Pre-Christian Christ Gnosticism: 3 — the pre-christian date

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by Neil Godfrey

How old is the Gnosticism described in the first two posts?

Schmithals holds that the Apophasis (c.f. Apophasis) attributed to Simon and from which (or from a summary or paraphrase of which) Hippolytus apparently drew his information was not itself written by Simon — at least according to what we can understand from the way Hippolytus speaks of it. Three points are singled out:

  1. New Testament quotations are included in the Apophasis [VI.9.10 = 137.11ff; VI.14.6 = 140.3.4; VI.16.6 = 142.23 ff.]
  2. The second century Galienus is perhaps used [VI.14.8 = 140.15 ff.]
  3. The Apophasis appears not to have been a unitary work in all respects.

I don’t have access to a copy of Hippolytus with either of these numbering systems so am unable to pull out the quotations. The NT ones in particular could be significant — are they from Paul’s epistles or elsewhere?

But the question is not the age of the Apophasis but the age of the system of Gnosticism described in it. And that is the theme of this post.

Schmithals begins with another account of Simon’s teachings that they share the terminology we find in Hippolytus’ account but that differ significantly in other respects.

So for example, we have Irenaeus explaining that Simon taught the following (1.23.2-3):

2. Now this Simon of Samaria, from whom all sorts of heresies derive their origin, formed his sect out of the following materials:–Having redeemed from slavery at Tyre, a city of Phoenicia, a certain woman named Helena, he was in the habit of carrying her about with him, declaring that this woman was the first conception of his mind, the mother of all, by whom, in the beginning, he conceived in his mind [the thought] of forming angels and archangels. For this Ennoea leaping forth from him, and comprehending the will of her father, descended to the lower regions [of space], and generated angels and powers, by whom also he declared this word was formed. But after she had produced them, she was detained by them through motives of jealousy, because they were unwilling to be looked upon as the progeny of any other being.

As to himself, they had no knowledge of him whatever; but his Ennoea was detained by those powers and angels who had been produced by her. She suffered all kinds of contumely from them, so that she could not return upwards to her father, but was even shut up in a human body, and for ages passed in succession from one female body to another, as from vessel to vessel.

She was, for example, in that Helen on whose account the Trojan war was undertaken; for whose sake also Stesichorus was struck blind, because he had cursed her in his verses, but afterwards, repenting and writing what are called palinodes, in which he sang her praise, he was restored to sight. Thus she, passing from body to body, and suffering insults in every one of them, at last became a common prostitute; and she it was that was meant by the lost sheep.

3. For this purpose, then, he had come that he might win her first, and free her from slavery, while he conferred salvation upon men, by making himself known to them [through his Gnosis].

E. Haenchen believes the belief of Simon as portrayed here is earlier than what we have seen described by Hippolytus. But Scmithals’ view is more nuanced. He argues that though some of the Apophasis may be a philosophical refinement of this myth, there are reasons to think that the stronger influences on what is contained in the Apophasis precede the myth we read about in Irenaeus.

The system described by Hippolytus is more philosophical, that of Irenaeus is more mythological Gnositicism.

In the Apophasis that Hippolytus draws upon, “the myth is sharply broken.” Schmithals reasons that the system of the Apophasis “does not represent a premythological form of Gnosticism but one that has been demythologized to a certain degree. The [Great Proclamation] presupposes the Gnostic mythology.”

Following are reasons Schmithals thinks the Gnostic system of Simon’s Apophasis is pre-Christian.

The early Jewish influence

Schmithals does not think that the philosophical system of the Apophasis can be explained simply as a philosophical re-write of the myth or successor to it. What lies behind the philosophical nature of the Apophasis is a much earlier influence from Judaism.

First, notice what the myth in Irenaeus and the philosophy of the Apophasis described by Hippolytus have in common:

There is no genuine dualism, which of course holds true also for the Simonian system as found in Irenaeus. The dual character of the world is willed by the [power] so that in the world that is becoming manifest the [power] which is hidden there as potentiality might be actualized. Angelic powers hostile to God and the devilish demiurge are lacking.

More important is the fact that the purely substantial basic attitude of Gnosticism is relaxed. Nothing is said of the Pneumatic [Spiritual person] who is saved in any case, or of the Hylic [Physical, materially minded person], for whom there can be no salvation. Rather, in every man the Pneuma, the [power], is placed potentially, and it requires no human activity to actualize the potentiality of the [power] into the imperishable being of the [one who shall stand]. Of course this conversion is only imperfectly achieved. It is not an act of the will or of obedience that leads to such actualization, but in good Gnostic tradition the mere acceptance of the illuminating word. (pp. 41-42, my own emphasis)

But what is the influence of Judaism?

The elimination of the cosmological dualism and the softening of the anthropological as well as the transformation of the pneumatic being into a possibility is in my judgment characteristic of Jewish influence.

Judaism and philosophy enjoyed one another’s company around the turn of the first century. Philo comes to mind and was “in his own way, a ‘philosophical Gnostic,’ and this precisely as a younger contemporary of Simon”

Thus the “philosophical” character of the Apophasis says nothing about the time of its emergence and gives no occasion to deny the system described in it to Simon.

Schmithals believes the combination of “the strong Jewish influence and the absence of Christian influence” argue for the antiquity of the system of Simon’s Gnosticism as we read in Hippolytus’s account.

The roles of Simon — another pre-Christian clue

In the myth in Irenaeus Simon appears as a historical redeemer figure himself.

But in the philosophical system of Hippolytus Simon is nothing more than a revealer.

Schmithals sees here another reason to ascribe the Gnostic system we read of in Hippolytus as pre-Christian. His argument is that when we come to the Christian era we find many cases, especially within Gnosticism, where a proclaimer of truth or a revelation becomes the one who is proclaimed. But it is unheard of for a proclaimed one to be demoted to a mere proclaimer.

It is especially noted that in early Gnosticism, particularly pre-Christian Gnosticism, did not know of a heavenly redeemer-emissary appearing in historical form. This was a characteristic of later Christian-era Gnosticism.

Further, the Simon figure in Irenaeus is highly mythologized. It is inconceivable, says Schmithals, that a rational historical person would ever really declare himself to be the most high God in person who descended to earth to lead people back to the first emanation of his very self.

The Simon of the Apophasis, on the other hand, is one of those numerous prophetic apostles who appear in the Near East around the beginning of the Christian era and are also characteristic of early Gnosticism. [He belongs to] the series of those earthly apostles who announce their truth with the claim of immediate divine revelation or of their own divine authority. (pp. 43-4)

Simon’s Helena a late sign of an earlier origin

The system in the Apophasis must have preceded the personification of the “first thought” that created the angels [Ennoia] as Helena as we read in the myth in Irenaeus. This is thought to be the case

since the Ennoia must originally have been thought of as scattered in all Pneumatics, as then also the redemption by Simon originally can have applied only to the Pneumatics in general, not to the individual Helena. Thus undoubtedly the system of Irenaeus, in which the redemption of the Pneumatics is portrayed in the form of the Simon-Helena legend, was preceded by a more original system, in which Simon appears in direct contact with concrete individual men.

(I admit I find the use of the term Pneumatics here a little confusing. Schmithals has already explained that the early Simonian system did not hold the later Gnostic idea of a division between Pneumatics and Hylics and that the Simonian system taught that the spirit (Pneuma) was in all mankind.)

So the myth in Irenaeus concerning Helena and Simon’s claim to be the manifestation of the most high God, the Great Power and father of the first thought/Ennoia who had come down to redeem men and set free the Ennoia was a later development. And it is inconceivable that a historical Simon could have made such a claim. So we are led to find the beginnings of this system at an earlier stage still, one where Simon was known only as the proclaimer.

No Christian influence on the original

The system described in the Apophasis by Hippolytus evidences “no Christian influences of any kind.” (I wish I knew what are the “two or three New Testament quotations” found in Hippolytus’s argument and that Schmithals says cannot have been part of the original Apophasis.)

Contrast the Simon we find in Irenaeus.

Already the figure of Simon as a heavenly emissary appearing in a historical man may betray a Christian influence. This is certainly true of the distinct stamp of this figure: “Now this man, who was revered by many as a god, taught concerning himself that he had appeared among the Jews as Son, descended in Samaria as Father and among other peoples had come as Holy Spirit.” Simon came in such a form “that he looked like a man and yet was not one, appeared to have suffered in Judea and yet had not suffered.” The formal Christianization appearing here of a pre-Christian system is typical of the development of the Gnostic systems generally and is a symbol of the church’s superiority in the struggle with Gnosticism during the second and third centuries. The reverse development would be unexampled and in the second and third centuries unthinkable, so on the basis of this consideration also the system of the Apophasis is indicated as the original one.

Of course Schmithals is arguing from the perspective that their was a Christian tradition that emerged independently of Simonianism, which might be the case, but one might also be permitted at least to wonder.

Comparing other early Gnostic systems

Schmithals refers to other Gnostic systems that lacked a redeemer myth like the Simonian system discussed by Hippolytus. He says these “appear frequently among the early accounts of Jewish and Christian Gnosticism”.

They include the original systems of the Naassenes, the Valentinians and the Marcosians.

He discusses these in a later section and another book and I will also reserve discussion of these till later.

The Apophasis very early recognized as Holy Scripture

The author of the Naassene Preaching in Hippolytus appeals to many biblical and classical texts also contains a detailed quotation from the Apophasis “which — in whatever form — accordingly already qualified as Hily Scripture” for this author.

This also proves the relatively high antiquity of the system of the Apophasis, which according to all these considerations is to be regarded even temporally as a system of pre-Christian Gnosticism.


Next in this series I will look at the Christ title in this Gnostic system.

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14 thoughts on “Pre-Christian Christ Gnosticism: 3 — the pre-christian date”

  1. Practically everybody believed that angels moved up and down between Earth and Heaven and transmitted communications between human beings and divine beings. All devout Jews believed, for example, that an angel had descended to Earth and had wrestled and talked with the patriarch Jacob. Teachings about angels were not peculiar to so-called “gnostics”.

    Simon taught that some angel had descended to Earth and had become trapped in the body of some human female and then had been passed down many generations into the body of the female slave prostitute Helena. Apparently this idea fit somehow into some story about “the lost sheep”.

    We can only use the extant, fragmentary indications to speculate about the content of that “lost sheep” story. I speculate that there was some story about an archangel who controlled one hundred angels who were sent on assignments down to Earth to communicate messages to human beings. Somehow, one such angel failed to return to Heaven from such an assignment. The archangel became so upset by the disappearance of this one angel that the archangel himself descended to Earth and searched relentlessly for that one angel, leaving the other 99 angels waiting in Heaven for their next assignments. This situation was compared to a shepherd leaving 99 sheep and looking for one lost lamb.

    So, apparently there was some such story that was commonly known around the time when Christianity originated. We can suppose that some people believed the story was true and other people believed it was just a yarn. Supposedly Jesus Christ himself mentioned the same story.

    So, now comes this Simon guy, and he claims he found this long-lost angel in a slave prostitute whom he had purchased and whom he now carried around with him. We can assume he earned money by allowing people to observe and question this woman-angel for a fee. Some people believed Simon, and some people rejected him as a hoaxster.

    Probably there were even quite a few people who believed that the lost-angel story was true but still rejected Simon as a hoaxster. And probably there were people who believed in angels and archangels but still rejected the lost-angel story as just a yarn.

    This Simon was just an odd guy who fit into and exploited the common beliefs of that time, when practically everyone believed in angels and when some people believed there was one lost angel somewhere on Earth. He convinced some people that he had found the lost angel in a female slave, and he charged people to question this woman, and she gave the same kinds of answers that spiritual mediums have given through the centuries to the present time.

    All the First-Century Christians were “gnostics” — all of them believed that Jesus Christ was a divine being who appeared on the Firmament and who could be perceived by mystical means as he acted out a death-and-resurrection drama. The Christians who believed that Jesus Christ was a human-like being who descended and interacted on Earth did not exist until the Second Century.

  2. I disagree with the following claims made by Schmithals:

    “There is no genuine dualism, which of course holds true also for the Simonian system as found in Irenaeus. The dual character of the world is willed by the [power] so that in the world that is becoming manifest the [power] which is hidden there as potentiality might be actualized. Angelic powers hostile to God and the devilish demiurge are lacking.” (“Gnosticism in Corinth,” p.41)


    “The typical problem of later philosophical “Gnosticism” of how the emanation of the lower world from the deity is conceivable still does not interest the author of the “Great Proclamation” (“Gnosticism in Corinth,” p. 42).

    Schmithals should have here expressed some tentativeness about what he thinks interested the author (Simon) of the “Great Proclamation” since our knowledge of that writing is limited to the few quotations that Hippolytus included in his “Refutation.” Before baldly stating that the emanation of the lower world from the deity did not interest Simon, Schmithals would have done well to remind his readers of his previous caveats, namely that Hippolytus’ discussion “contains only three apparently literal quotations from the ‘Apophasis’, two short ones and one longer one, the limits of which cannot be precisely determined. We do not know to what extent Hippolytus follows the arrangement of his copy of the work in his treatment of it; to what extent he reproduces his sources correctly, or how much he abridges it without understanding it, or understanding it amiss; whether and where he allows other accounts of the Simonians to enter into his discussion; whether he shifts the sense of his source, either consciously or unwittingly. This makes it impossible for us to reconstruct his source as it lay before him, even with only a measure of certainly.” (“Gnosticism at Corinth,” pp. 36-37).

    So should we really conclude — based only on the three extant Apophasis Megale quotations, two of them short and one longer – that Simon wasn’t interested in the emanation of the lower world from the deity? And that his system wasn’t dualistic?
    I find Francis Legge’s treatment of the subject more convincing. He writes:

    “To return, however, to Simon’s system of emanations. Have we any right to consider that the Heaven and Earth, Sun and Moon, and Water and Air, with which he peoples his second universe, were those which are perceptible to our senses, or did he regard them as existing above our ken and as merely the patterns which were in their turn reflected into our universe? Hippolytus unfortunately breaks off his quotations from the ‘Great Announcement’ at this point, and his own report of Simon’s doctrines is neither lucid nor implicitly to be trusted. Irenaeus, however, writing a half a century before Hippolytus, declares that is was the female aeon Thought, whom we have seen is equivalent in the second or intermediate world to Ge or Earth, ‘who, comprehending the wish of the Father, descended to the lower regions, and there produced angels and the lower authorities who made the universe’ (‘Against Heresies,’ 1,16,2). If we believe, as seems most probable, that Simon carried his theory of the lower world being a reflection of the upper throughout all existing things, it follows that the second world, containing as we have seen Heaven and Earth, Sun and Moon, and Air and Water together with ‘the Father’ in whom the six were contained, was the pattern or paradigmatic world which was reflected in the lower universe to which we belong. In this case it is probable that the six ‘roots’ again changed their generic name, and after having been called ‘powers’ in the primal world, and aeons in the second, were now designated angels and authorities.” (“Forerunners and Rivals of Christianity,” pp. 187-8)

    That for Simon the ‘Heaven and Earth’ whose creation is related by Genesis were divine powers seems to be acknowledged clearly enough by Hippolytus himself when he writes:

    ”And when Moses says: ‘It is in six days that God made the heaven and the earth, and on the seventh he rested from all his works,’ SIMON, IN A MANNER ALREADY SPECIFIED, GIVING (these and other passages of Scripture) A DIFFERENT APPLICATION (from the one intended by the holy writers), thus makes himself into a god. When therefore they (the followers of Simon) say that there are three days before the generation of the sun and moon, THEY MEAN ENIGMATICALLY MIND AND THOUGHT—that is to say heaven and earth—and the seventh power, the Boundless. FOR THESE THREE POWERS WERE GENERATED BEFORE ALL THE OTHERS. (my emphases, “Refutation,” 6,9). Simon’s “different application” is to make the six days of Genesis refer to six powers, Heaven (capital H), Earth (capital E), etc. And since he, conveniently, claims that he himself is one of those powers, “he thus makes himself into a god.”

    Legge notes too, when discussing possible sources for Simon’s doctrine, that “The likeness of Simon’s system to Egyptian and Alexandrian teaching is even closer. In ancient Egypt there was, as M. Maspero thinks, a well-defined system of correspondences including three worlds, each of which was a likeness of the preceding” (p. 197). As you know, the early heresy hunters claimed that Simon learned his “magic” (i.e. doctrine) in Egypt. (“Out of Egypt I have called my Son”? Mt. 2:15. Possibly related too is ‘Paul’s’ claim that he received his unspeakable revelation in the THIRD heaven.)

    Furthermore, I really don’t understand how Schmithals can say dualism is absent from Simon’s system as described both by Hippolytus’ and Irenaeus. For both of those writers make perfectly clear that in Simon’s system the angels who made this visible world turned on their maker (the power designated Thought) and kept her in bondage in body after body. Simon claimed to have descended in order to free her and all men who are held in bondage in various ways by the world-creating angels. So I have no idea how Schmithals can claim that “Angelic powers hostile to God and the devilish demiurge are lacking” in Simon’s system. Doesn’t ‘demiurge’ mean basically ‘world-creator?’ And isn’t it hostile enough that the world-creators take God’s Thought captive? And is not the status of the body as a prison in Simon’s system clear enough indication of his anthropological dualism? What was Schmithals thinking? Perhaps he meant that the dualism is not as pronounced and blatant as it became in later Gnosticism. But that would hardly be suprising. Simon is called the first Christian Gnostic, so we can hardly expect from him a system as fully developed as the later ones of his spiritual descendants.

  3. Neil,

    I’ve located my copy of “Gnosticism in Corinth.” It looks like the references Schmithals makes to Hippolytus’ works are taken from Paul Wendland’s “Hippolytus Werke.” I don’t have access to that so I’m not sure about which three New Testament quotations Schmithals is referring to (on p. 36). But I see in the English text of Hippolytus that you linked to in your first post two NT quotations and one additional one that is doubtful. These quotes are in Hippolytus’ discussion of Simon’s system, but it is not certain that any of them was actually part of the “Apophasis Megale.” Using the references in your link, here are the three:

    1. “Refutation 6, 9”: “Now the image is the Spirit that is wafted over the water; and whosoever is not fashioned into a figure of this, will perish with the world, inasmuch as he continues only potentially, and does not exist actually. This, he says, is what has been spoken, “that we should not be condemned with the world.” The phrase “that we should not be condemned with the world” is found in 1 Cor. 11:32 and at first glance appears to be a quote of it. But there is another way to look at this. From the way it is worded it is not clear whether it is Simon or Hippolytus who identify the phrase as something that “has been spoken.” So if, as I have tentatively proposed elsewhere, ‘Paul’ is Simon, he may have used the phrase in explaining his pre-Christian gnostic system and then continued to use it later, in 1 Corinthians, after his conversion. And it would be Hippolytus who mistakenly thinks that Simon was quoting Paul to support his Simonian gnosis. Epiphanius later commits the same mistake in regard to another Pauline text. I think it unlikely that Simon quoted a contemporary and competitor to bolster his system.

    2. “Refutation 6,11”: “All things, therefore, he says, when unbegotten, are in us potentially, not actually, as the grammatical or geometrical (art). If, then, one receives proper instruction and teaching, and (where consequently) what is bitter will be altered into what is sweet,–that is, the spears into pruning-hooks, and the swords into plough-shares, –there will not be chaff and wood begotten for fire, but mature fruit, fully formed, as I said, equal and similar to the unbegotten and indefinite power. If, however, a tree continues alone, not producing fruit fully formed, it is utterly destroyed. For somewhere near, he says, is the axe (which is laid) at the roots of the tree. Every tree, he says, which does not produce good fruit, is hewn down and cast into fire.”

    The last two sentences of the above paragraph quote Simon. And although Hippolytus does not say that Simon quoted them as being from Scripture or any other authoritative source, both verses are found on the lips of John the Baptist in the Gospel of Luke 3:9. And the last sentence is on the lips of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew 7:19. One could argue that these are quotes and that Simon was quoting either John the Baptist, Jesus, or both to bolster his own system. Or, as I prefer, one could turn this around and argue that the first gospel that possessed a teaching, exorcising, miracle-working Jesus was a Simonian allegory about Simon. That is, the direction of dependence goes the other way; and so the allegorical Jesus figure is based on Simon, and the words put into his mouth were originally Simon’s.

    3. “Refutation 6,14”: “But, again, those who become followers of this impostor–I mean Simon the sorcerer–indulge in similar practices, and irrationally allege the necessity of promiscuous intercourse… they even congratulate themselves on account of this indiscriminate intercourse, asserting that this is perfect love, and employing the expressions, ‘holy of holies,’ and ‘sanctify one another.’ For (they would have us believe) that they are not overcome by the supposed vice, for that they have been redeemed.”

    The expressions ‘holy of holies’ and ‘sanctify one another’ are not actual NT quotations but appear to be related to 1 Corinthians 7:14. That passage argues that the Christian party to a mixed marriage (i.e. marriage to a non-believer) should not seek divorce, for “the unbelieving husband is made holy by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy by the brother.” [= sanctify one another] “Otherwise your children would be unclean, whereas in fact they are holy” [= holy of holies; i.e. a holy children comes from holy parents].

    There is no indication that Hippolytus even recognized the expressions are related to 1 Corinthians. Assuming he did, his argument would appear to be that the Simonians used and twisted the meaning of Paul’s epistle to support their licentious sexual behavior. As Legge points out, however, Hippolytus contradicts himself. For here he accuses the Simonians of being promiscuous, but just a few verses earlier he says Simon concocted his claims about the prostitute Helen being his first Thought in order to justify himself in the eyes of his disciples. But, Legge asks, if the sexual practices of the Simonians were so promiscuous, why does Hippolytus think Simon had to concoct a story to justify his behavior? Promiscuous disciples would hardly be scandalized at Simon’s association with a former prostitute. Hippolytus can’t have it both ways. Either the Simonians were promiscuous and in that case would not have been scandalized by Simon’s association with Helen. Or they weren’t promiscuous and so some kind of explanation for Simon’s purchase of a prostitute was necessary.

    So it may be that the Simonians were not as promiscuous as Hippolytus makes them out to be. It may be that they justified their mixed marriage practices by appealing to the expressions ‘holy of holy’ and ‘sanctify one another.’ And the expressions were from Simon their founder, not from some distinct contemporary competitor of his named ‘Paul.’ In the attacks made by their enemies their tolerance of mixed marriages became transformed into “promiscuous intercourse.”

  4. Thanks for your comprehensive comments Roger. Yes, the reason it took me a little while to post my latest #3 post on Schmithals, and why I have been slow to follow up with #4, is because I have been struggling to understand some details and flow of his arguments. I have been wondering if something was lost in translation, or if Schmithals were alluding to works I needed to be familiar with in order to understand him, or if he were simply a bit confusing in places, or if my synapses needed recharging with figs and blueberries. One of the factors that was confusing me was attempting to fit in what certainly reads like angelic misbehaviour and another was the “captured” or “chained” state of “those who stand” in the flesh. As for the NT quotations I could only see the two that you single out in the online translation so I was wondering if I was on the wrong track altogether. So reading your thoughts shows me I could have spared some change on figs and blueberries.

    What really threw me, though, were the grounds for his argument that the Apophasis or Simonian thought as presented by Hippolytus was post-Irenaeus, but that the “system” supporting this thought was pre-Christian — a paradox that surely one would expect to be justified with some strikingly paradoxical features in the evidence. But the supports used appeared to be a little less-striking or far fewer than I needed to feel comfortable.

    But I have tried to present the argument to the best of my ability as Schmithals himself appeared to want it to be understood.

    I think I should be reading a little more about Jewish gnosticism from more recent publications (and by other specialists) — if I can lay my hands on one or two.

    I also had a look at his book “The Office of Apostle in the Early Church” and found some of his presentations there much easier to read and comprehend. And though some of his argument about Paul’s relationship with gnostics looks very plausible on the face of it, I am always wondering, of course, about the strength of the case that the evidence he is using is indicative of what Paul himself lived with. But so far I have only read here a patch there a patch.

    Appreciate your thoughts.

  5. As for the dualism or pseudo-dualism, here is another perspective. It is from Michael Williams, Rethinking Gnosticism:

    It is important to remember how commonplace in antiquity were many of the individual metaphors [unflattering or hostile to the human body] in question. That sources under consideration here could speak of the body as a “tomb” or “cave” or “prison” or “chain” in itself provides us with no evidence for some peculiarly “gnostic” hostility to the body, because such images had been around for centuries. Plato used them. . . (pp.123-4)

    So where does this sit with Jewish ideas? Was not much Jewish thought influenced by Plato who is sometimes considered the “founder of dualism” anyway?

    1. Yes, Plato did influence Jewish thought and many do hold his philosophy in part responsible for the dualism. But, as I understand it, the Scripture of the Jews was a factor that kept them from fully embracing Plato’s view that this world—including the body – is unreal, only a shadow of the real world. The book of Genesis was there to protest that man’s body was integral to him and, despite its humble origin, something worthy of respect. He was formed from the dust, but the one who formed that dust and breathed life into it was God Himself. Thus although the material from which man was made was lowly, the product itself was not something fundamentally defective or unreal.

      It is this Jewish position regarding the body that we find in the early proto-orthodox writings. Thus the author of 1 Clement uses the metaphors “tomb” and “darkness” not for the body, but for our state before being molded by our creator:
      “Let us consider, brethren, of what matter we were made, who and what manner of beings we were when we came into the world; from what a tomb and darkness we were led into the world by the one who molded and created us, after he prepared his benefits in advance, even before we were born” (ch. 38).

      And he praises the creator for his creative work:

      “You through your works have made manifest the everlasting fabric of the world. You, O Lord, created the earth… You are wise in creating and prudent in establishing that which you have made, you are good in the things which are seen…” (ch. 60).

      And the Jewish position that a body is integral to man and among the good things that the creator made appears to be the reason that the proto-orthodox insisted on a resurrection doctrine that included the resurrection of one’s own body. It will be in a changed, incorruptible condition, but it will nevertheless still be the body that one had before dying. You can see that Justin feels a bit uneasy proposing something so crazy to the emperor, but he ploughs ahead anyway, having recourse to the ever useful “God can do the impossible” axiom:

      “… we expect to receive again our own bodies, though they be dead and cast into the earth, for we maintain that with God nothing is impossible… In the same way, then, you are now incredulous because you have never seen a dead man rise again… but it is better to believe even what is impossible to our own nature and to men, than to be unbelieving like the rest of the world… “ (1st Apologia, ch. 18-19).

      And so important is this version of the resurrection that Justin will disqualify as Christians any who do not hold it. To Trypho he says:

      “For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but do not admit this, and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; WHO SAY THAT THERE IS NO RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD, AND THAT THEIR SOULS, WHEN THEY DIE, ARE TAKEN TO HEAVEN, DO NOT IMAGINE THAT THEY ARE CHRISTIANS…” (my emphasis, “Dialogue with Trypho,” ch. 80)

      Notice how the doctrine of the bodiless resurrection is mentioned in the same breath with blasphemy against the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Without naming the gnostics, it is they who are targeted by this. For it is they who both devalue this creation, including the body, and blame its defective state on the creators of this world, one of whom was the God of the Jews. And for Justin the one who initiated this blasphemy was Simon of Samaria.

      For the proto-orthodox like Justin the soul will basically be naked after death until it gets its body back on Judgment day. God will keep the soul alive until it gets its body back: “The souls of the pious remain in a better place, while those of the unjust and wicked are in a worse, waiting for the time of judgment.” (“Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 5). But for the gnostics the soul, once it is freed from its body, will never receive or even want its body back. They expected that once free of this prison body the divine spark of their divine substance would immediately return back to God and receive a celestial garment. Why would anyone want their body back, when they can have a celestial garment? In my opinion 2 Corinthians 5, 1-5 is about this contrast between being naked and being clothed in a heavenly garment. The gnostic position of Paul (Simon?) is contrasted and that of his Jewish/Jewish Christian Corinthian opponents. Notice, by the way, that in the text the word “dwelling” or “habitation” is used for the body, just as Simon did in his Apophasis Megale: “And he (Simon) says that man here below, born of blood, is the Dwelling” (Hippolytus’ “Refutation,” ch. 4).

      1. I’m still not clear — though admittedly I am struggling to emerge fully from a very deep sleep (maybe that’s a Freudian metaphor, too) — about the nature or meaning of dualism vis a vis Jewish beliefs.

        I have no problem with the physical being inferior or lesser than the spiritual in some sense, and even the early Christians you cite must have this body transformed into something “more perfect” so it will never decay or suffer.

        Might not the tomb and darkness of 1 Clement be descriptions of the (fleshly) womb?

        If “houses” and “tombs” are metaphors of the body in the earliest gospel are they necessarily hostile metaphors? One like the son of man in Daniel is still inferior to the ancient of days without being in hostile opposition. The Primal Adam is inferior to God without being by nature hostile. Did not some second Temple Jews acknowledge the inferiority of the flesh without any hostile associations involved in their spirits or souls being saved? (I am not sure of details at the moment.)

        What is in the back of my mind is a wondering if Schmithals is equating a hostile dualism with “real dualism”, whatever the rights or wrongs or logic of that attempt.

        1. “What is in the back of my mind is a wondering if Schmithals is equating a hostile dualism with “real dualism”, whatever the rights or wrongs or logic of that attempt.” – Neil Godfrey

          Yes, that does appear to be the case. He says regarding the non-hostile variety: “The dual character of the world is willed by the dynamis so that in the world that is becoming manifest the dynamis which is hidden there as potentiality might be actualized. Angelic powers hostile to God and the devilish demiurge are lacking” (p. 41). And I can see how one can argue that the type of dualism present in the Apophasis Megale is “non-hostile”. Even though there are only a few actual quotes from it, the commentary that accompanies the quotes supports a non-hostile interpretation. (For instance: “… and as for the denomination of these (Simon) employs the terms secret and manifest; it may, (I say, in general,) be affirmed that the fire, (I mean) the super-celestial (fire), is a treasure, as it were a large tree, just such a one as in a dream was seen by Nabuchodonosor, OUT OF WHICH ALL FLESH IS NOURISHED.” – “refutations,” 6,4; my emphasis)

          But I don’t see how Schmithals can claim that Simon’s system as described in the final paragraphs of the “Refutations” of Hippolytus and in the “Against Heresies” of Irenaeus is non-hostile. He himself points out that the system there, although close to the system of the Apophasis, is significantly different: “But we are not asking about the age of the Apophasis as a literary document, but about the age of the system portrayed it, a system that betrays its closeness to THE OTHER (footnote 61) REPRESENTATIONS OF THE SIMONIAN GNOSTICISM THAT HAVE BEEN HANDED DOWN,” but in other respects DIFFERS SO SIGNIFICANTLY from the latter that one must decide for the priority of the one system or the other” (p. 40, again, my emphasis). And in footnote 61 he includes 6,19 of Hippolytus’ “Refutations” and 1,23 of Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies” among the “other representations of the Simonian Gnosticism” that he is referring to. (“Refutations” 6,19 corresponds to 6,14 of the online version).

          So I still don’t get how he can say on page 41: “There is no genuine dualism, WHICH OF COURSE HOLDS TRUE ALSO FOR THE SIMONIAN SYSTEM AS FOUND IN IRENAEUS… ANGELIC POWERS HOSTILE TO GOD AND THE DEVILISH DEMIURGE ARE LACKING. ” I am wondering if the translator left out a “not.” For the Simonian system as found in Irenaeus (and as found right on page 41 of “Gnosticism in Corinth”) says:

          “This Ennoia went forth from him, recognized what her father intended, descended, and gave birth to the angels and powers by whom this world is said to have been made. But after she had borne them, SHE WAS SEIZED BY THEM OUT OF JEALOUSY, BECAUSE THEY DID NOT WISH TO BE REGARDED AS THE CHILDREN OF ANY OTHER.

          Clearly we have here ignorant, jealous, hostile world-creating angels. So I think there must be a “not” missing from the English translation of Schmithals’ book at this point. Schmithals’ argument would make sense if he said the system in the Apophasis Megale was not genuinely dualistic, but that the later representations of it listed in his footnote 61 were.

      2. This comment is a follow-up to one the other day in which I pointed out that “resurrection” did not have the same meaning for the Jews as it did for Simonians. I am thinking that the episode in Mark 12: 18-24 may actually be about this very issue. “Some Sadducees who say there is no resurrection” try to trip up the Markan Jesus by bringing up the hypothetical case of a woman married to seven men successively. They ask Jesus: “At the resurrection whose wife will she be?” On the surface it looks like the purpose of this episode is to give Jesus an occasion to assert the truth of the resurrection. But his reply goes beyond that. He says: “Are you not misled because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but they are like the angels in heaven.”

        On the surface that response could be interpreted in a Jewish/proto-orthodox sense by limiting the point of comparison to just the fact that angels do not marry. But one could also take it in a Simonian sense: we will not rise with our bodies. For angels do not have human bodies, and according to the text we will be like them. Moreover, on the surface one would think that the Scripture referred to in the episode is the Jewish Scripture (the Old Testament). But where in the Old Testament does it say that the resurrected will be like angels? On the other hand there was a Simonian Scripture that apparently said something to that effect: “… that which is stored in them in potentiality… starting as it were from the smallest spark, it will increase to all perfection, and expand, and be an infinite power, unchangeable, equal, and similar to the unchangeable aeon, which is no more generated for the boundless eternity” (“Refutation” 6,12). And on the surface it looks like Jesus reproaches the Sadducees with not knowing how powerful God is. But the reproach that they “do not know…the power of God” could be understood in a Simonian sense: they do not know the Power (capital P) of God, i.e. Simon.

        Double meanings are used openly and extensively in the Fourth Gospel. But they may have been used even more extensively in the earliest Gospel, for “without parables he did not speak to them” (Mk. 4:34) and – as that gospel itself admits – their purpose was to hide the teaching of the Markan Jesus from outsiders. I’m wondering if Mark 12:18-14 is one of those obfuscating parables. Is the Hestos hiding beneath the Christos?

        1. Teasing thoughts.

          I have a tangential question. What is the meaning of the Standing One (Hestos)? Does it relate to the Hellenistic-Roman view of man being the superior being, distinct from all others, by virtue of his upright stance? Included here his ability to look up to the heavens. stand erect and pray facing the gods, and ability to contemplate the beyond and hence receive spiritual illumination, etc?

          1. I have most often seen it explained as being a title for God. Birger Pearson says “The term ‘Standing One’ is used in Samaritan and Jewish sources to refer to God, and is therefore a title comparable to ‘the Great Power.’ Other sources, too (Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus of Rome) associate that title with Simon Magus” (“Ancient Gnosticism,” p. 31. I prefer to refer to Simon as Simon of Samaria. I suspect ‘magus’ may be proto-orthodox mockery of his claim to be ‘megas,’ that is “somebody great” – Acts 8:9).

            Regarding Simon Pearson also says: “How much of this mythology goes back to the historical Simon? That is a point on which scholars differ. Indeed, some even doubt the existence of Simon’s cohort Helen. I tend to grant more credibility to our sources than some would allow. I would suggest that some of the details in Irenaeus’ account that are lacking in Justin’s can be seen to be implicit in the latter, and, in fact, may be based on the lost work of Justin’s to which reference has already been made. Justin was a native of Samaria, and could therefore have had access to reliable traditions about Simon. In any case, I see no reason for him to invent a figure like Helen. So I do not hesitate to refer to Simon Magus as the first Gnostic prophet known to us by name” (“Ancient Gnosticism.’ P. 30).

          2. Michael Williams discusses this in The Immovable Race: Gnostic Designation and the Theme of Stability in Late Antiquity, p. 37, Footnote 4 in particular, which also references further discussion of “origin and significance of the title”.

    1. What sorts of standards should we expect from scholars or students who profess any sort of ethics, Christian or otherwise. I see this pingback is machine-generated to an article on Joel Watts’ blog in which he quotes large chunks of another blogger’s arguments and in places seriously misrepresents the original arguments and launches his typical sneering abuse and logical fallacies in order to denounce that original post — all without once naming or linking to the original so that the person might have a chance to defend himself or to make it easy for his readers to make up their own minds. Joel Watts, I should say, is on my spam list here because of trolling, and will not accept any of my comments on his blog — but once he did discuss one of my post and the only link a reader could find to it was in a hyperlinked “full stop” punctuation mark. One thinks of signs of small minds.

      So for the record, the blog post Joel Watts seems not to want to link to when he weighs in so mightily against it is http://theologica.ning.com/profiles/blogs/irenaeus-ane-gods-gnosticism-and-evolution (Not that I would have much to agree with in that original post either. But the ethics of some biblical scholars — and Joel Watts is now apparently a masters student — who stress their confessional interests does leave me flabbergasted at times.

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