Our most recent Talk Gnosis show is all about Marcion of Sinope, a man mostly remembered, if remembered at all, as an arch-heretic… BUT he’s easily one of the most important leaders and philosophers in all of Christian history! I could spend blog post after blog post geeking-out on Marcion till the Eschaton comes, but today I’m using Marcion as the launch pad for one of my favorite rants!
Before we get to the delicious gooey center of my rant…I have to quickly (and inelegantly and without nuance) discuss one of Marcion’s key ideas: He taught that there isn’t one God, but at least two—the harsh, strict, and law giving God, revealed through the Jewish scriptures (what many people now call the Old Testament) and an Alien God of Love revealed through Jesus Christ. In his thought, the God that created this world was a judgemental and rigid God. Not evil, malicious, or inherently cruel, but one who set down some pretty strict rules and gave you all hell if you broke any.
Beyond, and unconnected to, the Ruler of this World (the Rex Mundi) was an Alien God who was completely removed from this world/universe/dimension and who one day noticed we were here and decided that people were having a bit of a rough go at it. So, he sends Jesus (or appears on Earth as Jesus) to show people the superior path of love over justice and give people an alternative to the God of This World.
Right, so, we have that under our belts and it’s a pretty similar idea to what a lot of people say about the Gnostics or even what I’ve heard some modern self-declared Gnostics say. That the God of the Old Testament is the Demiurge—the evil, malicious, deficient, and/or incompetent creator and ruler of this universe—and the God of Jesus is the true superior and loving God.
And folks…I hate when it’s understood that way. It’s like….kinda racist maybe? A way to really supersede the Jews and their faith? But there’s tonnes of wisdom and compassion in the Hebrew scriptures and plenty of examples of God being pretty cool in those holy books. And in the New Testament we have the supposed Good Guy God killing lots of people in the Book of Revelation, murdering Ananias and Sapphira in Acts for one lie, the roots of atonement theology, and that time Jesus kills a fig tree ‘cuz he’s in a mood.
I adhere to the (currently out of vogue in academia, but totally correct, catch me outside how about that if you disagree) theory that Gnosticism began with Egyptian Jews as a Jewish movement. Through their personal experiences, personal gnosis, and a healthy helping of Greek and Egyptian philosophy, they reinterpreted their holy books and the figures who star in them. Just read the Gnostic Secret Book of John it’s obviously produced by a community OBSESSED with the Book of Genesis and the characters in it.
The God of the Hebrew scriptures is broken up into different aspects such as the Unmovable Father, Sophia the Divine Wisdom, and that jerk, the Demiurge. It’s a much more sophisticated and subtle remaking of their tradition then just labelling every Jewish story and holy book the work of the Rex Mundi and moving on to a new God.
The ancient Gnostics were wily poets and religious geniuses and we do them a dis-sservice when we simplify their ideas to “Old Testament God=Bad, Jesus God=Good.”
I hope you enjoyed this rant.
You can watch me give a version of it here on an old Talk Gnosis show:
And of course, if you missed out on our Marcion show…YOU’RE MISSING OUT ON EVERYTHING:
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