DBWI: Gnosticism not the fourth big Abrahamic religion

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Night Gaul, Oct 8, 2019.

  1. Night Gaul Well-Known Member

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    I'm sure just about everybody knows about the "Big Four" Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, Gnosticism and Islam. Of the four, Gnosticism was probably the one that came closest to fading into obscurity.

    What if it had? How might history have been altered if Gnosticism had fallen from prominence? Might some other Abrahamic faith have taken its place? Or would there have been only three major ones?
     
  2. Richard Osborne Well-Known Member

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    Nov 15, 2017
    There,is a popular theory that Gnostic societies are less sexist becuase of Sophia theology. So maybe the Gnostic regions of Persia, Central Asia, Bactria, Tibet, Rus, and Chosun would be more Sexist.
     
  3. Tito Andronicus Antisocial Democrat

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    A history without Gnosticism - by some measurements, the second-largest world religion after Islam - would surely have followed such a different course that it's hard to know where to begin. Regarding the question of the religion which might have become dominant in the Gnostic states of Asia, Islam and (some sect of) Christianity could both potentially win some converts in Persia, or alternatively the followers of the teachings of Mani (a religious figure who helped to inspire the Khandrite sects of Gnosticism which still survive in the Crimea); alternatively, potentially a kind of Judeo-Zoroastrianism, similar to the teachings of Benjamin a-Shalach?

    I've often heard it suggested that this was a major influence on the Enlightenment (or, to give the literal translation in Chagatai, the Awakening of the Mind) - the universities of Khwarezm and Bactria, where modern scientific thought really began to emerge, were also centres of Sophiaite thought. The scientific aspects of the Awakening/Enlightenment would probably always have happened in Central Asia, due to its position at the heart of trade and communication routes (therefore making scholars there better able to compare different canons of knowledge in an experimental format); however, without the influence of the Sophiaites, it's entirely possible for there to have been an Awakening without the concurrent developments in gender equality.
     
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  4. CountPeter Apparently the anti-christ.

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    Ooc: what religion/s are you referring to? Gnosticism the term is more of a historical catchall for a large collection of religions with sometimes (and often) contradictory theology, cosmology etc.
     
  5. Richard Osborne Well-Known Member

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    OOC: I said Sophiaite.
     
  6. LostInNewDelhi Anarcho-Shaivist

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    The theory of politology called Peripheralism, first formulated by Zhang Lei of the Chinese Taixue, states that the borderlands where two or more religions meet soon become the cradles of the greatest empires, as the tendency in such zones of conflict is for the institutions waging the conflicts to evolve in scale and strength at an accelerated pace relative to other regions. Though Dr. Lei initially devised his model solely to explain political trends in Xiyu (OOC: Eurasia west of China), other scholars have taken his work in unforeseen directions, with "interaction" (including conflict and more benign, even non-political forms of exchange) between alien traditions being credited with everything from the overshadowing of China's northern plains by its southern coast to the rise of the Mind-Awakening. Since it works so well in its broad strokes, let's apply it:

    Without Gnosticism (let's say this takes place as a consequence of the Great Sophist Mani, who first dragged Gnosticism from the marshes of southern Mesopotamia and thrust it into the wider Asian consciousness, not doing such a thing) Christianity and Islam are the initial beneficiaries, but we cannot expect Central Asia to immediately become a theater of conflict between those faiths in the manner of the Eastern Mediterranean. Grecian Christianity had a hard enough time extending far beyond Grecia (OOC: the Byzantine realm, on the basis that its forerunners were "Hellenes" but became "Greek" after interaction with Rome) itself, and the great conversion of the Rusichans was yet to come. Meanwhile, the eastern frontier of Islam was but a loose coalition of Arabs and collaborationist native notables, many of whom could still remember the old faiths. Granted, Central Asia would always be relevant for the trade routes running through it, but the policing of trade routes can be easily entrusted to cooperative clients. Without the adoption of the distinctly uncooperative Gnosticism by the nascent Karluk confederation after the fall for the Gokturk Khaganate, the Umayyads may not have been as fervent about "consolidation" in the East-- and without the long-running conflict that decision engendered, the conflict which welded Sogdian business and administrative acumen with Turkic military strength, the world may have never seen the rise of the Johannid Ikhshidate, still referred to by Gnostics as the World-Empire.

    Sure, the Johannids brought to West and East a brutal and uncompromising form of warfare. The leveling of Baghdad more or less permanently shifted Islam's center of gravity to Egypt, and the eastern armies of the Ikhshid ended the Zhao Dynasty in a single blow by burning their way to Taiyuan. But in establishing a realm encompassing all from northern China in the east to Barygaza in the south to the mouth of the Danube in the West, it may be said that the Gnostics turned the peoples of the world away from squabbling over the ruins of Rome (or of Late Antiquity in general) and toward... well, modernity may be anachronistic. But the ecumenic spirit of the modern world was indeed prefigured by the Johannids' continent-sized kingdom, and in a more practical sense it was the University of Yahia-Yohanna, established by the Khereid prince Chaghatay the Wanderer to consolidate the scattered caches of books gathered up by the fratricidal Johannid princes in the Last War of Succession, which was the birthplace of the Awakening.

    And of course, this isn't even mentioning other events such as the Western Schism; some scholars believe it could have been avoided if the Papacy had not felt threatened enough by the Cathar heresies in his backyard to sign an anti-Johannid alliance of convenience with the Caliph in Egypt, but the dominant perspective is that the divides in medieval Europe would inevitably have produced some rival to Catholicism in the long run.

    (OOC: I'm imagining the Johannids as uber-Seljuks that begin with campaigns into Persia in the late 900s but then extend their power into the Khazar lands, subjecting the Rus' princes; to keep the Chinese from threatening them in the Tarim Basin they attack the successors of the Tang with the aid of the Mongols. I'm imagining that they don't even keep China for that long, but their western domains (probably governed by a caste of administrators from all over, with a nucleus of Sogdians and Khorasanis from historically loyal Gnostic families) remain united and dangerous for longer than the Mongols or Seljuks did, maybe until the early 1300s.)
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2019 at 12:11 PM
  7. CountPeter Apparently the anti-christ.

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    ooc: that still includes quite a few different gnostic religions
     
  8. Richard Osborne Well-Known Member

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    u OOC: Probably multiple sects considering it's spread over a vast area. Let's say that in order to gain mass converts there is no celibacy clause and a simplified emphasis on not being a hedonist, not worshipping the demiurge, and worshipping Sophia, the Aeons, and various saints and ascended who fill the role that saints would have in Catholicism.
     
  9. Richard Osborne Well-Known Member

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    It's interesting that without Gnosticism there may never be the various Buddhist and Hindu syncretic faiths that combined elements of Gnosticism with the Dharmic faiths.
     
  10. Tito Andronicus Antisocial Democrat

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    This makes a lot of sense - so who, then, would have inherited Central Asia and the Rus' lands in a world without Gnosticism? Geographically, the obvious contenders are Islam (it's easy to forget these days, but the early Arab conquests stretched far into Persia) and the various Dharmic faiths; neither of these options would have produced the same borderlands mentality described by Lei and al-Rahmanyi, with the history of Muslim-Dharmic interaction (in Madagasikara, Sri Lanka, and South-East Asia) generally producing economic rather than territorial segregation. Meanwhile, it's hard to see how a Rus' conversion to Christianity would have worked before at least the 13th century CC; the mass conversion to Gnosticism was primarily dependent on the formation of the Karluk and Damakhrid polities and their subjugation of the Rus' princedoms, and there were no Christian empires of comparable reach or size at this point (apart from arguably Grecia, but there were other problems there) - we'd probably have a surviving pagan Rusicha for a lot longer than in OTL this way.

    I'd definitely agree that, in al-Rahmanyi's words, 'the modern world was born in the shattered fragments of the Ikhshidate' - Khwarezm became the site of a number of new philosophical movements, Tabriz and Bushehr saw the beginnings of financial speculation, and the fall of Baghdad provided the impetus for the later formation of the Lahid Caliphate (with all of the associated implications for the conversion of Africa and the New World to Islam). No Gnosticism would of course butterfly the details of all of these movements, although there's a case to be that at least the birth of modern finance in the Euphrates and Gulf was partially determined by geographical factors.

    I wonder if Zoroastrianism would have replaced Gnosticism here? As the Shalachite movement shows, Zoroastrian thought proved very malleable and open to syncretisation, and there was a prominent Zoroastrian community in the Ganges basin for a while (still surviving in small numbers around Patna).