Introducing Birger Pearson's 'Ancient Gnosticism: Traditions & Literature'

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MrMacSon
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Introducing Birger Pearson's 'Ancient Gnosticism: Traditions & Literature'

Post by MrMacSon » Fri Oct 05, 2018 8:22 pm

Birger A. Pearson wrote Ancient Gnosticism to survey the entirety of the primary ancient Gnostic literary evidence and to introduce the individual texts, saying "The primary sources, after all, are the most essential evidence for the study of ancient Gnosticism."

Birger A. Pearson (2007) Ancient Gnosticism: Traditions And Literature, Fortress Press.

The word "Gnosticism" is based on the Greek word gnostikos ("gnostic") applied in antiquity to people who claimed a special kind of religious "knowledge" (gnosis), and for whom that knowledge edge served as the basis of their salvation. I try to define what sort of "knowledge" it is that is the key ingredient in "Gnosticism." The approach that I take to the evidence is that of a critical historian of ancient religions.

The earliest evidence we have for ancient Gnosticism comes from the first century of our era. Since no religion or religious movement takes shape in a vacuum, I discuss something of the cultural and religious environment of the first-century Graeco-Roman world. I argue that ancient Platonism, on the one hand, and ancient Judaism, on the other, provided the most ancient Gnostic teachers and prophets with the ingredients they used in creating a religion of salvation based on gnosis. (Kindle Locations 85-90)

He describes 'Sethian' Gnosticsm as 'Classic' Gnothicism: "one of the two most important manifestations of ancient Gnosticism" (named after the third son of Adam in the Hebrew Bible). The other being Valentinian Gnosticism.

He posits that

"Gnosticism originated in a Jewish environment. The earliest attested mythological logical systems of "Sethian" or "Classic" Gnosticism are made up of innovative reinterpretations of biblical and Jewish traditions, especially Jewish traditions of biblical interpretation." (Kindle Locations 104-105)

He says some sects mentioned in the writings of some church fathers, such as the "Cainites", [probably] never existed.

Valentinus, the greatest ancient [Christian] Gnostic teacher of all, taught first Alexandria and then in Rome. Pearson describes seven Valentinian tracates in the Nag Hammadi collection.

The Nag Hammadi codices include a large number of Gnostic writings preserved in Coptic, many whose sectarian affiliations are unclear.


Basilides, who taught in Alexandria in the early second century, utilized Gnostic traditions in devising his own version of Christianity. He was the very first early Christian teacher to write commentaries on texts that would eventually become part of the New Testament canon. (Kindle Locations 106-108)

Pearson also discusses Basilides' son and pupil Isidore.


Hermetism is another religious current that emphasized self-knowledge knowledge as the basis for salvation. This religion arose in Alexandria, Egypt, probably in the first century CE. It features the Egyptian god Thoth in Greek guise as "Thrice-Greatest Hermes," who gives revelatory instruction to his "son" and other pupils. (Kindle Locations 117-120).

Pearson introduces two of the Greek Hermetic texts, and three Hermetic texts in the Nag Hammadi collection.

He discusses the Gospel of Thomas, which he does not consider to be a "Gnostic" writing, but included it along with related texts that represent what he calls "Thomas Christianity", a variety of Christianity which emphasized self-knowledge which ''was at home in Syria from the second century on.'' He also introduces another Nag Hammadi tractate representing Thomas Christianity.
Last edited by MrMacSon on Sat Oct 06, 2018 2:06 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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DCHindley
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Re: Introducing Birger Pearson's 'Ancient Gnosticism: Traditions & Literature'

Post by DCHindley » Sat Oct 06, 2018 7:26 am

Uh oh,

Mr Mac, I think you meant the date of publication to be 2007.

Back to the OP, I've always liked Birger A Pearson.

He is probably the point scholar leading the platoon of pre-Christian Gnosticism finders. That description is not meant to be derogatory at all.

James McGrath wrote an RBL review of this book in the June 2008 issue. He also has posted a copy of it at www.academia.edu. I never bought the book, though, because I got the impression is was a too-simplified "Introduction" to the subject, and it doesn't include foot or end notes. However, it would put a lot of this subject of "Gnosticism" into perspective.

Now that it is available in Kindle, I'll get it, but I could also buy a used copy for a dollar or so less. Decisions ... decisions

DCH

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Re: Introducing Birger Pearson's 'Ancient Gnosticism: Traditions & Literature'

Post by MrMacSon » Sat Oct 06, 2018 1:07 pm

DCHindley wrote:
Sat Oct 06, 2018 7:26 am
Uh oh. Mr Mac, I think you meant the date of publication to be 2007.
D'oh! Corrected. Cheers, DCH.

DCHindley wrote:
Sat Oct 06, 2018 7:26 am

Back to the OP, I've always liked Birger A Pearson. He is probably the point scholar leading the platoon of pre-Christian Gnosticism finders. That description is not meant to be derogatory at all.

James McGrath wrote an RBL review of this book in the June 2008 issue. He also has posted a copy of it at www.academia.edu. I never bought the book, though, because I got the impression is was a too-simplified "Introduction" to the subject, and it doesn't include foot or end notes. However, it would put a lot of this subject of "Gnosticism" into perspective.

Now that it is available in Kindle, I'll get it, but I could also buy a used copy for a dollar or so less. Decisions ... decisions DCH
I've just started reading some books on the Gnostics such as David Brakke's The Gnostics; R.A Gilbert's Gnosticism and Gnositcs, an Introduction; and have just got the Kindle version of Miguel Conner's Voices of Gnosticism: Interviews with Birger Pearson, Elaine Pagels, Bart Ehrman, Bruce Chilton, April DeConick, Jason BeDuhn, Karen King, and others; Bardic Press.

I still need to read more of Pearson's Ancient Gnosticism, but mostly made this post to repeat his basic argument: "Gnosticism originated in a Jewish environment. The earliest attested mythological logical systems of "Sethian" or "Classic" Gnosticism are made up of innovative reinterpretations of biblical and Jewish traditions, especially Jewish traditions of biblical interpretation."

I think that brings into focus aspects of early to mid 1st century Judaism and it's diversity, including Jewish messianism, and other what other scholars are saying about these fields.

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