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:
- 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.]
- The second century Galienus is perhaps used [VI.14.8 = 140.15 ff.]
- 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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