Prof. Larry Hurtado, retired professor of New Testament at the University of Edinburgh, recently asserted in his popular blog that the ancient Christian Gnostics were hardly intellectuals, but akin to modern devotees of popular “esotericism” who lack any kind of academic training:
It’s perhaps a natural mistake [i.e. thinking of the ancient Gnostics as intellectuals, JDT] for people who haven’t read the texts, given that “gnostic” comes from the Greek word “gnosis”, which means “knowledge.” But in the case of those called “gnostics,” the kind of “knowledge” that they sought wasn’t “intellectual,” but (to put it kindly) what we might term “esoteric,” secretive truths expressed typically in cryptic, riddling form, deliberately intended to make little sense as expressed. Put unkindly, one might characterize it as a bunch of “mumbo-jumbo” with no attempt to present them reasonably and in terms of the intellectual climate of the time.
There are modern equivalents to the ancient “gnostics,” people who go for the esoteric, who imagine themselves “special” in some way, such that, without the sort of academic training most of us think necessary, they can leap into some mystical “truths.” Just go to the average bookshop and scan the “religion & magic” section (yeah, I know, “religion & magic,” says it all). You’ll likely find many (perhaps most on the shelves) catering to such tastes and positing such ideas.
You can read his entire post, “Ancient ‘Gnostics’: Intellectuals? Not Really!” here.
Prof. April DeConick has offered her response on her blog “The Forbidden Gospels” just this morning, boldly asserting the opposite–namely that the Ancient Gnostics were indeed intellectuals. You can find her response here.
You won’t want to miss this very informative exchange.