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April De Conick


April D. De Conick

What does second-century Valentinian Gnosticism have to do with the historical origins of the worship of Jesus? Much more than might meet the eye. Valentinianism, far from being a heresy which diverged from so-called "mainstream" Christianity, is one of the earliest Alexandrian schools of Christian theology, perhaps beginning as early as 117 C.E. Valentinian teachings drew from a deep reservoir of imagery common to Judaism, particularly imagery about the esoteric Temple. Drawing from this reservoir of imagery, the Valentinians created cosmological structures and Christological doctrines which centred around the Jewish traditions of a heavenly Temple in which God's manifestation or Kavod dwells. Thus, in order to fully comprehend the Valentinian portrait of Jesus, we must situate Valentinian teachings within this broader religio-historical horizon. When placed within this context, we will see that Valentinian teachings about Jesus preserve some very old Christological moments.

Summary of response by Crispin H. T. Fletcher-Louis:

De ConickÕs paper is important for two reasons. (1) It takes seriously the role of the temple and its mythological cosmology within Jewish thought. There are good grounds for thinking that gnosticism emerges from a collapse of apocalyptic hopes, which also relied on that mythology. (2) Within the tradition of scholarship which has given due weight to the role of Jewish mysticism in Jewish and Christian origins (Scholem, Quispel, Fossum, Rowland, Segal et al.), the direction taken by this paper also marks an important move towards a clearer socio-historical location of one particular manifestation of Jewish mysticism--second century gnosticism.

In a fuller form of De ConickÕs thesis there needs to be a closer attention to the differences between temple cosmology in gnostic and pre-gnostic traditions. Both at the level of particular details and larger theological structure, in order to avoid being guilty of parallelomania De Conick needs to lay out the ideological particularities of the temple traditions in their gnostic form over against second Temple Jewish mythology. In the meantime De ConickÕs thesis that Valentinian gnosticism drew heavily upon a cosmology indebted to the Israelite temple is thoroughly cogent.

(c) 1998
Reproduction beyond fair use only on permission of the authors.

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