The Gospel of John has been the text par excellence from which scholars diverge regarding diverse positions on syncretic characteristics of ancient religious and their influence on early ecclesiological communities. For now, a review about gnostic ideas and their possible presence within the particular textual traditions in specific correspondences accentuates our current theoretical dilemma and initiates a conversation about dismantling these confining theoretical categories.
This is relevant for understanding biblical literary constructions and their respective receptions; since these also instigate an understanding about ancient religions at a crossroad of different perspectives in particular contexts and within cultural expressions, e.
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As a result, scholars cannot assure anything about direct gnostic relations within particular gospels or the Pauline corpus; but they can stress common elements shared by gnostic texts and New Testament writings. There are multiple understandings and applications of the term Gnosticism in contemporary scholarship. This implies historical problems, specifically for those who seek support for discussing origins and genealogy. Consequently, the present overview does not aim to be a complete summary of all the possible meanings and uses of gnostic ideas, neither aims to have the right categorization about related ancient phenomena.
The main purpose is to highlight some ideas present in particular texts in Christian biblical texts, e. Gnosticism as an organized social movement with a coherent and uniform message is an unconvinced category; 21 nevertheless, the existence of distinct elements that are simultaneously present in gnostic texts and New Testament writings is unquestionable. As a result, a brief scholarship review about some dimensions of Gnostic ideas in the ancient Mediterranean context provides historical and literary grounds to some textual analysis in the Jewish-Christian writings in order to highlight the possible presence of some elements that later would be associated with gnosis.
There is a primeval milieu shared among particular communities based on several literary receptions in which different ancient religious phenomena, gradually, became consolidated. The modern interest in Gnosticism emerges together with historical investigations about Christian origins which instigate respective apologetic consideration. This occurs throughout exegetical methodologies and hermeneutical speeches.
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This idea of an intra-Christian development shifted within some approaches in the History of Religions School. Instead of a gradual expansion from Greek philosophy, passing through Christian traditions into gnostic appearance, scholars suggest extra and pre-Christian roots for Gnosticism.
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Richard Reitzenstein asserts common features between some ancient religious practices and those that may be associated with Gnosticism , and he attempts to trace gnostic origins to Persian myths Reitzenstein, , p. The main critique about these ideas relies on the lack of concrete evidence for inferences, which provides a very similar depiction to the patristic apologetic or, at least, within the same framework. Hans Jonas attempts to understand the ancient Zeitgeist while analyzing gnostic ideas through contemporary philosophical considerations, especially the phenomenological existentialism of Martin Heidegger.
Consequently, he discusses how myths express objectivity through their symbolical constructions and mystical experiences Jonas, , p. Therefore, individuals find meaning for their existence in the transcendence Jonas, , p. Consequently, Gnosticism is different, independent and with points of contacts with early Christian movements, providing answers to similar situations. Kurt Rudolph assumes these mainstream considerations about the dualistic structure present in the gnostic movements while highlighting the variety of gnostic systems within their particularities.
In addition, he asseverates the relationship between Christian and non-Christian elements together with Jewish and Platonic traditions while accentuating the theological judgments in the creation of boundaries Rudolph, , p. Gnosis is a historical category to comprehend a particular worldview that involves dualism, cosmogony, soteriology, eschatology and cult, having immediate moral consequences Rudolph, , p. Jonas and Rudolph reflect, in different ways and generations, the resolutions attempted in the Messina conference, since they distinguish between gnosis and the different movements around this notion, including cultic and sociological aspects.
Social location deserves special attention to better understand the pragmatic consequences of gnostic ideas in their respective contexts. Smith summarizes these positions in the three following characteristics Smith, , p. In conclusion, following the enthusiastic and triumphalist approaches that relate some New Testament writings with gnostic texts, there is a rejection of gnostic movements in the first century. Therefore, those who aim to analyze gnostic elements in the ancient writings must carefully determine the context and define the terms in order to avoid ambiguity and misunderstandings.
New approaches should be created in order to dismantle the artificial distinctions among such categories and open new spaces for integration. Consequently, it is possible to re-mantle these ancient religious horizons by taking into consideration the reception of the New Testament writings as well as the gathering of different textual traditions that gradually stipulate social boundaries, theological barriers and terminological bounds that did not exist during the primal composition periods. BARR, J. The Synchronic, the Diachronic and the Historical: A triangular relationship?
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Rethinking "Gnosticism": An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category
KING, K. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Versuch einer Soziologischen Verortung des Antiken Gnostizismus. Numen 17, p. Prolegomena to the Study of Ancient Gnosticism.
The Social World of the First Christians. Minneapolis, Fortress, p. Did Gnosticism Ever Exist? Was There a Gnostic Religion? The Enneads. London, Faber and Faber. What is Gnosticism? From the Pastorals to Rudolph. Philadelphia, Trinity Press International. The Harvard Theological Review 77, n. Early Christianity and Gnosticism in the History of Religions. Studia Theologica 55, p. Gnosticism as a Religion. Gnosticism and the New Testament. Minneapolis, Augsburg Fortress. Anglican Theological Review Supplementary Series 11, p. Clement of Alexandria: Eucharist as Gnosis.
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