Monday, May 24, 2010

The Gnostic Christians


Well, you know I'm in ministerial school, so sometimes all I have in my head is what I'm reading. I'm taking a great course on the Gnostic Christians--fascinating. For those who don't know, the Gnostic Christians were an early Christian sect who co-existed for the first two centuries of the common era with what we now think of as Orthodox Christians. Gnostics believed that Jesus was more of a spiritual than a human being and that Jesus taught how to have a direct spiritual experience, an unmediated "knowing" of the Truth (gnosis in Greek means knowing).

For centuries most of what we knew about the Gnostics was from their orthodox detractors who worked hard to squash them and eliminate all their writings from Christiandom. They were considered heretics and a great threat to the Orthodoxy because they believed in this unmediated relationship with Jesus and the Truth he represented, obviating the need for priests and bishops. They were very egalitarian and women were fully involved in all levels of gnostic worship. They believed Mary Magdalene was the most important apostle and closest to Jesus.

In the late 19th century and mid 20th century scores of authenticated gnostic texts, including new gospels from the apostles Thomas and Peter were found reasonably well-preserved in urns in or around Egypt. This has set the Orthodox Christian world into another round of trying to squash interest in Gnosticism, but it turns out it's harder to do that in the era of the internet and without frequent burnings at the stake.

1 comment:

Jenn said...

Hey sara- Great post! Just wrote a paper on women in Early Christianity and felt surprised and a little embarrassed that I didn't understand early Christians were JEWISH!! Women played quite a role- for example Thecla was really the lead 'preacher' with Paul, but her story was left out. (She's in the apocrypha.)