Book Reviews

Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism, and Early Christianity, Ed. by Charles W. Hedrick & Robert Hodgson, Jr. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts; 1986. 332 pp., $14.95 (paper). (Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko.)

Gnosticism was a heresy which appeared in the early church and against which the church had a long and bitter struggle before victory was achieved. Its basic character was its synthesis of Christianity, Oriental mysticism and pagan philosophy; and because of this character, its threat was a synthesizing of Christianity with pagan thought, which would have destroyed Christianity. In many respects, it is similar to today’s more liberal ecumenical movements which seek to unite oriental religions, Mohammedanism, Judaism, and Christianity into one world-wide religion.

No writings of Gnostic thinkers were thought to be extant, and all the knowledge which the church possessed of Gnosticism came from the early church fathers who wrote against it in defense of Christianity. The result was that large gaps remained in an understanding of Gnosticism. Some are of the opinion that some early forms of Gnosticism were present during the Apostolic Era and that Paul (e.g., in Col. 2:20-23) and John (e.g., in I John 1:1-3) were writing against these errors.

In 1945 archeologists discovered the so-called Nag Hammadi library (hence the title of this book) in the desert south and east of Palestine, in the same general area in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. This library contained 53 Gnostic works written by Gnostic thinkers. It stands to reason, of course, that this material is invaluable to those who are interested in this ancient heresy, for it gives scholars a great deal of information hitherto unavailable, and brings new light upon Gnostic thought.

In 1983 at Springfield, Missouri, a Working Seminar was held to give preliminary attention to these new discoveries of Gnostic literature. Thirteen scholars who had had access to the Nag Hammadi library presented papers. This book is an edited version of those papers. While some of the material is technical, the book contains current thinking about Gnosticism in the light of these new findings. While not all will be interested in this material, the book is important for colleges and Seminaries. It is a must for those who wish to keep abreast of current Gnostic studies.