Monday, February 15, 2010

Book Review

The Gnostics
By: Andrew Phillip Smith

Find this book. Buy it. Period.

If you ever wanted to find a truly in-depth discussion on the old gnostic history(including genocides), traditions, scriptures, and influence then this is it. This book took me around two weeks to finish from cover to cover and the reason is not length(226 pages) but of context and further study. I didn't want to put the book down but... my brain was overwhelmed and I had no choice. Giving yourself a chance to absorb the information is a good idea as the twists and turns are quite intense.

The author did not write this book to be a light foray into the idea of gnosis but to be a truly meaty study of the people and their beliefs. He didn't overwhelm with citations, however, keeping the book visually appealing and easy to follow. The references, bibliography, and index sections are rich in new avenues for further study.

Valentinians, Sethians, Marcionism, Manichaean, Hermetic, Mandaean, Bogomils, Cathars, Paulicians, and countless 'cousin' gnostic groups are discussed in comparison and contrast with how they have influenced or been influenced by gnosticism.

Excerpt from page 41 (emphasis by blog author)

Even though they traced themselves back to Valentinus as a revered teacher, and accepted Church hierarchy when they came into contact with it, the Valentinians were notoriously democratic and egalitarian in their dealings with each other. The Church Father Tertullian complained that he could see no strict hierarchy among them, "First, one does not know which is a catchumen or a believer. They enter on equal terms, they listen on equal terms, they pray on equal terms... they do not care if they confess different doctrines, provided that they all help to
destroy the truth... And so today, one man is a bishop, tomorrow another. Today one is a deacon who tomorrow will be a lector. The presbyter of today is the layman of tomorrow. Even the members of the laity are charged with the duties of a priest."

The Church Father Irenaeus also had first hand experience of Valentinians. .....He was dismayed to find that there were many Valentinians in his diocese, and, being particularly concerned that he couldn't easily tell them apart from other Christians, he described them as the usual wolves in sheep's clothing.

Excerpt from page 51

The state of the hylic, who lives from the body alone, is roughly similar to that of an animal. A hylic is dependent on the body and on the needs and appetites of the body, and the body is incapable of salvation in itself. For Gnostics there was no bodily resurrection, and they would have agreed with the second century pagan and anti-Christian philosopher Celsus that the resurrection of a physical corpse was a repugnant concept. Those who live only from the body live in ignorance, which is a lack of gnosis, and gnosis begins with the soul and finds fulfillment in the spirit.

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