H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 19)

The Odes of SolomonPart 2 The preceding post noted that the Odes of Solomon date to the first quarter of the second century CE. That was the critical ‘transition’ period—the final generation before ‘Jesus the Nazarene’ appeared on the world stage. As a transition work, the Odes seem to have one foot in the coming catholic world and one foot in the gnostic past. Buddhism, and the Odist’s gnostic credentials The Odist is clearly at home with the gnostic worldview. He repeatedly emphasizes the importance of gnosis/knowledge/understanding, equating it with the Word (12:3, 13) and even with the Savior (41:11). The Odist knows encratism and esoteric bridal symbolism (33:5 f; 38:9 f). At one place he mentions going up “into … Continue reading

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

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 Exodus is unmistakeable. … Continue reading

H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 15)

Simon MagusPart 5—Conclusion In the Book of Joshua, stones assume an important and rather strange role in the Israelite crossing of the Jordan River. The relevant verses are below, taken from chapter 4: 1 When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua: 2 “Select twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, 3 and command them, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood, carry them over with you, and lay them down in the place where you camp tonight.’” 4 Then Joshua summoned the twelve men from the Israelites, whom he had appointed, one from each tribe. 5 Joshua … Continue reading

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

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 one of investigation—via … Continue reading

H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 13)

Simon MagusPart 3—The doctrines The principal sources for the doctrines of Simon Magus are two: Book VI (Chps 2-16) of the Refutation of All Heresies by Hippolytus, and the Pseudo-Clementine literature. Both documents are hostile to Simon and are full of tendentious material and obvious propaganda. Yet, though the Pseudo-Clementines are much longer, the précis of Hippolytus may be more rewarding as far as divining the gnostic doctrines ascribed to ‘Simon.’ Indeed, a careful analysis of Hippolytus’ description reveals a profound and coherent doctrine. The following attempts a brief outline of Simonian theology. It includes a good deal of ‘interpretation’ with which other scholars may disagree: • First of all, Simon taught that man can perfect himself. We can infer … Continue reading

H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 12)

Simon MagusPart 2—Person or cipher? In the Clementine writings, the adversary Simon is nothing less than a (false) Christ figure. This is clear from the way Peter speaks of him: “For who would not marvel at the wonders done by him [Simon Magus], so as to think of him as a god come down from the heavens for the salvation of human beings?” (Rec. 2.6; Gebhardt p. 49; emphases added.) Epiphanius knows the same claim: “He [Simon] therefore came forward, and under the name of Christ…” (Pan. 21.2.1). This must cause wonder. For over fifteen hundred years the West has been inured to only one Christ figure: Jesus of Nazareth. However, when one investigates the many ‘heretics’ and the plethora … Continue reading

H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 11)

The Peratae (Part 2) [Detering writes, p.4:] The connection between the Peratae and the Exodus theme is already evident in their name. According to Hippolytus, it derives from the Greek for “cross over/cross through” [Ger. hindurchgehen, < Gk. περαν]. In other words, they considered themselves “those who have crossed over”…   …For the Peratae, the creation is the realm of nothingness and transience. Because all is subject to these characteristics, for the Peratae there is only one way to salvation: man must pass through his demise—which he cannot avoid—even before physical death. [R.S.] The above paragraphs combine two concepts: (1) passing through/crossing over—that is, transcending this material realm of “nothingness”; and (2) doing so before physical death. The former is … Continue reading

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. 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