Gnostics - Christianity
Welcome to Study Guides!


Nag Hammadi books
Books of Roman Gnostic writings
from Nag Hammadi in Egypt (300s AD)

About the time of Jesus, about 100 BC-100 AD, people living in the Eastern Mediterranean and West Asia were gradually beginning to think more about the afterlife than they had before. What happened to you after you died? Did you go to Heaven? How could you make sure you would go to Heaven and not to Hell? People were very worried.

Some people dealt with this by arguing that there was no such thing as life after death. Other people believed that baptism and faith in Jesus would get you into Heaven. The Gnostics tried to find secret knowledge (Gnostic comes from "gnosis", the Greek word for knowledge). Some Gnostics were Christians and some weren't, but they were all looking for some kind of knowledge that would help them get to Heaven.

For some people, this meant magic spells or charms. For other people, it meant reading special books, maybe secret books, like those in the picture. Some people looked for new philosophical paths to a better understanding of God. Some people - especially women - saw Gnosticism as a way to connect directly with God for themselves, instead of having to go through a (male) priest or a bishop.

Gradually, as people calmed down a little about this new idea of life after death, they lost interest in Gnosticism. The Christian bishops encouraged everyone to stop looking for shortcuts to Heaven and instead concentrate on prayer and being good, on doing what your priest and bishop told you to do, and on faith in Jesus. So by the 400s AD Gnosticism had pretty much faded away.

Bibliography and further reading about the Gnostics:

More about Constantine
Main Christianity page
Main religion page home

LIMITED TIME OFFER FOR TEACHERS: Using this article with your class? Show us your class page where you're using this article, and we'll send you a free subscription so all your students can use Study Guides with no distractions! (Not a teacher? Paid subscriptions are also available for just $16/year!)
Please help other teachers and students find us: link to this page from your class page.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Cite this page
  • Author: K.E. Carr
  • Title:
  • Site Name: Study Guides
  • Publisher:
  • Date Published:
Did you find what you needed? Ask your teacher to link to this page so other people can use it too! Send it in and win a "Great Page!" award!
Sign up for more free articles and special offers in' weekly newsletter:
We will never share your e-mail address unless you allow us to do so. View our privacy policy. Easy unsubscribe links are provided in every email.
Comment on This Article

Does your class page honor diversity, celebrate feminism, and support people of color, LBGTQ people, and people with disabilities? Let us know, and we'll send you a Diversity Banner you can proudly display!
Looking for more? is loading comments...
(Comments will appear after moderation, if they are kind and helpful. Feel free to ask questions, and we'll try to answer them.)
Cite this page
  • Carr, K.E. . Study Guides, . Web. 28 April, 2017