WHAT IS TODAY usually called ancient “gnosticism” includes a variegated
assortment of religious movements that are attested in the Roman Empire
at least as early as the second century C.E. These movements seem to have
had their greatest impact during the second and third centuries, though
some of them apparently experienced some kind of survival long after that.
The forms of religious expression generated among these circles have, at
various levels, captured the imagination of a considerable audience of modern
readers. This has been especially true since the discovery in 1945 in
Egypt of a collection of fourth-century C.E. manuscripts containing a large
number of original writings by “gnostics” themselves.