Plotinus and the Gnostics

Dissertation, University of Oxford (United Kingdom) (1987)

Available from UMI in association with The British Library. Requires signed TDF. ;The object is to discover the identity of the "Gnostics" described in Enneads II, 9, through a comparison of their fundamental tenets with those of other creeds and philosophies and a discussion of the contents of certain documents, which they are known to have employed. ;Part One shows from the testimony of Porphyry and Plotinus that the "Gnostics" were Christian heretics, possessing a complete and coherent system of cosmogony and salvation, who claimed also to be disciples of Zoroaster and of Plato. At a time when Greek thought had almost banished evil from the universe, they held to older beliefs; yet Plotinus' methods of controversy prove that he conceived of them as Christians, and they are certainly at one with the Church in their attitudes towards supernatural powers. ;In Part Two it is shown that the "Gnostics" resemble the Sethians, as the Valentinians do not, in their rejection of the Creator and their belief in the eternity of matter. ;Texts from Nag Hammadi prove to be of limited value: the Allogenes and Zostrianus have imported doctrines which must be later than those opposed by Porphyry and Plotinus. The Book of Zoroaster can, however be reconstructed to some extent from evidence in Proclus and the Apocryphon of John, and we find reasons to surmise that it originated in Palestine not long after the Macedonian conquest. ;Part Three suggests that the Book of Zoroaster was diffused by the Naassenes, a Jewish sect who gave rise to early forms of Hermetic literature. The closing chapters demonstrate the possibility of a Christian Hermetism and the close relations between Hermetic and "Gnostic" teaching. ;The conclusion is that the tenets of the "Gnostics" entitle them to a peculiar position, compatible with that of those whom the Fathers knew as "Gnostics", but not with the unitary phenomenon of "Gnosticism" invented by modern scholars
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