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What Is Gnosticism? Paperback – May 30, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0674017627 ISBN-10: 0674017625 Edition: New Ed

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; New Ed edition (May 30, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674017625
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674017627
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #223,727 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

What is Gnosticism? offers an original and persuasive account of how we have come to speak of "gnosticism," and what various people have meant by that. Karen King's important new book transforms our understanding of the origins of Christianity. (Elaine Pagels, Princeton University)

[King's] is the pithiest and fairest overview to date of the subject. (Robert A. Segal Times Literary Supplement 2003-11-21)

Essential reading for serious students of Christian origins. (Deirdre Good Anglican Theological Review)

King's exposure of the confessional prejudices which have shaped the accounts of Gnosticism in Harnack and his successors is a valuable supplement to previous studies which have shown how our modern nomenclature fails to match the ancient sources. Where others have shown how scholarship has gone astray, she sets out to tell us why. (Mark J. Edwards Journal of Theological Studies 2005-04-01)

[King's] volume offers a carefully considered, well-researched reflection on the state of Gnostic scholarship and a clear call for new approaches. (Edward Moore Classical Bulletin 2006-01-01)

Review

What is Gnosticism? offers an original and persuasive account of how we have come to speak of "gnosticism," and what various people have meant by that. Karen King's important new book transforms our understanding of the origins of Christianity. (Elaine Pagels, Princeton University) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Should be required reading in the seminary.
Mark F. Marshall
Like the term "paganism," gnosticism is a term imposed by orthodox Christians, not one used by its supposed practitioners.
pnotley@hotmail.com
Sadly, after difficult-to-read 350 pages I'm still left wondering.
Eric J. Lyman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 62 people found the following review helpful By Don Smith on October 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is a good book for those who are fascinated with early Christianity and wish to know more about the diversity of the "Jesus Movement(s)" before Constantine and the Roman Empire made their famous "deal" with the mainstream group of the Christian Church in the fourth century.
Karen King's primary thesis in this book, if I understand it correctly, is that the term "gnosticism" is becoming useless in early Christian studies as it carries a whole bunch of baggage which does not illuminate our understanding of many of the early movements which, while considering themselves Christian (in a broad sense of the word), did not fit into what came to be the orthodox view of what it meant to be Christian.
To discard, ignore or discredit whole works by early Christians because they contain a few references to "gnostic" ideas (for example, finding God within or not accepting the Pauline version of salvation) is an unnecessary putdown in scholarly terms according to King.
King's book is written primarily to influence her scholarly colleagues who are actively writing books and papers on the (relatively) recent discoveries at Nag Hammadi and who are re-visiting other early non-canonical Christian material.
As a lay person, it makes sense to me not to "tag" a text as "gnostic" and thus automatically diminish its relevance to the study of early Christian development. King argues that each text needs to be read and understood in its own context rather than lumping it in with other "gnostic" stuff.
The study of early Christian origins and the related texts has helped me in my faith journey as I now see that diverse understandings of Jesus have ALWAYS been a part of our tradition.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on March 6, 2006
Format: Paperback
King has done historians of philosophy and religion an immense service with this study. A thorough, comprehensive and closely analysed investigation of the historiography of "Gnosticism", this book will keep students and scholars engaged for some time. Although the title isn't answered in a strict, straightforward manner, the content of the book demonstrates why this is nearly impossible. In fact, King even offers the views of those who would dispense with the term altogether. In the end, the author shows that a tight definition of the term is of less importance than gaining an understanding of what Gnosticism is about.

The author starts from a firm position. "Gnosticism" in the West has long been labelled a "heresy" among the Christian churches. Most of the Christian churches, at least, since there are those who have adopted some tenets of Gnosticism into their creeds. The early Christian movements, striving for survival in the "pagan" Roman Empire, all sought some form of unity and discipline as a foundation. They sought an "orthodoxy" under which to operate. Others, nearly as many in number, granted the individual the primary role. The former group, typified by the bishop of Lyons, Irenaeus, laid the beginnings of what would become "orthodox" Christianity. They decreed the "outsiders" as "heretics". King brings Irenaeus and other critics of non-conformity together under the rubric of the "polemicists". For centuries, what we knew of the Gnostics was contained in the writings of those who condemned them.

The era of "Higher Criticism" of biblical texts may have helped foster modern examination of Gnostic writings. Among the leaders of this "wave" of research was Adolf von Harnack.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By calmly on June 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Here's a chance to experience a gifted scholar struggling to come to terms with a challenging subject without compromising any of its difficulties.

At the very conclusion of the book, King explicitly states what this book was about: "This book by no means offers a complete analysis of the twentieth-century study of Gnosticism. Its aim was more limited - to locate some of the incrongruities in the construction of Gnosticism in order to aid in 'thinking hard and speaking differently' about religious identity formation." The book is basically an examination of how the study of Gnosticism has gotten in the way of the study of Gnosticism. Speculations have piled up upon each other, hardened in apparent facts, and made discerning what may have been happening in early Christianity difficult.

"What is Gnosticism?" is essentially "What is Scholarship?" when scholarship has gone awry and clouded our way of evaluating the facts. It's to her credit that King highlights this problem, which is not unique to the study of Gnosticism. A particular problem with Gnosticism is that the term was coined relatively recently and implies a unity. Another problem is that so little has been known about the early Christians held to be heretics by those who "won", even with the finding of Nag Hammadi texts, themselves hard to assess due to previous scholary speculations. The orthodox Church knew what they were doing when they destroyed such texts or discouraged their being copied. But what may be a barrier for scholars focused on the past needn't stop seekers today whose heartfelt longings carry them beyond the blinders of orthodoxy.
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