The term Gnostic has been so widely applied in the literature that it has almost lost analytical meaning. For present purposes, we substitute the term Gamma, and note that, in common with what we call Alpha, Gamma Christianity places no weight on Jesus' death. If varies in that it does not look toward a specific End of the World cataclysm. So defined, its earlier forms might well branch off from Christianity, but from its Alpha phase rather than from its later Beta phase. Baptism, considered as an initiation into the higher knowledge, is a feature of some versions of Gamma, suggesting origins going back to the John the Baptist movement. Traces of early Gamma may perhaps be found in the Manichean hymns. All this is consistent with the idea of development from a very early contact with Christianity.
Gamma focuses on knowledge of higher things as the key to individual salvation. It seems to be inherently individualistic, and unlike Alpha as we know it, has no communal aspect. Again, a development from Alpha seems plausible. Some versions focus on the ascent of the individual soul past various hostile powers (aeons) to a higher destiny. The chief areas of development appear to be Syria and Alexandria; these are also areas of very early Alpha missionarizing. Some later varieties of Gamma are associated with specific teachers, such as Basilides (Alexandria, c132, said to have composed commentaries on many of the canonical texts) and Valentinus (Alexandria; taught in Rome c140-160). Hints of astral theory may also be found in the earliest post-Pauline texts, Colossians and (further developed) Ephesians. Gamma elements seem to have been opposed by other writings of the period, such as the Pastorals.
It has been credibly established that most Thomas/Synoptic similarities have the directionality Synoptic > Thomas. It is not out of the question that some of the remainder may go the other way. If all contacts are in that direction, it remains useful to see what Thomas is like minus that Synoptic input. For the possible meaning of the prominence of James the Lord's Brother in the core of Thomas (#1-12), before it was identified with Thomas himself, see the Thomas page.
Gamma is somewhat to one side of the main Alpha research effort, and only the briefest suggestions can be given here:
- The Nag Hammadi Texts
- James the Lord's Brother
- Mary Magdalene
- Manichean Echoes
These notes are provided in part to summarize present opinion, but also to indicate possibilities for future research. Suggestions for, or contributions to, that research will be most welcome. Those interested may contact the Project via the mail link at the bottom of this or any other page.
12 Jan 2012 / Contact The Project / Exit to Home Page