Gnostic Truth and Christian Heresy: A Study in the History of Gnosticism

Article excerpt

Gnostic Truth and Christian Heresy: A Study in the History of Gnosticism. By Alastair H. B. Logan. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, xxiv + 373 pp., $29.95.

Logan offers a study of gnostic texts commonly referred to as "Sethian" to reverse the current consensus on gnosticism's origin and development. Against scholars like G. W. MacRae, B. A. Pearson, Pheme Perkins, Kurt Randolph, J. M. Robinson, H.-M. Schenke and Gedaliahu Stroumsa, he argues that "Sethian Gnosticism" is "basically a Christian phenomenon" and represents a discrete system of thinking that can and should be understood apart from Judaism. Many scholars have concluded that the Sethian texts have pre-Christian roots in Judaism since they build on traditions of Seth in Genesis (cf. 4:25-26).

Logan's approach relies heavily upon and seeks to revise one section of Simone Petrement's controversial book, Le Dieu separe (1984; ET: A Separate God: The Christian Origins of Gnosticism, 1990). Among other things, Petrement argues that the testimonies of Irenaeus and the Apocryphon of James point not to an early, seminal form of gnosticism but rather to the later, more developed Valentinians. Accordingly, Logan has no use for distinctions like pre- and post-Christian or proto- and "full-blown" gnosticism. Building on the premise that Irenaeus and the Apocryphon point to later forms of gnosticism (Petrement) and extending the study of ritual in gnostic circles (J.-M. Servin, Le dossier baptismal Sethien, 1986), Logan identifies "a central core of ideas" in the Sethian texts "based on and concretely expressed in the rite of initiations as a projection of Gnostic experience."

The author begins with the argument that the gnostics constructed "their own myth of origins in reaction to contemporary Jewish persecution, a myth which in its several variants was influenced by Johannine and Valentinian ideas and then underwent a 'Sethian' reinterpretation, largely in response to 'orthodox' Christian criticism" (p. xx). The second chapter studies the character of this myth, traces its series of redactions and analyzes its relationship "to a whole series of Gnostic texts and systems from the late first to the late third century CE" (p. xxi). The remaining six chapters support the above points through a detailed analysis of theogony, cosmogony, anthropogony, anthropology, soteriology and eschatology in the primary sources. An appendix discusses "the etymologies of Barbelo, the illuminators and Adamas. …