Neglected Texts in the Study of Gnosticism
This chapter describes the account of the 'Gnostics' in Plotinus; the additional information supplied in Porphyry's Life of his master; the progress and reception of the Gnostics among the early Neoplatonists; and the compatibility of the pagan accounts with the testimony of the Fathers. It also explores the agreement between Plotinus and certain texts that are known to be of Gnostic provenance; the heart of the Gnostic doctrine in its relation to alchemy. The chapter shows that Plotinus, his disciples, the Christian Fathers, and the alchemists are at one in their portrayal of this well-defined and extraordinary sect. The text of Plotinus himself has too often been sifted for evidence on a principle of the haphazard association. A sounder method requires one to construct from the arguments of the treatise as full and coherent an account of the 'Gnostic' philosophy as Plotinus' copious diatribes can afford.