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.
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DeConickApril D.KripalJeffrey J.“Secret Religion: The Challenge from the Margins”Religion: Sources Perspectives and Methodologies2016bMacMillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks on ReligionNew YorkMacMillan93105
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LehtipuuOutiChalcraftDavid J.UhlenbruchFraukeWatsonRebecca S.“Who Has the Right to Be Called A Christian? Deviance and Christian Identity in Tertullian’s On the Prescription of Heretics”Methods Theories Imagination: Social Scientific Approaches in Biblical Studies2014SheffieldSheffield Phoenix8098
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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.