") -- "the
material ones," who are inevitably mired in the physical world with no
choice or option of gaining salvation;
3) Psychics (Greek "soul") -- those
who can be led to knowing but could also fail (indeterminate status).
It was asked if use of the term "error" in the text was synonymous with
the term "sin" as used in other theologies. Dr. Kraft responded by
explaining that there are several different words in Greek that refer
to sin, and that in the gnostic context "sin" is related mainly to
"ignorance." But it is too simplistic to say that gnostics overlooked
the idea of sin altogether. He also pointed out the inherent ambiguity
in the writing, a lot of switching between the material realm and the
pleroma, etc., which can leave the reader uncertain at points about
that to which the writer is referring. Here, he illustrated, that
"error" could be a reference to the fall of Sophia, but it is
simultaneously equally applicable as a lesson of individual human
self-reflection. Such thematic emphasis on division and reunification
runs throughout, relating to the "redemption" concept.
For comparison, Dr. Kraft pointed out the references to "the rite of
the marriage chamber" in the Gospel
of Philip, where the joining (in some non reproductive sense?)
of male and female signifies restoration of unity. One has to
understand the context in which these sorts of references are being
Question: What is the advantage of knowing how the universe was
generated in this context? Dr. Kraft responded by pointing out that in
a Greek or Near Eastern world familiar with traditional cosmogenic
mythologies, one might feel comfortable and receptive to this sort of
explanation. For example, the Greek mythological view of "Gods who come
together to make things happen" may be more appealing than a more
philosophical/rational abstract exploration of "how one answers
questions regarding the material world." A discussion ensued on this
point: The Greek "mythological" approach may be more simplistic and
more easily understood in that its characters have some correspondence
with actual life. Are there other popular approaches that have more
practical, concrete (ethical) applications?
Dr. Kraft: gnostic emphasis on escape from problems of the material or
"Hylic" realm resembles Platonic philosophy. There are also
parallels to the "mystery" traditions where one is initiated and
advances through stages, producing a select elite. Further, lots of
gnostics are said to have operated within the mainstream church. He
concluded that having a general smattering of knowledge about Platonic
thought or of the mysteries would invite understanding of such language
as appears here.
A discussion followed with regard to "the book of the living" (G.Truth 19.35) as related to ideas
about "the heavenly tablets" in the Dead Sea (Qumran) scrolls and
related literature. It was pointed out that it may be important to
understanding specific use of allegorical references to written form as
reflective of a self-conscious awareness of the importance of writing
in the ancient world. We viewed on screen pages 18-20 of the Gospel of Truth, and a select
number of passages were viewed that seem to echo such revelations. Dr:
Kraft: The book idea is strong here, assuming the imagery here dates to
the first century. "Book" as used here would refer to a scroll. Other
texts make similar references to "wills," "contracts," etc., and
similar references are found in writings of the Hebrew tradition. So,
an awareness of such "books" comes up frequently. Dr. Kraft pointed out
there was also a big deal about names and being named in many of the
writings, which was consistent with a predestinarian philosophy, such
as references found in the book of Enoch, i.e. people who are "called
before time," etc. A remark was made that such works also often refer
to the secrets of the universe, to which Dr. K pointed out that many of
these gnostic ideas also reflect near-eastern themes such as primal
being ("Pro-Pater") or pre knowledge ("Proto-Noia").
Question: What is the concept of scriptures as represented in the Valentinian Exposition? Dr. Kraft:
If Valentinian, "scriptures" would probably include some sections of
Paul, as well as some Jewish traditions, such as traditions about
"Adam" and "the tree of life." But these writings may be too early to
view them as having an accepted "canon" in a later sense. We don't know
much in detail about "collecting" scriptures in the early Christian
period. The first known Christian compilation is attributed to Marcion,
but it is likely that some such efforts preceded him. By 180 CE
Irenaeus talks about the four-fold gospel along with the writings of
Paul, and by the end of that century the evidence from Tertullian still
shows openness in collecting since for him Enoch should be included (as it
still is for traditional Ethiopian Christianity). Also, within the
Valentinian circles there is evidence they have begun some of their own
compilations (such as G.Truth!),
which might perhaps be considered equal to Paul's writings or the
We turned our attention to the Gospel
of Philip, in codex 2, tractate 3. It was noted that both the
beginning and end of Philip
are preserved and give this same title.
Question: When did Valentinians become referred to as Christians? Dr.
Kraft: Look at the heresiologists to see what they claim. They say the
Valentinian teachings were adopted by many schools. Who calls Ptolemy
or Heracleon "Valentinian"? There is enough connection made by
anti-gnostic writers to be sure. There seems to be a group of
people referred to as "Valentinian." It is hard to say what works were
widely viewed as Valentinian at the time.
We switched the screen to view the page on "Valentinus."
Dr. Kraft remarked that he didn't particularly care about "Jesus'
digestive system" (see one of the quotations). From there we linked
to "The Gnostic Society Library" website on Valentinus and
Valentinians. Dr. Kraft: "This is not a bad assembly of information
as it has been compiled by scholars over centuries, and yet it is still
hard to specifically identify.
Question: Was it pretty well accepted that these "heretics" had
schools? Dr. Kraft: Some, for example, the Valentinians and
Marcionites, do have followings for centuries so it could be said that
this was the case. Tatian is
referred to as a student of Justin (Martyr), but his critics such as
Irenaeus say he screwed up when he went off to eat rocks and drink
water in his cave (excessively "encratite").
A reference was made to the destruction of a Valentinian
chapel in 388 in Syria. Dr. Kraft replied saying Irenaeus makes
reference to Valentinians extant within the greater church so some
sects did flourish. They were not entirely like Marcionites due to
Marcion's public excommunication and resulting start of his own
enterprise. Dr. Kraft recommended the "Dictionary of Christian Biography"
(DCB) by Smith and Wace as a
good source of information by authors writing in the 1860s or 1870s.
A discussion followed regarding references in the Gospel of Philip to a metaphoric
"wedding chamber," which Elaine Pagels and others are still trying to
eleucidate. The Marcosians, as mentioned the previous week in class,
had more explicit references to sexuality in their ritual which
suggested a type of cosmic union.
Dr. Kraft then referred us to the Catholic
Encyclopedia's entry on Valentinus,
which we viewed on screen, and to the section in the RelSt 535 old
syllabus entitled "Anthologies or Secondary Treatments" as good general
sources of information. The "Dictionary of New Testament Backgrounds"
(InterVarsity Press, 2000) was offered as a newer alternative to be
added to the list of source information. It was noted that Epiphanius,
a Greek heresiologist writing about 400 CE is usually looked on as less
reliable than Irenaeus, but often offers more detail about the
"heretics." Jerome has also often been viewed with suspicion,
especially by German Protestant scholars.
-The role of "numbers" represented in the writings -- for example, the
"Aeons" referenced in some of these gnostic writing numbered 30 (made
up of various subsets), while some mention 360 (connected somehow to
the calendar? see also the zodiac and the Dead Sea Scrolls calendars).
-The term "syzygy" ("yoked") is used both in connection with an
androgynous being and for developments within the pleroma.
-While references to "the devil" occur, they are rare. The creative
"Demiurge" could be connected more to "error" than to evil. This is
something to pay attention to while reading.
-It was asked if the gnostics celebrated any known holidays of their
own. Dr. Kraft did not know, but observed that they maintained
celebrations akin to the sacraments we see in later church development.
The Gospel of Philip (77.2-7)
also makes reference to a Christian "priest" which is unusual in
earliest Christian writings.
The Mandean view of John the Baptist was discussed. References to
John are found in the some Nag Hammadi texts (e.g. Gospel of Thomas and the Second Treatise of Seth). It is
debated whether the Mandeans originally had a connection to John, or
whether their outlook developed during their history under Muslim rule.
In searching a web link to Irenaeus for his reference to "Gospel of
Truth," Dr. Kraft suggested that a good paper topic might be whether
Irenaeus uses "truth" in a self-conscious way to counter "the Gospel of
Truth." Other points discussed include:
-Dualistic concepts i.e. Father-Son, husband-wife (marriage), surface
throughout the texts in different contexts. Apparent inconsistency is
reflected in such uses of the term "Son" (and "Father") in reference to
the fallen world and the pre-fallen world.
-This also raised questions about references to "Mother." Dr. Kraft
suggested that use of the term as found in the Gospel of Truth may go back to the
ideal or concept of "parenting" as it used similarly to the use of the
term "Father" in these contexts. However, in the Greek "Sige," which is Greek (feminine
noun) for "silence" and is a name or attribute of ultimate deity
could also here suggest motherhood (as also ruach = "spirit" in Hebrew; or sofia = "wisdom" in Greek).
A question was raised regarding references (e.g. G.Truth 20.25) to Jesus being
crucified on a "tree" versus the accepted scriptural references to the
"cross." Dr. Kraft explained that these Greek terms are often used
interchangeably, and that "cross" can also refer to gnosticism's
conceptual model of the structure of the universe (so also Plato). It
may be used in the discussed context to distinguish a philosophical
understanding versus the specific reference to crucifixion.
This led to an inquiry about the use of "High Priest" imagery in the
pleroma as found in the Valentinian
Exposition (25.33). Dr. Kraft explained that it seems to be
described as a form of hypostasis
(a term used in trinitarian discussions for the three aspects [essences
or beings] of the godhead, translated as "persons" in Latin).
It was noted that references to the feminine are not commonly found in
many of the texts. Dr. Kraft embarked on a word search within the Valentinian Exposition while
pointing out examples of inherent Jewish imagery, and further
elucidating on then prevailing male-centric attitudes within the Jewish
culture. We then briefly discussed references to faith in the writings
of Valentinus as consistent with an apparent influence of Paul, as
illustrated in concepts such as "Jesus the redeemer", etc.
At the end of class, a discussion ensued on how the Gospel of Truth (22.12-15) reflects
the core concerns of gnostic belief, and how the following three
questions typify the "gnostic" quest:
1) Who am I? [a spark of the divine];
2) Where am I? [captive in the material world];
3) How can I correct the situation? [discover and follow the path of
Dr. Kraft explained that some systems offer gradations or levels one
goes through in pursuing the goal. Some references have Jesus teaching
certain passwords to get past the cosmic gatekeepers.
For Next Week please review the Gospel of Philip,
since we ran out of time. The new assignment is to finish reading the
materials from codex
1, specifically the Prayer of the Apostle
of James, Treatise
on the Resurrection; and Tripartate Tractate.
Also, go back to Irenaeus'
descriptions to see if he provides answers or raises more questions
about what we've been discussing.
Another link that may be useful for general purposes: Helsinki
See also "Valentinian
Gnosticism" (with lots of primary references)
Week #04 -- 01 February 2005 --
submitted by Virginia Wayland
I. The class began slowly due to computer problems. We are
all grateful that the computer technology allows Professor Kraft to
have the text(s) available for us all to look at, but just in case...
bring a book or a printout, and your notes and questions to class.
A (relatively new) compilation of gnostic texts is: Willis
Barnstone and Marvin Meyer, The
Gnostic Bible: Gnostic Texts of Mystical Wisdom from the Ancient
and Medieval Worlds (Shambala)
Links have been added to last week's minutes.
II. This week we began to look at the gnostic communities and
their cosmologies through the eyes of two heresiologists, Irenaeus of
Lyons (ca.180 CE) and Tertullian (ca. 200 CE). These writers are
secondary sources for gnostic thought. They claim to have read
the writings of (some of) the gnostic thinkers, and to have talked with
their followers, and to summarize the gnostic beliefs, but they are not
participants in the gnostic communities and their own perspective is
not gnostic. Both Irenaeus and Tertullian are antagonistic
to gnosticism. They feel that gnosticism and the gnostic teachers
are a threat to the common Christian faith, so that their primary
concern in writing is to make their readers more aware of what
gnosticism is in order to prevent the gnostic teachers from leading
people into error within the Christian communities.
We began with the preface to Tertullian's Against Marcion, which contains
a long paragraph listing the evils practiced by the peoples of Pontus
on the south of the Euxine (Black) Sea. Tertullian concludes that
Marcion is the worst of these.
What Pontic mouse ever had such gnawing
powers as he who has gnawed the Gospels to pieces? Verily, O Euxine,
thou hast produced a monster more credible to philosophers than to
Christians. For the cynic Diogenes used to go about, lantern in hand,
at mid-day to find a man; whereas Marcion has quenched the light of his
faith, and so lost the God whom he had found. His disciples will not
deny that his first faith he held along with ourselves; a letter of his
own proves this; so that for the future a heretic may from his case be
designated as one who, forsaking that which was prior, afterwards chose
out for himself that which was not in times past. (Against Marcion 1.1.5-6)
is believed to have come from Pontus to Rome around 140 CE, where he
gave money to the Church of Rome, apparently expecting to receive
official sanction to teach. He was expelled from the Roman church
a few years later (and his money returned), he continued to
teach, founding Marcionite churches. Marcionite churches
continued in existence for at least 2 centuries. Marcion's
followers were required to take an oath foreswearing marriage.
Marcion considered only a short version of the Gospel of Luke and ten
of Paul's letters to be 'scripture', (Romans, 1-2 Corinthians,
Galatians, Laodecians, Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians,
Philemon). Marcion's main work was titled Antitheses (now lost).
Besides this, he mutilates the Gospel
which is according to Luke, removing all that is written respecting the
generation of the Lord, and setting aside a great deal of the teaching
of the Lord, in which the Lord is recorded as most dearly confessing
that the Maker of this universe is His Father. He likewise persuaded
his disciples that he himself was more worthy of credit than are those
apostles who have handed down the Gospel to us, furnishing them not
with the Gospel, but merely a fragment of it. In like manner, too, he
dismembered the Epistles of Paul, removing all that is said by the
apostle respecting that God who made the world, to the effect that He
is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and also those passages from
the prophetical writings which the apostle quotes, in order to teach us
that they announced beforehand the coming of the Lord. (Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.27.2
Irenaeus associates Marcion with Cerdo\1/, a teacher in Rome who was
associated with the followers of Simon Magus.\2/ Marcion taught
that the God proclaimed by the Law and Prophets (portions of Jewish
scriptures) was not the father of Jesus Christ. Irenaeus and
Tertullian accuse Marcion of practicing a kind of literary criticism on
the texts of Luke and Paul. Marcion asserts that these writings
have been corrupted by the influence of the followers of the God of the
Law and the Prophets, and so he flags everything that he associates
with these as an 'interpolation' that should be removed in order to get
back to the 'original' teachings of the Gospel and Apostle. This
removal eliminates the quotations from the Jewish prophetic writings in
the letters of Paul, and the birth narrative of Jesus from the Gospel
\1/ The association of Marcion
, and thus with Simon Magus is an example of an
aetiological tale: a story about origins -- in this case, the
derivation of Marcionite gnosticism, in a sort of negative "apostolic
succession." Around the same time as Irenaeus, Hegesippus
travels around collecting traditions that trace the various churches to
their apostolic origins.
\2/ Irenaeus considers Simon
(Acts 8.9-25) to be the original gnostic thinker and
influence on all subsequent gnostics (AH
Marcion sets in opposition the God of the Law and the Prophets to the
Father of Jesus.
But Jesus being derived from that
father who is above the God that made the world, and coming into Judaea
in the times of Pontius Pilate the governor, who was the procurator of
Tiberius Caesar, was manifested in the form of a man to those who were
in Judaea, abolishing the prophets and the law, and all the works of
that God who made the world, whom also he calls Cosmocrator
. (Irenaeus, AH 1.27.2
(Professor Kraft alludes to his recreation of a gnostic sermon on Gen
1-3, where the Serpent is the heroic figure attempting to lead the
humans to the tree of knowledge/gnosis.) Some gnostics use Jewish
scripture with their own interpretation. Salvation applies only
to souls, the body can not participate (and so no bodily
resurrection). Marcion is said to claim that Cain and his kind,
the people of Sodom and their kind, the Egyptians and their kind, and
all the nations were saved by the Lord when he descended into Hades
(Eph. 4.9; 1Peter 3.19-20), while righteous men such as Abel, Enoch,
and Noah are condemned because they rejected Jesus as God (compare Lk
10.1-16 // Mt 11.20-24).\3/
\3/ Irenaeus attributes this to
'the serpent which was in Marcion.' In an aside, Professor Kraft
pointed out that many gnostic groups identified with the Serpent of
Genesis 1-3, or identified the Serpent with the God of Jesus (Naasenes
[Hebrew for "Serpenters"]; Ophites [Greek, similarly]).
Irenaeus proposes to refute Marcion from the scriptures Marcion
accepts. Marcion's error is in the interpretation of scripture
and in introducing the impieties of Simon Magus (AH 1.27.4). Irenaeus goes
on to say that the Encratites (Tatian) spring from Marcion and
Saturninus (AH 1.28.1). Tatian was
among the hearers of Justin (Martyr), but after Justin's death fell
into error, opposing marriage and the eating of animal food.
Tatian held a (unique ?) view denying Adam's salvation.
Question: Does concern with Adam's salvation relate to Adam alone
or to Adam as the representative and progenitor of mankind? The
ascetic position of the Encratites is contrasted with the behavior of
Basilides and Carpocrates who taught and practiced promiscuous
intercourse and indifference to eating meat sacrificed to idols
(Irenaeus, AH 1.28.2).
Returning to the Table of Contents for Irenaeus,
Against Heresies, Book 1, we skimmed through collecting some key
Greek technical terms ascribed to the Valentinians by Irenaeus:
For the Valentinians, humans are spiritual ('gnostic, pneumatic'),
material ('hylic'), or animal ('psychic') corresponding to Seth,
Abel, and Cain. See AH 1.7.5.
- Aeon: age,
eternity. In gnostic thought: an entity or being (abstraction)
beyond the human realm.
- Propator: 'prior to the
Father' (pre-existent, unknowable, logically foundational.
- Mongenes: 'only-begotten'
(unique). What does 'begotten' mean?
- Pleroma ('fullness'): the
totality of Aeons comprising the knowable Godhead.
- Sophia: personified
wisdom -- in gnostic thought she becomes a transitional figure and the
cause of discontinuity that produces a shapeless offspring that retains
some features of the Aeonic Pleroma; she is overcome by desire to know
- Enthymesis ('passion')
afflicts Sophia and produces a semi-Aeonic existence that drags her
- Horos (boundary, limit):
a bisexual savior figure that restores slipping Sophia and separates
her fallen Enthymesis from the Pleroma. [In Egyptian mythology, Horus
is connected with the Isis and Osiris traditions, which may not be
- Achamoth (perhaps derived
from Hebrew: HoCHMaH, "wisdom"?): a name given to the fallen
Enthymesis of Sophia, which then dwells in perplexity and ignorance,
outside the Pleroma and separated from her father/mother Sophia,
desiring to find light, love, connection, etc., but lost in
- Christ and Holy Spirit are produced within the
Pleroma to provide a solution to the rift.
- Stauros (cross; see
also Plato's Timaeus): Christ through the Stauros-boundary
imparts form to orphaned Achamoth, who was hitherto "without form and
void" (see Gen 1.2).
- Demiurge (building force,
creative agent): emerges from Achamoth and creates the material world
from her tears, grief, joy, laughter, etc. (Check out Irenaeus' sarcasm
1.4.4, on Achamoth's waters!) The Demiurge's
physical world is in some senses a rival world to the world of the
Aeons. In some systems, the
Demiurge (by various names) is ignorant of the world of the Aeons,
thinks that he alone is
the origin/source of the world.
Marcosians, and the Scriptures they (mis)interpret are discussed in AH 1.16-20.
Various questions ensued: What does 'Christ' refer to? How does
the pre-existent Christ relate to Jesus? Is Christ God? If
God is unknowable, and I must gain knowledge (of God), how?
Regarding Achamoth's "odor of immortality," note various references in
Jewish and early Christian traditions (e.g. Acts of Philip, the odor of
Christ; Paralipomena Jeremiou 9, the odor of immortality) in a
culture more exposed to various odors that we normally are (e.g. burnt
offerings, incense). Note also that the Nag Hammadi Gospel of
Philip refers to Christ as the "measured" (or limit? see NHL
NEXT TIME: We will begin to look at gnostic writings themselves,
starting with the Gospel of Truth. This is
part of the Jung Codex, the first of the Nag Hammadi codices to be
edited and translated. It is considered to be Valentinian. Also,
the Valentinian Exposition for
which we were looking is in NHL 11.2 (unfortunately somewhat
fragmentary), and includes the sort of material that Ireneaus must have
known -- check it out as well! Another probably Valentinian work is the
Gospel of Philip, to which we
will turn next (get a head start?).
Week #03 -- 25 January 2005 --
submitted by Virginia Wayland
"It is good for one to bear the yoke in youth" -- Lamentations 3.27
(NRSV) [The "mystery quotation" that we failed to find in an online
in-class search. Thanks, Virginia! The NRSV is gender conscious; almost
all the English versions on Bible
Gateway talk about "a man"! But see "It's a good thing when you're
young to stick it out through the hard times" (The Message version);
"When we are young, it is good to struggle hard" (Contemporary English
Today's class was an orientation to early Christianity focussed on
'mainstream' Christianity as it developed in the first four centuries
and 'Jewish' Christianity as a possible source and para-phenomenon
along with 'mainstream' and 'gnostic' Christianities.
'Mainstream' Christianity is that which survived and developed during
the later period as 'orthodox Christianity,' particularly in the Greek
and Roman/Latin churches. During the period(s) that we are
studying, the main stream is still being collected from many sources
and tributaries. One of the questions that dominates the early
period is: Was there an 'original' Christianity from which the variant
forms of Christianity deviated or were there already many varieties of
Christianity from as early as we can view, that competed and/or
interacted to form Christianity as it emerged during and after the
Council of Nicaea in 325?
The documents in the 'New Testament' were collected and preserved for
reasons that were not predominantly historical. Thus the New
Testament is an important, but not necessarily complete source for the
history of Christianity during its earliest period. The New
Testament is organized into the following four sections: Gospels, Acts,
Letters and Treatises, and Apocalypse. There is also literature
similar to and allegedly contemporary with the New Testament writings
in all of these categories.
New Testament //
Apocryphal or Parabiblical New Testament \1/
\1/ Apocryphal: <hidden,
obscure> 1. of doubtful authorship or
authenticity; 2. not genuine, spurious, counterfeit (Webster's New
World Dictionary, 3rd College Ed., 1988). The meaning of
given above does not adequately represent the range of extrabiblical
literature from the period we are studying. Much of the
this category claims a connection to the first generation of followers
of Jesus. The validity of the claim has to be assessed
for each document. Professor Kraft suggests that
(alongside the biblical literature) is a more neutral term.
- Gospels (most of these report the baptism, ministry of Jesus [his
deeds and teachings] and his crucifixion and resurrection)
- Synoptic -- Mark, Matthew, & Luke: ministry of Jesus covering
about one year beginning in Galilee and ending in Jerusalem on the
cross; teachings of Jesus in short sayings (apophthegmata)
- John: ministry of Jesus covering at least three years;
teachings of Jesus in relatively long and connected discourses
- Thomas, Philip, Mary, Hebrews, Ebionites, Nazoreans, etc. (many
of these are fragmentary; some contain only short sayings of Jesus;
some such as the 'Gospel of Truth' use 'gospel' in the general sense of
- Acts of the Apostles: 2nd part of a two-part work Luke-Acts
(Luke 1.1, Acts 1.1). There are no manuscripts with Luke-Acts
together. Marcion did not include Acts in his 'canon' of the short
Gospel of Luke, and the collection of ten letters of Paul.
- Acts of Peter, Acts of Paul, Acts of Thomas, etc.
- Letters (with a definite epistolary greeting and closing) and
Treatises (short discourses on various subjects)
- Philemon; 2 John ("ad hoc" letters on specific issues)
- Romans (formal letter of self-introduction)
- Hebrews (treatise with letter-like postscript)
- Epistle of Barnabas; 1Clement; Ignatius; Ptolemy to Flora; 3
Professor Kraft then identified four collections of literature that
correspond roughly to four periods in the development of early
- Apocalypse (means to uncover or reveal; usually with an
Question: What about 'Montanists'?
Tertullian becomes a Montanist
-- these were an ascetic group that emphasized prophecy and the coming
of a New Jerusalem in Phrygia and opposed the growing
institutionalization of the church (see Eusebius, History of the Church 3.3, 5.15f)
- The Apostolic Age (up to
~ 95-100 CE) is identified with the earliest followers of Jesus
('apostles') and their companions as represented in the New Testament
anthology (from a 'mainstream' perspective). During this
period it is difficult clearly to identify authorship (the Pauline
epistles are the main exception, although their authenticity has been
strongly challenged for all but Galatians, 1-2 Corinthians, and Romans;
1-2 Peter claim to be by the apostle; James and Jude claim authors by
those names and the book of Revelation claims to be by someone named
'John'). Writings may not include the author's name (such as the
Gospels, Acts, Letter to the Hebrews), or there is very little
information about the person whose name is traditionally attached.
- 'Apostolic Fathers' (~
100-150 CE) are associated with the second generation after the
apostles, sometimes called the 'sub-Apostolic Age.' These
Clement' (a formal letter from Rome to Corinth, traditionally
attributed to Clement of Rome, ca. 96 CE); letters of Ignatius of
Antioch (ca. 105 or 115 CE), a letter from Polycarp
of Smyrna to Philippi (ca 130), the letter/treatise of Barnabas
(ca 130?), a homily called '2 Clement'
(perhaps about 150), an apocalypse of sorts called 'Shepherd of
Hermas' (first half of the 2nd century), a manual of instructions ('Didache')
for worship, and quotations from Papias
(same period). The writings of this period begin to address the
issues of church organization (the role and authority of bishops,
presbyters, teachers), aspects of baptism, and conflicts in
interpreting Jewish scriptures. From the same period come
'heretical' figures such as Marcion
Possibly some of the NT books come from this period as well (e.g. the
Epistles,' 2 Peter).
- Early Apologists (~
150-200 CE) give a defense of Christianity to the outside world, which
may be either Greco-Roman and largely polytheistic or Jewish. The
best known early apologist is Justin
'the Martyr,' ca. 150, who also wrote the Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, and
treatises (now lost) against gnostics (Marcion,
Justin was born of a gentile family in Samaria, travelled to Ephesus in
western Asia Minor, and ended his career in Rome. Quadratus,
of Antioch, and Tatian
are other names of apologists associated with this period. The
School of Valentinus (Heracleon,
developed during this time, some apologists also wrote polemics (e.g.
Justin) or other things (e.g. Tatian's Diatessaron). The term 'apology'
usually is used for arguments directed to outsiders (e.g. Roman
rulers), while 'polemic' indicates debates between Christians about
what constitutes 'true' Christianity or a defense of 'true'
Christianity against 'false' Christianity. Discussions pertaining to
Judaism sometimes have both features, due to outsider/insider
A good source for this period are the writings of Robert M. Grant,
whose dissertation on studies in Theophilus of Antioch is typical of
many of his interests.
- Early Church Fathers (ca.
180-325 CE), aka Ante-Nicene Fathers, are individuals about whom we
have increasing amounts of information. These can be divided into
Greek fathers (e.g. Irenaeus,
of Alexandria, Origen, Hegesippus,
and Latin fathers (e.g. Tertullian,
Cyprian, Lactantius). The end date of 325 CE is determined by the
Council of Nicaea which begins to define Christian 'orthodoxy' through
discussions among the attending representatives, in a new period of
political recognition and sponsorship in the Roman world (Constantine
and his successors, except Julian).
Some useful sources for this period: Altaner's Patrology (ET 1960; e.g. on Tertullian);
Quastan's four volume Patrology (1953-1986); Jean
Danielou's trilogy on The development
of Christian doctrine before the Council of Nicaea: 1. The Theology of Jewish Christianity
(1958, ET 1964; see the Kraft review),
2. Gospel Message and Hellenistic
Culture (ET 1973), and 3. The Origins of Latin Christianity
Christianity began in a Jewish framework, and it appears that some
followers of Jesus kept their Jewish traditions (See Acts 3-4, 10, 15,
21.17-26; Galatians 1.11-21, 4.8-11, 5.2-12). The key questions
here are: What does God require of his people? Does the
coming of Jesus change this? Some Jewish Christian groups
answered these by saying that Jesus came to teach a better
understanding of the law and to reveal what God wants from humans. Some
doubtless also engaged in apocalyptic hopes about the significance of
the arrival of the expected 'Messiah.'
Jesus apparently was executed during the prefecture of Pontius Pilate
(26-36 CE). Paul writes within 20 years of that event, which is
difficult to date with more precision (e.g. based on the dates for
Passover in that period, but the synoptic gospels and the fourth gospel
do not agree on when the crucifixion occurred relative to Passover).
Paul's call to 'apostleship' for Jesus (Galatians 1; compare Acts 9)
probably occurs in the mid 30's (34/35 - 37 CE). Paul is believed
to have been writing by the 50's (earliest date assigned is ca 48 CE)
and is believed to have died under Nero sometime between the
persecution following the fire (64 CE) and Nero's death or
disappearance (68 CE). Therefore, Paul's authentic letters
(especially Galatians, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians; many scholars also
include 1 Thessalonians, Philippians, and Philemon) are believed to
have been written between 48 and 64 CE. Paul argues against a
Christian tradition that is more Jewish than he can tolerate (e.g.
Romans 3-7; Galatians) that faith and the holy spirit lead one to do
the right thing and against the need to become an official proselyte
and follow Jewish tradition. In recent scholarly discussion, it
has been argued that Paul articulates an earlier tradition, and also
that Paul changed everything. What is clear is that Paul is in conflict
with an equally (or more) ancient form of 'Christianity' that maintains
its identity with halakhic/cultic Judaism.
are preserved both in Greek (Homilies)
and in Latin (Recognitions,
translated by Rufinus, early 5th century; earliest manuscripts 6th to
7th century) but originally written in Greek. The Recognitions (10 chapters, Latin)
are a romance/travel narrative. The Homilies contain similar materials
in Greek. The ps-Clementine
collection also contains two introductory letters: Peter to James, and Clement to James. Both
Peter and James seem to be heroic figures. The ps-Clementines
also contain references to the Preaching of Peter (Kerygma Petrou) as well as Preachings
(Kerygmata) and Journeys (Hodoi) of Peter. Part of the
narrative depicts a series of confrontations between Peter and Simon
(ostensibly Simon Magus, Acts 8.9-24), who some modern scholars have
taken as a representation of Paul (Galatians 2.11-21).
The Epistle of Peter to James
includes references to the chair of Moses, books, gentiles, and 'our
tribe', which seems to indicate Jews or Jewish Christians, but there
are also such references as 'his countrymen' which seems to distance
the Christians from the Jews. One of the issues in the text is
'discordances of scriptures' (referring to Old Testament scripture),
also called 'false pericopes' in another part of the text. The Epistle of Clement to James
deals with church order, particularly with Clement as Peter's
successor. Caroline asked whether the doctrine of syzygies (yoked
images, such as the true male prophet vs false female prophet), was
original to Christianity, Montanist, or earlier?
The first Jewish War (Josephus
is our main source) results in the destruction of the Temple in
Jerusalem in 70 CE. James the brother of Jesus was believed to
have been killed just prior to this (ca 62-65). After the second revolt
(132-135), Jews were expelled from the city of Jerusalem, now
renamed Aelia Capitolina. Did Jewish Christianity survive these events
or did it die out and then revive as Ebionite Christianity (the
"Poor")? Origen has a (nasty) reference to 'Ebionite' meaning
poor in mind (lacking intelligence). Other second century Jewish
Christian groups include the Elkasaites
(followers of Elchasai) ca. 150. Elchasai may mean 'power of the
Most High.' See Georg Strecker in Appendix
1 of Bauer: "the Judaists soon became a heresy, rejected by Gentile
Christians." Jerome refers to his translation of the Gospel
of the Nazoreans in the 4th century. Look at the links to the
Jewish Gospels in the Minutes from last week [of Hebrews,
For references to Jewish practice in churches of Asia Minor, see
Eusebius History of the Church
For Next Week: look at Irenaeus
Against Heresies and the
beginning of Tertullian Against Marcion. How do
they differ in tone and attitude toward their opponents?
Week #02 -- 18 January 2005 --
submitted by Doug Finkbeiner
the second class for the Gnosticism(s) seminar Dr. Kraft fielded
questions from the first week's discussion and then began to survey the
development of Early Christianity in the first few centuries of the
Common Era. Before plunging into the questions, Dr. Kraft showed
the class the edited class minutes, with links to maps of Egypt
(including one from Harnack)
so that we could place Nag Hammadi and Chenoboskion within their larger
geographical context. Harnack's
map divides Egypt into several areas based upon the Coptic
dialects represented (e.g. Bohairic [also called "Memphitic"
in some older sources] in the Nile delta area; Fuyyumic or "Middle
Egyptian" to the immediate south; then Akhmimic [unmentioned is
Subakhmimic, also called Lycopolitan or Asyutic];
and finally Sahidic [also called "Theban" or "Thebaic" in some older
sources] in the southernmost section of that map).
Questions revolved around a whole host of topics. The following
is a sampling of the questions. Why did the neo-platonists oppose
the gnostics? Although the neo-platonists (e.g. Porphyry)
had a more "religious" tilt to their Platonism, as did the gnostics,
they especially took issue with the gnostic use of "mythology" to
explain cosmic beginnings. What was the link between India,
Persia, and Buddhism and gnosticism since there was contact between the
various cultures in antiquity? Dr. Kraft cautioned the class that
apparent similarities do not necessarily indicate a relationship
of historical dependence. In addition, he reminded us that
authors that suggest such a link may have an agenda that is driving
them to view the evidence in a less than "objective" manner. Deb
suggested that Karen King's recent book, What is Gnosticism would be a
helpful corrective. How comprehensive is Layton's volume on Gnostic Scriptures? It is
quite rich, even when selective of Christian gnostic material, and
categorizes the material under a variety of headings (Sethian,
Valentinus, Thomas). What is the "hermetic literature"?
This material represents non-Christian hellenistic Egyptian
gnosticism. We went to the web for a sampling of this
material. There is some confusion over the number of tractates in
the "Hermetic Corpus."
Although most of the manuscripts seem to be late, there is a papyrus
manuscript dating to the 3rd century CE. It is difficult to
determine the origin of the hermetic material. One of the
tractates entitled "Poimandres" ("Shepherd of men/humans") is of
special interest because of its view of cosmogeny (the world comes out
of moisture, etc.). Dr. Kraft also noted that another tractate
entitled "The Secret Sermon on the Mountain" was working off of a
common motif in which revelation is often associated with a
mountain. What is the relationship of the Mar Thoma
churches of India (and China) to early Christianity? This
question needs much more attention by scholars. The route from
the Mediterranean world to the Asian areas (and back) was well
traveled, as can be seen by the successes of the Manichaeans.
Did John the Baptizer have followers independent of Christianity? In
some of their texts, the Mandeans seem more
favorable towards John the Baptizer than to Jesus, and have sometimes
been seen as survivors of John's early following. But some
critics argue that the modern Mandeans position must be understood in
light of earlier Islamic influence, which might prefer John the
Baptizer to Jesus. Dr. Kraft reminded us that selfconsciousness
about assumptions and method for analyzing such phenomena is critical
for a proper interpretation -- and for success in this course!
began our overview of early Christianity by looking at the larger
hellenistic context. Hellenization refers to the influence of
Greek culture upon those nations conquered by Alexander the Great, who
died in 323 BCE. Examples include the creation of hellenistic
cities as centers of Greek culture and learning.
Christianity began in Palestine (using the term that was used by the
Romans). Early traditions place the beginning in Galilee with Jesus and
his first followers and in the Jerusalem area (Judea) after Jesus'
death. Followers of Jesus that wrote about his teachings and
acts. Scholars, however, are divided on whether Christianity was
homogeneous from the outset. While some accept the implications
of the traditional position that the first followers of Jesus were
united in their views, others contend that Christianity was marked by
variety from the very beginning. Dr. Kraft argues for the second
position, pointing out that conserable variety already existed in
the Judaism(s) out of which Christianity developed. He is also
open to the possibility that a gnostic view of Jesus emerged very
early. Dr. Kraft thinks it is probable that Jesus himself was of
Jewish apocalyptic orientation, while some of his followers may have
viewed him in terms more conducive to "gnostic" and/or less
Early Christianity spread westward according the NT and Eusebius.
(1851-1930) wrote a century ago, he is still a very useful source for
studying the spread
of Christianity -- he deals in detail with all the known sources at
that time. Harnack was a stellar German scholar along
with Gebhardt (1844-1906) and Zahn (1838-1933)
and (the German triad for text editions in that
period). Another significant contribution was made in 1934 by
Bauer in Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest
Christianity. In his controversial work, Bauer argues
that the group that came to represent "orthodox" Christianity in the
second century was in many areas a minority position in early
Christianity. Later under the influence of Rome these areas
become orthodox. If one was able to read only one chapter in
Bauer, Dr. Kraft would recommend chapter
8, on polemical literature, and/or the relatively brief concluding
chapter. Harnack provides basic information, much of which
needs updating on the basis of more recent discoveries and discussions,
on the spread of early Christianity into Syria (see now, e.g.,
Bauer on Edessa,
Wilken on Antioch,
and the finds at Dura
Europos), Egypt (plus many newer papyri finds), Asia Minor (plus
newer archaeological discoveries), Greece and Macedonia (also ongoing
archaeology), Rome (ongoing work in Italy), Spain, and North
Africa (e.g. significant finds in cemetery inscriptions).
the end of the second hour we looked at the four-fold classification
of extant sources. First, there is Christian
literature. It is probable that only a small percentage of what
was written by ancient Christians has survived. We looked at
Grant's list of lost
literature (literature referenced but no longer extant).
Second, there are inscriptions and incidental written remains.
Third, there is art and archaeology. Fourth, there are references
to Christians by others. At the very end of class, Dr. Kraft was
asked where such written literature would be kept. One answer would be
in libraries. For instance, a private villa containing a library
has been excavated at Herculaneum (destroyed by the eruption of
Vesuvius in 79 CE). Probably there were also special collections, e.g.
in temples, synagogues, and churches, but it is not always clear how
the scrolls (and later, codices) would actually be stored. And
individuals who could afford it could own books as well.
Next week Dr. Kraft proposes to focus on three types of early
Christian groups (each with its own diversity) --“Jewish Christianity"
(see, for example, the "Jewish Christian gospels" [of Hebrews,
and the "pseudo-Clementines"
[see also Schneemelcher's chapter
in Bauer]), "gnostic" Christianity, and what emerged as
"mainstream" Christianity, which included aspects of each of the
Week #01 -- 11 January 2005 --
submitted by Doug Finkbeiner
the first class Dr. Kraft oriented us to the course
syllabus and answered a series of questions that surfaced as a
result of the orientation. The class is really a combination of old
and new, since it is exploring a particular strand of early
Christianity -- "Gnosticism." While one goal of the first few
weeks is to familiarize the students with early Christianity in
general, the bulk of the course will focus upon the varieties of
"gnosticism" within the varieties of early Christianity.
of the first hour centered around the first focus
question found in the syllabus -- "Getting oriented to the sources
and terminology." The second hour centered around the second focus
question -- "Getting oriented to the participants." While the
Greek term "gnosis" simply means "knowledge," it can be used favorably
and unfavorably in early Christianity. For instance, Clement of
Alexandria and Origen are opposed to some groups called "gnostic" yet
will use the term "gnosis" and "gnostic" in a favorable light, for
their own viewpoint and goals, in their works. By the end of the
3rd century the term "gnostic" is generally identified with "heretical"
groups by mainstream Christian opponents. Although the evidence
is not as clear as we might like, it is probable that the term
"gnostic" was used as a self-designation very early within
Christianity, perhaps by those attacked by the writer of 1
Timothy 4. 20-21 ("knowledge falsely so called" = "so-called
seems to pick up on this in his work "A Refutation and Overthrowing of
Gnosis falsely so called" (Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica
[Ecclesiastical/Church History] 5.7.1; popularly known as "Against
Heresies"), and Hippolytus
tells of a group that called themselves "Gnostics" in his "Refutation
of all Heresies" (also known as "Philosopheumena," sometimes
attributed to Origen).
Scholarly understanding of "gnosticism" has certainly developed over
the past century. This can be seen by comparing the descriptions
of gnosticism found in the Jewish Encyclopedia and Catholic
Encyclopedia. Around 1966, scholars gathered for a conference on
gnosticism at Messina (Italy) and proposed a definition for the
scholarly use of the term "Gnosticism." The scholars agreed upon
three characteristics -- dualism, the redeemer myth, and
predestinarianism (determinism). Dualism emphasizes the
superiority of the immaterial over the material. The immaterial
world gives significance to the material world. The redeemer myth
entails a figure coming into the material world to enlighten the
ignorant with knowledge. For Christian gnostics, Jesus, the
Christ, is the redeemer-touchstone to make the enlightenment
available. The idea of "myth" does not denote falsehood but
rather the interfacing of the divine world with the human (i.e. a
porous relationship). The third characteristic,
predestinarianism, is not as pervasive as the first two. For
instance, Valentinus identifies three kinds of people -- the
pneumatics, who have God's spirit (Greek "pneuma"), are predestined to
salvation, the material ones ("hylics," from Greek "hule" = raw
matter), who are beyond hope; and the soulish people ("psychics," from
Greek "psuche" = soul), who have the option of choosing or
rejecting. Thus the characteristics should be utilized
heuristically (guidelines, from Greek "heurein" = to find) rather than
definitively. Additional descriptions also need to be
tempered. For instance, while gnostic material is generally
anti-Jewish, some concepts like "sophia" (wisdom) seems to have strong
connections with early Judaism. It may even be that there were
pre-Christian Jewish gnostics in light of the Jewish platonism found
well developed in Philo, who indicates that there were more radical
Jewish "allegorists" than himself.
class also discussed some of the key gnostic groups, such an the Manichaeans and the
Aramaic term for "Knowers" or "Gnostics"). The Manichaeans
believed in post-Jesus redeemer manifestations (notably Mani!).
We also noted some of the key individuals and groups, such as Valentinus
(mid-second century) and the "Sethians."
Mani's position against the material world had ramifications both for
one's diet and one's sexual activity. Simon
Magus is also often identified with the roots of gnosticism
according to some later Christian writers. Marcion is often
called "gnostic" by his enemies and modern scholars because of his
dualism, although he lacks the focus on predestinarianism.
Marcion admired Paul and Paul's emphasis on grace. Marcion
believed humans were able to choose. He believed the god of
Jesus, a god of love, was superior to the Jewish creator god of the Old
Testament, a god of justice and law. We learn about Marcion's
position largely from his opponent Tertullian, who wrote an extensive
Prior to the Nag Hammadi discoveries, much of our understanding of the
gnostics was shaped by anti-heretical writers such as Irenaeus
Nag Hammadi is a location,
also identified with nearby "Chenoboskion,"
on the Nile River some 200 miles south of Cairo and in the bend in the
Nile northwest of Luxor and Karnak. Around 1945, some local
farmers rummaging for organic material for fuel or fertilizer came upon
a large jar containing 13 papyri codices in which some 52 separate
tractates were included (six were duplicates, another six were
previously available; thus 40 new writings). The material was
written in Coptic (especially Sahidic and related dialects).
Based on dated material in the leather bindings and paleographical
evidence, the NH material can be dated to the 4th century. James
Robinson's volume includes all the material plus a few other related
writings from a Coptic codex now in Berlin. It is a mixture of
clearly gnostic material of various sorts, along with a few non-gnostic
writings including an excerpt from Plato. There is a focus in the
material upon creation (e.g. a mythology of the genealogy of gods
through emanations). For a survey according to both type (narrative,
letter, report, etc.) and content, see the Kraft-Timbie
Toward the end of the second hour, we looked at the course requirements
and select bibliography on the course
web page. The requirements include the writing of minutes,
reviewing of a book or contributing to a course project, writing a
research paper, and engaging with Dr. Kraft in a comprehensive "exit
interview" on the course. The select bibliography included both
pertinent books and web pages. Dr. Kraft encouraged the class to
explore the third and fourth focus
questions as found in the syllabus for the second week of class.
//end of #1//