I shifted to a focus on later Christianity looking at Arianism and Pelagianism recently. What I find interesting about the debate over these doctrines is the possibility of an Eastern preference for Arianism and a Western preference for Athanasius.
I also see a parallel between Arian-Pelagianism, the importance of free will in Christian theology, which Augustine retracted, and the catholicization process which used free will in particular as an argument against the Gnostics. It makes me ask the question: could the anti-Gnostic pressure have come from the East, with Gnosticism being a Western doctrine? This speaks more to Christian origins.
It's a complicated question since, prior to catholicization and the adoption of the Tetraevangelion in Syria, the East was considered to be notably "Marcionite". However, this is from a third century reckoning, from sources who may be unfamiliar with actual beliefs, and we would struggle to interpret what Marcionism even means at that point.
One plausible interpretation comes from the idea that catholicism is a synthesis of Gnostic and Marcionite beliefs, which originally stood in contrast to each other. In the process of arguing against each other, a catholic synthetic consensus emerged which merges Gnostic and Marcionite elements, shedding elements from both sides as well. This leaves post-catholic Marcionism, ironically, more open to Gnostic ideas. This is because the anti-Gnostic elements of Marcionism are now integrated into a catholic mold which itself contains anti-Marcionite elements. In counter-reaction to catholicism, Marcionism begins to embrace Gnostic elements in the third century.
This is very interesting because it means we would not be able to locate the catholic orthodox Christian religion of the third century in its predecessors. Since it would not be a product of evolution, but rather of synthesis.
The above point is extremely significant. When Iranaeus is arguing against Marcionites and Valentinians in France, we are led to believe they have similarities to each other. We would never be able to perceive that Marcionism and Valentinianism are diametrically opposed, and Iranaeus's catholicism is a synthesis built out of employing both side's critique of the other, because our reference point is catholicism.
We do have evidence of Western Gnosticism. Alexandria and Rome are centers. As mentioned, Marcionism is attributed as an Eastern school. Of course, there is a belief that later Eastern sects were Gnostic, but this could be a misinterpretation. Again, we lack clarity on the difference between these schools.
What we know from the Arian controversy is that Marcionism might have favored free will where Gnosticism rejected it. There's a deterministic Platonism to Gnosticism, where no man has any ability to raise himself up, except through knowledge given to him. This knowledge all descends from God, but is given downward. Unless a teacher or master is there to give you their piece of Gnosis, you would not be able to ascend.
On the other hand free will is a doctrine heavily associated with Persian religion and the East. Dualistic morality and moral accountability. Can we get a fix on some locus that would serve as a basis for the one general ideology over the other? Rather than try to genealogically trace the specific origins of Christianity?
These are the main ideological factions I've identified in 1st century Judea, in terms of their political/factional affiliation:
- House of Annas - vaguely universalist, tolerant, possibly affiliated with Alexandria and Cyrene.
- House of Boethus - I consider this locus to be from the House of Onias and to be associated with Simon Magus and later Simonianism.
- Philo's Family
- Adiabene - The Babylonian Jews
Herod Agrippa seems to have aligned with both the Boethusians and Adiabene.
By the Jewish War, Martha Boethus was married into the Ananian faction. The Babylonian Jews seemed to be aligned with Agrippa II, but their relationship to the provisional government is unclear. One assumes that the death of James would have alienated the Babylonian Jews from the House of Annas.
In terms of religious ideology, Boethusians clearly could be a source of early Gnostic doctrines, having developed them in Egypt under its Middle Platonic environment. There is also room for the Ananians to be favorable to this style of thought, although one expects a less mystical, more academic and secular approach from them.
Adiabene might have once flirted with the Gnostic Judaism, but might later have drifted.
The actual situation of the Samaritans and Greater Israel in the Mesopotamian Valley is very unclear. This is why I don't bother talking about the Essenes. I'd rather know what the Samaritans believed and why, for instance. There are political and geocultural reasons for differing beliefs, in my opinion.
I have particular affinity for a notion that among Samaritan/Babylonian Jewish culture there was a "lost" Eastern "Jewish Christianity" which might be what the Elchasites believed in. This later merges with the early version of Marcionism by the end of the second century, with backwash into the Roman Empire. So, Elchasitism becomes Marcionism in the late second century, in Rome. Something to that effect.
What also did the Herodians favor, given their proximity to the Imperial Court at times? This affects which versions of Christianity were present in Rome itself.
Finally, the strongest historical locus for early Christianity - Jamesianism - what was it? Was it Gnostic post-proto-Simonian Samaritanism? Was it Babylonian eschatology? Was there a "Pauline" contrast to it as early as the first century (think, Philonic/Hillelite Judaism)?
Let's start with the premise that it took the three Jewish wars to firmly refine and clear out these various sects and doctrines. Some beliefs didn't survive the three conflicts in any form in any sect. Some beliefs were invented specifically in reaction to these wars. So, let's not ask what Jamesianism believed, let's ask what the legacy sects of these various locii were thinking after 135.
I think Gnosticism and early Marcionism, along with very early rabbinical Judaism are the products of the shaping pressures of those wars, broadly speaking. The popularity of the gospel texts comes from a need for an anchor. You have a synthesis of ideas from multiple sects - free will from Babylon, messianic eschatology from Jamesianism - now part of a set of mixed beliefs in newly emergent sects. The gospel texts exist to serve these new syntheses.
With that in mind, we can look finally at Gnosticism. One of its earlier schools was that of Basilides. His knowledge allegedly comes from a "Glaucus" whom I interpret as a generic title for "physician" and has sectarian meaning similar to Andreas and Lukuas. If we accept this as a synthesis, we can see some elements of Simonian "Egyptian Magic" with Cyrenian/Asclepian cult concepts, within Alexandrian Middle Platonism.
The other teacher of Basilides was "Menander" taught by Simon Magus "in Rome."
So forgive me for another "psychedelic trip" but there's a previous line of investigation I've followed concerning the "House of Menander" at Pompeii, which is associated with the family of Poppaeus Sabinus. For a host of reasons, I have speculated that Sabinus is one and the same as the Roman official in Josephus who runs off with Jerusalem's treasury after the death of Herod. For other reasons, I think he might be the famous "honest tax collector" of biblical and historical fame. I have interpreted these Poppaeans as some sort of agents of Jewish interest. Probably the Alexandrians of Philo's family.
The implication of this, using the locii previously identified, is that the Boethusians suffered a schism from the Babylonian Jews.
Let us imagine that the Boethusian influence was strongest during their exile in Eastern Galilee, where their sect began to spread among the Samaritans. In contrast, Herod Antipas hosts the Pharisees. Thus in the 20s and 30s, the primary political and religious schism is between Antipas and his Pharisees, with the spread of Simonian beliefs in Eastern Galilee and Samaria. This includes the idea that Antipas's brother, mainly Philip, having affinity for the sect. This aligns with Samaritan awakenings, the conflict with the Nabateans, the locus of Bathyra of the Babylonian Jews giving a Simonian influence on their beliefs. It explains the division in Judea in the 30s.
In other words, Jamesianism's messianism is interpreted through basic Simonian doctrines, however, it abandons proto-Simonianism in order to go in more Babylonian direction.
I have reconstructed a conflict between the Boethusians with Agrippa and the Babylonian Jews, against the Ananians, Romans and the family of Philo. In the 40s. The former party was defeated.
Therefore, this series of events in the 40s leads to the Boethusians changing affiliation as a result of their defeat. Here the Babylonian Jews abandon proto-Simonianism and create their own sect, sponsored by Helena of Adiabene.
Secondly, the Samaritans are left to continue Simonianism themselves, leading to its identification as a Samaritan sect, and Magus as a Samaritan.
Finally, the Boethusian grand master is removed from Judea to Rome to be under the care of the Alexandrians' allies, the Poppaens.
Thus, in Pompeii, in the House of Menander is the successor to proto-Simonianism continuing the cult, now under the watchful eye and careful synthesis of an Alexandrian Jewish handler.
This is why Basilides identifies his teacher as Menander.
In any event, the conclusion is that after 45 AD, the household of Poppaeus becomes a center of proto-Gnostic teaching, where Judeo-Egyptian mysticism is combined with Judeo-Hellenic philosophy. This should be seen as distinct from Simonianism, which was continued separately by the Samaritans, Jamesian Christianity which the Babylonian Jews continued, and Philo's philosophy which did not originally include as many Hermetic elements. We might also understand that proto-hermeticism influenced the ideology of the Boethusians as a separate descendant branch from what we know as Hermeticism. I would almost say Hermeticism is the Syrian version of some Egyptian thing, and Boethusian proto-Simonianism is the Jewish variant of that Egyptian thing.
Finally, the core teachings from the House of Menander can cross pollinate as they are reintroduced to Egypt, regrafted into the original proto-hermetic ideas and mixed with any number of other teachings.