|Doctrines|| ||At the heart of Gnostic
teaching is the belief that there is a divine spark in humanity that has
fallen from the realm of light into the realm of matter or darkness.
Christian Gnosticism termed the realm of darkness "the Void" and the realm
of light "the Fulness". Each realm has its own God-figure: the God of the
Void is the Lord God of the Jewish scriptures; the God of the Fulness is
described as Mind. It is to the Fulness that Gnostic Christians will
return. Ordinary Christians will dwell with the God of the Void.
Non-Christians are destined for destruction.|
The person of Jesus Christ is also conceived in dualistic terms. There are two Christs: the "psychic" Christ, the Messiah predicted in the Jewish scriptures, and the true saviour who descended upon Jesus during his baptism. In this scheme of things Jesus' teachings are interpreted as pointing to the Fulness and can only be properly understood by Gnostics.
|History|| ||The origins of Gnosticism
are unknown. It is uncertain whether it antedated Christianity or emerged
from within Christianity. Drawing upon diverse sources such as
non-Christian mythology, astrology, Greek philosophy and Hellenistic
Judaism, Gnosticism consisted of various groups whose teaching was deemed
to be accessible only to a select few.|
The most famous Gnostic schools were those of Basilides and Valentinus, which emerged in the first half of the 2nd century. These schools and their followers set about interpreting the New Testament texts according to Gnostic principles, and established their own works such as the Apocryphon of John and the Gospel of Truth.
Gnostic ideas stirred up considerable opposition from mainstream Christian apologists, and by the early 3rd century Gnostic influence had seriously declined. A form of semi-Gnosticism continued through the teachings of the Persian prophet Mani and his supporters, who came to be known as Manichaeans. Manichaeanism at first spread quickly throughout the Roman empire but, like Gnosticism, was successfully attacked by Christian apologists. By the fifth century Gnosticism and Manichaeanism had all but disappeared.
The only group today which could claim any succession from Gnosticism are the Mandaeans. Like Gnosticism, Mandeism is dualistic, based on the belief in a realm of darkness and a realm of light. Mandean communities are to be found in south-western Iran and southern Iraq.
|Symbols|| ||Gnostic symbolism reflects
the syncretic character of Gnostic belief. God is symbolised by light;
the material world by darkness. The connection between these two realms
is depicted in the form of a serpent biting its own tail; one half of the
serpent is black; the other half is white. The number 7 represents the
seven angels who created the world and who in turn represent fate. The
symbol of the Mother reflects the dualistic nature of Gnostic belief.
There are two mothers: the Supreme Mother who is the Holy Spirit and the
second, inferior Mother who gives birth to the God of the Void. The water
of baptism enables the believer to be united with Christ as Christ was
united with the Holy Spirit through his baptism. In Mandeism the
baptismal ceremony enables the baptised person to be free of sin and to
enter into the world of light.|
|Adherents|| ||There are some 20,000
Mandaeans in Iraq and a very small community in Iran (Europa Publications
Limited 1995, 1:1569).|
| ||Mandaean groups survive in Nasiriyah, Iraq.|