Gnosticism (from the Greek word gnōsis, meaning 'knowledge') was a mystical belief system that is still greatly misunderstood. Many errors regarding its origins and teachings are perpetuated to this day.
Gnosticism emerged from within the Christian community during the 2nd Century AD and is therefore a Christian heresy, not a pagan intruder.
There is no evidence of any pre-Christian Gnostic literature or oral tradition (Gnostic writings all date from the Christian era) and no belief system resembling Gnosticism in the 1st century AD.
Gnostics claimed to be heirs of secret traditions passed down from Jesus through a clandestine tradition.
One of their earliest leaders was a heretic called Valentinus. His followers said he had been taught by a fellow Gnostic called Theudas, whom they believed had been instructed by the apostle Paul.
Gnostic doctrine can be summarised as follows:
* There are two gods: an evil god and a good god
* The evil god is an imperfect deity called the Demiurge; it was he who created the material world
* The good god is called the Pleroma or Bythos; he is superior to the Demiurge in power and character, and too pure to interact with creation
* There are lesser divine beings (called Aeons) who emanate from the Pleroma; their role is unclear
* The material world is 'fallen', 'broken', 'evil', and irredeemable
* A tiny portion of the divine still resides in each of us and must be reawoken before it can return to its source; it is through this process that individuals achieve salvation
Some Gnostics taught that Jesus was an incarnation of the supreme God, come to offer salvation.
Others taught that Jesus was a false messiah.
Still others believed Jesus was merely human but achieved deity through gnōsis.