on 1 September 2012
This is a fine layman's Dictionary of Gnosticism, by Andrew Philip-Smith.
His short bite-size history of the rise of Gnosticism,which precedes his incisive entries, gives a snapshot in eight pages of this cultic activity which meandered through many thought patterns and philosophies in Early Chrisendom, although it had borrowed roots from ancient Jewish and Iranian mysticism. To clarify the situation even more, some indications of early gnostic activity during the first three centuries of the Common Era.
It was proto-catholic christianity that disavowed any move away from the Jesus as God Incarnation theory, because the mysticism of gnosticism seemed to
contradict the 'reality' of this belief.
Jewish mysticism embraced elements of mysticism within their own cabbalistic
documents that had a Mono God at its centre and not the Triune deity, so there
was not this combative tension that Christianity felt as the latter battled to secure a firm foundation for its beliefs and practices.
So the history of Gnosticism as a fully fledged cult really belongs to christian in-fighting, and not to Jewish anxiety or intellectual formulation.
When we are apprised of this difference between the Two great Religions, some statement of early Gnostic activity is essential for those readers who would like to discover why early Christianity was so antagonistic to this cult. Why also, gnosticism was finally forced underground, only to re-emerge
in fits and starts, in later centuries, as a loadstone that was ethical and
asumed puritan garb.
Today Gnosis as a way of life can take its place among minor philosophies and cults, and freely proclaim its revelatory beliefs.
Historically it is fascinating to read the translations of the religious coptic texts(circa. early 4th century,C.E.), that make up what is known as the Nag Hamadi Library.
This collection was discovered in 1945, in an earthen jar, in a Greco-Roman cemetary, and was possibly buried in the late 4th century by coptic monks in Egypt, zealous to uphold the catholic ortodoxy in the town.
(Smith lists these codices. See also 'The Nag Hammadi Library', a book by
James M. Robinson, for a convenient English translation).
If you find the terminology confusing while reading these texts in translation there is recourse to this dictionary. Those unfamiliar terms will be elucidated as never before;and for the more experienced reader, long forgotten terms will again be at your fingertips.
Modern Gnostics whose main interest is not the debate over the something or the accidence of past debates, will see an entry for William Blake,the Poet,(1757-1827), who blended an acute mythology into his own complex gnostic system.
Voltaire,(1694-1778), is a name forever associated with the Enlightenment,the spiritual and mental emancipation of Man in the 18th century. He held semi-gnostic views, honing gnostic beliefs to his service in attacking the burdens and rigors that established Christianity imposed on those within its sphere of influence.
I would have liked to have seen an entry on the 18th century Enlightenment,
as well as on Voltaire the pseudo Gnostic by Smith just to achieve balance.
However, that caveat might seem insignificant in a critique of a work that should prove a valuable resource for years to come.