Religion 222b, Haverford College


Prof. Anne McGuire, Spring 2008 



This is the entry page for Religion 222a, Gnosticism, available at The full course syllabus for this course is available only through Blackboard and within the Tri-College network at This class has a limited enrollment of 20. Lottery results will be posted in Chase (first floor) and on the Registrar's web page.

Course Description

This course offers a critical examination of "Gnosticism" and the texts of the Nag Hammadi library. While the meaning and usefulness of the category "Gnosticism" are currently under debate among scholars, we'll use the term "Gnosticism" in this course to designate a religious movement that flourished in the ancient Mediterranean world of the second to fourth centuries C.E, and has reappeared in various forms and found expression in many sources. Crucial to these sources is an emphasis on the saving power of "gnosis," a particular kind of esoteric or secret knowledge, grounded in spiritual experience and/or in revelations of the divine. Readings in the course will focus on the ancient evidence for Gnosticism, especially the writings of the Nag Hammadi library, discovered in 1945, as well as recent scholarly studies. The primary goals of the course are to develop the skills of reading and analysing Gnostic texts critically and to become familiar with the varieties of Gnostic thought, especially those of the Valentinian school, the Thomas traditions, Sethianism, and contemporary forms of Gnosis. We will also consider efforts to relate the evidence for "Gnosticism" to other varieties of religious thought, including Platonism, Christianity, and Judaism. Throughout the course, we will explore the literary form of the texts, their uses of gender imagery, and their varying conceptions of gnosis, salvation, and union with the divine.

Required Readings

Required Readings, available for purchase in Haverford College Bookstore:

Course Outline

    1. Introduction to the Course: What is Gnosticism?
    2. Knowledge of the Self and Salvation in the Thomas Traditions
    3. The Creation of the 'Gnostic' World: Plato, Genesis, and the Myth of Sophia in Sethian Gnosis
    4. Creation and Redemption in the Thought of Valentinus and his School
    5. Gnosticism and Gnosis in the Contemporary World; Topics in the Study of Gnosticism


T 1/22 Introduction to the Course: What is Gnosticism? Definitions, Origins, Approaches

Th 1/24 "Gnosticism" as System of Thought, Religious Movement, Modern Construct; Major Varieties of "Gnosticism"

II. Knowledge of the Self and Salvation in the Thomas Traditions (1/29-19)

T 1/29 Self and Salvation in the Thomas Traditions: The Gospel of Thomas and The Hymn of the Pearl

Th 1/31 Creation and Redemption in the Gospel of Thomas

  • Recommended for further reading: Other translations of GThomas available online:
  • Gospel of Thomas trans. by Stephen Patterson and Marvin Meyer
  • For further reading assignments, see the full syllabus within the Tri-Co network at:

    Return to Dept. of Religion Home Page

    This page maintained by, Last updated 1/22/08