Who were the Earliest Gnostics?

Discussion about the New Testament, apocrypha, gnostics, church fathers, Christian origins, historical Jesus or otherwise, etc.
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Giuseppe
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Who were the Earliest Gnostics?

Post by Giuseppe » Sun Oct 14, 2018 7:52 am

From Jean Magne, La naissance de Jésus-Christ. L'exaltation de Sabaôth dans «Hypostase des Archontes» 143, 1-31 et l'exaltation de Jésus dans «Philippiens » 2, 6-11, dans Cahiers du Cercle Ernest-Renan, n°83 (21e année, déc. 1973). 1973 . What follows is a my rapid (and not-so-precise :roll: ) translation of the part II:

In our communication to Oxford in 1969 we have shown, we believe, that such was the primitive meaning of the Eucharist. We will only recall here that the Eucharistic fast, the setting aside of the only bread, the healthy Roman communion of the cup, the communion in viaticum, etc., are so many traditional and immemorial practices which flow as source of the stories of the multiplication of breads (where the bread represents the doctrine), but can not, on the contrary, be explained from the Lord's Supper, as proof that the Reformation and Vatican II have suppressed many.

If now we interpret the account of paradise in the light of Emmaus's account, we find a meaning quite opposite to the one we usually give it. Adam and Eve do not make a mistake by transgressing the order of the creator, but perform the act of salvation, defeating his cunning; the serpent who deceives them is not a perverse being, but on the contrary an instructor who speaks the truth; the god of the A.T. is him, this perverse being who by a lie insipid by envy wants to keep them away from the salutary gnosis and prevent them from becoming "like God".

This exegesis, which can be deduced quite naturally from the parallelism of the two narratives, is exactly the one that constitutes the basis of the Gnostic interpretations that we read, for example, with later variants and elaborations, in writings, which already have a whole Gnostic tradition behind them. as the Apocryphon of John (BG 55:18 ss, 60:18 ss; and his other three witnesses), the Hypostasis of the Archons (GC 2, 136, 24 ff), the writing On the Origin of the World (GC 2, 166, 16 sec)

The exegesis of the account of paradise, which gave birth to the sacrament of the Eucharist, seems to be born from the reconciliation of the story of the paradise and another text, hermetic this time, the dialogue on the crater, where we must see, according to us, the origin of baptism:

"" (Corpus hermeticum 4:3-4, Nock-Festugière p.50).

Thus, to the god of Genesis, envious, opposes a God without envy, who, far from wanting to drive man away from knowledge, sent a crater on earth, then a herald with the mission of proclaiming to all of them the baptism that procures to those who are capable of this faculty of knowledge, superior to the common reason possessed by all men, which we call nous, "intellect", or pneuma, "spirit"; in our gospels, this baptism will be called baptism of metanoia, and the herald who proclaims him (Mark 1: 4) will be called John. The complementarity of the two accounts invites us to conclude that the serpent, whose instruction helped Adam and Eve to thwart the ruse of the creator, was also sent by the Father (since it is this name that the disciples of Hermes give to God, cf CH 1:30); this serpent, the conqueror of the god of this world and who puts the fruit of paradise within the reach of all, in the form of bread, will be called Jesus in the Gnostics Ophites, Nassenes, Pateres, etc., and Jesus, in our gospels, will become Jesus Christ. On the other hand, the condition of salvation will be, first, to "know that we will go back to the One who sent the crater", and, consequently, to "renounce mortal things", as the hermetic text states. a little lower (CH 4: 6).

This exegesis presupposes a philosophy which is not only dualistic, like Greek philosophy in general, insofar as it distinguishes the spirit from matter, but, by instituting a mythology, it necessarily introduces the reflection of this dualism. and the three great problems it will solve to the Gnostics result from the opposition to a functioning and original monism of this derivative dualism. The first of these problems will be to know how the supreme god, perfect and infinite, can come, other than by creation, all that is not him and in particular the creator god and the material world. To this theological and cosmological problem will be added the anthropological and soteriological problem of the nature of man, of his fall into matter, and of his return to the pleroma. Finally, there will be the problem of defining the personality, the nature, the role, the reciprocal relations of the two envoys of the Father, the herald and the serpent, John and Jesus.

The different solutions envisaged for these problems, always insufficient and always called into question, will separate the Gnostics into different sects, whose doctrines, afterwards, will mix and react on each other. The confrontation between Jews and followers of the Egyptian god Thoth, assimilated by the Greeks to Hermes, the messenger of the gods, a confrontation from which the drafting of the hermetic writings is already done, as the analyses of CH Dodd have shown in his magnificent free The Bible and the Greeks (London 1954), which is then the source of the exegesis, one in the light of the other, of a biblical text and an hermetic text, will continue afterwards and the last word will not be, for all the Gnostics, the total condemnation of Judaism and its god. The apostolic spirit of the disciples of Hermes, always eager to "sow the words of wisdom" (C.H. 1:29), will have the task of tearing the Jews from the grip of the evil creator and his Law; on the other hand, the profoundly religious spirit of the Jews and uncompromising monotheism, while permitting himself to some extent by the philosophical presuppositions of Gnostic exegesis, will vigorously protest against his conclusions, and will ceaselessly he did obtain the restoration of the god of the OT to the rank of supreme god. Gnosticism being bound to Judaism by some recognition of the authority of the Bible, even to reject its content, discussions will continue mainly in this field and, like the Jews, to whom the Bible belongs, will necessarily draw advantage, the resulting compromise, Christianity, will be such a Judaized gnosticism that it will forget its origins and will take for the efflorescence and the completion of Judaism.

(my bold)


I note in particular that the author recognizes two facts:

1) the early Gnostics rejected judaism in toto as a “evil” religion of a inferior god.

2) the early Gnostics were “bound to Judaism by some recognition of the authority of the Bible”.


The more simple explanation behind these two facts is that already advanced by prof. Hyam Maccoby:


We may now return to our question about the identity of the biblical Gnostics and put the question rather differently. What kind of people were attracted to the Gnostic viewpoint, but felt that they had to express it, partly at least, in terms derived from the Jewish Bible? What kind of people wished to reduce the pretensions of Judaism, but could do so only by engaging fully in the Jewish sacred writings which they found it imperative to reintrepret, rather than to ignore?
The most likely place to find our quarry is in the penumbra surrounding Judaism, consisting of people on their way in or on their way out. These are basically Gentiles who are attracted by Judaism enough to study it or to seek acquaintance eith knowledgeable Jews. Some pursue their study far enough to become actually converted to Judaism, but find Jewish observance too strenuous or too alien, and lapse. Others only reach the status of 'God-fearers', attend the synagogues in this capacity, but eventually become resentful of the inferior status accorded them. Others never actually declare or renounce allegiance to Judaism, but, having become the targets of Jewish missionary activity, acquire a considerable smattering of Jewish knowledge, and feel constrained to formulate some attitude towards Judaism. Such marginal people develop ambivalent feelings towards Judaism. On the other hand, they feel it to be a force to be reckoned with; on the other hand, they feel a certain resentment at the impudence of this barbarian faith in professing to be superior to the spiritual claims of Hellenistic culture; or, if they have gone so far as to succumb to Judaism for a while, they feel a corresponding need, after lapsing from Judaism, to justify their reversal of attitude and to reassert the superiority of the Hellenism from which they had temporarily defected. The most likely place to find such people in numbers sufficient to give rise to a distinctive religious grouping is Alexandria, where Jewish missionary activity was confident and even sometimes aggressive. The unease at such activity and the need to fight suscettibility to it, or to justify withdrawal from it after initial acceptance, could lead to a religious movement that contrasted the superior spiritual quality of Hellenism with the materiality and this-worldly stance of Judaism, while at the same time Accounting for Judaism and explaining its proper place in the scheme of things.

(Hyam Maccoby, Paul and Hellenism, p. 31-32, SCM Press, London)


Note that prof Maccoby believed that the Origins of the Jesus Myth were Jewish because he was historicist and therefore he had to place the historical Jesus in Judea, even if he recognized the influence of gentile haters of the Jewish god on Paul.

But if we remove the historical Jesus, then we don't have more need of assuming necessarily a Jewish Origin in Judea for the Jesus Myth: the Jews from Judea had a role only to euhemerize the mythical Jesus of the Ophites, Naassenes, Perates, as “Jesus (Jewish) Messiah”. But this only later.

Hence we have only two options:

1) if you are historicist, then you have to apply the famous Reductio ad Judaeum: the Origins were Jewish and only Jewish since Jesus was “a Jew” and he was “a Jew forever”.

2) if you are mythicist, then you are not obliged to assume necessarily the Jewish Origins of the Jesus Myth. Gentile gnostics could have invented it.
Nihil enim in speciem fallacius est quam prava religio. -Liv. xxxix. 16.

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