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Gnosticism

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Institutional Login. King, What is Gnosticism? Prior to , only a few works by Christian gnostics were available, such as the Pistis Sophia and the two Books of Jeu, as well as some non-Christian Hermetic, Mandaean, and Manichaean texts see Kurt Ru- dolph, Gnosis, , pp. One can also speak of an Orphic, Pythagorean, Platonic, and an Oriental gnosis, but all of these including the Jewish and Christian are part of a larger story concerning the universal Mystery tradition.

Aimed at a general audience, Beyond Belief gives a broad overview of the central issues of early Christian history, and is refreshingly uncluttered with scholarly apparatus, though it contains ample endnotes with references and suggested books for further study. No doubt they could, but it seems to me this is a healthy part of spiritual discovery and one of the most effective ways of avoiding dogmatism.

And here Elaine Pagels excels with candor and insight, inviting the reader to participate with her in the search for truth. Robinson, ed. Distressed and disagreeing with their interpretation — and finding no room for discussion — I realized that I was no longer at home in their world and left that church. And their content challenged her. The discourse of heresy employs a number of strategies. One is to tar opponents who share similar characteristics with the same brush, lump them all into a few oversimplified categories, label them, and derogate the terms e.

Although the Church Fathers did not use the word Gnosticism — coined by 17th-century Englishman Henry More — its principal characteristics are usually defined and understood as elitist secret knowledge only the elect are saved and a radical devaluation of the world and its creator, the god of Genesis.

While some Gnostic texts, when read literally, disparage the ma- terial world as the failed creation of an ignorant Demiurge creator — implying that evil arises out of ignorance — and accordingly urge the spiritually enlightened to escape its blinding, soul-killing influence, other texts are less extreme.

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For example, Pagels writes pp. Because everyone is a child of God and contains the seed or light-spark of divinity within, enlightenment is ultimately attained through the discipline of self-knowledge — as emphasized in the Gospel according to Thomas, which begins as follows: These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down. When he finds, he will become troubled.

When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished, and he will rule over the All. Rather, the Kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living Father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.

Her scholarship not only helps answer such questions, it also helps illumine many of the obscure and sometimes contradictory passages in that other small library of early Christian documents called the New Testament. For readers willing to trouble settled convictions, Beyond Belief offers an introduction and richly guided tour of the contours and contrasts of faith and knowledge in early Christian history.

What is genuine, and thus connects us with one another and with reality, and what is shallow, self-serving, or evil? Orthodoxy tends to distrust our capacity to make such discriminations and insists on making them for us. Many of us, wishing to be spared hard work, gladly accept what tradition teaches. Most of us, sooner or later, find that, at critical points in our lives, we must strike out on our own to make a path where none exists. What I have come to love in the wealth and diversity of our religious traditions — and the communities that sustain them — is that they offer the testimony of innumerable people to spiritual discovery.

For it is difficult to exhibit the really pure and transparent words respecting the true light to swinish and untrained hearers. Ben Azzai looked and died. Ben Zoma looked and lost his mind. Acher cut his plantings, while Rabbi Akiba, who entered in peace, left in peace.

The story is a cautionary tale about mystical ascents in search of spiritual knowl- edge. Hence the strictures of discipline and silence imposed as protections against injury and abuse — and a reason for secrecy. The Gospel of Thomas alludes to this when Jesus tells Thomas three secret words. Here lies a major problem concerning the essence of Christianity: Did it originally rest on an esoteric foundation similar to the ancient Mysteries? Clement of Alexandria, the late 2nd-century Church Father, clearly affirmed it did. Myths and parables were the public language of the ancient Mys- teries; and while no detailed statements of higher teachings are avail- able, their fundamental content was never secret.

This historical background is indispensable to understanding the varied forms of early Christianity. The books reviewed in these articles present some of this context, while offering valuable lessons of his- tory. Chief is the importance of primary sources: the need of first-hand knowledge of original texts and traditions insofar as this is possible, and also something of their origin, interpretation, and transmission. The Nag Hammadi library, for example, reveals how popular and scholarly opinion about Gnosticism was and continues to be skewed by the filter- ing and imprinting effects of the early heresiologists.

Secret writings nevertheless present a special problem. The uncensored Nag Hammadi and other gnostic documents remain obscure, for most are reserved texts said to veil hidden, unutterable realities. By their own descriptions they are at best imperfect secondary sources requiring valid interpretive keys, without which uninitiated readers will see perhaps only fantastic stories and dark sayings, not the hidden logos within the mythos.

Those who have this name know it, but they do not speak it, but those who do not have [it] do not know it.

A professor of Bible and Christian Studies at Chapman Uni- versity, Meyer begins by introducing the reader to secret gospels and his principal themes. Meyer carefully notes that while he too assumes the letter is an authentic copy of an ancient text, the actual manuscript needs to be released for scientific analysis. For the true things being mixed with inventions, are falsified, so that, as the saying goes, even the salt loses its savor.

Nevertheless, he yet did not divulge the things not to be uttered, nor did he write down the hierophantic teaching of the Lord, but to the stories already written he added yet others and, moreover, brought in certain sayings of which he knew the interpretation would, as a mystagogue, lead the hearers into the innermost sanctuary of that truth hidden by seven veils. Thus, in sum, he prepared matters, neither grudgingly nor incautiously, in my opinion, and, dying, he left his composition to the church in Alexandria, where it even yet is most carefully guarded, being read only to those who are being initiated into the great mysteries.

O stainless light! My way is lighted with torches, and I survey the heavens and God; I become holy whilst I am initiated. The Lord is the hierophant, and seals [pledges to silence] while illuminating him who is initiated, and presents to the Father him who believes, to be kept safe for ever. Such are the reveries of my mysteries. If it is thy wish, be thou also initiated;.

During the night Jesus taught the neaniskos the mystery of the kingdom of God. The prescribed ritual dress in early Christian baptisms was also a linen robe over a naked body. I have always taught in synagogue and in the temple, where all Jews congregate; I have said nothing in secret.

Christian Reincarnation and TheWay of the Nazirene Disciple

There was no monolithic church, no formally-defined New Testament, no ruling orthodoxy, and even wider disagreements about observance of Jewish law, basic theological issues such as the Resurrection and the divinity of Jesus, and about gnosis and the Christian secret tradition. Just as Paul reinterpreted and transformed the teachings of a relatively small Jewish esoteric sect into a growing Gentile movement proclaiming the risen Christ, so Irenaeus fathered an orthodoxy that became normative theology for virtually all Christians today.

Part 3 — Recovering Ancient Voices If the belief in immortality is of remote antiquity, how can the dread of death be the oldest of all fears? When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished, and he will become king over the All. And to some degree it may be recognized in our own personal search for truth.


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Living in harmony with the divine source of life, however it may be conceived, is said to confer present and future happiness. Ideally we might hope for, even expect, a united front of the spiritually faithful; but opposing forces arise here too, sowing discord and conflict. Religious differences are often attributed to false or misguided teachers, but many traditions also allude to a more subtle tension be- tween prophets and priests, contemplatives and clerics, and between seekers of divine wisdom and believers of popular faith.

The Assyrians defeated the northern kingdom of Israel in bce and the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in bce, taking Jewish leaders, priests, and others into exile. After release from captivity, some Jews returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple, reform the worship of Yahweh and, according to 2 Esdras, Ezra was inspired to dictate the 24 public and 70 secret books of the Hebrew scripture to replace those lost in the Exile.

Foreign oppression continued, however, and the later prophets, no doubt influenced by Zoroastrian concepts garnered during the Exile, began to see this not so much as punishment but the work of cosmic powers opposed to God. The living and the dead will all be raised to stand before the judgment of God: the wicked will be condemned to eternal torment or extinction, and those finding favor will live abundantly on a renewed and supernal earth, enjoying the heavenly reign of God.

This Intertestamental Period was a time of intense messianic expectations, during which a similar apocalyptic, bap- tist Jewish sect emerged and diversified into a multi-branched move- ment soon to be called Christianity. For example, while the Qumran writings frequently refer to secret mysteries reserved for the elect and the importance of spiritual knowledge, they clearly glorify the one Lord, his Law, and the goodness of his creation, in contrast to some later Jewish-Christian gnostic texts critical of Yahwistic monotheism:.

My eyes have gazed on that which is eternal, on wisdom concealed from men, on knowledge and wise design hidden from the sons of men;. For He will heal the wounded, and revive the dead and bring good news to the poor. Most schol- ars date this onset to sometime during the reign of Alexander Janneus in the early first century bce, a prophecy which may have influenced the later Talmudic stories which place Jesus in the same era.

However, the messiah did not appear or was not recognized, and the Qumran community began revising its expectations — and writings — to account for the delay.

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With the Roman capture of Jerusalem, destruction of the Second Temple, and widespread repression in ce, the scrolls were buried in nearby caves and the community dispersed. He has also translated a number of extracanonical Christian writings included in a companion volume. Not all of these writings are gnostic; in fact many are quite orthodox, but for whatever reason did not make the final cut. This volume comprises 14 gospels, 5 acts of the apostles, 14 epistles and related writings, 9 apocalypses and revelatory treatises, and 5 canonical lists of Christian writings.

Many pseudonymous writings, however, involve radically different motives than forgery or deception.