Magharians, a Heretical Hermit Sect c.50 BC?

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Magharians, a Heretical Hermit Sect c.50 BC?

Post by billd89 »

I'm starting a new thread, on this odd and largely ignored Jewish Heretical cult.
billd89 wrote: Mon Mar 22, 2021 7:30 pm Höhlenbewohner: Meghärija OR Makariba OR Makärija OR Maghariya

Especially interested in any German or French pre-1939 scholarship.

This 1981 essay by I.P. Culianu adds smthg:

The idea that an angel of the Lord is the creator of the world is assigned to Simon Magus by the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitiones33 and to Cerinthus by Irenaeus34 and by Pseudo-Tertullian.35 The same belief was also shared by other Gnostics.36 Thus, it is likely that Simon Magus borrowed the idea of a second Creator from the Magharians, i.e., from representatives of the heresy of "Two Powers in Heaven", but this second Creator became, in the Samaritan gnosis, the God of the Jews.37 One may certainly infer that Simon's perverse interpretation was meant to put in a bad light the God of his neighbours, i.e., to show that he was only an angel of the true Lord.

Personally, I'm reading the 'Magharians' as primitive, rural ascetics: crude, dissident 'Therapeutae' beyond the margins of orthodox Judaica. Wild men, outcasts, the insane - folk-healers & radical preachers to ethnically-mixed 'Old Jewish' communities deep in Egypt (or elsewhere). Among the most heterodoxically 'Jewish' congregations, some of these wild men might even dare to worship Serapis as Joseph, for example.

Following Quispel (1974), Culianu (1981) declares that the Magharians' Gnostic Demiurge was bequeathed to Simon Magus (c.60 AD) and Cerinthus (c.75 AD) among many others. To be so popular, this Binitarian Jewish concept must have circulated at least 25-50 years earlier (c.20 AD) likewise, Philo's work* (c.45 AD) addresses a pre-existent Binitarian belief system. Or should we assume the '2nd Creator' idea began generations before 20 AD, within some some radical 'cave community' or synagogal network?

I suspect the origin & transition goes smthg like ... Melchizedek, c.175 BC, expressed as God the guardian of Jewish mercenaries in Egypt and far-flung Jewish communities, then as a Judge etc. (c.50 BC), then in a ditheistic role as abstract Power (Logos) c.25 BC, then - a turmoil: repressed in name, splintering c.70 AD? - as the un-named Mighty Power, Demiurge, Angel. I'd guess that rabbinical authorities had begun aggressively stamping out the Minim belief in of 'Melchizedek' within a generation after Philo. So Epistle to the Hebrews captures the transit of 'Melchizedek' to 'Christ' c.55 AD; one Judaic cult symbol dies, another iteration is born.

*'Philo, De conf. ling. 146, De migr. Abr. 174, Quis rer. div. her. sit. 205 f.
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Simon Magus, in Pseudo-Clemens ‘Recognitiones’

Post by billd89 »

A few notes ...

See Ioan P. Culianu, “The Angels of the Nations and the Origins of Gnostic Dualism,” in Studies in Gnosticism and Hellenistic Religions Presented to Gilles Quispel on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday, ed. by Vermaseren et al. [1981], p.86.

“The Magharians believed that God himself was not directly responsible for the creation of the world. The world had been created by a lieutenant of God, an angel of his court. The idea that an angel of the Lord is the creator of the world is assigned to Simon Magus by the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitiones (1) and to Cerinthus by Irenaeus (2) and by Pseudo-Tertullian (3). The same belief was also shared by other Gnostics. Thus, it is likely that Simon Magus borrowed the idea of a second Creator from the Magharians, i.e., from representatives of the heresy of ‘Two Powers in Heaven’, but this second Creator became, in the Samaritan gnosis, the God of the Jews. One may certainly infer that Simon's perverse interpretation was meant to put in a bad light the God of his neighbours, i.e., to show that he was only an angel of the true Lord.”

1) Pseudo-Clemens ‘Recognitions’ was composed circa 320 AD of material largely dating prior to 250 AD. As a pseudo-Petrine gospel, this historical novel is curiously anti-Pauline, anti-Simonian, anti-Gnostic. The Ebionites were antinominian Judeo-Christians, presumably from the area of what is now Lebanon.

High Priest or Judge, Melchizedek is nowhere mentioned – his name has been stricken from the record. By inference, Melchizedek had been thoroughly erased (co-opted) 3-4 generations earlier - or that particular (Judeo-Egyptian) system had never really gained traction in this area of the Diaspora. The information presented here does not seem to have been drawn from Hippolytus (c.210 AD) or other Patristic writers typically cited. Scholars treat it separately. The statement below appeals to the idea that Jewish 'Two God' minim were the ultimate target:

Daniel Boyarin's "Justin Martyr Invents Judaism" in Church History, Vol. 70, No. 3 (Sep., 2001), pp.458-9 has recently been well argued, the Jewish-Christians who are the source of the Pseudo-Clementine text were indeed very proximate to the early Rabbis and probably in close (and irenic) contact with them, groups such as theirs can be adduced as both the medium of contact and transfer of knowledge between Gentile Christians and rabbinic Jews, and the source of the restlessness on the borders that was, according to my hypothesis, one important catalyst for the invention of heresy on both sides of that border under construction. As Albert Baumgarten has argued: "The Pseudo-Clementine texts exhibit detailed and specific knowledge of rabbinic Judaism. Their awareness is not of commonplaces or of vague generalities which might be based on a shared biblical heritage, but of information uniquely characteristic of the rabbinic world. There can be no doubt that we are dealing with two groups in close proximity that maintained intellectual contact with each other. The authors of the Pseudo-Clementines quite obviously admired rabbinic Jews and their leaders."

... or were willing to exploit their rulings against Jewish Gnostics, in a Xtian-focused reconstruction? Boyarin (2001) would lightly posit this source as 2nd or 3rd C. (c.200 AD?)

A few relevant examples from the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitiones:

2.39. Argument for Polytheism
{Simon:} “…the first god {viz. YHVH; the Demiurge} said to the other gods, ‘Let us make man after our image and likeness.’ … there are many gods. One of these was chosen by lot, that he {viz. YHVH} might be the god of the Jews. But it is not of him {viz. YHVH} that I speak, but of that God {viz. First God: the Unnamable} who is also his God, whom even the Jews themselves did not know. For He {viz. First God} is not their god, but the God of those who know Him {viz. First God}.”

Melchizedek is irrelevant here, but Simon Magus asserts the Jews are following a secondary god, wrongly presumed by them to be “the first god” (for them alone?); YHVH also has competitors, viz. other national gods. This is problematic or muddled, complicated. 'Simon' is both attacking the Jews' God AND presenting the Two God thesis as an insult; I read this as a parody of Gnostic theology. Rabbinical arguments lie underneath, there is some juxtaposition also, but I presume -where this was orginally a Jewish debate- the Jewish national god or his archangel had already been defeated by the Romans 70 AD. It may be that Melchizedek gets blamed in substitution, somehow?

2.42. Guardian Angels.
{Peter:} “Therefore the name God is applied in three ways: either because He to whom it is given is truly God, or because he is the servant of Him who is Truly; and for the honour of the Sender, that His Authority may be full, he that is sent is called by the name of Him Who Sends, as is often done in respect of angels: for when they appear to a man, if he is a wise and intelligent man, he asks the name of him who appears to him, that he may acknowledge at once the honour of the sent, and the authority of the sender. For every nation has an angel, to whom God has committed the government of that nation… But to the one among the archangels who is greatest {viz., Melchizedek}, was committed the government of those who, before all others, received the worship and knowledge of the Most High God. … But Christ is God of princes, who is Judge of all.”

Peter recognizes that ‘God’ can be the Unnamed One or an Angel or Divine Man. The most high archangel – formerly named ‘Melchizedek’ (High Priest, Seated at the Right Hand of God, Judge, Supreme Ruler) or Logos – is now fully assimilated as ‘Christ’. Again, Melchizedek was removed from the Two God schema at some point after Epistle to the Hebrews.

2.49. The Supreme Light.
“Then Simon said: ‘Remember that you {viz., Peter} said that God has a son {viz., Jesus}, which is doing Him wrong… I hasten to make a statement concerning the Immensity of the Supreme Light; and so now listen. My opinion is, that there is a certain Power of Immense and Ineffable Light, whose greatness may be held to be incomprehensible, of which Power even The Maker of the world is ignorant, and Moses the law-giver, and Jesus your master.’”

Simon Magus defines (Most High) God as incomprehensible, a meta-entity of Divine Light or Holy Fire and The Supreme Power. But in his Samaritan Gnosticism, the Jewish Demiurge (=Creator; Artificer of the World, etc.) is ignorant of First God; so are Moses and Jesus (both assimilated unto ‘Melchizedek’: Jewish and Christian forms respectively.)

3.47.—Simon’s Vaunt.
{Peter:} “I am the First Power, who am always, and without beginning. But having entered the womb of Rachel, I was born of her as a man, that I might be visible to men. … that I am the Son of God, enduring to eternity, and that I can make those who believe on me endure in like manner forever.”

Simon claims to be a Divine Man AND the Son of (the Most High) God, and the expression of that First Power (viz., the Second God, Begotten yet Eternal). We should note that his 'God' definition remains consistent with Peter’s earlier formulation, but gnostically complicated. The implication here is that Simon is cryptically ‘Melchizedek’ (in the ‘Son of God’ formula, and by whatever name that Mighty Power may be called c.100-200 AD) assimilated to human form AND his followers are promised immortality. Furthermore, those believing in Melchizedek-the-Savior must have held this belief before the Christ Myth was added.

Again: 'Recognitiones' has deliberately erased Melchizedek; he is unmentionable for these Jewish descendents. This speaks to a major controversy underlying the text. But his substitute names in varied conceptions are especially topical here, a real & perceptible subtext (as Quispel briefly noted.) Read this way, Ebionite Christology preserved a rabbinical debate (c.50-100 AD?) on the Two God thesis which logically must have followed a more open period, when Epistle to the Hebrews was written (early c.55 AD, rather than late, c.140 AD) - by a generation at least. If 'Magharians' are a trend not a cult, is 'Melchizedek' a break-point: the Before and After? Many questions remain...

The implication that 'Recognitiones' preserves an earlier theological refutation of Mechizedekianism in the masked Ebionite Kerygmata Petrou - re-written w/ Xtian characters, c.125-150 AD? - is particularly intriguing. If I understand this correctly, - and I confess that I havent studied this thoroughly, at first impression I presume four discrete levels here:

1) c.75 AD Rabbinical Jewish arguments about the Two God Theory: anti-Magharian/anti-Melchizedekian.
2) c.125 AD Kerygmata Petrou: Ebionite dogma, in a Gospel.
3) c.200 AD Orthodox Christian redaction: Anti-Gnostic polemic.
4) c.320 AD Historical Novel: popularized version (final form).

Christopher Buck (1982) offers an excellent analysis that simplifies this, but dates PsC earlier, c.150 AD.
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Re: Magharians, a Hostile Viewpoint to Gnostic Thesis

Post by billd89 »

E.Yamauchi, Pre-Christian Gnosticism (1973) Link, pp.158-9.

To support the thesis of a Jewish origin of Gnosticism some have sought to find Jewish evidence for the notion that the world was not created by God but by a demiurge, perhaps by some angelic being. Philo, for example, taught that the irrational soul of man and his body were made by angels. Justin Martyr implies that some Jews taught that the human body was the creation of angels.

The clearest attestation that there were Jews who believed in both a high God and an angelic creator ofthe world is to be found in late Arabic texts describing the quasi-Jewish sect of the Maghariyah or Magharians. The best description is in al-Qjrqisani (AD 925), and supplementary accounts are to be found in al-Biriini (AD 973 -1048) and al-Shahrastani (AD 1076 -1153). These writers describe a group who were called Magharians after the Arabic word for magar 'cave' as their books were found in caves. Although some have compared them to the sect from Qumran, the two groups agree only in one point - in the prohibition of foolish laughter.

According to Qjrqisani ,'they referred all anthropomorphic passages in the Bible to an angel rather than to God himself, and claimed that it was this angel who created the world'.82 Wolfson has suggested that the Gnostics may have derived their concept of an angelic demiurge from this Jewish sect. 83

82 N. Golb, 'Who Were the Magharians?' JAOS 80 (1960), p.348.
83 H. Wolfson. 'The Pre-existent Angel of the Magharians and al-Nahiiwandi', Jewish Quarterly Review 11 (1960), p.97.

This view has been endorsed by Quispel, who would specifically associate the Magharian doctrine with Cerinthus, whom he regards as a Jewish Christian. He further argues: 'I think we must suppose that such a group (the Magharians) did exist before the Christian era in Palestine.' 84 He then concludes that the concept of the demiurge, 'the characteristic feature, which distinguishes Gnosticism from Gnosis in a general sense, originated in Palestine among rebellious and heterodox Jews'.85

Even if we can disregard the fact that our evidence for the Magharians is found in sources that date to the tenth century AD and later, we are still faced with a number of problems with Quispel's reconstruction. In the first place, there is no evidence that such a group lived in Palestine, or that they existed in the pre-Christian era. Golb, after a detailed study of the Arabic sources, concludes that the Magharians were 'Jewish gnostics of an ascetic character who flourished in Egypt during the first few centuries of the present era, and who had access to Philonic writings or ideas... '.86

Grant, who does not agree that the Magharians were Gnostics, writes:
'Unfortunately for those who desire to discover a Jewish Gnosticism, that which Qirqisani says on the subject of their teaching about the moon shows that they could not have been Gnostics. "They affirm that all things have been created complete and perfect..." But if all has been created complete and perfect, the angelic creator was himself complete and perfect; he was not evil. Among the Magharians we find then realized the possibility for Jewish heterodoxy, that an angel created the world, but we also find confirmed there the impossibility - for Jewish thought - that he was evil.' 87

84 G. Quispel, 'The Origins ofthe Gnostic Demiurge',in Granfield and Jungman (eds), Kyriakon I, p.273.
85 Ibid., p.276.
86 N. Golb, op. cit., p.358.
87 R.M. Grant, 'Les etres intermediaires', p.149.

Melchizedek was an intermediary, associated w/ Archangel Michael & Gabriel, the Logos/God's Will (Demiurge), also called the 'Son of God', and originally a Caanite solar deity in his own right. The Judeo-Christian Apollos -assumed author of 'Epistle to the Hebrews'- comes from Alexandria, explains the assimilation of 'the Christ mythos' to that pre-existent, omnipotent, ancient Power for an allegorizing community of unnamed 'Melchizedekians' c. 60 AD. Originally, Melchizedek as a Savior cult (c.150 BC) might have enjoined a few primitive hospitals or spa-type retreats for those suffering mental illness, neurosis, etc., in addition to Jewish veterans' fraternities in the old barracks near villages where they'd settled; in time, the cult grew.

In Philo's day, 'Therapeutae' (c. 25 AD) were highly literate heterodox Judeo-Egyptian ascetics who wrote books, etc. and preserved a peculiar solar worship, etc. There is no other Jewish proto-gnostic group identified in Egypt during this period, but we dont know how these so-called Therapeutae identified themselves (DVC mentions "different sects"). We have only broad labels, others' category names.

Melchizedekians, Therapeutae, Magharians : nebulous terms to categorize a mass of unrecorded/unknown tiny sects & conventicles of a movement or trend in Diaspora Judaism. The syncretistic, heterodox Judaizers 'operating out' of Alexandria Egypt c.150 BC - 75 AD, via the maritime networks, also spread the Christ idea approx. a generation before the Jesus cult itself appeared.

The distinction between 'heterodox' (syncretistic), antinomian and proto-Gnostic Jewish appears negligible, spurious.
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Re: Magharians as Merkavah Mystics (w/ God's Agent) ?

Post by billd89 »

In Philip Alexander's opinion, "it [is] very likely that some of the similarities between Gnosticism and Merkavah Mysticism are due to the fact that both systems draw on the tradition of Palestinian Jewish apocalyptic, apocalyptic elements having been transmitted to them by Christianity and Rabbinism respectively. [... T]here are good grounds for supposing that common, syncretistic magic mediated between the two systems." See Ph. S. Alexander, "Comparing Merkavah Mysticism and Gnosticism: An Essay in Method," Clouds Magazine 16 (2003). One of the other similarities cited is "cooperative dualism," or at least the presence of a strain within Judaism that suggests a subordinate but complementary actor who works in concert with God. This dualism may be the product of eschatological pessimism, but it is not the anticosmic dualism of gnosticism; the cosmos is neither evil nor the creation of evil. Cf. Peter Hayman, "Monotheism - A Misused Word in Jewish Studies," Journal ofJewish Studies 22 (1990), 1-15

Fans of Metatron/Melchizedek, see in Hayman especially pp.10-15.

This idea ties to smthg Gershom Scholem presented in a March 1938 New York talk, associating the Therapeutae (who, I argue, are 'Melchizedekians') among the (proto-?) Merkavah mystics in his discussion of Jewish Gnosticism, pp.13-4.

I'm curious to hear more about this "complementary actor".
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Re: Magharians, a People who 'Bury Texts in Caves'

Post by billd89 »

Leucius Charinus wrote: Mon Nov 24, 2014 8:51 pm Here is a table of the currently presumed dates of authorship. (I have not removed the duplicate texts)

NHC #Est. Authorship DATE RANGENag Hammadi Texts [Sorted via Estimated Dates of Authorship]
5.5BCE-3rdThe Apocalypse of Adam
12.1BCE-BCEThe Sentences of Sextus
2.2040-140The Gospel of Thomas a sayings gospel
2.6040-350The Exegesis on the Soul
11.2100-160A Valentinian Exposition, On the Anointing, On Baptism (A and B) and On the Eucharist (A and B)
7.3100-200Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter
1.3140-180The Gospel of Truth
12.2140-180The Gospel of Truth
1.1150-300The Prayer of the Apostle Paul
2.3150-350The Gospel of Philip
2.1200-300The Apocryphon of John
1.2250-290The Apocryphon of James (also known as the Secret Book of James)
3.12nd-2ndThe Apocryphon of John
42nd-2ndThe Apocryphon of John
5.42nd-2ndThe Second Apocalypse of James
6.12nd-2ndCodex VI: The Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles
6.62nd-2ndThe Eighth Reveals the Ninth - Discourse and Hermetic treatise
7.42nd-2ndThe Teachings of Silvanus
13.12nd-2ndTrimorphic Protennoia
13.22nd-2ndOn the Origin of the World
1.42nd-3rdThe Treatise on the Resurrection
6.22nd-3rdThe Thunder, Perfect Mind
8.22nd-3rdThe Letter of Peter to Philip
11.12nd-3rdThe Interpretation of Knowledge
2.43rd-3rdThe Hypostasis of the Archons
2.53rd-3rdOn the Origin of the World
7.23rd-3rdThe Second Treatise of the Great Seth
7.53rd-3rdThe Three Steles of Seth
1.53rd-4thThe Tripartite Tractate
2.7unknownThe Book of Thomas the Contender
3.2unknownThe Gospel of the Egyptians
3.3unknownEugnostos the Blessed
3.4unknownThe Sophia of Jesus Christ
3.5unknownThe Dialogue of the Savior
4.1unknownHoly Book of the Great Invisible Spirit (The Gospel of the Egyptians)
5.1unknownEugnostos the Blessed
5.2unknownCoptic Apocalypse of Paul
5.3unknownThe First Apocalypse of James
6.3unknownAuthoritative Teaching
6.4unknownThe Concept of Our Great Power
6.5unknownRepublic by Plato
6.7unknownThe Prayer of Thanksgiving (with a hand-written note) - a Hermetic prayer
6.8unknownAsclepius 21-29 - another Hermetic treatise
7.1unknownThe Paraphrase of Shem
9.2unknownThe Thought of Norea
9.3unknownThe Testimony of truth

The above dates for "earlier authorship" are totally and completely reliant upon the information supplied by the heresiologists (e.g. Eusebius, Irenaeus, etc)

IMO there is sufficient cause to claim and test for the condition that these sources are corrupt and pseudo-historical.

If we did not have the "unimpeachable testimony" of the "Church Fathers" then what dates would be ascribed to these texts of the NHC?

I'm interested in the fact that the Apocalypse of Adam is at the top of the list, one of the oldest known NHC. The oral tradition of Sethian myth was known to Josephus (90 AD), which strongly suggest an established trope - then, already 2 or more generations old.

The 'buried on a mountain' bit evokes the Magharians; the long poem suggests the hand of the Therapeutae. The presence of Sakla - an Anti-YHVH goad - brazenly expresses a radical Jewish antinomianism. This pre-dates the more complex Ialdabaoth myth by what, 2-3 generations? I'll guess this dates to at least the Alexandrian Pogrom of 38 AD. To me, it sounds like angry, rugged, rural, heterodox Judaism preaching to any and all outcasts & despairing losers - esp. those who despise the urbane cosmopolitan 'normative Jews.' These are bad-ass renegades: apostate trouble-makers in Egypt or Libya? This material must have scandalized, infuriated local Jewish society; Philo scorns some radical allegorizers for (what I'd imagine is) just this kind of work. If it was by contract, imagine a bandit Meyer Lansky's synagogue?


The Sethian Apocalypse of Adam takes the form of a revelation received by Adam through the intercession of three heavenly visitors. This revelation was narrated to Seth, the son of Adam, and contains the traditional forms associated with Jewish revelatory literature. It contains a dream vision, is passed from father to son, is hidden on a mountain and is related and recorded just before the death of the recipient. While it contains an account of the creation, the Apocalypse of Adam does not follow the Genesis text as closely as the Hypostasis of the Archons or the Apocryphon of John. The account traces the myth from the creation of Eve to the final soteriological episode and the advent of the final redeemer at the eschaton at which time all but the elect will be damned. Sakla is the name given to the evil creator, and humanity is divided into three groups or races: the descendents of Seth, those of Noah (through his sons Shem, Ham and Japheth) and the apostates from the second group that join the Sethians through attained gnosis. Additionally, the text includes a fifteen-stanza poem on the incarnation of the saviour that is unique among the mythological systems (77.27-83.2). The document is of unknown provenance, but must be dated before 350 CE, the approximate date of the burial of the Nag Hammadi documents, and is known only in its Coptic version. The original language of composition was likely Greek.

George MacRae and Douglas M. Parrott suggest that there are no clear borrowings from Christian tradition found in the document, which in turn suggests a 54 "transitional stage in an evolution from Jewish to gnostic apocalyptic." that "this document works together very skillfully several traditions and is certainly witness of early gnosis, since it still stands very near to the Jewish apocalyptic literature 55 and has no Christian tenor." It is considered a Sethian text due to the prominence of the character of Seth and the position of his progeny as the inheritors of salvific knowledge.

Last edited by billd89 on Fri Apr 02, 2021 2:22 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Magharians, a Heretical Hermit Sect c.50 BC?

Post by andrewcriddle »

This passage from the Apocalypse of Adam
And the eighth kingdom says of him that a cloud came upon the earth and enveloped a rock. He came from it. The angels who were above the cloud nourished him. He received glory and power there. And thus he came to the water.
is probably derived from traditions about Roman Mithras. If so this probably requires a date after 70 CE.

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Re: Not Mithraic, Probably

Post by billd89 »

andrewcriddle wrote: Fri Apr 02, 2021 2:20 am This passage from the Apocalypse of Adam
And the eighth kingdom says of him that a cloud came upon the earth and enveloped a rock. He came from it. The angels who were above the cloud nourished him. He received glory and power there. And thus he came to the water.
is probably derived from traditions about Roman Mithras. If so this probably requires a date after 70 CE.

Andrew Criddle
Roger Pearse wasnt persuaded. Nor am I. He doesnt really elaborate, but I will.

For myself, one example of a similar motif (however important to later Mithraism) in a long, long narrative is far from conclusive, just as the 'Virgin Birth' trope doesnt automatically imply Christianity either. On the contrary, this looks like an example of 'same-same, but different.'

I dont accept the late date for Mithraism, generally. Certainly, 'Mithraic ideas' (in the nebulous reality of life) must have circulated much earlier than surviving archaeological evidence of the formalized military cult. Why? Intuitively, 'products' come after ideas - esp. in the oral culture of the dissident, the marginalized, etc. (In this regard, material evidence is always better assumed later, not earlier.) Anyway, the record for Mithraism in Egypt is exceeedingly poor (if ApocAdam is given an Egyptian origin) further suggesting the similarity is probably irrelevant/coincidental.

In a long text like this, multiple traces should be evident. But while a cosmopolitan cultural worker might grab a random idea decades before a shrine would be raised, the Mithraic suggestion looks highly unlikely and definitely inconclusive for dating ApocAdam.
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Re: Magharians, a Heretical Hermit Sect c.50 BC?

Post by andrewcriddle »

Reading the important article by Wolfson here it would seem that reports of the Magharians are based on an account by Mukammas (Da'ud ibn Merwan) a Jewish writer interested in Christianity. It would seem that according to Mukammas the Magharians developed into a Jewish-Christian group. It seems possible that the Magharians known of in later times were a Jewish-Christian group which claimed (rightly or wrongly) to derive from a pre-Christian Jewish group opposed to the Sadducees.

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Wadi Maghara in Sinai, relevant?

Post by billd89 »

Mysteries warrant speculation. I'm by no means certain on this , but a number of factors do seem to point to 'Midian/Sinai' as a leading candidate.

If (some combination of the following is true):
a) Simon Magus (c.60 AD) and Cerinthus (c.75 AD) borrowed the older idea of a second Creator from the mysterious 'Magharians',
b) Magharians' philosophy should be Semitic but foreign and interesting to Simon in Samaria and Cerinthus in Alexandria,
c) Magharians reside outside normal Jewish civilization; antinominians at the margins of 1st C. AD Jewish life,
d) Magharians are identified as Gnostic or Proto-Gnostic but perhaps even older,
e) Magharians may be associated with a remote refugee or outcast cave-culture somewhere in Egypt, Sinai or Arabia,
f) 'Magharian' might be another name for later Nazarene, Ebionite, or Elkasite: heretical sects in the zone of Sinai, Midian, Arabia,

then a question 'what of the ancient Semites of Sinai/Midian?' should direct our attention to that geographical area as a possibility.

We begin a millennium before the 1st C. AD, let's walk it forward.
In 1904-1905 Sir Flinders Petrie, the father of Egyptian archaeology, and his wife Hilda discovered several rudimentary alphabetic inscriptions in the copper and turquoise mines that were controlled by the ancient Egyptians on the Sinai Peninsula. Sir Alan Gardiner, the premier linguist of his day, deciphered some of the writings and proclaimed that they were a form of primitive alphabet and that they used a Semitic language. The script became known as "Proto-Sinaitic" and was dated to the late Middle Bronze Age in the 1600s or early 1500s BC. W. F. Albright, the American known as the father of biblical archaeology, popularized the idea that these were Semitic writings and many took up the idea that Israelite slaves were responsible for these inscriptions. Hebrew, as the world's oldest alphabet, was first claimed in the 1920's by German scholar Hubert Grimme. "Although Grimme identified some of the Egyptian inscriptions as Hebrew, he was unable to identify all of the alphabet correctly," explained Roni Segal, academic adviser for The Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, an online language academy specializing in Biblical Hebrew...


So the 'Terraces of Turquoise' were exploited from 2700 BC–1100 BC, in Sinai. That is the area that the Rachabites/Kenites came from (c.700-500? BC), supposedly. 'Midian' as a confederation of nomadic tribes moving along/trading up and down the coast is also suggestive of the Biblical desert roaming of Moses & co. Folklore makes good myth, even if garbled by urban writers compiling and redacting old stories from papyri c.325 BC. Whether there was a cave-culture in situ at the time the Torah was assembled, the idea of Sinai had certainly persisted in popular consciousness. 'Exodus' is indisputable proof of that!

Philo claimed there were 1,000,000 Jews in Egypt c.25 AD. Consider: fostering animosity between Egyptian and Jew supported Greek power c.350 BC. And Semitic tribes along the Red Sea littoral would also have been a buffer and ally or threat in any land invasions from the east. The Second Babylonian Empire reached Sinai c.540 BC, then Egypt fell to the Achaemenids 525 -330 BC, and the area was contested or outside Egyptian control thereafter. For any indigenous power in Egypt, the military threat from the Sinai was real in these centuries.

If the written Torah was a propaganda project c.325 BC, the Ptolemies had good reasons to deliberately cultivate an 'anti-Egyptian' Sinai cult and 'Jewish' nationalist history blatantly derived from Egyptian religious myth: divide and conquer. True, the Moses myth might seem artificial for Canaanites, but it would aptly serve Ptolemaic designs and bolster a Mosaic brotherhood of Sinai traders and Semitic villagers connected to the Eastern Desert. Victors write history. What society existed there 200 BC-100 AD? How stable was the desert culture: was the folk-religion binitarian? Jewish? Heterodox Semitic?

If my opinion seems radical, consider this claim in a NYT story of 2007:
But archaeologists who have worked here {i.e. Sinai} have never turned up evidence to support the account in the Bible, and there is only one archaeological find that even suggests the Jews were ever in Egypt.

Certainly, that is wrong! But I think we don't yet have enough information to draw certain conclusions that the 'Magharians' were descendant from ancient Midianite tribes, Rechabites and ('Mosaic') Egyptian Semites.

If THESE were the 'Magharians', furthermore, then this hypothesis contradicts any likelihood they were 'Melchizedekian' - that myth was squarely Canaanite. But 'Magharians' as wandering nomadic healers and mountain outlaws at the southern periphery (in Sinai) of the Jewish world makes sense, still. Even, without conclusive archeological proof. Why? Because Jewish history deems it so: the foundational Mosaic myth takes us back to a cradle in Sinai evermore. Two Gods: Yahweh and "the Angel of Yahweh"*; the angel was another (Semitic) god, demoted. In precisely this conflation, sublimation or syncretism - the designation of the old God as angel/intermediary/authority or Power of a new God - we will probably discover our mysterious 'Great Power' returning.

* Daniel Völter [1919], p.10 exhaustively elaborates the Sopdu-Yahweh connection. He has the Second God (of the thorn bush) as 'Sinai' =the one in the thorn bush. Exodus 3:2: "There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from within a bush". This is an optical illusion of the meteorological phenomenon: the rising sun’s crepuscular rays {=angel rays} at dawn - or setting sun - passing through a 'flaming' (illuminated) bush. Presumably, 'Sinai' would have been the older local (Semitic) name for God in that environs. I am unfamiliar with any scholarship that has elaborated this thesis! Given the centrality of the Exodus myth to Judaism, that fact that 'Sinai' was not (merely) a 'place' but also a 'God' - and maybe the Great Power, the intervening (actualizing?) manifestation of God - is by no means trivial in its implications to Jewish prehistory.

The thorn tree or bush of Sopdu and Yahweh, however, will hardly be anything else than a symbol of the sun's rays penetrating and illuminating the air or an image of the sun's tuft of rays. That is why the thorn-bush in Exodus 3 is 'fiery' without being consumed by fire.


Edit: for an excellent scholarly summary in line with what I'm getting at, see Juan Manuel Tebes, "The Archaeology of Cult of Ancient Israel’s Southern Neighbors and the Midianite-Kenite Hypothesis" in Entangled Religions 12.2 (2021), Link. After the collapse of Egyptian cultic sites in Sinai 1150 BC, Tebes [2021] indicates fairly certain archaeological evidence of a Yahweh cult abit further north, in the Negev, c.950-750 BC.

The earliest epigraphic evidence that with high probabilities refers to the name Yahweh, if not the existence of his cult, are two New Kingdom topographical lists depicting Shasu people living in the arid lands to the east of the Sinai Peninsula. The inscriptions date to the reigns of Amenophis III (approx. 1380 BCE) and Ramses II (approx. 1270/1250 BCE) and appear in the temples of Soleb and Amara West, respectively. They list several Shasu-lands (tᵓ šsw), most importantly tᵓ šsw yhw (Yahu); the Amara West text also lists a tᵓ šsw s‘rr (Seir). As we have already seen, Yahweh and Seir are linked together by a few biblical allusions, admittedly of a very different nature. There is a lot of discussion concerning the location of the “Shasu land of Yahu”: the majority of scholars locate it in that indeterminate portion of land comprising the Sinai, Negev, and Edom, but a more precise setting cannot be established. It is impossible to know, with the available evidence, whether the name Yahu refers to a geographical, tribal, or deity name: it could even refer to the three things at the same time, as comparative evidence from other ancient Near Eastern sources may indicate (e.g., the name Ashur, Blenkinsopp 2008, 140). If Yahu was originally the region where the Shasu lived, then its transition to a deity name was extremely atypical for the Shasu-related names: as far as we know, Seir never became the name of a deity.

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Re: Magharians, Scholars' Opinions

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David Runia, Philo in Early Christian Literature [1993 ], p.16:
(2) Harkavy’s theory was even more radical: the Magharian sect to whom, according to Qirqisani, the ‘Alexandrian’ belonged should be identified with the Essenes, who were the sister-community of Philo’s Therapeutae. In about 790, in a remarkable anticipation of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, an Arab found some ancient writings in a cave near Jericho. It is argued that these writings may have given the Karaites access to the thought of Philo.66 The difficulty with this theory, as both Levy and Nikiprowetzky have pointed out, is that the writings found are explicitly described as written in Hebrew letters, and there is not a shred of evidence to support the view that Philo was ever translated into Hebrew in the ancient world.6’ The upshot is, therefore, that even if Philo were the ‘Alexandrian’, we have no idea how the information came to be transmitted. Much more recently Wasserstein has appealed to Poznanski’s theory in an article in which he points out parallels between Philo and Abraham Ibn-Ezra’s Commentury on the Psalms. But the same scholar also points out that in the medieval period there were more contacts between Jewish and Christian thinkers than is often thought, and that Ibn-Ezra may have gained contact with Philonic ideas indirectly via Christian sources.68 The question of the extent of knowledge about Philo and his writings by both Jews and Arabs in the early Islamic period is most intriguing, and it would be highly desirable if more research could be done in this area. One must suspect, however, that more evidence will have to be unearthed before solid results can be reached.69

66. Albert Harkavy («Abū Yūsuf Ya'qūb al Qirqisānī on the Jewish Sects», Transactions of the Imperial Russian Archaeological Society [1894] Vol.8, pp. 247-278; [1984] pp.59-60, further developed by Paul Kahle (1959) pp.16-28. The subject has been taken up recently again by Fossum (1987) 316312, who supports Harkavy’s hypothesis, and tries to strengthen it by suggesting that the figure of the angel-demiurge in Magharian thought is related both to the Philonic Logos doctrine and proto-Gnostic developments. Much earlier Revel (1911-13) had argued for Philonic influence on the Karaite Halachah. The view that the Karaites had knowledge of Philo is also accepted by Chiesa (1984) 28-29 (who states that the path from Philo to Qirqisani cannot be retraced with certainty), and Weinberg (1988) 180 n. 15.
67 Ltvy (1965) 7-17, Nikiprowetzky (1966) 329.
68 Wasserstein (1983-84), esp. 110-l 11.
69 Note also the controversy between Belkin and Werblowsky on whether there is Philonic influence on the Zohar via an ancient Alexandrian Midrashic tradition: cf. Belkin (1957-58) (for which see the summary at R-R Il8), Werblowsky (1959), Finkel (1962). Another medieval Jewish writer who had some knowledge of Philo was Josippon, the adapter of Josephus; cf. the Hebrew edition of Flusser, cited at R-R 298.

, (1894): «Abū Yūsuf Ya'qūb al Qirqisānī on the Jewish Sects», Transactions of the Imperial Russian Archaeological Society 8, pp. 247-278.

Thoth Plato ... tian_Roots
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