Review Of "A Separate God: The Christian Origins Of Gnosticism" By S. Pétrement, Translated By C. Harrison

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It has become an accepted doctrine that Gnosticism predated Christianity and had its roots in Zoroastrian dualism. This book is a sustained argument to the contrary, and for the view that Gnosticism is a Christian heresy. Indeed, it is the most forceful argument for this position in recent times. Pétrement contends that Gnosticism had its origin in early Christianity as it sought to differentiate itself from Judaism. While holding to the importance of the Old Testament, the first Gnostics asserted the supremacy of Christianity by degrading the God of the Old Testament to a separate and lowered status. The author believes they found resources for this task in Pauline and Johannine literature. She further argues that there is little influence from pagan and Jewish sources upon later Gnostic systems, which are best understood as the unfolding of a dynamic already begun. This is a very different kind of study from Giovanni Filoramo's A History of Gnosticism (CH, Jun'91). Filoramo is not primarily interested in the origins of Gnosticism as such, but focuses on the internal structures of the various systems. He does, however, provide a discussion of how Gnostic systems might have answered the existential needs of the late classical world. Alternatively, Pétrement concentrates on historical lineage; thus, these two works complement each other nicely. Pétrement is a well known and respected French historian of classical thought and early Christianity. Good, readable translation. Notes and index, but no bibliography. Highly recommended for graduate and faculty readership.


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