The Coherence of “Gnosticism”


Einar Thomassen, Berlin : De Gruyter, 2021


“Gnosticism” has become a problematic category in the study of early Christianity. It obscures diversity, invites essentialist generalisations, and is a legacy of ancient heresiology. However, simply to conclude with “diversity” is unsatisfying, and new efforts to discern coherence and to synthesise need to be made.

The present work seeks to make a fresh start by concentrating on Irenaeus’ report on a specific group called the “Gnostics” and on his claim that Valentinus and his followers were inspired by their ideas. Following this lead, an attempt is made to trace the continuity of ideas from this group to Valentinianism.

The study concludes that there is more continuity than has previously been recognised. Irenaeus’ “Gnostics” emerge as the predecessors not only of Valentinianism, but also of Sethianism. They represent an early, philosophically inspired form of Christ religion that arose independently of the New Testament canon. Christology is essential and provides the basis for the myth of Sophia. The book is relevant for all students of Christian origins and the early history of the Church.

(Text from the publisher)

Table of contents

Frontmatter  I

Preface  V

Table of Contents  XII

Is it still possible to speak about “Gnosticism”?  1

Reconstructing coherence53 Valentinus and “the Gnostic sect”  5

Irenaeus, Haer. 1.29 and the Apocryphon of John  10

The mythological system of Irenaeus, Haer. 1.29 13

The protologies of Haer. 1.29 and 1.30 compared 18

The Valentinian reception of Gnostic protology 21

The underlying logic of Gnostic protology 26

Conclusion  34

Bibliography  37


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