According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Gnosticism is derived from the Greek word gnôsis, which translate to knowledge or insight. It is the name given to an ancient, as well as modern, organized religious and philosophical movement that flourished in the first and second centuries after the death of Christ, frequently called the Common Era in scientific/philosophical circles. But, archaeologically, it has been traced to have originated in 100 BC to 200 BC time period; established from the early treatises of the Corpus Hermeticum, Jewish Apocalyptic writings whose foundation was based upon Platonic philosophy and Hebrew scriptures.
...this world, the material cosmos, is the result of a primordial error on the part of a supra-cosmic, supremely divine being, usually called Sophia (Wisdom) or simply the Logos. This being is described as the final emanation of a divine hierarchy, called the Plêrôma or “Fullness”, at the head of which resides the supreme God, the One Beyond Being. ...the Gnostic revisionary critique of the Hebrew Scriptures begins, as well as the rejection of this world as a product of error and ignorance, and the positing of a higher world, to which the human soul will eventually return.
The creation period was chaos according to the Gnostics and the God, Supreme Being, who later brought enlightenment and truth.
Gnostics attempted to answer the question: Who are we? The spirit-soul is a fundamental mind-body distinction that is markedly similar to transcendentalism and the attitudes toward the cosmos and temporal existence. However, that similarity was not enough so philosophers have come to know the Gnostic train of thought as Existentialism. There is no conscious activity when it comes to humanity and nature, where nature can obliterate humanity's existence just as easily as it brings it into existence, and it is the human mind and the soul which continues beyond that existence. Still, the cosmos is thought of having a sense of law and order where the inner self can gain immortality.
The Gnostic Bible is called The Pistis Sophia which records secret teachings not recorded in the Christian canonical text, for example:
It came to pass, when Jesus had risen from the dead, that he passed eleven years discoursing with his disciples, and instructing them.
This passage is an important part of Pistis Sophia scripture. It is filled with mysticism and rebukes unethical behavior and elevates the status of the spiritual role of women. Such things caused the newly organized Christian Church to reject the Gnostic gospels as heresy, bent upon destroying its existence. The original text was written in the Coptic language and it was discovered underground in Egypt where the Pharaohs reigned as well as discovered in caves of the Middle East. It is astonishing that it survived the purge by the Christian Church that became the Roman Catholic Church that canonized the Bible from the Greek and Latin texts.
The Gnostics present Mary Magdala (Magdalene) in a far different manner that the established Christian Church did, as the following video illustrates …
The ground breaking discovery about Gnosticism was when 52 texts was discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt that included secret gospels, poems and myths attributed to Jesus and different than portrayed in the text of the New Testament section of the Holy Bible.
The famous text found in Egypt would become known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The amazing story of those texts was presented by a BBC documentary …
The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia describes Gnosticism as …
The doctrine of salvation by knowledge. … A collective name for a large number of greatly-varying and pantheistic-idealistic sects, which flourished from some time before the Christian Era down to the fifth century, and which, while borrowing the phraseology and some of the tenets of the chief religions of the day, and especially of Christianity, held matter to be a deterioration of spirit, and the whole universe a depravation of the Deity, and taught the ultimate end of all being to be the overcoming of the grossness of matter and the return to the Parent-Spirit, which return they held to be inaugurated and facilitated by the appearance of some God-sent Saviour. … Whereas formerly Gnosticism was considered mostly a corruption of Christianity, it now seems clear that the first traces of Gnostic systems can be discerned some centuries before the Christian Era.
The Gnosis website states:
Like Buddhism, Gnosticism begins with the fundamental recognition that earthly life is filled with suffering. In order to nourish themselves, all forms of life consume each other, thereby visiting pain, fear, and death upon one another (even herbivorous animals live by destroying the life of plants). In addition, so-called natural catastrophes -- earthquakes, floods, fires, drought, volcanic eruptions -- bring further suffering and death in their wake. Human beings, with their complex physiology and psychology, are aware not only of these painful features of earthly existence. They also suffer from the frequent recognition that they are strangers living in a world that is flawed and absurd. … In the Gnostic view, there is a true, ultimate and transcendent God, who is beyond all created universes and who never created anything in the sense in which the word “create” is ordinarily understood. While this True God did not fashion or create anything, He (or, It) “emanated” or brought forth from within Himself the substance of all there is in all the worlds, visible and invisible. In a certain sense, it may therefore be true to say that all is God, for all consists of the substance of God. By the same token, it must also be recognized that many portions of the original divine essence have been projected so far from their source that they underwent unwholesome changes in the process. To worship the cosmos, or nature, or embodied creatures is thus tantamount to worshipping alienated and corrupt portions of the emanated divine essence.
The Catholic Church describes Gnosticism as a thinly disguised Pantheism. It also describes in length the Sophia myth of which Saint Irenaeus wrote about in Against Heresies III 7.4. Irenaeus was one of the fathers of the Church that laid the foundation of what would become Christian theology and doctrine.
The finding of the Gnostic Gospel of Judas at El Minya, Egypt in the 1970s increased the interest in Gnosticism in this modern period.
The modern Gnostic faith group calls itself Novus Spiritus and has churches in California, Washington, and Nevada, which its glossary describes modern Gnosticism as:
A Gnostic Christian Church, that believes in reincarnation, the duality of God as both masculine and feminine, and in tenets that explain how we can best advance our souls for God -- while living with the negativity here on Earth. Founded by psychic Sylvia Browne on 1986-APR-14, Novus Spiritus is based on a long line of Gnostic churches that have existed for over 7,200 years. The first church service was conducted on 1986-JUL-12. Gnostics believe in finding their own truth, and don’t believe in “hell,” “sin,” or that Jesus came to die for our sins -– but was a human messiah who served as a living example of how we should think and behave. Church members believe in an all-loving, all-merciful and benevolent God, in the power of prayer, and that we write a 'chart' for each life, to learn the life lessons we have chosen to learn through experience – to reach our own desired level of perfection for God, who loves us unconditionally and equally.
Surprising to many Christians, the Novus Spiritis Gnostics …
...assert that matter is inherently evil and spirit is good. As a result of this presupposition, Gnostics believe anything done [while] in the body, even the grossest sin, has no meaning because real life exists in the spirit realm only.
Gnostics do not look to salvation as being free from sin, but instead free from ignorance because knowledge is sacred and instrumentally beneficial to the soul – that which lives beyond material body.
Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, scholars believed that Gnosticism developed from Hellenistic Judaism, the Greco-Roman mystery religions, and Zoroastrianism. The idea that Gnosticism derived from Buddhism is rejected by most scholars, originated by a Victorian gem collector, Charles William King, in 1864.