Gnosticism gets the lion’s share of attention in this survey of Christian unorthodoxy in antiquity, and O’Grady carefully distinguishes its qualitative difference from later heresies. Where Arians, Nestorians, and Pelagians might divide from Rome on points of doctrine, Gnostics differed with the “Great Church” (as she terms proto-Catholicism) on the very nature of the social institution of Christianity. She also appropriately identifies Gnosticism with the Neoplatonic culture of late antiquity, although further speculation on the non-Christian origins of Gnosticism (not to mention the non-Judaic origins of Christianity) is decidedly muted.
O’Grady’s book is not a piece of imposing scholarship; it’s more of a reflective journalistic approach. She’s almost painfully even-handed in her evaluations of heterodoxy and orthodoxy. To her credit, she does treat orthodoxy as a phenomenon demanding an explanation, rather than a mere given.
As an accessible, wide-angle treatment of its topic, it is better than passable. The author fails to disclose her own religious identity, but it’s probably safe to infer that she is a believing Christian, based on the extent to which she valorizes the survival and development of the Christian tradition. [via]