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The Beliefnet Guide to Gnosticism and Other…
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The Beliefnet Guide to Gnosticism and Other Vanished Christianities…

by Richard Valantasis

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A light book, much more an overview of the varieties of Christian belief in the first few centuries. Sethians and Valentinians were gnostic because of their focus on secret knowledge. Other Christianities may have had elements of gnostic thought, but Valantasis doesn't categorize them as Gnostic, merely alternative strands of thought. He does a fairly good job of showing how diverse thought about the Christ was in those first few 100 years, going right back to disagreements between Paul and Peter. I appreciated the albeit brief discussions of Marcion, the Manicheans, the Hermetic tradition, Plotinus and the NeoPlatonists.
The book loses points for me because it far too frequently states something definitively, when in fact it there remains a lot of ambiguity concerning the subject. I first noticed this in the dating of the books of the bible - instead of giving a range of possible dates for their creation, he gives a single year and never indicates that there is often wide disagreement amongst scholars (even excluding the fundagelicals, who want everything to be way earlier than they probably are). As a fer instance: Acts was most likely written after 94 CE, as "Luke" is almost definitely cribbing from Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews, but the date given in the text is 115, and no reason given as to why it's that late. This is somewhat sloppy, and if I can find problems like this in the stuff I know, what sort of wrong impressions am I getting in the stuff I don't?
Still, it's a handy guide to have, and a good place to get an overview for further research.
2.5 stars oc. ( )
1 vote starcat | Aug 11, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385514557, Paperback)

This authoritative, fully accessible guide to early Christian movements sheds light on the hidden histories and intriguing mysteries that fueled the extraordinary success of books ranging from Dan Brown’s blockbuster The Da Vinci Code to Elaine Pagels’s critically acclaimed Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas.

From its earliest days, Christianity has been marked by a rich diversity of beliefs and practices. Different interpretations of Jesus’ life and mission, as well as conflicting views about worship and rituals, gave rise to numerous sects in the first centuries C.E. Condemned as heretical by the official Church, these early movements were lost to history until the twentieth century, when the discovery of ancient documents opened a new perspective on the evolution of Christianity.

The Beliefnet® Guide to Gnosticism and Other Vanished Christianities is a fascinating look at the diverse strands of the early Christian church. It examines the alternative Christian ideas propagated by the Gnostics, Sethians, Valentinians, Marcionites, Encratites, and Montanists, illuminating the philosophical sources and religious traditions that fostered them. Special attention is given to sects that presented the greatest challenges to the developing orthodoxy: the Hermeticists, the Manicheans, and the Neoplatonists. There are also thought-provoking discussions about the secret Gospel of Mark and the Gospels of Mary and Thomas, and the newly discovered Gospel of the Savior.


From the premier source of information on religion and spirituality, the Beliefnet Guides introduce you to the major traditions, leaders, and issues of faith in the world today.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:04:32 -0400)

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