Dylan Burns will give the lecture ‘Beyond the Abrahamic Religions: The Case of Sethian Gnosticism' in the programme Current Issues in Religious Studies and Western Esotericism.
Following their discovery in 1945 and initial decipherment in the 1960s and 70s, the 4th/5th century Coptic Gnostic manuscripts found near Nag Hammadi (Upper Egypt) raised many stimulating questions for students of ancient religion and philosophy. A particularly difficult issue is a body of texts that seem to belong to a single, coherent literary tradition (usually named for its focus on Seth, the third child of Adam and Eve, as revealer and savior) that appeared to span several conventionally understood religious boundaries: Judaism, Christianity, and Hellenic religious philosophy. Thus, scholars began to write of “Jewish, Christian, and Pagan Sethianism” and even to write social histories of a “Sethian movement” shuffling between different religious confessions.
In my research, I looked for alternative models to make sense of the Sethian dossier, and one of the ones I experimented with was the construct of the “Abrahamic religions”—namely, the interface and mutual interpenetration and influence of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—in late antiquity, a line of investigation that achieved particular prominence in 2009 with the appointment of the great Historian of Religion (and pioneer of Gnostic Sethianism) Guy Stroumsa to a chair of The Study of the Abrahamic Religions at The University of Oxford. In this talk I will outline the issues posed by the Sethian literature for our understanding of the diverse landscape of religions in late antiquity, the genealogy and drawbacks of ‘Abrahamic religion’ as a historical category, and offer new suggestions for negotiating the study of biblical traditions in a ‘post-biblical’ history of religions.
Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen
Capaciteitsgroep Geschiedenis van de Hermetische filosofie en verwante stromingen
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