On the Use of “Gnostic”

I don’t want to always be a schoolmarm, correcting the misuse of this or that term, but there are a few that cry out for attention.  “Gnostic” is one such word.  It has recently come to be a shorthand to describe a variety of concepts, typically those which prioritize the spirit or the mind to the body.  Anyone who believes in the priority of the intellect could be called a “Gnostic” under this usage, as well as anyone who thinks that the soul is on a different plane of being than the body.  “Gnostic” is also employed to critique those who hold to idealism over materialism.  Strangely, not a few of the modern “anti-Gnostics” have gone so far as to deny the soul’s ability to exist apart from the body, thus creating a heresy of their own in the opposite direction.

But according to folks like Kurt Rudolph, we don’t actually know much about the original Gnostics. Continue reading

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On Supposed-Hebrew Culture

The problem with “worldview” is that it is all in the head.  It is an intellectualist assumption that once we tally up all of the ideas that a certain person or group holds to, organizing them according to causal force and foundational significance, the end result will be “system.”  Once this system is identified, we can then explain how certain ideas will invariably lead to one system or another, and from that point on we can make our respective curricula which will effectively teach the worldview we are looking for.

The major weakness here is that such systems rarely ever exist.  Even if they do exist enough to name, they never- ever- *do* anything on their own.  Ideas don’t really have consequences.  People have consequences.  And people typically borrow, bend, compromise, and even work contrary to their ideas and commitments.  Wars, technology, political marriages, dance-trends: these all have as much “impact” on a culture as any particular philosopher.

The same weakness shows up when theologians speak of a Hebrew “culture.”  What they are talking about has never actually existed.  The Hebrews in the Bible were always Continue reading

Sumerian Time-Keeping

Cyrus Gordon’s The Common Background of Greek and Hebrew Civilizations is true gem and great example of interdisciplinary study.  He examines parallel after parallel between Indo-European culture and Semitic culture.  One very interesting section deals with the Sumerians and time-keeping.  Gordon writes:

The greatness of Sumer can be measured in other spheres, too.  Its sexagesimal system has reached us via the exact sciences.  Our astronomers still divide the circle into 360 degrees with each degree divisible into 60 minutes and each minute into 60 seconds.  The division of the hour into 60 minutes of 60 seconds each is also a legacy of Sumer.  Whenever we look at a clock, we are reminded of our debt to Sumer.

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