Was a crucifixion in heaven possible? conceivable?
But the following, again, is the cause of men’s dying: A certain virgin, fair in person, and beautiful in attire, and of most persuasive address, aims at making spoil of the princes [= archons] that have been borne up and crucified on the firmament by the living Spirit . . . .
Acta Archelai 8, describing a third century Manichean answer to the question, Why death?
What gave rise to Gnosticism from within Judaism?
Birger Pearson’s answer is very similar to what I think led to the emergence of Christianity from within Judaism. If gnostics fell away from Judaism by rejecting its god as a blind and ignorant Demiurge who gave a law that enslaved its followers to the ways of the flesh, Christianity offered a positive response to similar circumstances, a new covenant grounded in an allegorical revision of the old rather than an outright rejection of it:
One can hear in this text echoes of existential despair arising in circles of the people of the Covenant faced with a crisis of history, with the apparent failure of the God of history: “What kind of a God is this?”‘ (48,1); “These things he has said (and done, failed to do) to those who believe in him and serve him!” (48,13ff.). Such expressions of existential anguish are not without parallels in our own generation of history “after Auschwitz.”
Historical existence in an age of historical crisis, for a people whose God after all had been the Lord of history and of the created order, can, and apparently did, bring about a new and revolutionary look at the old traditions and ‘assumptions, a “new hermeneutic”. This new hermeneutic arising in an age of historical crisis and religiocultural syncretism is the primary element in the origin of Gnosticism.
Pearson, Birger. Gnosticism, Judaism, and Egyptian Christianity. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1990. p. 51
How to explain Paul’s letters if we see signs of Philo and Seneca in them?
. . . at a minimum, the Saturnilians are addressing the same kind of issues we see in addressed in Paul’s letters. At a maximum, . . . 1 Corinthians could be providing us with a window . . . on the Saturnilian church sometime between 70 and 135 CE.
Continuing . . . .
What we would have in Galatians is not Paul’s version of events but Saturnilus’ version of Paul.
There have been biblical scholars who rejected—and not for religious reasons—the Galatians version of events and, on some points, were willing to accept that of Acts.
4th Jan 2021: See comments below for revisions by Roger Parvus to his original post:
If in the Pauline letters someone—whether Saturnilus or someone else—has made Paul the recipient and bearer of a new gospel i.e., the Vision of Isaiah, it would mean that our knowledge of the real Paul is more questionable than ever. The widely accepted rule in New Testament scholarship has been to give Paul’s letters the nod whenever their information conflicts with that of the Acts of the Apostles, especially concerning Paul himself. His information is first-person and earlier than Acts. The author of Acts seems to be more ideologically-driven than Paul. So Paul’s account in Galatians 1:1-2:14 of how he came by his gospel and became an apostle is considered more accurate than what Acts says about the same matters. Likewise regarding Paul’s account of how in the presence of James, Peter and John he defended his gospel and received their approval of it. But this preference for the Galatians account of events takes a hit if it was in fact written by someone like Saturnilus who was looking to promote the gospel he had projected onto Paul. What we would have in Galatians is not Paul’s version of events but Saturnilus’ version of Paul.
There have been biblical scholars who rejected—and not for religious reasons—the Galatians version of events and, on some points, were willing to accept that of Acts. Alfred Loisy was one:
The legend of Paul has undergone a parallel amplification to that of Peter, but on two different lines: first, by his own statements or by the tradition of his Epistles designed to make him the possessor of the true Gospel and of a strictly personal mission for the conversion of the Gentile world; and then by the common tradition for the purpose of subordinating his role and activity to the work of the Twelve, and especially of Peter regarded as the chief instrument of the apostolate instituted by Jesus.
Relying on the Epistles and disregarding their apologetic and tendentious character, even in much that concerns the person of Paul, though this is perhaps secondary, criticism is apt to conclude that Paul from his conversion onwards had full consciousness of an exceptional calling as apostle to the pagans, and that he set to work, resolutely and alone, to conquer the world, drawing in his wake the leaders of Judaic Christianity, whether willing or not. And this, indeed, is how things happened if we take the indications of the Galatian Epistle at their face value. There we encounter an apostle who holds his commission from God only, who has a gospel peculiar to himself given him by immediate revelation, and has already begun the conquest of the whole Gentile world. No small claim! (Galatians i, 11-12, 15-17, 21-24; ii, 7-8).
But things did not really happen in that way, and could not have so happened…
Interpret as we may the over-statements in the Epistle to the Galatians, it is certain that Saul-Paul did not make his entry on the Christian stage as the absolute innovator, the autonomous and independent missionary exhibited by this Epistle. The believers in Damascus to whom Paul joined himself were zealous propagandists imbued with the spirit of Stephen, and there is nothing whatever to suggest that he was out of his element among them. Equally, he was quite unaware at that time of possessing a peculiar gospel or a vocation on a different level from that of all the other Christian missionaries. That idea he certainly did not bring with him to Antioch, where he found a community which others had built up and which recruited non-Jews without imposing circumcision. For long years he remained there as the helper of Barnabas rather than his chief... (La Naissance du Christianisme, ET: The Birth of the Christian Religion, translation by L.P. Jacks, University Books, 1962, pp. 126-7)
My hypothesis supports Loisy’s claim that the real Paul was commissioned as an apostle in the same way that other early missionaries were: by being delegated for a mission by a congregation which supported him. And that the real Paul’s gospel was no different from theirs: the kingdom of God is at hand and Jesus will be coming to establish it. But if that is the way the real Paul was, why does Acts try to take him down a notch? Continue reading “Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity”, Part 3”
Thus I think we need to look between 70 and 135 both for the author of the Vision and for the one who projected it into Paul’s letters. We are not necessarily looking for two people. There is no reason why one and the same person could not have done both tasks.
Continuing . . . .
The Best Candidate
To my mind easily the best candidate for both tasks is a man whose name is variously rendered as Saturnilus, Saturninus, or Satornilos. A Latin mistranslation of the name in Irenaeus’ Against Heresies is believed to be the source of the confusion. The original Greek version of that work is not extant, so there is presently no way to be sure. In this post I will use the first rendering: Saturnilus
The information available on this man consists primarily of two paragraphs in the aforementioned Against Heresies (1.24.1-2). Though meager, I think it is sufficient to establish him as our lead candidate. He lived in Syrian Antioch and founded a Christian community (or communities) sometime within our target period of 70 to 135 CE. Prior to becoming a Christian he was a Simonian. Irenaeus says he was a disciple of Menander, Simon of Samaria’s successor. At some point, however, Saturnilus apparently switched his allegiance. Although Simon and Menander had put themselves forward as Savior figures, it is Jesus who is named as Savior in the teaching of Saturnilus. Alfred Loisy puts it this way:
In many respects, therefore, he (Saturnilus) was a forerunner of Marcion. Though much indebted to Simon and Menander, he, unlike them, does not set himself up as the Saviour sent from on high, but attributes that role to Jesus. Consequently, heretic though he be, we cannot deny him the qualification of Christian, while, from the Christian point of view, Simon and Menander qualify rather for Antichrists. (La Naissance du Christianisme, ET: The Birth of the Christian Religion, translation by L.P. Jacks, University Books, 1962, p. 302).
Justin Martyr includes Saturnilians among those who consider themselves Christians, though he himself views them as “atheists, impious, unrighteous, and sinful, and confessors of Jesus in name only, instead of worshippers of him” (Dialogue with Trypho, 35). Justin’s doctrinal objection is that “some in one way, others in another, teach to blaspheme the Maker of all things, and Christ, who was foretold by Him as coming, and the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob.” According to Irenaeus, Saturnilus believed God to be “one Father unknown to all,” and that the God of the Jews was in reality just one of the lower angels, one of the seven who made the world. Such beliefs are not explicitly present in the Vision of Isaiah but may be implicit. God there is called Father but never maker or creator of the world. In fact, the world is “alien” (Asc. Is. 6;9), and so is the body (Asc. Is. 8:14), and so are the inhabitants of the world (Asc. Is. 9:1). True, the angels of the world are not referred to as its makers either, but they appear to have been in control of it from the beginning and are not afraid to say “We alone, and apart from us no one” (Asc. Is. 10:13). Regarding Jesus, Saturnilus was a docetist, teaching that he only appeared to be a real human being (Against Heresies 1.24.2). As we have already seen, the Jesus of the Vision’s “pocket gospel” was docetic.
Saturnilus’ Simonian past, however, provides us with another connection to the Vision of Isaiah. The main storyline of that writing is an ancient one, going back, as Richard Carrier points out in his book On the Historicity of Jesus (pp. 45-47), to the Descent of Inanna. It is a storyline that has been adapted and adopted many times in history, including by Simon of Samaria and Menander. The points of contact are obvious in what Hippolytus says about Simon’s teaching: Continue reading “Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity”, Part 2″
April DeConick has written an interesting article, Who is Hiding in the Gospel of John? Reconceptualizing Johannine Theology and the Roots of Gnosticism (published as a chapter in Histories of the Hidden God) that coincidentally ties in remarkably well with the view of Roger Parvus (posted in part here) that the Gospel of John is an orthodox redaction of the Gospel of an apostate from Marcionism, Apelles. Not that DeConick argues Parvus’s thesis. In fact she has a different explanation for the evidence she reads in the Gospel. But I think readers of Roger Parvus’s posts here may well think the doctrines April identifies in the Gospel do indeed match the teachings of Apelles the ex-Marcionite .
The Father of the Jews is the Father of the Devil
The passage that sparked April DeConick’s particular interest in the Gospel of John was the Greek working in 8:44
ὑμεῖς ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς τοῦ διαβόλου ἐστὲ you of the father the devil are
DeConick explains (my bolding):
With the article preceding πατρός, the phrase του διαβόλου is a genitive phrase modifying the nominal phrase έκ του πατρός.. Thus: “You are from the father of the Devil.” If the statement were to mean, as the standard English translation renders it, “You are of the father, the Devil,” then ‘the article preceding πατρός would not be present.
Look at the complete verse as it is normally translated into English:
Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. (KJV)
“Father of it” does sound a wee awkward. Notice how Youngs Literal Translation treats that last phrase:
. . . . because he is a liar — also his father.
And that’s what April DeConick also points out is the “literal reading of John 8:44f
. . . . because he is a liar and so is his father.
On the question of the Christianity that was known to the Jews behind the Babylonian Talmud, what I learned from this book is
the Christianity of the Mesopotamian region was more directly linked historically and linguistically to the earliest Syrian forms of Christianity — with its focus on Thomas and mysticism; they were also known as Nazarenes and called Jesus “Yeshua”;
when the Christianity became the ruling religion in the West (4th century) Christians in the Persian kingdom were initially persecuted because they were considered potential fifth columnists;
but as the Western authorities sought religious unity by imposing strictures against “heretical” views, those “heretical” forms of Christianity found a refuge in the Persian dominated East.
The Jews who may have been responsible for those Yeshu and “Nazarene” references in the Babylonian Talmud almost certainly relied upon these Eastern/Syrian Christians who were outcasts from the West for their information about Christianity. (Jenkins does not discuss the relationship of these Christians to the Babylonian Talmud — I am only putting my two plus two together after reading the first few chapters of Jenkins’ book.)
Some excerpts of relevance to this question and that I found interesting follow. All the highlighting in the passages is my own. I have linked to names and terms that may not be so familiar to many of us. Continue reading “The Lost Half of Christianity”
I have copied Roger Parvus's recent comment here as a post in its own right. (Neil)
Couchoud’s books contain many valuable insights. He was rightly dissatisfied with the mainstream scenario of Christian origins, and he rearranged the pieces of the puzzle together in a new way that provides a fresh perspective on them. There is much that he says that I agree with. I would not be surprised, for instance, if he is right about the role played by Clement of Rome. But I am disappointed that Couchoud—like practically everyone else—still does not take seriously Marcion’s claim that the original author of the Gospel and Pauline letter collection was someone who professed allegiance to a God higher than the Creator of this world, to a God higher than the God of the Jews.
The automatic assumption on the part of confessional scholars
The automatic assumption on the part of confessional scholars is that Marcion must have been mistaken in his views regarding the origin of the Gospel and Pauline letters. I cannot recall ever having come across a single mainstream Christian book that even considered for a moment that Marcion may have been right. Their attitude is understandable since, if Marcion was right, it would mean that the original Gospel and the Pauline letters were written by someone who was basically a gnostic, by someone who sounds very much like Simon of Samaria or one of his followers. Perish the heretical thought! But even non-confessional admirers of Marcion like Couchoud seem likewise unable to take seriously Marcion’s claim. Instead they make Marcion himself the creator of the Gospel and say that he either created the Pauline letters or imposed his own religious ideas on letters that did not originally contain them. For some reason this solution is thought to be preferable to taking Marcion at his word. As far as we know Marcion never claimed to be the author of those writings. He claimed that when he came across them they were in a contaminated state. They had been interpolated by people who Judaized them, who turned their original author into someone who believed in a single highest God who was the God of the Old Testament and the Creator of the world. Is Marcion’s claim so unbelievable? Is it really out of the question that the original Gospel and Pauline letters were Simonian and that it was their opponents who Judaized those writings? (I say “Simonian” because the early record does not contain the name of any other first-century Christians who held the belief that the creators of this world were inferior to the supreme God, and that those creators tried to hold men in bondage by means of the Law.) Continue reading “Was Marcion Right about Paul’s letters?”
The Prologue is said to be a Christian addition to an earlier non-Christian book. But what sort of Christianity interested the scribe who added this? The disciple John is said to see Jesus appearing variably as a child, an old man and a young man. I am reminded of Irenaeus’s belief that Jesus had to have been past his 50th birthday when he was crucified so he could experience all the life stages of humanity and thus be the saviour of all. One is also reminded of the letter of 1 John that addresses the “children, fathers and young men” in the church. Of related interest to me are some of the earliest Christian art forms that depict Jesus as a little child – in particular when he faces an elderly John the Baptist to be baptized. Christ crucified does not appear.
The same prologue has Jesus say “I am the Father, the Mother, the Son. I am the incorruptible Purity.” The Holy Spirit in the eastern churches was grammatically feminine and so the Holy Spirit itself came to be regarded as feminine.
The Christianity that is appropriating this originally non-Christian gnostic text was one that viewed Christ as not only a discrete personality who had been crucified and risen as a saviour, but one that also accommodated gnostic-like ideas of Christ being identified in the different forms of humanity. Or perhaps it is more correct to say that the range of humanity is a representation of the divine.
The Apocryphon of John did not originate as a Christian Gnostic document; apart from a few annotations scattered in the main body itself the main Christian elements (those bits that present the work as a revelation by Jesus to his disciple John) were tagged on to the opening and closing of a much older text.
A clarification explaining that there are two types of religious metaphors: those that compare the divine to social and political models on earth (God as king or father, etc) and those that compare the divine to mental or psychological processes (e.g. Buddhism, Gnosticism).
A partial coherence with Walter Schmithals’ claim that Jewish Gnosticism is not strictly dualist — the material world is not a reality opposed to the higher world but in fact is not a reality at all.
More complete coherence with Walter Schmithals’ that among the saving powers are Christ, Son of Man and Daveithi, a word that “possibly means ‘of David'”
Coherence with Walter Schmithals with respect to the absence of an individual descending redeemer figure. Thus though there are descents they are not on the part of figures truly distinct from the one being saved.
Adam was created in a “heavenly realm” before appearing in a physical and worldly Eden.
Repeated emphasis that in mythology the modern mind should not expect consistent logical coherence.
Though I suspect Stevan Davies would recoil at the suggestion there is much here that overlaps with Earl Doherty’s arguments for the Christian Christ originating as a heavenly mythical figure. Schmithals himself argues that the false apostles and gospels Paul opposed were probably teaching something like this Gnostic Gospel. Nonetheless this text does help us understand another facet of the thought-world through which Christianity as we know it eventually emerged.
Oh, one more thing. I was not really aware before reading this book that the Apocryphon of John “is the most significant and influential text of the ancient Gnostic religion”. (But then I’m way behind many others in my knowledge of Gnosticism.) So for that reason alone it is worth close attention. Continue reading “The Gnostic Gospel of John (1)”
Here is my understanding of Walter Schmithals’ argument so far. (Others who have read ‘Gnosticism in Corinth‘ — Roger? — please do chime in with corrections. I have not found reading S easy and am quite open to being shown that I have forgotten or overlooked some significant aspect of his argument.)
Schmithals guiding principle appears to be that nature (or human culture) would produce a singular trajectory or evolutionary progression from a “system” which begins without a clear individualised redeemer myth (i.e. one in which a personalised redeemer descends from heaven to rescue mankind enabling them to follow him back into heaven and their true home). At the beginning the potentially saving power lies dormant in all humankind and is activated by saving knowledge (gnosis) of its origin and ultimate home. This power was part of the great power or creative force that produced all things.
Jewish influence or Jewish gnostics are said to have led to the adoption of the title of “Christ” as one of the names of this power. This adoption took only the title or term Christ and not the full conceptual embodiment of what that figure supposedly meant to Jewish thought. In this primitive gnostic thought the title Christ was thus amenable to being attached to the Primal Man or Adamus (heavenly Adam) concept.
This continues the series on an introductory chapter from Walter Schmithals’ Gnosticism in Corinth. The full series is archived here.
Now it is no longer a very long step to the identification of this system as “pre-Christian Christ Gnosticism.” When Simon identifies himself as the “Great Power,” he therewith makes the claim, not to be a definite divine emanation, but an emanated part of the one original God himself. We have seen that the Apophasis developed just this Simonian claim and how it developed it. It is immediately understandable that all the divine predicates can be claimed by Simon or can be attributed to him. Thus, following Irenaeus, Hippolytus rightly says that Simon tolerated “being called by any name with which people wished to name him.” Hence he is called not only Great Power or The Standing One, but also God, Son of God, Father, Holy Spirit, Kyrios, Savior, and so on. (p. 45)
The pre-Christian system of Simonianism did not use the Judaistic term Christ in the sense of being a unique redeemer but as a title only. So when Hippolytus says that
Simon had appeared as a man although he was not a man, and had apparently suffered in Judea, had appeared to the Jews as Son, and to the other peoples as Pneuma Hagion [Holy Spirit], it is still clear in this late report that Simon is the Christ not as the one Christ who has appeared in Jesus but as the Pneuma who has appeared in all, and only thus also in Jesus. (p. 46)
Dositheus who was reputed to have been Simon’s teacher presented himself as Christ, according to Origen (Celsus, 1, LVII).
But of course none of the above proves the existence of a pre-Christian Christ Gnosticism.
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.
Last week my copy of Gnosticism in Corinth by Walter Schmithals arrived in the mail and the first thing that hit my attention about it was a discussion in the “Introduction A” chapter of pre-Christian Christ Gnosticism. This looks interesting for the obvious reason that it just might throw some light on one particular interpretation of the New Testament epistles — that they know only a spiritual Christ who bears no relation to the Jesus of the Gospels.
Schmithals’ is always a densely packed read so I know I need to step out of character and be patient and read this slowly. And since I know I’m not the only one interested in this I have decided to take the time to type up blog notes as I go through this section. (I sometimes freely copy phrases of the translated Schmithals in what follows.) This topic is new to me and understanding gnostic thought is not easy. I welcome feedback about any mistakes or misunderstandings in what follows.
One interesting remark by Schmithals reminded me of the question of Paul’s knowledge of details of a Christ myth. He writes:
In general one may say that an excess of mythological speculation is always a sign of diminishing existential tension — and conversely . . . (pp. 29-30)
Food for thought here, I think, about the question of the emerging mythological details that accrued around the Christ Jesus as the years progressed.
Schmithals describes what he sees as a pr-Christian system of Jewish Gnosticism.
He begins with a discussion of the thought system of Simon (Simon Magus in Acts) as described by Hippolytus. This surprised me since other scholars (e.g. Birger Pearson, Ancient Gnosticism) dismiss the account of Hippolytus as a description of a much later — very post-Christian — development of Simon’s thought. But Schmithals does present a number of reasons to think that what Hippolytus is depicting is, rather, very early — pre-Christian — Jewish Gnosticism. (I am sure Pearson has read Schmithal’s works so I would like to read his responses. If anyone can point to his or other reviews I’d be grateful.)
Schmithals then describes similar Jewish Gnostic systems that he sees as related to the thought-world of the Simonians and shows how they embraced a Christ idea that is quite unlike the concept of Christ in the later (very Christian) Gnostic thought. Schmithals shows the way the Jewish Christ was reinterpreted to identify the Primal Man, or the Great Power that generated all.
It is difficult not to see overlaps here with passages in the Pauline letters. (But Schmithals clearly distinguishes Paul’s thought from that of this early Gnosticism.)