Tunghaichuan, welcome to the forums, and thank you for the information. Usually I don't learn much from these discussions in one big chunk, so it is good to have an opportunity to get a summary of a whole area I haven't researched in any detail yet. I appreciate your insight and knowledge.
Thanks for the kind words, but I do not claim to be an expert. There are huge gaps in my knowledge. I'll try my best to answer your questions.
Is it true that Gnosticism in general is broader than just that one religious group? There seems to be quite a bit of bleed through between the regional pantheon and religions starting from around Turkey through to Egypt in the south and Iraq in the West. Specifically, the Babylonians, the Egyptians, and the Zoroastrians (their prime demon seems to be closer to the Christian Satan/Devil (evil intent) than the Hebrew Satan (adjudicator and servant)). These religious groups -- with Gnostic characteristics or not -- are much muddier than the western pantheon and religious groupings that were regional (different areas in Northern Europe) or Mediterranean (Greek to Rome and some back to Egypt).
I believe that is true, it is broader than just one religious group. Remember that at the time of the formation of Christianity, there wasn't one central body controlling what was written about Jesus. There were many groups with many beliefs. If we are to believe that Jesus actually existed, then he addressed many groups of people and said many things. This is born out in that there were many "gospels" floating about. The four that were canonized said Jesus was divine. Some some groups (not necessarily gnostic) denied the divinity of Jesus and produced their own accounts of his life.
Gnosis can be considered a larger term for any religion or philosophy that espouses knowledge over faith, but a special kind of knowledge: direct experiential contact with God, which is the only truth, so there is no use for "scripture." As I pointed out in the previous post, there is no evidence that their writings were anything more than transformative myth.
Some of the groups believed in Jesus, some didn't. Some believed in the divinity of Jesus, some didn't. The way I think of it is that what we now call "Gnosticism" is the mystical branch of Christianity. Likewise Kabballah, the mystical branch of Judaism and Sufiism, the mystical branch of Islam, could rightly be considered gnostic.
The best place to start is the Nag Hammadi library:http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/nhlalpha.html
In fact, the whole site is a treasure trove of information:http://gnosis.org/welcome.html
Getting back to Gnosticism, the mystery part seems to have partially transfered to Christianity, just as the demon has transfered from the Zoroastrians. (Agree/disagree/clarify-or-tweak?)
Note: I'm differentiating between Gnostic (a formal group or belief system with a capital G), as opposed to gnostic (lowercase g) from the Greek which is a claim to knowledge as opposed to agnostic (not Huxley) meaning no claim to knowledge.
From what I've read of the formation of early Christianity, it seems to me that some Gnostic sects adopted Jesus as their savior. Gnosticism may have started out as pagan and there is evidence that it predates Christianity. As Christianity became more and more popular and accepted, these sects adopted some of the Christian beliefs. I do not know this to be true, but history is muddied due to the Catholic church burning much of the writings as heresy.
Here is some basic informationhttp://jordanstratford.blogspot.com/2008/01/gnosticism-101.htmlhttp://jordanstratford.blogspot.com/2008/01/gnosticism-102-gnostic-world-view.html
But it also could have been that some Christian sects adopted Gnostic ideas and incorporated them into their beliefs as you stated. It is not clear to me.
Interesting. The Dead Sea Scrolls get plenty of press, but not the Gnostic texts, even though they were discovered around the same time.
(The last part -- criticism and other commentary -- can be interesting from a cultural anthropological point of view, though it is better to have the texts as well to see what the fuss was about!)
Hmmm. So, why are they often referred to as a "mystery cult"? The "cult" part can be seen and discarded as slander. Can the "mystery" part be described as slanderous or (less harshly) an intentional bit of politicking?
My feeling is that the victors write history. The Catholic Church persecuted most of the Gnostics out of existence over the last 1500 years or so. The Gnostics became the heretics, and the Church became orthodox. Also, the Gnostics were not followers. It was up to each individual to guarantee his/her own salvation. They did not take anything on faith. The Church did not like this as they could not control the Gnostics.
There are lots of neo-Gnostic churches these days. Gnostic thought is enjoying a resurgence. However, many of them have adopted Catholic trappings with a "gnostic" message as a lot of knowledge has been lost. They use the Nag Hammadi Library as their scripture, although there is no evidence that it was ever meant as such. There are even fellows going around calling themselves "bishops."
All these so called "Gnostic" churches that are springing up give me a bad feeling. Organized religion gives me the willies, no matter what the content of the message is. My feeling is that it is just a matter of time before their teachings become dogma which, IMHO, is counter to what the Gnostics believed.
For further reading I recommend:
The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
Beyond Belief by Elaine Pagels
(Pagels is a Catholic and Biblical scholar who was among the first to translate the Nag Hammadi scrolls.)
When Jesus Became God by Richard Rubenstein