University homepage Suomeksi In English
University of Helsinki Department of Systematic Theology

Gnosticism and the Formation of Christianity

Department of Biblical Studies Faculty of Theology


Contact us:

Project Director:
Prof. Ismo Dunderberg
Department of Biblical Studies
P.O. BOX 33 (Aleksanterinkatu 7)
FIN - 00014 University of Helsinki
Tel: +358-(0)9 191 24341
Fax: +358-(0)9 191 22106


Members of the Project

Ismo Dunderberg

Leader of the project
Doctor of Theology (University of Helsinki, 1994); research fellowships from the Academy of Finland 1995-2003; acting Professor of New Testament Studies, Department of Biblical Studies, University of Helsinki, 2003-2007; Professor of New Testament Studies, 2008-
Doctoral studies in Kiel; visiting scholar at Institute for Antiquity and Christianity (Claremont, Cal.); Yale Divinity School (New Haven); and University of Oxford (Wolfson College).


Ismo Dunderberg is currently working on a new edition on the Gospel of Judas and on articles about 1 John.

Risto Auvinen

M.Th. (University of Helsinki 2003)


The topic of Auvinen’s master’s thesis was “The Relationship of the Gospel of Philip to Early Baptismal Traditions and to Gos. Thom. 22.”

The task of Auvinen’s doctoral dissertation is to investigate how the philosophical-allegorical interpretations of the Bible presented in the writing of Philo of Alexandria were applied in the Valentinian writings. Auvinen argues that the Valentinian teachers continued and elaborated the philosophically orientated Hellenistic-Jewish Wisdom theology of Alexandria which helps us to define our understanding of the Valentinian writings.

Minna Heimola



Minna Heimola completed her master’s degree in 2000. Her doctoral dissertation focuses on the Gospel of Philip (NHL II,3). She explores the self-definition and identity of the group which has read and used the Gospel of Philip, with special attention to the understanding of rituals and the use of polemical language. Her study will also shed light on the relationship between Valentianism, other early Christian groups, and Judaism.

Outi Lehtipuu



Antti Marjanen

Professor of Gnosticism and Early Christian Literature Th.D. (University of Helsinki 1996) Studies at the International Baptist Theological Seminary (Rüschlikon, Switzerland) and at the University of Zürich 1973-79.


Marjanen’s dissertation The Woman Jesus Loved dealt with Mary Magdalene in gnostic and related documents. After his dissertation he has published extensively on the Gospel of Thomas, other Nag Hammadi texts, Montanism, and Early Christian Women. He has also written a Finnish introduction to Coptic language.

Marjanen’s future work focuses on two areas. First, he will write a volume on influential women in early Christianity. Secondly, he has been invited to write a commentary on the Apocryphon of John. In addition, he is the head of the research project concentrating on the social history of the New Testament and early Christianity (Gender, Social Roles, and Occupations in Early Christianity).

Tuomas Rasimus

Tuomas Rasimus (Ph.D. Université Laval 2006; Th.D. University of Helsinki 2007; joint doctoral studies); Academy of Finland post doctoral researcher 2008–2010, Academy of Finland research fellow 2011–2015.


Rasimus’ current research project, The Other Christianities in the New Testament, aims at producing a new, comprehensive, and up-to-date synthesis of those forms of Christianity that are described, but not promoted, by various New Testament authors (e.g., John the Baptist-Christians, Judaizers and Jewish-Christians—who exceptionally have also their own voice represented in the NT—, Simon Magus and Samaritan Christianity, Nicolaitans and emperor worship, angelomorphic Christologies, and the question of “proto-Gnosis”). Rasimus’ earlier book, Paradise Reconsidered in Gnostic Mythmaking (E.J. Brill, 2009)—an updated version of his 2006 doctoral thesis—offers a new understanding of Sethianism and the origins of Gnosticism by examining the mythology in and social reality behind a group of texts to which certain leaders of the early church occasionally attached the label ‘Ophite.’ (e.g., Irenaeus’ Adv. Haer. 1.30, On the Origin of the World, Eugnostos, Apocryphon of John). It is argued that Hans-Martin Schenke’s influential model of the ‘Sethian system’ only reveals part of a larger whole to which the Ophite material belongs as an important and organic component. Rasimus’ forthcoming monograph, Jesus the Animal, deals with animal symbolism attached to Jesus (e.g., Lamb of God, Fish, Lion, Eagle, Donkey) in late antiquity texts and material culture. The book attempts to shed new light on early Christian social realities: rituals, as well as attitudes towards and interaction with the surrounding Greco-Roman culture. In addition, Rasimus has published articles related to Gnosticism, New Testament and Neoplatonism. He is also the editor of The Legacy of John: Second-century Reception of the Fourth Gospel (E.J. Brill, 2009), as well as a co-editor of Stoicism in Early Christianity (Baker Academic, 2010) together with Troels Engberg-Pedersen and Ismo Dunderberg.

Ulla Tervahauta

M.Th. (University of Helsinki 1999)


Ulla Tervahauta studies the Nag Hammadi text Authoritative Teaching (NHC VI,3) that consists of a story of a soul, described as a woman, who descends into the world, meets with various misfortunes and finally ascends to heaven. The motif of a fallen soul is not unique to Authoritative Teaching but exists in different variants from the first centuries AD. Tervahauta studies the meanings that the author wanted to convey with this version of the story of a fallen soul. Her other interest are its polemics against those representing a different worldview.

Päivi Vähäkangas

MTh. (University of Helsinki 2004) Studies at the University of Laval (Québec, Canada) 2007-2008


Vähäkangas studies the reception and refutation of philosophy in two diverging early Christian traditions. Eugnostos (NHC III,3; V,1) together with Sophia of Jesus Christ (NHC III,4; BG 8502) share the same interest in the all-pervasive influence of current Greek philosophy as the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitiones.

Both sources express their concern about the phenomenon and argue for their own world view. But no matter how explicitly they criticize philosophy, they however tend to build their system and concepts upon pagan philosophy. The most important themes deal with soteriology (by what means are people saved and what is the meaning of knowledge in this process) and ontology (the principles and their emanations). The common methods of refutation and confirmation become all the more interesting when one is able to detect literary connections between Eugnostos and Recognitiones.

<< top of page