Here’s one New Testament scholar (Larry Hurtado, recently retired, Univ. of Edinburgh) who laughs at the idea. I’d agree with him (and I like reading western esotericism).
If you think they’re intellectual elites, you’ve been watching too much on the Fantasy Channel (aka, History Channel) and reading too many pages by modern new agers. Go to the primary sources, like Prof. Hurtado suggests.
[Addendum: Prof. April DeConick was apparently put off by Prof. Hurtado. It didn’t take her long to respond. I’m with Hurtado on this one. I’ve read enough esoteric material and western esotericism to know that the short path to sounding intellectual is to spout streams of barely intelligible ideas. That way, you come off as the possessor of elite knowledge: “If you were as brilliant as I am, you’d understand what I’m saying.” Gnostic literature is filled with that sort of thing. Just read it. My point is not that they were dumb or on acid. It’s that calling them leading intellectuals of the ancient world is silly. In terms of the New Age crowd, it’s hard for them to take reasoned discourse and make it sound like mystery and mysticism to convince you they’re deep. It’s easy to do that with Gnostic material, and many have done so. That ought to tell us something. (And readers will know I’m not in the ecclesiastical box of the “historic” church in several respects). Yes, I can be accused at this point of assessing that material through “western logic.” But tell me — when we debate the subject, are we going to use the rules of western logic for discussion or not? Will we evaluate the soundness of argumentation using rules of western logic or not? We all know the answer, and that tells us something as well.]