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Gnosticism - The Series
Gnosticism is a multi-post series on certain strains of early christian thought that were declared heresies and suppressed. For centuries, little was known about these heresies except for what was published by orthodox critics. Fairly recent discoveries of ancient texts have shed amazing insight into the amazing diversity of early christian belief. Other posts in this series include:
Gnosticism Part I - The Eastern Jesus
In this post, we will examine Gnosticism from the view of its early critics to its modern reexamination. On the way we will uncover a Christianity that is more mystical and personal than its orthodox brethren.
www.earlychristianwritings.com - Irenaeus
satirized some of the more bizarre elements
elaborate cosmologies multistoried heavens
Origins of Gnosticism
Early modern scholarship focused in exploring the origins of Gnosticism and fell into several main camps:
The Underworld of Platonic Thought
The first of the modern scholars focused on Gnosticism's ties to ancient Greek philosophy:
Adolf Von Harnack
The first of these was Adolf Von Harnack who sought to explain Gnosticism as a distorted, heretical, form of Christianity that sought to blend of Christian doctrine and Greek philosophy:
bibleresources.americanbible.org - The Origins of Gnosticism
The modern study of Gnosticism begins with Adolf von Harnack, a theologian and church historian, who described Gnosticism as the acute Hellenization of Christianity. This meant that Gnosticism did not precede Christianity. However, Gnosticism was not a separate but concurrent religion alongside Christianity either. Rather, Gnosticism broke off from Christianity when radical Christians sought to blend Christianity with Greek philosophy and Hellenistic cultural constructs and models of understanding.
"Arthur" Darby Nock
Later scholars, including the prominent Arthur Nock, expanded on the links with Greek philosophy, particularly Platonism:
|Gnosticism Judaism and Egyptian Christianity by By Birger A. Pearson|
These efforts centered on Gnosticism's place as one of many popular offshoots of Middle Platonic thought, Esoteric Platonism:
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Middle Platonism
They were veiled in mystery and secrecy, leading John Dillon to refer to them in the perhaps more apt phrase "the Platonic Underworld." We will be discussing three examples of this "underworld": Hermeticism, Gnosticism, and the . The writings comprising the , so-called because of its supposed derivation from the teachings of the legendary sage Hermes Trismegistus, bear the marks of a variety of philosophies, Platonism and Neopythagoreanism being the most prominent. Hermetic ideas are found in Christianity as early as the writings of St. Paul, and Gnostic elements are to be discerned in John's Gospel as well as in Paul. The earliest Christian theologians were Gnostics, and the most prominent among them, Valentinus, nearly became pope. The systems of the Gnostics, especially Valentinus, attempted (among other things) to solve certain problems of Platonic and related philosophies by employing mythological language, astrological symbolism, and elements of alchemy and ritual magic. Finally, the , a mysterious composition melding Platonic and Neopythagorean philosophy with a revelatory religiosity, was a major source of inspiration for later Neoplatonists.
www.mc.maricopa.edu - PHILOSOPHY 234AA: PLATO LECTURE III: PLATONIC INTERPRETATION
jaysanalysis.com - Plato’s Cosmology and Achilles’ Shield Compared (Full)
predates xstian critics
Wilhelm Bousset traced Gnostic ascension beliefs to ancient Babylonian traditions:
Richard August Reitzenstein
www.bibliotecapleyades.net - Gnostics or Illuminati, The Origins of the Gnostic Movement
German scholars such as Gustav Widengren, Richard Reitzenstein, and M. H. Schraeder, who are largely ignored today, delved deeply into the prehistoric roots of Iranian religion known as Zurvan. This is the germ of the doctrine of cosmic duality attributed to the Persian prophet, Zoroaster, and spread throughout the world by the members of his religious order, the Magi.
Reitzenstein in particular intuited that Gnostic ideas were influenced by Persian duality, or Zurvanism, but he was unable to work out how. No one since his time has done any better. The investigation is complicated by the remoteness of Iranian religion, dating to the 6th millennium BCE.
Persian duality is the great enigma in the history of religions. So far no scholar in the world, not even Mircea Eliade, has cracked the Zoroastrian nut.
Zarathustra is said to have been older than Plato by 6,000 years. He learned universal wisdom from the Good Spirit, that is the excellent understanding. His name translated into Greek, Astrothutes, means “star-worshipper" (Plato Prehistorian, p. 211).
derived from judaism
journals.sagepub.com - Hans Jonas’ ‘Gnosticism and Modern Nihilism’, and Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Jonas started to deal with religious topics, and specifically with Gnosticism, from the very outset of his philosophical career in the 1920s. After gaining recognition thanks to his remarkable philosophical-existential interpretation of Gnosticism, he returned to the modern age and its philosophical characters. Principally, Jonas discovered that modern philosophy up to Heidegger and Sartre suffered from a peculiar spiritual disease – namely, nihilism – that he had already traced in ancient Gnosticism and that he intended to reject. Therefore, Jonas’ acquaintance with ancient religion and thinking gave him a deep insight into the modern age and provided him with a first glimpse of what was later to become his biological philosophy.
www.gnosis.org - What Is a Gnostic?
Another key figure in the reevaluation of ancient Gnosticism was Hans Jonas. A pupil of existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger in the 1930s, Jonas turned his attention to the wisdom of the Gnostics, and discovered in them an ancient relative of existential philosophy. Existentialism's pessimism about earthly life and high regard for experience as against theory thus found a forebear and analogue. Although critical of the Gnostics' apparent "nihilism," Jonas was, along with Jung, one of the most important figures to bring Gnostic teachings into modern perspective.
The linkage effected by Jung and Jonas between Gnosticism in the past and living philosophies in the present was of crucial importance and came very close to supplying gnosis and Gnosticism with vital, living definitions. The questions posed (and answered) by the ancient Gnostics revealed themselves now, not as outlandish and bizarre, but as earlier discussions of issues addressed in more recent times by Freud, Jung, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and many others.
an attitude towards existence
political apathy and cultural stagnation
plus influx of oriental religion into Hellenistic culture
plus alienation felt by many
plus longing for miraculous salvation
to escape political and social constraints
led to Gnostic worldview
pessimism about the world coupled with self transcendence
parallel between modern existentialists
Heidegger influenced his thinking
The Real Orthodox Christianity
gnostics were in the majority in early xstianity
this is in dispute as the gnostics referred to themselves
as the few "hoi polloi"
critics were e.w. turner and c.h. roberts
but he did open up new way of thinking about them
nag hammadi trove of 1945 showed
gnos was a widespread movement
derived from a variety of traditions
much of it distinctly xstian
a few were derived from only pagan sources
and may not be gnostic
others use jew traditions extensively
Impetus for Gnosticism
Impetus not Source
search for origins not fruitful
leads to infinite regresses of remoter origins
does not contribute much to understanding
led to search for impetus to create gnost rather than source
Robert M. Grant
gnos reaction to romans destroying jerusalem 70 ad
shattered traditional views
experience of self
projected on to religious experience
specific kind of psych world view
E. R. Dodds
derived from mystical experience
traces to esoteric currents in rabbinical circles
current research not focused on a central theory
but detailed analysis
#1 relationship between gnos and hellen
#2 from a literary form perspective
#3 relationship with contemporary religous environment
current xstian represents small selection of specific sources
many others excluded
who made the decisions
for the first time we can examine from the heretics pov
ressurection as a political function
legitimizes authority of men
who claim to excercise exclusive leadership
as succesors of the apostle peter