More on Flavia Sophe

I have had some inquiries about Flavia Sophe.  So I thought I would point you to an absolutely outstanding article that was just published by Greg Synder on this tombstone.  "The Discovery and Interpretation of the Flavia Sophe Inscription: New Results" in the journal Vigiliae Christianae 68 (2014) 1-59.  If this tombstone interests you, you will want to read this piece.  It should be available at any university library.  He discusses in detail the discovery in Via Latina and its probable second century date, as well as a thorough Valentinian interpretation of the poem.

Weekly Apocryphote: May 12-19

Woman with mirror, Louvre CA587   

Woman with mirror, Louvre CA587


Unless you become like the things that actually exist, it is impossible for you to see them. Yet this is not how it is in our world.  We see the sun without being a sun.  We see the heaven and the earth and everything else, but we are not them...But when we see things in the spiritual realm, we become those things. We see the Spirit, we become spirit...In our world, you see everything except yourself, but in the spiritual realm, you see yourself.  And what you see, you will become.

Gospel of Philip (translation is mine; with occasional adjustment of person and tense for aesthetics)

A Valentinian Inscription

Love it when the new picks this kind of thing up (60 years later...). Here is a CBS Live article on an old Christian inscription found in Rome in the 1953, NCE 156. Gregory Snyder has recently published a updated analysis of it in the Journal of Early Christianity in which he argues (with additional evidence) for a 2nd century date and Valentinian provenance. His translation is as follows:
To my bath, the brothers of the bridal chamber carry the torches,
[here] in our halls, they hunger for the [true] banquets,
even while praising the Father and glorifying the Son.
There [with the Father and the Son] is the only spring and source of truth.
Synder, according to CBS, thinks that it is the oldest Christian object we possess.

Professor Synder is working on series of articles on Christian teachers and their schools in Rome. He plans to publish a book on the subject. Looking forward to it.

Book Note: Valentinian Ethics and Paraenetic Discourse (Philip L. Tite)

I am trying to unbury myself from the mound of books that is piled up in my office. My students will be smiling by now reading this. Literally, I have three mountains piled on my desk (I have a big u-shaped desk).

One book that I have been intending to mention because it is another new book out on Valentinianism is by Philip Tite,

Valentinian Ethics and Paraenetic Discourse: Determining the Social Function of Moral Exhortation in Valentinian Christianity

. It is another Brill publication, so it may be a library check out book rather than a purchase.

The subject that Tite covers is the moral instruction given within Valentinian Christianity. He uses a form of socio-rhetorical criticism that he develops from the work of social psychologists and literary critics. He does not map out particular early Christian communities or factions within these communities, but views how the texts "use social re-presentation, through narrative articulation, in order to persuade the audience or recipient to identify with the social idealization of the author as a shared worldview. In this sense, both our texts 'create social identities'; this does not open the texts to historical reconstructions of actual social groups, but rather the elucidation of group formation processes as sets of joint actions. The communicative situation of each text, therefore, can be seen as an attempt to construct identities for persuasive purposes" (p. 314).

I agreed that the texts we are examining are all about the power of persuasion. But I would go farther and point out that the persuading the text is doing is the persuading the author is doing in a real social situation. It is his side of a dialogue. And with the Valentinian material, we have the other side of the dialogue in the heresiologists and their attempt to implode Valentinian ethics. So history is lurking behind the Valentinian ethical persuasion found in their texts, and no matter how "idealistic" the representation of our authors may appear, their point of view represents an historical point of view of the person who wrote it and the people he associated with. It was the ideal which they hoped would be lived (or was being lived) in their community.

Tite spends 56 pages mapping out his methodology and it requires careful reading. Throughout these pages, he is critical of Vernon Robbins' approach because of what Tite calls Robbins' "omission" of a bridge between text and social reality: "Indeed, the movement from the level of the text to the level of the occasion behind the text is not only impossible with this method, there is furthermore no corrective agent in place for the errors that emerge when one moves from one level to the other without such a bridge" (p. 33).

I wonder about this. I have never personally read Robbins' that way, nor has this ever come across in the many private conversations I have had with Robbins about his socio-rhetorical method. I don't think that Robbins' approach omits this bridge. I have always understood that it was built on it. Robbins' approach has always been about real authors and real worlds of the authors and how, by examining the various textures in the text, that the social discourse as the author presents it can be recovered. Robbins understands texts (=implied author) to be extension of the real authors themselves and the social world they are engaged in (cf. p. 21


) (and I agree).

The book is well-documented and refreshing in that it presents Valentinian moral exhortation as a Christian moral discourse which was used to shape their social identity. Thankfully, Tite leaves behind the old heresiological categories and point of view. I am glad that this book is now part of the discussion about second-century Christianity.

Book Note: Beyond Gnosticism (Dunderberg)

There has been a renewed interest in Valentinianism lately, particularly I have been noticing a number of things in the pipeline on the Gospel of Philip. But in this post, I want to draw attention to Ismo Dunderberg's new book,

Beyond Gnosticism: Myth, Lifestyle, and Society in the School of Valentinus

(New York: Columbia, 2008).

The book comes together out of Dunderberg's earlier work in published articles on Valentinianism, which form the basis for most of his chapters. The articles have been rewritten so that the book has a good narrative flow and the subjects are interconnected.

What Dunderberg does quite well is contextualize Valentinian traditions within the ancient schools of philosophical thought

as a Christian tradition

. He begins the book by pointing out that the majority of Valentinians probably "did not form a church of their own but remained within the community of other Christians, took part in its meetings, and shared their rituals" (p. 3).

What does it mean that the Valentinians "were not clearly separated from other Christians but belonged to the same community" (p. 3)? Dunderberg uses the ancient "school" movement as his comparative tool. The goal of the book is to reexamine Valentinian mythmaking as a justification for their way of life and their moral instruction, in much the same way that mythmaking and moral exhortation functioned in other ancient schools.

Dunderberg has done an excellent job bringing together so much material on the Valentinians and examining it thoughtfully in light of his thesis without deeming the Valentinian material as superfluous or heretical. A delightful perspective. Dunderberg's knowledge of the ancient sources is impressive and his book should help to open up the otherwise fairly esoteric field of Valentinian studies and early Christian mythmaking.