[GTh] Re: "Gnosticism"
- Say Frank, you state....
>>>"Perhaps the key problem is that there is no standardizeduniversally accepted definition of "Gnosticism". It means different
things to different people, and that's the rub."<<<
True, but I don't think that the fact that it is not universally
accepted goes so far as to say it is strictly divergent in usage
either. I mean, I do understand that outside academic usages there
is practically no quality that can be stated as
definitively "Gnostic" since the word is used for everything from
UFO cults to Racist groups. However, the word "Gnosticism" is still
technically a modern academic word in origin and I think we can in
that sense point out some attributes if we use it at all (and I have
stated for the record that I am one who questions the validity of
the word "Gnosticism" itself, which is why I generally write it in
>>"So, one person might say that Thomas is "Gnostic", and anothermight say it is not--with the reason being that each has a
definition of "Gnosticism" markedly different from that of the
True, but the usual academic debate on this subject is not usually
based on the meaning of "Gnosticism" so much as it is about the
contents of Thomas and how it relates to accepted attributes
of "Gnosticism" (and even within the debate there is agreement as
>>>"I do not think that this is a good situation and wonder if itmight be better to cease using terms like "Gnostic" and "Gnosticism"
when discussing Thomas--at least until there arises a standardized
universally accepted definition of "Gnosticism". What do you
I agree, or at least that we should not be quick to assume the
designation and then build on top of it hermeneutic principles that
may not apply. Your point is essentially the same one I am making to
Tom. Theories should not be built on top of other theories... let's
make some kind of firm base first.
- On Mon, 10 Jan 2005 18:20:54 -0500, fmmccoy <FMMCCOY@...> wrote:
> I do not think that this is a good situation and wonder if it mightSuggestion...
> be better to cease using terms like "Gnostic" and "Gnosticism" when
> discussing Thomas--at least until there arises a standardized
> universally accepted definition of "Gnosticism". What do you think?
The difficulty lies in the following: the confusion arises practically over is any one who uses the word gnosis a gnostic? Which is a close corollary to was Jesus a Christian.
By now there is enough information to see that Jesus was not a Christian, for the theological tenets that made Christianity what it is date from Paul and later. Thomas in fact is one of the key pieces of evidence that Jesus did not teach "Christian" theology.
By quite the same logic Jesus is not a gnostic, and Thomas is not a gnostic writing, even if it was (later) extensively used in circles that were rightly or wrongly associated with the gnostics.
Undoubtedly Jesus taught the idea that we have the gnosis within, that the Holy Spirit lives in us, and that he was teaching his disciples to honour that. But to Jesus gnosis was just a word he may have used. The distinction of gnostics vs non-gnostics arises only later. It is Pauls excessive obsession with sin, and his putting Jesus on a pedestal as a divine being, which create the effective monopoly on the teachings of Jesus for the church, and which are gradually becoming contrasted with the gnostics who focused on the notion that one way or another we do have the inner knowing, that the flame burns within all of us.
Therefore Gnosis, and Gnosticism in the Christian sense become objectivized, and defined only in the process of the evolution of these distinctions in the centuries after Jesus. Since Thomas was not convenient to the Pauline teachings it got lumped in with the Gnostics, which is how the church tended to debase it in modern times as well. But that's clearly after the fact, even if in at least some cases certain Gnostic teachers may have preserved some teachings of his better than Paul and the Church - that still does not make Jesus a Gnostic, or Thomas a Gnostic document.
It is historical nonsense to make Jesus or the Thomas material part of an argument that raged in subsequent centuries, and which they were blissfully unaware of. What may have happened is that some statements in Thomas that might not be original, could perhaps have a gnostic taint, just as much as there may be some Pauline editing in the canonical materials.
Therefore the argument is not that difficult at all. Jesus taught what he taught. The fact that Paul used his teachings one way does not make him a Christian, and the fact that the Gnostics used his teachings another way does not make him a Gnostic either. There is no evidence whatsoever that his teachings were at all gnostic in the technical sense.
[Rogier van Vlissingen]
----- Original Message -----
From: "Karl" <pmcvflag@...>
Sent: Wednesday, January 12, 2005 2:04 AM
Subject: [GTh] Re: "Gnosticism"
> Say Frank, you state....
> >>>"Perhaps the key problem is that there is no standardized
> universally accepted definition of "Gnosticism". It means different
> things to different people, and that's the rub."<<<
> True, but I don't think that the fact that it is not universally
> accepted goes so far as to say it is strictly divergent in usage
> either. I mean, I do understand that outside academic usages there
> is practically no quality that can be stated as
> definitively "Gnostic" since the word is used for everything from
> UFO cults to Racist groups. However, the word "Gnosticism" is still
> technically a modern academic word in origin and I think we can in
> that sense point out some attributes if we use it at all (and I have
> stated for the record that I am one who questions the validity of
> the word "Gnosticism" itself, which is why I generally write it in
I think you do well in questioning the validity of the word "Gnosticism"
itself--for, even in Academia, there are major problems with this word.
For example, in What is Gnosticism? (pp. 213-214), Karen L. King states,
"Although I have treated only three of the most common stereotypical
characterizations of Gnosticism (radical anticosmic dualism, incapacity for
true ethics, and doceticism). similar reservations could be raised about the
general applicability of all the other typological characteristics used to
define Gnosticism. The so-called Gnostic works provide evidence of a wide
variety of ethical orientations, theological and anthropological views,
spiritual disciplines, and ritual practices, confounding any attempt to
develop a single set of typological categories that will fit everything
scholars have labeled Gnosticism. In order to comprehend the complexity of
early Christianity in its formative centures, scholars need to reject the
A little later (p. 218), she makes the comment, "In the end, I think the
term 'Gnosticism' will most likely be abandoned, at least in its current
usage. Perhaps scholars will continue to use it to designate a much more
delimited group of materials, such as 'Sethian Gnosticism' or 'Classical
Gnosticism.' Perhaps not."
Karl, I am 62 years old and one of the major developments in my lifetime has
been a growing realization of just how complex early Christianity was. In
Lost Christianities (p. 1), Bart D. Ehrman states, "What could be more
diverse than this vareigated phenomenon, Christianity in the modern world?
In fact, there may be an answer: Christianity in the ancient world. As
historians have come to realize, during the first three Christian centuries,
the practices and beliefs found among people who called themselves Christian
were so varied that the differences between Roman Catholics, Primitive
Baptists, and Seventh-Day Adventists pale by comparison."
Can labels, such as "orthodox" and "gnostic", formulated under older and
more simplistic conceptualizations of early Christianity, be made applicable
the newer conceptualization of an almost unbelievably complex early
Christianity? If yes, then how? Is it is time for a whole new nomenclature
or, at least, a major re-defining of the old nomenclature? What do you
Also, kind of thinking out loud, perhaps we can assign a type of
Christianity to each early Christian document: so a GThomas Christianity for
GThomas, a I John Christianity for I John, etc..
Then, we could try to arrange them into groups/families. For example, GJohn
Christianity, I John Christianity, II John Christianity, and III John
Christianity could be grouped together as Johannine Christianity. Again,
GMark Christianity, GMatthew Christianity, GLuke Christianity, and Acts
Christianity could be grouped together as Synoptic Christianity.
This would not be any easy task. For example, while it would be easy to
place the unquestionably genuine Pauline texts under one group of
Christianity, called Pauline Christianity, what about those of disputed
Pauline authorship (e.g., II Thess and Colossians) or those that are clearly
Again, would it be better to group II Peter Christianity with I Peter
Christianity or with Jude Christianity? On the one hand, some might prefer
to lump I Peter and II Peter Christianities into a more general group of
Petrine Christianity. On the other hand, since II Peter is, in literary and
doctrinal terms, more closely linked to Jude than than to I Peter, others
might want to lump II Peter Christianity and Jude Christianity into a more
general group--perhaps labeled Petro-Jude Christianity.
These groups/families, in turn, could be lumped into a smaller number of
Does this idea sound feasible to you or not? If you think not, do you think
that there is some way it can be modified to become feasible?
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