The tree of life is an iconic visual symbol at the edge of religious thought over the last several millennia. As a show of its significance, the tree bookends the Christian canon; yet scholarship has paid it minimal attention in the modern era. In
The Tree of Life a team of scholars explore the origin, development, meaning, reception, and theology of this consequential yet obscure symbol. The fourteen essays trek from the origins of the tree in the texts and material culture of the ancient Near East, to its notable roles in biblical literature, to its expansion by early church fathers and Gnostics, to its rebirth in medieval art and culture, and to its place in modern theological thought.
Hellenistic Astronomy: The Science in Its Contexts, new essays by renowned scholars address questions about what the ancient science of the heavens was in the ancient Near East and Mediterranean worlds, and the numerous contexts in which it was pursued. Together, these essays will enable readers not only to understand the technical accomplishments of this ancient science but also to appreciate their historical significance by locating the questions, challenges, and issues inspiring them in their political, medical, philosophical, literary, and religious contexts.
Mani and Augustine: collected essays on Mani, Manichaeism and Augustine gathers in one volume contributions on Manichaean scholarship made by the internationally renowned scholar Johannes van Oort. The first part of the book focuses on the Babylonian prophet Mani (216-277) who styled himself an ‘apostle of Jesus Christ’, on Jewish elements in Manichaeism and on ‘human semen eucharist’, eschatology and imagery of Christ as ‘God’s Right Hand’. The second part of the book concentrates on the question to what extent the former ‘auditor’ Augustine became acquainted with Mani’s gnostic world religion and his canonical writings, and explores to what extent Manichaeism had a lasting impact on the most influential church father of the West.
Since its publication in 1975, A Course in Miracles (ACIM) has continued to grow in popularity as a major feature of New Age spirituality. While the text of the Course is not a direct imitation of any particular form of ancient Gnosticism, A Course in Miracles represents an example of the emergence, reception, and popularity of gnosticizing trajectories of thought in the New Age movement. As a modern-day neo-Gnostic text, A Course in Miracles reflects significant trends in contemporary Western religiosity, especially the quest for alternative forms of esoteric, spiritual, and mystical knowledge and experience in a nominally Christian or post-Christian Western world increasingly disillusioned with traditional orthodox theology, Christology, and ethics.
Bonnie Nettles and Marshall Applewhite, the founders of the millenarian movement Heaven’s Gate, began teaching at a retreat they called Know Place, where one came to “know thyself” in the “no-place of Utopia.” This initial phase set the stage for a process of self-recognition that would become the hallmark of conversion to the movement, much as Gnosticism employed in the first centuries of the common era. The parallels between late antique Gnosticism and Heaven’s Gate are remarkable. Both posited two breeds of humans, one a material husk and the other an enlightened soul temporarily trapped on earth. Both proposed radical gender equality and maintained a rigorous ascetic regime. Both proffered death as a return to a prior state of gnosis rather than a disjuncture into a new life and afterlife. This paper examines the rhetoric of self-verification employed by both movements as it relates to a modified monotheism.
This article traces the idea of neo-Gnosticism in a series of occult and new religious movements from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. Specifically, the article examines the links between two controversial groups that both described themselves as modern forms of Gnosticism: first, the European esoteric group, the Ordo Templi Orientis, and second, the American new religion, the Church of Scientology. Founded by Theodor Reuss in Germany in the 1890s, the O.T.O. described itself as a form of “Gnostic Neo-Christian Templar” religion, with sexual magic as its primary ritual secret. Its most infamous leader, British occultist Aleister Crowley, also developed a full scale “Gnostic Mass” for the group. Many elements of the O.T.O. and Crowley’s work were later picked up by none other than L. Ron Hubbard, the eclectic founder of Scientology, who also called his new church a “Gnostic religion,” since it is the “knowing of knowing” (scientia + logos). To conclude, I will discuss the ways in which these Gnostic and occult elements within Scientology later became a source of embarrassment for the church and were eventually either obscured or denied altogether—in effect, obfuscated by still further layers of secrecy and concealment.
The author uses three examples from contemporary New Age culture to demonstrate that popular alternative spirituality, while having no direct connection with ancient Gnosticism, reflects some of the core concerns and ideals found in Gnostic writing and liturgy, including mystical experience, radical ecumenism, and expanded human consciousness. This intersection demonstrates that the modern New Age itself indirectly comports with key elements of Gnostic tradition.