Minutes for the Seminar on Gnosticism(s)
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, Figures, and Texts, John Turner and Ruth Majercik, eds. Discussion growing out of this report included the definition of the terms theurgy (rituals that are thought to provide a connection with the divine) apophatic (negative theology, or defining the divine in terms of what it is not) and Neoplatonism (transformation under Plotinus of Platonic and "Middle Platonic" ideals into a  way of life). Professor Kraft wrapped up the discussion by concluding 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, philosophical/religious ideas 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 slightly later Hippolytus, was critical of philosophy?

Before turning to Irenaeus, we briefly touched on the purported new findings of a team from ISPART (formerly 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 are 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. Irenaeus, Bishop 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 written in Greek (although most of its survives in Latin or Armenian), which raises questions about the intended audience. We might expect congregations in Gaul to speak Latin. There was already a tradition of anti-heretical writings within Christian circles before Irenaeus. Justin Martyr for instance wrote a work or works (now lost) against Valentinus and Marcion.

The first passage, entitled (presumably by modern editors) "Doctrines of Various Other Gnostics Sects, and Especially of 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:

Others, again, portentously declare that there exists, in the power of Bythus [Depth], a certain primary light, blessed, incorruptible, and infinite: this is the Father of all, and is styled the first 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 things: from this too were generated all oblivion, wickedness, emulation, envy, and death. They declare that the father imparted still greater crookedness to this serpent-like and contorted Nous of theirs, when he was with their father in heaven and Paradise” (30.5);
“But the others coming and admiring her beauty, named her Eve, and falling in love with her, begat sons by 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 serpent, to 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 persuaded Adam 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 knowledge of that power which is above all, and departed from those who had created them” (30.7);
“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”

But despite such confusions, there is a clear distinction between the earlier “Barbeliotes” section (29) 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 between Irenaeus’ accounts and the NHL materials but sometimes these are not obvious or are only approximate. Professor Kraft concludes that general correspondences between the two work better than 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 discern the beginnings of Christianity in Egypt and also attempts to clear up the use of the term “Gnosticism” as a useful 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 and meaning of the Gospel of Mary and places it in the context of the largely patriarchal early Christian church.

From Jasmine’s 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 any sort of hierarchical structure of authority. This interpretation seems to fit with the Gnostic rejection of the demiurge as a tyrannical and corrupted figure and thus supports King’s use of “realm” instead of the more traditional “kingdom.” This debate is not limited to King, and many authors attempt to take into account modern and ancient connotations of the original term with varying 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 connotations 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 reasoning in the book, Professor Kraft pointed out that she chose to insert the word “true” to indicate something about the nature of the phrase. King seems to 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 "Humanity."

We then continued into a short discussion of publishers 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 asked whether King thought that the Gospel of Mary and the issues around it were representative of inner conflict within Gnosticism. The answer was that she seems to say that it represents conflicts within Christian groups but not necessarily limited to Gnostics.

Professor Kraft also briefly discussed Montanism and its strong association with women. It might have been possible that this association with the rejected message of Montanism would have pushed some away from any interpretation that put women at the forefront of the religion as King seems to suggest the Gospel of Mary does.

After this extended discussion over Jasmine’s presentation, we returned to Liza’s presentation, where someone (I believe it was Tom) asked 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 figure; Islam seems to revolve around a concept; etc. Therefore given this framework, what was Gnosticism’s central element? The conclusion was that Gnosticism was not really identified in a unified or centralized form so nothing could really 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 uniform definition of the tradition; there wasn’t really a “Gnosticism” that could be identified and described in some clear institutional form, but individual people were clearly seen as “Gnostic.”

After the discussions over the presentations were complete, 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 the practices as baptism and chrismation, which were frequently connected to each 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:

 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 explicit 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 of the “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 variation is the assumed inability of the average person to know which texts are worth following and which are not. The only solution to this would have been to be inducted into the “mysteries” of some Gnostic tradition thus gaining the 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 is important to try to reconstruct the full range of "authoritative literature" that the authors might have had available. For a reasonably comprehensive list of early Christian writings, including the “lost 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, letters, etc.) particularly the introduction and chapter 16. Professor Kraft takes the prologue to the Gospel of Luke very seriously: “Many writers have undertaken to draw up an account of the events that have taken place among us, following the traditions handed down to us by the original eyewitnesses and servants of the 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 when composing their own works. In order to reconstruct this for oneself, Professor Kraft suggested that one should revisit the course syllabus and bibliography for both RelS 535 and 135. Furthermore Professor Kraft pointed out that many texts come to us only in fragmentary form and that sometimes we can piece the 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 published  “Gospel 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 Christian text?
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" begin?
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 tradition.

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, young man!
Protestation: But I can't read Sogdian!
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 of Thomas?
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 argument. 

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 and scriptures.

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 recent.
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 and scriptures.

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 word gnostic.

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 "
Religionsgeschichtliche 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 look at their canonical texts for some clues. Also, scholars have found magic bowls (2nd-6th century) decorated with religious texts and figures. These 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 often 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 of Mandeanism.

Mandeans may have migrated from the West (Palestine). They call their baptismal waters "Jordan," possibly a brand name  --  like we call a 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 negatively and John the Baptist more positively in some Mandean texts has as much to do with Islam as Mandeanism.

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 -- if we can believe it. He came from a Jewish/Christian baptizing group (
Elkesaites), which 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 200 pages.

A tangent on the realities of life in scholarship on "obscure" subjects:

"Let's do some Jesus."
NHL Review
(10) Focus on Jesus and his followers Baptism
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 Christianity called itself "Gnostic."

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, but (at least in ancient times) equally "authoritative" ways: in a historical context (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 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 explain why their texts were better preserved. There were people in the 1st century who shared this less historical kind of mindset. Were they in Palestine? 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 various 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 basic 
methodological questions 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. This 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 gnosticism, 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 is difficult 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 book reviews are on the website now.

We then turned to the Kraft-Timbie Review of the Nag Hammadi Library: 

Form.--  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 Gospel 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 refutation.
- 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 (http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/rs/rak/courses/535/nhl.htm)

Reports.-- Presentations of the words of Jesus, many of which are  first-person narratives. E.g.
- Gospel of Thomas

Dialogues.-- Prevalent in the NHL
- Not all have a specified context
-Sections from Plato's Republic discuss The Good. We can't  be 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.
-The Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth discusses powers, lights, the kingdom of power. It has "oo ee ooo eee"s. Some of  the 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.

Letters.-- 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. 

Self-affirmations (a type of monologue).-- E.g. Thunder, Perfect Mind; "I am the" (list of opposites). Dualism
- Some seem from a female perspective, perhaps that of Sofia?
A Sofia figure in these materials seems similar to a gnostic (not canonical) Jesus, but find important differences in the details.
- Trimorphic Protennoia
"first thought"; "I am the Mother and the Father" dualism (again); "They exist in the manner of Three [drawn geometric figures] which are quadrangles -- secretly."
- Reducing and overcoming divisions to get back into the One is the 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.

Meditations, didactic essays, sermonic teachings
- Contain cosmogenies
- Discuss salvation and the fate of the soul.

Revelatory encounters.--  E.g. Thought of Norea. Who was Norea: Noah's wife? Seth's sister? A daughter of Adam and Eve? This 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 Project. 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 NHL volume.

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 further parallels.

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 centuries.

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 of Isaiah, 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 vague. 

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 mentioned.

The "Secret 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 NHL.

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 website.

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 problems.

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 "Hymn 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 hymn/psalm, the Syriac version is slightly preferable to the Greek because it is better 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, allegorical interpretations.

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 Pachomian monastery (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 Gnostic 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 on Gnosticism, 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 redemption.'"

 Clearly the term "Hebrew" is used the Gospel of Philip in various ways, e.g.:
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.

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 the 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).

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  or significance might be.

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, and  the 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 TruthRobert 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 used.

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 mainstream gospels.

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.

Miscellaneous observations:
-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 gnosis].
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 Paul, Apocryphon 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 on Gnosticism.
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)

Marcion 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 of Luke.

\1/  The association of Marcion with Cerdo, 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 Magus (Acts 8.9-25) to be the original gnostic thinker and influence on all subsequent gnostics (AH 1.23)

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.

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? Christ? 

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 Version).]

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 'apocryphal' given above does not adequately represent the range of extrabiblical literature from the period we are studying.  Much of the literature in this category claims a connection to the first generation of followers of Jesus.  The validity of the claim has to be assessed individually for each document.   Professor Kraft suggests that 'parabiblical' (alongside the biblical literature) is a more neutral term.
Professor Kraft then identified four collections of literature that correspond roughly to four periods in the development of early Christianity:
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)

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 (ET 1977).

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.

Pseudo-Clementines 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, of Ebionites, of Nazorenes].  For references to Jewish practice in churches of Asia Minor, see Eusebius History of the Church 5.23-26.

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

            In 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!

            We 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 apocacalyptic perspectives. 

            Early Christianity spread westward according the NT and Eusebius.  Although Harnack (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 EdessaMeeks and 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). 

            At 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, of Ebionites, of Nazorenes], the Elkesaites,  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 extremes.

Week #01 -- 11 January 2005 -- submitted by Doug Finkbeiner

            In 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.  

            Much 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 gnosis"). Irenaeus 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.

            The class also discussed some of the key gnostic groups, such an the Manichaeans and the Mandeans (an 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 refutation "Against Marcion."

            Prior to the Nag Hammadi discoveries, much of our understanding of the gnostics was shaped by anti-heretical writers such as Irenaeus and Hippolytus.  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 review.

            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//