Before Valentinus: The Gnostics of Irenaeus


This book offers the first detailed commentary on the Gnostic treatises reported by Irenaeus in Adversus Haereses 1.29–30. It is argued that these texts represent the earliest tangible layer of the Gnostic literary tradition and served as sources for the Apocryphon of John and other later works. They also formed the starting point for Valentinus and his followers, who sought to reconcile the ideas of the Gnostics with apostolic Christianity. The book also shows that Irenaeus and later heresiologists referred to “the Gnostics” as a specific group among the great mass of heretics.

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Einar Thomassen, PhD (St Andrews 1983) was Professor of Religion at the University of Bergen until his retirement in 2021. He has published extensively on Valentinianism, including The Spiritual Seed (Brill, 2006), as well as on more general topics in the study of religion.


1 The “Gnostics” of the Heresiologists
 The Pre-history of Valentinianism According to Irenaeus
 The Valentinians’ “Gnostic” Predecessors
 Irenaeus’ “Gnostics” and the Later Heresiological Tradition

2 The Gnostic Treatise of Iren. Haer. 1.30
 The Protology
 The Separation of Sophia Prounikos
 Sophia’s Body
 Sophia’s Son and His Offspring
 The Boast, the Rebuke, and the Creation of the Human
 The Creation of the Woman and the Eating from the Tree
 The Expulsion from the Garden
 Adam, Eve, and Their Family after Their Expulsion
 The Flood, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and the Prophets
 The Birth of Jesus and the Sending of Christ
 The Failure of the Disciples to Understand Who Jesus Was
 The Redemption of the Sprinkling of Light

3 The Gnostic Treatise of Haer. 1.29
 The Father and Barbelo
 The Birth of Christ, the Light
 The Generation of Autogenes and His Four Attendant Luminaries
 The Generation of Adamas
 Sophia Gives Birth to the Archon
 The Archon Creates the Heavens and Makes an Arrogant Boast

4 Trajectories in the Early History of Gnostic Ideas
 Relative Chronologies
 Gnostics and Sethians

5 Valentinus, Valentinianism and the Gnostics
 Sophia and Christ
 The Primordial Anthropos
 Valentinian Innovations

Scholars in the fields of Gnosticism, the Nag Hammadi Library, and patristic heresiology, as well as early Christianity in general.
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