Those who are determined to overcome the world are not the people of history
I’ve just been reading about the ‘Gnostics’ whose heyday was in the second century of the common era; A time in the early Christian church when the lines between heresy and orthodoxy hadn’t yet been drawn.
Valentinus, regarded as one of the greatest Gnostic teachers, almost became pope in the 140’s.
The Gnostics stressed the importance of gnosis (knowledge); Direct personal, inner knowledge of ‘God’, rather than dogma.
They were in the main, anti-authoritarian and anti-hierarchical, taking it in turns to officiate during services. they also regarded women as the equal of men and had female priests. Others who did not enjoy the status of first-class citizen, such as the poor and outcast, were also welcomed.
The Gnostics posited the existence of two gods, the incompetent, arrogant and capricious ‘creator’ God of the Old Testament who they named ‘the Demiurge,’ and the true God who exists beyond all created matter and is essentially unknowable.
The Gnostics knew of the jealous god as Yaldabaoth. He is described as ‘the lion-faced’ and of a fiery nature. In the words of Moses, “the Lord our God is a burning and consuming fire,”
He is the demiurge, powerful enough to mimic the creative processes of the ‘superior Aeons’. He creates a whole host of other ‘Archons’, each of whom share his own basically deficient character, and creates a world for them to inhabit. It is fashioned out of darkness, but animated by light stolen from ‘Sophia’. The result is a world that is neither “light nor dark” but is instead “dim”. In his arrogance and ignorance, Yaldabaoth declares himself the sole and jealous God of this realm. He is also the maker of man, but as the ray of light from above enters the body of man and gives him a soul, Yaldabaoth is filled with envy; he tries to limit man’s knowledge by forbidding him the fruit of knowledge.
The angelic name “Ariel” (meaning “the lion of God” in Hebrew) has also been used to refer to the Demiurge.
The Gnostics had a different interpretation of the myth of Eve and the Serpent from the orthodox version we are used to. The Gnostics saw the serpent as the wisest of all creatures, whose urging of Eve to eat of the tree of knowledge does not cause the Fall of mankind, but its awakening. What Adam and Eve gained was ‘gnosis’, which made them aware that the angry deity who banished them from Eden was not the true god.
Furthermore, as Eve was the first human to gain ‘gnosis’, Gnostic texts generally paint her as being superior to Adam. She is described as being the daughter and messenger of Sophia sent to waken her sleeping partner.
(The orthodox interpretation that became our inheritance is that the original state of harmony was shattered. The first couple had their eyes opened to good and evil and became aware of their nakedness, which caused them to feel shame. They were then banished by God and in the first of his fits of Old Testament anger, he also afflicted them with mutual enmity, and tells Eve that childbirth will bring her pain and that she will be subservient to her husband. For his part, Adam is cursed to return to the ground and to earn his keep by the sweat of his brow for all the days of his life!)
As with much Gnostic history, though, the lack of primary sources leaves many groups and individuals rather vague.
As Stephen Hoeller notes:
“The Gnostics… were more concerned with exiting from the terrible stream of history than they were of leaving a record of themselves. Those who are determined to overcome the world are not the people of history; theirs is more likely to be a kind of shadow history or counterhistory, containing a few faint traces of their tenuous and reluctant presence.”