The Countercultural Gnostic: Turning the World Upside Down and Inside Out

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Because the gnostic heresy is a social construction imposed by the early Catholics on religious people they identified as transgressors of Christianity, scholars are entertaining the idea that ancient gnostics were actually alternative Christians. While gnostics may have been made into heretics by the early Catholics, this does not erase the fact that gnostics were operating in the margins of the conventional religions with a countercultural perspective that upset and overturned everything from traditional theology, cosmogony, cosmology, anthropology, hermeneutics, scripture, religious practices, and lifestyle choices. Making the gnostic into a Christian only imposes another grand narrative on the early Christians, one which domesticates gnostic movements. Granted, the textual evidence for the interface of the gnostic and the Christian is present, but so is the interface of the gnostic and the Greek, the gnostic and the Jew, the gnostic and the Persian, and the gnostic and the Egyptian. And the interface looks to have all the signs of transgression, not conformity. Understanding the gnostic as a spiritual orientation toward a transcendent God beyond the biblical God helps us handle this kind of diversity and transgression. As such, it survives in the artifacts that gnostics and their opponents have left behind, artifacts that help orient religious seekers to make sense of their own moments of ecstasy and revelation.

The Countercultural Gnostic: Turning the World Upside Down and Inside Out

in Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies



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Cf. IrenaeusHaer. 1.11.1; 1.29.1; 1.30.15; cf. Tertullian Val. 11.2.


IrenaeusHaer. 4.pref.4 (Rousseau et al. 1965 386–390).


IrenaeusHaer. 1.10.1; 1.13.1 3; 1.15.6; 1.16.3; 1.25.3 (Rousseau and-Doutreleau 1979 154–159 188–197 250–253 260–265 284–289; 2.28.7 (Rousseau and -Doutreleau 1982 336–339); 5.26.2 (Rousseau et al. 1969 330–338).


IrenaeusHaer. 1.25.3 (Rousseau-Doutreleau 1979 336–339).


IrenaeusHaer. 1.pref.2 (Rousseau-Doutreleau 1979 20–25); 3.16.8 (Rousseau-Doutreleau 1974 318–320).


IrenaeusHaer. 1.31.4 (Rousseau-Doutreleau 1979 388–391).


IrenaeusHaer. 1.25.4 (Rousseau-Doutreleau 1979 338–341).


HippolytusHaer. 1.pre f.5 (Marcovich 1986 55). Cf. Roig Lanzillotta 2007.


Justin Martyr1 Apology 1.26.7.


HippolytusHaer. 1.pref.3–4 (Marcovich 1986 54).


HippolytusHaer. 5.11.1 (Marcovich 1986 173); cf. Roig Lanzillotta 2007.


TertullianPresc. 30.1–2. For a more lengthy discussion of Tertullian’s strategies see Lehtipuu 2014.


TertullianPresc. 2.1–3.


EpiphaniusPan. 4.pref.2.3.




Cf. King 2003.


Cf. Markschies 200314.


Layton 1995.


Harnack 1885 (1961 227); Nock 1964256.


Dillon 1977384–396.


See Grant and Freedman 196020.


For instance see Gärtner 196111–1278–80 who aligns his own academic interpretation with Irenaeus’ rhetoric of falsification and violence.


Bock 200624.


Bock 2006212quoting and agreeing with Witherington 2004 114–115.


Jenkins 200137.


Jenkins 200139.


Bauer 1934.


Pagels 1979xxxvi.


Pagels 1979xxxv.


King 2008. Her essay fits nicely in this edited volume where many of the papers also push away from the “objectification” of heresy.


King 2008.


King 2003.


For this wonderful image see Yinger 198242.


Layton 1995. See also M. Smith 1981.


DeConick 2013a. See also DeConick 2016.


For primary references see DeConick 2013a.


Cf. Clement of AlexandriaStrom. 4.21–23 (Stählin 1960 304–316).


Clement of AlexandriaStrom. 1.14 19 (Stählin 1960 37–41 58–62); 2.15 (Stählin 1960 146–151); 5.4 (Stählin 1960 338–342).


Williams 1996265–66.


Williams 1985.


IrenaeusHaer. 1.24.6 (Rousseau and Doutreleau 1979 330).


HippolytusHaer. 5.23.3–24.1.


Cf. BeDuhn 2015.


Cf. Lupieri 2002240–253.


Roszak 196842.


Roszak 196855.


Roszak 196895–96.


Roszak 196862.


Westhues 19729–10; Musgrove 1974 9; Yinger 1982 3.


Keniston 196056; 1968 259 340; Yinger 1982 51–79.


Yinger 198289–95.


Yinger 1982esp. 95–97; cf. Douglas 1973 81.


Musgrove 197440–64.


See especially Fauconnier and Turner 2002.


Coulson 2001. They are called idealized cognitive models by Lakoff 1987.


For more details see DeConick 2013a.


Cf. Roig Lanzillota 2013.


Cf. Whittaker 1969104.


On the seeker mentality see Roof 199379–83.


IrenaeusHaer. 1.pref.1 1.16.3 (Rousseau-Doutreleau 1979 18–21260–265); Haer. 2.9.2 2.13.3 2.26.1 2.28.7 (Rousseau-Doutreleau 1982 84–87 114–117 256–259 284–289); 4 pref.3–4 (Rousseau et al. 1965 384–390); Tertullian Val. 3.1–2 (Kroymann 1954 754–755).


IrenaeusHaer. 1.pref.1 1.4.3 1.16.3 1.21.3–4 (Rousseau and Doutreleau 1979 18–21 68–69 260–265 298–305); Tertullian Val. 1.1–4 (Kroymann 1954 753–754); Hippolytus Haer. 5.1.4 5.23.2–3 (Marcovich 1986 141 198–199).


IrenaeusHaer. 1.pref.1 1.10.3 (Rousseau and Doutreleau 1979 18–21 160–167); 2.28.2 (Rousseau-Doutreleau 1982 270–273); Hippolytus Haer. 6.41.2–5 (Marcovich 1986 258–259).


IrenaeusHaer. 2.19.2–4 (Rousseau-Doutreleau 1982 186–191); 4.19.1 (Rousseau et al. 1965 614–616); 5.19.2 (Rousseau-Doutreleau-Mercier 1969 250–252); Tertullian Val. 4.4 (Kroymann 1954 756–757).


IrenaeusHaer. 2.26.3 2.30.2 (Rousseau-Doutreleau 1982 260–263 302–305); Hippolytus Haer. 1.pref.2–3 (Marcovich 1986 54).


IrenaeusHaer. 1.6.3 1.28.2 (Rousseau-Doutreleau 1979 94–97 356–357); 2.14.5 (Rousseau-Doutreleau 1982 136–139); Tertullian Presc. 41.1 43.3.


IrenaeusHaer. 2.30.1 (Rousseau-Doutreleau 1982 300–303).


Cf. IrenaeusHaer. 4.38.4 (Rousseau et al. 1965 956–960).


IrenaeusHaer. 1.3.6 1.9.4 1.19.1–2 1.20.2 (Rousseau and Doutreleau 1979 60–63 146–151 284–289 290–293); 3.6.5; 3.7.1–2. On gnostic use of John see Irenaeus Haer. 3.11.1 (Rousseau and Doutreleau 1974 138–142); 4.41.1–3 (Rousseau et al. 1965 982–992). On the use and interpretation of John 8:44 in gnostic literature see DeConick 2013c; 2013d. On gnosticism and John more generally see Pagels 1973; Hill 2004 172–293; Turner 2005; Rasimus 2010. On gnostic use of Paul see Pagels 1975.


IrenaeusHaer. 1.1.3 (Rousseau-Doutreleau 1979 32–35).


IrenaeusHaer. 1.20.1 (Rousseau-Doutreleau 1979 288–289); 3.11.9 (Rousseau-Doutreleau 1974 170–176).


IrenaeusHaer. 1.4.3 1.21.3–4 (Rousseau-Doutreleau 1979 68–69 298–303); 3.15.2 (Rousseau-Doutreleau 1974 278–282); Hippolytus Haer. 1.pref.2–5 (Marcovich 1986 54–55).


IrenaeusHaer. 4.33.3 (Rousseau et al. 1965 808–10). Cf. Justin Martyr 1 Apology 1.26.7; Irenaeus Haer. 1.21.1–3 (Rousseau-Doutreleau 1979 294–303); Hippolytus Haer. 6.41.2–5 (Marcovich 1986 258–259).


IrenaeusHaer. 4.33.3 (Rousseau et al. 1965 808–810).


Tolle 199993.


Cf. Kaler 2009.

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