H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 38)

→ Table of Contents Conclusions Dr. Detering’s overall conclusion                  [I translate his final section in toto below. Emphases are added.—R.S.] [Dr. Detering writes:] Beginning with the gnostic interpretation of the Exodus motif and the question of its origin, we have arrived at an element of critical importance: the metaphor of transcendence, expressed figuratively as [reaching] the “other shore”—which plays a central role in Indian/Buddhist spirituality. The question of where the two trajectories intersect—Jewish tradition/Hebrew Bible on the one hand, and Buddhist/Indian spirituality on the other—led us to the Therapeutae, about whom Philo of Alexandria reports in his De Vita Contemplativa. Once the Buddhist origin of the Therapeutae is seen as plausible, it can be shown that their central mystery consisted of … Continue reading

H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 36)

→ Table of Contents The Transfiguration In a short section (pp. 62–64) of his paper, Dr. Detering reveals that the Transfiguration scene in Mk 9:2–8 primarily serves to answer the question: Who is the true prophet predicted in Jewish scripture (Deut 18:15)? Three candidates are at the top of the mountain: Moses, Elijah, and Joshua/Jesus. The answer that comes from heaven is clear: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”—and only Jesus/Joshua is seen to be still there, while the other two Old Testament figures have disappeared. Consistent with the rest of his paper, Detering argues that the “Jesus” of the scene was, in the earliest stratum of the story, not “Jesus of Nazareth” but Joshua ben Nun—the … Continue reading

H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 27)

→ Table of Contents The Therapeutae—Pt. 7 A turning point Dr. Detering concludes on page 42 of his article: “The alexandrian/gnostic exegesis of the Exodus theme, as we have seen, was dependent on Indian-Buddhist traditions from the very beginning.” This conclusion is stunning. If Detering is correct, we can infer two important chronological consequences. Firstly, Indic influences entered into Jewish exegesis prior to the rise of Christian gnosticism (the Naassenes, etc—see below). Secondly—and more controversially—we can be sure that those Indic influences occurred prior to the formation of the Christian tradition itself. One need only connect the dots regarding the Therapeutae: they were long considered ‘Christians’ by the Church; they flourished already at the turn of the era; and (as Dr. … Continue reading

H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 26)

→ Table of Contents The Therapeutae—Pt. 6 The Therapeutae, Buddhism, and Gnosis On pp. 34 ff. Dr. Detering lists some parallels between Buddhism and the Therapeutae, as described by Philo of Alexandria. He notes certain outward, visible characteristics, such as the makeup of the Buddhist order (e.g. men and women living separately), and the posture, dress, and ranking of monks. Such elements can be valuable in drawing parallels between East and West, but it should be noted that they concern a stage of Buddhism where the order (sangha) had already attained a certain level of organization and settled protocol—namely, the onset of the Mahayana from about the turn of the era. The somewhat longer list of parallels between Buddhism and the … Continue reading

H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 25)

→ Table of Contents The Therapeutae—Pt. 5 The Therapeutae, a new chronology, and Yeshu ha Notsri (For the previous post on the Therapeutae, see here.) Dr. Detering begins a fairly lengthy section of his paper (pp. 26—42) with a review of the sect of the Therapeutae as reported by Philo. The sect holds a special importance for Detering, for he places it not only at the very heart of Christian origins—that is, at Alexandria—but also at the crossroads between Buddhism and Christianity. In other words, Detering concludes that the Therapeutae were a critical lynchpin between Buddhism and the gospels. Though we have already discussed the Therapeutae at length (posts 5-8), we will here attempt to place the sect within the wider … Continue reading

H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 24)

→ Table of Contents Buddhism and the Odes of Solomon Dr. Detering dedicates a large section of his article to Buddhism (pp. 14-26). While I find some of his arguments more persuasive than others, here I will only examine points that are relevant to our main subject: ‘crossing over’ in Buddhism and possible links with Christianity. In the process, I will also present material not mentioned by Detering that adds support to his main argument. The first part of the this post continues the discussion on the Odes of Solomon (pts. 18-20). Detering (pp. 19-20) signals a short passage from the Digha Nikaya in which the Buddha and his monks miraculously cross the Ganges: “And then the Lord came to the … Continue reading

H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 23)

→ Table of Contents Resumé of the series thus far: In the foregoing posts we have seen that the Exodus theme is far deeper than a mere physical event involving a body of water. The roots of ‘crossing over’ are primordial and spiritual, ultimately involving the liminal threshold at death. For the gnostic, the crossing over was from ignorance to understanding. Such a view can only exist for those who define ‘life’ as gnosis, and ‘death’ as ignorance itself. For the gnostic, then, one can cross over from death to life even while in this body—that is, long before physical death. This is called realized eschatology, and it has apparently existed in one form or another since shamanism and even before … Continue reading

H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 20)

→ Table of Contents The Odes of SolomonConclusion: The theology of immanence The two prior posts have briefly considered the Odes of Solomon, a ‘Christian hymnbook’ dating to the early second century CE. My discussion took its point de départ from Dr. Detering’s observation that Ode 39 knows dual outcomes of the Exodus: “Crossing the water is the judgment—it represents salvation for believers, but destruction for unbelievers” (pp. 8–9). We have seen that this dual outcome is very ancient and goes back to the Flood. Its equivocal nature allowed gnostics to interpret water as salvation (gnosis) for those who possess understanding, and as doom for those who do not. I proposed in a prior post that the early second century CE, … Continue reading

H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 18)

→ Table of Contents The Odes of SolomonPart 1 [H. Detering:] We encounter another allegorical interpretation of the Exodus motif in the Odes of Solomon. This collection of early Christian hymns apparently comes from an Alexandrian milieu in the first half of the second century. The 39th ode compares the “power of the Lord” with “raging rivers” that “send headlong those who despise Him” (v. 1). But “those who cross them in faith shall not be destroyed” (v. 5). Verse 8 follows: “Therefore, put on the name of the Most High and know Him, and you shall cross without danger; because rivers shall be obedient to you.”   A structural similarity [of Ode 39] with the aforementioned gnostic interpretations of the … Continue reading

H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 14)

→ Table of Contents Simon MagusPart 4—The “Standing One” (cont.) Having broadly summarized Simonian doctrine in the last several posts, Simon Magus emerges as a figure whose gnosticism had Buddhist precursors, whose outlook was Jewish, and whose doctrine was radically heterodox. The Buddhist aspects of Simon’s thought can be summarized as follows:   (a) According to Hippolytus, Simon viewed entrance into life as entrance into suffering—dukkha in Buddhism (cf. post #9). (b) Simon taught that the world is on fire. In Buddhism, desire/craving (tanha) is a link in the chain of dependent origination and is equated with fire (on this, cf. post #13). (c) Simon preached the need for “investigation” (Rec 2:21; Gebhardt 55). In Buddhism, the entire spiritual journey is … Continue reading