Older historical textbooks often speak of “Gnosticism” as if it were a relatively well-defined coherent movement. There is now a growing consensus that the use of the single term “Gnosticism” is misleading, in that it gathers together a number of quite different unrelated groups, and presents them as if they represented a single religious belief system. Perhaps Gnosticism is best understood as a family of religious doctrines and myths that flourished in late classical antiquity with three shared beliefs:
1. The cosmos is a result of the activity of an evil or ignorant creator, often referred to as the “Demiurge” (Greek: dēmiourgos, “craftsman” or “artisan”);
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2. Humanity is trapped within this physical realm; 3. Salvation is a process in which believers receive the knowledge (Greek: gnōsis) of their
divine origin, allowing them to break free from their imprisonment on earth.
The idea of an inferior creator god – the “Demiurge” – is found in classical Greek philoso- phy, and plays a significant role in Plato’s dialogue Timaeus. Gnosticism held that this demiurge created the physical world without any knowledge of the “true God,” falsely believing that he was the only God. Since the demiurge acted in ignorance of the true God, his creation had to be considered as imperfect, or even evil. Most forms of Gnosticism believed there was a radical gulf between the visible world of experience and the spiritual world of the true God.