Ask April: Who is Abrasax?

R. Eagle asked:

So is Abrasax the name of this Angel of the Jews?
Incidentally, Abrasax sounds like Carlos Santana's 1970 album, but the 's' and the 'x' or reversed. And I can't remember where I heard it, but someone told me it was the name of a fallen angel (or demon). Would you know anything about this, Dr. D.

Abrasax is not the name of the Yahweh Angel of the Jews according to Basilides. Abrasax is the astral lord who rules the celestial spheres. He is distinct from the Yahweh Angel who is the ruler of the lowest of the heavens (365th heaven) that is visible from earth. Abrasax probably originated in the magical traditions of Egypt and the Hermetic practioners. He is found named on many gems and in the Greek Magical Papyri.

His name was created to equal 365. In Greek numerology each letter is associated with a number. When the letters of his name are added up, they equal 365. Thus he is the god responsible for the astral sphere. He would be the one most powerful in controlling your fate. So appeasing him (and using his Name) would be very important and give you some sense of control.

His name is spelled variously: Abrasax and Abraxas. Thus Santana's album. Abrasax is no fallen Jewish angel, although he is a "demon" in the sense that he is a capricious

very powerful

power in the skies who controls your fate, ruling the entire universe. The fallen angel you are thinking of is likely Azazel.

Ask April: The Gnostics and the Name

Mac asked:
Valentinian theology sources (some) describe the "Elect" as possessing the "Name". It seems this notion of possessing the "Name" comes from the Book of Revelation where it is said to be written on their foreheads (Revelation 14:1 cf. also 22:4)?

And now my question(s)...... What does possessing the "Name" mean in Gnostic tradition..... and does this particular Gnostic notion have a following in our time?
Indeed the Gnostics in general (that is various Gnostic groups) were concerned about possessing the Name. This wasn't because of Revelation exegesis though. In fact, Revelation displays an interest in this same phenomenon, as do many other Christian sources. Name possession was part of Christian ritual.

The Name that the Christians were wanting to possess is the Name of God, the divine unutterable Name, usually written as the tetragrammaton YHWH. The Christians understood that Jesus possessed this Name, that it was given to him when he was exalted to heaven. It is this Name that they are baptised into and likely it is this Name they are writing on their heads when they were anointing their converts with oil.

The Name was powerful. It did more than identify them as God's. Possessing the Name meant that they possessed the power of the Named, and were transformed by that power. It transfigured their souls. In addition, possession of the Name guaranteed them entry into God's realm at death. It is the password that let them into heaven. Think of it like the ticket you need to get into the VIP box at a sport's game. If you have the ticket, you can pass into the box. Otherwise you are turned away.

The Gnostics made the Name their trade secret so that different groups claimed that they knew the "real" Name of God and its pronunciation. If you joined the lodge, they would teach it to you. The Ophians used Kaukalkau. The Valentinians used IAO. Marcus the Valentinian used Jesus Christ, although he claimed that the name had a secret aeonic pronunciation known only to the aeons and revealed to him in a vision. The conventional Christians used a formula like "in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." Or some used "Jesus Christ." Although the conventional Christians understood this to be the YHWH Name given to Jesus.

This is still practiced in conventional Christianity. After water baptism, the convert is anointed with oil in the Name. As for what modern gnostic groups do or don't do ritually, I haven't a clue.

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.