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The term (from the Greek gnosis, "knowledge") refers to a loosely defined group of religious sects which flourished near the beginning of the Christian era. They were all syncretistic, incorporating elaborate myths, elements of Hellenistic mystery cults, Greek philosophy and mythology, and features of Christian and Jewish faith. Some gnostic teachers regarded themselves as Christians, but theologians like Irenaeus and Tertullian denounced them as heretical. They were called gnostics because they consistently understood salvation as a deliverance from the material world and held that salvation came through knowledge of "otherworldly things." This knowledge was usually secret. 

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from "An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians," Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.
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