Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Treadwells Lecture: Gnostics: A Spotter's Guide, Pre-Lecture notes

I’m attending the following lecture tonight at Treadwells Bookshop:

05 January 11 (Wednesday)
Gnostics: A Spotter's Guide
Dr Jonathan Hill
Gnostics of the ancient world leave an intriguing body of texts and ideas - and incited horror in their detractors. But what was gnosticism in the first place, and where did it come from? What did the gnostics believe, and why? What do we know about them, and how? This talk introduces gnostics, the extreme radicals of the ancient world.  A religious and philosophy scholar, Dr Jonathan Hill studied and taught at Oxford University, and is the author of numerous books, including The Big Questions, The History of Christian Thought, The Crucible of Christianity, and Christianity: How a Despised Sect from a Minority Religion Came to Dominate the Roman Empire. He is a gifted and engaging speaker with a appreciation of the pagan ancient world, who returns to Treadwell's due to popular demand.
Price: £7.00
Time: 7.15 for a 7.30 start

Normally I write up lecture notes after the lecture is finished and publish them to my LiveJournal and BlogSpot accounts. However, since I’ve been doing some reading that overlaps with tonight’s lecture topic, I’m posting this as a reminder to myself to see if the lecture “Gnostics: A Spotter's Guide” will also make mention of Jewish Gnosticism.

I came across an interesting quote in Prof. Gershom G. Scholem’s book “Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition” pp. 33-34 he writes:

“The point that I wish to make is this: In the few details that I have described, we have demonstrated proof of the contact with non-Jewish conceptions; and every analysis of the texts furnishes still more material of the same character. But it is essential to note that this contact is always with Hellenistic (specifically, Hellenistic-Egyptian) elements, and that not a single Christian element appears in them. There is no reason whatever to assume that Christian descriptions of such ascents to heaven have been judaized. The logical conclusion seems to be, given the historical circumstances, that, initially, Jewish esoteric tradition absorbed Hellenistic elements similar to those we actually find in Hermetic writings. Such elements entered Jewish tradition before Christianity developed, or at any rate before Christian Gnosticism as a distinctive force came in to being. Later, when Judaism and Christianity finally parted ways, these elements, whose development, once borrowed, had been within and in the manner of a distinctly Jewish esotericism, were taken over in to Christianity and into early Gnostic circles, rather than the reverse. It is difficult to assume that during the period of extreme strain between the Synagogue and the Church in the second century, Jews who were bent upon keeping their distinctly Jewish character would borrow from Christian circles. And indeed, as I have said, there is no evidence for such borrowings. The contrary, however, would be easily explained by the steady stream of converts from Judaism to Christianity, some of whom could have been recipients of Jewish esoteric doctrine. I shall return to this point, to which I have attached much relevance, at a later stage.”