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Richard Smoley, an expert in esoteric Christianity, traces the Gnostic legacy from its ancient roots in the Gospel of Thomas, discovered in Egypt; early second-century Gnostic communities of the Roman Empire; and the Manichaeans of Central Asia. He tracks how the Gnostic impulse was publicly repressed but survived underground in various forms of Christianity, surfacing again in the Middle Ages with the Cathars, a mysterious group of heretics who inspired the medieval tradition of courtly love but were then wiped out by the Inquisition.
Since then, Smoley reveals, the Gnostic legacy has survived into the modern era with the help of Jewish Kabbalists, the Freemasonry of our founding fathers, the poetry of William Blake, the intuitive insights of nineteenth-century American Theosophists, and the psychological works of Carl Jung. Finally, we learn how some of the key teachings of the Gnostics are being revived today in serious nonfiction such as the criticism of Harold Bloom, in the science fiction of Philip K. Dick, as well as in popular Hollywood films like The Matrix and The Da Vinci Code.
Why should Gnosticism exercise such a peculiar and lasting fascination? Throughout most of Christian history, Gnosticism was the "forbidden faith," and such condemnation by the official Church might actually have served to endow the movement with glamour. But that explanation goes only so far. For the Gnostics to have such lasting appeal, it seems logical that they must offer solutions to some problems, solutions overlooked by mainstream religion. Forbidden Faith provides the enduring story and continuing legacy of those errant faithful who have had direct experiences of the divine that can't be explained by the official beliefs of the Church.
Number of Pages: 256
Publication Date: 2007
|Dimensions: 8.00 X 5.31 (inches)|
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The success of books such as Elaine Pagels's Gnostic Gospels and Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code proves beyond a doubt that there is a tremendous thirst today for finding the hidden truths of Christianity truths that may have been lost or buried by institutional religion over the last two millennia.
In Forbidden Faith, Richard Smoley narrates a popular history of one such truth, the ancient esoteric religion of gnosticism, which flourished between the first and fourth centuries A.D., but whose legacy remains even today, having survived secretly throughout the ages.
Richard Smoley was educated at Harvard and Oxford universities and was the editor of Gnosis, the award-winning journal of Western spiritual traditions. He is the co-author (with Jay Kinney) of Hidden Wisdom: A Guide to the Western Inner Traditions, and is the author of Inner Christianity: A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition and The Essential Nostradamus.
“A compelling and accessible argument. A thoroughly enjoyable read; highly recommended for all libraries with strong religious collections.”
“If you are interested in the appeal of these popular manifestations of Gnosticism, Smoley is certainly your best guide.”
Philip TuttSacramento, CAAge: Over 65Gender: male4 Stars Out Of 5Interesting (If Not Altogether Convincing)September 25, 2013Philip TuttSacramento, CAAge: Over 65Gender: maleQuality: 4Value: 4Meets Expectations: 4It is difficult to know what to make of this book. In spite of the promissory advertising, the book does not answer most of the questions concerning either the origins of Christianity, patristic condemnation of the Gnostics, or the persistence of elements of "Gnosticism" in contemporary thinking. The author himself admits as much when he states, from time to time, that an apparent gnostic influence in a modern author cannot be definitively shown to be grounded in the author's actual knowledge of the Gnostics. The book starts out well enough, with a high-level overview of essential gnostic precepts and their conflict with Christian orthodoxy. I found especially suggestive the purported link between Manichean teachings (as radical dualism) and certain strains in gnostic thinking, for example, that the world (as we commonly experience it) was created by an inferior "god", who keeps humankind captive and away from true wisdom (gnosis) by various means, such as proclaiming himself the only god who exists, thus, whose will must be obeyed on peril of eternal damnation. To offer one possible counterexample, however, dualism is perhaps better explained as an artifact of analytical thinking, the process by which we understand phenomena in terms of their perceived component parts, together with abstraction, the process by which we reconstruct and organize analyzed phenomena in categories and sub-categories, with logical relationships now specified. Probably the best parts of the book are the author's own observations on religious thinking generally, especially toward the end, starting with a sub-section entitled "The Limits of Salvation". All in all, there is much food for thought, even if the author's intent to trace the persistence of "Gnosticism" through the centuries wanders off track in places.