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What is Gnostic and Gnosticism?

Prof. April D. DeConick on; Gnosticism.

   These do not refer to a religion, like Judaism and Christianity do. While there are Gnostic religions, there is not a Gnostic religion. What Gnostic refers to is a specific metaphysical orientation or spirituality. Let me compare them to modern terms we are more familiar with. When I use the word Fundamentalist and Fundamentalism, what comes to mind?
   It is not a religion, but a particular orientation toward God, the world and ourselves. We have Christian Fundamentalists, Muslim Fundamentalists and so forth. When I use the word Atheist and Atheism, what comes to mind? Again, it is a particular metaphysical orientation that informs a person’s life.
   Now there will be a wide variety of Fundamentalists, but this doesn’t mean that we can’t talk about Fundamentalism as a concept with ideal features. The same goes for Atheism. When I refer to the words Gnostic and Gnosticism, I mean a peculiar spiritual orientation that arose in Egypt around the time of Jesus' birth.

It is a concept with ideal features including direct contact with a transcendent God through initiatory rites, a belief in an innate spiritual nature that is consubstantial with God, a transgressive take on the religions of the world and their scriptures, and a seekership outlook that spans vast philosophical and religious territories to negotiate a new identity across them. Gnostic spirituality emerges in different religious and social contexts in the ancient world.

Also, a must read; the publications posted below, on Prof. April D. DeConick website; on Gnosticism.

The Following Publications Address My Work On Gnosticism And The Gnostic

"Crafting Gnosis: Gnostic Spirituality in the Ancient New Age"

2013. “Crafting Gnosis: Gnostic Spirituality in the Ancient New Age.” Pages 285-308 in Gnosticism, Platonism and the Late Antique World: Essays in Honour of John D. Turner. Edited by Kevin Corrigan and Tuomas Rasimus. Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies 82. Leiden: Brill.

"Gnostic Spirituality at the Crossroads of Christianity: Transgressing Boundaries and Creating Orthodoxy"

2013. “Gnostic Spirituality at the Crossroads of Christianity: Transgressing Boundaries and Creating Orthodoxy”. Pages in Beyond the Gnostic Gospels: Studies Building on the Work of Elaine Pages. Edited by Eduard Iricinschi, Lance Jenott, Nicola Denzey Lewis and Philippa Townsend. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013.

"Why are the Heavens Closed?  The Johannine Revelation of the Father in the Catholic-Gnostic Debate"

2013. Why are the Heavens Closed? The Johannine Revelation of the Father in the Catholic-Gnostic Debate. Pages 147-179 in John’s Gospel and Intimations of Apocalyptic. Edited by Catrin H. Williams and Christopher Rowland. London: T&T Clark, 2013.

"Who is hiding in the Gospel of John?  Reconceptualizing Johannine theology and the roots of Gnosticism"

2013. “Who is hiding in the Gospel of John?  Reconceptualizing Johannine theology and the roots of Gnosticism.” Pages 13-29 in Histories of the Hidden God: Concealment and Revelation in Western Gnostic, Esoteric, and Mystical Traditions. Edited by April DeConick and Grant Adamson Gnostica Series Durham: Acumen.

"The Road for the Souls is through the Planets: The Mysteries of the Ophians Mapped"

2013. “The Road for the Souls is through the Planets: The Mysteries of the Ophians Mapped.” Pages 37-74 in Practicing Gnosis: Ritual, Magic, Theurgy and Liturgy in Nag Hammadi, Manichaean and Other Ancient Literature Essays in Honor of Birger A. Pearson Edited by April D. DeConick, Gregory Shaw and John D. Turner Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies 85. Leiden: Brill.

2012 “From the Bowels of Hell to Draco: The Mysteries of the Peratics.” Pages 3-38 in Mystery and Secrecy in the Nag Hammadi Collection and Other Ancient Literature: Ideas and Practices Studies for Einar Thomassen at Sixty Edited by Christian H. Bull, Liv Ingeborg Lied, and John D. Turner Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies 76 Leiden: E.J. Brill.

2008 “Gnostic Letters from Bilthoven.” Pages xv-xxi in Gnostica, Judaica, Catholica. Collected Essays of Gilles Quispel. Edited by J. van Oort. NHMS 55. Leiden: Brill.

"Conceiving Spirits. The Mystery of Valentinian Sex"

2008.   “Conceiving Spirits. The Mystery of Valentinian Sex.” Pages 23-48 in Hidden Intercourse:  Eros and Sexuality in Western Esotericism. Edited by W. Hanegraaff & J. Kripal. Leiden: Brill.

Abstract: This article explores further Valentinian views about sex and procreation. Why were the Valentinians so concerned about conceiving souls implanted with a superior spirit like the Lord’s, one that might be “elect” or, at least, inclined to live morally? Because this would increase the number of souls that had the opportunity to convert to Christianity and be redeemed. DeConick argues further that the Valentinians may not have been against eros. Based on a passage from one of the Valentinian texts, she says that the Valentinian lovers appear to have made a distinction between eros and epithumia, between sexual pleasure and lust, between lovemaking and hedonism. They were against carnality for certain, but perhaps not sexual pleasure between married partners. We do not hear in the Valentinian texts anything approaching Augustine’s reproach of eros, that ideal sex should be nothing more than a handshake. For the Valentinians, sex seems to be understood as a delightful and sacred experience all at once, when the souls of the parents mingled with the heavenly powers and resulted in the conception of a spiritually superior child, one who would be morally-inclined and redeemable, if not elect.

"The Great Mystery of Marriage: Sex and Conception in Ancient Valentinian Traditions"

2003.   “The Great Mystery of Marriage: Sex and Conception in Ancient Valentinian Traditions.” Pages 307-342 in Vigiliae Christianae 57.

Abstract: Using medical literature from antiquity, this article is able to answer the perennial question whether or not the Valentinians were abstinent or sexually active. The answer is that they were engaged in sexually active monogamous marriages. The sexual activity was understood to be sacramental, a mystery, because of its procreative power. The sexual act had strict prescriptions in order to safeguard this procreative power and its abuse. The dominant prescription was that sex within marriage had to be pure rather than carnal. This meant that during the sexual act, when a child was being conceived, the parents were required to lift their thoughts to God above and contemplate the higher mysteries. In so doing, they would conceive children with higher grade souls.

"The True Mysteries: Sacramentalism in the Gospel of Philip"

2001.   “The True Mysteries: Sacramentalism in the Gospel of Philip.” Pages 225-261 in Vigiliae Christianae 55.

Abstract: DeConick writes about the sacraments in the Gospel of Philip, connecting them to esoteric Temple traditions. It appears that the Valentinians engaged in the same rituals as other Christians (baptism, chrism, eucharist), although they also believed marriage to be a sacramental state reflecting the sacred marriages of the Aeons in the Pleroma. The Bridal Chamber is not a physical ritual, but an event that will take place at the End of the World when the Pleroma opens up to the wedded spirits as a bridal chamber.

“Heavenly Temple Traditions and Valentinian Worship: A Case For First-Century Christology in the Second Century"

1999 “Heavenly Temple Traditions and Valentinian Worship: A Case for First-Century Christology in the Second Century.” Pages 308-341 in Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus Conference Volume, St. Andrews, Scotland 1998. Edited by J. Davila and C. Newman. Supplements to JSJ. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Abstract: This paper represents DeConick's initial attempt to unravel Valentinian Christology in light of Jewish mystical traditions. She analyzes the Christology through the lens of Heavenly Temple cosmology. She covers descriptions of Jesus-Christ as the Only-Begotten Son, the Face of God, the Boundary of God, the Aeon Jesus (his body and the body of the ecclesia), the Perfect Man, and the High Priest.
In Carey Newman, Jim Davila and Gladys Lewis (eds.), The Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism, Papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus (Supplements to Journal for the Study of Judaism 63; Leiden: Brill) pages 308-341.

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