What is Gnosticism?

Front Cover
Harvard University Press, 2005 - Religion - 343 pages
3 Reviews

A distinctive Christian heresy? A competitor of burgeoning Christianity? A pre-Christian folk religion traceable to "Oriental syncretism"? How do we account for the disparate ideas, writings, and practices that have been placed under the Gnostic rubric? To do so, Karen King says, we must first disentangle modern historiography from the Christian discourse of orthodoxy and heresy that has pervaded--and distorted--the story.

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

  

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - William345 - LibraryThing

This is sort of wonderful. King follows the ancient polemical and modern scholarly views of Gnosticism down through the ages. Her main point is that the late 19th-early 20th century scholars for the ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - worldsedge - LibraryThing

This book was more a review of the academic controversies surrounding Gnosticism than an actual discussion of Gnostic beliefs. On that basis it went way over my head. Still, it was very well ... Read full review

Contents

Why Is Gnosticism So Hard to Define?
5
Gnosticism as Heresy
20
Adolf von Harnack and the Essence of Christianity
55
The History of Religions School
71
Gnosticism Reconsidered
110
After Nag Hammadi I Categories and Origins
149
After Nag Hammadi II Typology
191
The End of Gnosticism?
218
Note on Methodology
239
Bibliography
249
Notes
277
Index
341
Copyright

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Page xiv - Men can do nothing without the make-believe of a beginning. Even Science, the strict measurer, is obliged to start with a make-believe unit, and must fix on a point in the stars' unceasing journey when his sidereal clock shall pretend that time is at Nought.
Page xiv - No retrospect will take us to the true beginning; and whether our prologue be in heaven or on earth, it is but a fraction of that all-presupposing fact with which our story sets out.

References to this book

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Gordon D. Kaufman
No preview available - 2006
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About the author (2005)

Karen L. King is Hollis Professor of Divinity at the Divinity School, Harvard University.

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