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Rethinking Gnosticism An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category

ISBN-10: 0691005427
ISBN-13: 9780691005423
Edition: 1997
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Description: Most anyone interested in such topics as creation mythology, Jungian theory, or the idea of "secret teachings" in ancient Judaism and Christianity has found "gnosticism" compelling. Yet the term "gnosticism," which often connotes a single rebellious  More...

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Book details

Copyright year: 1997
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 5/2/1999
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 360
Size: 6.25" wide x 9.50" long x 1.00" tall
Weight: 1.100
Language: English

Most anyone interested in such topics as creation mythology, Jungian theory, or the idea of "secret teachings" in ancient Judaism and Christianity has found "gnosticism" compelling. Yet the term "gnosticism," which often connotes a single rebellious movement against the prevailing religions of late antiquity, gives the false impression of a monolithic religious phenomenon. Here Michael Williams challenges the validity of the widely invoked category of ancient "gnosticism" and the ways it has been described. Presenting such famous writings and movements as theApocryphon of Johnand Valentinian Christianity, Williams uncovers the similarities and differences among some major traditions widely categorized as gnostic. He provides an eloquent, systematic argument for a more accurate way to discuss these interpretive approaches. The modern construct "gnosticism" is not justified by any ancient self-definition, and many of the most commonly cited religious features that supposedly define gnosticism phenomenologically turn out to be questionable. Exploring the sample sets of "gnostic" teachings, Williams refutes generalizations concerning asceticism and libertinism, attitudes toward the body and the created world, and alleged features of protest, parasitism, and elitism. He sketches a fresh model for understanding ancient innovations on more "mainstream" Judaism and Christianity, a model that is informed by modern research on dynamics in new religious movements and is freed from the false stereotypes from which the category "gnosticism" has been constructed.

List of Figures and Tables
Preface
Abbreviations
Introduction
What Kind of Thing Do Scholars Mean by "Gnosticism"?: A Look at Four Cases
"Gnosticism" as a Category
Protest Exegesis? or Hermeneutical Problem-Solving?
Parasites? or Innovators?
Anticosmic World-Rejection: or Sociocultural Accommodation?
Hatred of the Body? or the Perfection of the Human?
Asceticism...?
...or Libertinism?
Deterministic Elitism? or Inclusive Theories of Conversion?
Where They Came From...
...and What They Left Behind
Conclusion
Notes
Modern Works Cited
Index

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