The “second reality” eliminates anything inimical to the maladjusted ego in the real world. The real world persists, however, which means that the advocates of the “second reality” find themselves in perpetual conflict with existence. Ideology, for Voegelin, is a magical gesture aimed at altering the structure of reality through unanimous declaration; the requirement for unanimity means that the Gnostic polity must quash all dissenting voices.
Voegelin did not evoke the topic of Gnosticism in a vacuum. The scholarship of Gnosis goes back to various students of G.W.F. Hegel, particularly to Ferdinand Christian Baur (1792-1860), whose pioneering study, Die Christliche Gnosis (Christian Gnosis, 1835), remains a touchstone. Nevertheless, the take-off of Gnostic scholarship happened in the Twentieth Century. A pivotal work appeared in The Gnostic Religion (1958), by Hans Jonas (1903-1993), reissued and revised in 1963, 1991, and 2001. With Kurt Rudolph (born 1929), whose Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism appeared in 1977, Jonas was a dominant presence in the field right up to his death. More recently, the names of Giovanni Filoramo (born 1945) and Yuri Stoyanov (born 1961) have become obligatory references. So has that of Michel Tardieu (born 1938) for his succinct book, Manichaeism (1981; English version 2008). It should be emphasized that Voegelin was never a primary scholar of Gnosticism. Jonas, Rudolph, and Filoramo, with whom the present essay deals, were and are primary scholars of Gnosticism. Their objectivity distinguishes them from well known others (J. M. Robinson, for example, and Elaine Pagels) whose interest in Gnosticism is rather more advocative than unprincipled.
I. Baur was a student of Hegel. Hans Jonas studied philosophy under Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, and theology under Rudolf Bultmann. Jonas was particularly associated with Heidegger until, in 1933, Heidegger’s suddenly candid Nazi sympathies and Jonas’ Jewishness not only brutally alienated the student from the teacher but also sent the student (doctorate incomplete) into exile to England and thence (1934) to what was still called Palestine. He joined the British Army and returned to Germany in 1945 as a soldier on the victorious side. After the war, Jonas taught in Canada. He joined the faculty of the New School for Social Research in New York, in 1955. In later life, Jonas wrote two books – The Phenomenon of Life (1966) and The Imperative of Responsibility (1979) – that influenced the direction of environmentalism and its offshoot in so-called “green politics.” Conservative readers will feel a shudder of aversion, perhaps, in the divulgence of these latter phases of the Jonas biography, but they should bracket the response. Jonas’ magnum opus remains his Gnostic Religion, a book indispensable for an understanding of Gnosis in its Late Antique context and beyond. The book served that function for Voegelin, who knew it and studied it and incorporated much of its thesis into the fourth (and at the time seemingly the final) volume of Order and History, The Ecumenic Age (1965).
Jonas described himself as an Existentialist, a label that Heidegger always eschewed. Jonas approached Gnosis, through the phenomenological method, from a discernible Existential perspective. [See Note 1] Like Baur, approaching his topic with respect, Jonas took the Gnostic documents seriously, seeing in the documents expressions of anguished consciousness grappling with problems of a disintegrating civilization.
For Jonas the context of Gnosticism is the late, markedly religious phase of Hellenism. The first phase of Hellenism announced itself in Alexander of Macedon’s prodigious conquests and the establishment, in their wake, of the Diadochic Kingdoms. Greek language and Greek high culture became a universal medium of discourse in a great swath of geography from Greece itself right through Persia to Central Asia. Jonas tends to couch his understanding of this new Greek-speaking Orient in dialectical terms: The lingua franca and its related thinking, imposed from above, constituted the unity of a “cosmopolitan secular culture”; the submerged local cultures constituted the multiplicity, in which, in order to articulate itself, each peculiar worldview must employ the standard Hellenic parole of “man as such” and its accompanying techniques of rhetoric and logic. But the pre-Greek societies were not rational or secular societies; they were religious societies or temple polities that articulated their local worldviews as myth. In the course of three centuries, in Jonas’ summary, the varieties of local religiosity gradually transformed the Greek-speaking Orient into “a pagan religious culture” stemming from “profoundly un-Greek sources.”
Gnosticism, like Judaism and Christianity, represents one element in this composite matrix of eclectic notions from diverse ethnic sources, but there were many others: Mithraism, the Astarte and Isis cults, Astrology, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism – even Stoicism had eastern roots. [See Note 2]
By the beginning of the Third Century, this dialectical transformation of secularity into religiosity had reached its terminal form: “Traditional dualism, traditional astrological fatalism, traditional monotheism were all drawn into it, yet with such a peculiarly new twist to them that in the present setting they subserved the presentation of a novel spiritual principle.” This new soul-idea signifies a unity or homogeneity, in which the patchwork of peculiar systems is overcome. The same dispensation finds its most radical, hence also its most representative expression, in a “dualistic transcendent religion of salvation” for which the main label is Gnosis. This Greek word, formerly central to philosophy, takes on a meaning absolutely opposite to its normative, rational usage. [See Note 3]
Jonas writes, “Gnosis meant pre-eminently knowledge of God, and from what we have said about the radical transcendence of the deity it follows that ‘knowledge of God’ is the knowledge of something naturally unknowable and therefore itself not a natural condition.” Gnosis concerns “secrets of salvation,” reception of which “is itself… a modification of the human condition,” an “event in the soul” that “transforms the knower himself by making him a partaker in the divine existence.”
In Jonas’ formula, “the cardinal feature of gnostic thought is the radical dualism that governs the relation of God and the world, and correspondingly that of man and the world.” Jonas allows the consensus that such radical dualism has its source in Iranian cosmology. That, however, is mere genealogy, which interests Jonas much less than the ramping up of the ontological dichotomy in the Late Antique doctrines. In Gnosticism, as Jonas describes it, “the deity is absolutely transmundane,” and really not knowable in mundane terms – not an object of Platonic or Aristotelian “theoria.” By contrast, “the world is the work of lowly powers which though they may mediately be descended from Him do not know the true God and obstruct the knowledge of him in the cosmos over which they rule.” Jonas notes the incorporation in Gnostic cosmology, always under its imperative of antithetical revaluation, of elements from Iranian, Babylonian, Syrian, and Egyptian theology. All gods below the transmundane God become demonic in the conception: “Their tyrannical world-rule is called heimarmene, universal Fate, a concept taken over from astrology but now tinged with the gnostic anti-cosmic spirit.”
The term “anti-cosmic” plays a central role in Jonas’ analysis of the Gnostic worldview. Jonas writes: “For the world as a whole, vast as it appears to its inhabitants, we have thus the visual image of an enclosed cell – what Marcion contemptuously called haec cellula creatoris – into which or out of which life may move.” Governed by the Archons, or lower, demonic gods, “the universe… is like a vast prison whose innermost dungeon is the earth, the scene of man’s life.” Every aspect of existence becomes demonized in the Gnostic re-conception of them. Thus all known extension, whether geographical or celestial, becomes a labyrinth in which the souls of the elect wander in a type of exiled; time, for the elect subject, becomes an agony of postponement, an immensity of aeons (in the purely chronological sense) that must play out before the transmundane deity abolishes the world. Again, in Jonas’ resumption, “darkness has embodied its whole essence and power in this world, which now therefore is the world of darkness.”
Opposite to this world is the “Pleroma,” the divine, immaterial realm existing transcendentally apart from and beyond this world, from which material existence descended or fell as the result of a spiritual catastrophe. Drawing on the Valentinian Gospel of Truth, Jonas tells how: “In the invisible and nameless heights there was a perfect Aeon pre-existent. His name is Fore-Beginning, Forefather, and Abyss… Through immeasurable eternities he remained in profoundest repose.” The term Pleroma (“Fullness”) refers to the total self-sufficiency of the “Forefather” in the realm of light, which is (counter-intuitively and paradoxically) identical with Him. The Forefather emanates other perfect beings to dwell with Him, to be in Him, contemplate Him, and glorify Him. One, Sophia, thinking to imitate the Forefather, attempts emanations of her own.
Sophia’s superbia resulted in what the deluded think of as creation. Gnosis, however, reveals Sophia’s deed to be an aborted mockery of the Pleroma. Sparks from the luminous realm, atoms of the Forefather Himself, have become imprisoned in the abortion. Jonas writes, “This is one of the fundamental symbols of Gnosticism: a pre-cosmic fall of part of the divine principle underlies the genesis of the world and of human existence.”
II. Jonas stresses that although Gnosticism appropriates the language of philosophy and although the authors of the Gnostic tracts demonstrate a system-building talent that results in something that often resembles philosophy, nevertheless Gnosticism remains non- and more especially anti-philosophical. Jonas remarks on the Gnostic use of the rhetorical-analytic device called allegoresis. One can follow the drawing of allegories between rational discourse and mythic or symbolic discourse back to Plato. The technique gained currency, however, not in the immediate post-Classical period but in the last, transitional sub-phase of secular Hellenism. A key figure in the validation of allegoresis is Philo Judaeus (20 BC – 50 AD), the Alexandrian rabbi and Platonic philosopher who sought to demonstrate the compatibility of Mosaic revelation, as codified in the Old Testament, with Platonic doctrine, as articulated in the dialogues. Philo interpreted symbols in the Old Testament as metaphors of Plato’s rational theology. “In consequence,” as Jonas writes, “the myth, however freely handled, was never contradicted nor were its own values controverted.” Jonas adds that, “The system of scriptural allegory evolved in [Philo’s] school was bequeathed as a model to the early Fathers of the Church,” and “here again the purpose is that of integration and synthesis.”
Gnostic allegoresis functions otherwise: “Instead of taking over the value system of the traditional myth, it proves the deeper ‘knowledge’ by reversing the roles of good and evil, sublime and base, blessed and accursed, to be found in the original.” [See Note 4] An entire Gnostic sect named itself after the serpent in Genesis – in Greek, they were the Ophites and in Aramaic the Naassenes. Since it is the serpent,” Jonas writes, “that persuades Adam and Eve to taste of the fruit of knowledge and thereby to disobey their Creator, [the serpent] came in a whole group of systems to represent the ‘pneumatic’ principle from beyond counteracting the designs of the Demiurge, and thus could become as much a symbol of the powers of redemption as the biblical God had been degraded to a symbol of cosmic oppression.” A Gnostic sect, the Peratae, “did not even shrink from regarding the historical Jesus as a particular incarnation of ‘the general serpent,’ i.e., the serpent from Paradise understood as a principle.” The Peratae reinterpreted Cain antithetically. Abel, being favored by God, and God being for the Gnostics a false and wicked God, Cain is obviously a heroic opponent of wickedness. “Perhaps we should speak in such cases,” writes Jonas, “not of allegory at all, but of a form of polemics, that is, not of an exegesis of an original text, but of its tendentious rewriting.” [See Note 5]
Jonas judges that, for Gnosticism, “the negative evaluation of the cosmos is fundamental.” One of the most valuable and daring parts of The Gnostic Religion is the suite of chapters devoted to the contrasting images of the cosmos in Greek and Gnostic thinking, culminating in an Epilogue, written for the book’s republication in the mid-1960s, on “Gnosticism, Existentialism, and Nihilism.” The Greek and Gnostic images of the cosmos are ideas that imply specific consequences in human behavior and in the structure of society that differ as much as the images, or ideas, themselves. As Jonas reminds his readers, the word cosmos, in its normative usage, carries a wide range of positive connotations, which together sum up a relation of the subject to its existence against the universal backdrop. Jonas writes, “Cosmos means ‘order’ in general, whether of the world or household, of a commonwealth or a life.” A bit later in the discussion: “The universe was considered to be the perfect exemplar of order, and at the same time the cause of all order in particulars,” as for example in the independent polis, or city-state. Jonas quotes Cicero to the effect that, “man was born to contemplate the cosmos and to imitate it,” a precept that “establishes the connection between cosmology and ethics.”
Jonas points out, however, that Alexander’s conquests and the establishment of the Diadochic Kingdoms altered the existential situation of the enlightened individual, who was no longer unambiguously the citizen of an independent city-state, but rather the subject, in the disestablished sense, of a kingdom or empire. In Stoicism, which responds to the new situation, the phrase “to play one’s part” becomes prominent. As Jonas remarks, “a role played is substituted for a real function performed.” The older precept of the Anthropos-cosmos integration became afflicted by a “fictitious element in the construction.” As the suspicion grew that “the part was insignificant to the whole,” the belief in the cosmos as something meaningful entered a phase of “strained fervor.”
The Gnostics, Jonas writes, seized on this rift in the old world-picture in an ingenious – and prototypically antithetic and invidious – way: “In retaining this name [cosmos] for the world, the Gnostics retained the idea of order as the main characteristic of what they were intent on deprecating. Indeed, instead of denying to the world the attribute of order… they turned this very attribute from one of praise into one of opprobrium, and in the process if anything increased the emphasis on it.” The positive elements of hierarchy and regularity in the old idea become “rigid and inimical order, tyrannical and evil law” in the new idea. For the Platonic, Neoplatonic, and Stoic schools the cosmos was itself, if not quite a god, then divine. But for Gnosticism the cosmos becomes “devoid of meaning and goodness, alien to the purposes of man… an order empty of divinity.”
In his Epilogue, Jonas, having completed his “Existential reading of Gnosticism,” undertakes what he calls his “Gnostic reading of Existentialism.” I construe this Epilogue as a response to Voegelin, given its date and supplementary character. Much of modern thinking, Jonas argues, especially the strain of so-called Existentialism exemplified in the work of writers like Heidegger and Sartre, expresses a type of revulsion against existence – tending to nihilism – that strikingly resembles ancient Gnosticism. One difference is that Gnosticism in its ancient context “was never admitted to the respectable company of… philosophic tradition,” whereas modern nihilism might be said to dominate discourse in every chapter of society. As in antiquity, “the disruption between man and total reality is at the bottom of nihilism,” which constitutes a “dualism without metaphysics.”
III. If anyone were Jonas’ successor it would be Kurt Rudolph although Rudolph is not so lively a writer as Jonas. Like Jonas, Rudolph emphasizes the radical dualism of the general Gnostic worldview, including its vision of an absolutely transmundane deity: “The gnostic idea of God is… not only the product of a dualism hostile to the world, but it is at the same also a consequence of the esoteric conception of knowledge”; and “dualism dominates the whole of gnostic cosmology.” In Gnosticism, according to Rudolph, “the world of the creator is subordinated to a world which lies before it in space and time, and at the same time is thereby devaluated; its origin is to be explained from a disharmony which somehow enters in at the margin of the upper world.” Rudolph, like Jonas, remarks the eclecticism of the Gnostic system-builders. The systems “are built together out of older mythological material,” giving “an impression of artificiality.” Gnostic discourse “attaches itself in the main to older religious imagery,” writes Rudolph, and it “prospers on the soil of ‘host religions.’” Thus Gnosticism “can… be described as parasitic.” It is the case that “Gnosticism strictly speaking has no tradition of its own but only a borrowed one.” The borrowing, however, always conforms to radical reversal of the original evaluation.
On Gnostic anthropology, Rudolph observes the division of humanity into three “races” or genera – the “pneumatics,” who possess a “Soul” or “Self” and hence are saved; the “psychics,” who possess a “Spirit” on the animal-level, with whom the “pneumatics” may collaborate; and the “hylics,” who are entirely of matter and are doomed to perish with the material realm when the pervasion of knowledge abolishes that offense to the Pleroma. Rudolph writes: “All three have originated in succession, but they are united in the one first man; they form the three constituents of every man [and] the one which in each case predominates determines the type of man to which one belongs… Only pneumatics are gnostics and capable of redemption.” According to Rudolph, the intermediate status of the psychics “does not signify any weakening of the dualistic principle, but its consistent application in changed situation,” in which missionary appeals to orthodox communities had come to seem either desirable or necessary to the Gnostic communities in their struggle for public sympathy.
In addressing Jonas on Gnosticism, I made reference to the centrality of allegoresis in Gnostic discourse. Rudolph identifies an example of allegoresis in the Gnostic “Anthropos-Myth.” Gnostic system-builders reinterpreted the story of Adam this way: “The Body of Adam is moulded by the creator and his angels… from the elements… Since, however, he has no real life in him, he is equipped by the highest being in a secret or mediated fashion with the divine spirit, i.e., the pneuma substance, which exalts him above the creator God and bestows on him the capacity for redemption.” Adam stands as the prototype of the pneumatics. Rudolph remarks that, “redemption consists in the awakening of Adam to the knowledge of his true origin and the worthlessness of the Demiurge.” This “Anthropos-Myth” replicates the duality of the two worlds in microcosm in the constitution of the Primal Man.
In its survey of the chief Gnostic documents, drawing heavily on the Nag Hammadi cache, Rudolph’s Gnosis tends to duplicate Jonas. Writing at a later date than Jonas, however, Rudolph had access to additional material either undiscovered or unpublished until the 1970s. Of particular interest are Rudolph’s treatments of Uighur and Tocharian Gnosticism, more specifically, Manichaeism, and Mandaean Gnosticism, the only certifiably Gnostic cult to survive from Late Antiquity continuously into the present day. Whereas in the West Gnosticism had died out by the time of the Gothic kingdoms, in the East, in Byzantium and farther afield in the territories of the Persian Empire, Gnosticism enjoyed a long denouement. Especially in Central Asia, Gnosticism took the particular form of the doctrine originating in the perfervid religious imagination of a single figure. This was Mani (216-276), who, in the Gnostic pattern established by Simon Magus, presented himself as prophet and savior.
Manichaeism enjoyed toleration in Persia under Shapur I and his successor Hormizd I; but Hormizd’s successor Bahram I (reigned 273-276) sided with the Zoroastrian clergy, jailed Mani, and proscribed the religion. Mani’s talent for missionary organization insured that his movement would survive these setbacks. It did so in North Africa, Italy, and Gaul for two centuries, and in areas east of Persia for much longer. The Uighur Khanate, which dominated Central Asia in the Eighth and Ninth Centuries, made Manichaeism the state religion, while supporting missionaries as far away as China. The successor-states were also pronouncedly Manichaean. Writes Rudolph: “Mani… did not regard himself as a philosopher but [as] a gnostic theosophist and prophet [who] saw his task as fusing the religious tradition of the Orient of his time into a universal religion of the salvation of man.” Mani’s “dualism of spirit and body, light and darkness,” resonated with Zoroastrianism and with many of the ethnic religions of the steppes. Mani’s strict social division of an elite and a laity appealed to the warrior societies of the Turks and Mongols.
Rudolph’s book reproduces graphic material from the illuminated manuscripts of the Central Asian Manichaeans. We see the white-robed elect instructing the laity and copying the scriptures. The books specify the commandments of the faith, including the enjoinment of “any doubt of [the] religion,” and, for the laity, the requirement of “the indefatigable care of the elect.” This Turkic and Tocharian literature from as late as the Thirteenth Century confirms in detail Saint Augustine’s depiction of the Manichaean illuminati in his Confessions. Augustine explains the dietary requirements of the elect, that they consumed vegetarian food supposed to contain a high proportion of the particles of light from the Pleroma that were trapped in matter. So too among the Uighur elect, the preferred table consisted of “plants with a high content of light, such as cucumbers and melons, wheat bread and… water or fruit juice.”
Rudolph’s section on the Mandaeans, lately of southern Iraq but largely driven into exile since Gulf War II (many Mandaeans now live in the USA), bears the title, “A Relic.” Given their geographical situation, a Manichaean origin of the Mandaean religion seems likely although the Mandaeans do not identify themselves as Manichaeans. The word manda means “knowledge.” The Mandaeans are by self-designation “knowers,” whose rich literature reproduces the full range of eschatological motifs articulated in the Nag Hammadi cache as well as in the Manichaean scriptures. Like the Elchasaites, in whose religious dispensation Mani began life, the Mandaeans are Baptists who, rejecting Christ, yet revere John the Baptist. The Mandaean religion, like Manichaeism, is dualistic in the sense of depicting existence as the battleground between a good deity of the light and an evil deity of the darkness, with the latter temporarily holding the world in his grasp.
IV. Before switching to Giovanni Filoramo it is worth quoting one of Rudolph’s concluding statements, from the section of Gnosis devoted to “Consequences of Gnosis.” Rudolph refers to “the more or less conscious, sometimes even amateurish, reception of gnostic ideas and fragments of systems in modern syncretistic-theosophic sects.” Assessing the ambiguities, Rudolph writes: “It is difficult to prove continuity in any detail, as the connecting links are often ‘subterranean’ channels, or else the relationships are based on reconstructions of the history of ideas which have been undertaken especially in the history of philosophy.” Rudolph then mentions – and the reader will detect some sympathy in the remark – Baur’s Christliche Gnosis (1835), which “treats, in accordance with its theme, not only of the anti-gnostic representatives of the early Christian ‘philosophy of religion,’ but also exhaustively of the ‘ancient Gnosis and later philosophy of religion,’ dealing with Jakob Böhme, Schelling, Schleiermacher, and especially Hegel, as its heirs.” As in the case of certain remarks by Jonas, one has the strong suspicion, concerning these words, that they address obliquely Voegelin’s thesis, which is, in part, based on Baur’s study.
Rudolph tends to withhold evaluation, taking a purely descriptive or scientific approach to his topic. Filoramo, like Jonas, is more apt to make an evaluation and to guess at motives, but this is not to assess A History of Gnosticism as anything but objective. In a chapter called “The Gnostic Imagination,” Filoramo explores the meaning of Gnosis and sketches in the psychology that the term implies. “Gnosis,” Filoramo writes, “is the ‘redemption of the interior man,’ that is, the purification of the spiritual being and at the same time knowledge of the Whole.” Referring to The Gospel of Truth, with its explanation of “the call from above,” Filoramo remarks that in the Gnostic texts, the term Gnosis “has become synonymous with epignosis, recognition of one’s own true reality,” which he glosses as “the ontological self that constitutes and is the basis of reality” of “the interior man.”
In responding to the call – in recognizing himself – the Gnostic affirms that his subjective sense of belonging to a minority of the elect is actually the same as objective reality. The Gnostic accesses the secret knowledge by divine revelation. But, as Filoramo notes, “from the Gnostic point of view, revelation is possible only because within the Gnostic there somehow pre-exists a disposition, a capacity, a potential fitted for testing and getting to know that particular reality.” Filoramo hesitates to go so far, but the thesis that Gnostic election is no more than an auto-probative claim of moral superiority belongs to his definition of Gnosis. The opportunity for mischief obviously conditions the Gnostic claim. Filoramo does link Gnosticism with the increasing prominence in Late Antiquity of the hyperanthropos or superman. The pattern goes back to Alexander, whose developing egomania included the idea of his godhead, possibly as an incarnation of Dionysus. It continued in the charisma of magus-types like Simon and Apollonius and in the delusions of one or two emperors; but it was a larger phenomenon.
The basic Gnostic myth implies that the elect person is a god: When the catastrophe occurred in the Pleroma, sparks of godhead became imprisoned in the world of matter. The elect enjoy their ontological difference from others by possessing such a spark as their soul. Posing the question, “Isn’t the Gnostic saved by nature,” Filoramo answers with another question – “Isn’t it precisely the awareness of this eternally preordained salvation that makes possible [Gnosticism’s] ambivalent ethics [of] an ascetism that seeks to cancel out the very root of our desires and a depraved antinomianism that mocks the laws of this world and its rulers?”
“Perhaps Jonas was right,” Filoramo opines, “to emphasize the anarchic and nihilistic character of a naturally rebellious ethic in search of a metaphysical liberty, which exists absolutely, in itself.” Yet, as Filoramo reminds readers in his closing remarks, the personal side of Gnosticism – in distinction to its doctrinal side – remains something of a cipher. “If modern enquiry were possible, it would be… interesting to know how self-aware the average Gnostic was.” Filoramo guesses generously that his “average Gnostic” was simply someone in quest of the divine, a not ignoble disposition. The objection arises automatically, once given the doctrine. The whole of Late Antiquity was in quest of the divine and the Gnostics, even at their zenith, were a minority. It is not simply that the Gnostic goes in search of divinity that differentiates him from everyone else; it is that he already knows where to find divinity – within himself. Indeed, the Gnostic himself is divine.
Gnosticism remains radically different from both the emerging Christianity of Late Antiquity and the lingering paganism in respect to its adjustment to existence. For Gnostics, the material world is toxic and God is radically alien to it. For pagans, nature is interpenetrated everywhere by God and by gods while for Christians, God, despite being transmundane, contrives to descend into the material world through incarnation to communicate in the flesh with those who seek him. For Christians, inheriting the Jewish view, God is also the benevolent Creator of a world that is good, over which he places humanity in stewardship. Christian heresiologists and pagan critics of Gnosticism converged in condemning the Gnostics for their world-revilement.
Gnosticism was rediscovered by scholarship early in the Nineteenth Century. They heyday of that scholarship was the mid-Twentieth Century. Curiosity about Gnosticism persists and grows. Novelist Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code (2003) is not scholarship, but the success, including screen adaptation, of the book witnesses the popular interest in Gnosticism of recent years. It is precisely as an antinomian symbol that Gnosticism makes its appeal in the context of liberal mass entertainment. In the previous essay to this one, I argued that the Gnostic myth is a variety of scapegoat-myth. The Da Vinci Code is also a scapegoat-myth, making use of the latent anti-Christian sentiment in liberalism to focus reader-resentment on figures that represent normative religion (the Catholic Church and some of its lay orders), and in raising as its heroes the ancient Gnostics and their medieval Paulician and Cathar descendants.
A proliferating modern literature concerns the fictitious bloodline of Christ, who, according to the story, escaped crucifixion, espoused Mary Magdalene, and found asylum from his persecutors in Southern Gaul. The offspring of Jesus became the Merovingian royals. As in the case of the Gnostic texts themselves, the very arbitrariness of the confabulations makes them alluring. Their currency suggests that the impulses generative of the Gnostic view, especially the requirement of many people for a second reality, remain in place.
[Additional Brussels-Journal articles exploring the relation of Gnosticism and modernity by Thomas F. Bertonneau are these: Further Remarks on Voegelin and Gnosticism, Liberalism and the Search for the Ground, Literature and Ideology: Hawthorne’s Blithedale Romance and Dick’s VALIS, and Literature and Ideology: Jorge Luis Borges and Karen Blixen.]
 Jonas’ Husserlian background expresses itself in The Gnostic Religion in the sense that Jonas interprets his primary documents as articulating a lived and felt reaction to the world; the “Lifeworld” of the Gnostic must, on this analysis, contain elements that really do “alienate” the subject and cause him to react against the structure of reality. One should not forget, however, that there were other contemporaneous responses to “alienation” that did not take the extreme – or, as I would say, pathological – form that we see in the Gnostic doctrines. Among these were the philosophical schools, especially the Neoplatonic School, but also Stoicism and even Epicureanism, and finally Christianity.
 Zeno (334 BC - 262 BC), the founder of Stoicism, was a Cypriote and by ethnicity a Phoenician of Tyrian extraction.
 Greek has a number of terms ambiguously translatable by the English word, knowledge: Thus episteme means knowledge – of existing things, or what we might call empirical knowledge; whereas sophrosyne is wisdom, as distinct from empirical knowledge; and phronesis is a kind of prudential knowledge related to wisdom. Gnosis, on the other hand, refers to something like intuition although it can also denote immediate understanding or a swift cognitive penetration to essence of the matter. Gnosis is also related to gnomon, a puzzle or riddle. The English verb to know shows obviously morphological kinship with the Greek verb, gnosein, as with the French connaitre, and the German kennen.
 I cannot help but be put in mind of Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States (1980), or of most of the work of Gore Vidal, or of ninety-nine out of a hundred written-for-college humanities textbooks.
 The Romantics knew of these heretical antitheses and they often followed suit, as in the case of Percy Shelley, whose Prometheus Unbound (1820) is an antinomian fantasy. It is noteworthy that, in Moby Dick (1851), Herman Melville likens Captain Ahab, in his nihilism, to “the ancient Ophites of the east.”