Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Einar Thomassen: Spiritual Seed--The Church of the Valentinians

Einar Thomassen's book The Spiritual Seed: The Church of the Valentinians was released in paperback (2008) by Brill as "an experiment" (I asked about it at a recent book display) which is commendable. Here are some reasons to read it:

'Einar Thomassen's The Spiritual Seed is a magisterial work, the most comprehensive and authoritative study of Valentinian Christianity now available. Through his close readings of the often fragmentary ancient sources, Thomassen pieces together a compelling reconstruction of the history, teachings, and rituals of this fascinating branch of the early Christian movement. The book concludes with an original portrait of Valentinus himself. Newcomers to the study of Valentinianism will profit from the book's clear introduction to the important questions and figures, while specialists will find fresh insights and seasoned judgments on nearly every page. This is the one book that anyone interested in Valentinian Christianity should read.'
David Brakke, Indiana University

At slightly over 500 pages, Einar Thomassen's The Spiritual Seed: The Church of the "Valentinians" is by far the most important, thorough, and authoritative treatment of Valentinian Christianity in the 60 years since the publication of François Sagnard's La gnose valentinienne et le témoignage de saint Irenée in 1947. Its 32 chapters contain an exhaustive and careful analysis of all extant Valentinian literature from the Nag Hammadi library, the commentaries of Heracleon, Theodotus' Excerpts, and Ptolemy's Letter to Flora, and all the patristic testimonies that in turn were based on nearly a score of no-longer extant texts, well as all the fragmentary but non-systematic remains of psalms, homilies and letters that can be attributed to Valentinus himself. […] All-in-all, this clearly and patiently written work is a "blockbuster" that now gives a reliable account of Valentinian theology, ritual, and intellectual history. The Spiritual Seed is now the definitive treatment of Valentinianism and its biblical and philosophical bases, a "must have" for all scholars-and their research libraries-of ancient Gnosticism, second-century Christian history and thought, and historians of later Greek philosophy.
John D. Turner, University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

Philip Tite of Willamette reviewed it in 2009 for the Journal of Ecclesiastical History (60, 4) 755-758, describing it as an important and inspirational contribution locating Valentinianism within the philosophical movements of the second to the fourth centuries. Nevertheless, there are surprising omissions. For example, while the author had published elsewhere an important essay on the topic, a delineation of a corpus of Valentinian sources was missing from the book. Certain sources are favored whilst others are ignored without explanation. Using Theodotus and the Tripartate Tractate for an understanding of eastern Valentinianism, for example, is not persuasive. Social processes (community formations, gender roles, inter- and intra-group dynamics and cultural accommodations or resistance) are also not (yet) taken into account (cf the work of Henry Green and, more recently, Ismo Dunderberg). 

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