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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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  • Jacobus
  • Johannesburg, South Africa
  • 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.

49 of 51 people found this review helpful

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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!

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating material and great performance

Where does Gnosticism: From Nag Hammadi to the Gospel of Judas rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

I have listened to several Great Courses lectures, and this is one of the best. Prof. Brakke does a great job of blending in his presentation of Gnostic "materials" with Bible passages and his interpretation of what both could mean -- depending on who's doing the interpretation.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Gnosticism: From Nag Hammadi to the Gospel of Judas?

His discussion of some of the lesser known "books" was very informative.

Which character – as performed by Professor David Brakke – was your favorite?

Not really applicable. He seems to be genuinely interested and even fascinated by the material he has run across.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Another understanding of the origins and meanings of Christianity

Any additional comments?

It was so interesting, I hated to reach the end.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Great course!

I enjoyed this course. The material was presented clearly and objectively. I liked the way the presenter handled opinions and concepts with which he disagreed, fairly and in a balanced way. He also made it clear when he was stating opinion rather than fact.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Excellent course

This was a very good course. Complicated information presented in a way that is easy to understand and appreciate. Excellent

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Enlightening.

This course opened me up to new understandings of gnosticism, mysticism, and myth making. I learn new concepts that I was never exposed to before. New sects, new believe systems and how they integrated and evolved into the belief systems we have today

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Aj
  • TX
  • 08-29-16

Fills in so many gaps with possibilities

something to ponder for anyone who's interested. Offers insights I've never been exposed to elsewhere

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Rich, Interesting, and Informative

Excellent research, well documented, and well presented.
The topic of Gnosticism is very complex due to the sophisticated myths and beliefs associated with it. The author does a great job in explaining these myths and in relating them to their historical context. Even though Gnosticism is not an easy topic, partially because of the lost knowledge about it, and partially because it challenges mainstream beliefs, the author explains it all in an interesting way.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Claire
  • United States
  • 04-23-15

Excellent Course!

Excellent course and information into a mostly invisible area of theology. Well researched and presented in a thoughtful and professional manner.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Good, But With a Significant Amount of Bias

I was truly excited to listen to this course. I’ve always had large interest in Gnosticism, Hermetics, and the Mysteries and I’ve learned how important having an open mind is when one learns about them. While the information herein is good, it’s presented with a heavy academic bias; the kind that thinks we know more about the ancients than the ancients themselves.

This viewpoint is counterproductive, unhealthy, and downright arrogant. The people that created such complex and poetic cosmologies deserve more than to be treated like children who just didn’t know better. These people were not primitives. In fact, the mystery schools of old (of which includes Gnostic Christianity) dealt with extremely complex issues relevant today; such as the nature of reality and the human mind.

These courses are completely devoid of the reasons why these schools no longer exist. The author/narrator presents the reason for this as a loss of interest or because of the emergence of more logical forms of religion (i.e. the orthodox churches formed around the middle of the first millennium, Islam, etc.). This, however, could not be further from the truth. The Gnostics and Hermetists were violently persecuted into spiritual submission for purely political purposes under the guise of religious conquest.

If one needs a solid introduction to Gnostic philosophies, this is an excellent course. That being said, further research is needed to truly understand the Gnostic mindset and why they believed the things they wrote about. These schools did not exist in a vacuum and cultural, political, and historical context is necessary to understand them. Unfortunately there’s not enough of this within these lectures.

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  • Mike
  • 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

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • L. Taylor
  • 10-16-16

Excellent

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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Rogtan
  • 08-07-18

A Journey of Rich Reward

Stunning! Scholarly and judicious. Well worth the time for those willing to study. Engagingly presented,

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 06-01-18

Brilliant audio book!

Absolutely outstanding book! I learned a lot from this! And I loved the authors voice!

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  • C. Goodall
  • 12-30-17

Thought this was brilliant

Any additional comments?

Thought this was a very clear analysis of very complex ideas. Well done.

Doesn't matter if you agree with the beliefs this analysis makes you think

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  • Mike
  • 08-30-17

This was really interesting and informative.

Going to give it a second listen a lot to take in, but very good, makes me want to look more in ancient philosophy!

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  • Tommie Kelly
  • 12-11-16

Great Course

I really enjoyed this course and made my way through all the lectures quite quickly. Before listen I felt I had a good general understanding of the topic, but having gone through it I realised just how little I did actually know.

A great overview of the topic that will give you a good understanding of all the elements involved.

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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Dave
  • 08-24-16

Gnosticism

what a thoroughly enjoyable course. Prof. Brakke made this hard to put down. Loved it!

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  • Antonio
  • 08-09-16

fantastic .I have really enjoyed listening to it

it was long but it had ti be quite a complex issue I suppose thanks

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  • Russellji
  • 12-02-17

.

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

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  • Sally jo-anne finlay
  • 10-01-17

Gnosticism

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. ..