Gnosticism is a collection of religious ideas and systems which originated in the late 1st century among Jewish and early Christian sects. These various groups emphasized personal spiritual knowledge, called gnosis, over the orthodox teachings, traditions, and authority of the church. Gnostics see the material existence as flawed or evil. The Gnostic worldview sees a distinction between a supreme, hidden God and a evil lesser god. The lesser god is sometimes associated with the Yahweh of the Old Testament who is responsible for creating the material universe. Gnostics considered the principal element of salvation to be direct knowledge of the supreme divinity in the form of mystical or hidden insight. Many Gnostic texts deal with this personal enlightenment.
Gnostic writings flourished among Christian groups in the Mediterranean world until the second century, when the Fathers of the early Church denounced them as heresy. Efforts to destroy these texts were largely successful at first, resulting in the survival of very little writing by the Gnostic theologians. However, early Gnostic teachers such as Valentinus saw their beliefs aligned with Christianity. In the Gnostic Christian tradition, Christ is seen as a divine being which has taken human form in order to lead humanity back to the revelation of enlightenment. Gnosticism’s emphasis on direct experience allows for a wide variety of teachings. These include distinct beliefs such as Valentianism and Sethianism. In the Persian Empire, Gnostic ideas spread as far as China by the related movement of Manichaeism, while Mandaeism is still alive in Iraq.
For centuries the most scholarly knowledge of Gnosticism was limited to the anti-heretical writings of orthodox Christian figures such as Irenaeus of Lyons and Hippolytus of Rome. There was a renewed interest in Gnosticism after the 1945 discovery of Egypt's Nag Hammadi library. These include a collection of rare early Christian and Gnostic texts, which include the Gospel of Thomas and the Apocryphon of John. A major question in scholarly research is the qualification of Gnosticism as either an interreligious phenomenon or as an independent religion. Scholars have acknowledged the influence of sources such as Hellenistic Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and Platonism. Some scholars have even noted there are possible links to Buddhism and Hinduism.
Gnosticism has always been a problem within both Christianity and the Jewish faith. The emphasis on subjective experiences and revelations opens the door to ideas that can be counter to the written revelation of both the Old and New Testaments. These foreign spiritually derived concepts can cause problems with syncretism in which these foreign spiritual ideas get blended in with the teachings of the faith. For faith streams that emphasize subjective spiritual revelations the gateway can open up to spiritual counterfeit beliefs. Charismatic streams of both Jewish and Christian faiths often blend ideas which they attain from the spiritual dimension of their faith into the orthodox teachings of their orthodox faiths. The question then becomes what is to be considered orthodox beliefs of the faith?
Another major problem that arises when these ideas work their way into the public policy arena once they have infiltrated the churches. An example of this is rise of the Nazi era leading to the second world war. To understand what led to the rise of Nazi ideology one must understand what Hitler's religious worldview was. Researchers have claimed that he was influenced by evolutionary thought, atheism, Christianity and pantheism. Ideas have consequences. In this case the ideas led to the second world war so it pays to know where these ideas lead and their impact on the world.