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.
Tackling the perplexing, if not esoteric, topic of Gnosticism has proved a daunting challenge for most who have tried to introduce it to the general reading public. Not so for Smoley, former editor of the journal Gnosis. This clear, concise (albeit cursory in spots) primer traces the Gnostic threads of philosophy, religion, science and popular culture from their biblical references through to their 21st-century appearances in novels and film. Moving easily from one century to the next while at the same time connecting them to each other, Smoley is at once thoughtful and thought-provoking, suggesting that if the history of the Gnostic legacy were a drama, he'd script it in two acts, divided between the "rise and fall of the great dualist heresy... [and]... the entrance of Kabbalah" into Western heritage. Beside the usual examples of the Gospel of Thomas, the Cathars, Rosicrucians and Masons, he resuscitates Manichaeism and Hesychasm. He highlights not only William Blake and Carl Jung, but Theosophy maven Helena Blavatsky, German philosopher Eric Voegelin and, surprisingly, literary critic Harold Bloom. Throughout, Smoley reinforces that Gnosticism is, and always has been, here to stay. He paves a wide, clear path to understanding it, accessible even to the weekend seeker. (May)
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May 06, 2007
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