Crucifixion, Gnostic Conception of

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Crucifixion, Gnostic Conception of

Gnosticism was a pre-Christian religious movement that competed with Christianity for a number of centuries, beginning in the first century C.E. Gnosticism developed its own form of Christian theology, an alternative to that presented in the writings later assembled as the New Testament.

A basic tenet of Gnosticism is that the created, material world is evil. It was not created by the true God but by a lesser being. Only by escape from the material into the spirtual world can there be salvation. The Gnostics believed that this explained the presence of evil in the world, because the true God could not have created anything less than perfect.

Because the material body is inferior and evil, the spirit of an individual is dwelling in an alien environment. This belief led the Gnostics to view Jesus as a human who received his Christ component during his lifetime, probably at the moment of his baptism in the river Jordan. From that time forth, being supernaturally gifted, Jesus began to work miracles. Before that, he had been completely ignorant of his mission.

At the Crucifixion, therefore, Christ ascended to God, from whom he had come, for he did not (and could not) physically suffer on the cross and die; rather, Simon of Cyrene, who bore his cross, suffered in his place: "And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross" (Mark 15:21). The Gnostics contended that a portion of the real history of the Crucifixion was never written.

At the Resurrection, the gnostics believed, the man Jesus was given another body, made up of ether, which was why the disciples did not recognize him after the Resurrection. During his sojourn on earth after he had risen, he received from God the perfect knowledge of spiritual truth, or gnosis, which he communicated to the small number of the apostles who were capable of receiving it.


Lacarriére, Jacques. The Gnostics. London, 1977.

Mead, G. R. S. Pistis Sophia: A Gnostic Miscellany. London, 1921. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1974.