the Sethians

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MrMacSon
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the Sethians

Post by MrMacSon » Thu Mar 10, 2016 12:07 am

.
1. From wikipedia -
  • 'Alongside Valentinianism, Sethianism was one of the main currents of Gnosticism during the 2nd to 3rd centuries ... Sethianism attributed its gnosis to Seth -third son of Adam and Eve- and Norea, wife of Noah (who also plays a role in Mandeanism and Manicheanism).

    "The Sethians are first mentioned, alongside the Ophites, in the 2nd century, by Irenaeus and in Pseudo-Tertullian (Ch.30).[1][2]

    "According to Frederik Wisse (1981)[3] all subsequent accounts appear to be largely dependent on Irenaeus.[4] Hippolytus repeats information from Irenaeus. According to Epiphanius of Salamis (c.375) Sethians were in his time found only in Egypt and Palestine, although fifty years before they had been found as far away as Greater Armenia (Panarion 39.1.1 2; 40.1).[5] One of the sources of Epiphanius, the lost Syntagma of Hippolytus of Rome, was also the source for Christian heresies before Noetus in Philastrius's/Philaster's [4th century] Catalogue of heresies. Nathaniel Lardner (1838) noted that Philaster places the Ophites, Cainites, and Sethians as pre-Christian Jewish sects.[6] However, since Sethians identified Seth with Christ (Second Logos of the Great Seth), Philaster's belief that the Sethians had pre-Christian origins, other than in syncretic absorption of Jewish and Greek pre-Christian sources, has not found acceptance in later scholarship.[7]'

    note the inference that Epiphanius merely repeats Hippolytus who repeats Irenaeus
2. The Sethian Gnostics

3. SETHIAN GNOSTICISM: A LITERARY HISTORY


There was a previous thread here - http://www.earlywritings.com/forum/view ... it=sethian

.

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MrMacSon
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Re: the Sethians

Post by MrMacSon » Thu Mar 10, 2016 12:17 am

The Gospel of Judas is a key Sethian texts and aspects of it are discussed here by April DeConick -
What I discovered by studying the correspondences between the apostles and 'the archons' is that they not only reveal the relationships of the Gnostic Christians to the Apostolic church ... they also reveal information about how Gnosticism came to be.
Last edited by MrMacSon on Mon Mar 22, 2021 1:49 am, edited 1 time in total.

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billd89
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Re: the Sethians

Post by billd89 » Fri Mar 19, 2021 10:13 pm

I found a treasure trove of assembled Gnostic-related scholarship, from a uni syllabus (which may disappear soon), impermanent. Save it while you can ...

I'm interested in the oldest 'Jewish' material: the Chaldean/Samaritan Sethian doctrines that likely appeared c.100-50 BC as a radical allegoresis - still marginal, rural preachings? - known and condemned by Philo Judaeus' lifetime (c.25 AD). I suppose Philo's treatment of 'Seth' material should be seen as revisionist propaganda, recalling any who were 'straying that way' c.35 AD; he avoids overt descriptions of "gnosis" because that went too far. I agree w/ Goodenough's 1935 thesis, that Jewish Mystery cult(s) are just beyond the limelight in Philo - and Birger Pearson's daring work of pre-Xtian Jewish Gnosticism is spot on!

Hans-Martin Schenke's 1974 The Sethian System According to the Nag Hammadi Manuscripts.

Birger Pearson's 1990? "The Figure of Seth in Gnostic Literature" in Gnosticism, Judaism, and Egyptian Christianity.
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

David Brakke's The Gnostics, Chapter 2
David Brakke's The Gospel of Judas, “Gnostics,” and “Sethians” An Emendation to My Argument in The Gnostics

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MrMacSon
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Re: the Sethians

Post by MrMacSon » Mon Mar 22, 2021 1:48 am

billd89 wrote:
Fri Mar 19, 2021 10:13 pm
I found a treasure trove of assembled Gnostic-related scholarship, from a uni syllabus (which may disappear soon), impermanent. Save it while you can ...

I'm interested in the oldest 'Jewish' material: the Chaldean/Samaritan Sethian doctrines that likely appeared c.100-50 BC as a radical allegoresis - still marginal, rural preachings? - known and condemned by Philo Judaeus' lifetime (c.25 AD). I suppose Philo's treatment of 'Seth' material should be seen as revisionist propaganda, recalling any who were 'straying that way' c.35 AD; he avoids overt descriptions of "gnosis" because that went too far. I agree w/ Goodenough's 1935 thesis, that Jewish Mystery cult(s) are just beyond the limelight in Philo - and Birger Pearson's daring work of pre-Xtian Jewish Gnosticism is spot on!

Hans-Martin Schenke's 1974 The Sethian System According to the Nag Hammadi Manuscripts.

Birger Pearson's 1990? "The Figure of Seth in Gnostic Literature" in Gnosticism, Judaism, and Egyptian Christianity.
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

David Brakke's The Gnostics, Chapter 2
David Brakke's The Gospel of Judas, “Gnostics,” and “Sethians” An Emendation to My Argument in The Gnostics
Thank you. That's/they're helpful.

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Geocalyx
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Re: the Sethians

Post by Geocalyx » Thu Mar 25, 2021 12:22 am

However, since Sethians identified Seth with Christ (Second Logos of the Great Seth), Philaster's belief that the Sethians had pre-Christian origins, other than in syncretic absorption of Jewish and Greek pre-Christian sources, has not found acceptance in later scholarship.[7]'
But why..? I'd have to back Philaster up here.

While the NHC version of Apocryphon of John, being syncretic, clearly has Zoroastrian roots (the challenger being called Ahriman, Jesus appearing in Ahura Mazda's shape of the eagle), features the ancient Greek view of the Cosmos as a perpetual cycle, incorporates both Egyptian pessimism and Hebrew optimism etc. -- the mythology of 'the Sethians' is advanced, the 'sethian religion' featured here had developed beyond its individual parts; the underground is called Amente (not Hades or Amentuat or Gehenna, and plays by different rules), the savior is your Mind, all gods are abortions of certainty, Jesus is the God of Foreigners (=Seth) but in a weird way etc. It's got its own thing going which reads more like an answer to a challenge than anything, and yes, boy do these books like to show off their pre-Christian origins, they just love to plaster them all up in long and elaborate paragraphs just to end up saying they were there for no reason in the end :goodmorning: ... what if the whole pre-Christian Egypt was syncretic? Or that maybe learned people knew gods existed, but not truly, and a percentage of differing philosophers might have had an established idea of what the Highest was, and gave it no further thought because it was freaking unknowable ... so religion as a concept other than community dealings just wasn't that big of a deal, people just went along with whatever gods they had?

... if not pre-Christian, what other origins would they have? Farmers, merchants, philosophers found Christianity, then some went feral after reading the second word of Seth or something? :scratch:

For any respectful Egyptian, of course Jesus was Seth. He's the god of Foreigners. *nudge*

Edit: But if Sethian is an outsider's label, then indeed yes, Sethians probably did not exist before Christianity. Because I've yet to see a text that professes to be written by a Sethian; about Seth, yes, but nowhere does anyone claim "we are Sethians". The NHC crowd calls itself the Children of Light, if anything. And they do have pre-christian origins, because the hypostatis of their common philosophy is not Christianity.

I sure do wonder what 'the Ophites' were like, and if they had any relation to Asclepius/Trismegistus, though.

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billd89
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Re: I'm at a loss here

Post by billd89 » Wed Mar 31, 2021 11:49 am

I'm looking for Philastrius (Diversarum Hereseon Liber 3.3) in translation; I fail.

De Seth autem ipso Christum Dominum genus deducere aiunt. Quidam autem ex eis non solum genus deducere, sed etiam ipsum Christum esse asserunt atque opinantur.

Variant: "De Seth autem ipso Christum deum genus deducere aiunt. Quidam autem ex eis non solum genus de eo deducere, sed etiam ipsum Christum esse adserunt atque opinantur."

Is this correct??
"they not only asserted that Christ Our Lord descended from Seth, but also held the opinion that Christ was Seth himself”

Also, a comparison of the Patristic sources, here.

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Ben C. Smith
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Re: I'm at a loss here

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Mar 31, 2021 2:21 pm

billd89 wrote:
Wed Mar 31, 2021 11:49 am

De Seth autem ipso Christum Dominum genus deducere aiunt. Quidam autem ex eis non solum genus deducere, sed etiam ipsum Christum esse asserunt atque opinantur.

Variant: "De Seth autem ipso Christum deum genus deducere aiunt. Quidam autem ex eis non solum genus de eo deducere, sed etiam ipsum Christum esse adserunt atque opinantur."

Is this correct??
"they not only asserted that Christ Our Lord descended from Seth, but also held the opinion that Christ was Seth himself”
Only some of them, apparently, not all. I would translate, "From Seth himself, moreover, they say that Christ the Lord traces his lineage. Some from among them both suppose and assert, moreover, not only that he traces his lineage [to him] (= Seth), but also that he himself (= Seth) is Christ."

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billd89
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Thanks, Ben!

Post by billd89 » Wed Mar 31, 2021 2:44 pm

Much appreciated!!!

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Ben C. Smith
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Re: Thanks, Ben!

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Mar 31, 2021 5:08 pm

billd89 wrote:
Wed Mar 31, 2021 2:44 pm
Much appreciated!!!
No problem.

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billd89
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Re: Sethians, before the Gnostic 2nd C AD

Post by billd89 » Sat Apr 03, 2021 12:11 pm

As an aside: according to other writings by Josephus, contemporary antisemites alleged the Jews worshiped an ass's head in the Temple (cf. Apion 2:80, 114, 120; Tacitus, Histories 5:4). Is this perhaps the bastardization of a Jewish critique against Sethians in Egypt (Egyptian Seth = Donkey/Ass)?

Primarily, I want to investigate here those Sethians identified in Josephus Antiquity of the Jews, 93 AD. The obvious implication is that Sethians still exist, a lineage meriting discussion.

Chapter 2. Concerning the Posterity of Adam, and the ten Generations from him to the Deluge.

3. Now Adam ... after Abel was slain, and Cain fled away, on account of his murder, was sollicitous for posterity; and had a vehement desire of children: he being two hundred and thirty years old: after which time he lived other seven hundred, and then died. He had indeed many other children: (11) but Seth in particular [An. 4355]. As for the rest it would be tedious to name them: I will therefore only endeavour to give an account of those that proceeded from Seth. Now this Seth ... did he leave children behind him who imitated his virtues. (12) All these proved to be of good dispositions. They also inhabited the same country without dissensions, and in an happy condition, without any misfortunes falling upon them, till they died. [About An. 4300] They also were the inventors of that peculiar sort of wisdom, which is concerned with the heavenly bodies, and their order. And that their inventions might not be lost before they were sufficiently known, upon Adam’s prediction that the world was to be destroyed at one time by the force of fire, and at another time by the violence and quantity of water, they made two pillars: (13) the one of brick, the other of stone: they inscribed their discoveries on them both: that in case the pillar of brick should be destroyed by the flood, the pillar of stone might remain, and exhibit those discoveries to mankind: and also inform them that there was another pillar of brick erected by them. Now this remains in the land of Siriad {Egypt? Syria? =Western Chaldea} to this day.

Chapter 3.Concerning the Flood; and after what manner Noah was saved in an Ark, with his kindred; and afterwards dwelt in the plain of Shinar.

1. Now this posterity of Seth continued to esteem God as the Lord of the universe, and to have an entire regard to virtue, for seven generations: but in process of time they were perverted, and forsook the practices of their fore-fathers; and did neither pay those honours to God which were appointed them, nor had they any concern to do justice towards men. But for what degree of zeal they had formerly shewn for virtue, they now shewed by their actions a double degree of wickedness. Whereby they made God to be their enemy. For many Angels of God (14) accompanied with women, and begat sons that proved unjust, and despisers of all that was good; on account of the confidence they had in their own strength. For the tradition is, that these men did what resembled the acts of those whom the Grecians call Giants....

First gleanings, from the c.90 AD ancient history (myth) as it is related:
Sethians came from Chaldea (i.e. pre-Jewish Syrian Chaldeans).
Sethians had an ancient Wisdom cult.
Sethians were astrologers and prognosticators; magicians.
Sethians practiced an apocalyptic mysticism.
Sethians became criminals; sociopaths.
Sethians developed complex angelologies and Enemy God >>> full-blown deviant Jewish theology.
Sethians formed diverse lineages (conflation of Cainite, Ophite, etc.): their root is the original?
Sethians were monument builders, in antiquity.

Assuming his isn't fiction but must be Jewish History (as he understood OR wanted us to believe), we note that Josephus devotes a good chunk of his text to these Sethians. They are Jews to be reckoned with, as their record (myth) was known: it must have been a very significant and old subculture within Judaism. But where? I partucularly find it interesting there are Old and New Sethians. However, they are NOT 'good' Jews of Palestine. Rather, they are a Semitic ppl (Syro-Chaldean origin) before Judaism, or those 'of a kind' who have quit Judaism: philosophers, magicians, criminals, the mentally-ill, etc. In some sense, Sethians seem 'Old Jewish' or quasi-Jewish - why would they be included here otherwise? We may call them The Bad Jews, because they are portrayed so negatively, diabolically. What happened? We must also presume where The Law is so definite, its opposite -the Lawless 'Jew'- also existed, and not in one but many anarchic subcultures entailing a host of complex ideas and forms. It's easier just to label them all 'Sethians' and be done with it, because they're almost unspeakable. The reality on the ground must have been more complex, but the former (oppressed?) subculture became dominant as institutional/orthodox Judaism collapsed.

How far back are their origins is highly debatable. Jews had been in Egypt for hundreds or thousands of years. In time, where the renegade Jew perhaps joined a band of thieves, groups aligned in fraternities, and in successive waves, guilds founded neighborhoods. When Philo claims a million Egyptian Jews (c.25 AD), he's counting these communities also. How could he not? They were legion. Such varied communities finally had synagogues. These are 'the descendents of Seth', apart from Abraham or Moses. What would a synagogue of (once outcast and long-settled) 'Jews' in the Fayum of Egypt have looked like, c.100 BC? They preserved an oral culture that thrived or had been recorded; Josephus attests to that. Those Bad-ass Jews? They're still around, a known type in c.60 AD (Josephus wasnt repeating 'news' but life-history). He doesnt explain Sethian Gnosticism -for any number of good reasons- but there are enough allusions to a Wisdom cult and heretical behavior to see what he's getting at.

Meanwhile, the Greeks recognized THESE Jews as Giants, ancient, for their massive monuments. Josephus claims the Jews built the Pyramids (an architectural form which first appeared in Chaldea-Mesopotamia) and it is certain that successive waves of 'Jews' were carried off or emigrated from Chaldea to Egypt over hundreds of years. A fraternity of builders comes into the picture, dimly. So Jews of Egyptian towns with massive temples, 'who built the Pyramids' ...or designed massive earthworks for irrigation networks -as the Biblical Joseph was credited with saving Egypt from starvation. Joseph was worshipped as Serapis by (heterodox) Jews, it was said; how far back? Old Judeo-Egyptian communities were more syncretistic than we might first assume, but life & commerce meet. Where Jews lived near massive pagan temple complexes, perhaps they still had some work there? Building, re-building as needed: again, guilds. But who would dare, under YHVH's watchful eye? "Oh Saklas, you Blind God..." They had it all sorted long ago, these Jews.

I read Josephus saying that Sethians had complex angelologies, diverse lineages and a full-blown deviant (but Jewish) theology as though it's an historical fact. They had elaborated a Judaic counter-narrative! Logically, where he's reporting common knowledge, we must infer that - even if 'Sethians' had remained a marginal cult or dissident movement c.90 AD - they had been 'known' for around 4-6 generations. Josephus confirms they have their own history, ideology, branches, etc., so it is reasonable to presume an origin +200 years before Antiquities was written (or c.100 BC, at the latest).

Josephus also tacitly confirms the significance of Sethian Judaism in his day; no, Jewish Gnosticism did not abruptly 'appear' in 38, 70 or 117 AD, it was quite established in Philo's life (c.25 AD) and probably generations old then. Absolutely nothing suggests 'Sethianism' is a recent development in 93 AD, otherwise.

Note: Philo would have known about Sethians, understood how numerous/powerful they were, and also diplomatically avoided attacking them directly. However, I further suppose his attacks on radical allegorists are an indirect address. He would scorn any Jew who dared write their history! And there may be traces in his works of his own conversion attempts: persuasive arguments to lead less defiant 'Sethians' into the fold of his own brand of cosmopolitan Judaism. A teeming Sethian crowd is there, just beyond the limelight, c.35 AD. They were a lower caste of rural 'Jew', mixed race and heterodox, altogether frightening & repulsive to the cosmopolitan elite. The barbarian unmentionables, at the gate.

Over hundreds of years (c.350-100 BC), such Judaic communities (call some 'Sethian'?) had sprung up in far-flung towns, and networked; they didnt need to reconcile w/ practical exigencies of living beside other religions because they had created their own alternative mythologies from a corrupted, quasi- or outcast Jewish past. I suppose itinerant rabbis ("real Jews" prosletizing normative Judaism of the day) might periodically arrive, try to re-connect legitimate Judaism somewhat. But why shouldnt these indigenous communities have their own teachers - called 'Therapeutae' in polite company - and have preserved their own peculiar myths by oral tradition? They would, of course, be deeply provincial Jews... and even so, one might contract a literate Therapeut to write down a theology for their own kind? ApocAdam (c.25 BC?), etc. might have been authored by such an Alexandrian scribe, the project of some distant synagogue: long hexameter poems are a clue. Beyond Josephus, the Nag Hamadi Codices implicitly prove something WAS there, a kind of primitive gnosticism pre-existing Christianity and undoubtably Jewish in origin. Then - we might say, at the end of the long beginning? - Basilides and Valentinus exploited this old folk culture and its rising force in Egypt, c.120 AD: Sethian ideas had gone mainstream in the Roman Empire.

'Judaism' in the Fayum was a wild and woolly beast - in all probability, it was barely recognizable to Pharisees and Palestinian Jews of the Temple in the First Century AD. Josephus has preserved something of that in this description of the 'Sethians'. The Alexandrian Crisis in 38 AD followed by the collapse of organized, institutional Judaism (the 2nd Temple racket) in 70 AD threw open the flood-gates to all kinds of religious innovators and entrepreneurs, even before the Jewish Revolt of 115 AD. So the marginalized, despised (proto-Gnostic) Sethians returned with a vengeance. But wow! the ensuing classical Gnosticism (of the 2nd & 3rd C. AD) was bitter, even anti-Semitic, as Gershom Scholem correctly noted. And Judaism -about 15% of the population- disappeared from Egypt in two generations: gone (Sethian) Gnostic!


This only my broad sketch, a few thoughts, not hard opinion. Feedback welcome )

Egyptian folk culture reveals how extensively the Sethian (sub)culture developed: there is material evidence.

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