Apocalypticism and gnosticism : a comparison of their features, form and function
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Scholars have long noted the number of similarities that seem to exist between Gnosticism and Jewish Apocalypticism. Numerous hypotheses have been suggested to account for them, but no one has yet attempted to examine these similarities in detail in order to define what it is that makes Apocalypticism apocalyptic and Gnosticism gnostic in spite of these similarities. The present work is an attempt to define, examine and classify these similarities by comparing the two systems. For it is our working hypothesis that such similarities can only be characterized when they are examined in terms of their function and form within their respective systems. Consequently, a number of similarities are traced through the concepts of world, God, man and salvation that exemplify both systems. First, we note, many of those similar features, i.e. motifs, mytholo-gumena and attitudes that characterize both movements such as the importance of Wisdom, the Primal Parents, and the anti-godly powers, to name but a few. Such common features, while interesting, are significant only when they are examined in terms of their function. Here we find that both systems do use many of the same features to serve the same function. Both systems are attempts to provide a soteriological theodicy, i.e. a theodicy which itself functions to bring man salvation even as it is revealed to him. But it is in terms of form that the distinction between Gnosticism and Apocalypticism is finally to be made. Both systems are dualistic in form, yet each has its own type of dualistic expression. Gnosticism is ontologically dualistic while Apocalypticism is ethically and eschatologically dualistic. As a result the common features appear in both systems in ways that are consistent with their respective forms (dualisms). The Gnostic thus rejects world understood as matter while the Apocalyptist rejects world understood as history. Thus it is in examining both systems as systems that we find that Apocalypticism and Gnosticism maintain a consistent correspondence in features, form and function. Although such a correspondence does not in itself provide proof of an historical relationship between the two systems, it does demonstrate that Apocalypticism was the Jewish counterpart of Gnosticism and so may well deserve being categorized as a Jewish Gnosis.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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