One of the central problems debated in Gnostic studies is: if there was such a thing as “Gnosticism” (in whatever sense), why don’t any of our supposedly “Gnostic” texts identify themselves as such? What were “Gnostics” like, anyways? And if they were more or less like other Christians in terms of their everyday existences, then of what meaningful use is the term “Gnosticism” anyhow?
An interesting comparandum for tackling this question would be the documentary texts discovered at Kellis, an ancient Egyptian village abandoned around the end of the fourth-century CE, located by what is now today called the Dakleh Oasis, in Upper (southern) Egypt. What is remarkable about these texts is that they appear to stem from a community with a lot of Manichaeans in it. In other words, we do not only possess Manichaean literature and accounts about Manichaeans by their opponents; we possess the everyday documents – letters and such – written by Manichaeans themselves. The Dakleh Oasis Project at Oxbow is the big series for the Kellis excavations, and they have just brought to light a new volume of documentary texts from Kellis, edited by Anthony Alcock, Wolf-Peter Funk, and Iain Gardner. It’s fascinating stuff. For a review of this new volume (very much accessible to the newcomer to the corpus), see a recent post from Brice Jones here.