The First Self-Identified Gnostic Text
Stephen Carlson had what sounds a little like another objection to self-identification:
Q: While I am very much in favor of the principle of self-identification, we do have to recognize that we have a number of texts in the Nag Hammadi library about which we have almost no (reliable) information as to which person or group of people produced, transmitted, and/or used them. The only thing to go on is their contents.
A: So, let’s read the contents. (Authors are a red herring in this business anyway; suppose we had a Marcion attribution; we would not know if it was true, and if true, it would not be given ab initio that Marcion was a Gnostic, and if so, of what kind).
Responsible guesses have been made about the approximate age of many of the Nag Hammadi texts. Focusing on what may seem to be the earliest of that group, are there any which unambiguously center on gnosis as the principle of getting where one wants to go? If not, what does that mean? That gnosis was a common ground arrived at, rather than a point of departure? I don’t know how else to ask this question, but by surveying the material in this way.
One problem with the word “Gnostic” is that it was defined before Nag Hammadi (the problem is similar to the Sinological conundrum of “Hwang/Lau” before Mawangdwei). It would thus be of possible advantage to start afresh with the post-Nag material, and see what we can learn about its ideas of life, just by reading them.
E Bruce Brooks / University of Massachusetts at Amherst