Shorter Reviews and Notices -- the Tree of Gnosis: Gnostic Mythology from Early Christianity to Modern Nihilism by Ioan P. Couliano and Translated by H. S. Wiesner and Ioan P. Couliano

Article excerpt

The Romanian-born author of this volume was an emerging new voice in gnostic studies until his suspicious murder at the University of Chicago in 1991. Now others will have to take up the project that he only partially completes in this volume. Couliano came to the study of the mythologies of gnostic dualism from the study of Indology and structuralist anthropology. Consequently he rejects the search for origins and influences that has dominated the History of Religions treatment of gnostic mythologies. True to his structuralist heritage, Couliano insists upon discovering the "ideal object" whose expression in numerous variants constitutes the gnostic system.

The introduction uses early christological debates to illustrate the tree that emerges as various logical options are explored. When Couliano turns to analyzing gnostic mythology as well as the systems of other related dualist movements (Marcion, Paulicianism, Bogomilism, Catharism, and modern nihilism) the logical formalism takes backstage to a more narrative approach. When the author finally comes to construct such a tree in Chapter Ten, it no longer serves a heuristic purpose in illuminating the details of each chapter.

Couliano treats the ancient gnostic mythologies as variants of two mythic tales, that of Sophia (Wisdom) the Trickstress and that of her demiurge Son. He understands the inverse exegesis of gnostics as a form of rigorously applied Platonism. …