Gnosticism is the belief that the material world created by the Demiurge should be shunned and the spiritual world should be embraced (God’s world). Gnostic ideas influenced manyancient religions which teach that gnosis (variously interpreted as knowledge, enlightenment, salvation, emancipation or ‘oneness with God’) may be reached by practicing philanthropy to the point of personal poverty, sexual abstinence (as far as possible for hearers, total for initiates) and diligently searching for wisdom by helping others. However, practices varied among those who were gnostic. In gnosticism, the world of the Demiurge is represented by the lower world which associated to the matter, to flesh, to time, to molecules and more particularly to an imperfect world and an ephemeral world.
The world of God is represented by the upper world, and is associated with the soul and perfection. The world of God is eternal and not part of the physical. It is impalpable, and time there doesn’t exist. To rise to God, the Gnostic must reach the “knowledge” which mixesphilosophy, metaphysics, curiosity, culture, knowledge, and secrets of history and universe.
Gnosticism was primarily defined in a Christian context.Some scholars have claimed that gnosticism predated Christianity. Such discussions have included pre-Christian religious beliefs and spiritual practices argued to be common to early Christianity, Neoplatonism, Hellenistic Judaism,Greco-Roman mystery religions, and Zoroastrianism (especially Zurvanism). The discussion of gnosticism changed radically with the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library and led to revision of older assumptions.
Bentley Layton has sketched out a relationship between the various gnostic movements in his introduction to The Gnostic Scriptures (SCM Press, London, 1987). In this model, “Classical Gnosticism” and “The School of Thomas” antedated and influenced the development of Valentinus, who was to found his own school of Gnosticism in both Alexandria and Rome, whom Layton called “the great [Gnostic] reformer” and “the focal point” of Gnostic development. While in Alexandria, where he was born, Valentinus probably would have had contact with the Gnostic teacher Basilides, and may have been influenced by him.