Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Erin Evans: From Saving Grace to Chains of Bondage: Astrology in the Pistis Sophia

The modern concepts of astronomy and astrology went hand in hand in the ancient world, with the efficacy of the latter aspect unquestioned in view of what appeared to be incontrovertible, scientific evidence of its effects.  Although accepted as a natural force with the potential for positive or negative consequences in much of Greco-Roman society, certain groups of early Christian Gnostics with a less positive view of the world and its creator began to view the powers of fate as chains forged by evil which must be broken to achieve salvation. 
The Pistis Sophia, one of the longest and most complex Coptic Gnostic documents, presents a unique look at the synthesis of technical Greek concepts of astrology, the planets, and Gnostic mythology.  The several documents which the manuscript contains portray the development of the group’s views of astrology—the oldest texts presenting fate with the potential for good and holding more traditional Greek views of the planetary natures, with the latest texts coming more into line with the wholly negative view of the Gnostics and the need to break free of its hold on the human soul.
This paper will follow these developments, both examining the differing technical theories propounded in the early and late stages, and analysing the doctrinal elements that led to this dramatic turnaround.  This gradual antagonizing of the forces of fate—powers whose existence was never questioned, only demonised—was part of the wider programme of the texts’ users that increasingly required a separation from the norms of the society in which they arose.

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