Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Book Note: Beyond Gnosticism (Dunderberg)
There has been a renewed interest in Valentinianism lately, particularly I have been noticing a number of things in the pipeline on the Gospel of Philip. But in this post, I want to draw attention to Ismo Dunderberg's new book, Beyond Gnosticism: Myth, Lifestyle, and Society in the School of Valentinus (New York: Columbia, 2008).
The book comes together out of Dunderberg's earlier work in published articles on Valentinianism, which form the basis for most of his chapters. The articles have been rewritten so that the book has a good narrative flow and the subjects are interconnected.
What Dunderberg does quite well is contextualize Valentinian traditions within the ancient schools of philosophical thought as a Christian tradition. He begins the book by pointing out that the majority of Valentinians probably "did not form a church of their own but remained within the community of other Christians, took part in its meetings, and shared their rituals" (p. 3).
What does it mean that the Valentinians "were not clearly separated from other Christians but belonged to the same community" (p. 3)? Dunderberg uses the ancient "school" movement as his comparative tool. The goal of the book is to reexamine Valentinian mythmaking as a justification for their way of life and their moral instruction, in much the same way that mythmaking and moral exhortation functioned in other ancient schools.
Dunderberg has done an excellent job bringing together so much material on the Valentinians and examining it thoughtfully in light of his thesis without deeming the Valentinian material as superfluous or heretical. A delightful perspective. Dunderberg's knowledge of the ancient sources is impressive and his book should help to open up the otherwise fairly esoteric field of Valentinian studies and early Christian mythmaking.