- I was unable to present the paper at the regional SBL due to bronchitis. The effort to write the paper got me back into my dissertation and I started some editing. BTW, it is surreal reading the footnotes of that thing and thinking I know the things I know.
- Once I have my current batch of exams graded, I’ll finish writing my review of Luttikhuizen’s book (more about which in just a moment).
- Today’s Source of giddiness, #1: A colleague and I went to the newly refurbished Getty Villa in Malibu, Calif. My word, it was awesome. The presentation, from the parking structure on, was breathtaking – the villa itself (a recreation of one near Herculaneum, where many copies of the Epicurean Philodemus’ writings were recovered) is an educational feast. The artifacts (at least twice as many are on display than before the refurbishing, thanks to the medieval to contemporary art now being housed in the Getty Center) provide a fascinating and nearly comprehensive presentation of Roman, Etruscan and Greek (as well as Cycladic) art. It is a must for anyone remotely interested in those peoples and periods (it was as impressive as much of what I saw while in Rome last December).
- Today’s source of giddiness, #2: Karen L. King’s “The Secret Revelation of John” arrived by ILL today. This is a monograph given over to just that Sethian treatise and appears to address a number of ideas in which I have an interest.
Finally, Gerard Luttikhuizen commented on my preliminary analysis of his book "Gnostic Revisions of Genesis Stories and Early Jesus Traditions.”
Several years ago I became convinced that the Gnostic thought world can not have originated in any form of Judaism. (As you know, in my book I do not speak about "Gnosticism" in general but about what I call demiurgical Gnostic texts, the Apocryphon of John and related writings.) I could and cannot believe that the idea that the biblical God is not the true and highest God but an ignorant and malicious figure, the creator of a failed product, a cosmic being who tries to imprison humanity in his dark world has a Jewish background. Not can I believe that the idea that the highest part of the human soul was not created but is a lost part of the supermundane God was thought out and worded by Jews. It does not make sense in my opinion to refer to Philo or to any other (Hellenistic-) Jewish text known to us. Philo does not speak negatively of the biblical God, his words and his deeds.
He does not accept the hypothesis that these writers could have been disillusioned Jews (Pearson’s take and now argued, in a tweaked fashion, by Carl B. Smith). He asserts “It is not necessary to think of disillusioned Jews because the Christianity of the second century can be seen as the perfect historic context for highly critical approaches to the Jewish Scriptures.”
And then he asks:
So my question to you would be: why do you attach to the idea that Gnostic ideas were first worded by (former, desillusioned) Jews? And what is the textual, historical, sociological or any other basis for this hypothesis?
My response is two fold. First, I am sensitive to his conviction that the “gnostic” texts (and I am thinking mostly of those often referred to as Sethian) have a view of the Scriptural creator God that is (to put it mildly) inconsistent with Judaism as it is attested from the Second Temple period on and that there is not the wealth of evidence to prove that the Sethians were disillusioned Jews. However, I am not sure that an a priori conviction (“I could and cannot believe”) is an appropriate starting point for a study of the Sitz im Leben of the Sethian documents , or any documents for that matter. Just because it doesn’t seem to make sense or doesn’t cohere with what one would expect does not make it impossible. (Anyway, do many of the esoteric ‘gnostic’ texts make sense???)
Still, Prof. Luttikhuizen rightly asks me where the proof is for the source of Sethianism being disillusioned Jews. I do not contest the pagan influence nor the fact that the texts (in their final form) are “Christianized.” I think what evidence for the disillusioned or post Jewish aspect of these documents is literary and can be deduced from their exegetical method. It is in its basic mechanics consistent with the exegesis and with the exegetical traditions we see in Philo’s writings especially (a Jewish exegete of the early 1st century). What is more, we find a very similar exegetical approach to the Genesis text from a completely non-Christian perspective in Corpus Hermeticum 1: Poimandres. This Hermetic document, probably from late 1st century, early 2nd century Egypt, evinces the type of approach to creation and its creator that the Apocryphon of John does, though perhaps not as harsh in its revision as the Apoc. At the least, I would suggest that the exegetical approach of Apoc. John (and other Sethian treatises) long pre-dates the exegetical motivation(s) that brought it into being. That approach is certainly Jewish (i.e., Greek-speaking or Hellenistic Jewish) and shows little dependence on or orientation toward early Christianity in its application. (There are exceptions; the Christ as Autogenes for instance. But, except for the name ‘Christ,’ this entity is not intrinsically Christian, is it?)
At present, I am inclined to believe that the motivation for downgrading the Genesis creator god may have come after the beginning of Christianity (there is no evidence of it earlier), but I see no reason to associate it with (at its outset) Christianity. If so, wouldn’t the exgesis of Genesis have been more obviously “Christian”? Why can’t it be Jews or quasi-Jewish ‘god fearers’ (if such existed) who wanted to keep the biblical text (or some aspect) but could not abide the biblical god.
I might add, briefly, that Michael Waldstein makes a case for Apoc.’s presentation of the heavenly realm, where the true God exists, having its origins in Jewish views of the Israelite cult and of heaven. So perhaps the Israelite God is not repudiated but simply bifurcated; the transcendent God made more so by disassociation from the creator/false god.