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Gnostic Truth and Christian Heresy: A Study in the History of Gnosticism.

Scholars currently engaged in the study of gnosticism fall into two main camps. Most of the North Americans and Germans, including this reviewer, think that the earliest mythological roots of gnosticism developed alongside early Christianity in a heterodox or syncretistic Jewish environment. But a fair number of British and French scholars continue to defend the patristic view that gnosticism emerges from Christian circles. Logan, who belongs to this second camp, attempts to defend the view that gnosticism originated as Christian speculation on the nature of God, salvation, cosmos, the redeemer, etc., by engaging in a detailed analysis of a set of texts that represent what both sides agree to be core examples of gnostic thought, the Apocryphon of John and reports of Barbelo and Sethian sects in Irenaeus's Adversus haereses I, chaps. 29-30.

The argument depends upon a complex hypothesis concerning the various redactions and textual history of the two versions (a long and short, each represented by two manuscripts) of the Apocryphon of John. In addition, L. employs segments of related topoi from other gnostic writings and advances theories about their editing and relationships along the way. Readers who want to tread their way through the argument would do well to equip themselves with the parallel text edition of the Apocryphon of John (M. Waldstein and F. Wisse, ed., The Apocryphon of John: Synopsis of Nag Hammadi Codices II, 1; III, 1 and IV, 1 with BG 8502, 2 [Leiden: Brill, 1995]). In addition, xeroxing L.'s charts of the development of the gnostic myth and redaction levels of the Apocryphon of John (55-56) so they can be at hand makes for easier reading. Most of the book consists in a detailed exegesis of the versions of the Apocryphon of John, which necessarily jumps back and forth between the long and short recensions. It contains valuable insights into the complexities of the heavenly emanations, into the various treatments of Sophia (Wisdom) that appear to be layered in the texts, the variations of the creation of humanity and of the redeemer's descent as savior. But L. begins with a hypothesis (xx) that is so necessary to his reconstructed myth, the priority of Irenaeus's Barbelo gnostic myth in Adv. haer. I, 29, that he cannot at the same time have demonstrated its priority. Consequently, his refutation of suggestions concerning the originating gnostic myth advanced by other scholars is not as complete as he suggests.

More problematic still are such generalizations about the development of early Christian theology and liturgy, such as that "it was the `Gnostics' of Irenaeus who, by their myth of the primal anointing and perfection of the heavenly Son, were the first to claim to be Christians precisely because of that chrism, and who may even have been responsible for the introduction of postbaptismal anointing into `orthodox? Christianity!" (19). While it is highly likely that some gnostic sects practiced a baptismal rite that involved chrismation, liturgical theologians should not rush out and attribute "orthodox" Christian practice to the gnostics. Toward the end, L. attributes the "gnostic influence" claim to G. Lampe (280), not to what his own analysis has demonstrated. Similarly, when all is said and done, L. has not demonstrated that the gnostic myth he reconstructs has derived its Old Testament exegesis from the ideas of Paul and John or its Sophia redeemer system from Christ and Wisdom in Hebrews and the Psalms, all filtered through Platonism and the gnostic baptismal rite (22). The argument for dependence on Hebrews is asserted rather than tightly argued at every point (94, 181-82, 195).

As a study of gnostic myth-making and system building, this book is a seminal work. But we have some way to go before the significance of this material for the history of Christian theology and liturgy is established.
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Author:Perkins, Pheme
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1997
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