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.


Ben White said...

Michael - Two questions for you.

1) Philo predates both of the Jewish wars. Do you see a necessary connection between these wars and middle-platonizing Judaism?

2) Is it possible to read John 1:3, Colossians 1:15-16; and 1 Cor 8.6 in this same light? The Son as intermediary between the Father and his creation? If so, is this "turning Christianity effectively into a pagan religion"?

Would love your thoughts on these.

Rico said...

I can't remember sources at present (probably some recent Pastoral Epistles commentaries -- Towner? Witherington? Marshall?) but I'm sure I've read that what some chalk up to gnosticism in the Pastorals and later Paulines can also be read as influence from Judaism/Judaizers. Might be a good trail to follow. This is typically used to try to date the Pastorals earlier (removing a gnostic influence/context) makes this possible, so more likely to find in those towing the Pauline authorship line.

Anders Branderud said...

Quote: “So I wonder if Gnosticism filtered into Christianity via second century Jewish Christianity.”

(le-havdil), A analysis (found here: www.netzarim.co.il (that is the only legitimate Netzarim)) of all extant source documents and archaeology using a rational and logical methodology proves that the historical Ribi Yehosuha ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) from Nazareth and his talmidim (apprentice-students), called the Netzarim, taught and lived Torah all of their lives; and that Netzarim and Christianity were always antithetical.

Judaism and Christianity have always been two antithetical religions, and thus the term “Jewish Christianity” is an oxymoron
The mitzwot (directives or military-style orders) in Torah (claimed in Tan’’kh (the Jewish Bible) to be the instructions of the Creator), the core of the Judaism, are an indivisible whole. Rejecting any one constitutes rejecting of the whole… and the Church rejected many mitzwot, for example rejecting to observe the Shabat on the seventh day in the Jewish week. Examples are endless. Devarim (“Deuteronomy”) 13.1-6 explicitly precludes the Christian “NT”. Devarim 13:1-6 forbids the addition of mitzwot and subtraction of mitzwot from Torah.

Ribi Yehoshuas talmidim Netzarim still observes Torah non-selectively to their utmost today and the research in the above website implies that becoming one of Ribi Yehoshuas Netzarim-followers is the only way to follow him.

jeff miller said...

I would be interested in what you might think of Michael Williams' "Rethinking Gnosticism: An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category"

I still find Adolf Harnack's idea helpful...that what we call "Gnosticism" was the acute Hellenization of Christianity; whereas what we call "Catholicism" was the chronic Hellenization of Christianity. Not that his was the best definition of "Christianity".

TonyTheProf said...

In "Jesus and the Gospel of Judas", N.T. Wright comes to very similar conclusions about its origins.

jk kiser said...

I think you could look at John's gospel as having an anti-gnostic polemic. I think gnosticism roots go back as far as Plato. The use of the demiurge took on anti-Jewish tones i.e. Israel/Torah/the G-d of Abraham, the
Creator G-d of the Jewish people/ the 'Law" all came to be seen as inferior to what eventually developed theologically in Gentile/Hellenistic 'Christian' circles.
I think the Gospel of John can be read in such a way as to tie together the history and identity of the G-d of Israel with the life of Jesus "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with G-d and the Word was G-d." The G-d of Israel is NOT relegated to any secondary or inferior status.