Monday, June 26, 2017

Précis: Bauer’s Forgotten Region: North African Christianity (David C Alexander and Edward L Smither)

A Précis of
Chapter 7 from
Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Contexts: Reconsidering the Bauer Thesis. edited by Paul A. Hartog, Pickwick Publications, Eugene, Oregon, 2015.

Alexander and Smither consider North African Christianity excluding Egypt and the surrounding areas. While this area is admittedly later than Bauer’s focus, they intend to use the area as a test case to look at Bauer’s assumptions and methods. Bauer worked on areas with much less thorough documentation as to how Christianity arrived and in what form. The evidence for other competing and original forms under Bauer’s magnifying glass is also scant. North Africa, though about half-a-century later, is very well documented.

In sum, Christian emergence in Roman Africa manifested considerable diversity within a core unity; successful resistance to an established church at Rome precisely on the issue of right beliefs; and a broad commitment to a Christian experience which centered on the action of the Spirit in the world and both ‘apostolic’ and Jewish Scriptures. That is, it seems to be a microcosm of many characteristics that stand in contrast to Bauer’s reconstruction of ‘earliest Christianity.’ (p. 168)

The authors begin a review of “The Origins of North African Christianity” that probably came from both Rome and the Near East. “North African Christianity emerged quickly from 180 onward as a demographically and linguistically diverse entity.” (p. 170) It had demonstrable contact with Christianity in Asia Minor, the East, and Rome. “As it relates to Bauer’s thesis, it is worth noting that the multiple potential sources for Christianity in North Africa did not lead to multiple emergences or competing entities. That is to say, our earliest testimonies to Christianity in North Africa (180-202/3) represent clearly distinct communities….Yet the general character...from all these groups are largely indistinguishable.” (p. 170-171) This is not consistent with Bauer’s model.

The authors turn to consider what makes up the distinctive character of this region’s Christianity. Aside from its literary production, its focus on martyrdom, and use of a conciliar method for making decisions, the authors highlight the unique rural focus and longevity of the North African church. This region give a clear example of how Christianity could develop that has very distinctive characteristics but could not be considered “a new ‘competitor’ Christianity in the religious arena of the time. Ascription of such local varieties to unknown earlier versions of Christianity is invalid in the North African case since the distinctive features are reflected within diverse communities….these diverse communities shared a conscious affinity to unity and assumed apostolic continuity.” (p. 174)

Bauer made use of Tertullian several times to support his case, though he did not include the North African church in his geographical survey. So why does Bauer consider Tertullian significant? “[W]e will show why Tertullian matters to Bauer and then argue why Tertullian ought to matter more to him.” (p. 174) “Bauer depicts Tertullian as an unreliable polemicist who resides completely within a separatist community.  ....[O]f interest to Bauer because of his apparent simultaneous commitment to ‘heresy’ and ‘orthodoxy.’”(p. 175-176) Tertullian provides an example against Bauer’s Thesis that Rome had the power and influence to coerce other areas into submission to its standard of orthodoxy. This is manifest in a couple ways, first, Tertullian affirmed the core of orthodoxy even while advocating what has been described as Montanism (which he began to defend about A.D. 207). Second, Tertullian and the North African church successfully resisted and even rejected decisions and influence from the Roman church. Tertullian’s work Against Praxeas (around A.D 220) was written specifically against a Roman Bishop. That Roman bishop was a heretic espousing monarchianism and patripassionism. Through this Tertullian formulated Trinitarian vocabulary that both represented the historic teaching handed down to him, and, at the same time, forms the basis for orthodox language about the Trinity to this day. In this work he also rejected that the bishop of Rome was the divinely appointed head of the church, but that the pastor of each congregation was in reality “a Peter for his church.” (177) This North African attitude toward Rome continued through the mid 5th century.

The authors turn to consider the nature of Tertullian’s Montanism, the relevance Bauer made of this issue, and what can be gleaned from the actual documents with respect to the nature of Tertullian’s confession of faith. The fact that after Tertullian began defending Montanism he did his best work on the Trinity and made his strongest appeals to the Rule of Faith runs contrary both to Bauer and to what is generally assumed of Montanism. Tertullian demonstrates that he did not break with orthodoxy where he formally articulates what he means by the Rule of Faith at least 3 times, of which one is made before his defense of Montanism and two are after. (pre-Montanism Praescr 13, after he began defending Montanism: Virg, 1, Prax 2).

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Audio for the Bible in the Original Lanugages

Hebrew Resources:

Academy of Ancient Languages Online Resources for Learning Ancient Languages has a page with mp3 audio files of Abraham Shmuelof 

Youtube resources on search "Hebrew audio bible biblia" catches OT read by A. Schmuelof and some others. It also retrieves modern Hebrew New Testament.

Hebrew Audio Bible New Testament playlist on Youtube

Greek Resources

Youtube Greek New Testament (TR) read with Modern Greek pronunciation.

Greek New Testament Audio dot Com mp3 audio files, modified Modern Greek pronunciation.

Aramaic Audio Bible 

Vulgate (New Testament)

Latin Audio Bible (Vulgata Latina) - Complete New Testament (NT) as MP3 - 260 files, one for each chapter

Précis: Apostolic Tradition and the Rule of Faith in Light of the Bauer Thesis (Bryan M Litfin)

A Précis of
Chapter 6 from
Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Contexts: Reconsidering the Bauer Thesis. edited by Paul A. Hartog, Pickwick Publications, Eugene, Oregon, 2015.

“Wide diversity of opinion about Jesus existed in the second and third centuries, and normative Christianity had not yet triumphed.” (p. 141) So in some places “What is now called ‘heresy’ did precede ‘orthodoxy’.” (p. 141) There is enough evidence of this in the post-Apostolic and ante-Nicene Fathers. However, Bauer’s Thesis requires that there was no consistent and and identifiably unique Christian confession or message in the first and second centuries that would later become identified by the term ‘orthodox.” His thesis also requires that the confession or message that became known as ‘orthodoxy’ developed after these other forms of christianities.  This view is also advance by his modern proponents, like Bart Ehrman, Helmut Koester, and Elaine Pagels.

But Bauer ignored the evidence from the first century, the texts of the New Testament. Litfin cite’s Bauer’s reason for rejecting this evidence:

“[T]he New Testament seems to be both too unproductive and too much disputed to be able to serve as a point of departure. The majority of its anti-heretical writings cannot be arranged with confidence either chronologically or geographically; nor can the more precise circumstances of their origin be determined with sufficient precision. It is advisable, therefore, first of all to interrogate other sources concerning the relationship of orthodoxy and heresy…” (Bauer, Orthodoxy and Heresy, xxv, cited by Litfin p. 144)

Litfin makes a terminological distinction to help the discussion. “Is expressing an interest in the life and teachings of Jesus sufficient to be designated Christian? Can one simply claim that title for oneself with no regard for what the term originally meant?.... Instead, we ought to examine the historical evidence to determine whether any strands among the second or third century  Jesus-Religions more faithfully represented the earliest known layers of Christian belief.” (p. 143)

Litfin uses ‘Jesus-Religions’ as a wide taxonomic grouping covering all early groups that claimed some affinity for or belief in the teachings or person of Jesus. He uses ‘Christianity’ for those groups who held to a certain unified core of stated beliefs about Jesus that are consistent with the preaching about Jesus in the New Testament.

The focus of the article is the development of Christian creeds, confessional statements about Christ, discernable principally from Paul’s writings, the Synoptic Gospels, and John.  The main method of argument is to use the works of historical critical scholars that demonstrate the historicity of these early confessions recorded in the New Testament text.

[A side note: Whether intended or not, this method of argument also very clearly demonstrates how weak and unsubstantiated so many of the bold assertions of historical critics actually are. The chief rhetorical value for using the term historical is its truth-claim, that it implies some kind of objective certainty about what can be known of the past. However, what one historical critic asserts with certainty (in this case Bauer and his proponents) others historical critics show as feeble and lacking in historical merit.]

Looking at what historical criticism has categorized under the term Kerygma to denote the message that was proclaimed, Litfin enlists the works of C.H. Dodd (The Apostolic Preaching and Its Development 1936), Oscar Cullman (The Earliest Christian Confessions 1949) J.N.D Kelly (Early Christian Creeds), Frederick Danker, Jaroslav Pelikan and many others. Litfin focuses especially on the work of James Dunn (Unity and Diversity in the New Testament 1977). Inside and outside of historical criticism these and other authors have highlighted that there is an identifiable, uniform, and unique message that can serve to identify what is Christian from what is not. That the main points of this message were used in the 1st century for that purpose.

The message centered on Jesus, His incarnation, birth, suffering, death, and the physical resurrection of His body, and His exaltation to the right hand of the Father.

Despite differences of emphasis or formulation within Christian groups of the 1st century, the New Testament shows that this core message was held by the church of Jerusalem, the Hellenistic Jews, and the Gentile Christians.

This is prior to the known development of gnostic systems which claimed to be Jesus-Religions. An essential difference between Christianity and gnostic groups is the proclamation of the physical resurrection of Jesus, held from the time of the Apostles by the Jerusalem Church, the Hellenistic Jewish believers, and the Gentile believers. Like their later inheritors, the earliest known gnostic groups denied the physical resurrection, and this denial places them outside of what the 1st century church defined as the Christian faith.

This core message is also at the heart of what later became termed orthodoxy. Though that term is a later development, the collection of beliefs it describes is earlier than the gnostic groups.

[Side note: remember that this is all based on Historical Critical presentations, which is helpful in demonstrating how susceptible these approaches are to ideological paradigms.]

Litfin then turns to examine the regula fide as it is expressed in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. “It will not come as a surprise to find that the regula fidei of the ‘orthodox’ Christians does in fact encapsulate” the set of teachings espoused in the kerygma of the Apostolic writings. (p. 161) “The best recent collection of relevant texts is that of Pelikan and Hotchkiss” supplemented by other texts listed on p. 162 fn 71.  Litfin created a chart that lists 18 specific items of teaching about God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Church, and includes explicit reference to Apostles/Tradition as an item. The other axis consists of 21 ante-Nicene chronologically ordered writings by 12 different authors/sources.

“[T]he same key ideas keep appearing over and over again (that is to say, the headings of the chart). Even if an author does not cite each and every concept when he mentions the Rule, a wider investigation of his treatise or corpus would reveal them in short order. Therefore the empty boxes [in the chart] do not indicate that the author did not believe the idea. The gaps merely reflect that many writers made passing reference to the rule in the course of their argumentation…” (p 162)

The chart demonstrates a consistent heritage from the Apostolic proclamation of the central teachings of what would be called orthodoxy. “This is the gospel, the good news of what ought to be called ‘Christianity’ Although Walter Bauer has helpfully reminded us of the many diverse opinions about Jesus in the ancient period [side note: which really never was an issue of controversy], we should discriminate carefully between them all, remembering that only one type was there at the beginning.” (p. 164)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Précis: “Orthodoxy,” “Heresy,” and Complexity: Montanism as a Case Study (Rex D Butler)

“Orthodoxy,” “Heresy,” and Complexity: Montanism as a Case Study (Rex D Butler)
A Précis of
Chapter 5 from
Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Contexts: Reconsidering the Bauer Thesis. edited by Paul A. Hartog, Pickwick Publications, Eugene, Oregon, 2015.

The group of Christians that later became known as “orthodox” are known from documentary evidence to have existed early, throughout a very widespread area, and and very consistent in the expression of their beliefs. Groups that are known as heretics from the early ages are almost universally later, show up as local phenomena, and differ greatly from one another as well as from the orthodox.

While the term “orthodox” was not used in Scripture or in wide use by the post-Apostolic Fathers until the 4th century, the terms “heresy” and “schism” were in use to describe departures from a normative body of teaching/doctrine of Scripture which the Apostles and post-Apostolic Fathers defended. “Such references to heresy, however, do not disprove the existence of orthodoxy but, rather, presuppose it…. Prior to the linguistic delineation of ‘orthodoxy’ and ‘heresy,’ Christian leaders nonetheless possessed and transmitted what they considered to be apostolic teachings and/or traditions….” (p. 117) And the body of these normative teachings is found in Scripture and in the documents of the early Church.

Butler examines Montanism in some detail because Bauer maintained that this movement was an example to fortify his thesis. However, Montanism was not early, beginning in the late 2nd century it comes after normative Christianity is already documented. Montanism in the late 2nd century is a purely local phenomenon, whereas normative Christianity is already established throughout the Mediterranean and the Near East. And while normative Christianity already has a body of accepted doctrine, Montanism maintained that it was new, and was itself open to new and divergent teachings.

“The new prophets’ messages were recorded, collected,and circulated; and, therefore, another, more serious charge was leveled against the Montanists: that they revered these writings as authoritative, like those written by the apostles.”(p. 125) Butler surveys the early church’s reaction to several of Montanism’s distinct teachings and practices-reaction to some of which was very mixed.

They were condemned as heretics, non-Christians, by assemblies prior to that of the Council of Iconium (ca. 230-235). Their non-biblical teaching on the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit was recognized as a false portrayal of the God of Scripture. Because they did not confess the Trinity accurately the Council of Iconium mandated that people coming from Montanism into the Church needed to be baptized. Their previous baptism in Montanism was not in the name of the true God even though they may have used the same words as Christ gave in Matthew 28. However the data about and from Montanism is more mixed than the declaration from the Council of Iconium might lead one to expect.

Butler reviews the reception of Montanism in North Africa, particularly by Tertullian, who embraced the New Prophecy, and in a writing titled the Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas. The issue with this document is that it shows signs of Montanist influence, but it does not clearly embrace Montanism. There are clear statements by the editor that show the influence of the New Prophecy. But it may be that the brand of Montanism that came to Carthage was much more orthodox in its teachings than that of Asia Minor.

Butler states: “Elsewhere, I have argued that if Montanism were anything other than theologically orthodox, it would not have attracted the adherence of Tertullian, who was a committed Christian apologist and polemicist. The rejection of Montanism, therefore, resulted from other issues-not heterodoxy, but heteropraxy; not incorrect doctrines, but unacceptable practices.”(p. 138)

Thus Montanism was rejected as heretical in Asia Minor, but was considered generally orthodox in North Africa. This may be due to a number of factors, including significant differences in teaching and practice between the two Montanist movements at these different locations.

“The complexities involved in the history of Montanism should not necessarily be construed to support the Bauer Thesis, but they do demonstrate the diversity within normative Christianity during its early centuries.”(p. 140) This also demonstrates that two groups having the same name may not be the same in teaching and practice. Thus it would hazardous to conclude that the Montanism condemned in Asia Minor as anti-Trinitarian is the same Montanism embraced by Tertullian, who himself remained a staunch Trinitarian and defender of orthodoxy.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Précis: Baur to Bauer and Beyond: Early Jewish Christianity and Modern Scholarship (William Varner)

Baur to Bauer and Beyond: Early Jewish Christianity and Modern Scholarship (William Varner)
A Précis of
Chapter 5 from
Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Contexts: Reconsidering the Bauer Thesis. edited by Paul A. Hartog, Pickwick Publications, Eugene, Oregon, 2015

The development, distribution, and character of Jewish Christianity in the 1st century and following represents a significant oversight on the part of Bauer and those embracing his thesis. Georg Streker wrote an appendix to the 1971 English translation of Bauer’s work titled “On the Problem of Jewish Christianity.” He followed the Bauer Thesis closely, and his presentation has been promoted by Bart Ehrman.

Streker and Ehrman basically ignored the literature on early Jewish Christianity. Varner surveys the traditional understandings of early Jewish Christian history and the distinctions between the Nazarenes and the Ebionites in early Christian writings. Some of the main modern period works treating the subject are:
FJA Hort’s 1894 Judaistic Christianity (Internet Archive)
J. Daniélou’s 1958 The Theology of Jewish Christianity (Engl. Tr. 1964)
HJ Schoeps 1949 Jewish Christianity: Factional Disputes in the Early Church (Engl. Tr. 1969) (Scribd link)
H Schonfield’s 1936 The History of Jewish Christianity (Internet Archive)
J Jocz 1949 The Jewish People and Jesus Christ

Varner traces the root of the Streker/Ehrman paradigm to Ferdinand Christian Baur’s Tübingen School Hypothesis. This view of church history uses selected aspects of the Clementine literature as its primary base. FC Baur pits Pauline (gentile) theology against Petrine (Jewish Christian) theology and finds a Hegelian synthesis of the two in Johannine theology. Varner turns to look at the common propositions between Baur, Bauer-Strecker, and Ehrman as well as their common neglect of widely documented contrary evidence in the early documents: for example, a focus exclusively on the Ebionites, neglecting mention of the Nazarenes and the historical migration and changes within Judaism and its ways of dealing with Jewish Christians after the destruction of the Temple and the failure of the Bar Kochba rebellion.

Varner then turns to present a summary of research on these questions that have been published after Ehrman’s first edition of Orthodoxy and Heresy (1996)  and his Lost Christianities (2003). This summary and the reading list points out many different helpful issues, particularly the need to be more accurate in describing the confessions and theologies of those casually labeled as Jewish or Jewish Christians in the first century.

“Erhman’s popular treatment of Jewish Christianity repeats the views of Strecker without directly acknowledging them. Ehrman’s discussion also suffers from a tendential bias by labeling all of early Jewish Christianity as ‘Ebionism.’ This is a patent anachronism that attaches to all early Jewish Christians the name of a group of Jewish believers that held aberrant views from the Jewish Christians known as ‘Nazarenes.’ Ignoring the important contributions of Justin Martyr, Ehrman does not even mention the ‘Nazarenes’ nor does he ever attempt to connect them with the pre-70 Jewish believers. By labeling them all as Ebionites, he prejudices the discussion to support his assumptions.” (p. 99)

Monday, June 12, 2017

Review: Michael Fox, Proverbs: An Eclectic Edition with Introduction and Textual Commentary, The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition, vol. 1.

Michael Fox, Proverbs: An Eclectic Edition with Introduction and Textual Commentary, The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition, vol. 1. Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, GA, 2015. 500 pages, $69.95.

Reviewer: Joe Abrahamson.

The Society for Biblical Literature published the first volume in The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition. I've only read a little bit so far, and Inter Library Loan doesn't allow me the time to pour through it. But my preliminary observations are: Fox was a great teacher, and he is an excellent writer. Though the volume is highly technical Fox is very good at presenting the manuscript evidence and its contexts in an understandable way. All of the relevant quotations from the Versions are presented in the original language and in English translation. This means that the reader can see not only the Syriac, Greek, Latin, Aramaic, but also see how Fox understands them.  Fox is very good about laying out his reasoning for his textual decisions in a clear way. In this alone he has raised the bar for presentation to a better standard.

Typesetting of Hebrew, Greek, and Syriac are beautifully done in clear, legible fonts.

The volume is in three sections: Introduction; Textual Commentary with Critical Text; and the Critical Text of Proverbs.

The Introduction alone makes this a worthwhile addition to the library of anyone pursuing Old Testament Exegesis, even if one’s focus is on other biblical books. It is here where Fox lays out in a very lucid manner the assumptions, materials, processes, tools, and scope of the Textual-Critical task. While the focus is, of course, on the book of Proverbs the matter at hand is dealing with manuscripts and the texts they convey. “The primary goal of The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition (HBCE) is to reconstruct the corrected archetypes of biblical books.” (p. 2) This means the most reasonable reconstruction of the Hebrew text from which our current Hebrew text and the Versions are derived. Fox states that this goal is more of a process to follow and not an expectation that the Critical Text that results from this would be fully accurate. He states: “I wish to be clear that the text I have produced, however successful, never had physical existence. It is a construct. It can be defined as proto-M as it should have been, the text the authors and editors wanted us to read. This goal is heuristic: approachable but not wholly attainable.” (p. 4-5)

The advantage that Fox has given the reader in his presentation is that he has made his cases in such a way that the reader can evaluate Fox as well as the evidence and make clear arguments where one would agree or disagree with Fox’s textual decisions.

The Introduction

The seventy-five page Introduction focuses first on the nature of Textual Criticism, then on the Hebrew texts and how they are handled, with special focus on Ketiv and Qere. Fox gathers together examples of different functions of Ketiv and Qere into handy tables. These are useful presentations of the evidence, Fox’s understanding of them, and how he deals with them. Fox turns to discuss the Versions: The Septuagint, the Peshitta, the Vulgate, and the Targumim. In this section on the Versions Fox discusses the nature of the relationships between the Versions and the Hebrew text.

The final section of the Introduction covers Policies and Procedures covers how Fox applies the tools and vocabulary of Textual Criticism and to clarify some important distinctions in Textual Criticism that often make things very complicated. This includes such points as textual agreement does not necessarily mean support of a variant; the assumption that a scribe knew the vocabulary he was copying; the distinction between a real variant and one that existed only in the mind of a scribe (thus copied into a manuscript without actual manuscript evidence) and other issues.

The Textual Commentary with Critical Text

The page layout for this section is well planned. The Critical Text appears at the top of the even pages with the Textual commentary below it and on the facing even page. Just enough of the Critical Text is included on the top of the even pages to balance out with the Textual Commentary. This eases reading, reducing the need for page flipping.

As noted above, Fox presents the Versions in their original language as well as in English translation.  

The Critical Text of Proverbs

The Critical Text of Proverbs starts at the right back cover making access to just the book of Proverbs in Hebrew both natural and handy. The Critical Text itself is free from extraneous markings making it distraction free. The textual notes are at the bottom of each page of the Critical Text marked by chapter and verse numbers. These present brief summaries of the textual evidences for Fox’s textual decisions.


Textual Criticism is exegetical. The exegete always brings his or her philosophical and theological background to the task. I would suggest that an exegete’s ability to see these personal assumptions and make the relevant assumptions clear in the discussion of an exegetical issue is a degree to which an exegete’s work might be considered objective.

Textual Criticism is exegetical. Textual Criticism involves the interpretation of not only one particular text, but of multiple manuscripts and Versions, each of which exhibit their own exegetical framework to a greater or lesser extent.

From the opening paragraph in his Preface Fox distinguishes his Textual Critical task from that of theological exegesis. Throughout the Introduction and Textual Commentary Fox’s ability to keep  careful and clear distinctions between the data, evidence, and the reasoning for his decisions makes his work accessible and useful to faith groups who may differ strongly on these issues.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Précis: Post-Bauer Scholarship on Gnosticism(s): The Current State of Our “Knowledge” (Carl B. Smith) (p. 60-88)

Post-Bauer Scholarship on Gnosticism(s): The Current State of Our “Knowledge” (Carl B. Smith) (p. 60-88)

A Précis of 

Chapter 3 from 
Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Contexts: Reconsidering the Bauer Thesis.  edited by Paul A. Hartog, Pickwick Publications, Eugene, Oregon, 2015.

Gnosticism as a pre-Christian religious movement holds a “crucial position in Bauer’s reconstruction. Essentially it was the heresy which preceded orthodoxy.”(p. 60-61) Bauer’s scholarship falls within the historical philosophy of the University of Göttingen’s Religionsgeschichtliche Schule. This school “postulated that Gnosticism was essentially the product of Eastern oriental influence which had deeply impacted the Hellenistic world and the later writings of the Old Testament and Judaism, as well as those of the New Testament and early Christianity.” (p. 77 my emphasis)

Smith reviews what was known about Gnosticism in Bauer’s time (particularly through writings of church fathers), the discoveries of “Gnostic” texts since his time, and the complex issues that have attended Gnostic studies as an academic field.

Smith focuses attention on the Nag Hammadi library discovery, publication, and the significant lack of unifying theme of the diverse works which might justify labeling the group of documents as Gnostic. Smith highlights three more discoveries of gnostic texts:
  1. The Gospel of Mary,
  2. the Secret Gospel of Mark, widely controversial because the text was seen by only one Scholar, Morton Smith of Columbia University. He published a scholarly work and a popular work on the manuscript and then the manuscript was lost. Many regard the gospel as inauthentic and others see it as an “important text in the transmission of Mark’s gospel.”(p. 66)
  3. and the Gospel of Judas.

Smith discusses the issues surrounding the Gospel of Thomas and the scholarly work identifying Sethian Gnosticism. The difficulty is that there is that the documents and the early church fathers do not testify to a unified doctrinal structure. This is in fact a basic problem in the study of Gnosticism.

The term Gnosticism itself was coined in the 17th century by Henry More, a rationalist Platonist theologian involved in promoting a Platonic interpretation of Kabbalah. More used the term to designate a broad group of diverse non-Christian movements from the 2nd century. The term Gnosticism was not used by any of these ancient movements as a self-description of their systems of ideas and practices.

Acknowledging the inaccuracy of the term Gnosticism Smith presents a summary of the research on the social history of Gnostics and Gnosticism focusing on the most clearly discernable movement of Sethianism, then Basilides, and Valentinus. There are serious questions as to whether Valentinus belongs in this category.

Smith turns to discuss the basic questions, terminology, origins and definitions of Gnosticism. “That a variety of religious groups existed in the ancient world who claimed to possess a special knowledge or ‘gnosis’ is also undisputed; however, the term is so commonly used and in so widely diverse manners that it is not a helpful term to delineate any specific movement of antiquity.” (p. 79) The term gnostic is of greater utility, though primarily a pejorative. It may have been used for self-description, but caution is warranted against overgeneralizing.

Today there are four basic categories of views regarding Gnosticism: 1) abandon the term and look for more finely and measurably defined categories such as biblical demiurgy, 2) view Gnosticism as “a religion in its own right” … “a dualistic religion of alienation, protest, and transcendence, which, though multifarious, adapted itself readily to other religious traditions, perhaps in a parasitic manner.”(p. 81) 3) limit claims and research to carefully distinguish that can be more rigorously tested, and 4) “isolate those individuals, groups, and texts in the ancient world which called themselves ‘gnostik’..., identified themselves as possessors of ‘gnosis,’ or were perceived by their contemporaries as making these claims.” (p. 82)

What is known from their adversaries and from writings about individuals or movements that are categorized as Gnostic tends strongly to date from the 2nd century. This undermines the Bauer Thesis which depended on Gnosticism (loosely defined) preceding the development of Christianity.