Chilton on Gnosticism

Via Jim Davila, Bruce Chilton on the gnostics. From the article:

“Neo-Gnosticism [is] a modern revival greatly encouraged by the discovery at Nag Hammadi. In co-opting these ancient sources, the neo-Gnostics are unlike their ancient counterparts. They want to embrace the earth, while Gnostics often shunned the earth; they don’t wish to be elitist, although many Gnostics claimed to be a class apart from humanity at large. Above all, neo-Gnostics want to insist on the gender-equality of women with men. Those are aims I happen to agree with, but you need to cherry-pick Gnostic sources and ignore a great deal of what they say to make that picture work as an account of the Nag Hammadi library.

“Gnosticism has yet to be evaluated in the light of its own sources because two prejudgments have stood in the way of fair reading. One prejudgment dismisses Gnostics as heretics, in the tradition of Cyril of Alexandria. The other imagines that, because Gnostics were repressed by the Orthodox, it must be that the Gnostics themselves embraced diversity. Neither of these pictures is plausible.”

Chilton covers dualistic (wisdom as an hysterical divinity) and non-dualistic (wisdom as divine personification attainable by believers) versions of ancient gnosticism, as well as radical revisionist (villains like Cain and the serpent turned into heroes, Jesus laughing from Gologotha, etc.) and neo-Platonic versions, any of which can intersect with the others. Point being to remind ourselves that ancient gnosticism was as complex as orthodoxy.

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2 thoughts on “Chilton on Gnosticism

  1. Thanks for pointing this out, Loren. I suspect that if you were evaluating contemporary Christianity from outside, you might well say that the way that many contemporary Christians want to practise it requires cherry-picking of Christian sources, too, though. 🙂

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