What is the Gnostic Religion?

Two brothers were digging for fertiliser in
the Egyptian desert in 1945. As they dug around, they found a mysterious
earthenware vessel. These two brothers had no idea inside that
vessel was one of the most significant finds in archaeological history. There was no pharaoh’s treasure or ancient
sword of legend, but papyrus. A stack of ancient writings. These papers changed hands multiple times. Some people destroyed pages of this collection
and separated the rest. The significance of the collection would take
a long time before they found what a treasure these would be. Hi, I’m Tristan, and this is Step Back,
where we look at history sideways. Be sure to subscribe and hit the notification
for more history every week. Several decades after this discovery, a pile
of papyrus, rotting away in a New York safety deposit box came to light. After decades of swimming around the grey
market of antiquities, an ancient manuscript stolen by a Greek trader, suffering decades
of poor storage, found its way to archaeologists. Thousands of pieces of text would need to
be painstakingly preserved and pieced together to find out its true significance. These two collections of writing might be
some of the last remaining documents written by a school of Christianity around during
the religion’s early days. Until these pieces were found, the only record
of these Gnostics were writings from the early church depicting them as baby eating heretics. But now we had, in their own writing, their
ideas describing a radically different concept of God, the cosmos, and salvation. This is the story of these people, the Gnostics. Those two documents go by the names of the
Nag Hamadi Library and the Gospel of Judas. Both of the collections of texts written by
a group called the Gnostics. I think it would be easier, to begin with
the issue of the term Gnostics. There was no such thing as a faith called
Gnosticism. It’s more of an umbrella term used later
to refer to a bunch of early Christian movements sharing a few common beliefs, often with a
lot of difference in the details. It’s significant enough to the point where
some religious studies scholars dispute using the term because it oversimplifies this group. So, I want to approach the topic with this
forewarning. This isn’t a formal group. There was no leader. I use the word because it makes categorisation
easier. If you wanna break into the minutia, you will
want to approach the subject with something with a spine and a few hundred pages. Early Christianity was, for lack of a better
term, buck wild. Keep in mind, for a long time, Christians
weren’t ruling super powerful institutions. They were a small but growing Jewish cult
thriving in the periphery of the Roman empire. Its main leaders were the figures of the ‘holy
generation’, which you might recognise as many of the more prominent disciples in the
new testament. However, a lot of what we take for granted
as Christianity such as the Trinity, bodily resurrection, and even the books of the bible
were far from solidified. So, many early church leaders were trying
to figure out what was the right way to worship. What did this god with this new saviour figure
really want for humanity? What did Jesus’s message mean? What did his story say about humanity? For a long time, there was a lot of opinions. The most recognisable would probably be the
proto-orthodox church. Their leaders developed a lot of the theological
work for what would become staples of modern Christianity. This is the group that eventually found its
way into the power structure of the Roman Empire, and was the theological root for Catholics
and Protestants. Unless you are a Coptic Christian, or Ethiopian
Christian (More about them in this video), then your sect of Christianity probably traces
its theological routes to this group. The Gnostics were different from Christians
today. Their interpretation of Christianity was unrecognisable
compared to traditions taken for granted today. So let’s chew on those differences for a
bit, shall we? So I guess we should begin with what you would
think is one of the most settled parts of Christian dogma. God. One, kinda three somehow, but definitely one,
right? Well, let’s pick this apart. Gnostics did believe in god, so they’re
still good in that sense, but they adopted little bits from some Greek Philosophers like
Plato with his sweet cave, and Pythagorean cults with their like… triangle worship
thing to build a concept called the Monad. Some groups go as far as to say the Monad
is a sort of unknowable agendered perfect being that definitely exists… but… he
didn’t make the world. This is because, well, the Gnostics generally
had two gods. Or a sort of imperfect replica of god, so
maybe like one and a half gods? Either way, the material world, people, the
earth and all that good stuff, wait; I mean bad stuff because Gnostics, was created by
a different entity called the Demiurge. Now I kinda imply he’s considered evil,
but like I said earlier, opinions are diverse. Everything ranges from evil incarnate to imperfect
and he’s just trying the best he can you guys. Both the Monad and the Demiurge according
to some Gnostics have servants called Aeons and Archons. Often the Aeons travelled in pairs and depending
on the Gnostic Jesus, or the Demiurge himself was one of these creatures. The Demiurge is the entity who made the earth
and us. He’s the grumpy god of the old testament
who drowns the planet, causes pain in childbirth, and yells at people for doing sex wrong. And this hits on a different, but in some
ways weirdly familiar part of a Gnostic Christian tradition. They believe that the material world, with
material bodies, is a trap. This ranges from the material world being
an imperfect manifestation of reality we need to transcend to us being physical cages made
by the Demiurge to trap our spark of creation. When we die and shed this mortal coil, we
are usually reunited with the Monad, becoming part of them. So Gnostics were not too worried about ritual
and hierarchy, as they were just products of this imperfect prison-plane and what counts
is how you feel… in your heart. The last and most important thing to the Gnostics
is probably evident from the Greek origins of their name. Gnostic has the root word gnosis, meaning
knowledge or wisdom. At the core of Gnosticism is all these beliefs
I mentioned above were secret knowledge they were trying to understand and uncover. They even believe the Demiurge freaking out
about Eve eating dem apples from the tree of knowledge was him hiding this revelation
from humanity. Jesus, for example, was an entity, usually
not even a Human one, sent to give us the prisoners secret knowledge of the bigger universe. That what we saw were just shadows in the
cave to make their connection with Plato again. Oh, by the way before we continue, if you
want to see a much better and more detailed breakdown of this theology, I got a lot of
help from Andrew Mark Henry over at Religion for Breakfast. After this video, you should check out the
cards or the description to watch a playlist of his on early Christianity. For the longest time, we had little to go
on to study Gnostic groups. The only writing scholars had to work with
was stuff written by that proto-orthodox church, who wrote about them as literal baby eating
monsters who were heretics against god. I mean, believing the god of the old testament
is a sort of evil god pretender will probably do that. The Orthodox religion relied on strict hierarchies,
ritual, establishment, and performance of deeds. The Gnostics, believing in none of those things,
found themselves on the out. Let’s just say being a heretic back then
was not as safe a life as it might be today. By the 4th century, Gnostics were more or
less gone. ——————————-
Hey folks, Intermission Tristan here to give you a big
bold CALL TO ACTION. There’s going to be a big meetup in Toronto
on May 19th, 2018. At 7PM come to Disgraceland where Mexie, Thought
slime, and myself will all be in attendance. I hope to meet a bunch of you there. Now, back to the shoooow. Ok, that was weird. Anyway, Christianity’s open range of ideas
began to narrow over the centuries. Big moments like the canonisation of the official
books of the bible left many many holy Christian texts considered everything from not religious
to evil. The official books meant that splinter groups
who considered Seth, the son of Adam a messiah figure, or those who elevated Mary Magdalene
above even the apostles were now heretics. That being said, there’s still a Gnostic
offshoot group living in modern day Iraq called the Mandaeans. Only about 60-70 thousand live today, but
they remain. So when the Nag Hamadi Library and the Gospel
of Judas were rediscovered, it was a huge deal. Those bits of papyrus served as a super rare
glimpse into Gnostic beliefs FROM THE GNOSTIC POINT OF VIEW! The information was priceless for uncovering
the secrets of these people who worshipped so long ago and gave us a peek into just how
different Christianity could have been if the war of ideas had only gone a bit different. Thanks to 12 tone for the theme, and Patreon
patrons Don and Kerry Johnson, Kolbeinn Mani, Garrick Kwan, and Scott Smith. Here’s a playlist of other world religion
videos I’ve done. If you have an idea for the next one, tell
me in the comments. I chose this one based on comments. See you next time for more Step Back.

Comments 56

  • Check out this playlist of all the fan favourites: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLnpoOo7lhNnELC8gNAz-niXgBwaTdSOyh

  • thirst.

  • Woah you sound different

  • I always find it fascinating to delve into how deeply fractured the Christian church was in those early decades, before the ultimate winners rewrote the books so that their views were those held by the church's fathers (ignoring how little said fathers agreed with each other and how their distaste was visible in the tone of the early Epistles) and any opposition was worse than pagans. It puts modern Christianity in a new context when you learn about Docetists (who didn't think Jesus physically incarnated as a man) or the conflicts between Paul and James.

  • Some of the Gnostics were REALLY weird by our standards. Like the Borborites, who interpreted "body" and "blood" of Christ as semen and menstrual blood.
    Also, it's important to note that the Gnostics weren't all Christians. They took influence from Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Egyptian religion, Judaism, Greco-Roman religion, and later, Islam. Not all of them were Christian. They were kind of like New Agers. The main reason we view them as Christians is because the main Western sources for them have been Christians who wrote about "heretics." You left out Manichaeism, which was the most popular Gnostic religion, and had a long life in the Middle East and China.

  • i like this update

  • What was that weird thing between 9:18 and 9:19?

  • If this video becomes popular, could you do a video on Mithraism and/or the cult if Sol Invictus?
    Also I like that you use drawings again

  • I see the persistence paid off 🙂

  • 8:07 Well… Actually there were many gnostic groups that re-appeared later in history, as late as the 1330s in the form of the Cathars, so over a thousand years after establishment of Christianity by Constantine.

  • Not that I don’t like the face cam videos, but the little animated Tristan is extra cool!

  • Gnostic means about as much as Protestant

  • Is this pro-science?

  • heyyyy the animation is back, awesome 🙂

  • It'd be cool to see you do some other early Christian sects, like Nestorians. I've always been interested in anti-trinitarians, since I grew up Unitarian Universalist

  • I like the new old style

  • Have you done one on the Druze?

  • I mentioned the dwemer and other elves of the Elder Scrolls universe as being gnostic just two videos ago, so this has pretty excellent timing.

  • So is Gnosticism essentially Paganism in that they both describe a group of small, similar religions that are also very different?

  • I like the animation style

  • More philosophy and religion please! Daoism is one of my faves, but anything from anywhere will do.

  • Your religion videos are always pretty interesting imo. perhaps do one on The Five Percent Nation sometime?

  • Oh man. The Gnostics are my shit. I can talk about these guys for hours! Thanks for the video.

  • The GONAD

  • Interesting video!
    One little thing though. 4:43 while the word 'gender' can be a verb (so something can be 'gendered'), the words 'transgender' and 'agender' are strictly adjectives, so 'agendered' and 'transgendered' aren't really grammatically correct. Maybe next time you could opt to use 'non-gendered' or 'agender' or 'genderless' instead?
    Keep making awesome videos 🙂

  • 7:52
    Why did you show a picture of a Mosque when talking about the Orthodox Church?


  • Can you make a video about the Cheondoists. Which are basically Korean Confucian Shamanism. That has a little bit of repersentationt in the North Korean government

  • To say either of these texts are "Long-buried secret books of the Bible" is rather disingenuous. Tthere is no agreement between the three largest Christian Denominations (Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Catholic Church & the Anglican Church) on which texts are to be books and counted as the Old Testament in the Bible; OCC 51 books, RCC 46 books & AC 39 books.
    I recall reading the Anglican has the fewest books at 39, all of which were originally written in Hebrew, the other books being either Aramaic or Greek.

  • As a future possible video endeavour, how about the rarely mentioned Islamic Denomination of the Ibadi & the Ahmadi?

  • Could you do a video on Deism and Christian Deism?

  • Yay little Tristan is back!

  • Interesting video, might I recommend/humbly request you do a video on the history of the Quakers and how their beliefs have evolved and modernized over the last few centuries? YouTube is seriously lacking good quality information and content on them imho.

  • Atheist – believes God does not exist.
    Christian /Muslim etc – believes that God exists.
    Agnostic – is not sure if God exists.
    Gnostic – Is sure that God either exists or doesn't exist.

  • interesting!

  • 'the war of ideas' tends to always go the same way, with ideas being used to defend and stabilize the status quo…

  • your fear is transparent ,you choose poorly you have 2 choices to become unperishable your present state is perishable it's really that simple discover who AMEN is and take a step foreword . Christ is just 1 path Holy spirit(Aether) is another path attain both paths to achieve the 3rd path the trinity. meaning you share Amens thrown

  • gnosticism is not a religion and it never will be

  • At 9:19….creepy dude.


  • I have an ex who was briefly involved with a Gnostic group (in Argentina).
    I tried asking about it, I was fascinated. But either she didn't really know much about it, or was unwilling to talk about it with me. She said they didn't reveal all about the doctrine, so I couldn't find out what their beliefs are.
    I always found it weird that the Demiurge idea lost to the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient, loving God idea. It at least doesn't have to make so much gymnastics to justify all that's wrong in the world.
    I sometimes bring it up when arguing with other kinds of Christians, just for fun. Or the idea that Jesus was the son of Lucifer, love the face they make :')

  • A lot of talk about nothing . What to learn about this ?

  • The Gospel of Judas. Gee, I wonder why the Christians called them heretics?

  • You should do a video on Manichaeism. It's considered by many scholars to be a '"gnostic" religion and it has the arguable distinction of being the first world religion as it spread as west to the mediterranean and North Africa as east as China and Mongolia while along the way synthesizing Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity , Daoism and more. Keep up the good work dude.

  • Thanks for making this!

  • 9:19 wtf was that?! (X)

  • this aint right

  • I consider myself a Gnostic-Deist. I believe the god of the bible is the fraud of all evil and this world is a trap, but the creator of the universe is separate from Humanity and unknown.

  • I'm gnostic lol

  • We also believe Lucifer is Jesus

  • We are not gone.
    Lol plenty of gnostic churches and groups.
    Like the OTO for example or the fee Masons and golden dawn.

  • I understand the plot and symbolisms of Persona 5 a lot better after watching this video.

  • You never hear who people think are inside the UFO s may I suggest they are angels who are working in conjunction of god they are also preparing for the return of Jesus Christ as predicated so often in the holy Bible

  • What are Maronites then?

  • The Baptist church, in Faith and Practice, has always existed since the day of Pentecost. We didn't come out the Catholic church or the Protestant Reformation.

  • Why does your voice sound different?

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