The Bible and Beyond Podcast Episode
The Secret Behind the Secrets in So-Called Gnosticism
An interview with Dr. Nicola Denzey Lewis
Nicola Denzey Lewis helps crack the code on perplexing questions about so-called ‘Gnosticism.’ Where is it from? What is it about? Why the secrets? Her own story about how she got involved explains why it is appealing to some and unnerving to others. She explains why it was such an important part of the development of Christianity in the second century and how it wrestled with major philosophical questions related to creation and the meaning of evil.
Professor Nicola Denzey Lewis is currently teaching at Claremont Graduate University as the Margo L. Goldsmith Chair in Women’s Studies in Religion, having served as department chair from 2018 to 2020. Nicola has received several fellowships, including from the American Academy of Religion and Harvard Divinity School, and several honors, including Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition.
Her book, Introduction to ‘Gnosticism’ (Oxford University Press, 2013) is the focus of our podcast conversation on the topic of Christian movements previously deemed ‘Gnosticism.’ Her other important works include The Bone Gatherers (Beacon, 2007); Cosmology and Fate in Gnosticism and Graeco-Roman Antiquity (Brill, 2013); and most recently, The Early Modern Invention of Late Antique Rome, (Cambridge University Press, 2020).
Lewis has appeared on several TV and radio programs that have aired on the BBC, CNN, The National Geographic Channel, and the History Channel.
I found this discussion fascinating and helpful as it was confirming re: the pluriformity of earliest Christianity. However, as one who has studied the Dead Sea Scrolls, I disagree that they confirm the traditional reading — i.e., the Masoretic text. In actuality, what the DSS reveal is the pluriformity of the texts that would later be collected in the various anthologies we call the Bible. Eugene Ulrich’s work, along with many other scholars–including Emanuel Tov–clearly demonstrate that the MT should not be prioritized regarding the texts that existed in last half of the Second Temple Period.
Hi Brian, thanks for your input. I’m happy to be corrected on this point; I’m not a DSS scholar, and I was repeating something I learned some time ago, so it’s entirely possible I was wrong. I will say that I agree with you that the DSS gives us a multiplicity of Second Temple Period texts of various types, but I was under the impression that when it came to the actual scrolls with copies of texts that are in the HB, that there was very little scribal error between those texts and much later critical editions. Again — this could be wrong; I’ll cede to DSS scholars.
What a treat to listen in on this conversation! I have a copy and have read Nicola Denzey Lewis’s book – I highly recommend it!
When listening, I was struck by your description of the gnosis texts as “stop-gaps” to the Hebrew Bible stories – a way of addressing the unanswered questions that arise – in this instance the Secret Revelation of John as a stop-gap to the Genesis creation stories. This reminded me of the continuing practice over hundreds of years of Jewish scribes writing down their oral traditions and biblical exegeses and commentaries on the Hebrew Bible, and preserving them as found in the Mishnah, and then the Gemara (i.e., the Talmud). How I wish these Christian non-canonical texts could be viewed and honored in the same authoritative way because the Talmud holds a central position in Jewish scriptural study.