Gnosticism: From Nag Hammadi to the Gospel of Judas : The Great Courses: Comparative & World Religion

  • by The Great Courses
  • Narrated by Professor David Brakke
  • Series: The Great Courses: Comparative & World Religion
  • 12 hrs and 19 mins
  • Lecture

Publisher's Summary

Gnosticism, one of the most fascinating and perplexing phenomena in Western religious history, sparked religious ideologies that competed with many other religions of the time, including the theological thinking that came to define Christianity. And, though the emerging Orthodox Church eventually condemned Gnosticism as heretical, the church formed many of its most central doctrines (such as original sin, the Immaculate Conception, and even the concept of heresy) in response to Gnostic ideas.
This fascinating 24-lecture course is a richly detailed guide to the theology, sacred writings, rituals, and outstanding human figures of the Gnostic movements. What we call "Gnosticism" comprised a number of related religious ideologies and movements, all of which sought "gnosis," or immediate, direct, and intimate knowledge of God. The Gnostics had many scriptures, but unlike the holy texts of other religions, Gnostic scriptures were often modified over time. Gnostic cosmology was extraordinarily intricate and multidimensional, but religious myth was simply a means to the ultimate end of gnosis.
Follow Gnostic ideology and its vivid impact on Western thought through the centuries, from its role in early religions and its re-emergence in medieval spirituality to its remarkable traces in modern popular culture, from science fiction novels like Blade Runner to Hollywood films like The Matrix. In delving into the paths of gnosis, you'll discover a compelling, alternative current of religious practice in the West, and reveal Gnostic influence resonating in Western spirituality even in the present day.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A excellent overview of early Gnostic traditions

The most important insight I gained from Prof David Brakke’s “Gnosticism: From Nag Hammadi to the Gospel of Judas” is that without Christianity’s fling with ancient Gnosticism the concept of the Trinity of God might not have come to full realisation. In the course he doesn’t say it, but when you think about it, it seems highly probable.

Though for most part Prof Brakke’s lectures follows the standard format of introducing Gnosticism in all its varieties, his contextualisation in the last two lectures, brought a different dimension to what one usually can expect of such courses. For that I commend this course series.

When listening to the lectures you will be introduced to Irenaeus, an early heresy hunter and church father. You will learn something of what other scholars calls “Sethian/Classic” Gnosticism (which includes their myth and an overview of the Gospel of Judas). You will also hear about Valentinus and Valentinian Christianity; the famed Gospel of Thomas and its relation to Gnosticism; the unifying teachings of Mani and Manichaeism; non-Christian Gnosis like devotion to Hermes Trismegistus and you will be given an overview of the beliefs of the Mandaeans. At the end Gnostic ideas will be linked to popular culture and films, such as The Matrix trilogy and Blade Runner.

Prof. Brakke has a way of breaking down difficult concepts and myths in congestible parts through succinct summaries. This facilitates easy understanding. Some of the lectures build on each other. At the end of the course you will understand the basic structure of various related Gnostic traditions.

Yet there are things about this course that I would have liked different. For one, Prof. Brakke’s pronunciation of Greek, Coptic and Hebrew are extremely Americanised. I found it very difficult to follow him when he referred to something in these languages and quoting it. I even got the impression that he might not know any of the languages he referred to. I think that using standard academic pronunciation will tremendously help me as a listener to follow him better. I am thinking of words like “psyche” and “trismegistus.”

I think the name of the course is a bit of a misnomer. Prof. Brakke doesn’t end with “The Gospel of Judas” but deals with it quite early on in the lecture series. Maybe the series should also have been called “Gnosticisms” as Prof. Brakke is of the opinion that only Sethian Gnosticism is true Gnosticism. He is not part of the older school that used Gnosticism as an umbrella term.

This aside, if you want to know what ancient Gnosticism is all about, why it was seen as heretical in the early Christian Church and what it entails, then this course is for you.
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- Jacobus

Informative and Insightful

An excellent presentation of an oft-referenced but rarely understood collection of documents, subjects, and groups known by the catch-all term "gnostic". Professor Brakke provides overviews and analyses of the documents discovered at Nag Hammadi (and other finds) to illuminate and distinguish the diverse, rich traditions which produced them. He demonstrates an impressive level of expertise regarding the historical, philosophical, and spiritual backgrounds of each document and each tradition. He also provides a refreshing perspective on what happened to these groups, how they influenced faiths and concepts both ancient and modern, and how they might have developed from their unique cultural settings. Highly recommended!
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- EStormfield

Book Details

  • Release Date: 02-05-2015
  • Publisher: The Great Courses