This paper presents the novel argument that John Milton’s Paradise Lost shows clear evidence of Gnostic influence. While the potential influence of gnostic concepts on Milton has been noted before, previous work has been partial, suggestive, and/or limited to other of Milton’s works. Here, we build on the case made by Michael Bryson regarding Milton’s Paradise Regained by providing our own reading of four core themes in the prior Paradise Lost through a gnostic lens: (1) the manner of creation through the Son, (2) Milton’s understanding of materialism, (3) the Son’s attitude orientation toward outward displays of power, and (4) the parallels between Milton’s Eve and the gnostic Sophia. We ground this argument around Milton’s Gnosticism by presenting the historical case that Milton had access to, and was likely persuaded by, key aspects of ancient Gnosticism found within both Christian heresiologists (e.g., Irenaeus, Tertullian) and Neoplatonism (Plotinus). We then survey our core themes of Paradise Lost, presenting evidence around where ancient Gnosticism – in concert with other, often overlapping influences such as Neoplatonism and parabiblical literature – seems to provide the best framework for understanding certain, distinct elements of Milton’s conceptual and poetic frameworks.
This article proposes a reassessment of the Gnostic Apocalypse of Paul by focusing on genre, intertextuality, and structure as well as recurrent motifs. It argues that the Apocalypse situates the mission of Paul negatively in relation to a prison-like cosmos and positively in relation to the twelve apostles and that its form and objectives are best compatible with a fourth-century date.