Gnosticism: From Nag Hammadi to the Gospel of Judas

Rated 5 out of 5 by from That other world Plainspoken full account of one variety of the phenomenon of 'the other world.' Would like to see two companion courses: on shamanism, and a neuropsychological exploration of why 'the other world' is universal in human experience.
Date published: 2020-07-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incredible! I love this teacher. He is the kind of professor everybody lines up for. Great class will expand your mind about early Christianity and the influences on it over the first few hundred years.
Date published: 2020-07-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Interesting! I have always been curious about early Christianity and heard about Gnosticism a few years ago. When I saw this course I saw it as a great opportunity to learn about it and boy did I! Dr David Brakke does a great job explaining the variations of Gnosticism. I came away with a much better view of the turmoil in the early Christian religion. I recommend this course to anyone who is interested in the development of Christianity.
Date published: 2020-06-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good instructor The instructor is well informed. The subject is very interesting. Each session is well developed. The only problem was a bad disc.
Date published: 2020-05-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I would give it a 10. These lectures cast a wide net over gnosticism, the idea that it is possible for one "to know." Gnosticism in the early centuries included Jews, Christians, Platonists, and hermeticists. They widely disagreed with each other on various points but equally held some very important agreements as well. I found all of this extremely interesting and it helped direct me to other studies which might enhance my learning. I was impressed by Brakke's explanation of Plotinus who I actively study as being 'right on' and to the point. To enjoy these lectures one must be open-minded and have a sense of curiosity regarding the many ways very intelligent people of the past have envisioned reality. If you are on a search for the Real, these lectures could be very helpful. Brakke chooses his words very carefully and represents various viewpoints while not allowing his explanation to be contaminated with his own bias. He makes that quite clear. I have the greatest respect for his teaching abilities as well as for his vast knowledge.
Date published: 2020-03-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from It is very interesting topic I took pretty good knowledge about difficult subject for The Catholic Church
Date published: 2020-03-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Course! I have now watched each episode more than three times. As a scholar of early Christianity, even still these videos helpfully organize and explicate impenetrably difficult materials. I feel that I am FINALLY breaking through to an understanding of these incredibly important people and texts. Thank you, David!
Date published: 2020-02-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A very clear exposition of a fascinating subject I have learned various details of Gnosticism before but this course provides a great framework for understanding those details. Yet another Great Course (I’ve taken about 25 in the past 20 years)—I’ve never been disappointed.
Date published: 2019-11-15
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Gnosticism: From Nag Hammadi to the Gospel of Judas
Course Trailer
Rediscovering Gnosis
1: Rediscovering Gnosis

Begin by exploring the key tenets of the religious movements of ancient Gnosticism, centered in the concept of gnosis, or direct, personal knowledge of God. Learn about the exciting 1945 discovery of the Nag Hammadi codices, a large cache of ancient manuscripts representing four diverse Gnostic traditions.

33 min
Who Were the Gnostics?
2: Who Were the Gnostics?

The 2nd-century writings of Irenaeus constitute one of the early sources on Gnosticism. Here, investigate whether Irenaeus's claim that the Gnostics deviated from an original Christian truth is accurate. Then learn what Irenaeus tells us about the Gnostics' beliefs, and how he helps us to identify key Gnostic texts.

31 min
God in Gnostic Myth
3: God in Gnostic Myth

The Secret Book According to John is the most important surviving Gnostic text. Explore the Gnostic conception of God in this book, as a complex intellect consisting of numerous aspects called "aeons." Learn how the God of Genesis, viewed by the Gnostics as a lesser, imperfect divinity, came into being.

32 min
Gnosticism on Creation, Sin, and Salvation
4: Gnosticism on Creation, Sin, and Salvation

Continuing with the Secret Book, study the text's retelling of the Genesis story, which presents the creation of humanity and the biblical Flood as the work of the false god Ialdaboath, who acts to prevent human beings from knowing their true nature. Learn also about salvation as envisioned in the Secret Book.

31 min
Judas as a Gnostic Tragic Hero
5: Judas as a Gnostic Tragic Hero

The Gnostic Gospel of Judas differs significantly from the portrayal of Judas in the New Testament. Discover the Gnostic account, which recasts both the actions of Judas and his role in God's larger plan, predicting an important role for Judas in the coming kingdom of God while criticizing the other disciples.

31 min
Gnostic Bible Stories
6: Gnostic Bible Stories

The Gnostic texts The Revelation of Adam and The Reality of the Rulers rewrite the early chapters of Genesis. Examine how the texts reformulate the story of the Creation, Noah and the Flood, and the question of who will be saved, placing the Gnostics themselves within Genesis and linking the stories to their salvation.

31 min
Gnosticism's Ritual Pathway to God
7: Gnosticism's Ritual Pathway to God

Here, explore Gnostic conceptions regarding direct knowledge of God. First, learn about ritual baptism and hymn singing in Gnosticism, and their promise of gnosis. Then study texts that illustrate two ways of knowing God; one, a journey upward through the cosmic heavens, the other through interior contemplation of one's own intellect.

33 min
The Feminine in Gnostic Myth
8: The Feminine in Gnostic Myth

Gnosticism is known among the ancient religions for its prominent number of female deities and divinities. Look at three examples of the feminine in Gnostic texts-the feminine divine, the feminine revealer, and the feminine heroine-to assess the nature and role of the female principle within the Gnostic tradition.

31 min
The Gospel of Thomas's Cryptic Sayings
9: The Gospel of Thomas's Cryptic Sayings

The Gospel According to Thomas is the most famous of the ancient documents discovered at Nag Hammadi. Learn how the text comprises sayings of Jesus that the reader must seek to understand. Observe how the gospel rejects the teaching of a future kingdom of God, contending instead that the kingdom is within us.

33 min
The Gospel of Thomas on Reunifying the Self
10: The Gospel of Thomas on Reunifying the Self

Explore core religious concepts in the Thomas gospel, highlighting its view of salvation as the overcoming of divisions, finding unity with oneself and with Jesus. Investigate the symbolic role of baptism in stripping away the old self and healing dualities, and study the gospel's advice on how to live in the world.

30 min
Valentinus, Great Preacher of Gnosis
11: Valentinus, Great Preacher of Gnosis

The second century theologian Valentinus used the Gnostic myth in creating a powerful Christian movement. Here, learn how Valentinus modified Gnostic teachings in ways appealing to early Christians. Grasp how his spirituality invited followers to find true gnosis in Jesus and to experience God directly, intimately, and joyfully.

33 min
God and Creation in Valentinian Myth
12: God and Creation in Valentinian Myth

Study how Valentinus's radical spirituality spread, and how the movement interacted with other contemporary forms of Christianity. Then investigate its mythological construct of the universe as composed of three elements: matter, spirit, and soul. One of these predominates in each individual human being, crucially influencing their spiritual destiny.

34 min
"Becoming Male" through Valentinian Ritual
13: "Becoming Male" through Valentinian Ritual

This lecture explores the extraordinary power and import of the Valentinian sacraments. Grasp the symbolism of the Eucharist and the complex ritual of baptism, as they represent resurrection and salvation. Study the Valentinian conception of salvation as a healing of the schism between our angelic and human (or female/male) selves.

32 min
Valentinian Views on Christian Theology
14: Valentinian Views on Christian Theology

To fully comprehend Valentinian teachings, we must place them within the context of the diverse Christian beliefs of their time. Delve into the Valentinian views of the resurrection, the relevance of the Jewish Bible, and the authority of Valentinus's knowledge, noting essential differences with the Christian thinking that later became orthodoxy.

33 min
Mary Magdalene as an Apostle of Gnosis
15: Mary Magdalene as an Apostle of Gnosis

The figure of Mary Magdalene appears prominently in Valentinian and other so-called "heretical" writings. In assessing her significance within these traditions, contrast her portrayal in the canonical gospels with the non-canonical Gospel According to Mary, which reveals key evidence regarding the role of women in early Christianity and the nature of religious authority.

32 min
Competing Revelations from Christ
16: Competing Revelations from Christ

The Nag Hammadi codices contain numerous texts called "revelations" or "secret books." Here, explore three such texts, the Revelation of Paul, the Revelation of Peter, and the Secret Book of James, as they propound theological views that challenged and in some cases sharply criticized the emerging orthodox church and its leaders.

31 min
The Invention of Heresy
17: The Invention of Heresy

The teachings of the Gnostics and Valentinians were later condemned as heresy. But how did the idea of heresy arise within Christianity? Learn about the "invention" of heresy by theologians such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Study what Irenaeus opposed in Gnostic/Valentinian spirituality, and the core features of his vision of Christianity.

33 min
Making Gnosis Orthodox
18: Making Gnosis Orthodox

Also opposing the Gnostics and Valentinians were Christian teachers who claimed to offer a gnosis that was faithful to the teachings of the emerging church. Encounter the work of Clement and Origen, visionary theologians who encouraged Christians to move beyond mere faith to a deeper understanding of the mysteries of God and the universe.

34 min
Gnosticism and Judaism
19: Gnosticism and Judaism

Begin to investigate the significance of Gnosticism for religions other than Christianity. Look into why some historians believe that Gnosticism began as a Jewish religious movement and only later included Jesus, as well as the arguments against this view, in grasping how emerging Judaism was part of the story of Gnosticism.

32 min
Gnosis without Christ
20: Gnosis without Christ

Two non-Jewish, non-Christian philosophical movements also responded to the ideas of the Gnostics. Study the tenets of Hermeticism, whose sacred texts offered an intellectual and philosophical path to gnosis. Learn also about Neo-Platonism, whose conception of gnosis emphasized our essential connection to God and the possibility of divine union now.

34 min
The Mythology of Manichaeism
21: The Mythology of Manichaeism

Historians have often depicted the religious movement of Manichaeism as the culmination of ancient Gnosticism. Investigate Manichaeism's extraordinarily complex mythology-envisioning reality as a struggle between cosmic forces of Light and Darkness-its conception of salvation, and the structural hierarchy through which Manichaeism became a highly organized international religion.

32 min
Augustine on Manichaeism and Original Sin
22: Augustine on Manichaeism and Original Sin

St. Augustine, one of the most important figures in the history of Christianity, was a Manichaean before becoming a Christian. Observe how Augustine, as a Christian, vehemently opposed Manichaean views of God, good, and evil, and how he developed his teaching on original sin in response to what he had learned in Manichaeism.

33 min
Gnostic Traces in Western Religions
23: Gnostic Traces in Western Religions

Key ideas from ancient Gnosticism persisted into the Middle Ages and beyond. Learn about Mandeanism, one of the oldest still existing religions of the Middle East; the mystical theology of Evagrius; the medieval Cathars; and Jewish Kabbalah. Trace the connections between these esoteric forms of spirituality and the Gnostics.

35 min
"Gnosticism" in the Modern Imagination
24: "Gnosticism" in the Modern Imagination

Finally, uncover Gnostic themes in the science fiction novels of Philip K. Dick and the films Blade Runner and The Matrix, and learn about the contemporary Gnostic Christian Church. Consider what truly links the religious movements we've studied, and what their ultimate message to us may be.

34 min
David Brakke

What the people we will study would want us to do is to read their texts, to consider with open minds what they teach us, and-just possibly-to pursue our own quests for the truth about God and ourselves-that is, to seek our own gnosis.


Yale University


The Ohio State University

About David Brakke

Professor David Brakke is the Joe R. Engle Chair in the History of Christianity and Professor of History at The Ohio State University. He received his B.A. in English from the University of Virginia, his M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and his Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Yale University. He taught for 19 years in the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University.

Professor Brakke has published extensively on the history and literature of ancient Christianity, especially Egyptian Christianity, early monasticism, the formation of the biblical canon, and Gnosticism. His books include The Gnostics: Myth, Ritual, and Diversity in Early Christianity; Demons and the Making of the Monk: Spiritual Combat in Early Christianity; and Introduction to Christianity, with Mary Jo Weaver. He has co-edited six volumes of scholarly essays and contributed nearly 40 articles to professional journals and volumes. From 2005 to 2015, he served as editor of the Journal of Early Christian Studies.

At Indiana University, Professor Brakke received recognition for his teaching and research, including the Outstanding Junior Faculty Award. He has held several important fellowships, including ones from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. He is currently preparing a revised edition of Bentley Layton's The Gnostic Scriptures.

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