Apocryphote of the Day: 3-5-09

The Father reveals his bosom. His bosom is the Holy Spirit. He reveals through it what is hidden. What is hidden through it is his Son. So through the mercies of the Father, the aeons may know him and cease laboring in search of the Father, resting there in him, knowing that this is rest.

Gospel of Truth 24.10-20 (early Valentinian sermon)

Commentary: This passage is commenting on John 1:18 : "No one has ever seen God. The only-begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father has brought forth that one." Irenaeus says in Adv. Haer. 3.11.9 that the Gospel of Truth was written by the Valentinians who had more gospels than Irenaeus' church did, and at his time was a "comparatively recent" composition. Since he is writing between 180 and 190 CE, this would place the text's composition early to mid-second century at a time when Valentinus was still alive and teaching and writing. Pseudo-Tertullian reports that Valentinus had "a gospel of his own" (Adv. Haer. 4). Since the style of the Gospel of Truth reflects the style of the fragments of writing attributed to Valentinus, I am of the opinion that this Gospel was likely written by him as well and used as part of their catechism.

In the case of exegesis, note how the Prologue of John is understood to refer to the creation of the Godhead itself - the Pleroma - that the Son is hidden in God's bosom, the Holy Spirit, and is revealed to the aeons by the Holy Spirit. The revelation of the Son is the revelation of the Father, so the aeons can rest peacefully rather than continuing to be disturbed by Sophia's aborted attempt to know the unknown God.

And so our thinking about the Gospel of John continues.

New article on Valentinian sex

An article that I wrote several years ago has finally been published in a new volume on Western Esotericism. The title of the article is "Conceiving Spirits: The Mystery of Valentinian Sex." It is found in Wouter J. Hanegraaff and Jeffrey J. Kripal (eds.), Hidden Intercourse: Eros and Sexuality in the History of Western Esotericism (Leiden: Brill, 2008) pp. 23-48. By the way, this is a Brill hardcover, so it is a library book unless you have $200 to drop on one volume!

I conclude in my contribution to the volume that the Valentinians believed that the end of the world and the entrance into the Pleromic Bridal Chamber would correct what Adam had perpetuated in the beginning, that is the dispersion of the spirit in immature form within the corrupted soul. Since Adam had procreated from his material aspect, he had been acting from carnality, from lust. Therefore the child he bore, Cain, had a soul inclined toward evil, one whose spiritual seed was easily overcome by the presence of powerful demons and passions. The conception of Abel, on the other hand, was believed to have taken place in such a way that he acquired a soul with a spiritual seed which was able to respond positively rather than negatively, to live righteously (as a member of the Christian church) and be redeemed. Seth's soul was endowed with an elect seed because his conception was marked by Adam's spiritual aspect, when he raised his soul to the heights of heaven as he lovingly embraced Eve. This form of lovemaking was considered by the Valentinians to be sacred, and would lead to their own redemption as well as God's.

I argue in this article that the Valentinians were not opposed to eros as long as it was not lust, that they distinguished between lovemaking and hedonism. Although they were opposed to carnality, they were not opposed to sexual pleasure between married partners. For them, sex was understood as a delightful and sacred experience when the souls of the married partners mingled with the heavenly powers, resulting in the conception of a spiritually superior child, one that would be morally-inclined and redeemable, if not elect.

This is a long way away from Augustine's reproach for eros and his notion that sex should ideally be no more than a handshake.

What would our society be like if the Valentinian understanding of sex had become our model, rather than the Augustinian?

Apocryphote of the Day: 10-24-08

Give me your mercy!
O my savior,
save me, for I am yours!
I came from you.
You are my mind.
Bring me forth!
You are my treasury.
Open for me!
You are my fullness.
Take me to you!
You are rest.
Give me what is perfect,
what cannot be grasped!

Prayer of Paul A.3-10 (a Valentinian second century prayer)

Commentary: Now go back and read 2 Corinthians 4:1-18 (in Greek if you are able). I posted a translation of part of this passage yesterday which was correctly identified by Jim Deardorff. What do you make of it now? By the way, I was not thinking about this Valentinian prayer when I posted the entry yesterday. I posted it because it came up in my mysticism seminar since we were discussing Paul and mysticism. Today I thought that we needed a prayer so I decided to pull out this Valentinian text. And wow, as I translated it was I surprised to see 2 Corinthians 4 invoked! These little coincidences always make me wonder...

Film production for Erotic Mysticism Documentary

Yesterday I had the pleasure of interviewing with Zeke Mazur who is going around interviewing scholars and practicioners of mysticism in order to put together a documentary on erotic mysticism. So I got to talk all afternoon to a captivated audience about one of my favorite subjects - the Valentinians and sacred marriage. You can find information about Zeke's film HERE <<<

Zeke, who is a Plotinian graduate student at University of Chicago, also has a personal webpage HERE <<<

Gnosis and sacred marriage is also the subject of one of the chapters I am planning to write for my Sex and the Serpent in Ancient Christianity: Why the Sexual Conflicts of the Early Church Still Matter. By the way, I have now finished two chapters of this book (Chapter 1: Where did the Mother God Go?; Chapter 2: Why was the Spirit Neutered?). I am going to start writing the third chapter this week: Chapter 3: Is Sex a Sin? - all about Jesus and Paul on this subject).

Apocryphote of the Day: 5-14-08

Not only will they be unable to detain the Perfect Man, but they will not be able to see him, for if they see him they will detain him. There is no other way for a person to acquire this quality except by putting on the perfect light and becoming perfect light. Whoever puts on light will enter [the place of rest]. This is perfect [light, and] we [must] become [the Perfect Man] before we leave [the world].

Gospel of Philip 76.23-30 (Valentinian text from late second century)

Commentary: the reference to the "Perfect Man" is technical jargon that doesn't fit into our modern gender inclusive categories. It is a reference to the Genesis story in chapter 1 where God created the first man, male and female. To conform ourselves to this original creation was the goal. The Valentinians called this primordial human, the Perfect Man, and they thought that the Aeon Jesus who descended through the cosmic spheres to earth, was this Perfect Man. His body was a body of light, an idea they picked up from the first couple of verses of Genesis. When God said "Let there be light." The word for light in Greek translation (which they were reading) means both light and man (although the accent is different). Because of this special invisible body, the Archons could not detain him when he descended or ascended. The Valentinians reasoned that we need resurrected bodies like his. So the thought was that this could be achieved through the sacraments, including here a reference to anointing ("light" is associated with anointing), the eucharist (when they ate his body and it worked internally to change them - think, you are what you eat), and marriage (when Eve reenters Adam).

Apocryphote of the Day: 3-31-08

The Father is [the root] of everything, the [Ineffable One] who dwells in the Monad. [He dwells alone] in Silence, [and Silence is] tranquility since, after all, [he was] a Monad and no one [was] before him. He dwells [in the Dyad] and in the Pair, and his Pair is Silence. And he possessed everything dwelling within him. And as for Intention and Persistence, Love and Permanence, they are indeed unbegotten. God came forth: the Son, Mind of everything, that is, it is from the Root of the All that even his Thought stems, since he had this One in Mind.

A Valentinian Exposition 22.20-36

Comment: Another passage to consider in our discussion of modalism and trinitarianism. How might we describe the Valentinian position in relation to other second century attempts to frame the trinitarian problem?

Teaching Valentinianism

Tony has a nice post on the joys and frustrations of teaching Valentinianism. Since he has opened the subject, I thought it would be fun to say a few words about it myself, since I teach this area all the time. I personally find the Valentinian mythology utterly fascinating, particularly how these Christians assumed a Platonic worldview, combined that with a cosmology they knew from the Sethian Gnostics, and reworked all to make it function within the Apostolic Christian tradition as the first complete systematic theology. And as Tony realizes through his wonderful classroom exercise (I think I'll try it too), they did this through exegesis of scriptures, Jewish and Christian alike, in the same was that other Alexandrian fathers did, especially Clement and Origen. When I teach Valentinus along with other fathers, it becomes soon clear that his system and that of his students is not very far removed from Origen in particular.

I usually start my lecture on the subject by saying to the students that I am going to tell them a story that never happened but everything in it is true (from the perspective of the Valentinian Christians that is). I also mention that the main concern of the myth is how this imperfect world of suffering is connected to a transcendent Good God. Or as Valentinus himself said in a letter, how our spirits can come to dwell in this "toilet" (he actually uses language I can't post!).

Then we go on to discover how Plato and Sethian mythology is recombined in a thoroughly Christian context, with the result that our first systematic Christian theology is born. Part of this systematic theology is the use of sacraments, and probably the development of a few additional sacramental practices. What do they do? Nothing less than release and protect the fallen spirit so that it can return home. Marriage as a sacrament is part of this process, and since the Valentinians thought that their own marriages were highly charged sexually in order to conceive children with the strongest spirits, well it is a fun time in class finally getting away from the obscene asceticism of so many of the early currents.

Dating the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Thomas

Jordan has asked me in the comments to address the dating issues for the Gospel of Mary, and also to speak to the point that Pagel's raises regarding John's dependence on the Gospel of Thomas.

The Gospel of Mary is a distinctively Valentinian text. This has not been addressed by many commentators, but the fact is if you know the Valentinian traditions, it is evident that this gospel is part of that exegetical strand of early Christianity. It is particularly interested in the concept of "grace" that is granted when the Son of Man descends, and how humans are redeemed and ascend through the various realms in order to return to the upper aeons. It is heavily liturgical, and appears to me to contain a eucharist homily. I am going to be writing about this at some length in the paper I am preparing for the Talpiot conference and volume. At any rate, this means that the text cannot date before 130 CE - Valentinus himself did not begin teaching until about 120 CE. I would actually date the text in the mid-second century.

As for the dependence of the Gospel of John on the Gospel of Thomas, this is something that I have written about at length in The Voices of the Mystics. It was published a couple of years prior to Pagels' popular book Beyond Belief. Pagels actually reviewed Voices in a SBL session the year Voices was published.

What I argue is that the "faith" mysticism in the Gospel of John is responding to a form of vision and ascent mysticism that the Gospel of Thomas has preserved. I don't think that the Johannine author necessarily had a copy of the Gospel of Thomas. But he was aware of mystical traditions that are associated with the disciple Judas Thomas, and he disapproves of them. What John argues is that God has come to earth so that we don't have to journey to heaven to see him and be transformed as the mystics in Syria were claiming. Rather, after Jesus' death, God becomes accessible to us through the Paraclete, God's spirit which is sent in Jesus' absence. This spirit is attained through baptism and eucharist, and through it we experience God immediately and directly.

So I understand the traditions to be engaged in discourse, a discourse which becomes part of the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of John. Thomas is a text that comes to completion around 120. The Gospel of John has to be finished by 100 since the Valentinians are heavily engaged with it already in the early second century. My point is that it is not that one text is dependent on the other, but that both were coming into existence around the same time, and the traditions had been in conversation for some time before the composition of either text was complete. I think that we have to begin to become more nuanced in our discussions of dependence and texts, which is why I wrote chapter one of Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas. I try to lay out a new methodology to get us beyond all the either/or categories that have stunted our past discussions. I recommend that chapter even if you are not interested in the Gospel of Thomas.

The New Year Ahead

The year ahead looks like it is going to be busy, and hopefully, productive. In January, I will be attending the Talpiot conference in Jerusalem organized by Professor Charlesworth as a Princeton symposium. My role is to address traditions about Mary Magdalene in the early literature. I plan to focus on the Valentinian portrait of Mary Magdalene, contrasting that with the encratic. The result will be an attempt to see if we can say anything determinative about Mary as a historical figure from this literature. A full length paper will be published later in a conference volume that is planned. I still haven't received the final agenda for the meeting, with all participants. As soon as I do, I'll post it here.

Looking forward to spring, there will be the Codex Judas Congress, March 13-16. I am receiving abstracts from the participants now. I will get those posted mid-January. I am in the process of preparing my own contribution to the Congress on issues of authority in the Gospel of Judas, the First Apocalypse of James, and other early Christian literature. I am particularly interested on how appeals to the Twelve were being used by the Christian leaders of the second century. After the Congress, full length papers will be collected and edited into a conference volume. So keep your eyes out for that book.

Over the summer, I have several articles to prepare for various projects. One will be about sexual practices among Gnostics. This is for an edited volume that Paul Foster is putting together. I also am preparing a paper on angels in Valentinian traditions for a conference in Tours which will take place in September. I will likely focus on the Jesus Aeon-Angel as the microPleroma descending to earth and incarnating.

Also in September is the Coptic Association's meeting - this year in Cairo. I hope to be part of a session on (re)defining Gnosticism.

As for the Boston SBL in November, that is too far ahead for me to know exactly what I will be preparing for, although I know that the New Testament Mysticism Project will be continuing. So I will at least be preparing an entry for that.

I am also going to begin writing my second book for the general audience. I'm trying to decide - should it be a book on the Gospel of Thomas, making my scholarly work more accessible to a broader audience, or should I begin work on a book about how I think the early Christians (as Jews) began to worship Jesus?

In terms of teaching, this semester Coptic continues. We will finish the last five chapters of Layton's book and then move on to read the Tchacos Codex to prepare for the Congress in March. I also have a lecture class, Christian Controversies and Creeds, that covers the growth of Christian thought from the bible to Chalcedon.

So in the upcoming year, this blog will probably continue to feature the newest and latest on the Tchacos Codex, the Gospel of Judas, the Valentinian literature, and the controversies between various factions of Christians in the second and third centuries. I also want your suggestions as my readers. Is there anything that you would like to see me address in the coming year? Let me know via comments or e-mail.

Article Note: "Body Metaphors in 1 Corinthians and in the Interpretation of Knowledge (NHC XI,1)" by Ismo Dunderberg

Professor Dunderberg just sent me an offprint of his new article that just appeared in Actes du Huitième Congrès International D'Études Coptes (eds. Nathalie Bosson and Anne Boud'hors; Leuven: Peeters, 2007) pp. 833-847. Its timing is rather convenient for the discussion that we have been having about the Gnostics and how some of them were very much part of the wider Apostolic church. As an aside, I wish to send my best to Professor Dunderberg who has just moved from Helsinki to Oxford where he will be teaching this year.

Dunderberg argues that the author is a Pauline exegete, although he applies the body metaphor quite differently from Paul. Paul is concerned about the weak members of the body and is trying to prove that they are indispensable and concludes that God gave greater honor to them. The author of the Valentinian Interpretation, however, is concerned that the weaker members have a wrong attitude (envy) that threatens the unity of the social body. They should change their attitude or face possible expulsion.

Why did the weaker part feel envious? The stronger members have made progress in the "Word" while the rest have not. The stronger members can "speak" while the rest of the ekklesia cannot. This situation created animosity of the weaker toward the stronger.

The author makes three arguments to resolve the issue:
1. the gifts given to the stronger members will benefit all members of the ekklesia; the weaker members benefit spiritually from the more advanced in the community
2. all body parts are mutually dependent
3. the inferior part should be grateful that is is not outside the body or ekklesia
Dunderberg concludes, and this I like very much, that the author of this text may be responding to Irenaeus or other critics like him who accused the Valentinians of elitism. "The author of Interpretation addresses protests, such as we find in Irenaeus, against the boundary between those who have and those who do not have the spiritual gift, and responds by portraying these protests as expressions of hatred and envy" (Dunderberg, pp. 844-845).

The author does NOT see two separate communities - the Gnostics and the Apostolic Church - but presupposes a situation of two groups within the same church and says that the inferior can gain benefit from the gift that the advanced have. "While Irenaeus wanted to make the boundary between Valentinians and other Christians as insurmountable as possible, the vision of the Christian community in Interpretation is that, instead of separation, there should be unity between the two factions of Christians" (Dunderberg, p. 845).