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What Do You “Gnow” about Gnosticism? (And Does it Matter?)

August 1, 2013

You probably at least know that Gnosticism (not sure it deserves capitalization, but oh well… I’ll switch from here on) is related to the Greek term, gnosis, or knowledge.

Since knowledge is involved in everything we believe or do, what’s unique here?  We are dealing with the idea of privileged knowledge or inside knowledge (not available to everyone, at least without some conditions).

A photo of the Ecclesia Gnostica sign on the b...

A photo of the Ecclesia Gnostica sign on the building of the diocesan center in Los Angeles, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can live life quite well without having any knowledge of gnosticism as a philosophy or aspect of religion (some might say an ancient religion in itself, and revived by “New Age” believers).

But my intent today is not to present a (probably boring) treatise, even in summary form, of gnosticism.  Just more of a survey…. Maybe a stimulator of your thought and reading.  Since gnosticism is at least partly about “secret” knowledge, or uncommon knowledge reserved for those awakening the divine spark within, here is something not really secret, but important to confess to: I’m not an expert on gnosticism by any means.  I haven’t read much directly that’s generally considered gnostic literature.  However, I’ve read a lot about gnosticism and think I’ve come to know generally what it was like (in the first 2-3 centuries C.E., when it flourished).

Related to that, I note that a way of seeing reality, understanding God and God’s relationship to humanity, put by scholars under the label of gnosticism, was very influential on the early development of Christianity.  Just how early it was so is a matter of quite a bit of dispute.  I won’t discuss any of that debate for now.

That’s part of what I’d like your comment on…. If you are at least generally aware of gnosticism in early Christian and/or Jewish thought (inter-testamental or early rabbinic era), how early do you think it appeared?  What do you think was its influence?

If you are not aware of much about gnosticism and its relationship to other religious thinking, what are the impressions you do have… and where have they come from? What questions do you have that jump to front of mind about what gnosticism? Do you wonder why (if you’ve noticed) it tends to get so much attention, both from serious scholars and from New Age popularizers of the ancient views? (I’m not sure I can tell you much about the popularizer part myself, so if you have some ideas on that, please share!)

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