Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Jewish Origins of Gnosticism
I am becoming increasingly convinced that Gnosticism had a Jewish origin. After the Jewish revolts against Rome in 66-70 and 132-35 AD, Judaism went in one of two directions. Rabbinic Judaism that tried to compensate for the absence of the temple and expulsion from the land through a very manufactured micro-piety built on Torah and Halakah, and those that effectively tried to make Judaism palatable to the middle platonic zeitgeist by turning Judaism effectively into a pagan religion, i.e., Gnosticism.
I think support for this view, at least partly, is found in Philo. In Opificio, Philo attributes the creation of the cosmos to God, but the creation of human beings is outsourced to other heavenly beings so as to make God one step removed from the sin of human subjects (the mediating entities are "gods" and "reason" in Opif. 25, 27). This is a move clearly towards the demiurgal creationism whereby, for the sake of theodicy, God is removed from the creation and evils of humanity. In addition, the Gospel of Thomas is not a Gnostic document per se since it lacks demiurgal creationism, but it is certainly conducive to Gnostic beliefs and very probably found a home in Gnostic circles (hence its inclusion in the Nag Hammadi Codices). But despite all its rhetoric against the followers of Jesus (e.g., Matthew, Peter, etc.), Gos. Thom. 12 still holds James in relatively high regard. So I wonder if Gnosticism filtered into Christianity via second century Jewish Christianity.