Practicing Gnosis

Ritual, Magic, Theurgy and Liturgy in Nag Hammadi, Manichaean and Other Ancient Literature. Essays in Honor of Birger A. Pearson


Ritual, magic, liturgy, and theurgy were central features of Gnosticism, and yet Gnostic practices remain understudied. This anthology is meant to fill in this gap and address more fully what the ancient Gnostics were doing. While previously we have studied the Gnostics as intellectuals in pursuit of metaphysical knowledge, the essays in this book attempt to understand the Gnostics as ecstatics striving after religious experience, as prophets seeking revelation, as mystics questing after the ultimate God, as healers attempting to care for the sick and diseased. These essays demonstrate that the Gnostics were not necessarily trendy intellectuals seeking epistomological certainities. They were after religious experiences that relied on practices. The book is organized comparatively in a history-of-religions approach with sections devoted to Initiatory, Recurrent, Therapeutic, Ecstatic, and Philosophic Practices. This book celebrates the brilliant career of Birger A. Pearson.
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Biographical Note

April D. DeConick, Ph.D. (1994), The University of Michigan, is the Isla Carroll and Percy E. Turner Professor of Biblical Studies at Rice University. She has published monographs, translations, and many essays on Gnosticism, Nag Hammadi, mysticism and ancient esotericism, including The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says (Continuum, 2007, 2009) and Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas: A History of the Gospel and Its Growth (T&T Clark, 2005, 2006). Gregory Shaw, Ph.D. (1987), University of California, Santa Barbara, is Professor of Religious Studies at Stonehill College. He is an expert on religions in antiquity and Neoplatonism. He has published many articles on these subjects, including his monograph Theurgy and the Soul: The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus (Penn State Press, 1995). John D. Turner, Ph.D. (1970), Duke University, is the Cotner Professor of Religious Studies and the Charles J. Mach University Professor of Classics and History. He has published extensively in Sethianism, Gnosticism and later Platonism. Along with editions and translations of Nag Hammadi texts, he has edited and authored a number of articles and books, including his monograph Sethian Gnosticism and the Platonic Tradition (Québec, 2001).

Table of contents

April D. DeConick, Introduction to Practicing Gnosis A Tribute to Birger A. Pearson George W.E. Nickelsburg, For Birger Pearson: A Scholar Who Both Studies and Embodies Syncretism Gerald James Larson, Religionsgeschichtliche Schule, Religionswissenschaft, Piano, Oboe and Bourbon Gregory Shaw, Birger Pearson: Scholar, Professor and Mentor Birger A. Pearson, A Bibliography Initiatory Practices April D. DeConick, The Road for the Souls is through the Planets: The Mysteries of the Ophians Mapped Roger Beck, Ecstatic Religion in the Roman Cult of Mithras Bas van Os, Gospel of Philip as Gnostic Initiatory Discourse Elliot Wolfson, Becoming Invisible: Rending the Veil and the Hermeneutic of Secrecy in the Gospel of Philip Erin Evans, Ritual in the Second Book of Jeu Nicola Denzey Lewis, Death on the Nile: Egyptian Codices, Gnosticism, and Early Christian Books of the Dead Recurrent Pratices Einar Thomassen, Going to Church with the Valentinians Madeleine Scopello, Practicing ‘Repentance’ on the Path to Gnosis in Exegesis on the Soul Edward Butler, Opening the Way of Writing: Semiotic Metaphysics in the Book of Thoth Fernando Bermejo Rubio, “I Worship and Glorify”: Manichaean Liturgy and Piety in Kellis’ Prayer of the Emanations Jason BeDuhn, The Manichaean Weekly Confessional Ritual Jorunn Buckley, Ritual Ingenuity in the Mandaean Scroll of Exalted Kingship Therapeutic Practices Naomi Janowitz, Natural, Magical, Scientific or Religious? A Guide to Theories of Healing Grant Adamson, Astrological Medicine in Gnostic Traditions Marvin Meyer, The Persistence of Ritual in the Magical Book of Mary and the Angels: P. Heid. Inv. Kopt. 685 Rebecca Lesses, Image and Word: Performative Ritual and Material Culture in the Aramaic Incantation Bowls Ecstatic Practices John D. Turner, From Baptismal Vision to Mystical Union with the One: The Case of the Sethian Gnostics Niclas Förster, Marcosian Rituals for Prophecy and Apolytrosis James Davila, Ritual Praxis in the Hekhalot Literature Philosophic Practices Zeke Mazur, The Platonizing Sethian Gnostic Interpretation of Plato’s Sophist Michael Williams, Did Plotinus’ “Friends” Still Go to Church? Communal Rituals and Ascent Apocalypses Kevin Corrigan, The Meaning of “One”: Plurality and Unity in Plotinus and Later Neoplatonism Gregory Shaw, Theurgy and the Platonist’s Luminous Body


All interested in Gnosticism, religions in antiquity, Neoplatonism, and Jewish mysticism.