Recent scholarship has overthrown the dominant image of Gnosticism, which Karen King has shown to derive from a carrying over of anti-heresy polemics into the modern scholarly literature. No single document in the extant texts evinces all the qualities traditionally associated with the patristic/modern concept of Gnosticism, and many appear to be very difficult to understand in terms of the traditional concept at all. This raises the question of where the early Church Fathers came up with their vision of Gnosticism in the first place. I’ve suggested previously that “Gnosticism” looks suspiciously like an exaggerated version of certain questionable themes in “mainstream” Christian thought itself — the devil who corrupted the world is promoted into the evil demiurge who created the world, for instance.
Yet it strikes me that, ironically, the actual-existing theologian who fits the traditional definition of “Gnosticism” most closely is someone who is regarded by many modern scholars as not being a true “Gnostic” — namely, Marcion, who starts from within the Jewish-Christian tradition and comes to conclusions that are suspiciously similar to “Gnosticism.” What if we switch things around, though? What if it is actually Marcion who provides the template for the patristic vision of “Gnosticism”? And what if the attempt to paint Marcion as just one “Gnostic” among others is actually motivated by the desire to make him a foreign intrusion into the faith rather than a natural, but extreme extrapolation from within it?
That is to say, what if all the so-called “Gnostic” thinkers were collateral damage in the fight against Marcion?