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What Is Gnosticism?
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Table of Contents

Preface Abbreviations Introduction 1. Why Is Gnosticism So Hard to Define? 2. Gnosticism as Heresy 3. Adolf von Harnack and the Essence of Christianity 4. The History of Religions School 5. Gnosticism Reconsidered 6. After Nag Hammadi I: Categories and Origins 7. After Nag Hammadi II: Typology 8. The End of Gnosticism? Note on Methodology Bibliography Notes Index

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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

About the Author

Karen L. King is Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School.

Reviews

Gnosticism has been notoriously difficult to define yet is vital for understanding early Christian history. The author of several books on Gnosticism and its sources, King (history of ancient Christianity, Harvard Divinity Sch.) offers an absorbing study of Western scholarship's historiography and definition of Gnosticism. Gnosticism as a concept took shape when early church fathers attacked a number of movements and ideas as heretical, drawing on the notion that these movements sought salvation through gnosis, or esoteric spiritual knowledge. King traces the scholarly discourse on Gnosticism, arguing that much scholarship prior to discovery of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts (in 1945 and after) had been colored by the orthodox Christian polemic that created an imaginary monolithic "gnostic" religion as a challenge to Christianity. When the Nag Hammadi texts are viewed as a group, they indicate that there is no distinct religious tradition with well-established doctrines and approaches to the world that can be called Gnosticism. King ably demonstrates that academics have assumed that early Christianity and Gnosticism were each unitary and have failed to read the gnostic sources on their own terms. This outstanding and essential resource is recommended for all academic and religion collections with a serious interest in early Christianity and religion of the ancient Mediterranean world.-William P. Collins, Library of Congress Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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 *
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 *
[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 *

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