Category Archives: Opponents and ‘heresies’

Podcast 3.16: The Gospel of Mary – Secret Knowledge from the Ultimate Disciple

Here I discuss this dialogue gospel in which Mary Magdalene is presented as Jesus’ favourite disciple and the instructor of true knowledge. I explore notions of salvation in terms of the ascent of the soul, as well as the way in which this writing reflects struggles among different groups of Jesus-followers. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.16: The Gospel of Mary – Secret Knowledge from the Ultimate Disciple (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 3.15: The Gospel of Philip, part 2 – Ritual Enactments of Salvation

Here I finish the discussion of the Gospel of Philip by focusing on the way in which notions of salvation were enacted in the practices of the followers of Jesus who used this writing. In particular, rituals such as the “bridal chamber” illustrate the connections between sex (as a metaphor) and salvation in the mindset of this author. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.15: The Gospel of Philip, part 2 – Ritual Enactments of Salvation (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 3.14: The Gospel of Philip, part 1 – Ideas of Salvation

Here I discuss the Gospel of Philip (perhaps best known in connection with the Da Vinci Code). This episode deals with the author’s worldview and ideas about the condition of humanity, preparing the way for a second episode on the practices and rituals that enacted salvation. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.14: The Gospel of Philip, part 1 – Ideas of Salvation (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 3.12: Secret Book of John, part 2 – Salvation from the Material Realm

Here I continue to explain the worldview of the Apocryphon of John, particularly its notions regarding the material realm, the inferior creator god (demiurge), and salvation from this realm. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.12: Secret Book of John, part 2 – Salvation from the Material Realm (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 3.11: Secret Book of John, part 1 – The Spiritual Realm

Here I begin to explain the worldview of the Apocryphon of John, one of the Nag Hammadi writings (part 1 of 2). Like other writings in that collection, this author makes a clear distinction between the perfect spiritual realm, also known as the “fullness”, and an inferior material realm created by a jealous god or “ruler” (archon). In this episode I describe the perfect spiritual realm and the process of emanations from the perfect “Invisible Spirit” or “Father”. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.11: Secret Book of John, part 1 – The Spiritual Realm (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 3.10: Introducing Gnostic Worldviews

Here I set the stage for the study of specific Nag Hammadi and related writings by outlining in broad terms some common denominators in the worldviews traditionally labeled “gnostic”. This includes discussion of the Middle Platonic assumptions of many authors. I also deal with the importance of knowledge (gnosis) in the understanding of how salvation from the material realm, which was created by an inferior god, takes place. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.10: Introducing Gnostic Worldviews (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 3.9: Marcionites and the Unknown God

Here I explore Marcionite forms of Christianity, which contrast significantly to the Judean forms discussed in the previous episode. Followers of Marcion believed that the legalistic God of the Hebrew Bible was to be distinguished from the loving, unknown Father-God who sent Jesus, and that Law was opposed to Gospel. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.9: Marcionites and the Unknown God (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 3.8: Jewish Followers of Jesus, part 2 – Pseudo-Clement

Here I continue to explore Jewish followers of Jesus by examining key passages in an apocryphal novel attributed to Clement of Rome, also known as the Pseudo-Clementine writings. In particular, an opening letter claiming to be written by Peter to James and the story of Peter’s debates with Simon Magus (a cipher for Paul) provide glimpses into struggles between Jewish followers of Jesus and others, including Pauline forms of Christianity. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.8: Jewish Followers of Jesus, part 2 – Pseudo-Clementine Writings (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 3.7: Jewish Followers of Jesus, part 1 – Ebionites

Beginning with James the brother of Jesus and the Jerusalem church, here I trace evidence for Judean followers of Jesus and discuss their gradual marginalization. In particular, I focus attention on Jewish-Christian groups that the patristic sources (e.g. Irenaeus, Epiphanius) label “the Ebionites”, or “poor ones”. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.7: Jewish Followers of Jesus, part 1 – Ebionites (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 3.6: Sources for the Study of Diversity – Gnostic, Apocryphal, Patristic

Here I sketch out our main sources for the study of various Christian groups or “heresies” in the second and third centuries, including discussion of the early Christian Apocrypha, the Nag Hammadi writings (associated with “gnosticism”), and the Church Fathers. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.6: Sources for the Study of Diversity – Gnostic, Apocryphal, Patristic (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 3.5: Diversity in Asia Minor – A Regional Case Study

Here I use the region of Asia Minor (Turkey) as a case study that allows me to outline various strands and styles within Christianity in the first and second centuries. I then go on to outline our approach to studying the worldviews and practices of Christian groups and “heresies”. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.5: Diversity in Asia Minor – A Regional Case Study (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options ).

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Podcast 3.4: Docetic and Judaizing Opponents of Ignatius, part 2

Here I discuss Ignatius’ Judaizing opponents, who advocated certain Jewish beliefs and practices. I also deal with Ignatius’ strategies in combating groups he considered heretical. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.4: Docetic and Judaizing Opponents of Ignatius, part 2 (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Angel-loving association cancelled – A new reading of an often cited inscription from Asia Minor

The availability of the journal Epigraphica Anatolica online is already paying off!  There you will find a new article which has some notable repercussions not only for the study of associations in Asia Minor but also for the study of the opponents of Colossians: Hasan Malay, “ΦΙΛΑΝΠΙΛΟΙ in Phrygia and Lydia,” Epigraphica Anatolica 38 (2005) 42–44.

Back in 1980/81, A.R.R. Sheppard published a little inscription (from near Kotiaion) involving Holiness and Justice, two personifications that were commonly honoured in certain areas of Phrygia and Lydia (“Pagan Cults of Angels in Roman Asia Minor,” Talanta 12-13 [1980-81]: 77-101 = SEG 31 1130).  The more exciting element in the inscription was the apparent reference to non-Christians or non-Judeans who devoted themselves in some way to “angels”, which was based on Sheppard’s reading: ΦΙΛΑΝΓΕΛΩΝ (“Friends-of-angels”).  Sheppard’s translation of the inscription was as follows:

Aur(elius) … the Association of Friends of the Angels (made) a vow to Holiness and Justice”.

Sheppard suggested that this involved “pagans” who had some contact with the Jewish notion of angels.  Sheppard’s reading of the inscription was also discussed in New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity, vol. 6, number 31.

This idea that there were “pagans” devoted to divine messengers or “angels” then became background for some New Testament scholars who were sorting out the “philosophy” combated by the author of Colossians (2:8-23), particularly the reference to the “worship of angels” (2:18).  Clinton Arnold’s theory regarding the opponents of Colossians, for instance, drew attention to the importance of angels in Asia Minor not only among diaspora Judeans but also among pagans, such that we could speak of a common folk practice in this region.  He suggested that the opponents were practicing the (magical) invocation of angels for protection and that this reflected both the Judean and pagan devotion to angels in Asia Minor specifically (see Clinton Arnold, The Colossian Syncretism: The Interface between Christianity and Folk Belief at Colossae [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996]).

However, Malay’s recent study of this particular inscription has shown that Sheppard likely misread a key letter here (what a difference one letter can make).  What Sheppard read as a “gamma”, Malay now says is surely a “pi”, which leaves us with ΦΙΛΑΝΠΙΛΟΙ, “Friends-of-the-vine” or “Vine-lovers”, and no angels at all in this inscription.

Malay publishes another inscription which confirms the existence of associations devoted to the vine, in other words relating to wine production and/or consumption, in the same region (in this case from nearby Katakekaumene, now in the Manisa Museum, dating 161/2 CE):

“To the Good Fortune! In the year 192, on the fourth day of the month Peritios, New Lovers of Vine (φιλάνπιλοι) set this up as a vow to Mother Leto on account of their own salvation.

The meeting of the association of friend-of-angels is apparently canceled.

Podcast 3.3: Docetic and Judaizing Opponents of Ignatius, part 1

There are two main groups of opponents combated by Ignatius of Antioch in his letters to followers of Jesus in Asia Minor: Docetic and Judaizing opponents (part 1 of 2). This episode introduces Ignatius (who wrote in the early second century) and explains the position of his docetic opponents, who thought that Jesus only appeared to be human when in fact he was a divine being. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.3: Docetic and ‘Judaizing’ Opponents of Ignatius, part 1 (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 3.2: A Schism in John’s Community, part 2

Here I continue to consider the opponents in John’s epistles (part 2 of 2). These epistles provide evidence of an early Christian schism over how to view Jesus’ humanity. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.2: A Schism in John’s Community, part 2 (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 3.1: Introduction to Diversity – A Schism in John’s Community, part 1

Here I delve into the issue of diversity in early Christianity by using the opponents in John’s epistles as a starting point (part 1 of 2). These epistles provide evidence of an early Christian schism over how to view Jesus’ humanity. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.1: Introduction to Diversity – A Schism in John’s Community, part 1 (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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An early Christian schism over how to view Jesus’ flesh: Opponents of John the elder (Diversity 1.2)

Although philosophical debates about the nature of Jesus Christ in terms of his humanity and / or divinity were clearly a hallmark of the fourth century (as evidenced in the church councils and creeds), it is true that how one viewed Jesus’ fleshliness was a divisive factor among some followers of Jesus in the late first century and into the second. In fact, one of the earliest cases of schism within a specific community of Jesus-followers seems to relate to this factor.

The author of the tractate and epistles associated with John the elder (1-3 John) provides us with evidence of this earliest of schisms (probably in the late first century). More specifically, this elder attests to the fact that a group of people had left what was previously a relatively united community of followers, likely somewhere in western Asia Minor (usually labeled the “Johannine community” by scholars due to the community’s shared traditions associated with the Gospel of John).

The divide that had since developed between John the elder and his supporters, on the one hand, and those that had left, on the other, was considerable, with very little sign of reconciliation. So much so that the elder associates them with “the world” in a strongly negative sense and he does not hesitate to label them “deceivers” and “antichrists” — strong language indeed. The central factor in the disagreement relates to what the elder considers a failure to acknowledge Jesus’ coming in the flesh:

“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 7-8 [RSV]).

“For many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already” (1 John 4:1-3).

(For a discussion of the rhetorical use of “Satan”, “antichrist” and related labels, see my other post here.)

Elsewhere, the elder also claims that this had some implications regarding ethics or behaviour, regarding how these opponents were viewing “sin”, namely that “we have no sin” (1 John 1:5-10). It is hard to evaluate the truth in this accusation of false claims, if there is any, since the elder claims that he and his camp, in opposition to the “children of the devil”, know that “no one who abides in [Jesus] sins” (1 John 3:6). Both sides are claiming sinless status though disagreeing on the other’s precise understanding of that and of whether or not the other is “abiding” in Jesus.

Apparently the “flesh” factor also underlies the elder’s other accusations that the opponents supposedly deny “the Father and the Son” or deny that “Jesus is the Christ” (1 John 2:22). We need to take these generalizations with a grain of salt and interpret them in light of the “flesh” factor, since it is hard to imagine that these other followers of Jesus were indeed denying that Jesus was the Messiah or that Jesus was sent by the Father. Instead, the elder seems to equate any downplaying of Jesus’ humanity as the equivalent of denying Jesus, the Son, and the Father altogether.

As scholars such as Raymond Brown point out, it seems that the elder and his opponents, who had belonged to the same community and had the same favourite writings, were both interpreting the gospel of John’s rather high Christology (Jesus as the preexisting “Word” or Utterance of the Father) in two very different ways. Both might agree that Jesus was preexistent and that Jesus was made flesh in some manner, but each interpreted such things differently and put more emphasis on one factor (divine preexistence) than another (flesh).

It is difficult to know precisely how these opponents relate to the opponents attacked by Ignatius of Antioch just about a decade later, also in Asia Minor. These opponents are accused of saying that Jesus “suffered in appearance only” (Letter to the Trallians 10). The downplaying of Jesus’ fleshliness is once again a factor here in what scholars often label “docetism” (from the Greek word dokein = to seem or appear to be). We’ll come back to docetism and Ignatius in a later post.

For more on the opponents in 1-3 John, see Raymond Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple (New York: Paulist Press, 1979), 93-144.