Richard: There is no question that I would like a clearer view/understanding of what is Gnosticism. At present (and I am no scholar) I see many wildly different flavours of Gnosticism. The only commonality I notice is that things labelled as "Gnostic" tend to have more complicated notions of the spiritual / divine realm than mere Christianity or Judaism do. Anything to help clarify this would be of interest to me.
Jeremy: I would be fascinated to hear your further thoughts on this matter. At the Palm Tree Garden, we've been playing with something to which we refer as "The Four Point Plane." It's a 'litmus test' we use when discussing "Gnosticism," and we've found it especially usefulSo let me try out where I am on thinking about this subject now. Things have shifted for me this year after all the work I've been doing on the Gospel of Judas, and also thinking about Rice's new graduate program in Gnosticism, Esotericism, and Mysticism (=GEM).
1) Emanations Cosmology. The heavenly and phenomenal worlds are ultimately the effect of God's process of "emanation," or pouring forth from itself.
2) Immanent Pneumatology. God's spirit fills the heavenly and phenomenal worlds. God is right here, right now.
3) Gnostic Soteriology. Gnosis, which can also be called insight, plays the most important role in the salvation of the Gnostic.
4) Sacramental Praxis. Gnosis can be facilitated by symbolic ritual.
Grant: As far as social structure, I've been meaning to ask, how did you think to liken the 'gnostics' to a lodge movement (I don't recall anyone else who does this)? And how has that been received in your experience? I think it's definitely better than sect or cult. Would you also liken the Greco-Roman clubs, or associations, or mysteries (in which more than just Greeks and Romans participated) to lodge movements?
1. Gnosis is a peculiar kind of knowledge. It isn't any knowledge. It isn't "okay I know I'm divine so I'm alright" kind of knowledge. It is what I would call "unconventional knowledge." What makes Gnosis (and eventually Gnosticism when it comes into being in the late third and early fourth centuries) different from other kinds of knowledge is that it is knowledge received through revelation, that turns on its head conventional interpretations and theology, often in very profound and ingenious ways. Today in our language and world we would call it "subversive" or maybe even "transgressive," and maybe (although this feels really anachronistic to me) "countercultural" in the sense of counter the normal religious beliefs and expectations of the times. Think here about the Sethian interpretation of the Genesis story, where Eve does a good thing and the serpent is Christ.
2. In terms of content, it refers to knowledge that will enable the spirit within, that piece of god that is trapped, to be liberated at death and find its way home. And this ALWAYS includes special rituals. But it also includes a map of the universe and the multiple layers of divine beings and entities between us and the supreme source.
3. Esotericism is hidden knowledge, secrets. I think that all Gnosis is esoteric, but not all esotericism is Gnostic.
4. Mysticism is immediate encounter with the sacred.
5. Lodge idea. My idea for those of you who aren't my students is that the gnostics started out in a lodge movement in Alexandria. It was probably a Hermetic lodge. This means that the Gnostics first self-identified as Jews, and eventually as Christians. Went to lodge in addition to synagogue, where initiation was done into the higher mysteries. I didn't get this idea from anyone. I came up with it myself after looking at all the evidence and trying to make sense of this sociologically. I remember fifteen years ago when Gilles Quispel sat at my doctoral defense and gave a special lecture on Hermeticism and the lodge in Alexandria. That is where I learned about the Hermetics as lodge religionists. So it wasn't long before I started to think of the Gnostics and their connection to Hermetism, and how their movement must have started in the lodge and continued as a lodge movement, especially in the Valentinian tradition. What I am working out now is how the various strands of Gnosis emerge from this environment and eventually become a new religious movement. This is what my paper from the Codex Judas Congress is about.