Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What are the different Gnostic types?

I have been working on understanding the larger parameters of ancient gnosticism. In that process I have developed some language to talk about the different kinds of Gnostics we find in the ancient (and likely modern) world.

This material is being published in my paper for the Codex Judas Congress. I will probably be talking about this at SBL during the session honoring the work of Elaine Pagels. What you are reading here is my own analysis and language that has come out of years of research into the ancient Gnostics. You won't find this in any book on Gnosticism (yet! - it will be the framework for my next book The Gnostics and Their Gospels). So if you find this useful and start to use this language in your teaching or research, I would appreciate it if you would reference me - either this blog, or better, my published article: April D. DeConick, "Apostles as Archons: The Fight for Authority and the Emergence of Gnosticism in the Tchacos Codex and Other Early Christian Literature," in the Codex Judas Papers: Proceedings of the International Congress on the Tchacos Codex held at Rice University, Houston, Texas, March 13-16, 2008 (April D. DeConick, ed.; NHMS 71; Brill: Leiden, 2009) 243-288.

Lodge Gnostics: these kinds of Gnostics would define themselves as Jewish or Christian. They attend regular synagogue and/or church, but they also attend additional "lodge" meetings where they learn more esoteric teachings and likely participate in special rituals that the lodge has developed. They are beginning to interpret their scriptures differently from the way the rabbis and priests are doing from the pulpit. They are discussing this at their lodge meetings. Some of the leaders of the lodge may be writing new theological material and this is being distributed and read among the members of the lodge. The rabbis and priests still see these people as part of their flock and are willing to engage them in conversation and theological discussions.

Reform Gnostics: these kinds of Gnostics would define themselves as Gnostic Jews or Gnostic Christians. Gnostic would be an adjective for them. They associate with the synagogue and/or church, but their lodge meetings are more central to their religious life. They would like to see their synagogue or church reform to reflect the esoteric teachings and practices they are partaking of in the lodge meetings. Some of these Gnostics may even be opening their own synagogues and churches and running them themselves as Jewish and Christian alternatives to the traditional places of worship. They have developed a subversive interpretation of scripture that is not being well-received by the traditional rabbis and priests. They may be writing additional scriptures, but understand them to be a supplement to the traditional ones. There is tension developing between the leaders of the reformers and the leaders of the traditionalists who are rejecting the reformers' interpretation of scripture and ritual activity. The word "heretic" starts to be trotted out.

Separatist Gnostics: these kinds of Gnostics would define themselves as Jewish Gnostics or Christian Gnostics. Gnostic would be a noun for them. They think that the traditional synagogue and church is so corrupt that it is beyond redemption. So they belong to synagogues and churches that they themselves have opened and operated. They are not interested in reforming the traditional synagogue or church. They see themselves as starting over and starting right. They are the "authentic" Jews and Christians. They have their own interpretation of scripture that is subversive. They have their own rituals that may or may not be a reflection of the traditional ones. They likely have begun to add new scriptures to their canon, and may be rewriting the old to reflect their beliefs better. They try to convince traditionalists to leave the synagogue and church and join them because they perceive the traditional faiths as corrupt beyond repair. The word "heretic" is normally being used. The tension is so high that persecution from the dominant religion often occurs.

New Religion Gnostics: these kinds of Gnostics would understand themselves as Gnostics, as members of a separate religion. Many have left behind former religious associations. They no longer perceive themselves as Jews or Christians although their brand of Gnosticism likely contains elements from those religions. The place of worship is entirely their own. Their theology tends to be eclectic, drawing on a number of religious traditions. They usually have their own set of scriptures that is different from the traditional religions. They have their own rituals. Over time this new religion is either persecuted by the traditional faiths (in cases of totalitarian state-sponsored religion, when Gnosticism isn't the state-sponsored religion), or the tension between the Gnostics and the traditional people of faith weakens because the traditional faiths are no longer being threatened (in cases where religious freedom is permitted or at least tolerated). In this latter case, the Gnostic religion can survive.

12 comments:

Jared said...

April,

This looks like a helpful schema. Will you be indicating in the forthcoming article what texts/groups fit under what category? Do you see these categories as cutting across different groups or different groups falling more or less under one heading? For example, do you see some Sethians as Lodge, some as Separatist, etc.? Or do you think they would all would tend fall under the same heading?

It faintly reminds me of Barclay's schema of Hellenistic Jewish relationships to the broader societies in which they live.

April DeConick said...

Jared, these are excellent questions. I will take them up in another post (after I finish this index, and after I get my paper written for SBL - or at least underway!)

Scott F said...

The use of the term Lodge is quite evocative for those of my generation or older but will it resonate so well with up and coming students or those from other cultures?

Matthew Alexander White said...

Hehe well I bet my Generation (Sub 30) will definitely had trouble with the word "lodge" but the explanation was very helpful nonetheless. I laughed, it fit me to a tee... who knew?

Scott F said...

Yea, my generation (super30) had it's first exposure to the Lodge via Happy Days :)

Don Zirilli said...

These categories and their descriptions seem to imply that Gnosticism is Post-Christian, as opposed to being one set of beliefs among many, some of which beliefs were included in the (post-Gnostic) Orthodoxy, and some of which were not.

Pastor Bob said...

Scott: you didn't watch the Flintstones? Fred and Barney belonged to the Lodge of the Water Buffaloes!

Scott F said...

I forgot about them!

James said...

Dr DeConick....Serious question;

Is there a peer reviewed Christian time line available anywhere, so that we may make some type of chronological sense out of the various christian movements, and cut down on the confusion? Thanks in advance.

Rochelle D. Saxon said...

I would classify myself as a new religion Gnostic. I have tried finding a Gnostic church either in Houston, TX or just north of Houston and cannot find one. Have you heard of one/

Kohan_Gnostic said...

I am a Lodge Gnostic and will either attend a synagogue, or coptic church, or Catholic church, or Ecclesia Gnostica house of worship, and always a Lodge. Meaning that I also attend services with the Templar Order, Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, or other Hermetic organization, Martinist Order, Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. Also I do Lodge work with the Memphis and Mizraim Rites of Freemasonry. It feels great, to know that the traditions of the Ancient Mystery Schools remains, and that Wisdom, Spirit Worship meaning the veneration of the Holy Spirit is of interest to others. Note that I also perform devotional work that is given to the Great Sophia, meaning worship of Wisdom.

Kohanloo, Betty said...

Should also comment that Velentinian System of Gnosis is also important, as the belief in Pleroma or Totality of Divine Powers, of which the Order of the Pleroma follows, i.e. a Hellenistic inclination, ie. Valentinian Gnostic Tradition, and his teaching of resurrection/revival of the dead Tsadikim, and concept of messiah.