From Gnosticism and Greek Magic to the (Chrestian) New Testament
Abraxas: a redeemed archon with the head of a rooster, the body of a man, and legs like snakes.
"Jesus, -- that is Aberamentho, -- said..." - The Pistis Sophia. Aberamentho: the mystery name of IS/Jesus.
The rooster is an Egyptian symbol of the morning sun.
[As I detest theology and magic - I've tried to avoid learning anything of superstition - I am the last person who should be attempting this subject, but as nobody else offered, here goes.]
What I'm trying to do is find the archaeology linking Chrestianity in the early-first century with the textual tradition appearing in manuscripts of the 3rd century (and which became the New Testament in the fourth). There are two cultural streams, one starting with Saul (the Herodian thug described by Jospehus) and becoming Marcionism, and another starting with Bardaisan as Source Q, to become the canonical gospels.
The geographical landscape is northern Syria and Alexandria, Egypt. The cultural landscape is colonial Greek (which includes people from various ethnic backgrounds, but choosing to live by Greek cultural norms (in a Greco-Roman world ruled by imperial Rome). The two spices added to this melting pot are the Iranian, Zoroastrian influences (dualities), because the Levant had often and for long periods lived under Iranian rule, and those of Greco-India, which kept in contact with the Levant along the Silk Road and sea trade through the Gulf.
|Mithras as hunter; Mithraeum, Dura Europos. Mithras in Perso-Palmyrene attire, his weapons are typically Sassanian.|
|Scenes from the Book of Esther from the Dura-Europos synagogue, 244 CE. Some of the paintings have figures whose eyes have been scratched out, especially those in Iranian costume. (See the figure on the white horse in the picture at right.)|
Let us set the few ground rules here:
We see here how the Chrestian textual tradition contains much gnostic thought.
- There is no Christianity in this period; this I demonstrated years ago and in all my repetitions since, nobody has shown otherwise.
- A new religion appears in the first century of the modern era and its divine man is explicitly given the title Chrest; his first name is never spelled out, but abbreviated, usually as IS. This religion is therefore termed properly Chrestianity.
- The gospel stories are not historical, of Judea in the first century; they are literary and comparison of them to historical accounts shows conclusively that they parody these people and the events with which they are associated.
- The New Testament is not a product of observant, messianic Jews, or Judaism, but are principally Greek and eventually imperial.
We see here how the Chrestian textual tradition contains much gnostic thought.
...gnosticism as a unique and recognizable belief system is considered to be a second century (or later) development.[To this end Paul Trebilco cites the following in his article "Christian Communities In Western Asia Minor Into The Early Second Century: Ignatius And Others As Witnesses Against Bauer" in JETS 49.1: E.M. Yamauchi, “Gnosticism and Early Christianity,” in W. E. Helleman, ed. (1994). Hellenization Revisited: Shaping a Christian Response Within the Greco-Roman World. University Press of America. p. 38. ; Karen L. King (2003). What is Gnosticism?. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 175.; C. Markschies (2003). Gnosis: An Introduction. London: T&T Clark. pp. 67–69.; cf. H. Koester (1982). Introduction to the New Testament, Vol 2: History and Literature of Early Christianity. Walter de Gruyter. p. 286.; For discussions of “Gnosticism” see Yamauchi, “Gnosticism” 29–61; M. A. Williams (1996). Rethinking "Gnosticism": An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category. Princeton University Press.; Gerd Theissen (1999). A Theory of Primitive Christian Religion. London: SCM Press. pp. 231–39..] (Emphasis mine.)Prior analysis used the name Jesus, but this name does not appear explicitly.
Jesus is identified by some Gnostics as an embodiment of the supreme being who became incarnate to bring gnōsis to the earth ["An Introduction to Gnosticism and The Nag Hammadi Library". The Gnostic Society Library. Retrieved 2009-12-02.]
Typically, Gnostic systems are loosely described as being "dualistic" in nature, meaning that they have the view that the world consists of or is explicable as two fundamental entities.
... they run the gamut from the "radical dualist" systems of Manicheanism to the "mitigated dualism" of classic gnostic movements... (Emphasis mine.)
(Gnosticism: Dualism and monism)
|Chrestos in opening of Mani epistle; site of ancient Kellis, modern-day Ismant el-Kharab, Egypt|
The Fundamental Epistle, or Epistle of Foundation...was one of the sacred writings of the Manichaean religion, written by the founder Mani (c. 210–276 CE), originally in Syriac. Since none of the original Syriac writings of Manichaeism remain, we only have translations of small sections of this book, made by either Manichaeans or anti-Manichaeans. (Emphasis mine.)As we see, supra, this Epistle does not mention Jesus Christ, or any Jesus; all the translations are at fault. Mani and Manichaeism are not contemporaneous with Christianity, but Chrestianity; its original language was Syriac, not Greek, Latin, or Iranian.
The age of the Gnostics was highly diverse; they seem to have originated in Alexandria and coexisted with the early Christians until the 4th century AD, and because there was as yet no fixed church authority, syncretism with pre-existing belief systems as well as new religions were often embraced.Second and third centuries - the same time as the textual tradition for the New Testament begins. My suggestion for Source Q:
The movement spread in areas controlled by the Roman Empire and Arian Goths, and the Persian Empire; it continued to develop in the Mediterranean and Middle East before and during the 2nd and 3rd centuries. (Emphasis mine.)
Bardaisan...was an Assyrian born on 11 July 154, in Edessa, which, in those days, was alternately under the influence of the Roman and the Parthian Empire.His seminal role in fathering Manichaeism:
...when Abgar IX, the friend of his youth, ascended the throne (179) he took his place at court. He was clearly no ascetic, but dressed in finery "with berylls and caftan", according to Ephrem the Syrian.
According to tradition, during his youth he shared the education of a royal prince who afterwards became King of Edessa, perhaps Abgar X bar Manu (ruled Osroene 202-217).
Perhaps owing to the persecutions under Caracalla, Bardaisan for a time retreated into Armenia...
As a gnostic, he certainly denied the resurrection of the body...
Porphyry states that on one occasion at Edessa, Bardaisan interviewed an Indian deputation of holy men (designated as Σαρμαναίοι, Sramanas) who had been sent to the Roman emperor Elagabalus or another Severan dynasty Roman Emperor, and questioned them as to the nature of Indian religion. The encounter is described in Porphyry De abstin., iv, 17  and Stobaeus (Eccles., iii, 56, 141)
The followers of Bardaisan of Mesopotamia (the Bardaisanites) were a sect of the 2nd century...
He is the creator of an offshoot of Mesopotamian religion named after his name, which formed the basis of the teachings of the gnostic Mani and later of the gnostic Batini and Ismaili sub-sects of Shia.[Patricia Crone (28 June 2012). The Nativist Prophets of Early Islamic Iran: Rural Revolt and Local Zoroastrianism. Cambridge University Press. pp. 546–220.] (My emphasis.)
Mani began preaching at an early age and was possibly influenced by contemporary Babylonian-Aramaic movements such as Mandaeanism, and Aramaic translations of Jewish apocalyptic writings similar to those found at Qumran (such as the book of Enoch literature), and by the Syriac dualist-gnostic writer Bardaisan (who lived a generation before Mani).Mani rejected the theology of the baptising cult in which he was raised; he escaped their attack only by the help of his father; he is not Jewish and his Chrest is not a Jewish product, but culturally-Greek. Bardaisan is Arab, not Jewish in any way. Mani, his father and Bardaisan share much and it is not Judaism.
|Hellenistic culture in the Indian subcontinent: Greek clothes, amphoras, wine and music (Detail of Chakhil-i-Ghoundi stupa, Hadda, Gandhara, 1st century CE).|
The idea that Gnosticism was derived from Buddhism was first proposed by the Victorian gem collector and numismatist Charles William King (1864), but is generally rejected in scholarship.[Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Clare Goodrick-Clarke G. R. S. Mead and the Gnostic Quest 2005 p8 "The idea that Gnosticism was derived from Buddhism was first postulated by Charles William King in his classic work, The Gnostics and their Remains (1864). He was one of the earliest and most emphatic scholars to propose the Gnostic debt to Buddhist thought."] Mansel (1875)[H. L. Mansel, Gnostic Heresies of the First and Second Centuries (1875); p.32] considered the principal sources of Gnosticism to be Platonism, Zoroastrianism, and Buddhism.[International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: E-J p490 ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley — 1982 "Mansel ... summed up the principal sources of Gnosticism in these three: Platonism, the Persian religion, and the Buddhism of India."] However, the influence of Buddhism in any sense on either the gnostikos Valentinus (c. 170) or the Nag Hammadi texts (3rd century) is not supported by modern scholarship, but in the latter case is considered quite possible by Elaine Pagels (1979),[Pagels, Elaine (1979, repr. 1989). The Gnostic Gospels, p. xxi. New York: Random House.] who called for Buddhist scholars to try to find parallels.[The Eastern Buddhist Society (1981) "This paper is an initial attempt to follow up Pagels' call for a comparative study of the Nag Hammadi tractates and Indian sources,6 by considering some of the similarities in theory and practice present in certain Nag Hammadi texts, in certain Buddhist wisdom scriptures, and in the works of two second to third century CE Mahayana Buddhist philosophers, Nagarjuna and Aryadeva."]
Athena in the art of Gandhara
Also in the 3rd century the Syrian writer and Christian Gnostic theologian Bar Daisan (154–222) described his exchanges with the religious missions of holy men from India passing through Syria on their way to Elagabalus or another Severan dynasty Roman Emperor. His accounts were quoted by Porphyry (On Abstinence 4:17) and Stobaeus (Eccles., iii, 56, 141) (Emphasis mine.)
|One of the first representations of the Buddha, 1st-2nd century CE, Gandhara, Pakistan: Standing Buddha (Tokyo National Museum).|
Under the Indo-Greeks and then the Kushans, the interaction of Greek and Buddhist culture flourished in the area of Gandhara, in today’s northern Pakistan, before spreading further into India, influencing the art of Mathura, and then the Hindu art of the Gupta empire, which was to extend to the rest of South-East Asia. The influence of Greco-Buddhist art also spread northward towards Central Asia, strongly affecting the art of the Tarim Basin, and ultimately the arts of China, Korea, and Japan.
As Buddha first appears (he would have been resurrected, in stone, much as a pillar of the Church) as Greek and in the first-second century, he probably pre-dates the first appearance of IS Chrest.
Ancient Greek philosophy
...some scholars prefer to speak of "gnosis" when referring to 1st-century ideas that later developed into gnosticism and to reserve the term "gnosticism" for the synthesis of these ideas into a coherent movement in the 2nd century.[R. McL. Wilson, "Nag Hammadi and the New Testament", New Testament Studies, vol. 28, (1982), 292.] Probable influences include Plato, Middle Platonism and Neo-Pythagoreanism academies or schools of thought... (Emphasis mine.)In this period, what is today termed Greek philosophy is actually the study and practise of Greek Magic; philosophers have become magicians. This begins with Neopythagoreanisn and later, Neoplatonism.
- Keith Thomas: "Spiritual magic or theurgy was based on the idea that one could reach God in an ascent up the scale of creation made possible by a rigorous course of prayer, fasting and devotional preparation."
- Anne Sheppard: "Theurgy, the religious magic practised by the later Neoplatonists, has been commonly regarded as the point at which Neoplatonism degenerates into magic, superstition and irrationalism. A superficial glance at the ancient lives of the Neoplatonists, and in particular at Eunapius' Lives of the Sophists, reveals a group of people interested in animating statues, favoured with visions of gods and demons, and skilled in rain-making"
- Pierre A. Riffard: "Theurgy is a type of magic. It consists of a set of magical practices performed to evoke beneficent spirits in order to see them or know them or in order to influence them, for instance by forcing them to animate a statue, to inhabit a human being (such as a medium), or to disclose mysteries." (Theurgy)
|Chrestos being invoked in PGM-IV 1227-64. Greek Magical Papyri|
Philosophical relations with Neoplatonism
Now we come to the textual tradition of Thomas, which appears to have originated in Syria, probably Edessa:
Gnostics borrow a great deal of ideas and terms from Platonism. They exhibit a keen understanding of Greek philosophical terms and the Greek Koine language in general, and use Greek philosophical concepts throughout their text, including such concepts as hypostasis (reality, existence), ousia (essence, substance, being), and demiurge (creator God). Good examples include texts such as the Hypostasis of the Archons (Reality of the Rulers) or Trimorphic Protennoia (The first thought in three forms).
Raising Lazarus using a magic wand. Catacombe de Via Anapo, Rome
At its core, Gnosticism formed a speculative interest in the relationship of the oneness of God to the ‘triplicity’ of his manifestations. It seems to have taken Neoplatonic metaphysics of substance and hypostases [“being”] as a departure point for interpreting the relationship of the “Father” to the “Son”[A new theological vocabulary capable of explaining this doctrine was created [e.g. homoousios=same essence]. (Emphasis mine.)
The Gospel According to Thomas, (or the Gospel of Thomas), is an early Christian non-canonical sayings-gospel that many scholars believe provides insight into the oral gospel traditions. It was discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in December 1945 among a group of books known as the Nag Hammadi library. The library consists of fifty-two writings that include an excerpt from Plato's Republic and gospels which state that they were written by Jesus' disciple Philip.There is no reliable dating of these, though generally they are considered early.
The Coptic-language text, the second of seven contained in what modern-day scholars have designated as Codex II, is composed of 114 sayings attributed to Jesus. Almost half of these sayings resemble those found in the Canonical Gospels, while it is speculated that the other sayings were added from Gnostic tradition. Its place of origin may have been Syria, where Thomasine traditions were strong.
The introduction states: "These are the hidden words that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas wrote them down." Didymus (Greek) and Thomas (Aramaic) both mean "twin". Some critical scholars suspect that this reference to the Apostle Thomas is false, and that therefore the true author is unknown.
It is possible that the document originated within a school of early Christians, possibly proto-Gnostics. Some critics further state that even the description of Thomas as a "gnostic" gospel is based upon little other than the fact that it was found along with gnostic texts at Nag Hammadi. The name of Thomas was also attached to the Book of Thomas the Contender, which was also in Nag Hammadi Codex II, and the Acts of Thomas.
2. Modern-day scholars have numbered the sayings and even parts of the sayings, but the text contains no numbering.
3. Lost Scriptures: Books that did not make it into the New Testament by Bart Ehrman, pp. 19-20
4. Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible by James D. G. Dunn, John William Rogerson, 2003, ISBN 0-8028-3711-5 page 1574
5. The Fifth Gospel, Patterson, Robinson, Bethge, 1998
6. April D. DeConick 2006 The Original Gospel of Thomas in Translation ISBN 0-567-04382-7 page 2
7. Layton, Bentley, The Gnostic Scriptures, 1987, p.361.
8. Davies, Stevan L., The Gospel of Thomas and Christian Wisdom, 1983, pp. 23–24.
(Gospel of Thomas)
Thomas was probably not reliant upon the canonical gospels and probably predated them.[Correlation Analysis] Several authors argue that when the logia in Thomas do have parallels in the synoptics, the version in Thomas often seems closer to the source.These characteristics are the same as the Dura fragment, in that content in both appear in the New Testament. The fragment is certainly at least as old as the early-second century and as per the above observation, Thomas "probably predated" the canonical gospels. Simply put, the canonical gospels post-date the Thomas tradition in Edessa and thus they originate with either Bardaisan, or his School.
This supports my history, which states clearly that the synoptics do not offer a history of Judea in the first century, but are imperial concoctions based on Arab tradition in Edessa.
The ancient Nag Hammadi Library, discovered in Egypt in the 1940s, revealed how varied this movement was...The find included the hotly debated Gospel of Thomas, which parallels some of Jesus’ sayings in the Synoptic Gospels. (Emphasis mine.)
|Start of the Nag Hammadi Gospel of Thomas: IS the Chrest|
|The Gospel of Thomas found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt: "IS" is the divine man.|
The fact that Judas "the Twin" was the apostolic figure particularly revered in Syriac-speaking churches is important evidence for the date and place of composition of the text. For as Koester (in Layton 1989: 39) has shown, Gos. Thom.'s identification of this author as Jesus' brother Judas does not presuppose a knowledge of the NT, but "rests upon an independent tradition." In addition, the peculiar, redundant name Didymus Judas Thomas seems to be attested only in the East, where the shadowy disciple named Thomas (Mark 3:18 par.; John 14:5) or Thomas Didymus (John 11:16; 20:24; 21:2) was identified with Judas in the Syriac NT and called Judas Thomas (John 14:22). The occurrence of variants of this distinctive name in the Acts of Thomas is especially striking, not only because the latter evidently shows acquaintance with Gos. Thom. 2, 13, 22, and 52, but also because it is widely held that the Acts of Thomas was composed in Syriac in the early 3d century. Other documents that invoke the authority of Judas Thomas by name are also of Syriac origin, such as the Teaching of Addai, the Abgar legend (Eus. Histl. Eccl. 1.13.1-22), and the Book of Thomas the Contender (NHC II, 7).Such divine twins are a recurrent theme in mythology:
Accordingly, the naming of Judas Thomas as the ostensible author of Gos. Thom. serves to locate the likely composition of the text in a bilingual environment in E. Syria.
(Ron Cameron argues for the independence of Thomas (op. cit., p. 537), The Gospel of Thomas)
|"Thracian horseman" relief with Latin inscription at Philippi.|
The Divine twins are a mytheme of Proto-Indo-European mythology. Examples include the:How and why Edessa/Syriac had such an interest is a topic for another day; meanwhile, I will say that I think this may relate to The Thracian Horseman:
- Greek Dioscuri
- Vedic Ashvins
- Hindu Nara-Narayana
- Lithuanian Ašvieniai
- Latvian Dieva dēli
- Sicilian Palici
- Germanic deities Alcis
- Italian Romulus and Remus
Similar themesOne recurring element in the divine twin theme is that, while identical, one is divine and the other is human. This points to other characters which partially reflect the mytheme, such as:
- Anglo-Saxon Hengest and Horsa
- Krishna and Arjuna, as Nara-Narayana - a dual incarnation of Vishnu, while not twins but cousins, many of the elements are present
- Achilles and Patroclus - not twins
- First Man and Son of Man, in the Naassene gnosticism.
- Purusha, the cosmic man - very similar to the gnostic First Man, is a primeval giant that is sacrificed by the gods and from whose body the world is built. He is described as having a thousand heads and a thousand feet. He emanated Viraj, the female creative principle, from which he is reborn in turn after the world was made out of his parts. Purusha was dismembered by the devas—his mind is the Moon, his eyes are the Sun, and his breath is the wind. This reminds of the dismemberment mythos, for example that of Like Viraj-Shakti to Purusha, so does Isis recompose the body of Osiris in order to have his offspring, Horus, who then is Osiris' twin.
More "rider god" steles are at the Burdur Museum, in Turkey. Under the Roman Emperor Gordian III the god on horseback appears on coins minted at Tlos, in neighboring Lycia, and at Istrus, in the province of Lower Moesia, between Thrace and the Danube. It is generally thought that the young emperor's grandfather came from an Anatolian family, because of his unusual cognomen, Gordianus. The iconic image of the god or hero on horseback battling the chthonic serpent, on which his horse tramples, appears on Celtic votive columns, and with the coming of Christianity it was easily transformed into the image of Saint George and the Dragon, whose earliest known depictions are from tenth- and eleventh-century Cappadocia and eleventh-century Georgia and Armenia.Resurrection, as noted above, is an Egyptian theme, which the Ptolemies made their own, coming to a head with their last, Cleopatra VII. This heralds the birth of IS Chrest and Chrestianity; it is now colonial Greek, as is the culture of Edessa in the early-modern era.
(Sabazios: God on horseback)
|Inscription commemorating the suppression of the Jewish War. Trajanic Baths, Cyrene (Libya). Photo Marco Prins|
Tiberius Julius Alexander (fl. 1st century) was an equestrian governor and general in the Roman Empire. Born into a wealthy Jewish family of Alexandria but abandoning or neglecting the Jewish religion, he rose to become procurator of Judea (c. 46 – 48) under Claudius. While Prefect of Egypt (66 – 69), he employed his legions against the Alexandrian Jews in a brutal response to ethnic violence, and was instrumental in the Emperor Vespasian's rise to power. In 70, he participated in the Siege of Jerusalem as Titus' second-in-command.In his regard, we must note how his brother, Marcus Julius Alexander, traded with India (the Petrie Ostraca, mentions his activities at Myos Hormos and Berenice Troglodytica, ports located in the Red Sea between 37-44).
It is through such Chrestians that we see Gnosticism in Egypt, especially after their destruction of Judea, made complete by Hadrian.
Gnostic rejection of Judaism
Modern research (Cohen 1988) identifies Judaism, rather than Persia, as a major origin of Gnosticism. Many of the Nag Hammadi texts make reference to Judaism, in some cases with a violent rejection of the Jewish God.[20th Century Jewish Religious Thought Arthur A. Cohen, Paul Mendes-Flohr, Arthur Allen Cohen 1988 republished 2010 – Page 286 "Recent research, however, has tended to emphasize that Judaism, rather than Persia, was a major origin of Gnosticism. Indeed, it appears increasingly evident that many of the newly published Gnostic texts were written in a context from which Jews were not absent. In some cases, indeed, a violent rejection of the Jewish God, or of Judaism, seems to stand at the basis of these texts. ... facie, various trends in Jewish thought and literature of the Second Commonwealth appear to have been potential factors in Gnostic origins.] Gershom Scholem once described Gnosticism as "the Greatest case of metaphysical anti-Semitism".[Gager, John G. (1985-02-14). The origins of anti-semitism: attitudes toward Judaism in pagan and Christian antiquity. Oxford University Press. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-19-503607-7.] Professor Steven Bayme said gnosticism would be better characterized as anti-Judaism.[Understanding Jewish History: Texts and Commentaries by Steven Bayme Publisher: Ktav Publishing House] (Emphasis mine.)
|Artefacts from Tell Yahoodieh, Egypt|
When Christianity appears, Classical Antiquity is forgotten, especially the history of Judea in the first century, replaced by the unrecognised parody of the New Testament. Surviving Jews are lumped together and often treated as enemy, with forced conversion and legal; restrictions. The various strands of the modern era are classed as heretical.
The historical roots of Gnosticism can be found deeply embedded across cultures of a wide region, from the duality of Zoroastrianism (day and night, light and dark, good and evil, two spirits), onwards into Egypt, Judea (Iranian dualism has been identified in the Dead Sea Scrolls) and Syria (all ruled at various times by Iran), and in the modern era, it emerged from the Hellenistic and specifically Ptolemaic intelligentsia. If we still could access the archives of the Royal Library of Alexandria, no doubt we would find an interesting history for both Greek Magic and Gnosticism.