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 »

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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billd89
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Re: the Earliest "Gnostic" Timeframe?

Post by billd89 »

Giuseppe wrote: Sun Oct 14, 2018 7:52 am 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)
If the Torah/Bible was written in 270-160 BC in Alexandria (mostly), the Torah is a kind of universalizing propaganda project of the Mosaic Brotherhood that Philo refers to repeatedly. I'm not convinced it would be enormously successful persuading huge numbers of converts in six generations (270 BC - 70 AD), but we must assume semi-literate Semitic emigrants HAD already colonized many towns of the Empire. How do we reckon with THEIR culture(s)? Philo's universalistic Jewish tendency would have been only ONE trend - and 'Judaism' in the 1st C AD was already a collection of competing belief systems. If that is so, and I suppose it is, then a variety of Jewish cults or independent synagogues must have coexisted and vied/competed with each other in the Diaspora long before the Temple system collapsed in 70 AD.

This would explain (by likelihood and probability) that synagogues of syncretistic proto-Gnostic Judaism existed even before 100 BC. YES there was a Jerusalem Temple orthodoxy to accept (or reject) but no real power to suppress 'heretical' Judaizers in the field - whatever they preached. Gnosticism is the product of diversity, not uniformity.

That these so-called heretical forms of Judaism already existed - had proliferated! - by c.25 AD is well-attested by Philo Judaeus in a number of his writings. Surely, there was always a centralizing effort ongoing - Philo (weathy Jewish scion of Alexandria) was connected to Herod Agrippa (royal house) by marriage, nephew Marcus - but intrigue from Pharisees and Zealots (among how many other groups?) proved the situation was increasingly unstable even in Palestine c.30-70 AD. What was happening throughout the Diaspora, 100 BC to 70 AD? Philo claimed there were a million Jews in Egypt (I suppose 200,000 Semitic-descendent peoples & proselytes), and given Jewish uprisings in Cyrene and ?? we should imagine at least another 250,000 'Jews' throughout the rest of the Roman Empire. Most of these 'Judaic' communities were in what's now Turkey and Syria/Iraq, correct? The burning question: how 'Jewish' or independent (heterodox) were they?

Again: I suppose these Semitic communities ran along a spectrum we can barely fathom today - weird forms of 'Judaism' that were a mix of older Semitic elements and local customs, with preaching innovators (prophets) in a frothy stew of (proto-) Gnosticism. There has been an extensive debate on the term 'Gnostic' - if it's even meaningful, coherent? - but I won't get into all that here. Jonas [1934] and later often conflated Gnostic & Hermetic; Scholem [1941] had harder boundaries but he also seems to recognize a Proto-Gnostic continuum which includes Merkabah/Merkavah (Chariot) Mysticism (which might date to the Book of Ezekiel: conservatively, c.350-250 BC; or at least 150 BC). And Josephus (95 AD) recognized the great antiquity of the marginal, heretical Sethian Jews, who must have been around at least 2-3 generations - if not several hundred years earlier. If those Sethians (Gnostic) were already in 'Barbelo-Gnostic' communities c.50 AD, I have a strong hunch we should push Jewish Gnosticism's origins back to at least 150 BC.

This kind of situation would explain how, in phases, some mystical, apocalyptic Judaic communities might have abandoned the Yahwehist myth - maybe they'd never even really adopted the 3rd C. BC party-line? - well before 70 AD. Then, their revisionist darkly-turning ideologies entered a terrifying religious power void c.70-135 AD, to explode across the Empire thereafter. Later still, in the 3rd C AD and thereafter, rabbinical Judaism returns to restore orthodoxy. Gnosticism was waning by the 4th and 5th C., I suppose, persecuted by the Christian Churches especially.

That is how I would qualify what occurred.

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”.

I really can't imagine how Judaism could have become popular after:
a) the Romans destroyed Yahweh's Temple (68 AD),
b) the Romans repeatedly went to war against Jews in Palestine (115-35 AD),
c) the Romans started persecuting Jews in earnest.

So Alexandrian Judaism's missionary spread must have been c.150 BC - 38 AD. And, on the contrary, most Jews would have turned apostate, w/ Diaspora synagogues becoming darkly, bitterly 'Gnostic' in the 2nd C AD. I see two basic stages, there.

Hence #1 is wrong: early Gnostics (Proto-Gnostics) were heterodox or heretical Jews, allegorizing Judaic groups, radical synagogues, but not necessarily repudiating all Judaism. Ialdaboath MAY be a 1st C BC creation, but more likely (I suppose) the movement of Sethian Gnosticism appears forcefully w/ anti-Yahweh rhetoric only after c.38 AD and esp. after 70 AD.

And #2 is problematic, doesnt make sense; additionally, #1 & #2 don't really fit together. Alexandrian Jews attacked the Serapis temple because it (the Gnostic community: incl. heterodox Jewry in Alexandria) had become an existential threat to Judaism, c.117 AD. The so-called Classical Gnostics were predatory and parasitical upon shattered Jewish communities -as Xtians were- but that wasnt the 'first stage' or Early Gnosticism in fact. Gershom Scholem (1941) dated the "metaphysical antisemitism" of (Classical) Gnosticism to the 2nd and 3rd Centuries AD. I agree w/ his judgement but assume one or two distinct stages precede the total rupture and the picture is still quite murky.

Based on the above, I would loosely argue this 'Early Gnosticism' was Jewish Gnosticism, mystical and apocalyptic. Antisemitic? No. But obscure, complex and deviant, yes.
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Re: Who were the Earliest Gnostics?

Post by mlinssen »

billd89 wrote: Mon Aug 09, 2021 3:47 pm
How about all that, but without a 70 CE Temple destruction

That means 60-65 more years before the big bang; the end of Bar Kokhba and everything Judaic in Jerusalem. Then I'd say:
Based on the above, I would loosely argue this 'Early Gnosticism' was Jewish Gnosticism, mystical and apocalyptic. Antisemitic? No. But obscure, complex and deviant, yes.
And after Marcion kicks in, that means after nascent Christianity catches on, without having been tainted by being affixed to Judaism, the Gnostics pick a piece of that pie and adopt it, integrate it into their own. And they continue to do that long after the Judeo-Christian boat has started and stopped rocking, well into the Middle Ages even, when the Cathars get massacred and Churchianity finally manages to suppress the last remnant of prior, original thought
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Re: Who were the Earliest Gnostics?

Post by davidmartin »

Another scenario -
The gnostics were likely gentiles who simply restated an earlier spirituality in their own terms, this time far more dualistic
The earliest gnostics would then have been a certain individual who was first to do this, say in the late 1st century and in reaction to nascent orthodox Christianity perhaps
Prior to this, the 'earlier spirituality' (from which both emerged) would have looked different, more universal, less dualistic but capable of quite profound dualism when needed just not to the scale of the gnostic re-invention or the orthodox re-invention
that is why the earlier texts like Thomas are not really gnostic, and why such opposite groups as the gnostics and orthodox could have shared the same source, they probably did
i don't think the gnostics came in sideways i think they evolved directly from the source tradition just like the orthodox did
one can then argue which elements are the better preserved by each i suppose
i've read the gnostic writings are they clearly are adamant they are part of this tradition, i'm not saying they're not but that it got changed along the way. it's easier to put at least some trust in a genuinely ancient writing than some modern opinion that excludes the gnostics as outsiders just because that's a convenient thing to do
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The Temple's Destruction in 70 AD isn't debatable, tho.

Post by billd89 »

mlinssen wrote: Mon Aug 16, 2021 11:13 amHow about all that, but without a 70 CE Temple destruction.
Come again? The Temple's destruction is a matter of fact; it was recorded accurately.

There is certainly a great deal that remains speculative (re: so-called 'Gnostics', and sociological interpretations of re-written literature), but the archaeological record is definitive about the Temple's destruction at that time. And there are no legitimate doubts against that fact.

We can all be creative here, but the Moon Landings were not faked and Elvis is still dead lol
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Re: The Temple's Destruction in 70 AD isn't debatable, tho.

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billd89 wrote: Wed Aug 18, 2021 10:25 am
mlinssen wrote: Mon Aug 16, 2021 11:13 amHow about all that, but without a 70 CE Temple destruction.
Come again? The Temple's destruction is a matter of fact; it was recorded accurately.

There is certainly a great deal that remains speculative (re: so-called 'Gnostics', and sociological interpretations of re-written literature), but the archaeological record is definitive about the Temple's destruction at that time. And there are no legitimate doubts against that fact.

We can all be creative here, but the Moon Landings were not faked and Elvis is still dead lol
Jerusalem perhaps yes, but the Temple? There is no evidence of any kind that the temple got destroyed in 70 CE other than the writings of Josephus. Of course it needed to be destroyed for the "prophecy" of Jesus to be fulfilled but I doubt that it was.
Do you have better "facts" to attest to the destruction than the Guardian? I have been asking around here and there for a while now, and come up empty

I'm just looking for evidence that the Temple got destroyed in 70 CE, other than the writings of Josephus. Thank you in advance
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Re: The Fool's Errand

Post by billd89 »

mlinssen wrote: Wed Aug 18, 2021 12:45 pmJerusalem perhaps yes, but the Temple? There is no evidence of any kind that the temple got destroyed in 70 CE other than the writings of Josephus. Of course it needed to be destroyed for the "prophecy" of Jesus to be fulfilled but I doubt that it was. Do you have better "facts" to attest to the destruction than the Guardian? I have been asking around here and there for a while now, and come up empty

I'm just looking for evidence that the Temple got destroyed in 70 CE, other than the writings of Josephus. Thank you in advance
Really can't solve your problem there, chief. Have you thought to ring the Israel Antiquities Authority about the Fake News?
http://www.antiquities.org.il/contact_us_eng.aspx

Alternately, you might be told what by the History Department, The Faculty of Humanities, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem:
https://en.history.huji.ac.il/book/contact-us

Please let us know what they say!
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Re: The Fool's Errand

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billd89 wrote: Thu Aug 19, 2021 8:15 am
mlinssen wrote: Wed Aug 18, 2021 12:45 pmJerusalem perhaps yes, but the Temple? There is no evidence of any kind that the temple got destroyed in 70 CE other than the writings of Josephus. Of course it needed to be destroyed for the "prophecy" of Jesus to be fulfilled but I doubt that it was. Do you have better "facts" to attest to the destruction than the Guardian? I have been asking around here and there for a while now, and come up empty

I'm just looking for evidence that the Temple got destroyed in 70 CE, other than the writings of Josephus. Thank you in advance
Really can't solve your problem there, chief. Have you thought to ring the Israel Antiquities Authority about the Fake News?
http://www.antiquities.org.il/contact_us_eng.aspx

Alternately, you might be told what by the History Department, The Faculty of Humanities, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem:
https://en.history.huji.ac.il/book/contact-us

Please let us know what they say!
It's not my problem for sure, I'm not the one claiming that the Temple did get destroyed in 70 CE. I know that it is generally assumed that it was, but I just asked a simpering question

And you can't come up with an answer, it would seem. At least you don't, such is for sure
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"Tear Down the Arch!" Dr. Zaius, I presume?

Post by billd89 »

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Re: "Tear Down the Arch!" Dr. Zaius, I presume?

Post by mlinssen »

Spoils, yes. Likely from Judea, yes. Possibly some from the Temple, yes.
Arch commissioned in 82 CE by Tiberius, yes

Temple destroyed, burned, leveled to the ground?
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