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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Gnostic

In this post, I will give a review of a bit of my research into Gnosticism. This is a very long post (which readers of my blog are quite accustomed to!), so in order to keep in intelligible, I will work from the simple to the complex. I will begin by describing Gnosticism in a summary fashion and then work out the details in the rest of the post.

I want to clarify that the "Gnosticism" I am working out is of the sort that developed and was practiced in the early centuries B.C.E. This would include the varieties of Gnosticism that influenced (and were influenced by) the early church.

Gnosticism in a nutshell

The first thing I note is that "gnosticism" is not a very diverse category and not easily defined. So, while we list "common" characteristics of gnosticism, there will be many exceptions based on which particular group one is referring. This is true of any description of a religious or philosophical movement, but it is particularly the case for Gnosticism.

Much of the theological speculation of religions throughout the ages are centered on figuring out how to account for the brokenness of the world. Well, the answer for the ancient Gnostics was to simply say that the whole damned thing was helplessly evil, by its very nature. Gnostics developed a very radical dualism between the entire material world and the spiritual realm, and they relegated all of the material world as "evil." Often this meant developing two or more deities to account for the creation of the perfect, spiritual realm and the fallen, material world. "The world is the product of a divine tragedy, a disharmony in the realm of God, a baleful destiny in which man is entangled and from which he must be set free." (Rudolph, Gnosis, 66)

The only hope is to access the "divine spark" that is within. Connecting with the internal divinity was the process of redemption whereby one could connect with the Unknown God. This process was "gnosis," an esoteric form of knowledge that connected one with their true, spiritual self and with the Unknown God.

Hence, in Gnosticism one typically finds the most radical of dualisms: the entirety of the world and all experiences are evil. One does not (as in orthodox and mystical versions of Christianity) purify one's self from personal/individual sin via a process of connecting with God. The state of affairs is more hopeless. One must completely transcend the world and one day hope that the divine human soul will completely leave the world and transcend into the purity of the spiritual realm. The material world and the material body is a prison of the soul. This is a dualism more revolutionary than ancient Platonism or Christianity, both of whom preserved dualistic notions as central to their belief systems and practices.

Redemption and salvation is only found in death. In death, the divine soul is free to completely leave behind the evil of the material world and the material body and to ascend to the sphere of purity.

A parasitic movement

The Gnostic faith was a parasitic movement. Gnostic movements could easily spring up within any number of religious contexts, Christian or Jewish, or even within certain philosophical frameworks. But one of the things that characterized the Gnostic was that they discovered new, secret, unique, or deeper meanings within the texts and traditions of the already established movements of which they were a part. Says Perkins,

There is no simple account of the origins of Gnosticism. Traditions of esoteric and pseudo-scientific interpretation had been developing in different quarters throughout the Hellenistic period. The original interpretations may even have been more sophisticated than the versions we find embedded in mythological stories. By the time we find them in Gnostic writers, we are not dealing with direct readings of the Bible but established Gnostic traditions which are being reworked and reinterpreted . The Gnostics never take the further step achieved by both Judaism and Christianity—that of canonizing certain written embodiments of their tradition as Sacred Scripture.1


Hence, for these Gnostic traditions, “There was no gnostic ‘church’ or normative theology, no gnostic rule of faith nor any dogma of exclusive importance.”2 Also, “There was no gnostic canon of scripture, unless it was the ‘holy scriptures’ of other religions, like the Bible or Homer, which were employed and interpreted for the purpose of authorizing the gnostics’ own teachings.”3 Individuals of a Gnostic frame of mind were content merely to borrow the texts from an existing religious establishment and impress upon them deeper meaning/significance—a meaning that may have been lost somewhere along the way:

A further peculiarity of the gnostic tradition…lies in the fact that it frequently draws its material from the most varied existing traditions, attaches itself to it, and at the same time sets it in a new frame by which this material takes on a new character and a completely new significance. Gnosticism strictly speaking has no tradition of its own but only a borrowed one. Its mythology is a tradition consciously created from alien material, which it has appropriated to match its own basic conception. Considered in its own light, however, it is for Gnosticism a further confirmation of its truth, which it often traces back to a primal revelation, i.e. derives from primitive times; the knowledge of it was only temporarily extinguished or concealed.4


Gnosticism, then, is a “borrowed” tradition. Tradition is unimportant. What is important is only “gnosis” or “knowledge,” not a tradition or a text.

Gnostic characteristics in greater detail

In his classic text, Gnosis, Kurt Rudolph outlines seven principle areas that characterize the distinctives of the Gnostic movements: Gnosis, divine spark (upward, downward movement), Dualism, Cosmogony/Cosmology, Soteriology, Eschatology, Community/Cult.5 It is critical to stress and to reiterate the fact that the term “Gnostic” is a general label applied to a diverse number of individuals and communities who shared similar commonalities. This was not a monolithic movement and the following generalizations are subject, in many cases, to counterexample. As such, some scholars would even suggest that the term “Gnostic” should be done away with completely.6 Yet with these qualifications in mind it will still be helpful to use the term “Gnostic” and examine some of the general characteristics.

“Gnosticism” is a word often used to describe the phenomena and various movements of the second century.7 The use of “Gnosticism” can thus be distinguished from “gnosis,” which derives from the Greek meaning knowledge or understanding: “It is a knowledge given by revelation, which has been made available only to the elect who are capable of receiving it, and therefore has an esoteric character.”8 Gnosis is the first of Rudolph’s categories that we will analyze along with brief comment on the Gnostic conception of the divine.

Perkins describes gnosis as follows: “For the Gnostic, both God’s essence and his existence are unknown. Only gnosis overcomes the situation…These Gnostics reject the stable vision of God which the philosophic mind claims to attain.”9

Gnosis connects with the divine, and this conception of divinity is transcendent in a way that was very radical for the religious milieu of ancient religion. Perkins comments:

To a degree unparalleled by their pagan or Christian counterparts, Gnostic thinkers emphasized the radical transcendence and unknowability of the highest God. Such radical transcendence is founded on a discontinuity between God and the cosmos in which human beings find themselves....10 For the Gnostic, then, contact with the divine is mediated through the primordial revelation or through the rituals of the cult and not through its association with particular, contemporary teachers, seers or holy men.11


Perkins describes this transcendence as “radical” and unparalleled. Rudolph describes this perspective as “revolutionary.” For their contemporary counterparts, access to gods or the deity could be a relatively easy thing. But for the Gnostic, there was a gap and an enormous gulf that needed to be crossed. This, of course, is the role of gnosis. Rudolph comments further:

The gnostic conception of God is dictated by a contrast to all previously existing conceptions and so has a thoroughly revolutionary character. Certainly the terminology is indebted to contemporary philosophy…but the underlying world-denying tone cannot be mistaken. The counterpart to this highest being who can be described only in negative terms, the “unknown God”, is the revelation of his secret through intermediate beings of the elect, who are thereby enabled to attain to the “knowledge” of the (hitherto) unknown one. The gnostic idea of God is therefore not only the product of a dualism hostile to the world, but it is at the same time also a consequence of the esoteric conception of knowledge: “Gnosis” mediates the secret and leads men out of their ignorance concerning the true God.12


This leads naturally into two other aspects that pervade much of gnostic thought: that of the divine spark and a radical dualism. Within humankind is a divine spark that must be awakened or recovered. There is an upward/downward movement or structure here: the divine element and the fallen and perilous situation of man.

The world is the product of a divine tragedy, a disharmony in the realm of God, a baleful destiny in which man is entangled and from which he must be set free....13 Anthropology also is in Gnosis completely dominated by dualism. Here too a sharp line of distinction separates the bodily and psychic from the spiritual part of man. The latter is indeed even reduced to the “unworldly self”, the original divine constituent or “spark” in man which can be activated only through “knowledge” (gnosis), which is the pledge of redemption.14


There is a distinction, then, between the body and spiritual components of the human self. In some Gnostic conceptions there is a created dualism between the divine and the material. In other instances there is a gradual, downward movement from the divine to the darker, physical world of ignorance.15

But were not Platonic and other philosophical and religious systems of the day dualistic? How were the various Gnostic concepts of dualism different from Platonism. Rudolph is instructive in exploring this question. His comment here distinguishes the Gnostic dualism with Iranian Zoroastrian dualism, Platonic dualism, and Indian dualism by the “anti-cosmic” character of Gnostic dualism:

The gnostic dualism is distinguished from these above all in the one essential point, that it is “anti-cosmic”; that is, its conception includes an unequivocally negative evaluation of the visible world together with its creator; it ranks as a kingdom of evil and of darkness. The identification of “evil” and “matter”, which is not to be found in Iranian and Zoroastrian thought, occurs in Gnosis as a fundamental conception. In Greek thought also--apart from certain Orphic teachings, which however are of uncertain date--there is no such anticosmic development of the dualism of spirit and body. The Greek conception is unmistakably “procosmic”, and no less a person than Plotinus (3rd century A.D.), the leading figure of the late or Neoplatonism, defended this position over against the gnostic depreciation of the cosmos.16


Hence there is a moral element that is attached to the Gnostic dualism to be contrasted with philosophical dualistic notions on the contemporary scene. This is what Rudolph calls the anti-cosmic nature of the Gnostic dualism.

Although this dualism has a definite moral quality an important qualification must be made. Rudolph notes, “It should however be made clear that the dualism of these systems is to be seen first of all in a distinction between God and the Creator or between God and the world, not in that between God and the devil.”17 So, although there may be a moral dualism, good vs. evil, God vs. Devil, etc., for the Gnostic the dualism is first and foremost an ontological distinction between the divine/spiritual and material/physical world. Humanity is material, but within him/her resides the divine spark, which must be awakened.

The above dualism pervades Gnostic thought. We take note of it again as we continue on to Rudolph’s next categories: that of cosmogony/cosmology and anthropogony/anthropology:

The heart of the matter is that man is subordinated to the earthly sphere and hence to its powers only in part, namely in his physical existence; in another part, admittedly only a small one, he belongs to the supramundane spiritual realm. This part of man, often described as the “true” or “inner man”, “spirit” (pneuma), “soul” or “reason” (nous) is, over against the body which encloses him, in the same situation as the whole man over against the cosmos.18


Again, the radical dualism between the spiritual and the material is at work as the Gnostic develops conceptions of the cosmos and of the human being:

The verdict with regard to the earthly and visible world includes on the anthropological level a negative judgment upon the whole of bodily and psychic existence. This earthly material existence, like the world itself, is a product of the Demiurge and correspondingly is a sphere hostile to God, dominated by evil powers which are evident and active in the passions and desires. The psychic part of man is therefore represented as a product of evil powers (above all the planets) and through this man is not only the object but also the subject of the activity of such powers…Valentinus writes in one of his letters that the human heart is the abode of evil spirits who prevent its becoming pure, and instead treat it disgracefully through “unseemly desires”; it is comparable to an inn, which is full of filth and dissolute men.19


The “demiurge” is the fallen or foolish god who created the world contrary to the wishes of the Unknown or Highest God. The catastrophe that is now the physical world was counter-acted by the implanting of the divine spark by the Highest/Unknown God. In some cases Gnostic interpreters find the demiurge at work in the Genesis creation accounts. As Rudolph notes, the material world is a prison:

This view of the relation of man to the world and his imprisonment therein is however only one side. The other side is that which corresponds on the macrocosmic level to the kingdom of the “unknown God”: it is the deep and hidden relation to this higher world. Gnosis described this transcendent level in many images and expressions….In the Greek and Coptic texts the dominant concept is “spirit” (pneuma), in the relevant Hermetica “understanding” (nous), and the oriental or Semitic “soul”…Probably the most appropriate is the expression “spark” (Greek spinth─ôr), which occurs here and there. “Seed of light” is also found for it. In order to make use of a uniform expression scholars have become accustomed to speak of the “self” or “I”.20


The key to the cosmic dilemma in which mankind follows, then, comes back to gnosis and the divine spark: “The whole gnostic doctrine of redemption centers upon the restoration to its origin of this divine spark of light, which through fatal events has ‘fallen’ into the world, a restoration mythologically represented as an ‘ascent of the soul’.”21

Interestingly, then, the goal of this restoration results in what we might describe as a god-man, which is a somewhat unique conception in the history of religions, and again goes to the originality and revolutionary nature of Gnostic thought:

Behind this idea of the divine “Man”, who dwells both above and in the world, there is an entirely new conception of anthropology…it is not only that the (first) man, i.e. the unknown God, exists before him - the earthly man also, who is his product, is superior to him by reason of his supramundane divine relationship and substance. H. Jonas aptly says “this exaltation of “man” into a supramundane God who – if not the first – is at any rate earlier and more exalted than the Demiurge, is one of the most important aspect of gnostic mythology in the general history of religions…it indicates a new metaphysical status of man in the order of existence…” Behind this is expressed the whole revolutionary spirit of Gnosis in its rejection of the traditional values and ideas of faith…22


This brings us into a specific examination of redemption and soteriology. Rudolph comments from the Book of Thomas:

Gnosis is a religion of redemption…The word “gnosis” itself, as we have seen, has a predominantly soteriological value and in itself already clearly expresses the understanding of redemption. It is the act of self-recognition which introduces the “deliverance” from the situation encountered and guarantees man salvation…In the Book of Thomas (the Contender) Christ says at the very beginning to his “twin brother” Judas Thomas: “Examine yourself and know who you are and how you were and how you shall be…You have already come to knowledge, and you will be called “the one who knows himself”, for he who has not known himself has known nothing. But he who has known himself has already come to knowledge concerning the depth of the All.”23


Simply put, gnosis is redemption. Ignorance is darkness. The light of gnosis initiates one into redemption. However, this redemption, as one might suspect is not fully realized until death:

The process, introduced by “gnosis”, of bringing back the particles of light from darkness into the realm of light can naturally only be realised at death, when the “spirit” or “soul” (as descriptions of the divine particle of light) are separated from the body. Then begins the real liberation to which the gnosis aspires. “But when all the chosen ones lay aside the animal existence (i.e. the body) then will the light withdraw to its true beginning”, it is said the Book of Thomas the Contender....24 The gnostic is already redeemed, although the completion of the redemption is still outstanding. The laying aside of ignorance guarantees his freedom.25


The redemption from the body, then, is critical for the Gnostic, and is contrasted with the Christian idea of redemption from sin and guilt:

The gnostic redemption is a deliverance from the world and the body, not as in Christianity from sin and guilt, mainly in so far as the earthly and corporeal world as such represents the sin into which the divine soul had innocently fallen; through its involvement with the cosmic powers, however, it has become guilty, and it can be freed from this guilt only through insight and at the same time repentance.26


Continuing on this comparison with the Christian notion of redemption it is fascinating to investigate the Gnostic conception of the Christ figure and the role of the Redeemer. Rudolph finds the Gnostic teaching of Christ “remarkable”:

In order to bring the two aspects--the historical and the mythological--under a common denominator, the gnostic theologians brought about a division of the Christian redeemer into two completely separate beings, namely the earthly and transitory Jesus of Nazareth and the heavenly and eternal Christ, and thereby created one of the most remarkable pieces of gnostic teaching. In this way it was possible to appoint the Christian redeemer for several tasks in the gnostic systems.27


I note again the dualism at work within Gnostic thought. If a drastic dichotomy is drawn between the material and spiritual realm, then it follows the doctrine of Christ would split into two separate beings, or that the Christ would only “appear” to be a physical man. This is what we commonly refer to as the heresy of Docetism among Gnostic Christians:

What is meant is the idea widespread among the Christian gnostics that Christ appeared only “in semblance” (doc─ôsei) as a man or in the flesh, and correspondingly neither suffered nor was really crucified. This conception is for Gnosis a necessary inference from its anti-cosmic dualism, according to which a clear devaluation attaches to what is earthly and bodily, and it therefore cannot enter into any serious mingling with what is spiritual and other-worldly.28


Concluding Observations

Ancient Gnosticism was a collection of loosely related beliefs that centered on a radical dualism between the material and immaterial worlds. For the Gnostic, all things material are evil and a part of the fallen world. Each soul contains (or is) a "divine spark" that allows one to connect with the Unknown God. Ultimately, true salvation only occurs when one transcends the evil of the material world and leaves the body behind.

Ancient Gnostic cosmology represents one of many approaches to interpreting the world in its brokenness, to comprehending a reality that seems so incomplete. It is one of many explanations that seek something "more real" or "more perfect" in a world beyond. Platonism and Christianity sought to connect the less perfect, fallen, or less real world with that of the eternal realm. That is, the material world could have degrees of goodness, realness, and perfection, depending on how closely the material world correlated to the immaterial world.

In Christianity, for example, one might try to connect the soul with God in order to become more pure. Or, one might seek to align the bodily actions with God's design or intention for it. Also, one might attempt to align one's morality with the moral law of God.

Though the overlap between Platonism and Christianity is well beyond the scope of this post, I think there are still good questions to consider: to what degree is it beneficial to incorporate dualism into one's theology? What kind of dualisms are healthy, true, world-affirming, and productive? What dualisms seem to be counter-productive, phobic, or escapist? Also, if one believes that God inhabits all of reality ('For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.' Acts 17), then we have reason to question whether dualisms of any kind are appropriate. Finally, in good poststructuralist style, one could question whether any dichotomy or dualism can ultimately hold.

Footnotes

1 Perkins, The Gnostic Dialogue: The Early Church and the Crisis of Gnosticism (New York: Paulist Press, 1980), 18-19.
2 Kurt Rudolph, Gnosis, Translation edited by Robert McLachlan Wilson (San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1983), 53.
3 Ibid, 53.
4 Ibid, 54-55.
5 Rudolph, Gnosis, 1983.
6 See M.A. Williams, Rethinking “Gnosticism” (Princeton University Press, 1996)
7 Nicholas Perrin, “Gnosticism”, in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Grand Rapids: Baker Academics, 2005), 256.
8 Rudolph, Gnosis, 55.
9 Perkins, Gnostic Dialogue, 168.
10 Ibid, 167.
11 Ibid, 11.
12 Rudolph, Gnosis, 65. (emphasis added)
13 Ibid, 66.
14 Ibid, 66.
15 The later view is the view of the majority of the texts, including the Nag Hammadi texts. See Rudolph, Gnosis, 65.
16 Rudolph, Gnosis, 60. (emphasis added)
17 Ibid, 66.
18 Ibid, 70.
19 Ibid, 88.
20 Ibid, 88.
21 Ibid, 91.
22 Ibid, 93.
23 Ibid, 113.
24 Ibid, 115.
25 Ibid, 115.
26 Ibid, 116-17.
27 Ibid, 151.
28 Ibid, 157.

18 comments:

ktismatics said...

The wisdom of this post has caused the Golden Ass to transcend -- now he's the Golden Stallion.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Well said!.....blazing in all the splendor of one whose divine spark has lifted him above the fray of material concerns!

Jason Hesiak said...

PAH!! QUITE THE OPPOSITE! i've been working 64 hours last week and then sleeping all day yesterday!! HAH! put me on the cross!

;)

although i am a stallion!! muahahahah....muaahahaha...

actually in my fatigue after work friday i stopped by a bar and on my way out bought a hot dog. standing by the hotdog stand was a startling hot woman, and we were finally not where the blaring music was so i said "ur hot as crap" rather matter of factly, and she said, "THANKS baby i know i'm sexy!" i laughed. then i sat on a bench to put ketchup on my hot dog and she walked by on her way to the car and was like "bye, baby." and i thought prophetically to myself, "Doylomania is going to call me a Stallion for this!" although in reality i did absolutely nothing, so i guess it is kinda gnostic!! :)

Jonathan Erdman said...

Hesiak,

Where do you live?

Are these kinds of bizarre happenings a normal occurrence in your life? Hot dogs and hot women? If so, I am moving there next month to witness this life of yours.

Jason Hesiak said...

hot dogs, yes. hot women...well i am a stallion! just kidding. hot women, no not really. but that really did happen and she really was hot as crap and i really was kinda surprised and found it to be a bit bizarre and funny myself. her body language was also like totally prototypical...butt out, hand waving all girly, chest foward...funny stuff. like a movie scene from a dumb holywood movie.

Jason Hesiak said...

read the whole post last night. good stuff. good post, dude. i have more comments later, but i'm at work...

and erdmanian you are welcome to come visit me in my bizarroness any time! :)

Jason Hesiak said...

OH FORGOT TO MENTION...I LIVE...HERE...

http://maps.google.com/maps?ie=UTF-8&hl=en&tab=wl

YOU GUYS...DOYLOMANIA YOU, TOO...WOULD I THINK ENJOY THE HISTORY OF THE AREA...WILLIAMSBURG, JAMESTOWN, YORKTOWN (AS IN, BATTLE OF...)...ECT...MAYBE EVEN MONTICELLO (JEFFERSON'S HOOD).

Jonathan Erdman said...

The link took me to Venezuela.

ktismatics said...

I went to grad school at UVA and Anne hails from near Lynchburg, so I know the general area pretty well. Tidewater in particular I've not spent much time in though.

Jason Hesiak said...

Yeah Doylomania I figured you probably knew about all that stuff. Did you ever go to Monticello?

Erdmanian - Venezuela - that made me laugh. Take 2:

http://maps.google.com/maps?ie=UTF-8&hl=en&tab=wl

Now for my notes...sorry I got rid of the internet at my house, so I have to try and squeeze this in...

first of all, like I said, that was good stuff. good post. to quote maude from the big labowsky, "very thorough" :)

now - you had mentioned at the end of our last conversation on gnosticism that you think that gnosticism is has more in common with Christianity than I think. but this post is all about the differences...much of which we've already talked about (although not in anywhere near as organized/concize/referenced/ect. a fashion...formal if you will). in other words, it sounds from this post like you totally agree with me with your take on gnosticism. i couldn't find anything in there really that i disagreed with.

to highlight the noted differences on wich we now seem to agree thoroughly:

Hence, in Gnosticism one typically finds the most radical of dualisms: the entirety of the world and all experiences are evil. One does not (as in orthodox and mystical versions of Christianity) purify one's self from personal/individual sin via a process of connecting with God. The state of affairs is more hopeless. One must completely transcend the world and one day hope that the divine human soul will completely leave the world and transcend into the purity of the spiritual realm. The material world and the material body is a prison of the soul. This is a dualism more revolutionary than ancient Platonism or Christianity, both of whom preserved dualistic notions as central to their belief systems and practices.

and...(and here's where your post is more clear than I had been...thank you that was pretty cool)

But were not Platonic and other philosophical and religious systems of the day dualistic? How were the various Gnostic concepts of dualism different from Platonism. Rudolph is instructive in exploring this question. His comment here distinguishes the Gnostic dualism with Iranian Zoroastrian dualism, Platonic dualism, and Indian dualism by the “anti-cosmic” character of Gnostic dualism:


(and you quote some dude here) The gnostic dualism is distinguished from these above all in the one essential point, that it is “anti-cosmic”; that is, its conception includes an unequivocally negative evaluation of the visible world together with its creator; it ranks as a kingdom of evil and of darkness. The identification of “evil” and “matter”, which is not to be found in Iranian and Zoroastrian thought, occurs in Gnosis as a fundamental conception [this "fundamental conception" is what i was getting at previously with the idea of what is "foundationally gnostic"]. In Greek thought also--apart from certain Orphic teachings, which however are of uncertain date--there is no such anticosmic development of the dualism of spirit and body. The Greek conception is unmistakably “procosmic”, and no less a person than Plotinus (3rd century A.D.), the leading figure of the late or Neoplatonism, defended this position over against the gnostic depreciation of the cosmos [i think i even noted the Plotinus thing before!].16


[notably - i think the difference between Plotinus and Plato is not less about Plotinus' being more...closer to gnosticism you might say...Plotinus is not more or less "procosmic" than Plato. i think Plotinus is just more systemetized than Plato! more Roman, in other words :) ...whatever...moving on]

now for my next point/question...are YOU one of the scholars who thinks that the term "gnosticism" should be done away with completely? that was exactly what you had said previously! whereas my point previously was more along the lines that there is some "fundamental conception" (as we will call it here, it seems more clear anyway) of gnosticism that is helpful.

This was not a monolithic movement and the following generalizations are subject, in many cases, to counterexample. As such, some scholars would even suggest that the term “Gnostic” should be done away with completely.6 Yet with these qualifications in mind it will still be helpful to use the term “Gnostic” and examine some of the general characteristics....

its sounds to me from this post as if you have kinda changed your opinion and you no longer think that the term should be done away with? or...before you didn't sound too set on that idea...but...i dunno...anyway...

what makes me say that is in your conclusion you said (not quoting someone else): Ancient Gnosticism was a collection of loosely related beliefs that centered on a radical dualism between the material and immaterial worlds...

and now...ha ha...i'm asking for another post!

Though the overlap between Platonism and Christianity is well beyond the scope of this post

this is where my above questions seem to hinge! previously you seemed to have indicated that the close relation between christianity and gnosticism is through platonism! here you highlight the differences...but the remaining questions in our ongoing conversation are more about the overlap (i think?)!! ;)

now a couple little extra side points:

In some Gnostic conceptions there is a created dualism between the divine and the material. In other instances there is a gradual, downward movement from the divine to the darker, physical world of ignorance.15

i just found that to be notable and interesting. this was the "emmanation" i was speaking of previously (closely related to the "divine spark" idea you discussed in this post).

and another thing i found interesting...

Behind this idea of the divine “Man”, who dwells both above and in the world, there is an entirely new conception of anthropology…it is not only that the (first) man, i.e. the unknown God, exists before him - the earthly man also, who is his product, is superior to him by reason of his supramundane divine relationship and substance. H. Jonas aptly says “this exaltation of “man” into a supramundane God who – if not the first – is at any rate earlier and more exalted than the Demiurge, is one of the most important aspect of gnostic mythology in the general history of religions…it indicates a new metaphysical status of man in the order of existence…” Behind this is expressed the whole revolutionary spirit of Gnosis in its rejection of the traditional values and ideas of faith…22

in my last conversation with "my professor" from Tech, i asked him (with that above gnostic anthropology/eschatology in mind): "do you think that modernity hinges on the gnostic mythos or do you think that the gnostic mythos that influences much of today's Protestantism and what-not hinges on modernity?" my professor's responnse was very interesting, and i will probably reflect on it for years to come (it applies to other contexts). he said: "i don't know (in school as a studio we would all clap in unison whenever he said that :) but what i do know is that science and mythos have always related to each other like this..." (and he then proceeded to clasp his hands together as demonstrated in the following image...)


ok nevermind i just looked for like 20 minutes and couldn't find what i was looking for. i'm talking about two hands interlocked. one person has to do it. actually do it and you will see what i'm talking about. start with one hand on top of the other (but not touching), with one palm facing up to the sky and the other palm facing the ground. keep your fingers together side by saide, do not spread them apart. then, grasp your hands together, interlocking them. interestingly, what you do to hold your hands together is pull your arms away from each other while using the muscles in your fingers to remain grasped to each other (so its a metaphor for how science and mythos have always related to each other)!

:))

Jason Hesiak said...

that link didn't work again. i live in Portsmouth, VA

Jason Hesiak said...

forgot to mention...the anthropology "exaltation of man" stuff reminds me a bit of Neitche. although interestingly he would probably sream at the idea of being related to the gnostics. but anyway...then coupled with the whole radical dualism, thing, i even thought of Geneology of Morals. but with that i think he was coming from a more greek perspective (dude against dude and that's just the way it is), not one that is directly "anti-cosmic" (where the reason for violence ect. is because the cosmos is inherently evil by its very nature).

tamie said...

Well hello there. I finally read this post all the way through!

Of course it brings to mind the Tantric interpretations of Hindu scriptures that I've been studying. Tantra is about as far from gnosticism as one could get! Tantra rejects dualism completely, saying that everything is God. There is no good/evil, or right/wrong. It is all God, all part of the journey. But then again (and herein lies a paradox I don't fully comprehend), there is a way we can live that is more aligned with God than other ways. It is the goal of the mature yogi to align more fully with God. However, no action or experience is rejected or judged as bad.

This is very different from classical interpretations of the yogic scriptures, which are dualist, but I don't think any of them go as far as gnosticism, as far as I can tell.

Thanks for the overview of gnosticism. I can't imagine living as though everything around me, and my body, and *everything* was evil! That seems like an excessively stressful way to live. I wonder how it played out in people's daily lives. Do you think their daily lives were different from others'?

I'd be curious to see a timeline, to understand dates and times and places. To locate a philosophy/religion historically always helps me understand it better!

Of course I'm most interested in the questions you asked in the last paragraph. Perhaps you should copy that paragraph into a new blog post, spice up the questions (provide examples or hypotheticals) and see if your regular reading audience will contribute their undoubtedly interesting thoughts a bit more willingly!

Jason Hesiak said...

Tamie gnosticism had its highlight in and around Alexandria around the first and second century A.D.
:) But it was all over the place, too. But I think mainly the context that sets it is Rome.

samlcarr said...

I'm glad Tamie brought up Hinduism. The funny thing is that there are a number of discrete 'blocks' within Hinduism. The Brahmins are split down the middle between the Iyers who follow Sankara and the Iyengars best represented by Ramanujam.

Sankara was a monist (advaita). All is God, anything that distracts from the reality of god, including the material world, is maya, an illusion.

Ramanujam was a dualist (dvaita). God is definitely 'other'.

Tantrism, as best as I can figure, is philosophically monistic but in practice believes that the way to realisation is through a thoroughgoing materialism. Ramakrishna (the guru of Vivekananda) is perhaps the most famous of the Tantrists.

In a sense then, Tantrism is perhaps closest to gnosticism in its approach to the 'evil' but yet necessary material world.

tamie said...

Hey Sam, I'm surprised that you say that Tantrism thinks the material world is evil. I had the impression that the material world is embraced whole-heartedly within Tantra. ??

samlcarr said...

Tamie, I shouldn't have jumped in here as if I am some sort of an expert on Hinduism. I happen to live in India and have a bit of exposure to some of the many forms of Hinduism found here.

Very few of my friends practice Tantrism though very many are into Yoga. Here tantric practice is actually a bit frowned upon by 'polite' Hindu society.

But, from what I know, while the paths to God in Hinduism may be varied, within the core of advaitism also exists the necessity to realise that the material is not 'real' and has nothing to do with the ultimate.

Tantrism as a path actually is Goddess Kali based. Kali (in various forms) is very much a part of the common man's very dvaitist practice of Hinduism. So, it all gets a bit confusing for me.

I've read a bit on Ramakrishna who is actually a bit hard to categorise. Rather than paying too much attention to the various classifications, know what you believe and then go ahead and embrace - that's about how I read the incarnation.

Jason Hesiak said...
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