H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 10)

The PerataePart 1—Indian influences [Dr. Detering writes, p.3:] Further interpretations of the Exodus motif are found with the Peratae and the Naassenes. The two Gnostic sects—together with the Sethians—make up the so-called Ophites, described by Hippolytus in the fifth book of his Refutations. The name derives from the Greek word for serpent, ophis, based on the fact that the serpent plays a central role in the mythology of all three sects… [4] For them, the serpent in the Garden of Eden brought gnosis. It was also a symbol of healing and salvation.   …The Peratae identified the serpent with the Logos, whose domain is situated between the unmoved Father and Matter in motion. Thus the Logos is the middle term. … Continue reading

H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 9)

Simon MagusPart 1 [Dr. Detering writes, p.3:] We encounter another allegorical interpretation of the Exodus motif with Simon Magus, as reported by the church father Hippolytus… The passage gives an analogy between the World Tree and the umbilical cord of the growing fetus in the womb. In Simon’s allegorical thought, the Book of Exodus is symbolic: [Hippolytus writes:] Again, the inscription of the second book is Exodus. Now, they say [Simon Magus] calls the Red Sea blood—and who has been produced, passing through the Red Sea, must then come into the wilderness and taste bitter water. For bitter, he says, is the water which is drunk after crossing the Red Sea; which water is a path to be trodden that … Continue reading

H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 8)

The Therapeutae—Pt. 4 Not this, not that Buddhism with a difference? A prior post summarized Philo’s discussion of the Therapeutae in 23 points, and we have seen that most of those points surprisingly resonate with early Buddhism. But in two of the points, Philo attributes apparently non-Buddhist elements to the Therapeutae. The most obvious is point (f): [The Therapeutae] are ecstatics, they “give way to enthusiasm, behaving like so many revelers in bacchanalian or corybantian mysteries, until they see the object which they have been earnestly desiring.” (Vita 11) This contradicts the seventh Buddhist precept, which explicitly states: “I undertake to refrain from dancing, singing, music, going to see entertainments.” Point (f) also contradicts the meditative and sober aspects of … Continue reading

H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 6)

Note: This post continues an analysis of the Therapeutae, as reported by Philo of Alexandria. Before proceeding, you may want to click here to open a new window containing the 23 points describing the Therapeutae listed in the preceding post. Having both windows open on your desktop will facilitate reading, as I refer to those points often in what follows.—René Salm The Therapeutae—Pt. 2 Extensive parallels between the Therapeutae and Buddhism The preceding post closed by pointing out a number of interesting parallels between Philo’s description of the Therapeutae and heterodox (Jewish) Christianity. On the other hand, we found very few (if any) parallels with what would become orthodox (gentile) Christianity. This is rather surprising. But far more remarkable is … Continue reading

H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 2)

Highlights of this post: • the New Testament must be dated to the second century CE • Epiphanius identifies the pre-Christian Jessaeans with Philo’s Therapeutae, and the Therapeutae with early Christians • According to Epiphanius, some Jewish pre-Christians “set themselves ablaze” • Epiphanius shows that the Nazoraeans were in some way related to Indian monks The later (Jesus mythicist) chronology In these posts we are immersed in developments during the first century CE. This is a different world. Apparently there are “venerators of Joshua/Jesus” (a Semitic name roughly meaning “Y[ahweh] is Salvation,” BDB 221)—as Dr. Detering will claim later in his article. However, there were not yet “Christians” in the accepted sense of that word (see below). Both Detering and myself agree that in … Continue reading

H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 1)

     The prevailing picture of Christian origins does need to be revised… All New Testament scholars are aware of textual material and historical data that cannot easily be reconciled… Some scholars are also aware that the literary and historical bases for the traditional reconstruction are very, very shaky. The picture itself has not yet budged, however, and will not budge until alternative explanations for the (sometimes very curious) data available are taken up for forthright discussion and evaluation.     —Burton Mack, “All the Extra Jesuses” (Semeia 49 [1990], pp. 169–70.) Some background The above words of Burton Mack are as applicable today as when he wrote them almost thirty years ago. We do need a thorough revision of Christian origins, for the traditional … Continue reading

“Jesus has a Nazareth problem” (interview transcript)—Pt. 3

The Nazarene is “the enlightened one” (See also here.) René: …Everything is showing that Marcion’s was in fact the first gospel and that Capernaum was the original hometown of Jesus.      The reason “Nazareth” was invented—that would be by Matthew, now, and taken up by Luke—is to change “the Nazarene,” because “Nazarene” was objectionable to the Catholic Church. “Nazarene” had some strong religious and theological meanings at the time, and it would be very valuable if scholarship looked seriously at this question, because this brings us to the heart of the issue: What does “Nazarene” mean? René: Jesus in the earliest gospels is called “Jesus the Nazarene.” But nobody seems to know what that meant. Now, “Nazarene” means the enlightened person, … Continue reading

Book Review: “Mark, Canonizer of Paul” by Tom Dykstra (2012) — Pt. 3

Chp. 5: Presenting Jesus as the Crucified One      Dykstra begins this chapter with an important observation: “Another theme unique to Paul is his emphasis on the cross, or more specifically on the crucified Christ over the resurrected Christ” (p. 93). The terminology “crucified Christ” vs. “resurrected Christ” mirrors the two great models of salvation fighting one another for hegemony in the first century: salvation through faith (the “cross”) vs. salvation through gnosis (spiritual “resurrection”). In Pauline thought, salvation in “Jesus” is through faith in his atoning death on the physical cross. In gnostic thought, salvation in “Jesus” is through the acquisition of spiritual gnosis. These are two different religions and two different Jesuses—one material, one spiritual. Paul’s disputes with both … Continue reading

The Natsarene (“Nazarene”) Religion – Pt. 8

Early Buddhist influence on the West It is hardly acknowledged by Christian scholarship that Buddhism potentially exercised considerable influence in the Western world as early as the third century BCE. In the middle of that century, Ashoka (r. 269-232 BCE)—the Mauryan “Emperor of Emperors” who conquered most of the Indian subcontinent—sent a Buddhist missionary contingent to Alexandria at the official request of the curious and enterprising emperor Ptolemy II of Egypt (r. 283-246 BCE)—the same emperor who founded the great Library of Alexandria (eventually destroyed, probably by Christians in 391 or 415 CE).   Both Ashoka and Ptolemy II were extraordinary figures. After a particularly bloody victory against the Kalingas, Ashoka Maurya converted to Buddhism and became a pacifist. Surrounded … Continue reading

The Natsarene (“Nazarene”) Religion – Pt. 7

We have seen that the spirituality which preceded and led up to Christianity (what I call “Natsarene” spirituality) was marked by two broad characteristics—gnosticism and encratism. The former has reference to the goal of finding gnosis. The latter characterizes the way to the goal: through continence and a general repudiation of pleasure. The gnostic considered that no one can “serve two masters,” and recognized that a fundamental decision occurs in life, one between pleasure and understanding. We have looked at the Parable of the Ten Maidens (Mt 25:1-14), touched upon Secret Mark, and noted the broad popularity of encratism in early Christianity, evident in the non-canonical Acts of the Apostles and in many gnostic writings from the Nag Hammadi Library. … Continue reading