It can be hard to find recommended reading options for non-canonical Christian writings! Thanks to the recent discovery and translation of the Nag Hammadi Scriptures, the study of these texts– whether Gnostic, Valentinian, or otherwise– is growing rapidly. Unfortunately, much of what’s out there is of poor quality, and it can be difficult to sort through it. The opposite problem exists as well– many books are very dense and difficult to dive into.
On this page, I will provide recommendations for what to read. I’ll also provide some context about the recommendations, and link to a few articles here on the site if you’re interested in reading about them without picking them up.
There’s a lot out there, and quite a bit that isn’t yet on the site. This list is very much a work-in-progress, and not something that will be done overnight. That being said, we genuinely hope that this list of recommended reading will be helpful as you explore these non-canonical, early Christian texts!
Table of Contents
Recommended Reading: Primary Texts
The Nag Hammadi Scriptures
This list absolutely has to start with the text that opened the door for scholars and laypeople alike into the tremendous amount of content available, today. The Nag Hammadi Scriptures contain a tremendously fascinating list of texts– Valentinian, Sethian, Hermetic, Platonic, and more. Discovered in 1945 and only available in English much more recently, this collection is critical reading for those interested in the non-canonical writings and thoughts of early Christians. Edited by Marvin Meyer and contributed to by an impressive assortment of scholars, this is– for now– the definitive version!
A Few Posts Referencing the Nag Hammadi Scriptures:
Recommended Reading: Secondary Texts
The Gnostic Paul
Professor Elaine Pagels is certainly a controversial figure, but regardless of what you think of her and her academic contributions, the effect of her writings on the general populace’s understanding of early Christian “Gnostic” groups cannot be overstated. Her work designed for general readers is well known, but perhaps more intriguing are writings like this one.
The Gnostic Paul outlines how Valentinian Christians understood (or might have understood) Paul’s writings. Paul may have been seen as the opponent of heretics by later Christians, but during the formation of Christianity, many groups outside what we now consider Orthodoxy looked to him as the chief defender of their beliefs. This book is very dense, but does an incredibly job at shedding new light on New Testament texts that otherwise seem perfectly… canonical!
Posts Referencing The Gnostic Paul:
Written by professor Michael Allen Williams, “Rethinking Gnosticism” turned the study of Gnosticism and early Christianity on its head. It challenges prevailing ideas about what “Gnostic” means, and argues that the term has no usefulness except as for polemics. The work expresses skepticism about there being a singular set of beliefs that can describe the schools of thought called “Gnostic”, and sheds serious doubt upon the idea of there being any such thing as Gnosticism. It goes further in challenging other long-held assumptions about these groups and leaves the reader thinking far more critically than when they began about their study of early Christianity and “heretical” groups.
Posts Referencing Rethinking Gnosticism:
A Final Note:
This is a small fraction of the books to recommend; there are tons more great options out there! As more posts keep going up on the site and more interconnected information is published here, this list will be revised and new entries added. Hopefully you find this list helpful!