Pseudonymity, Gnosis, and the Self in Gnostic Literature

in Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?


Why did Sethian gnostic authors write pseudonymously? In addition to making a claim to authority, gnostic pseudepigraphy, exemplified by The Three Tablets of Seth, was multiple and performative, implying that the self is multiple—a manifestation of selfhood at different levels of a single reality—and that performing one’s self as multiple provides a path to higher knowledge of one’s self and thus of God. That is, gnostic pseudonymity stems from a distinctive understanding of the self and functions as a mystical practice that performs that understanding. The eschewal of pseudonymity in Valentinian literature reflects different conceptions of the self and of the path to gnosis.


AlandKurt, '“The Problem of Anonymity and Pseudonymity in Christian Literature of the First Two Centuries”' (1961) n.s. 12 Journal of Theological Studies: 39-49.

BrakkeDavid, The Gnostics: Myth, Ritual, and Diversity in Early Christianity, (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2010).

BrakkeDavid, '“Early Christian Lies and the Lying Liars Who Wrote Them: Bart Ehrman’s Forgery and Counterforgery”' (2016) 96 Journal of Religion: 378-90.

ClaudePaul, Les trois stèles de Seth: Hymne gnostique à la triade (NHC VII,5)., (Les Presses de l’Université Laval, Québec 1983).

EhrmanBart D., Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics, (Oxford University Press, New York 2012).

FoucaultMichel, '“What Is an Author?”', in James D. Faubion (ed), Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology, (The New Press, New York 1998) 205-222.

GoehringJames E., '“The Three Steles of Seth”', in Birger A. Pearson (ed), Nag Hammadi Codex VII., (Brill, Leiden 1996) 371-421.

KingKaren L., '“ ‘What is an Author?’: Ancient Author-Function in The Apocryphon of John and The Apocalypse of John”', in William Arnal (ed), A Share in All Good Things: Essays in Honour of John S. Kloppenborg, (Peeters, Leuven Forthcoming).

LaytonBentley, The Gnostic Scriptures, (Doubleday, Garden City, NY 1987).

MazurZeke“The Platonizing Sethian Gnostic Background to Plotinus’ Mysticism”2010University of ChicagoPhD diss.ProQuest 756363550

MazurZeke, '“Forbidden Knowledge: Cognitive Transgression and ‘Ascent Above Intellect’ in the Debate between Plotinus and the Gnostics”' (2016) 1 Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies: 86-109.

RussellDavid Syme, The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic: 200 BC–AD 100, (SCM, London 1964).

SchenkeHans-Martin, '“Das Sethianische System nach Nag-Hammadi-Handschriften”', in Peter Nagel (ed), Studia Coptica, (Akademie, Berlin 1974) 165-173.

SchenkeHans-Martin, '“The Phenomenon and Significance of Gnostic Sethianism”', in Bentley Layton (ed), The Rediscovery of Gnosticism: Proceedings of the International Conference on Gnosticism at Yale, New Haven, Connecticut, March 28–31, 1978, (Brill, Leiden 1981) 588-616.

SpeyerWolfgang, Die literarische Fälschung im heidnischen und christlichen Altertum, (Beck, Munich 1971).

StangCharles M., Apophasis and Pseudonymity in Dionysius the Areopagite: “No Longer I.”, (Oxford University Press, Oxford 2012).

StangCharles M., Our Divine Double, (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2016).

ThomassenEinar, '“Notes pour la délimitation d’un corpus valentinien à Nag Hammadi”', in Louis Painchaud and Anne Pasquier (eds), Les textes de Nag Hammadi et le problème de leur classification, (Les Presses de l’Université Laval, Québec 1995) 243-259.

TurnerJohn D., '“Ritual in Gnosticism”', in John D. Turner and Ruth Majercik (eds), Gnosticism and Later Platonism: Themes, Figures, and Texts, (Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta 2000) 83-139.

TurnerJohn D., '“Sethian Gnosticism and the Platonic Tradition”', (Les Presses de l’Université Laval, Québec 2001).

TurnerJohn D., '“The Three Steles of Seth”', in Marvin Meyer (ed), The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The International Edition, (HarperOne, New York 2007) 523-536.

WekelKonrad, '“ ‘Die drei Stelen des Seth’: Die fünfte Schrift aus Nag-Hammadi-Codex vii' (1975) 100 Theologische Literaturzeitung: 571-580.


Ehrman 2012; cf. Brakke 2016. I presented earlier versions of this paper at meetings of the the Center for the Study of Religion at The Ohio State University; the Mysticism, Esotericism, and Gnosticism in Antiquity Section of the Society of Biblical Literature; and, originally, the North American Patristics Society in honor of James E. Goehring upon his retirement from Mary Washington University. I am grateful to Professor Goehring and to the other participants in those sessions for their questions and suggestions.


Ehrman 2012, 548.


E.g., Aland 1961, Russell 1964, Speyer 1971.


Stang 2012, 204.


Foucault 1998.


Goehring 1996, 387.


Layton 1987, 149.


Goehring 1996, 386; cf. Origen, Cels. 1.57; 6.11; Comm. Jo. 13.29; Ps.-Clem. Rec. 2.11.


Schenke 1974, 172.


Claude 1983, 3, 60.


Wekel 1975, 572. His translation leaves numerous spaces between sense units or paragraphs, but provides no structural analysis beyond differentiating the three tablets and the introductory and concluding elements.


Claude 1983, 9–12.


Goehring 1996, 374–5.


Layton 1987, 152–8.


Turner 2007, 526–36.


Goehring 1996, 381.


Layton 1987, 153n (119c).


Goehring 1996, 377.


Layton 1987, 156–157.


Mazur 2010, 229.


Mazur 2010, 277.


Stang 2012.


Stang 2016.


Turner 2001, 757.


Thomassen 1995, 256–7.


Stang 2016, 113–19.


Clement of Alexandria, Exc. 79.


Ptolemy, Flor. 33.7.9 (Layton 1987, 314).


Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 19 19 11
Full Text Views 7 7 7
PDF Downloads 2 2 2
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0