Gnosticism (from Ancient Greek gnostikos, "having knowledge", from gnosis, knowledge) is a modern term categorizing a collection of ancient religions whose adherents shunned the material world – which they viewed as created by the demiurge – and embraced the spiritual world.
Gnostic ideas influenced many ancient religions that teach that gnosis (variously interpreted as knowledge, enlightenment, salvation, emancipation or 'oneness with God') may be reached by practicing philanthropy to the point of personal poverty, sexual abstinence (as far as possible for hearers, entirely for initiates) and diligently searching for wisdom by helping others. However, practices varied among those who were Gnostic.
In Gnosticism, the world of the demiurge is represented by the underworld, which is associated with matter, flesh, time and, more particularly, an imperfect, ephemeral world. The world of God is represented by the upper world and is associated with the soul and perfection. The world of God is eternal and not part of the physical. It is impalpable and timeless.
Gnosticism is primarily defined in a Christian context. In the past, some scholars thought that gnosticism predated Christianity and included pre-Christian religious beliefs and spiritual practices argued to be common to early Christianity, Neoplatonism, Hellenistic Judaism, Greco-Roman mystery religions, and Zoroastrianism (especially Zurvanism). The discussion of gnosticism changed radically wi . . . more