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Gnosticism is among the many religious groups believed to have arisen during the early days of Christianity. Although the term is used monolithically, it is in fact broad in nature, encompassing an assortment of sects that were in existence even in its earliest days (around the second century C.E.). The term "Gnostic" is derived from the Greek word "gnosis," which is most commonly translated as, "knowledge." This ties into the central tenant upheld by Gnostics, that they alone are the keepers of an occult knowledge of God, and indeed the entire universe, which is what they believe will lead them to salvation.

Prior to the discovery of the Gnostic Gospels at Nag Hammadi in Egypt, little was known about the Gnostics, save what was written about them in Christian texts, which was for the most part derogatory. And while this discovery gave religious historians considerable insight into the "true" nature of this religion, discussions on the subject remain a topic of controversy for many.

Regarding Jesus, Gnostics did lend credence to the idea of his divinity, maintaining that he was a sort of intermediary between humanity and the eternal being or aeon. In fact, the Gnostics believed they alone understood his true message, which they insist has been misinterpreted by Christians. For one, the Gnostics largely rejected Jesus’ role as a savior, and looked upon him more as a liberator. In addition, some Gnostics believe that Jesus was never of the flesh, and that he only showed himself as such to his followers. They also believe that Jesus’ resurrection occurred sometime before or during the crucifixion – the moment that his spirit was freed from his body, and not days later. In addition, many Gnostics believe that Jesus had both male and female disciples. In fact, the Nag Hammadi texts are widely regarded as being amongst the most liberal interpretations of Jesus’ teachings with respect to women.

Gnostics, however, do share some elements of Christianity; primarily, they uphold the notion that humans are made up of both physical and spiritual elements. That being said, not everyone has equal access to the spiritual element. Indeed, according Gnosticism, humanity is comprised of three separate groups:

    1. Those of the flesh, who will never be saved. This conviction stems from their belief that the body is inherently evil. Indeed, Gnostics are antagonistic towards all aspects of the physical world.
    2. Those of the soul, who have a chance of salvation if they adopt the Gnostic way.
    3. Those of the spirit, who will be saved regardless of their behavior while on earth.

According to Gnosticism, Christians fall into the second category, and therefore will not achieve full salvation (unless they convert to Gnosticism) since they allow their body to stand in the way of their true connectedness to the spiritual world.

Jesus of Nazareth Mary Magdalene: Mariamne Early Christianity
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