Religious Studies | Gnostic Religion and Literature
R425 | 27360 | Brakke


The Gnostics were condemned by other ancient Christians as the
ultimate “heretics,” and their writings—most of which were
rediscovered only sixty years ago—are filled with elaborate myths
and “shocking” versions of biblical stories.  The ancient religion
of gnosis (“knowledge, acquaintance”) continues to fascinate and
attract some modern people, while scholars now debate whether
Gnosticism even existed.  We will study the myths, rituals, and
beliefs of the Gnostic sect, Valentinus and his followers, and the
School of St. Thomas.  We will consider important methodological
issues that these movements pose for the historian of religion: How
do we classify religious groups?  How do we make sense of strange
myths?  How do we evaluate hostile sources?  We will also study
how “proto-orthodox” Christian thinkers responded to the challenges
of Gnostic thought.  Tentative requirements: class participation,
midterm, final, two papers.

Textbooks: Bentley Layton, ed., The Gnostic Scriptures; Robert
Grant, Irenaeus of Lyons; Michael Williams, Rethinking “Gnosticism”;
Plato, Timaeus and Critias; R425 Course Reader.