Asking the Wrong Question

I have been puzzling over the origins of Gnosticism, and we can certainly find some plausible answers to that issue. Jewish, Greek and Christian, (and possibly Persian), the building blocks were all clearly there. Perhaps, though, I have been asking the wrong question all along. Instead of asking why some people came up with that [Read More...]

Gnostics and Platonists

Although the origins of Gnostic thought are controversial, many of the core themes and terms undoubtedly stemmed from Greek philosophical thought, especially Platonism. That did not necessarily mean that early Gnostics were taking these ideas directly from Greek thinkers or schools, rather that they came from a Jewish (and emerging Christian) world that had long [Read More...]

Athens, Jerusalem and Nag Hammadi

Timaeus_trans_calcidius_med_manuscript

Through the celebrated discovery of many alternative gospels and scriptures, the word Gnostic has entered popular discourse almost as synonymous with bold or experimental religious thinking. Of course, the term Gnostic has a specific meaning as a movement, and one about which we now have a substantial body of written evidence. I have written recently [Read More...]

The Beginning of Wisdom

I have been posting on the subject of Gnosticism and its origins. By the early second century AD, Gnosticism was clearly in evidence as part the early Christian movement, but its history before that date is obscure. Undoubtedly it drew from multiple sources and influences, including Greek philosophical ideas and terminology, but we do not [Read More...]

Those Who Know

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Ever since my undergraduate years, I have been interested in early Christian history and Gnosticism. In the next few posts, I will talk about some of the things I have learned about Gnosticism, why it is so important, and some of the areas I am still trying to explore in my present book project. Here, [Read More...]

Shapur’s Great Persecution

I posted on the topic of early Christian martyrdom, arguing that the phenomenon was as widespread as Christian writers claimed, and that it truly was driven by religious motives. That was especially true in the Persian Empire. One of the great church historians of antiquity was Sozomen, who was born near Gaza, in Palestine, around [Read More...]

The Reality of Persecution

Rome was not the only empire in antiquity, nor the only one with a sizable Christian population. I stress that repeatedly because of the number of times we read about Christian engagement with the secular world, which seems to be defined as the Roman Empire. In fact, the Persian Empire also had plenty of Christians, [Read More...]

The Good War and the New Age

The 1940s witnessed a boom in esoteric and occult movements, and we so often encounter evidence for such movements that we realize just how familiar a part they must have been in the social landscape. We see this for instance in Wallace Stegner’s 1942 study of Utah, Mormon Country. Near Monticello, in one of the [Read More...]

The 1940s and America’s Proto-New Age

The decade of the 1940s represents a profoundly underappreciated era in American history, and that is especially true in matters of religion. The period is of course dominated by the events of the Second World War and its immediate aftermath, together with debates over race, civil rights and desegregation. Oddly, though, in so many ways, [Read More...]

Mani the Prophet

There is an excellent new contribution to the literature on the Manichaean religion: Iain Gardner, Jason BeDuhn and Paul Dilley, Mani at the Court of the Persian Kings: Studies on the Chester Beatty Kephalaia Codex (Brill 2015). Yesterday, I described the rediscovered ancient texts on which this book is based. Although this is a rich [Read More...]


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