Ask April: 4-7-09

Last night after lecture there were so many great questions raised by the audience, that I began wondering whether some of my readers may have similar questions about the academic study of religion and the bible and early Christianity, questions that they would like addressed but no one to ask them. Then this morning Jim Deardorff inquired by e-mail about Basilides. So I've decided to open up the blog occasionally to field questions about the academic study of the bible and early Christianity you may have. So please use the comments for questions, and I'll see what I can do to get you an answer.

Let's start with Jim's question:
I've come across a statement in the old book by C. W. King (Gnostics and their Remains Ancient and Mediaeval) about Basilides placing "last of all the god of the Jews, whom he denies to be God himself, affirming that he is but one of the angels." Would you happen to know whom this statement originally came from -- Tertullian, or Clement of A., or Epiphanius, or Irenaeus...? I've looked in such sources without success, and wonder if it came from Helen Blavatsky in altered form without source cited.
Indeed the source for the idea (not the quote itself) is Irenaeus, Against Heresies, written about 180-190CE. In book 1.24.4, Irenaeus relates that Basilides taught that Abrasax (whose name numerically adds up to 365) was the astral lord of the 365 heavens in the celestial sphere. These heavens were populated by a number of angels, each of whom ruled its own heavenly realm. The 365th heaven - the one visible to us in our sky - is the domain of a clan of angels of the nations (72 in total). Chief among these angels is the God of the Jews.