The School of Theology. Sewanee: The University of the South


Brakke to Explore Gnosticism in the Early Church

Hamilton Hall,

Dr. David Brakke, the Joe R. Engle Chair in the History of Christianity and professor of history at The Ohio State University, will explore the reasons why the Church did not reject gnosticism. The lecture will take place on March 11 in Hamilton Hall at 7 p.m. There will be a reception immediately following the lecture in Hamilton Hall's foyer. Everyone is invited to attend.

Gnosticism is traditionally understood to be the first great heresy in the history of Christianity. In the 100s A.D., the story goes, the Church rejected gnosticism and began to form Catholic Christianity. But is this what really happened? The lecture will introduce the early Christian gnostics and reveal their astonishing beliefs about God, Jesus, sin, and salvation. Discover why the gnostics and the so-called "arch-heretic" Valentinus were never really expelled by an organized Church. Instead, they contributed to the great diversity and richness of the ongoing Christian tradition.

Brakke received a B.A. in English from the University of Virginia (1983), M.Div. from Harvard University (1986), and Ph.D. in religious studies from Yale University (1992). Before coming to OSU in 2012, he taught for 19 years in the department of religious studies at Indiana University, where he was department chair from 2006 to 2011.

Brakke studies and teaches the history and literature of ancient Christianity from its origins through the fifth century, with special interests in asceticism, monasticism, "Gnosticism," biblical interpretation, and Egyptian Christianity. In Athanasius and the Politics of Asceticism (Oxford UP 1995; Johns Hopkins UP 1998), he examines the social and political dimensions of a bishop's ascetic teachings, and Demons and the Making of the Monk: Spiritual Combat in Early Christianity (Harvard UP 2006) explores the role of evil forces in the formation of the monk as a virtuous self and as a social role. The Gnostics: Myth, Ritual, and Diversity in Early Christianity (Harvard UP 2010), argues for a social and cultural approach to the definition of "Gnosticism" and to the question of "orthodoxy" and "heresy" in the era before Constantine. It was named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2011. He has also edited and translated early Christian texts, most recently Evagrius of Pontus's Talking Back: A Monastic Handbook for Combating Demons (Liturgical Press 2009), and he has co-edited several scholarly volumes, including Religion and the Self in Antiquity (Indiana UP 2005) and Shifting Cultural Frontiers in Late Antiquity (Ashgate 2012).

Brakke's research has received support from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

He is currently a member of an international team of scholars that is producing the first unified critical edition and translation of the works of Shenoute of Atripe (ca.348-465), the leader of a large monastic community in Upper Egypt and the greatest native writer of Coptic. He is also beginning work on a monograph on scriptural practices and canon formation in early Christian communities and a commentary on the Gospel of Judas.

The lecture will also be live streamed beginning at 7 p.m.

This lecture is made possible by support from the Beattie Lecture Fund.