RE: [GTh] Thomas as Gnostic
In Response To: Stephen Carlson
On: The Term Gnostic
Stephen: , I have become uncomfortable with the use and helpfulness of the word
"gnostic" as a broad cover term.
Bruce: I would think that the usefulness of the word “gnostic” is precisely that it IS a broad cover term. It identifies what is common to many things (knowledge rather than virtue as salvific), and contrasts it with at least two other salvation ideas which were also current at the time: that salvation is from faith, or that it is from works.
For more precise denotation, more precise terms are available, eg Sethian and Valentinian. Apparently there are also broad categories of Jewish gnosticism and Christian gnosticism. This seems to be a perfectly workable system of nomenclature, as long as we don’t expect our cover term to also denote one specific variety within the broad area. The generality of the term merely means, as far as I can see, that in calling the Thomas people “gnostic” we have not necessarily finished describing them.
In Sinology, there is a sort of parallel campaign on to disuse the terms “Confucian” and “Dauist” on the plea that they are not precise, and despite the fact that those terms were used by the people of the time, in arguing with each other.
My rejoinder to both proposals is that the term “Christian” does not lose its usefulness because it fails to specify a particular kind of Christian (Mormon, Mennonite, Presbyterian, African Methodist, Eastern Orthodox, etc). Its usefulness is precisely that it includes all of them and others, as against other large groupings (Islamic, Buddhist) which lack that particular commonality.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts