Gnosticism is undergoing sort of a renaissance, notwithstanding its status within church history as a subjugated Christian heresy. A quick search on the internet reveals that the comeback is real. In fact, social networking sites are becoming awash with Gnosticism thinking. This was not so ten years ago.
Gnosticism teaches that something is critically amiss with the world and then outlines the means to elucidates and amend the situation.
Gnosticism presents much of the design and shade for the New Age representation of Jesus as the illumined Illuminator: one who works as a cosmic spur for others’ awakening.
With time, Gnosticism has come to involve just about anything. Designating someone a Gnostic can make the person either blush, be happy, or annoyed. Indeed most gnostics don’t like being called gnostics.
Whether the word Gnostic is used as an appellation for heresy or spiritual pomposity, or as a compliment for spiritual enlightenment and esotericism, Gnosticism continues as a cornucopia of controversy.
The knowledge sought in Gnosticism is mystical. It is the hidden and esoteric mystical awareness of ultimate reality. It uncovers the flash of divinity within, considered to be veiled by ignorance, convention, and insignificant exoteric religiosity.
Elaine Pagels is one of the prominent personality that brought Gnosticism to the fore, through her writings. Her fundamental argument was simple: Gnosticism should be viewed at least as valid as orthodox Christianity because the “heresy” was just a competing strain of early Christianity.
However, we see that the Nag Hammadi writings exhibit a Jesus at sharp odds with the one found in the Gospels.
Gnostics view on the world
According to Gnostics, the world, as currently ordered, is not good. It was created and fashioned in ignorance by a lesser god, or demiurge.
One of the Gnostics writings, the Gospel of Philip, states that “the world came about through a mistake. For he who created it wanted to create it imperishable and immortal. He fell short of attaining his desire.” The end game was a material universe saturated with ignorance, disorder, corruption, and death. It was a botched job.
This deity (whom the Christians worship and call God), nonetheless, despotically command worship and even pretentiously declares his sovereignty as the one true God.
Nag Hammadi texts
By examining several of the Nag Hammadi texts, we find Gnosticism in Christian semblance: Jesus administers gnosis to awaken those ensnared in ignorance; the body is a panopticon, and the spirit alone is good; salvation comes by finding the “kingdom of God” within the self.
The Gospel of Thomas was one of the first Nag Hammadi texts to be carried out of Egypt and translated into Western languages. The book comprised of one hundred and fourteen alleged sayings of Jesus. Scholars do not think it was written by the apostle Thomas. Nevertheless, it has won the lion’s share of scholarly attention.
The sayings of Jesus are given minimum account, are not thematically systematised, and have a mystic, epigrammatic taste.
This is how the text starts: “These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down. And he said, ‘Whoever finds the interpretation of these sayings will not experience death.’” It evident that from the word go, secret knowledge is stressed.
Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are not told and neither do any of the hundred and fourteen sayings in the Gospel of Thomas directly relate to these events.
Jesus of the Thomas Gospel is a merchant of wisdom. He is not crucified and resurrected Lord.
Jesus talks of the kingdom: “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 realise 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.”
Other Gnostic texts focus on the same subject.
For example in the Book of Thomas the Contender, Jesus speaks “secret words” as regard to self-knowledge: “For he who has not known himself has known nothing, but he who has known himself has at the same time already achieved knowledge of the depth of the all.”
Gnosticism on Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus
In the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, Jesus states, “I did not die in reality, but in appearance.” Those “in error and blindness….saw me; they punished me. It was another, their father, who drank the gall and vinegar; it was not I. They struck me with the reed; it was another, Simon, who bore the cross on his shoulder. I was rejoicing in the height over all….And I was laughing at their ignorance.”
John Dart has observed that the Gnostic narratives of Jesus taunting his executors reverse the stories in Matthew, Mark, and Luke where the soldiers and chief priests (Mark 15:20) deride Jesus. In the biblical Gospels, Jesus does not jeer or mock His torturers; on the contrary, while hurting on the cross, He prays to the Father to pardon those who executed him.
The resurrected Jesus for the Gnostics is the spiritual Revealer who confers mystical wisdom to the chosen few.
The nature and content of Luke’s tale of Jesus’ resurrection appearances is a vast distance from Gnostic accounts: “After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).
It is undeniable that the Gnostic Jesus is not the Christian Jesus. The Gnostic Jesus is not the Historial Jesus too.