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. 22)

→ Table of Contents The MandeansPart 2 [H. Detering, p. 10:] Lidzbarski points to the frequent Mandaean interpretation of the Sea of Reeds as the “Sea of Ending.” As the following citation from the Book of John shows, the crossing of the sea (symbolized at the baptism by the water of the ‘Jordan’) is, for the Mandaeans, God’s judgment: the water causes the destruction of those who are evil, but for believers it is a bridge to the light. The gnostic savior calls out: I am the treasure, the treasure of life. The evil ones are blind and do not see. I call them to the light, yet they bury themselves in the darkness. ‘O you evil ones,’ I call to … Continue reading

H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 21)

→ Table of Contents The MandeansPart 1 [ → Previous discussion of the Mandeans] [H. Detering:] [P. 9] With the Mandeans we also encounter the allegorical-gnostic interpretation of the Exodus theme. This sect originated on the eastern border between Palestine and Syria. Apparently it was genetically closely related to early Christian baptist sects. The Mandeans viewed the Exodus in a way quite similar to that already discussed. Mark Lidzbarski, the devoted translator of Mandean texts, observed: “The allegorical and eschatological interpretation of the Exodus from Egypt [by the Mandeans] goes back to Alexandrian hermeneutic: the city’s fleshpots, the view of existence as material and sensual, the Exodus as flight from this hylic world to a more spiritual plane, and the Red Sea as … Continue reading

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

→ Table of Contents 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 … 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. 16)

→ Table of Contents Note: Dr. Detering’s writing (as well as summary of his writing) is in brown. My commentary is in black text. An insightful study of the Naassenes, written for the layperson, is M. H. Gaffney’s Gnostic Secrets of the Naassenes (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 2004).—R.S. The Naassenes On pp. 5-7 of his article, Dr. Detering considers the views of the Naassenes. Our main source for this sect is the fifth book of Hippolytus’ Refutation of all Heresies. The Church Father offers an extensive but hardly clear treatment. From one sentence to the next he brings forward the Greek mystery religions, the Genesis story, the ‘giants.’ Egyptian gods, and obscure names such as the Corybantes, Curetes, Cabiri, etc. That … Continue reading

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

→ Table of Contents 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. … Continue reading

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

→ Table of Contents 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 … Continue reading

H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 7)

→ Table of Contents The Therapeutae—Pt. 3 Passover and Pentecost Normative Judaism and Christianity view the Exodus—traditionally commemorated by Jews at Passover—as a formative historical event in the distant past. However, one of the principal revelations of Dr. Detering in his article under discussion is that the Christian Gnostics of late antiquity viewed the Exodus as a spiritual ‘crossing over to the other side’—an inner transformation. Interestingly, this latter view was also known to mainline Christians, particularly in Alexandria:      At the end of the second century in Alexandria, however, we encounter a somewhat different understanding of the feast [of Passover], one that focused upon “passage” rather than “passion”—the passage from death to life. Clement of Alexandria describes the Passover as humanity’s … Continue reading

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

→ Table of Contents      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, … Continue reading