Religious Studies | Gnostic Religion and Literature
R425 | 3649 | David 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?  Tentative requirements:  class
participation, midterm, final, two papers.  Textbooks:  Bentley
Layton, ed., "The Gnostic Scriptures"; Michael
Williams, "Rethinking “Gnosticism”"; Plato, "Timaeus and Critias";
R425 Course Reader.