The routledge companion to early Christian thought edit by D. Jeffrey Bingham
With the discovery of the nag hammadi library in 1945, a large and rich new body of primary-source material became available for investigation, but these sources, written by and for insiders, have proved challenging to understand, and the evidence of the anti-heretical writers has remained a valuable resource, even as it has continued to complicate the problem of defining “ gnosis” and “ gnosticism.”
Critical analysis of the nag hammadi texts, and the relation of their religious perspectives to those who pro duced and read them, remains one of the most challenging and important tasks in the study of early Christianity and other ancient religious traditions. While the identity of those who produced the nag hammadi texts remains uncertain, there has emerged a general recognition that at least four major types of gnosis-centered thought can be distinguished. This essay treats the first three of these “types,” defined as follows:
1 Thomasine Christianity , represented chiefly by the Gospel of Thomas and the Book of Thomas the Contender . While generally excluded from the category of “ gnosticism,” the Gospel of Thomas is included here because it exhibits a religious perspective in which “gnosis” figures prominently.
2 The “Sethian,” Barbelo-Gnostic, or classic “Gnostic” system , represented by the Apocryphon of John , the Hypostasis of the Archons , and several other nag hammadi texts, as well as i renaeus, Against Heresies 1.29; epiphanius, Refutation of All Heresies 26, 39, and 40; and related heresiological reports.
3 The Valentinian tradition , known from the reports of Justin, irenaeus, and later heresiologists as one of the leading Christian varieties of “ gnosis”; the evidence for the valentinian tradition includes the fragments of valentinus himself, ptolemy’ s Letter to Flora , and Excerpts of Theodotus , as well as several nag hammadi texts, including the Gospel of Truth, the Gospel of Philip, and the Tripartite Tractate .
i approach these as distinct types of Christian gnosis that exhibit shared patterns of thought across a varied bo dy of material. in what follows, i offer a brief description of each type, and focus on the conceptions of the divine and of the processes of creation and redemption in one representative example of each group.
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