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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.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2015 The Great Courses (P)2015 The Teaching Company, LLC
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
3 out of 5 stars
By Jacobus on 03-07-15

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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48 of 48 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Shannon N. on 03-31-15

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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8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Mike on 07-25-15

High quality study of Gnosticism

Would you listen to Gnosticism: From Nag Hammadi to the Gospel of Judas again? Why?

As a PhD in Theology, who gets questions on Gnosticism, I found this comprehensive study excellent. Many years ago the topic perhaps got a couple of pages in a New Tetament introduction, today it s a subject attracting courses from many perspectives.

What did you like best about this story?

The scope and depth of the lectures.the discussion on the views of the Alternative Christianity school(s) of thought.

Any additional comments?

It will be interesting to. See what emerges next from the Great Courses religion and Theology departments

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5 of 5 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By L. Taylor on 10-16-16


I found this lecture series to be of much interest. The depth was perfect for myself, someone who had some familiarity with gnosticism through articles, videos and podcasts, but not an academic level of knowledge.

If you have taken a course on gnosticism before, you might not learn much more. If you haven't, then this is a superb introduction.

I was appreciative that a number of related topics were covered here: Valentinus, Irenaeus, Mani, Cathars, Augustine. I might have enjoyed more references to nag hammadi texts.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Russellji on 12-02-17


I listened to it all three times. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Well structured and insightful. Highly recommended.

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5 out of 5 stars
By Sally jo-anne finlay on 10-01-17


Thoroughly enjoyed this. I realize that it is a difficult subject to present, however, I found it easy to listen to & somewhat humerous at times.
The many differing beliefs with all of their differing myth presentations was shared in an easy to understand pathway of the soul. The essence being that we are here to obtain 'gnosis' or hidden knowledge for the soul to escape this material world & using the easy to understand material of this Great Course of Gnosis -maybe we will. .
A first step for anyone who wants to look beyond the curtain of our lives & our purpose which jesus tried to convey. ..

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