2011-10-24

Gnostic Ebionites?

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by Neil Godfrey

This is a postscript to my recent post The Circumcising Gnostics . . . in Galatia. For what it’s worth I quote a section from a more recent (1996) work on Gnosticism, Princeton University Press’s Rethinking “Gnosticism”: An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category by Michael Allen Williams.

Elsewhere, Hippolytus’s use of the term gnostikos is quite ambiguous. It is possible that at one point he applies it both to the teacher Cerinthus and to the “Ebionites.” This is worthy of special note because the Ebionites, at least, are virtually never included in the modern category “gnosticism.”

Speaking of Theodotus of Byzantium, a second-century C.E. Christian, Hippolytus says that this teacher was in partial agreement with those belonging to the true church, in that Theodotus confessed that all things were created by God. On the other hand, “borrowing from the school of the gnostics and Cerinthus and Ebion,” Theodotus claims that “Christ had appeared in a certain manner, and that Jesus was a human born from a virgin by the will of the Father” (Ref. 7. 35.1-2).

Now one reading of this would be that Hippolytus has in fact distinguished Cerinthus and Ebionites from the “gnostics,” though the problem then would be identifying the “gnostics” to whom he refers. The similarity between the alleged doctrine of Theodotus and what had been reported of Cerinthus and the Ebionites is clear, but neither the Naasenes nor Justin the “pseudognostic” provides  a very good parallel.

The most recent editor of the Refutatio has suggested that the text in 7.35.1 should be emended to read, “borrowing from the school of the gnostics Cerinthus and Ebion,” which would then apply the label directly to Cerinthus and the Ebionites. Such an emendation is possibly supported by the recapitulation of these sectarian positions in book 10. There the summaries of the teachings of Cerinthus and the Ebionites are once again followed directly by an account of Theodotus’s doctrine, but this time we encounter the simple remark that the latter’s teaching about Christ resembles that of “the aforementioned gnostics” (Ref. 10.23.1). This remark is obviously a rewording of 7.35.1, and therefore Cerinthus and the Ebionites seem to be included among the “aforementioned gnostics,” and they could even be the only “gnostics” intended by this particular reference. (pp. 38-39, my paragraphing)

I recommend Rene Salm’s research into the Nazarenes and the origin of the term (linked below), too, for anyone interested in the likelihood of the “gnostic” character of one of the earliest forms of Christianity.

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Neil Godfrey

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  • rey
    2011-10-27 15:21:45 GMT+0000 - 15:21 | Permalink

    Once you start something, crackpots and crackheads coopt it. America was founded by Deists who believed in free enterprise. Now the majority of the youth are crackheads who think the founding fathers wanted them to have free healthcare, a nationalized bank, free tuition to any college they want, free condoms, free marijuana, free everything, and that all of this can somehow actually work. The Gnostics were these sort of crackheads who once you throw them a bone take it to the point of insanity. As soon as Paul invented the virgin birth, the crackhead youth of his day went as bonkers with it as the occupy wallstreet movement has gone with the koolaid that Obama gave them. I mean seriously, to the Valentinians, Jesus’ birth from a virgin meant that a certain power called Micheal came down and impersonated a woman so Jesus could pass through him/it/her as water through a tube. Can that possibly be the original idea? No way. The original idea was invented by looking for some prophecy to apply to Jesus and saying “hey, I can twist Isaiah 7:14 to be about him if I divorce it from its context.” The ludicrous interpretations of the Gnostics came later, perhaps very soon later but still later, just as Obama came first and then occupy wallstreet.

  • rey
    2011-10-27 15:28:51 GMT+0000 - 15:28 | Permalink

    On the other hand, “borrowing from the school of the gnostics and Cerinthus and Ebion,” Theodotus claims that “Christ had appeared in a certain manner, and that Jesus was a human born from a virgin by the will of the Father” (Ref. 7. 35.1-2).

    That Christ was a human actually born of any woman is not a very Gnostic doctrine. Hippolytus must just like to throw the word Gnostic around unnecessarily.

    I resolved a week or so ago to read through Hippolytus and I quickly came to the conclusion that Hippolytus is a doofus. By that I mean, he thinks that all the sects borrowed their doctrines from Greek philosophers and goes to great length to ‘prove’ this. For example, when the Naasenes put forth that they venerate a celestial Adam, being entirely ignorant of Philo’s Jewish speculation about two Adams, one heavenly and the other earthly in his interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis, Hippolytus poors through every Pagan writing he can think of to find where the Naasenes got the idea of a heavenly Adam, and goes as far as to find it in Syriac pagan documents that say absolutely NOTHING about a heavenly man. He also separates them from the next sect, although it clearly also teaches the same things, and derives the very same doctrines from different pagan texts now.

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