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The Gnostics and Their Remains

C. W. King


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This book draws from, among others, the likes of the Pistis Sophia to give an account of the early Gnostic believers. What follows is not by any means a full list of what is in the book. Part I covers the sources of Gnosticism and includes the origin of Gnosticism, the Book of Enoch, the Zendavesta, the Kabbalah and Buddhism. Part II covers the worship of Mithras and Serapis and includes monuments, ancient art, tomb treasures, talismans and the evil eye. Part III covers Abraxas and includes Agathodaemon Worship, the true Abraxas gems, the god Abraxas, legends and formulae. Part IV covers the figured monuments of Gnosticism and includes symbols, after death, punishments and magic squares. Part V covers the Templars, Rosicrucians and Freemasons and includes symbols, the mystery of Baphomet, Adam Weishaupt and Orphic mysteries.

This book has 473 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1887.

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Excerpt from 'The Gnostics and Their Remains'

THE general name "Gnostics" is used to designate several widely differing sects, which sprang up in the Eastern provinces of the Roman Empire almost simultaneously with the first planting of Christianity. That is to say, these sects then for the first time assumed a definite form, and ranged themselves under different teachers, by whose names they became known to the world, although in all probability their main doctrines had made their appearance previously in many of the cities of Asia Minor. There, it is probable, these sectaries first came into definite existence under the title of "Mystae," upon the establishment of a direct intercourse with India and her Buddhist philosophers, under the Seleucidae and the Ptolemies.

The term "Gnosticism" is derived from the Greek, Gnosis, knowledge--a word specially employed from the first dawn of religious inquiry to designate the science of things divine. Thus Pythagoras, according to Diogenes Laertius, called the transcendental portion of his philosophy, Γνῶσις τῶν ὄντοων, "the knowledge of things that are." And in later times Gnosis was the name given to what Porphyry calls the Antique or Oriental philosophy, to distinguish it from the Grecian systems. But the term was first used (as Matter on good grounds conjectures) in its ultimate sense of supernal and celestial knowledge, by the Jewish philosophers belonging to the celebrated school of that nation, flourishing at Alexandria. These teachers, following the example of a noted Rabbi, Aristobulus, surnamed the Peripatician, endeavoured to make out that all the wisdom of the Greeks was derived immediately from the Hebrew Scripture; and by means of their well-known mode of allegorical interpretation, which enabled them to elicit any sense desired out of any given passage of the Old Testament, they sought, and often succeeded, in establishing their theory. In this way they showed that Plato, during his sojourn in Egypt, had been their own scholar; and still further to support these pretensions, the indefatigable Aristobulus produced a string of poems in the names of Linus, Orpheus, Homer, and Hesiod--all strongly impregnated with the spirit of Judaism. But his Judaism was a very different thing from the simplicity of the Pentateuch. A single, but very characteristic, production, of this Jewish Gnosis has come down to our times. This is the "Book of Enoch" (v. p. 18), of which the main object is to make known the description of the heavenly bodies and the true names of the same, as revealed to the Patriarch by the angel Uriel. This profession betrays, of itself, the Magian source whence its inspiration was derived. Many Jews, nevertheless, accepted it as a divine revelation; even the Apostle Jude scruples not to quote it as of genuine Scriptural authority. The "Pistis-Sophia," attributed to the Alexandrian heresiarch Valentinus (so important a guide in the following inquiry), perpetually refers to it as: The highest source of knowledge, as being dictated by Christ Himself, "speaking out of the Tree of Life unto ΙΕΟϒ, the Primal Man." Another Jewish-Gnostic Scripture of even greater interest (inasmuch as it is the "Bible" of the only professed Gnostic sect that has maintained its existence to the present day, the Mandaites of Bassora) is their textbook, the "Book of Adam." Its doctrines and singular application of Zoroastrism to Jewish tenets, present frequent analogies to those of the Pistis-Sophia, in its continual reference to the ideas of the "Religion of Light," of which full particulars will be given when the latter remarkable work comes to be considered. "Gnosticism," therefore, cannot receive a better definition than in that dictum of the sect first and specially calling itself "Gnostics," the Naaseni (translated by the Greeks into "Ophites"), viz., "the beginning of perfection is the knowledge of man, but absolute perfection is the knowledge of God." And to give a general view of the nature of the entire system, nothing that I can do will serve so well as to transcribe the exact words of a learned and very acute writer upon the subject of Gnosticism ("Christian Remembrancer," for 1866).

"Starting, then, from this point, we ask what Gnosticism is, and what it professes to teach. What is the peculiar Gnosis that it claims to itself? The answer is, the knowledge of God and of Man, of the Being and Providence Of the former, and of the creation and destiny of the latter. While the ignorant and superstitious were degrading the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made with hands, and were changing 'the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator,' the ancient Gnostics held purer and truer ideas. And when these corrupted and idolatrous forms of religion and worship became established, and were popularly regarded as true and real in themselves, the 'Gnostics' held and secretly taught an esoteric theology of which the popular creed of multitudes of deities, with its whole ritual of sacrifice and worship, was but the exoteric form. Hence all the mysteries which almost, if not all, the heathen religions possessed. Those initiated into these mysteries, whilst they carefully maintained and encouraged the gorgeous worship, sacrifices and processions of the national religion, and even openly taught polytheism and the efficacy of the public rites, yet secretly held something very different--at the first, probably, a purer creed, but in course of time, like the exoteric form, degenerating. The progress of declination differed according to race or habit of thought: in the East it tended to superstition, in the West (as we learn from the writings of Cicero) to pure atheism, a denial of Providence. This system was adopted likewise by the Jews, but with this great difference, that it was superinduced upon and applied to a pre-existent religion; whereas in the other Oriental religions, the external was added to the esoteric, and developed out of it. In the Oriental systems the external was the sensuous expression of a hidden meaning; in the Jewish, the hidden meaning was drawn out of pre-existing external laws and ritual; in the former the esoteric alone was claimed as divine, in the latter it was the exoteric which was a matter of revelation. To repair this seeming defect, the Kabbalists, or teachers of the 'Hidden Doctrine,' invented the existence of a secret tradition, orally handed down from the time of Moses. We may, of course, reject this assertion, and affirm that the Jews learnt the idea of a Hidden Wisdom, underlying the Mosaic Law, from their intercourse with the Eastern nations during the Babylonian captivity; and we may further be assured that the origin of this Secret Wisdom is Indian. Perhaps we shall be more exact if we say that the Jews learnt from their intercourse with Eastern nations to investigate the external Divine Law, for the purpose of discovering its hidden meaning. The heathen Gnostics, in fact, collected a Gnosis from every quarter, accepted all religious systems as partly true, and extracted from each what harmonized with their ideas. The Gospel, widely preached, accompanied by miracles, having new doctrines and enunciating new truths, very naturally attracted their attention. The Kabbalists, or Jewish Gnostics, like Simon Magus, found a large portion of apostolic teaching in accordance with their own, and easily grafted upon it so much as they liked. Again the Divine power of working miracles possessed by the Apostles and their successors naturally attracted the interest of those whose chief mystery was the practice of magic. Simon the Magician was considered by the Samaritans to be 'the great Power of God;' he was attracted by the miracles wrought by the Apostles; and no doubt he sincerely 'believed,' that is, after his own fashion. His notion of Holy Baptism was probably an initiation into a new mystery with a higher Gnosis than he possessed before, and by which he hoped to be endued with higher powers; and so likewise many of those who were called Gnostic Heretics by the Christian Fathers were not Christians at all, only they adopted so much of the Christian doctrine as accorded with their system."

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