Religion 222a, Haverford College
Anne McGuire, Fall 2006
the entry page for Religion 222a, Gnosticism, available at www.haverford.edu/relg/courses/222a/Relg222a.html.
The full course syllabus for this course is available only through Blackboard
and within the Tri-College network at www.haverford.edu:8080/relg/relg222a/06gnsyll.html. This
class has a limited enrollment of 20. Lottery results will be posted in Chase
(first floor) and on the Registrar's web page.
course offers a critical examination of "Gnosticism" and
the texts of the Nag Hammadi library. While the meaning and usefulness of
the category "Gnosticism" are currently under debate among scholars, we'll
use the term "Gnosticism" in
this course to designate a religious movement that flourished in the ancient
Mediterranean world of the second to fourth centuries C.E, and has reappeared
in various forms and found expression in many sources. Crucial
to these sources is an emphasis on the saving power of "gnosis," a
particular kind of esoteric or secret knowledge, grounded in spiritual
experience and/or in revelations of the divine. Readings
in the course will focus on the ancient evidence for Gnosticism,
especially the writings of the Nag Hammadi library, discovered in
1945, as well as recent scholarly studies. The primary
goals of the course are to develop the skills of reading and analysing Gnostic
texts critically and to become familiar with the varieties of Gnostic
thought, especially those of the Valentinian school, the Thomas
traditions, Sethianism, and contemporary forms of Gnosis. We will
also consider efforts to relate the evidence for
"Gnosticism" to other varieties of religious thought, including Platonism,
Christianity, and Judaism. Throughout the course, we will explore the literary
form of the texts, their uses of gender imagery, and their varying conceptions
salvation, and union with the divine.
available for purchase in Haverford College Bookstore:
- Bentley Layton, ed. The Gnostic
- The Nag Hammadi Library in English, ed. James M. Robinson.
- Richard Valantasis, The
Beliefnet Guide to Gnosticism and Other Vanished Christianities
- Michael A. Williams, Rethinking
Gnosticism: An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category
- Plato, Timaeus and Critias. Penguin Books.
- D. Unger, ed. St. Irenaeus of Lyons. Book I: Against the Heresies.
- Philip K. Dick, Valis.
- Additional readings available
on Reserve in Magill Library, at the course web site, and in class handouts.
- Recommended Readings:
- Holy Bible:
New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha
Gnostic Society Library (Nag
Hammadi Library in English translations online
- Karen King, What is Gnosticism?
and Other Readings on Reserve
- Preparation of all reading
assignments before class; regular attendance; class presentations and
responses; active participation in discussion (10%).
- 2 short papers (4-6
pages) of textual analysis and interpretation (20% each); class presentation
and discussion of one or more of these papers (40%).
- 2 research papers
description of Course Requirements [Internal
- a 5-6 page research paper
(20%) on a contemporary issue in Gnostic studies (20%).
- a final research paper
of 12-15 pages (30%).
to the Course: What is Gnosticism?
- Knowledge of the Self and
Salvation in the Thomas Traditions
- The Creation of the 'Gnostic'
World: Plato, Genesis, and the Myth of Sophia in Sethian Gnosis
- Creation and Redemption
in the Thought of Valentinus and his School
- Gnosticism and Gnosis in
the Contemporary World; Topics in the Study of Gnosticism
T 9/5 Introduction
to the Course: What is Gnosticism? Definitions, Origins, Approaches
Th 9/7 "Gnosticism"
as System of Thought, Religious Movement, Modern Construct; Major Varieties
Definitions of "Gnosticism"
- Richard Valantasis, Gnosticism
and other Vanished Christianities, xvii-xxix; 1-34
- Begin to familiarize yourself
with The Nag Hammadi Library in English (NHL) and Layton's Gnostic
Recommended for further
Markschies, "Gnosis: An Introduction", 1-27 (pdf file)
- Look over one
example of each "type" of Gnostic literature we'll be studying:
- Thomasine: The
Gospel of Thomas [NHL II.2 (Codex
II, tractate 2)]
- Sethian: The Hypostasis
of the Archons [NHL II.4]
- Valentinian: The Gospel of Truth [NHL I.3]
Resource on The Nag Hammadi Library (from
Gnostic Society Library [GSL])
II. Knowledge of the Self and
Salvation in the Thomas Traditions (9/12-19)
T 9/12 Self and Salvation in
the Thomas Traditions: The Gospel of Thomas and The Hymn of the Pearl
- Layton, "Historical Introduction," in
B. Layton, The Gnostic Scriptures (GS), 359-365
- The Gospel according to Thomas [NHC
II,2], in The Nag Hammadi Library in English (NHLE) and in GS,
Gospel of Thomas HomePage,
by Stevan Davies
- The Hymn of the Pearl,
in Layton, Gnostic Scriptures, 359-375
Themes of the Gospel of Thomas
- Recommended: Hans Jonas, on
The Hymn of the Pearl, The Gnostic Religion, 91-129 (no link,
but this book is in Magill; email me if you'd like me to put it on reserve]
Th 9/14 Creation and Redemption
in the Gospel of Thomas
Recommended for further reading:
Other translations of GThomas available online:
of Thomas trans. by Stephen Pattern and Marvin Meyer
- Reread The Gospel according
to Thomas [NHC II,2] and notes to the text
1-3, with particular
attention to Genesis 1:1-3; 1:26-27; 2:7
- Recommended for further reading:
Richard Valantasis, "Introduction," The Gospel of Thomas, 1-27 in
pdf format., 3 parts
For further reading assignments,
see the full syllabus within the Tri-Co network at: http://www.haverford.edu:8080/relg/relg222a/06gnsyll.html.
of Religion Home Page
This page maintained
Last updated 9/6/06