ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
alchemy. He believed that the latter was the one connecting link between the Gnosticism of the ancient world and his own theories of the archetypes of the collective unconscious.
Until recently, Gnosticism was only known as a Christian heresy, and exclusively from the hostile reports of Church Fathers such as Irenaeus (c.180 C.E.), Hippolytus (c.100 C.E.), and Epiphanus (c.350 C.E.). Then, during the late eighteenth century, two texts were discovered by European travelers in Egypt, Greek texts preserved by the Coptic Church of Egypt and Ethiopia, a very old sect which continues to flourish today. These were the Two Books of Jeu and the Pistis Sophia. The latter, as we shall see, was to become very important to European occultists during the nineteenth century.
In 1945, a number of Gnostic texts were discovered at the village of Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt. They included Christian Gnostic texts such as The Epistle of Eugnostos and the Apocrypha of John both of which have been dated close to the origins of Gnosticism in Alexandria.
One of the best recent studies of Gnostic Christianity is that of Elaine Pagels in The Gnostic Gospels (1979). Pagels is a feminist scholar and very sympathetic to Gnosticism, a movement in which women were often priests and which emphasized gender equality. Pagels herself is of the esoteric tradition, albeit on the basis of very sound scholarship.
Pagels is not the first to show the probable Gnostic influences in the New Testament. For instance, in Luke’s story of the encounter by two disciples of Jesus on the road to Emmaeus, the two do not initially recognize the man whom they encounter and who dines with them. He blesses and breaks bread, and the disciples then discover that he is Jesus. Suddenly, he vanishes. Pagel contrasts this encounter with the oft-cited confrontation of Thomas by Jesus, a favorite sermon topic, for opposite reasons, of orthodox Christians and humanistic Unitarian ministers. Jesus tells Thomas: “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless but believing.” (John 20:27) The point of this passage is to assert the actual physical presence of the resurrected Christ in repudiation of the Gnostic claim that Christ was not incarnate deity but a wholly divine form, both during his earthly life and after the resurrection. The latter concept is very much like that of the Hindu avatar in which the god Krishna, for example, takes on apparent human form and appears among human beings. A further indication of the Gnostic argument, according to Pagel, is Paul’s celebrated confrontation by Christ on the Damascus Road. According to the account in Acts, he only hears the voice of Jesus. What he has, therefore, is not an actual encounter with the risen Jesus in the flesh.
The Gnostics accepted the authority of the immediate followers of Jesus, but included Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene among them. Indeed, there is gospel warrant for so doing since, as the Gnostics insisted, Mary Magdalene was the first to discover the risen Jesus, as told in Mark and John. One of the Nag Hammadi texts is the Gospel of Mary [Magdalene] which emphasizes this story. She asks, “How does he who sees the vision see it?