The Pauline Abortion as Hermetic/Gnostic Trope

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billd89
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The Pauline Abortion as Hermetic/Gnostic Trope

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Paul - to a proto-Gnostic community, referencing that his individual soul was perfected and redeemed by the Christ:
Paul states in 1 Cor 15:8, "Last of all, as to the abortion*, he [Christ] appeared also to me" (ἔσχατον δὲ πάντων ὡσπερεὶ τῷ ἐκτρώµατι ὤφθη κἀµοί)...

Barnes Notes on The Bible [1837]:
'As of one born out of due time' - Margin, Or, "an abortive." Our translation, to most readers, probably, would not convey the real meaning of this place. The expression, "as of one born out of due time," would seem to imply that Paul meant to say that there was some unfitness "as to the time" when he saw the Lord Jesus; or that it was "too late" to have as clear and satisfactory a view of him as those had who saw him before his ascension. But this is by no means the idea in the passage. The word used here (ἔκτρωμα ektrōma) properly means an abortion, one born prematurely. It is found no where else in the New Testament; and here it means, as the following verse shows, one that was "exceedingly unworthy;" that was not worth regard; that was unfit to be employed in the service of the Lord Jesus; that had the same relation to that which was worthy of the apostolic office which an abortion has to a living child. The word occurs (in the Septuagint) in Job 3:16; Ecclesiastes 6:3, as the translation of נפל nephel, an abortion, or untimely birth. The expression seems to be proverbial, and to denote anything that is vile, offensive, loathsome, unworthy; see Numbers 12:11. The word, I think, has no reference to the mode of "training" of the apostle, as if he had not had the same opportunity as the others had, and was therefore, compared with their advantages, like an untimely child compared with one that had come to maturity before its birth, as Bloomfield supposes; nor does it refer to his diminutive stature, as Wetstein supposes; but it means that he felt himself "vile," guilty, unworthy, abominable as a persecutor, and as unworthy to be an apostle. The verse following shows that this is the sense in which the word is used.

By E.EARLE ELLIS, 'WISDOM’ AND ‘KNOWLEDGE’ IN CORINTHIANS in Tyndale Bulletin 25 (1974) 82-98.
Bultmann [1933] offers the following criteria to justify identifying the Corinthian attitudes as Gnostic: the struggle for speculative wisdom (1 Cor. 1:17ff.), an insistence on gnosis and on the exousia that it gave the possessor (1 Cor. 6:12-18; 8:1-9), pneumatic manifestations, tendencies toward asceticism, a denial of the resurrection. None of these are specifically Gnostic characteristics, and whether they are to be so interpreted in 1 Corinthians depends on other considerations.


Schmithals (Gnosticism in Corinth, Nashville [1956] pp.36-86) conjectures and seeks to establish a pre-Christian Jewish 'Christ gnosticism'.

Also see Neil Godfrey's insightful & lengthy blog posts on Gnosticism in Corinth (which was conceived c.1949, supervised by Bultmann).

On Paul's self-designation, see GRS Mead, Did Jesus Live 100 B.C.? [1903], p.355
In the mystic cosmogony of these Gnostic circles,'the abortion' was the crude matter cast out of the Pleroma or world of perfection. This crude and chaotic matter was in the cosmogonical process shaped into a perfect 'aeon' by the World-Christ; that is to say, was made into a world-system by the ordering or cosmic power of the Logos. 'The abortion' was the unshaped and unordered chaotic matter which had to be separated out, ordered and perfected, in the macrocosmic task of the 'enformation according to substance,' while this again was to be completed on the soteriological side by the microcosmic process of the 'enformation according to gnosis' or spiritual consciousness. As the world-soul was perfected by the World-Christ, so was the individual soul to be perfected and redeemed by the individual Christ.

On the Logos ordering the Abortion, there is an interesting parallel in the Judeo-Hermetica. See B. Copenhaver's translation of the Poimandres, where the seer of this apocalypse beholds the primordial Abortion. As for God, the Hermetic binitarian (Father-Son/Nous-Logos) seems older than the Christian trinitarian (Father-Son-Spirit) formulation. Rather than just a simpler alternative, the Hermetic philosophy is older if not actually the precedent. With a hint of Ophitism even?
CH 1.4-6:
[4]...in seeing the vision I came to love it. After a little while, darkness arose separately and descended - fearful and gloomy - coiling sinuously so that it looked to me like a (snake). Then the darkness changed into something of a watery nature, indescribably agitated and smoking like a fire; it produced an unspeakable wailing roar. Then an inarticulate cry like the voice of fire came forth from it. [5] But from the Light... a holy Word mounted upon the (watery) Nature, and untempered Fire leapt up from the watery nature to the height above. The Fire was nimble and piercing and active as well, and because the air was light it followed after Spirit and rose up to the Fire away from Earth and water so that it seemed suspended from the fire. Earth and Water stayed behind, mixed with one another, so that (earth) could not be distinguished from water, but they were stirred to hear by the spiritual Word that moved upon them.
[6] Poimandres said to me, "Have you understood what this vision means? ...I am the lLght you saw, Mind, your god," he said, "who existed before the watery nature that appeared out of darkness. The light-giving Word who comes from Mind is the son of god {i.e. Logos is Son of God}. ... This is what you must know: that in you which sees and hears is the Word of the lord {Logos}, but your mind is god the Father {The One, Most High, etc.}; they are not divided from one another for their union is Life."

Re: Ialdabaoth/Saklas
John Reeves' Jewish Lore in Manichaean Cosmogony: Studies in the Book of Giants Traditions [2016], p.71 evokes Josephus (c.90 AD) on the evolving Sethian Nephilim and Evil Demiurge myths (material +50-100 yrs older.)
This same being also appears in the Kephalaia bearing the name Saklas and is there explicitly identified as an “abortion.” In classical Gnostic tradition, as represented in the Nag Hammadi texts, Sakla(s) is one the designations applied to the demiurge responsible for the creation of the earth and its inhabitants. There, too, this deity or archon is viewed as the product of an aborted birth or as an “abortion." This denigrating appellation was intended to disparage those entities produced disparage those entities produced in turn by the “abortion"; namely, the material, fleshly life upon this earth.

In the Apocryphon of John - only one version of this popular myth, the late Barbelo-Gnostic, Sethian version - the cosmogony is revealed. (Since ApJohn was well-known and cited in Irenaeus' Adversus Haereses c.185 AD, the myth must have been at least 1 generation before, c.140 AD). As the story goes: Wisdom's Error, begetting without consent, leads to the Abortion of this reality. (Melchizedek, Cain and Seth are subsumed in this late version: we may reasonable presume those had been independent 3-4 generations or +120 yrs earlier.) The Abortion trope seems to be one of primary and oldest features of this myth - a popular, heterodox, pre-Xtian, (proto-)Gnostic idea. In Judaism, the origin seems be the much older Nephilim myths alluded to by Josephus (c.90 AD): Enochic origins c.175 BC?

Here's a 2011 video talk by Birger Pearson on ApJohn.

Of conceptual thought (Epinoia), began to think for herself ...She intended to reveal an image from herself, to do so without the consent of the Spirit, who did not approve, without the thoughtful assistance of her masculine counterpart, who did not approve. Without the Invisible Spirit’s consent, without the knowledge of her partner, she brought it into being.

Something imperfect came out of her, different in appearance from her. Because she had created it without her masculine counterpart, she gave rise to a misshapen being unlike herself. Sophia saw what her desire produced. It changed into the form of a dragon with a lion’s head and eyes flashing lightning bolts. She cast him far from her, outside of the realm of the immortal beings so that they could not see him. [She had created him in ignorance.]... She named him Yaldabaoth.

Yaldabaoth is the chief ruler. ...

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