Answering the Gnostics 

How Many Gods?

Gnostic literature assumes a multiplicity of gods. The gnostic writers were aware the God who spoke through Isaiah counted only One such being, Himself...and they chuckled at His folly:

"And when she [Sophia] saw (the consequences of) her desire, it changed into a form of a lion-faced serpent. And its eyes were like lightning fires which flash. She cast it away from her, outside that place, that no one of the immortal ones might see it, for she had created it in ignorance. And she surrounded it with a luminous cloud, and she placed a throne in the middle of the cloud that no one might see it except the holy Spirit who is called the mother of the living. And she called his name Yaltabaoth...Now the archon who is weak has three names. The first name is Yaltabaoth, the second is Saklas, and the third is Samael. And he is impious in his arrogance which is in him. For he said, 'I am God and there is no other God beside me,' for he is ignorant of his strength, the place from which he had come." (The Apocryphon of John, pp. 110-111, The Nag Hammadi Library in English, edited James M. Robinson).

"Opening his eyes he saw a vast quantity of matter without limit; and he became arrogant, saying, 'It is I who am God, and there is none other apart from me.' When he said this, he sinned against the entirety. And a voice came forth from above the realm of absolute power, saying, 'You are mistaken, Samael' -- which is, 'god of the blind.'" (The Hypostasis of the Archons, p. 167, The Nag Hammadi Library in English, edited James M. Robinson).

"For the Archon was a laughingstock because he said, 'I am God, and there is none greater than I. I alone am the Father, the Lord, and there is no other beside me. I am a jealous God, who brings the sins of the fathers upon the children for three and four generations.' As if he had become stronger than I and my brothers!" (The Second Treatise of the Great Seth, pp. 368-369, The Nag Hammadi Library in English, edited James M. Robinson).

To these polytheists, it seemed downright comical that any god could be so ill-informed as to imagine himself the only one. What about all the others crowding around?

But Bible-believers are not laughing. He who makes this claim is the living God:

How many gods are known to the Bible?:

How Many Gods?

How many Gods?

Only One God Henotheism
What did the pagans believe? Finis Jennings Dake
Witnesses Origen

"And when he saw the creation which surrounds him and the multitude of the angels around him which had come forth from him, he said to them, 'A am a jealous God and there is no other God beside me.' But by announcing this he indicated to the angels who attended him that there exists another God. For if there were no other one, of whom would he be jealous?" (The Apocryphon of John, p. 112, The Nag Hammadi Library in English, edited James M. Robinson).

Who are they?

Who are the "other gods"?

Strange Gods Gods of Wood and Stone
Is a 'fake rose' a rose? Worship Him!
John Milton Counterfeit Bills
Dark Matter None Like Thee
So-called Gods God of this World
Moses El
Stars Prince of Tyre
Psalm 82 Lower than the Angels
Let Us Make Man Before the gods
The Witch of Endor
Only One God

Only One God

Worship One One Jehovah One God


Polytheism was the default condition in the world into which the early Christian missionaries went forth. The cache of gnostic literature discovered in Egypt reveals both explicitly pagan theological treatises...and also treatises expounding the same concepts, but with a thin layer of Christianity spread on top. The gnostic theologians were attracted to the central figure of the Christian story, but fit Him into their existing theological paradigm. They did not allow Jesus to break the mold. But those who travelled about with Him and listened to Him teach recalled Him repeating the Shema:

"Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.’" (Mark 12:29).

Christian missionaries in India today encounter the same mind-set. Many hearers are willing to adore Jesus Christ. They add a statuette to their collection, right next to Krishna. But when they hear they're expected to jettison Krishna, they balk. Emperor Alexander Severus, it is said, included Jesus in his little statuette gallery:

"His manner of living was as follows: First of all, if it were permissible, that is to say, if he had not lain with his wife, in the early morning hours he would worship in the sanctuary of his Lares, in which he kept statues of the deified emperors — of whom, however, only the best had been selected — and also of certain holy souls, among them Apollonius, and, according to a contemporary writer, Christ, Abraham, Orpheus, and others of this same character and, besides, the portraits of his ancestors." (Augustan History, Life of Alexander Severus, Chapter 29.2).

When someone finds Jesus an attractive figure, but sees no reason to jettison the basic framework of pagan theology, this is what happens, and it happens today in polytheistic mission fields like India just as it happened then. 'Christian' and 'Jewish' gnosticism represent the wholesale importation of pagan theology into monotheistic religion. Even lacking our abundant evidence in confirmation, observers had already noticed the derivative character of this religious movement: "The Gnostics did not invent—they merely borrowed and applied." (Charles William King. The Gnostics and Their Remains (Kindle Locations 2813-2814).) The hostile and unwelcoming tone taken by the orthodox was the result of the negative evaluation of pagan idolatry 'built in' to Judaism and Christianity.

One can't say conclusively whether the existence of the half-way house of gnosticism eased that society's transition into Christendom, making what might have been a stark disjunction into a matter of degrees on a continuum. The Christian apologists, like Hippolytus and Tertullian and Irenaeus, greeted gnosticism with a flame-thrower; they wanted none of it, no compromise. One might expect the pagans, on encountering gnostic literature, flattered on discovering that the sullen Jews and Christians had at long last 'got religion' and consented to subordinate their living God as a minor figure in a very large pantheon, to have been more welcoming and encouraging. However this was not always the case; the pagans did not always return the compliment. There were, not only Christian critics, but pagan critics of gnosticism, like the Neoplatonist Plotinus.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But even pagans could not understand why the gnostics kept bad-mouthing the natural world, in which most pagans found order and beauty. Indeed they could not fail to notice the many self-contradictions built into the sprawling and untidy gnostic project, a drag-net that drew in all manner of things: "Another point: God has care for you; how then can He be indifferent to the entire Universe in which you exist?...If He is absent from the Universe, He is absent from yourselves, and you can have nothing to tell about Him or about the powers that come after Him." (Plotinus, Against the Gnostics.)

There can be no covering over the difference of opinion between gnosticism and orthodoxy. Was Jesus a polytheist who described Himself as one of a proliferation of gods, or did He repeat the Shema as Mark reports? The gnostics understood there was a dispute on this point: "Some say that God is one, who made a proclamation in the ancient scriptures. Others say that he is many." (The Tripartite Tractate, p. 91, The Nag Hammadi Library in English, edited by James M. Robinson). The information provided by the gnostics does not complement the apostolic gospel; the reader must choose.

Though the gnostics sought to fit the Christian revelation into their existing world view, the Christians did not want to fit in. As the Book of Acts reports, the apostles and their circle founded churches. When the demand was made of these churches that they call Caesar "Lord" and offer a pinch of incense to him, they would not. Why not, if they were polytheists like the gnostics?

Ye are Gods

"This is the Good, the aim of those who have Gnosis: to become God." (Hermes Trismegistus, Poimandres, The Other Bible, edited by Willis Barnstone, p. 572).

Does Psalm 82 confirm the gnostic ambition?

Ye are Gods
Legal Defense A Fortieri
Polytheism Weak Link
Elohim Family Portrait
God's Hands Mighty Ones
Theoi Church Fathers
Magistrates Zeus and Hera

The gnostics found the idea ready to hand in pagan literature, for example in Neoplatonism, that some aspect of the human psyche is uncreated, and as old as god: "But intellects which ride as it were in souls as in a vehicle, cannot be called the works of the father; for they were not generated, but were unfolded into light in an unbegotten manner, as if fashioned within the adyta of his essence, and not proceeding out of them." (Proclus' On the Theology of Plato, Thomas Taylor, Volume II, Book VII, Chapter VII, p. 464).


Three hundred and sixty is a nice, round number: "The seventy-two luminaries themselves made three hundred sixty luminaries appear in the incorruptible generation, in accordance with the will of the Spirit, that their number should be five for each. The twelve aeons of the twelve luminaries constitute their father, with six heavens for each aeon, so that there are seventy-two heavens for the seventy-two luminaries, and for each [of them five] firmaments, [for a total of] three hundred sixty [firmaments …]." (Gospel of Judas, National Geographic Society). That is how many idols there were the Kaabah before its cleansing by Mohammed:

"The knowledge thus variously acquired and treasured up in an uncommonly retentive memory, was in direct hostility to the gross idolatry prevalent in Arabia, and practiced at the Kaaba. That sacred edifice had gradually become filled and surrounded by idols, to the number of three hundred and sixty, being one for every day of the Arab year." (Washington Irving, Mohammed and His Successors, Parts I, Chapter VI.)

It is possibly the number of gods 'Orpheus' counted, because the pseudepigraphic 'Testament of Orpheus,' written by Orpheus even less than the original, describes him as "repenting of his former teaching of 360 gods" (quoted in 'A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ,' Emil Schurer, Kindle location 18096). This partial god-census from the Gospel of Judas is already three hundred and fifty-nine gods in excess of the only number our Lord ever counted: "How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God?" (John 5:44 NRSV).

Contemporary author Margaret Barker's total god count I would hesitate to guess. She speaks for devotees of the 'First Temple,' whose lost religion was steam-rollered under advancing monotheism: "The Creator Archon is invariably described as arrogant and ignorant. What is criticized throughout is this archon's claim to be the only God. . .What is most interesting is that the claims for which the arrogant archon was condemned were those very statements in the Second Isaiah which we have already seen were central to that prophet's declaration of monotheism: 'I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no God.' (Isa. 44.6). . .In other words, we can probably see underlying these later gnostic texts the reaction of the excluded devotees of the pre-exilic cult. . .'Yaldabaoth. . .is impious in his madness which is in him. For he said "I am God and there is no other God beside me," for he is ignorant of his strength and the place from which he had come.'. . .'Their chief is blind; [because of his] Power and his ignorance [and his] arrogance he said with his [Power], 'It is I who am God; there is none [apart from me].' (HA CG.II.4.86)" (Margaret Barker, The Great Angel, pp. 179-180). It's no wonder they were "excluded."

Who is Jehovah?

The God of the Old Testament is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The God of the New Testament is one and the same.

There are many New Testament proofs that Jesus Christ is Jehovah God, and just as many that God the Father is Jehovah God, and that God the Holy Spirit is Jehovah God. The Gnostics ejected 'God the Father' from the Old Testament, portraying Him as a strange god newly entered onto the scene in the New Testament.  But it is just as easy to prove the God of the Old Testament is the Father as it is to prove He is the Son -- a manifest proof the God of the Old Testament is triune.

The gnostics disparaged the God of the Old Testament, laughing at His boastful claim to sole deity, and condemning what they perceived as His moral failings. Since the creation of the world fell short of meeting their high standards, they demeaned the Creator God as a lesser, fallen, lower-ranking entity, sometimes portraying creation as an unintended cosmic catastrophe: the shattering of the vessels. The Bible is quite clear that there is only one God, who created the world, and that the God proclaimed in the gospel is the very same as the God revealed by the Old Testament prophets, just as Paul taught:

"But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets: and have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust." (Acts 24:14-15).

While gnosticism nurtured a luxuriant abundance of theogonies, their unifying theme is that Jesus came to proclaim a heretofore unknown God: "About the [one] who appeared in flesh they believed without any doubt that he is the Son of the unknown God, who was not previously spoken of and who could not be seen." (The Tripartite Tractate, p. 101, The Nag Hammadi Library in English, edited James M. Robinson). But the Bible does not confirm the Father of Jesus was "unknown" prior to the advent:

The Father is Jehovah God.

One Father God the Father God of Abraham
Only True God Doubtless Our Father
The Vineyard My Father's House High Priest
Father of the Messiah Israel the Firstborn Touch me Not
Rock Potter and Clay His Offspring
One God and One Lord Father of Lights Father of Mercies
Suffering Servant Abba, Father Born Again

If Jesus came to liberate His people from the ignorant tyranny of the creator-god, as portrayed in the Gospel of Judas, then He came in large measure to liberate them from Himself, the creative Logos by whom God made the worlds:

Jesus Christ is the Creator!

The Doctrine of the Trinity

What is the doctrine?

Biblical Proof:

Only One GodThe Father is GodThe Son is GodThe Holy Spirit is God

The four propositions proven above: that

a.) There is only One God;
b.) The Father is God;
c.) The Son is God;
d.) The Holy Spirit is God.

-- are at the heart of the fifth-century Athanasian Creed: "So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God.  And yet they are not three gods: but one God." Mormons concur with b.), c.) and d.); it's point a.) which needs remedial work!


A common form of proof of God's triunity -- His 'Three-in-One'ness -- are the many instances where scripture ascribes one divine work indifferently to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Creation, one case in point, is covered above in "The First Page". The principle: "With regard to the divine nature, on the other hand, it is otherwise. We do not learn that the Father does something on his own, in which the Son does not co-operate.  Or again, that the Son acts on his own without the Spirit. Rather does every operation which extends from God to creation and is designated according to our differing conceptions of it have its origin in the Father, proceed through the Son, and reach its completion by the Holy Spirit." (Gregory of Nyssa, On Not Three Gods). More cases in point:

Three in One
Who Raised Jesus from the Dead?
Who Authored Holy Writ?
Who Alone is Holy?
Who Sanctifies Believers?
Who Gives Eternal Life?
Who Supplies Pastors?
Who Draws Believers?
Who Regenerates Believers?
Who is the Comforter?
Tempting in the Wilderness
Who Created the World?

In the Image

Genesis 1:26-27 says, "Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'  So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." In whose image was man created? Saklas...or the true and living God?

In the Image

In the Image

God or Man?

The Incarnation

One peculiar by-way through which gnosticism lives on into the present day is the Adam-God doctrine of Joseph Smith and his successors. Influenced by the language of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, some commentators saw an indication that Adam, the man of clay, was created after the image of the Logos, who was Himself the image of God. It was understood that the Logos, the Word of God, was incorporeal: "But do thou diligently take notice that he showed this man, who at the time of the deluge was the only just man and the king of all the creatures which live upon the earth, to be equal in honor, not to the identical man who was first created and formed out of the earth, but to that one who was made according to the likeness and form of the true incorporeal entity, to whom also he gives power, making him a king, not the very created man (or the man formed out of the earth), but him who is according to his form and similitude, that is to say, incorporeal." (Philo Judaeus, Questions and Answers in Genesis, Book Two, Question 56).

How did a farm-boy from upstate New York come into contact with these ideas, which start off rooted in a particular translation of the scriptures, but then bud off in Baroque profusion into their luxuriant Kabbalistic development? Because however the process started, we end up with Adam, the man of clay, being identified as God the Father! There was a member of the community who was an immigrant Eastern European Jew, proficient in the Kabbalah, who generously offered his fellows the real, 'secret' meanings of the Hebrew words found in scripture. The earth is flat, they say nowadays, and it was even more so then. Gnosticism isn't dead, but some of the places where you find it, you would not expect to find it.


Boosters of gnostic literature talk as if these gospels represent historical records of Jesus' publicly verifiable comments during His three-year earthly ministry: "'As the prophesied Messiah, Jesus toppled kings, inspired millions, and founded new philosophies. As a descendant of the lines of King Solomon and King David, Jesus possessed a rightful claim to the throne of the King of the Jews. Understandably, His life was recorded by thousands of followers across the land.' Teabing paused to sip his tea and then placed the cup back on the mantel. 'More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and only a relative few were chosen for inclusion — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John among them.'" (Chapter 55, The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown). Literacy was widespread in the ancient world, and the events surrounding our Lord's passion were not done in a corner. Undoubtedly, many witnesses did record the Lord's sayings and doings; Luke shuffled through their reports, "Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us..." (Luke 1:1-2). But is this how the gnostic literature describes its own methodology?

This author claims much more for this literature than it claims for itself, because the gnostic authors themselves often trace their material to post-resurrection, post-ascension appearances of the Lord Jesus: "After he rose from the dead, his twelve disciples and seven women continued to be his followers and went to Galilee onto the mountain...the Savior appeared, not in his previous form, but in the invisible spirit. And his likeness resembles a great angel of light..." (The Sophia of Jesus Christ, The Nag Hammadi Library, edited by James M. Robinson, p. 222.) They then report His 'secret' sayings on such occasions. In some cases the authors claim the authority of a 'name,' in other cases they are not even claiming this much. In no case should proposed secret, post-resurrection, post-ascension 'red-letter' sayings be described as a treasure trove of eye-witness, historical information, as the boosters describe it. There is a reason why these authors do not place their 'red-letter' sayings about Barbelo and company in a publically verifiable, historic setting. That is because the people who were eye-witnesses had not reported these sayings.

The recently rediscovered Gospel of Judas is an exception, however, siting the conversations it recounts prior to the crucifixion: "The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week three days before he celebrated Passover." (Gospel of Judas, National Geographic Society). The assumption, however, that this is bona fide historical information faces the difficulty that it is stated to be "secret," as well as the fact that Judas committed suicide shortly thereafter. If defenders claim a verifiable human, historic transmission line for this information, one cannot imagine what it might be. Whoever wrote this, and whenever he wrote it, he was not giving 'eye-witness' testimony.

A visionary source cannot be ruled out in advance, because our own New Testament contains 'red letter' sayings of the risen and ascended Lord, like, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.” (Acts 18:9-10). But it is to be expected that the quality of such material will be uneven. Readers open to new 'red letter' sayings first heard by John on Patmos may be less receptive to those first heard by unknown persons residing in third century Syria, especially when the sayings delivered by these latter do not make sense. These authors were pursuing private visions of the risen Lord; some found what they sought, others delivered a spurious product. Under no circumstance ought believers to reject the Lord's documented, historic sayings in favor of such visionary material. Eye-witnesses report His repeating the Shema, visionaries report Him talking about Barbelo, Sophia and a whole crowd of newly come up deities. When visionaries report private interviews with the risen Lord in which He refutes His own prior public teaching, how hard can it be to decide which to discard, what to retain?


Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a prominent critic of Christianity, explains that the idea of the incarnation was borrowed from the gnostics:

"Prevailing currents in religious thought may have injected such thinking into Jesus’ teachings. As  Hyam Maccoby explains, Gnostic religious beliefs, which pervaded the Middle East in Jesus’ era, maintained that the world was created by a demiurge, or sub-god, who was evil. The true good god was too important to concern himself with human beings. These Gnostic sects believed the god of goodness would send down an incarnation of himself to lead human beings toward goodness and away from the demiurge. And this is not the only tradition of corporeal gods. Much of the Greek Pantheon included beings that were part human. The emergence of Jesus as a deity mimicked Gnostic and pagan beliefs and began decades after his death." (Boteach, Shmuley (2011-12-07). Kosher Jesus (pp. 47-48). Gefen Publishing House. Kindle Edition.)

The reality is an almost-perfect mirror image of Rabbi Boteach's picture of it: far from being a gnostic contribution, the idea of the incarnation was a hard pill for gnostics to swallow. Because they believed that the world was the evil creation of an evil god, they could not fathom how the good God could take on flesh and enter into this evil. And so were born theories that Jesus' flesh was unreal and phantasmal. What is therefore left to die upon the cross is either a phantom: mist, a cloud,— or somebody else: a substitute.

The author of 'The Gospel of Judas' is aware that the man who died upon the cross would have carried Jesus' identity papers, because he makes 'Jesus' say, "But you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me." Some gnostics, however, denied even this: some make it Simon of Cyrene who was crucified in Jesus' place, while Jesus stood by laughing. Others assert his 'likeness' only was crucified, this 'likeness' somehow having got detached. Oddly enough this viewpoint found its way into the Koran, a rummage sale of aberrant theology.

"When he had said those things, I saw him seemingly being seized by them. And I said, 'What do I see, O Lord, that it is you yourself whom they take, and that you are grasping me? Or who is this one, glad and laughing on the tree? And is it another one whose feet and hands they are striking?'

"The Savior said to me, 'He whom you saw on the tree, glad and laughing, this is the living Jesus. But this one into whose hands and feet they drive the nails is his fleshly part, which is the substitute being put to shame, the one who came into being in his likeness. But look at him and me.'" (Apocalypse of Peter, p. 377, The Nag Hammadi Library, edited by James M. Robinson).

Not only is this view incompatible the Bible, but at least one Bible author, John, takes great pains to deny it:

Muslims today propose a variety of theories to explain what has become, to them, inexplicable: for instance, that Judas Iscariot was substituted for Jesus. This is at any rate an improvement over the theory that appealed to the amoral gnostics, that it was the blameless Simon of Cyrene. But not only does the Bible teach that it was Jesus Himself who suffered on the cross, even pagan historians admit this much.


Our time is a time of great diversity of religious opinion, with a wild profusion of sects proclaiming every old heresy, and some new ones. The early Christian centuries were likewise a time of great diversity: "For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!" (2 Corinthians 11:4). It is alleged that this a good thing. But the apostles did not think so: "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:8). While certain ways of arriving at uniformity, like the disastrous marriage of church and state, lead to ruin, the apostles' goal should be our goal.

“There are also those who heard from him that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, 'Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.'” (Irenaeus, Against All Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 3:4).

The Gospel of Judas shows just what the problem is. The barbarously-named Barbelo is not the God of Israel. When it comes to gods, new is not good:

"If your brother, the son of your mother, your son or your daughter, the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your own soul, secretly entices you, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which you have not known, neither you nor your fathers, of the gods of the people which are all around you, near to you or far off from you, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth, you shall not consent to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him or conceal him;..." (Deuteronomy 13:6-8).


"Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth..." (Ecclesiastes 12:1)

We expect people to show gratitude to their benefactors. The law that came down at Sinai commands us to honor father and mother: they brought us into this world, they shared their food with us, they did not leave us out in the cold and the rain.

Yet the gnostics are not grateful to their Creator, though they admit it was He who created them, or at least some portion of their frame: the clay prison-house into which the divine spark of the alien god has somehow migrated. They admit it is the Creator who established the sun to shine upon them, and sends the cooling breeze on their face, yet they will not say 'Thank you.' They admit it is His beneficent order of nature which ripens the crops in the field that nourish them, but they are not grateful. They have, it would seem, abundant leisure in which to trace out their elaborate organizational charts of the heavenlies, yet they do not thank the God who put food on their table, though they admit it was He, not their unknown God. Would they rather He had left them to starve in the gutter?

If they pick up a seashell on their beach walks, they will not marvel at its intricate beauty, though their own god has produced nothing to rival the Creator's handiwork. Their own god, the alien god, made nothing, evidently not being in that line of work.

Like children of a broken home forced to prioritize their loyalties by the poisoned atmosphere of the divorce, they have chosen sides. But they have not chosen the custodial parent: the one who puts cereal in their bowl, who tucks them in at night. Another way of putting it is that they are plain ingrates.

Those of the pagans whose eyes were open were obliged to concede this world is beautiful: "We may easily however learn, that it is rightly said the world is most beautiful, and the Demiurgus the best of causes. In the first place, indeed, the beauty of the heavens, the order of the periods, the measures of the seasons, the harmony of the elements, and the analogy which pervades through all things, demonstrate to those who are not entirely blind, that the universe is most beautiful. . .Neither therefore, do those who revile the Demiurgus, dare to say that the world is not most beautiful, but on the contrary they say that through the beauty of it souls are allured and ensnared." (Proclus, Commentary on the Timaeus of Plato, Book II, pp. 284-285).

But taking in a larger scope, it is by no means exceptional for pagan religionists to know nothing of any debt of gratitude to their Creator:

"But in Hinduism or Buddhism you will look in vain for any parallel to the Jewish doctrines of 'a nothing quickened into life,' or of 'a world made in time,' which cannot be humble enough in its thanks and praises to Jehovah for an ephemeral existence full of misery, anguish and need." (Arthur Schopenhauer, The Complete Essays, 'The Christian System,' Kindle location 2081).

Counting in the billions of Hindus and Buddhists who think along these lines, ingratitude is the pagan norm.

Which Side are You On?

God's children love their Lord: "Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’" (Matthew 22:37). The Bible teaches that God is good: "You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness." (Habakkuk 1:13). God's creation is good: "Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good." (Genesis 1:31).

In gnosticism all this is inverted. The God of Israel is evil. The 'heavies' of scripture, people like Cain and Korah, are heroes because they rebelled against the evil God of Israel. In this new gospel, Judas is quite consistently added to the gnostic honor roll. The snake in the Garden of Eden is good: he is mankind's 'instructor:'

"They hid under the trees in Paradise. Then, because the Rulers did not know where they were, they said, 'Adam, where are you?' [...] Then they said to that woman, 'What is this you have done?' She answered and said, 'The instructor is the one who incited me, and I ate.'...They merely cursed him since they were impotent. Afterward they came to the woman, and they cursed her and her sons. After the woman they cursed Adam and the earth and the fruit because of him. And everything which they created they cursed. There is no blessing from them. It is impossible that good be produced from evil." (On the Origin of the World, pp. 71-72, The Other Bible, edited by Willis Barnstone).

It was because of God's fear of man's knowledge that Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise:

"Behold, Adam has become like one of us, so that he understands the distinction of light and darkness. Now lest perhaps he is deceived in the manner of the Tree of Knowledge, and he also comes to the Tree of Life and eats from it and becomes immortal and rules and condemns us and regards us and all our glory as folly -- afterward he will pass judgment on us and the world -- come, let us cast him out of Paradise..." (On the Origin of the World, p. 72, The Other Bible, edited by Willis Barnstone).

This is atheism gone postal. The gnostics hate the God of Israel and look forward to his (their) demise, which, indeed, they are plotting. The "fourth race," the elect, "will pass judgment on the gods of Chaos and their powers." (On the Origin of the World, p. 73, The Other Bible, edited by Willis Barnstone). Thunder signals the twilight of the gods:

"Before the consummation of the Aeon, the whole place will be shaken by a great thunder. Then the Rulers will lament, crying out on account of their death. [...] She will cast them down to the abyss. They will be wiped out by their own injustice. For they will become like the mountains which blaze out fire, and they will gnaw at one another..." (On the Origin of the World, p. 74, The Other Bible, edited by Willis Barnstone).

The gnostics follow the Redeemer...who will "trample" the blind God of Israel:

"And he rejoiced in his heart, and he boasted continually, saying to them, 'I do not need anything. I am God and no other one exists except me.'...when Pistis saw the impiety of the chief Ruler, she was angry. Without being seen, she said, 'You err, Samael,' i.e., 'the blind god.' 'An enlightened, immortal man exists before you. He will appear within your molded bodies. He will trample upon you as potter's clay is trampled. And you will go with those who are yours down to your mother, the abyss.'" (On the Origin of the World, p. 65, The Other Bible, edited by Willis Barnstone).

God's word asks, "Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD‘S side? let him come unto me." (Exodus 32:26). You cannot agree with the gnostics that the creator is blind, evil, and bound for destruction, and also agree with God's word: "But the LORD is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth will tremble, and the nations will not be able to endure His indignation. Thus you shall say to them: 'The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under these heavens.' He has made the earth by His power, He has established the world by His wisdom, and has stretched out the heavens at His discretion." (Jeremiah 10:10-12).

It is incredible that this new gospel is reported in the media as if it were helpful instruction. Christians serve the God of Israel. You cannot love God and hate Him; you cannot serve Him and conspire to bring Him down. This information is about as useful to God's people as Nazi propaganda was to General Eisenhower.

When and Where?

An earlier generation of Bible critics sorted through Paul's letters, tossing out some on grounds that letters condemning gnostic teachings could not have been written by Paul because that heresy had not yet appeared. Now, in their wild oscillations more reminiscent of the fashion world than the scholarly, they date gnostic writings prior to orthodox. What is the truth?

There is no reason to reject the Bible's testimony that this heresy, or some embryonic form of it, had already appeared while Paul was writing his letters in the 50's and 60's A.D. Where? Egypt?

The most jarring note the gnostic writers strike is their 'other' interpretation of the Old Testament. But one hears the same in the present day from Bishop Spong and the atheists. Instead of being adored as a God of loving-kindness, the Old Testament God is condemned on moral grounds, and mocked as inept on the strength of scriptures like, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). This 'other' Bible interpretation was already prepared and came ready to hand. Bishop Spong needed to undertake no more creative work to adopt the atheists' Bible interpretation than first to adopt their attitude.

Atheism was unpopular in those days, but the gnostics needed to look no further for their ready-made source than to Egyptian anti-semitism. The Coptic-speaking inhabitants of Egypt, in spite of being the autochthonous inhabitants of the land and heirs to a great civilization, were no more than fourth-class citizens in their own native country. They were already behind the Greek-speakers who had been the governing elite under the former regime, and lately behind whatever Italian carpet-baggers passed through town. They were behind also Alexandria's Jews, who had been allotted special privileges under the early emperors, under the old imperial adage of divide and conquer. This population's rage nourished, and was nourished by, the publishing industry. Authors like Apion supplied the goods.

Apion identified the God of Israel with a totemic animal: the ass: "Apion hath the impudence to pretend that 'the Jews placed an ass's head in their holy place;'..." (Josephus, Against Apion, Book II, Chapter 7). When this identification is repeated in gnostic works, it can come as no surprise; the gnostic authors were adopting ready-made memes.

Empire-building tossed all manner of different peoples into one cauldron, and it was standard practice for pagan theologians to try to identify foreign gods with those familiar to them. These identifications seem forced to modern readers, based as they often are on a single shared attribute, such as a hardware implement an otherwise differently-described god holds in his hand. To readers who identify the pagan gods as mere names, poetic fictions, made-up protagonists of made-up stories, their number might well be infinite. But to believers who reckoned them real beings of universal sway, not fictions, not local phenomena, there was no alternative to the strategy of identification.

This strategy went badly awry with the God of Israel, who is not numbered amongst the gods of the nations. An Egyptian, starting with the assumption that all gods have animal forms, might come to a different conclusion reading the story of Balaam's ass than a reader who understands God's transcendence. The error would be compounded realizing what deity has the ass as its emblem: a bad actor, Typhon: "...but the power of Typhon although dimmed and crushed, and still, as it were, in the last agony and convulsions, they nevertheless propitiate and soothe by means of certain sacrifices: but occasionally they humiliate and insult him at certain festivals, when they abuse red haired men and tumble an ass down a precipice...and altogether, they regard the ass as an unclean and daemon-like animal on account of his resemblance to that personage..." (Plutarch, Isis and Osiris, Chapter XXX). Since Typhon was a bad god, linking him with Jehovah yields the 'other' Old Testament of the gnostics.

Isis and Osiris

As to why any nominal Christian would adopt this interpretation of the Old Testament, why has Bishop Spong adopted it? Some read the Old Testament and throw themselves down to worship; others despise the God revealed therein. Not everyone is headed in the same direction.

How much did they take from Judaism? The idea of a salvific 'knowledge' is found also in the religion of the Pharisees, which continued on after the destruction of the temple, nurtured by the Rabbis: "The duty of acquiring knowledge, especially knowledge of the Divine Law (Torah), which gives us a clearer insight in God's will to man, is most emphatically enjoined in numerous sentences: 'Without knowledge there is no true morality and piety.' 'Be eager to acquire knowledge, it does not come to thee by inheritance. 'The more knowledge, the more spiritual life.' 'If thou hast acquired knowledge, what dost thou lack? but if thou lackest knowledge, what has thou acquired?'" (Michael L. Rodkinson, The Babylonian Talmud, Volume 20, The History of the Talmud, Park II, Ethics of the Talmud, Chapter II, Kindle location 79444). The resultant elitist social structure is somewhat similar. The content of the 'knowledge' sought, however, is profoundly different.

Another breeding ground is Samaria. Early Christian writers finger Simon Magus and Dositheus as the first gnostics:

“When, therefore, I had ascertained that the God who created the world, according to what the law teachers, is in many respects weak, whereas weakness is utterly incompatible with a perfect God, and I saw that he is not perfect, I necessarily concluded that there is another God who is perfect. For this God, as I have said, according to what the writing of the law teaches, is shown to be weak in many things. In the first place, because the man whom he formed was not able to remain such as be had intended him to be; and because he cannot be good who gave a law to the first man, that he should eat of all the trees of paradise, but that he should not touch the tree of knowledge; and if be should eat of it, be should die. For why should he forbid him to eat, and to know what is good and what evil, that, knowing, he might shun the evil and choose the good?. . .

“Thus then, since he who made man and the world is, according to what the law relates, imperfect, we are given to understand, without doubt, that there is another who is perfect. For it is of necessity that there be one most excellent of all, on whose account also every creature keeps its rank. Whence also I, knowing that it is every way necessary that there be some one more benignant and more powerful than that imperfect God who gave the law, understanding what is perfect from comparison of the imperfect, understood even from the Scripture that God who is not mentioned there. And in this way I was able, O Peter, to learn from the law what the law did not know. But even if the law had not given indications from which it might be gathered that the God who made the world is imperfect, it was still possible for me to infer from those evils which are done in this world, and are not corrected, either that its creator is powerless, if be cannot correct what is done amiss; or else, if he does not wish to remove the evils, that he is himself evil; but if he neither can nor will, that he is neither powerful nor good. And from this it cannot but be concluded that there is another God more excellent and more powerful than all.”
(Simon, 'quoted' in the Clementine Recognitions, Book 2, Chapter 53-54).

It might seem strange that this same literature ascribes the reductive teachings of the Sadduccees to the same teacher, Dositheus, from whom Simon learned his trade of travelling deity. But we are seeing the same phenomenon in the world today. If liberalism were to be described as a religion rather than the collapse of religion, it would have to be defined by a set of negations,-- Jesus was not born of a virgin, Jesus did not walk bodily out of an empty tomb,-- just like the Sadduccean faith must be circumscribed by a set of negations. These planks are rejected on grounds that science has discovered men do not commonly walk out of tombs, nor are commonly born to virgins. One might assume that folks who find monotheism too irrational would not rush headlong into the gnostics' profuse polytheism. One would be wrong; it's happening again today, witness the 'Da Vinci Code' with its divine marriage. These neo-gnostics have decided that Christianity won't do; goddesses enjoying divine assignations are so much more conformable to reason.

The early Jewish Christian writer, Hegesippus, quoted by Eusebius, recalls a halcyon era in the early church, before James the Just's martyrdom, before these malevolent genies escaped their box. Perhaps James' charismatic personality had kept the spot-light off these people, who fully came into their own after he had departed the scene:

“'And after James the Just had suffered martyrdom, as the Lord had also on the same account, Symeon, the son of the Lord’s uncle, Clopas, was appointed the next bishop.  . .
“Therefore, they called the Church a virgin, for it was not yet corrupted by vain discourses. But Thebuthis, because he was not made bishop, began to corrupt it. He also was sprung from the seven sects among the people, like Simon, from whom came the Simonians, and Cleobius, from whom came the Cleobians, and Dositheus, from whom came the Dositheans, and Gorthaeus, from whom came the Goratheni, and Masbotheus, from whom came the Masbothaeans. From them sprang the Menandrianists, and Marcionists, and Carpocratians, and Valentinians, and Basilidians, and Saturnilians. Each introduced privately and separately his own peculiar opinion. From them came false Christs, false prophets, false apostles, who divided the unity of the Church by corrupt doctrines uttered against God and against his Christ.'” (Hegesippus, quoted in Eusebius, Church History, Book IV, Chapter 22).

While the finished product is of undeniable originality, its component parts can be found here and there. While the pessimism of gnosticism startles those of a different mind-set, highly pessimistic world-views dominate the far east, in the form of Buddhism and Hinduism. The gnostic god is a god who has failed and retreated to such a safe distance as to be insulated from further failure: "Gnosticism does not fail; it cannot fail, because its God is at once deep within the self and also estranged, infinitely far off, beyond our cosmos." (Harold Bloom, Omens of Millenium, p. 30).

The Potter and the Clay

God foretold this strange heresy through the prophet Isaiah:

“Woe to him who strives with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth! Shall the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ Or shall your handiwork say, ‘He has no hands’? Woe to him who says to his father, ‘What are you begetting?’ Or to the woman, ‘What have you brought forth?’”
(Isaiah 45:9-10).

Paul quotes this verse, “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Romans 9:20). Paul was the gnostics' favorite New Testament author; the strange names borne by their orders of deity often come from Paul's vocabulary: 'fullness,' (pleroma), or 'ages,' (aeons). Paul, a monotheist, does not use these words to name orders of deity. But so naming the gnostics' congresses of gods did give them a bookmark when skeptics asked, 'where is that in the Bible'?

Was it Plato's Fault?

Christian authors like Aurelius Augustine have been at once orthodox Christians, and also Platonists. To be sure there are some musings of Plato with which no Christian would wish to be associated, such as his odes to child molestation in the Symposium. His totalitarian politics are at the opposite pole from democracy. Nevertheless, if the Bible record of creation is true, and the world is the product of the Logos, certain things Plato pointed out must be true: that the blueprint labelled 'tiger' must pre-date all actual tigers, and survive their extinction.

Certain themes struck by the gnostics call Plato to mind. In his creation myth, the Timaeus, Plato reports mankind's creation as the production of lesser gods, not of the Highest God. The Highest God address this command to his underlings:

"'Gods, children of gods, who are my works, and of whom I am the artificer and father. . .now listen to my instructions:--Three tribes of mortal beings remain to be created--without them the universe will be incomplete, for it will not contain every kind of animal which it ought to contain, if it is to be perfect. . .do ye, according to your natures, betake yourselves to the formation of animals, imitating the power which was shown by me in creating you. The part of them worthy of the name immortal, which is called divine and is the guiding principle of those who are willing to follow justice and you--of that divine part I will myself sow the seed, and having made a beginning, I will hand the work over to you.'" (Timaeus 41).

In fairness, it was already a feature of the poets' religion that the supreme god, Jupiter, was not mankind's creator: mankind had lived happily and prosperously under his father, Saturn. Gnostics were not the only pagans who had experience in transferring their loyalties to the winning side.

Plato Home


In twentieth century America, Communists sought to infiltrate the government, labor unions, and other key organizations. They were taught not to advertise their party affiliation. McCarthyism arose in response to this underhanded approach. Unfortunately, the remedy was a graver threat to America liberty than the original malady.

Gnosticism faced the early church with a similar dilemma. The church-going crowd sat happily hymning Jehovah; but there in their midst was an initiate, a 'knower,' who laughed at Jehovah and worshipped Barbelo, or Bythus. When you asked him what he believed, he might not tell you; it was a 'secret.' Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and these initiates knew enough to keep in the shadows.

When it was the Communists who were subjected to investigation and interrogation, some people held them up as shining examples of freedom under attack. But there would have been no campaign to unmask the Communists had they stood up as brave men and declared what they believed. If they had not masked themselves, they could not have been unmasked. Why the secrecy? Can democracy survive if the voters do not know candidates' true affiliations? They were not playing by the rules when they concealed their true beliefs and affiliations.

The New Testament church operated by consensus: "Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren. They wrote this letter by them: The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings. . .it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord. . ." (Acts 15:22-25).

The church response to the gnostic threat was to build up the bishops' authority. But this is not how it was planned; all Christians are priests:

"But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy." (1 Peter 2:9-10).

The church was not intended to be a society where some people lord it over others: "You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet." (John 13:13-14). The church became an authoritarian society in response to this heresy's challenge. Bishops like Ignatius and Cyprian infantilized the laity, teaching the people to follow the bishop like little ducklings, because they were not bright enough to see through the gnostic mask. This distortion of church life grew steadily worse until, in the middle ages, the church was dispatching armies to murder heretics. The people who were "a royal priesthood" became spectators at church, not even admitted to communion in both elements; a church governed by the consensus of those "assembled with one accord" devolved into autocracy. Whose fault was it?

To the modern defenders of gnosticism, the gnostics were, not the root cause of the church's loss of her New Testament egalitarianism, but innocent victims, heroes standing up for freedom against the totalitarianism closing in. But had the gnostics defended their ideas in the public market-place rather than hiding behind their Wizard of Oz act, gnosticism would not have presented such an insidious threat. People invested years of their lives in achieving the standing to learn the gnostic doctrines. The apologists' strategy therefore was to force disclosure, because to learn these doctrines is to laugh. It was the gnostics' foes who wanted open and free public debate. Ideally, the remedy for bad speech is more speech. The gnostics wanted no speech, but only silence and secrecy. The people who would not play by the rules of religious controversy were the gnostics, not the orthodox.

If the gnostics were the romantic heroes their defenders claim: "We can see, then, that such gnosticism was more than a protest movement against orthodox Christianity. . .many gnostics, like many artists, search for interior self-knowledge as the key to understanding universal truths -- 'who we are, where we came from, where we go.'" (Elaine Pagels, 'The Gnostic Gospels,' p. 134) -- why not publicize, and defend, their 'discoveries'? The gnostics should be blamed for the church's slide into authoritarianism, not celebrated as free spirits: "We can see, then, how conflicts arose in the formation of Christianity between those restless, inquiring people who marked out a solitary path of self-discovery and the institutional framework that gave to the great majority of people religious sanction and ethical direction for their daily lives." (Elaine Pagels, 'The Gnostic Gospels,' p. 149).

Author Pagels' readers are expected to believe that heresy-hunters like Tertullian and Hippolytus were motivated by a desire to magnify Rome's power. This is the same Tertullian who ridiculed the gnostics as polytheists: "Tertullian ridiculed the gnostics for creating elaborate cosmologies, with multi-storied heavens like apartment houses, 'with room piled on room, and assigned to each god by just as many stairways as there were heresies: The universe has been turned into rooms for rent!'" (Elaine Pagels, 'The Gnostic Gospels,' p. xxix). But Tertullian did not really care about monotheism, we are expected to believe; he cared about political power. This is the same Tertullian who, for most of his Christian walk, was in fellowship with the Montanists, condemned as heretics by Rome. If his motive was to build up Rome's power, why did he choose fellowship with the Montanists rather than with Rome, when he could not have both?

Anti-pope Hippolytus makes an even unlikelier booster for Pope Callistus' ambitions. If Hippolytus and his colleagues were in the heresy-hunting game as a facade for power politics, with their real agenda being to magnify the Pope of Rome, then why condemn this same Pope as the heretic he was? This author cannot make herself believe that anyone really cares about whether there is only one god or a whole crowd, and so therefore the fuss must all be about something else: something real, like politics. Presumably the people who were dying because they would only confess one God were thinking about something else at the time; something important, like who was going to be elected bishop.

The apologists employed an argument against gnosticism which emphasized the shortness of the chain linking the churches of the second and third century to the apostles. They brought this up as a check on the gnostics' out-of-control New Testament interpretation. For example, when Paul talks about heights and depths: "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature. . ." (Romans 8:38-39),-- he is, according to gnostic exegesis, sketching out the contours of his pantheon. As a check on such interpretation, the apologists called Paul's churches to testify. Paul had established churches throughout Greece and Asia Minor; he taught the members, and appointed officers (Acts 14:23). Nor was it really such a long time ago; while the people Paul taught face to face had gone on, some of those whom they in their turn had mentored were still around; there were still, at that time, only a few links in the chain. Now if Paul had intended to teach polytheism in his letters, as the gnostics contended, then why were the churches he founded consistent in their intentional commitment to monotheism? Given multiple, independent transmission lines, how could the message have become so corrupted, in only a few generations? Why would Paul teach the people he lectured face to face just the opposite of what the gnostics claimed he taught in his letters?

The apologists' argument emphasized how very short the transmission line was, as indeed it was in these authors' day. When a message must be repeated multiple times, opportunities for loss or degradation multiply. How could these authors have anticipated that their argument would in years to come be inverted, and the church would begin to glory in, not how short a transmission line connected her to the apostles, but how gloriously long, and filled with such colorful characters. By the institution-builders' logic, if a short transmission line is good, a long one is even better. According to 'The Gnostic Gospels,' not only did these apologists anticipate that their argument would be turned upside-down, this was just what they wanted. The gnostics were hapless bystanders to an argument that was really not about them. When, in centuries or indeed millenia to come churchmen would boast of how long the chain was stretching back to the apostles, this was just the same as the early church apologists stressing how very short it was. But how could sensible authors like Tertullian and Hippolytus anticipate a development of their argument premised on the notion that 'long' is no different from 'short'?

According to the author of 'The Gnostic Gospels,' Christians believe in Jesus' bodily resurrection because this belief fosters papal power:

". . .why did orthodox Christians in the second century insist on a literal view of resurrection and reject all others as heretical? I suggest that we cannot answer this question adequately as long as we consider the doctrine only in terms of its religious content. But when we examine its practical effect on the Christian movement, we can see, paradoxically, that the doctrine of bodily resurrection also serves an essential political function: it legitimizes the authority of certain men who claim to exercise exclusive leadership over the churches as the successors of the apostle Peter. From the second century, the doctrine has served to validate the apostolic succession of bishops, the basis of papal authority to this day." (Elaine Pagels, 'The Gnostic Gospels,' pp. 6-7).

Likewise with other doctrines. This author sees no more point in counting gods than in counting telephone poles, or license plates. Therefore, the apologists liked monotheism, not because they saw any more point than this author in counting gods, but because, in some mysterious way, it boosts the power of the bishop. Who knew? Did polytheism ever diminish the power of the Mormon hierarchy? Never mind. Imagine academia's surprise and perplexity should they discover there are people who believe in monotheism and resurrection who are not papists.

Gnosticism's gloomy legacy does not stop its wide-eyed admirers from trying to get this turkey to get up and fly. The boulder blocking their path is the gnostic library itself, which is not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for those people who would like to encounter the kind of literature which gnosticism has been falsely advertised as being:


Where did author Brown come by his conviction that the gnostics were sensitive, New Age guys who celebrated Jesus' humanity? Certainly not from the barbarous yawp of their writings preserved in the Nag Hammadi library. Rather, this is the 'spin' placed on gnosticism by modern academia.

If your knowledge of gnosticism comes, not from contact with the original texts, but from modern academia, then you likely believe the gnostics were rational inquirers, free spirits on a quest for self-discovery. . . sort of like psychoanalysis: "For gnostics, exploring the psyche became explicitly what it is for many people today implicitly -- a religious quest. Some who seek their own interior direction, like the radical gnostics, reject religious institutions as a hindrance to their progress." (Elaine Pagels, 'The Gnostic Gospels,' p. 123).

This odd couple formed according to the dictum, 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend.' Gnostics and modern academics are drawn together by their shared disdain for orthodoxy:

"Gnostic Christians undoubtedly expressed ideas that the orthodox abhorred. . .Yet orthodox Christianity, as the apostolic creed defines it, contains some ideas that many of us today might find even stranger. The creed requires, for example, that Christians confess that God is perfectly good, and still, he created a world that includes pain, injustice, and death; that Jesus of Nazareth was born of a virgin mother; and that, after being executed by order of the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, he arose from his grave 'on the third day.' Why did the consensus of Christian churches not only accept these astonishing views but establish them as the only true form of Christian doctrine?" (Elaine Pagels, 'The Gnostic Gospels,' p. xxxv.-xxxvi.)

Facing this shared enemy, the academics mount a determined effort to find something positive to say about gnostic perspectives that the orthodox find unedifying, such as the notion that the Living God's assertion of monotheism was corrected by his mother:

"Others declared that his Mother refused to tolerate such presumption: '[The creator], becoming arrogant in spirit, boasted himself over all those things that were below him, and exclaimed, 'I am father, and God, and above me there is no one.' But his mother, hearing him speak thus, cried out against him, 'Do not lie, Ialdabaoth. . .'" (Elaine Pagels, 'The Gnostic Gospels,' p. 58).

A positive spin is placed on this frequently-occurring set-piece of inter-god dialogue, namely, that populating the heavenlies with goddesses is a progressive step on the road to gender equality. In pursuit of this goal, modern academics are willing to tolerate the occasional misogynist rant, like "'Woe to you who love intimacy with womankind, and polluted intercourse with it!'" (Thomas the Contender, quoted p. 66, Elaine Pagels, 'The Gnostic Gospels.'). In the eyes of their cheering section, gnostic contempt for human females is outweighed by their reverence for the goddess:

"Do not wash yourselves with death, nor rely on those who are inferior as if they were superior. Flee from the madness and the fetter of femaleness and choose the salvation of maleness." (The Sermon of Zostrianos, The Gnostic Bible, edited by Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer, p. 216).

But is there really any demonstrable association between populating the heavens with goddesses and improving the status of women down on earth? It was the goddess-worshipping Arabians who buried little girls alive, not Mohammed and his anti-goddess band.

The academics and the gnostics share a distaste for the Lord's bodily resurrection, though for different reasons. The academics hope it can be spiritualized away: "One could suggest that certain people, in moments of great emotional stress, suddenly felt that they experienced Jesus' presence." (Elaine Pagels, 'The Gnostic Gospels,' p. 6). The gnostics objected to the resurrection on the same grounds as they objected to the incarnation: because blood defiles, and death defiles, God cannot have stained Himself by taking on flesh, but can only have appeared to do so. The gnostics' revulsion at the flesh does not appeal to contemporary academia and is investigated no further.

Our thinking man's gnosticism is a work product of great creativity. To those who have been taught this contemporary gnosticism, what a cold bath of water contact with the raving gnostic texts must prove. How to tidy up all this mad yowling for modern consumption? By cutting and pasting. Judicious selection is the key to producing a gnosticism fitted to modern taste. After all what was found at Nag Hammadi was a library, not a creed; surely somewhere in there, in the selections from Plato's Republic if nowhere else, sweet reason may be found. In this vast store of material, something appealing and rational must lie hid; take a little from here, a little from there, sew it together, and author Brown's gnosticism stretches and rises to life.

The rational man who saves this enterprise is Silvanus, the Teacher. Silvanus, a Christian Philonist and professor of Logos Christology, sings paeans to the Logos, Divine Reason. Author Pagels seeks a gnostic who, "Like Freud," professes "to follow the 'light of reason,'" and Silvanus steps up to the plate: "Bring in your guide and your teacher. The mind is the guide, but reason is the teacher. . ." (Silvanus, quoted p. 127, Elaine Pagels, 'The Gnostic Gospels.')

Silvanus is indeed a rational man, and his arrival was just in time. Of course, he is no gnostic. He believes that the Creator God is good, not a fallen demi-urge: "Only the hand of the Lord has created all these things. For this hand of the Father is Christ, and it forms all." (The Teachings of Silvanus, The Nag Hammadi Library, James M. Robinson, p. 394). Quoting Hebrews 1:3, he teaches that the worlds were formed by the Word of God:

"O Lord Almighty, how much glory shall I give Thee? No one has been able to glorify God adequately. It is Thou who hast given glory to Thy Word in order to save everyone, O Merciful God. (It is) he who has come from Thy mouth and has risen from Thy heart, the First-born, the Wisdom, the Prototype, the First Light. For he is light from the power of God, and he is an emanation of the pure glory of the Almighty. He is the spotless mirror of the working of God, and he is the image of his goodness. For he is also the Light of the Eternal Light. He is the eye which looks at the invisible Father, always serving and forming by the Father's will." (The Teachings of Silvanus, The Nag Hammadi Library, James M. Robinson, p. 393).

He chides those who accuse the Creator of ignorance, as do the gnostics: "Let no one ever say that God is ignorant. For it is not right to place the Creator of every creature in ignorance." (The Teachings of Silvanus, The Nag Hammadi Library, James M. Robinson, editor, p. 394). He teaches the incarnation as a reality, not semblance: "Know who Christ is, and acquire him as a friend, for this is the friend who is faithful. He is also God and Teacher. This one, being God, became man for your sake." (The Teachings of Silvanus, The Nag Hammadi Library, James M. Robinson, editor, p. 392). He teaches that Christ truly bore affliction, and died: "Accept Christ, the narrow way. For he is oppressed and bears affliction for your sin. . .Although he was God, he [was found] among men as a man. He descended to the Underworld. He released the children of death. . .And when all the powers had seen him, they fled so that he might bring you, wretched one, up from the Abyss, and might die for you as a ransom for your sin." (The Teachings of Silvanus, The Nag Hammadi Library, James M. Robinson, editor, p. 389). He dislikes the gnostics' polytheism: "For he who says, 'I have many gods,' is godless.'" (The Teachings of Silvanus, The Nag Hammadi Library, James M. Robinson, editor, p. 386).

He is not altogether orthodox; Silvanus is an Origenist before Origen, because he suggests the pre-existence of the human soul: "When you entered into a bodily birth, you were begotten." (The Teachings of Silvanus, The Nag Hammadi Library, James M. Robinson, editor, p. 385). Moreover he's a misanthrope. But he's no gnostic. This harmless author was kidnapped off the street and impressed into the gnostic camp, because he is a rational man and rationality was what they lacked.

How did people nowadays come to believe the absurd fictions that gnosticism has got something to do with feminism, and that the gnostics were open-minded, friendly folk who wanted a more human Jesus? Read and see:

Jewish Gnosis

The popular school of Jewish mysticism known as the 'Kabbalah' first appeared in the world during the European dark ages. To the extent that this movement can credibly trace its origins back into antiquity, the trail leads to gnosticism. But gnosis is pagan syncretism. Does this mean the Kabbalists are circumcised pagans?

Thus begins the quest for an authentically Jewish gnosis. What is sought is found in the Book of Baruch, by Justin. Justin begins by retelling Hesiod's tale of Sky mating with Earth, whose offspring made men (Hesiod, Theogony). 'Earth' (Gaia) he translates; 'Sky' (Ouranos) is 'Elohim.' Pagan students of Judaism thought Jews worshipped the sky: "Some men who chance to be born of a father who's orthodox in keeping the Sabbath worship nothing but clouds and a kind of unseen God in the heavens." (Juvenal, Satires, XIV, 96).

Justin counts "three ungenerated principles," which is two more than monotheists count. One of the three is 'Elohim,' whose nature is to rise. Rising, he discovers a higher god:

"When Elohim reached the upper border of heaven, he saw a light stronger than the sun he created, and he said, 'Open the gates for me to enter and to acknowledge the lord. I had thought I was the lord!'" (Book of Baruch, The Gnostic Bible, edited by Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer, p. 128).

In the Book of Baruch, this most high god is revealed to be. . .Priapus!: "The Good is Priapos, who created before anything was. He is called Priapos because he made everything. So in temples everywhere he is honored by all creation." (Book of Baruch, The Gnostic Bible, edited by Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer, p. 132).

This actually does explain a lot about the Kabbalah, but because Thriceholy is a family-friendly site, I will say no more. The author also offers helpful information about Heracles, Leda and the Swan, and other pagan nonentities.

There has always been an 'other' Israel. God,-- not Priapus, nor Ouranos, but the living God,-- showed it to Ezekiel:

“And He said to me, 'Go in, and see the wicked abominations which they are doing there.' So I went in and saw, and there—every sort of creeping thing, abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, portrayed all around on the walls. And there stood before them seventy men of the elders of the house of Israel, and in their midst stood Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan. Each man had a censer in his hand, and a thick cloud of incense went up. Then He said to me, 'Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the room of his idols? For they say, “The LORD does not see us, the LORD has forsaken the land.”'” (Ezekiel 8:9-12).

At times, as under King Manasseh, the 'other' Israel has threatened to swamp the faithful remnant who still served the living God. We do not have before us the literature King Manasseh read, which encouraged him to meet the pagans half-way. . .except we do; the Book of Baruch cannot be far different. It is pagan syncretism.

It may be that the quest for an authentic Jewish gnosis is the heart-broken lament of those modern Jews who have discovered how many of their co-religionists have, over the past several centuries, devoted their religious life to searching into the arid fictions of Valentinus in the mistaken belief they were worshipping the God of Israel:


The Kabbalah

Joseph Smith God's Sex Life
Glorified Man Bad Theology
Reincarnation Metatron
Sparks God the Sinner
Tsaddik Pot, Kettle
In Practice


The canonical scriptures never provide a description of what the heaven/earth system looks like to an observer standing outside the system. Readers who insist that providing such a description is a central concern of religion are obliged to tease one from catch-phrases and figures of speech found here and there in scripture, like the 'ends of the earth;' never mind that people still use these same catch-phrases. Bible language is phenomenological, expressing what an observer on earth sees, never seeking to explain why it looks that way.

With gnosticism it is different. Readers become aware that the gnostic earth is nestled within eight concentric spheres. The first seven carry the wandering heavenly bodies known to antiquity: the moon, the sun, the planet Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. These are the 'seven heavens' of rabbinic lore, above the lowest sphere, the earth. Another sphere carries the fixed stars, which in this system rotate around a central, stationary earth. This is the whole world-system: "For thus in the Republic, Plato divides the whole world, into eight whirls, comprehending the whole of a material nature in the ogdoad. . .Again, however, it may be more perfectly said, that through this monad and heptad of circles, he comprehends all the parts of the world." (Proclus, Commentary on the Timaeus of Plato, All Five Books, translated by Thomas Taylor, Book III, p. 606). In keeping with the gnostic theme of acculturation, the gnostics were greatly impressed with Ptolemaic astronomy, in that day the best available scientific explanation of the apparent movements of the heavens:

Ptolemaic System

Most orthodox Christian writers of this era also accept the Ptolemaic system as an accurate description of astronomical reality, though there are some nay-sayers, like Lactantius, who found the concept of the antipodes absurd. Up until medieval times, though, most express little interest in the system. There were even vocal detractors like Cosmas Indicopleustes, a sixth-century merchant whose world travels had convinced him the Ptolemaic system was false. He complains that the adherents of Ptolemaic astronomy were pagan idolaters.

Though the atheists are convinced that cosmology is a central concern of religion, you couldn't prove it from the orthodox Christian authors in the early church era. Aurelius Augustine's lack of interest amounts to astronomical agnosticism. By contrast, the gnostics are enthusiasts, who make the seven spheres gated barricades impeding the spirit's return home, and the eighth or ogdoad the longed-for destination.

“The soul in me yearned for life.
I floated and wandered up
till I reached the second planet,
and the third and the fourth.
When you go among them,
they will shout the name of death,
and chain and torment you.
I floated and wandered up
the fifth, sixth, and seventh planets
till I reach the house of life.”
(Soul Songs, The Gnostic Bible, edited by Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer, pp. 552-553).

Some of these authorities count eight heavenly spheres. Others count nine, if you start your count with the sublunary earthly sphere, our own happy home, or distinguish the outermost sphere, which pagans like Plato and Cicero considered a god, from the sphere of the fixed stars: "The universe is formed of nine circles or spheres, as we should more properly call them. One of these is the heaven [of the fixed stars]; it is on the exterior of the universe, embracing all the other orbs, and is the supreme god himself who constrains and includes the remaining spheres. In it are placed the eternal courses of the rolling stars. Beneath this outer circle are the seven orbs which revolve in a direction opposite to that of the heavens. The outermost of these spheres belongs to the planet which men on earth call Saturn. The next is the luminary called Jupiter, benign and propitious to the human race, and next the ruddy star, feared by earth, which you call Mars. Below Mars comes the sun, which holds almost the mid-region [between the earth and the heavens] and is the leader, chief, and director of the other stars, and the mind which keeps the universe in balance." (Marcus Tullius Cicero, On the Commonwealth, Book VI, Scipio's Dream, Chapter XVII).

That outer enclosure is more than the goldfish bowl which holds the whole, it is a mighty god, the principal one it may be, as the pagans reckon these things. Because the system is geocentric,— there were a few heliocentrists in antiquity, but it was always a minority viewpoint, because ancient physics could not resolve the difficulty of how we could be hurtling through space without our hats flying off,— the outermost sphere moves with unimaginable rapidity; it is the unmoved mover. The system was ready-made, the gnostics did not have to invent it, though they picked it up and ran with it, developing a literature of heavenly tourism. Because, however, these structures do not in fact exist, this literature must be classed in the fiction aisle.

Life would be simple indeed if one could simply dismiss Cosmas Indicopleustes' critique of spherical paganism as ill-informed ranting. But then there is this: man as a microcosm of the universe, which is understood to be a living, sentient, animate being:


There couldn't be a problem here, could there? Well, yeah, actually. Nevertheless Christendom went bumping on into the Middle Ages, with a baptized Aristotle and Plato in tow, a flat tire that couldn't be repaired. The achievements of classical learning could not be dispensed with, though they were not entirely in accord with Christianity. They might have done better to hang on to the strength of their convictions, because as a matter of fact, there ain't no spheres. There aren't seven, eight, nine; none is the correct number. Has any of the space probes sent off through the solar system ever once banged into one, sustaining damage? Case closed. For that matter they'd have done better to stop curing the sick by blood-letting; Galenic medicine in the end is no more efficacious than is Ptolemaic astronomy. People talk about a conflict between reason and faith, meaning no more than that there is a conflict between Aristotle and faith. And yes, there is. There is also a conflict between Aristotle and reality.

The system of astronomy commonly named for Claudio Ptolemy actually predates him by some centuries. It came along, however, long after the Greek myths were formulated, so that much the whole vast structure was 'for rent,' unpopulated as yet by attendant door-keeper gods. Not to say that the Greeks, like other pagans, did not worship the heavenly luminaries; but the newly available detailed map of their places of residence gave a vast opportunity for the theological imagination that had not been there previously. It was a blank canvas that awaited being filled in. Babylonian astrology had already been imported and hammered onto the Greek astronomy, but there was still room for gnostic improvisation. Though the stars and planets had long been deified, this gleaming and whirring spherical edifice provided plenty of employment opportunity for traffic cops and gate-keepers, familiar to readers of gnostic literature. The traveler who wishes to pass from one sphere to the next must know the secret password. The gnostics eagerly volunteered to serve as real estate agents, filling up all the vacant places, much to Tertullian's astonishment:

"As for our heretics, however, it is marvelous what stories upon stories and what heights upon heights, they have hung up, raised and spread out as a dwelling for each several god of theirs. Even our Creator has had arranged for Him the saloons of Ennius in the fashion of private rooms, with chamber piled upon chamber, and assigned to each god by just as many staircases as there were heresies. The universe, in fact, has been turned into 'rooms to let.' Such stories of the heavens you would imagine to be detached tenements in some happy isle of the blessed, I know not where. There the god even of the Valentinians has his dwelling in the attics." (Tertullian, Against the Valentinians, Chapter 7).

Acculturation is a two-edged sword. While this content may have been attractive when the Ptolemaic system was taught at school, now that not even cranks believe it, the gnostics still must drag these obsolescent celestial spheres, no longer respectable, clunking along behind them. There ain't no spheres!  The modern promoters of gnosticism say nothing about this glaring embarrassment; they try to make gnosticism seem attractive, not because it is, nor are they devotees of the Ptolemaic system, but only because any stick is good enough to beat Christianity with. The gnostics grabbed at what was popular, at the time, and were left with a handful of quintessential dust.

Pietro di Puccio Universe

The Ptolemaic system was wonderfully complex, with epicycles hanging upon epicycles. It was genuinely beloved by its worshipful students such as the medieval scholastic Thomas Aquinas. If he went on to glory after his earthly sojourn was over, one must wonder how they broke it to him, that there are no spheres. Perhaps they hadn't the heart, and handed him a rusty old lever, assigning him the task of working the spheres. Who has not heard of the fabled sefirot of the Kabbalists, a Greek loan-word, from sphaira. The music of the spheres wafts through much of the literature of the middle ages and of classical antiquity, only not in one place: it isn't in the Bible.

An example of the astronomical ascent genre is the Jewish Christian work, The Ascension of Isaiah, heavenly tourism of the Ptolemaic bent. . .or curve. A candid evaluation of its date would place it in the first century, because the only identifiable politician is Nero: "After it is consummated, Beliar the great ruler, the king of this world, will descend, who hath ruled it since it came into being; yea, he will descend from his firmament in the likeness of a man, a lawless king, the slayer of his mother: who himself (even) this king will persecute the plant which the Twelve Apostles of the Beloved have planted." (Ascension of Isaiah, Chapter 4, Section 2-3). This work is certainly of incipient gnosticism at a minimum, because "the Father" is quoted as saying, "For they have denied Me and said: 'We alone are and there is none beside us.'" (Ascension of Isaiah, Chapter 10, Section 13). The claim that monotheism is the confession of the false gods is central to gnosticism, which likes a well-stocked pantheon.

The nature of the spherical structures which populated the Ptolemaic universe was always open to question; in the hands of some adepts of this system, which is a serious scientific astronomy possessing high predictive value, they were orbits, mathematical abstractions. Others imagined them to be solid structures made of crystalline material. Here they're solid, equipped with gates, staffed by gate-keepers of course: "And those who kept the gate of the (third) heaven demanded the password, and the Lord gave (it) to them in order that He should not be recognized." (Ascension of Isaiah, Chapter 10, Section 24).

As a rule in this system the nature of the physical universe in the lowest, or sublunary sphere, was thought fundamentally different from the astronomy up above, so that some postulated a 'quintessence' or fifth element as the building block of the higher spheres. Change characterizes our world beneath the moon, stability and permanence, even eternity, the spheres up above. It gave the synthesizers like Thomas Aquinas some considerable amount of work to reconcile Aristotle's belief that the world was eternal with the Biblical account of universal creation. He achieved the synthesis by inventing the distinction between 'faith' and 'reason,' thus allowing two mutually incompatible world-views to co-exist.

One could evaluate this form of religion from various angles, but the simplest by far is to point out, since there ain't no spheres, there ain't no gates. The modern authors who keep trying to get this turkey, gnosticism, to get up and fly, must give us some convincing reason to revive an obsolete system of astronomy. It is so engrained and embedded in this material that often there isn't much left when you remove it. It is interesting that the early Christian authors, most of whom believed in the Ptolemaic system more or less, never clothed their religious views with this time-stamped, deteriorating garb. Perhaps inspiration gives you a measure of independence from the surrounding culture.


Purple People-Eaters

One of the less attractive features of the 'Archons,' the gods who rule the celestial spheres and this lower world, is that they eat people:

"For he [Mani] and his Manichaean followers say that the soul is a part of God and has been dragged away from him and is held as the prisoner of the archons of the opposing principle and root. And it has been cast down into bodies in this way, because it is the food of the archons who have seized it and eaten it as a source of strength for themselves, and parceled it out among bodies.'" (Epiphanius, Panarion, Books II and III, Section V, Against Manichaeans, Chapter 46 (66), 9,6).

"Once more, Mani says that we are kinds of archons, that we were made by the archons, and that we are held in reserve for them as food. But there is a great deal of ignorance in this sort of talk; we can see that this is not the way things are. Nothing at all, not even one of the more dangerous, fiercer beasts, attacks its own kind; it attacks other kinds. . .Very well, if a wolf will not eat a wolf because they look alike, how can the archons eat us if we are of the same kind?" (Epiphanius, Panarion, Books II and III, Section V, Against Manichaeans, Chapter 46 (66), 76,1-5).

It was to save his followers from a disastrous posthumous encounter with a hungry archon that Mani pressed the Moon into service as a ferry-boat to carry souls safely over.

This distressing dietary preference of the archons turns up on occasion, without ever dampening the enthusiasm of gnosticism's modern defenders:

"God is a man-eater. So people are sacrificed to him." (The Gospel of Philip, The Gnostic Bible, edited by Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer, p. 272).

Hopefully this is intended as an anti-martyrdom polemic, though you never know.

The Gospel of Thomas shares the same terror: "He said to them, 'You too, look for a place for yourselves within repose, lest you become a corpse and be eaten.'" (Gospel of Thomas 60). The turf that is guarded in the present day by zombie movies was held in those days by the gnostics.


The Gnostic Gospels

Who wrote the gnostic gospels such as the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Thomas, and why?


The Prometheus Legend

The idea of 'divided loyalties' in heaven: that some heavenly powers are propitious to man, others baleful,— is not an 'underground' or 'heretical' theme in Greek paganism, but the bread and butter of this old-time religion. The Titan Prometheus stole fire from the gods, generously gave it to man, and was enchained for his crime for 30,000 years, during which an eagle daily devoured his liver. It was no great innovation in theology for the gnostics to take over and incorporate a pre-existing popular theme, even though the novel deities populating their pleroma would have been as outlandish and unfamiliar to the pagans as they were to the Christians. The following expression of the Prometheus Legend is very late: it is a Nazi paean to Frederick the Great as Prometheus,— but the theme is evergreen, and the mind-set of defiance is expressed very precisely:

"Anyone who understands what the ancient Greeks, in their worldly wisdom, were trying to represent by the classic figure of Prometheus may also speculate whether Frederick does not occupy in history the position of the Prometheus of the Prussian state. . .

"But flaming sparks are ignited only then, when the genius of a great man is engaged in desperate battle with unyielding Fate, when the harmoniously peaceful purpose of his planning is transformed into the stormy, roaring hurricane of his will. Then the human will shines as a sublime heavenly flame which illuminates true human greatness beyond all time and earthliness. Only when a man's iron will wrestles breast to breast with Fate, when, gnashing his teeth and panting, he tears the disguise from the awesome power and punishes it with the club of his will — only then does the human spirit tear itself away from all matter and soar to the heights, leaving earth behind and boldly demanding entry into the realm of the Godhead. Only then does the reality of daily drudgery disappear before our eyes and in a flash of sudden awe we understand how man's struggling will can hurl thunderbolts which tear the rainbow-bridged path between earth and the universe and force the Godhead to extend its benediction. His will pushes the Gods from their 'golden seats' and forces them to give justice to the human race."

(Frederick the Great: Prussian Hero, by Wilhelm Ihde, excerpted pp. 119-120, George L. Mosse, Nazi Culture).

Prometheus on Caucasus

There are many variations on this theme; classic mythology reminds the reader of quantum mechanics, with its alternative endings. One version of the Prometheus myth names this Titan as mankind's creator, a creative act for which he was punished by a higher god, Zeus. This point,— who or what was responsible for peopling the planet,— was curiously undecided in pagan theology. Some of the pagans, who under the influence of philosophy had begun shuffling toward monotheism, acclaimed Zeus as Creator God, an obvious choice. But others did not. Proclus, a fifth century NeoPlatonic theologian, helpfully suggests, the sun, moon and planets:

"For as that calls them to the war of generation, so this in Plato excites them to the fabrication of mortals, which they effect through motion. And this indeed is accomplished by all the mundane Gods, but especially by the governors of the world [or the planets], for they are those who are converted or turned, and in the most eminent degree by the sovereign sun." (Proclus' Commentary on the Timaeus of Plato, translated by Thomas Taylor, Book V, p. 836).

This strange omission was noticed by Lactantius, a Christian author: "But that the gods cannot be fathers or lords, is declared not only by their multitude, as I have shown above, but also by reason: because it is not reported that man was made by gods, nor is it found that the gods themselves preceded the origin of man, since it appears that there were men on the earth before the birth of Vulcan, and Liber, and Apollo, and Jupiter himself." (Lactantius, The Divine Institutes, Book 4, Chapter 4).

Our familiar theme of divided loyalties comes up, if our Creator should turn out to be, not the high God, but a lesser luminary like Prometheus, punished by Zeus for his indiscretion. This gnostic paradigm is thus built into pagan theology, as is so much of the rest. In some versions, women and men are not even offspring of the same fashioner:

"Prometheus son of Iapetus was the first to fashion men out of clay. Later, Jupiter ordered Vulcan to make out of clay the form of a woman, to whom Minerva gave life and the rest of the gods their own personal gift. Because of this they named her Pandora. She was given to Prometheus' brother Epimetheus in marriage, and they had a daughter named Pyrrha, who is said to have been the first mortal begotten by birth." (Hyginus' Fabulae 142)

Plato too took it for granted that mankind, at least in its physicality, would be the creation of inferior gods, not of the high God: "All these the creator first set in order, and out of them he constructed the universe, which was a single animal comprehending in itself all other animals, mortal and immortal. Now of the divine, he himself was the creator, but the creation of the mortal he committed to his offspring. And they, imitating him, received from him the immortal principle of the soul; and around this they proceeded to fashion a mortal body, and made it to be the vehicle of the soul, and constructed within the body a soul of another nature which was mortal, subject to terrible and irresistible affections. . ." (Plato, Timaeus).

Just as in gnosticism, inquiring who created man, and to whom therefore filial gratitude is due, is met with the answer, 'It's complicated.' In some cases Zeus, not the original creator, nevertheless re-establishes humankind after the flood:

"When the cataclysmus occurred, which we would call 'a deluge' or 'a flood,' the entire human race perished except for Deucalion and Pyrrha, who took refuge on Mount Aetna, which is said to be the highest mountain on Sicily. When they could no longer bear to live because of loneliness, they asked Jupiter either to give them some more people or to kill them off with a similar catastrophe. Then Jupiter ordered them to toss stones behind them. Jupiter ordered the stones Deucalion threw to become men and those Pyrrha threw to become women." (Hyginus' Fabulae 153).

So it's complicated, as complicated as when the bumbled production of a fallen Demiurge is enlivened by Athena. Another pagan creation paradigm depicts man, not as the result of an intentional act of creation on the part of an intelligent agent, but as arising from the tears, blood, or other bodily fluids of an immortal: "And one must have regard to the differences in our habits and laws, or still more to that which is higher and more precious and more authoritative, I mean the sacred tradition of the gods which has been handed down to us by the theurgists of earlier days, namely that when Zeus was setting all things in order there fell from him drops of sacred blood, and from them, as they say, arose the race of men." (Julian the Apostate, Letter to a Priest, Loeb edition, The Works of the Emperor Julian, p. 307). Thus creation as an 'accident,' an inadvertent oversight, failure to clean up after oneself, is also a normal theme of pagan theology. Finding these themes in gnosticism can scarcely be surprising, realizing they are normal for pagan polytheism, although not, of course, for monotheism. The Egyptians also, some of the time, ascribed the creation of mankind to a relatively minor god:

"Yet its main temple, built by the Ptolemies, was dedicated to the ram-headed creator god Khnum, the god long believed to have caused the Nile to flood and to have fashioned humans on his potter's wheel — the very wheel still displayed in its own shrine." (Cleopatra the Great, Dr. Joann Fletcher, p. 146).

Like the Greeks, the Egyptians were in some perplexity as to which of their multitudes of gods, if any, was the creator:

"There are a variety of accounts of how Re created the other gods who are personified in the various parts of creation. “One account pictures him squatting on a primeval hillock, pondering and inventing names for various parts of his own body. As he named each part, a new god sprang into existence. Another legend portrays Re as violently expelling other gods from his own body, possibly by sneezing or spitting. A third myth describes him creating the gods Shu and Tefnut by an act of masturbation. These gods in turn gave birth to other gods.” Re, however, is not the only god portrayed as creator in ancient Egypt. For example, the Memphite Theology depicts Ptah as a potter creating the universe. In another text, the “Great Hymn to Khnum,” the god Khnum is pictured as forming everything— man, gods, land animals, fish, birds— on his potter’s wheel."
(Currid, John D. (2013-08-31). Against the Gods: The Polemical Theology of the Old Testament (Kindle Locations 639-647). Crossway.)

So the idea that mankind owes gratitude for its existence, not to the highest god who rules the world but to some lesser power, or to some act of magic like Deucalion and his wife casting pebbles, is not novel in pagan mythology. The place to look to unravel the mysteries of gnosticism is not in monotheistic religion, but in paganism, from which this material is borrowed. This theme of divided loyalties is inevitable in polytheism, because some of these gods hate each other's guts. At a minimum, when you venerate one, you make the others jealous; ask Paris how he got in trouble judging their beauty contest. While it shocks monotheist sensibilities to show ingratitude toward our own creator, who gave us life, it might seem prudent to the pagan to cozy up to the most powerful god, the one who can do you the most damage, rather than to the insignificant bumbler who made you. The theme of protest or resentment against the failed, incompetent or malevolent gods is richly represented in pagan lore: "'We may here contrast the spirit of the Old and New Testaments with such sentiments as this, on the tomb of a child: 'To the unjust gods who robbed me of life;' or on that of a girl of twenty: '"I lift my hands against the god who took me away, innocent as I am.'" (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book II, Chapter XI, Kindle location 5429). This theme is not so commonly sounded in monotheism, because there is only one God and He is the judge of all the earth.

It did not escape the notice of the first Christian generation who encountered 'Christian' gnosticism that this material was borrowed, wholesale:

"Much more like the truth, and more pleasing, is the account which Antiphanes, one of the ancient comic poets, gives in his Theogony as to the origin of all things. For he speaks of Chaos as being produced from Night and Silence; relates that then Love sprang from Chaos and Night; from this again, Light; and that from this, in his opinion, were derived all the rest of the first generation of the gods. After these he next introduces a second generation of gods, and the creation of the world; then he narrates the formation of mankind by the second order of the gods. These men (the heretics), adopting this fable as their own, have ranged their opinions round it, as if by a sort of natural process, only the names of the things referred to, and setting forth the very same beginning of the generation of all things, and their production." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 2, Chapter 14, Section 1, p. 749, ECF_1_01).

Indeed, the gnostics took pagan religion and changed only the names. That much is obvious. So why are they continually trying to market this as a new and exciting version of Christianity?


Against Valentinus

The Triumph of Gnosis

In most respects the gnostics lost the competition with orthodoxy. In a few cases, however, they prevailed. We can be thankful they did not win at the cross: they failed to impose upon the faithful a docetic understanding of Jesus' crucifixion, because this met with resistance, but at the opposite end of His life trail, they did succeed in imposing the docetic understanding of His birth. Millions of Roman Catholics in the world today believe that Jesus 'beamed' out of Mary's womb without any physical impact on her bodily structure:

Another gnostic triumph was the monastic movement. At a certain point these people come out into the light of orthodox day, and when they do, there are thousands of them. Where did all those monks in the Egyptian desert come from? It is plain they were long-established when Athanasius wrote about them in such glowing terms. They had a long history, but not an orthodox one. These people were the 'perfect,' the upper rank of the gnostic layer-cake. Gnosticism is anything but egalitarian; those on the lower rungs of the ladder have no hope in this world but that, if they contribute generously to the support of the 'perfect,' they may hope for a better reincarnation. No doubt financial contributions from the less-perfect were drying up as gnosticism decayed; perhaps they felt they had little to lose and much to gain by jumping over into the larger church. What the orthodox gained in this transaction was a large constituency enthused over the deity of Jesus Christ and immune to Arianism; contrary to the information put out by the modern publishing industry, the deity of Jesus Christ was never controversial with this heterodox group. Rather, the true deity of the God of Israel was a sticking point for them.

To some extent the monastic movement picks up on gospel themes, but to a very considerable extent it does not. Take, for example, the imperative for the monk to surrender his personal judgment to his superior. Where in the world, in the Bible, does this find support? Where is it suggested that it is wise for a man to surrender his inalienable moral accountability even to the point of committing child-murder on order? For so it was, even though other monks fished this luckless, friendless, abused little boy out of the water:

"And when the Superior of the Coenobium saw his steadfastness of mind and immovable inflexibility, in order thoroughly to prove the constancy of his purpose, one day when he had seen the child crying, he pretended that he was annoyed with him and told the father to throw him into the river. Then he, as if this had been commanded him by the Lord, at once snatched up the child as quickly as possible, and carried him in his arms to the river’s bank to throw him in." (John Cassian, Institutes of the Coenobia, Book 4, Chapter 27, p. 458 ECF 2.11)

Yet these monsters of cruelty convinced themselves their very callousness was the signature of a holy life. God can demand as He will, but no mere man can make such demands; this wicked 'Superior' not only terrified an innocent child, he fitted his murdering father for hell. This 'Superior' re-enacted the binding of Isaac, with himself fitting quite naturally and comfortably into the role of 'God,' but without God's mercy in cutting short the demonstration prior to the act. These spiritual athletes hated 'the world,' which unfortunately they defined as 'other people.' Monasticism became all but identified with Christianity in the Middle Ages, though a stranger anomalously welcomed in.

One equivocal or intermediate figure is the great theologian Origen. He preferred the Platonic, and gnostic, understanding of the pre-existence of the human soul to Bible teaching. From the gnostic perspective, the great Christian promise of a resurrection in the flesh sounds like a threat of re-incarceration. The gnostics, who assigned a negative valuation to the flesh, generally consider the Christian doctrine of the resurrection to be ridiculous, preferring the Eastern paradigm of transmigration:

The Bible teaching is, not reincarnation, not even if the possibility of escape to Nirvana with its destruction of the human personality is appended to this ancient Eastern expectation, but resurrection in the flesh. 'Nirvana' cannot be equated with the Christian's 'heaven,' because Nirvana basically means you cease to exist as a thinking, perceiving subject. But what the Christian hopes for is more than this: to rise bodily from the grave just as Jesus arose from the tomb in which He was interred. To gnostics, who assign a negative value to the flesh and to the material world generally, this great Christian promise sounds like the threat of a renewed prison-sentence. The gnostics adopted from the dualistic philosophers the schema that matter is evil, spirit good, and therefore our bodies are prisons in which our spirits are resentfully immured:

"Whence that seems to philosophers a probable theory that the body is in a way the prison house of the soul." (Plutarch. Complete Works of Plutarch — Volume 3: Essays and Miscellanies (Kindle Locations 8704-8705). Literary Essays: The Life and Poetry of Homer.)

There is no echo of this theme in the Bible, no suggestion that matter is inherently evil, nor that resurrection in the flesh is a threatened doom rather than a great promise of God. The gnostics deny and even ridicule this foundational Christian hope:

"Others, again, of them do refuse certain meats, and say that marriage with the procreation of children is evil, and the contrivance of the devil; and being ungodly themselves, they are not willing to rise again from the dead on account of their wickedness. Wherefore also they ridicule the resurrection, and say, We are holy people, unwilling to eat and to drink; and they fancy that they shall rise again from the dead demons without flesh, who shall be condemned for ever in eternal fire." (Apostolic Constitutions, Book 6, Section 5, Chapter XXVI, p. 918 ECF 0.07).

Presumably it is because this approach worked so well for the devil in the past, that the enemies of the gospel are today trying to revive it. Gnosticism was never a religion for the people, it was always reserved for the few, the spiritual, 'Heaven's exiles straying from the orb of light.' So it is today.

Reincarnation, not resurrection, was crucial to the gnostics, because it made their unbalanced communities possible. Many of the gnostic sects had a two-tier hierarchical system, with only the elite 'perfect' or 'pure' promised any hope of salvation, while the second-tier was promised basically. . .reincarnation into the upper-tier group, reminiscent of the ever-hopeful social caste system of India. The group Augustine was associated with added a new wrinkle: maybe you could hope to be reincarnated as a melon:

"Indeed, you may well allow them to disregard the precepts of the gospel: for all you promise them is not a resurrection, but a change to another mortal existence, in which they shall live the silly, childish, impious life of those you call the Elect, the life you live yourself, and are so much praised for; or if they possess greater merit, they shall enter into melons or cucumbers, or some eatables which you will masticate, that they may be quickly purified by your digestion. Least of all should you who teach such doctrines profess any regard for the gospel. For if the faith of the gospel had any connection with such nonsense, the Lord should have said, not, 'I was hungry, and ye gave me meat,' but, 'Ye were hungry, and ye ate me,' or, 'I was hungry, and I ate you.'" (The Complete Works of Saint Augustine, Reply to Faustus the Manichaean, Book V, Section 9, Kindle location 177747).

This weird idea, of liberating sparks of deity by mastication, turns up again in the Kabbalah.


One of the strangest works of art on the face of the globe is the ceiling decoration of the Sistine Chapel, which includes a representation of the hanging of Haman, an incident almost never found in Christian art. 'Hanging,' as an execution method, might mean various things, including strangulation by a noose suspended from a scaffold, or even crucifixion. The identification of Jesus with Haman is found in Jewish anti-Christian polemic,

"As an addendum to this we mention a passage out of the Targum Sheni to the Book of Esther vii. 9. After having related that Haman appealed to Mordecai for mercy tearfully, but in vain, it says: 'And when Haman saw that his words were not heard, he began a lamentation and weeping for himself in the midst of the garden of the palace.' And then there is added: 'He answered and spake thus: Hear me, ye trees and all ye plants, which I have planted since the days of the creation. The son of Hammedatha is about to ascend to the lecture-room of Ben Pandera.'" (Gustaf Dalman, Jesus Christ in the Talmud, Midrash, Zohar, and Liturgy of the Synagogue, p. 90).

'Ben Pandera' is a Talmudic cut-out for Jesus of Nazareth, 'Pandera' being an imagined German soldier supposed to be Jesus' natural father. The speaker is God. Taking up this theme is not something you would expect a Christian artist to do, although this artist did. Why? I suspect the theme, that the wicked man is hung, would appeal to a Sethian gnostic, though not to others.

 Click To Bookmark This Page! 

Holy, Holy, HolyNotecardsAnswering IslamThe Philo Library