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This discovery has made available a wealth of original documents that are being studied now for the first time. Hedrick states, "In general, the term gnosticism is applied to a series of widespread and rather diverse religio-philosophical movements in late antiquity and nevertheless are understood to have some similarities.Although a precise definition of gnosticism and a clear dating for its emergence in the Hellenistic world are still matters of scholarly debate, working definitions have generally included certain elements.At present, many scholars are inclined to believe that gnosticism is built upon Hellenistic-Jewish foundations and can be traced to centers like Alexandria, which had a large Jewish population.Polemics in the writings of the Jewish philosopher Philo, who himself was an opponent of local heresies, make it clear that he knew Jewish groups that had already formulated certain basic elements of gnosticism, though a consistent system did not yet exist in pre-Christian times. Daley writes, "It (Gnosticism) was rather a type of elitist religious thought, present in Jewish and philosophical pagan circles, as well as a fairly wide range of Christian ones that claimed privileged access to a kind of knowledge that could revolutionize the believer's understanding of existence.In the apostolic age, before the appearance of the Gnostic movement as a school (or schools), or as separate sects, the apostles dealt with false teachings similar to the Gnostic systems, as in 1 John and the pastoral epistles.The study of Gnosticism entered a new phase, however, with the discovery of a large collection of Coptic Gnostic documents found at Nag-Hammadi (Chenoboskion) in Upper-Egypt in 1945.This distinction, however, has not generally been followed.Gnosticism is a modern term, not attested to in antiquity.
The word "gnosis" The Greek word gnosis is derived from the Indo-European root "gno," and is also preserved in English word "know," and Sankrit word "jnana," which means "knowledge." The term has long been used in comparative religion to indicate a current of antiquity that stressed awareness of the divine mysteries.
This was held to be obtained either by direct experience of a revelation or by initiation into the secret, esoteric tradition of such revelations .
Pre-Christian Gnosis The experience of gnosis was highly esteemed at the beginning of our era in various religious and philosophical circles of Aramaic and Greco-Roman civilization. It is a key word in the scrolls of the Jewish Essene sect found at Qumran. Gnosis was used in Greek to indicate self-awareness.
Most Hermetic treatises take up a short saying and expound on it in this manner.
They also preserve the impact of Egyptian mythology. The Platonists interpreted gnosis as meaning that man, by turning his attention inward, could abstract from the sense perception and passion to uncover reason to know the being. In contrast, the Stoics argued that man could only know himself by looking outwards to the providence and harmony of the cosmos and so discover that man is a part of a whole (the Stoa is holistic). Undogmatic skeptics, who were against both schools, proved that man could not know anything with certainty, especially about God, and therefore he should humbly acknowledge his limitations.