Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Book Note: Ancient Gnosticism (Birger Pearson)

A great book! Finally we have a user-friendly introduction to Gnosticism, written by the preeminent scholar of Gnosticism, Professor Birger Pearson. This book is a gold mine, containing the ideas and ruminations of someone who has been in the forefront of scholarship on the Nag Hammadi texts since the beginning. Professor Pearson has written some of the first (and latest!) articles, translations, and commentaries on many of the Nag Hammadi documents.

Now he gives us a textbook about the subject, written with the student audience in mind. It is broken down into the following chapters: What is Gnosticism?; Heresiological Reports on Early Gnostic Teachers and Systems; Sethian or Classical Gnosticism; Gnostic Biblical Interpretation: The Gnostic Genesis; Basilides and Basilidian Gnosis; Valentinus and Valentinian Gnosis; Three-Principle Systems; Coptic Gnostic Writings of Uncertain Affiliation; Thomas Christianity; Hermes Trismegistus and Hermetic Gnosis; Mani and Manichaeism; The Mandaeans: A Surviving Relic of Ancient Gnosis.

This is the book that I have always wanted to write, and wish I would have written. It completely integrates the gnostic literature with the gnostic testimonies and witnesses from patristic sources. Each section references various primary readings, so students can read that literature in conjunction with the textbook.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested to learn more about Gnosis. I plan to replace my older book choices for my Gnostic Gospels course with Pearson's, Ancient Gnosticism: Traditions and Literature. Because it is new, it is on sale at Amazon for $16.50!

1 comment: said...

According to Tony Chartrand-Burke "all Christian literature, canonical and noncanonical, are created equal." I presume you agree with this notion April. Now assume that there was no canonical literature. What then, from the gnostic literature would your understanding of Jesus be? Does the book give a concise answer to that question?

Incidentally, one could easily feel 'uneasy' on reading the canonical literature for the first time, for example, Revelation which is similar in some respects to gnostic writings. There is plenty in the NT that makes me feel 'uneasy', especially where, to quote Tony, "the authors felt no hesitation in altering the facts (or better their sources) to suit their needs (be they theological, christological, social, or political)." - and that is no assumption either.