A Short Review of A. H. B. Logan and A. J. M. Wedderburn’s “The New Testament and Gnosis: Essays in Honour of Robert McL. Wilson”

Logan, A. H. B., and A. J. M. Wedderburn, eds. The New Testament and Gnosis: Essays in Honour of Robert McL. Wilson. London; New York: T&T Clark, 2004.

Alastair H. B. Logan is retired Senior Lecturer in Theology at the University of Exeter and has written extensively on the history and development of Gnosticism, including its points of contact with early Christianity. Alexander J. M. Wedderburn is retired Professor of New Testament at the University of Munich and has several published works in the areas of Gnosticism, New Testament theology, and early Christian historiography.

The various contributors to this Festschrift for Robert McLachlan Wilson collectively explore the implications of Gnosis and Gnosticism for New Testament studies without isolating the respective texts and ideologies from their social and religious contexts. Logan and Wedderburn begin with a description and rationale for the thematic arrangement of the contributors’ content in the current volume, including the overarching layout of the book in its three parts. Chapter 1 serves as James M. Robinson’s introduction and survey of the book’s contents as well as a general state of research regarding Gnosis and Gnosticism in light of the Nag Hammadi discovery. He articulates the obvious importance of the Nag Hammadi texts for Gnosticism studies but also surveys the ways in which biblical scholarship has incorporated the Nag Hammadi texts in recent years in the form of NT introductions (2). Drawing from other essay contributors in the current volume, he engages the shifts in Gnosticism studies over the course of the twentieth century.

Part 1 of the book begins with Kurt Rudolph’s endeavor to define and set some proposed scholarly boundaries on the terms “Gnosis” and “Gnosticism.” He critiques Wilhelm Bousset’s view that “Gnosis” began in a “pure” pre-Christian form only to later refine into more developed systems regarded properly as “Gnosticism” (22). Rather, Rudolph proposes a view closer to that of Wilson, who held that Gnosis (or, pre-Gnosis) arose contemporaneously with the Christian movement (23). Ugo Bianchi’s essay (chapter 3) reiterates Wilson’s warning against reading “Gnostic doctrines and myths into texts belonging to the first century A.D.” (33).

In chapter 4, Gilles Quispel examines the interrelationship between Judaism, Judaic Christianity, and Gnosis, noting the material in the Gospel of Thomas that evinces Judaic-Christian underpinnings (47). Quispel then argues for a Christian-influenced Gnosis but also acknowledges Philo’s exegetical contribution to the Gnostic understanding of key OT passages (60-61). Quispel concludes that many of the elements that would later culminate in Gnosticism were incipient in Judaic and Christian traditions (63). This is followed by Matthew Black’s brief examination of the name and etymology of the Gnostic Demiurge Jaldabaoth in chapter 5.

Birger A. Pearson then continues Quispel’s earlier inquiry and expands upon Philo’s relationship with the NT writings as each body of writings relate to Gnosis. He asserts that the Corinthian church’s dilemma to which Paul writes in 1 Corinthians is explicable by examining the Hellenistic-Judaic writings of Philo (77). Alexander Böhlig concludes Part 1 with his examination of the influence that Christian soteriology had on the Manichean myth by comparing the two systems (92). He makes clear that the dualisms of Manicheism is intertwined with Christian doctrine (cf. Col 3:9) in order to formulate Mani’s system of belief (101).

Part 2 begins with Walter Schmithals’ essay on Gnosis in the Pauline and “deutero-Pauline” letters. Schmithals traces Pauline scholarship beginning with Schmidt (1804) and Schleiermacher (1807) in order to distinguish between Paul’s polemic in the undisputed letters and the anti-Gnostic sentiment in the disputed letters. In chapter 9, C. K. Barrett examines the “Gnostic and anti-Gnostic” tendencies found in the Apocalypse of John (127). In chapter 10, Frederik Wisse decries his previous generation’s state of Gnosticism research where scholars focused on the heresiologists’ (e.g., Justin Martyr) interactions and attacks on Gnosticism as the basis for modern study. Wisse is followed by Elaine Pagels’ interpretive survey of marital controversies in the second century. Robert M. Grant’s contribution in chapter 12 explores the social statuses of the members of the Christian and Gnostic movements (182).

Martin Krause’s essay begins the third and final part of the book with his argument that the Nag Hammadi codices display evidence of the addition of Christian elements to purely non-Christian Gnostic texts as well as the removal of Christian elements from others (187). He believes Egypt would have been the ideal setting for such textual enhancements due to the two ideologies’ accommodation to one another (187-188). He then suggests the application of “objective criteria” in order to parse the texts for scholarly research but concludes by inviting Egyptologists to take this mantle (189, 193). In chapter 14, Helmut Koester extracts three parables from the Gospel of Thomas and examines them alongside the same (or like) parables from the Synoptic Gospels. He addresses the nature of the cited material in the parables, concluding that the Gospel of Thomas exhibits citations strictly from memory (194, 201).

Eric Segelberg in chapter 15 addresses similar issues for the Gospel of Philip, namely, the influence and/or use of the NT (and OT) in the book. He concludes by acknowledging a relationship to the OT and NT in the Gospel of Philip albeit inclusive of another “more authoritative sacred source” (212). Hans-Martin Schenke’s contribution in chapter 16 presents the importance of the Book of Thomas for NT studies. He refers to the book as “a magnifying glass or mirror for New Testament problems, methods, and theories” (213). Yvonne Janssens concludes the book with a look at the Trimorphic Protennoia for understanding John’s Gospel.

Logan and Wedderburn have assembled a thoroughgoing state of research pertaining to the study of Gnosticism as it bears especially upon New Testament studies. The contributing authors clearly engage the previous generations’ research and conclusions while correcting misconceptions. Pagels’ essay regrettably (and ironically) touches comparatively little Gnostic texts when set against the other chapters in the book (e.g., Schmithals’ essay) and comes across as caustic at times, especially the closing paragraphs. The contributions of Krause and Koester are among the more enlightening, however, with each exploring specific and direct relationships between the NT and Nag Hammadi texts.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s