Skip to comments.Onward Gnostic soldier
Posted on 05/19/2006 5:56:50 AM PDT by Caleb1411
Gnosticism is probably hotter now than it has been sincewell, over 1,500 years ago. As The Da Vinci Code hits movie theaters and probably extends its three-year run on the New York Times bestselling fiction list, Gnostic books like The Gospel of Judas and The Lost Gospel are also prominent on nonfiction bestseller charts.
Peter Jones, professor of New Testament at Westminster Seminary California and director of Christian Witness to a Pagan Planet (cwipp.org) is the author of The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back and other books that critique anti-Christian doctrines, including Cracking Da Vinci's Code (Cook Communications) and the newly published Stolen Identity: The Conspiracy to Reinvent Jesus (Cook), a detailed comparison of the Gnostic and the biblical Jesus.
WORLD: How do you define Gnosticism?
JONES: Gnosticism is formed from the Greek term gnosis meaning knowledge, but it means here a particular form of knowledge, namely "spiritual experience." Like all pagan spirituality, so-called "Christian" Gnosticism engages in "sacred technologies" to access the higher, spiritual self, the self that is part of God.
In this essentially out-of-body experience, all physical and this-worldly restraints, like rational thinking and a sense of specific gender, fall away. In a word, the experience of "enlightenment" is both the rejection of the goodness of the physical creation and an acquisition of the knowledge of the divinity of the human soul.
WORLD: So Gnostics see the human soul as divine, but how do Gnostic texts typically depict God?
JONES: There are two kinds of God. There is the Father of the Totalities, the Great Spirit or the Force behind everything, the Source from which true Gnostics have emanated and from whom they have fallen into matter. To this God their divine spark or soul/spirit will eventually return at death.
Then there is the God of orthodox Christianity, the God of the Old Testament, the Creator of heaven and earth. For the Gnostics this God is a blind and evil fool for having created evil matter. This is the God who foolishly says, "I am God and there is no other beside me," not knowing that above and beyond him is the Great Spirit. The Gnostic knows that Yahweh is a fool for demonstrating such ignorance and for leading human beings into ignorance. Thus the Gnostic Goddess casts Yahweh into hell.
WORLD: It doesn't sound like Gnostics have much respect for the Bible. What is their view of biblical history?
JONES: The very early Gnostic, Marcion (ca. a.d. 150), rejected God the lawgiver and thus the entire Old Testament. Later Gnostics did the same with even more vigor. For example, the media have given great attention recently to The Gospel of Judas. Bart Ehrman [Bestselling Books, May 6] calls Judas one of "the greatest finds from Christian antiquity." Its official translators argue that Judas demonstrates "the rich diversity of perspectives within early Christianity . . . during [its] formative period." Actually, Judas contains some of the typical (and radical) notions of second-century "Sethian" Gnosticism. In this kind of Gnosticism, God the Creator is an evil demon; the reprobates of Old Testament historyCain, Esau, Korah, and the Sodomitesare the true heroes; Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets are "a laughingstock." Clearly Judas fits the prototype for heroes.
WORLD: Let me ask about something else that's weird: Why did some early Gnostic texts depict Jesus passing through Mary as through a funnel?
JONES: Some readers will have read of Gnosticism under the term "Docetism" from the Greek verb, dokeo"to seem." Christ only seemed to be physically human, but, as a matter of fact, Christ, from the realm of the spirit, could not be so closely associated with the work of the evil creator. In particular, the Sethian Gnostics (like Judas) laughed at the ignorance of those who thought they were crucifying Christ (since it was Simon of Cyrene on the cross).
In the same way, Jesus could not have been physically associated with Mary. Indeed, there are a number of exhortations in the Gnostic texts to "flee maternity" and the "works of femininity" because to be a woman and give birth is to enmesh oneself in the evil works of created flesh, and thus become a prisoner of the evil God, Yahweh.
WORLD: Parts of Gnosticism remind me of Hindu teachings. Was Gnosticism an attempt to meld Eastern religions and Christianity?
JONES: There is some evidence that ancient Gnosticism took some of its inspiration from Hinduism, which is quite believable since Alexander went as far as India in the fourth century b.c. and created an international cosmopolitan, syncretistic culture. At least we can say that some of those steeped in the imperial mystery religions, and also majoring in trance and mysticism, were attracted to Christianity; they may well at some point have been tempted to blend pagan spirituality with Christian doctrine. In 1 Corinthians 14:23 Paul criticizes worship behavior that would make observers associate the church with the Dionysian cults' practice of trance-like "madness."
WORLD: Even though The Da Vinci Code invents a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, it seems that Gnostics have something against heterosexual activity . . .
JONES: The goal of Gnostic sexuality is androgyny, the blending of male and female in one human being. The distinction of male and female is the result of the Fall, and so to undo the effects of the Fall one must join the opposites and make the two one. The "Jesus" of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas declares, "when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female . . . then you will enter the kingdom of heaven" (Saying 22). How interesting that this is happening in our own day, and that this is a definite developed theme in The Da Vinci Code.
WORLD: Why does Gnosticism emphasize meditation, mantras, and extreme mysticism?
JONES: These are what modern pagans call "spiritual technologies" that allow one to escape the clutches of physical reality in order to pass into the world of pure spirit, outside of the body. In this world of pure spirit all is one, all distinctions are eliminated. The essential presupposition for the attainment of this state is stopping the mind from engaging in rational thought. This is necessary since thought is a great factory of distinctions, where each word has its own meaning, without which one cannot think or speak. Meditation "silences the mind" and ushers one into a world of "oneness."
WORLD: Concerning one other weird elementwhat's the relationship of serpent worship and Gnosticism?
JONES: I was lecturing in Bogata, Colombia, last year, and at the break a doctor came to me and told me that, before his conversion, he was a member of the Gnostic Church of Colombia. He told me that in front of the church was a massive stone statue of a serpent. The reason is the Gnostics believed that the Serpent of Genesis spoke truth and the God of Genesis was a blind and evil liar. Thus Eve was a heroine and Adam a wimp who quickly converted to the "truth." One group of Gnostics actually called themselves the Naassenes, from the Hebrew, nass, "serpent." They worshipped the serpent and, according to the anti-Gnostic Church Father Hippolytus, worshipped at the temple of the goddess Isis, goddess of magic and the underworld.
The Gnostic "gospels" would be summarily dismissed today as hearsay evidence. They have not a single eyewitness to the faux events described. The Gospels are based on the eyewitness testimony of hundreds or thousands including pagans, Christians, and Jews.
With all do respect to the good professor, he will not defeat gnosticism by ridiculing its most superficial and flaky proponents. I am a Christian and by no means a gnostic, but thinking Christians need to take gnosticism seriously as a formidable and intelligent adversary that has captured many formidable and intelligent people throughout history.
Gnosticism's hatred of the material world is an odd thing for modern liberal hedonists to uphold. Do they really want everyone to stop procreating and aspire to be perfect spirits?
Exactly. This interview presents a very distorted view of gnosticism. It would be hard to consider gnosticism attractive and tempting from this view!
Ping to read later
It is enough for me to denounce it a heresy. If you want to go further, bring in the Dominicans and let's have an inquisition on Court TV.
For the same reason why they've aligned themselves with Islamofacisim, and have beaten the prejudicial assumption that all priests are gay (even though they love gays and claim to hate prejudice) into the ground. What's bad for Christianity and/or America is good for them. The enemy of my enemy and all that.
Gnosticism has always been a stew of popular doctrines. The simple-minded will attempt to create some homogeneous "religion of Gnosticism" when nothing of the kind exists, nor has it ever existed. The article mentions Marcion, who was actually much closer in doctrine to the early pistic Christians than he was to the later Sethians, Hermetecists, and Cathars. As well, some of the Arian sects tended to drift into Gnostic belief systems. Other than the case of the core system of belief that the material universe was created in error by either a malign or ignorant (or both) spiritual entity, one would be hard pressed to point to a collected dogma and say "that is Gnosticism."
Of course, Brown's puerile novel has nothing to do with Gnosticism, but true to form, he invokes the popular interest that has always surrounded its arcane ideas. Thus does Satan ever whisper in men's ears.
ya, I read the 'gnostic gospels', by forget whom a while ago, and it was very similar to the bible in almost every way. There were a few phrases in it that got people 'offended', but these were only a small part of it.
Doesn't seem logical, does it? I suppose they believe that the earth was created for the birds, fishees, animals, and insects. And what of the quantum universe? Should it be melted and returned to it's pre-energy state?
Hard to imagine what perfect spirits would be doing to entertain themselves.
Pure spirit Abby: 'So wuzzup, Dave?'
Pure spirit Dave: 'You know there's no 'up,' Abbie. Stop being funny.'
'Sorry. Just thought I'd make some small talk.'
'Small? Wuzzat? You know there are no sizes here. One size fits all.'
'I know. It's just that I feel so closed in. You know, like being in prison. If I could only move a little I'd feel better.'
'Perish the thought, Abby! You know what happened the last time we created motion.'
'Yeah, I remember, Dave. That was quite an explosion, wasn't it?'
'You got that right. The sound is still ringing in my ears.'
'You know what I really miss, Dave?'
'Splashing my feet in the water and petting my dog.'
'Yeah, that was cool. But we're pure spirits now and we don't need that kind of stuff anymore.'
'You feel bummed out too, huh?
'Dave, I have a thought.' Why don't we . . . ummmm . . . you know. Go on vacation!
'Oh, geez. Here we go again! Put your ear plugs in this time!' '
The gnostic approach blends so well with ideas that have seeped into the culture from the New Age movement via eastern religions and various occult philosophies.
Hidden knowledge attracts. The desire to be an elite, one of the elect attracts. The concept that this world is gross, not real, maya, or evil, while the spiritual is the only real has always attracted.
One could say the desire for power and knowledge is behind all human ills since the Fall, since it was, according to Genesis, the cause of the fall....
My understanding of more authentic gnostics is that they believe that "secret knowledge" isn't secret in the sense of being held buried in actual secret codes or under actual lock and key, but rather it is "secret" in the sense that our own physicality and materiality (i.e. our "sinful nature") obscures the truth from us.
That's the basic viewpoint all around the world in groups that do approaches like this. Very similar to some views in hinduism and so on.
But all over the place, there are always a inner group who knows the truth as they see it, and usually various disciplines to get you there, most of which are designed to either help you transcend the limitations of the flesh (like various yogic practices) or are intentional repudiations of the flesh (this has been done all over the world in different forms) because it is evil, and you want to show yourself removed from it.
That latter approach sometimes evolves into quite strange, gross, or wicked forms.
I don't think modern liberal hedonism is connected in any way with Gnosticism.
Gnostics repudiated sexual intercourse because to their thinking, in the act of sex another pure spirit is trapped within the prison of decadent flesh. The Cathars were even vegetarians ass they didn't believe in killing animals.
I don't really understand the current fixation by mainstream Christians with the "threat" of Gnosticism.
As a pretty fundamentalist Christian, I don't consider it a realistic threat at all. Nor do I think Gnostics or Gnosticism especially evil - they merely represent another belief system to which I do not ascribe.
I haven't EVER read of Gnostics blowing themselves up to kill innocent civilians, descrating works of art from antiquity, or crucifying Christians. As a matter of fact, Gnosticism is rather a pacifistic belief system.
I think the very real threat to Christianity today comes from Islam, a belief system which advocates forcible conversion of non-beleivers of all stripes, and has been guilty of all of the above, both in the past and present.
As for Gnostics, if any are still around, they have as much right to believe whatever they wish as anyone else.
I'm reading a book on "Christian Hermeticism" right now...called "Meditations on the Tarot". Ever heard of it? Despite its bizaare sounding title, it is quite reasonable, if not 100% persuasive to me. It has given me a new understanding of the heart of Christian esotericism, which I believe is aligned with many gnostic sects. In the book, the anonymous author makes the case FOR mainline Catholicism as true in the deepest senses, though, like everything else, it is made up of exoteric and esoteric dimensions.
I personally wouldn't go there. I am catholic, and I understand the mystic traditions both in the tarot (from my pre-Christian days) and as taught in the church.
There is a difference. And although there are moments where some ideas overlap, the journey is not the same.
Wouldn't go there because of fear it might lure you into untruth, or because it isn't worth your time, or what? I'm not being critical, I am just curious.
"thus become a prisoner of the evil God, Yahweh"
At this point, my gag reflex was about to be come overstimulated and I stopped reading. Superior God, subordinate God, ? ? ? ?
It is enough to send one to the lee rail to talk to Hugh & Ralph.
Heck, even modern Roman Catholicism is heresy when compared to ancient beliefs!
Not "hearsay." Perjury. The authors of the Gnostic gospels write as if they have witnessed events which they came to believe in through occultic means, including quite plausibly, demonic possession.
>> Exactly. This interview presents a very distorted view of gnosticism. It would be hard to consider gnosticism attractive and tempting from this view! <<
Indeed, it would be very hard to find Gnosticism tempting from today's world view. That does not mean an unattractive depiction of Gnosticism is false. I dare say that people 100 years ago would argue that the modern cosmopolitan lifestyle of orgiastic and androgynous sex, social isolation, and mind-thumping hip-hop, exploding after spending 70 hours a day of caffeine-induced work behind a laptop very appealing. In a world of legitimized rape, temple prostitution, 99% enslavement rates, barbarian raids, gladiators and utter autocracy, people abused to the point of depravity perchance found comfort in Gnosticism's radical asceticism and asexuality.
(The article does make it sound like Gnosticism favored homosexuality; in principle, it favored asexuality, although I would hardly be surprised to find that homosexuality was rampant under such conditions.)
Wow.... for Gnostics it sounds as if light is dark and dark is light, and some literally worship the serpant of the garden, Satan himself.