Discussion Notes for Diversity in Early Christianity





Unity, Duality and Plurality in the Historiography of Early Jesus Groups

1. Unity: Traditional view of Acts, Hegesippus, Eusebius, and others

  • Acts of the Apostles (NT) on unity
  • Notions of “orthodoxy” and “heresy” – when did they emerge and are they anachronisms?
  • Hegesippus and Eusebius (discussion of Eusebius 3.32 and 4.7) – What image of Christian origins does this rhetoric project?  How does this portray disagreement and unity?  What sort of language is used to describe the situation?  What value judgements are evident?

2. Duality: F. C. Baur’s theory of the 1800s (Peter vs. Paul / Jew vs. Gentile)

  • Early Christianity in Hegelian terms as a two-sided battle (thesis and antithesis) and a winner (synthesis)
  • Value judgements involved: Particularist “Judaism” and universal Pauline Christianity
  • Monolithic characterization of “Judaism” – reality of the great diversity of Judean and Galilean culture in the first century – diversity of Judean culture leads to diversity of Jesus movements

3. Plurality / Diversity: Walter Bauer’s theory of 1934 and continuing legacies

  • Flipping the traditional view: Heresy before orthodoxy
  • Diversity in Bart Ehrman’s Lost Christianities

4. Introducing diversity in Asia Minor and approaches to opponents

  • Method of looking at opponents in literature pertaining to Asia Minor (consult Sumney handout)


Introducing the Study of Opponents in Asia Minor: Galatia

1.  Judean (Jewish) culture, Judean custom, and the origins of the Jesus movements

  • Diversity of Judean groups
  • Common demoninators of Judean culture
  • Gentiles (Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians, etc.) and Judean culture

2.  Asia Minor as a hub of activity for Judean and Jesus groups

  • Geographical bearings (map)
  • Judean diaspora
  • Jesus groups: John’s Apocalypse; Ignatius’ letters; 1-3 John; 1 Peter; Ephesians, Colossians, etc.

3.  Method in the study of opponents in the literature: Discussion of Barclay and Sumney

  • What are some of the problems and pitfalls in studying opponents in the literature?  What lessons can we learn from these pitfalls?  What is the nature of our sources?  What sort of approach should we take to these sources (What does Barclay suggest)?  Does historical method seek certainty?  If not, then what is historical method able to do (Barclay’s “sliding scale”)?

4.  Understanding Paul’s opponents in Galatia

  • 1) Paul: Brief introduction to Paul’s identities, Paul’s letters, and Paul’s mission to Gentiles (especially discuss Galatians 1:11-2:14)
  • 2) The Galatian addressees: What has happened in Galatia?  Who (ethnically) are the addressees of the letter in Galatia?  What is the history of Paul’s relation with them?  What have they done?
  • 3) Finding the opponents in Paul’s response: Who are the opponents and what is their position?  What ideas and practices do they advocate and why?  How might they explain or justify their position? (cf. Genesis 17)  What do Paul and his opponents have in common?
  • Key passages: 1:6-9; 4:17; 5:7-12; 6:12-13.  Possible indirect allusions to opponents: 4:8-11; 4:21; 5:1-6


Opponents of John the Elder: A “Docetic” or “Gnostic” Trajectory in the Johannine Epistles?

1.  Introductory matters

  • Authorship, date, location, recipients of each letter (“elect lady” and Gaius)
  • Johannine community (probably in western Asia Minor)
  • Relationship between John’s gospel and the epistles
  • Common themes and view of Jesus: Son-Father-Spirit, word, life, truth, knowledge, light/darkness, “new commandment” of love

2.  Internal struggles in the Johannine groups

  • Analysis of the evidence in 1-3 John: Schism (“they went out from us”) and identity of the schismatics
    • “Anti-christs” or “false prophets” downplaying (or denying?) complete humanity of Jesus and emphasizing his divinity (high Christology; cf. John’s gospel)
    • Questioning Jesus death’s significance for human sin?: “we have no sin” (cf. 1 Jn 1:8-10; 2:18-25; 4:1-6; 5:6-8; 2 Jn 1:7-11)
    • Ethics and the “commandments
    • Discussion of Brown’s theory (opponents downplaying but not denying Jesus’ humanity): Sources of authority for the positions (John Gospel)


  • “Docetists” and the development of “Gnosticism”?: Philosophical background of docetism or downplaying of the importance of Jesus’ or human flesh (cf. 1 Corinthians 15 on bodily resurrection)
  • Relation with opponents of Ignatius in Asia Minor
  • Hospitality (3 Jn 1:5-10): Opponents (Diotrephes) and refusal of hospitality for follows of John the elder; John’s letter of recommendation (cf. 3 Jn 1:12)

3.  Plotting out different Jesus groups

  • Variety of sub-groups even within a common tradition or community (Johannine community and Brown’s argument concerning the centrality of John’s Gospel)
  • Review previous week’s discussion of Galatians


Opponents of Ignatius: Docetics and Judaizers or Judaizing Docetics?

1. Introductory matters

  • Ignatius’ identity (bishop of Antioch; hope of martyrdom; Romans 4; Philadelphians 10)
    • Concepts of martyrdom
  • Genre, date and audience: Letters to churches in western Asia Minor

2. The Opponents and Ignatius’ response

  • Opponents in the Asian churches (one or two groups?)
    • Situation at Smyrna: Docetism – discussion of Smyrnians 1-8 (see also Ephesians chs. 7-8; Magnesians 11; Trallians 9-10)
      • Comparing those who deny the flesh in John’s epistles
    • Situation at Philadelphia: (Gentile?) Judaizing – discussion of Philadelphians (see also Magn. 8-10)
      • Comparing the Galatian situation
      • Comparing the Judean “myths” in the Pastoral epistles
    • Discussion of Magnesians: Combining the opponents?
  • Jerry Sumney’s theory of multiple opponent groups (discussion of Sumney’s method
  • John Marshall’s theory of one opponent group: Jesus as an angelic figure
  • Response: Church leadership as monarchy
    • Unity under the bishop (cf. Eph. 4; Trall. 2; Smyrn. 8)
    • Defining “proper” belief: The move toward creeds
    • Common meetings/communion (Eph. 5.3; 20.2; Magn. 4; Phil. 4; Smyrn. 7-8)

3.  Plotting out different Jesus groups

  • Pauline, Johannine, and Ignatian forms and sub-forms


Scholarly Approaches to Diversity: Discussion of Ehrman’s Lost Christianities

1.  Assessing Ehrman’s Lost Christianities

  • What does Ehrman argue?  How does he develop this argument through the chapters?  What methods or approaches does he take to the question?  What sources does he use?
  • What strengths and weaknesses to you perceive in his arguments?  Do you detect any moral or value judgements in his approach?
  • What scholarly categories does he develop and how does he define them?  What value or difficulties do you see in his use of the category of “forgery”?  What does Ehrman mean by “proto-orthodoxy” and what problems (if any) do you see with this category?  By what criteria would we (or Ehrman) categorize a particular person / author as “proto-orthodox”?  Would the people categorized in this way even agree with one another? What is the scholarly pay-off involved in the choice of categories?

2.  Examining key themes raised in the book in relation to our course

a) “Forgery”, pseudonymity and pseudepigraphy: Cross-cultural study of authorial practices in antiquity

  • How do we avoid making value judgements or taking sides in explaining cultural practices from a different place and time?

b) Diversity of groups

  • What relation (in terms of both ideology and practice) do you see between the groups Ehrman outlines (primarily of the 2nd and 3rd centuries) and the groups we have encountered so far?
  • Should we use the concept of the “proto-orthodox movement” when approaching groups in the first and second centuries?

c) Nature of relations between differing groups: Techniques in the battle

  • The traditional, Eusebian view, Baur and Walter Bauer again: How would you explain each of these three positions on the history of the early Jesus movements?  What was Walter Bauer’s thesis and how does Ehrman’s argument relate to it?
  • What techniques were used in the “battles” between varying Jesus groups?  How did “orthodoxy” become established?
  • What processes led to the establishment of a canon?


Debates Over Women, Marriage, and Societal Values, part 1: The Perspective of the Acts of Paul

1. Legacies of Paul and the “battle” for Paul among Jesus groups

  • Test case: The Acts of Paul and Thecla vs. The Pastoral epistles

2. The Acts of Paul: Introductory matters

  • Date (c. 160-200 CE), authorship and provenance (Asia Minor): The controversy mentioned by Tertullian, Concerning Baptism 17 (link with text and discussion)
  • Genre: Apocryphal Acts, the Acts of the Apostles (in NT), and the ancient novel
  • Manuscripts and the shape of the story

3. Stories in the Acts of Paul: Discussion of the episodes and plot

  • Paul’s adventures in Asia Minor and Syria
  • Thecla episodes at Iconium and Antioch
  • The Lion at Ephesos
  • 3 Corinthians
  • Martyrdom of Paul
  • What forms or styles of following Jesus are reflected in these stories?  What sort of ideology and practice do we find?

4. Discussion of MacDonald’s The Legend and the Apostle (chapters 1-2)

  • What is MacDonald’s main argument?  What strengths and weaknesses do you detect?  Do you agree or disagree?
  • What role do oral stories and folklore play in his approach?  Who were the story tellers, according to MacDonald? What were the central principles taught within the stories contained in the Acts of Paul?
  • How do the Acts of Paul and Thecla and the Pastoral epistles make use of an image of Paul to counter other perspectives?  How does all of this relate to battles between different styles of following Jesus (and Paul)?  What value judgements or biases do you detect in the book?  How do these affect the overall approach and argument?

5. Women, gender, the household and society (the city)

  • Alternate portraits of Paul and realities of women’s lives in Jesus groups (Acts of Paul vs. Pastorals) – Women’s leadership and the relationship between Jesus groups and Greco-Roman society
  • Greco-Roman perspectives on the city and the household (e.g. household codes)
  • Greco-Roman perceptions of Jesus groups and varying responses (Aelius Aristides and Celsus on women and Jesus groups)
  •  Discussion of key themes in the Thecla episodes (with help from Melissa Aubin’s “Reversing Romance”):

(1) Sexuality, marriage, and asceticism

  • “Blessed are those who have kept the flesh chaste. . .“
  • Turning the novel’s love theme on its head: Kissing Paul’s bonds
  • Chastity and society: “Overturning the city”
  • Pastoral epistles: Domestic women (1 Tim 2:15; 4:1-5; Titus 2:3-5)

(2) Gender and women’s roles or leadership

  • Thecla, the leader and teacher: “Go and preach!”
  • Questions of gender: The “manly” Thecla and the “womanly” Paul?
  • Historical context: The Phrygian (Montanist) movement and women prophets in Asia Minor
  • Pastorals:
    • Subverting the “old wives’ tales” (1 Tim 4:7-8; 5:13-16; 2 Tim 3:4-9)
    • Silent and domestic women: “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men” (1 Tim 2:11-15)

(3) Relations and conflicts between the Jesus groups and Greco-Roman society

  • Thecla: Overturning Greco-Roman society
  • Pastorals: Greco-Roman values and alleviation of group-society tensions (cf. 1 Timothy 2:1-2; 3:7; Titus 3:1)

6.  Implications for Diversity: Variety among Pauline groups


Debates Over Women, Marriage, and Societal Values, part 2: The Perspective of the Pastoral Epistles

1.  The Pastoral Epistles: Introductory matters

  • Pseudonymity (or pseudepigraphy) and the battle for Paul’s memory
  • Date and genre of the epistles: leadership structures, sound “doctrine”, less apocalyptic (?)

2.  Discussion of MacDonald’s The Legend and the Apostle (chapters 3-4)

  • What does MacDonald argue concerning the relation between the opponents addressed by the Pastor, on the one hand, and the Acts of Paul, on the other?  What passages in the Pastorals seem to align with the perspective of the Acts of Paul and Thecla?  Beyond the issue of women, what similarities are there between the Pastorals and the Acts of Paul?  How does MacDonald explain the origin of these similarities between the Pastorals and the Acts of Paul?
  • What picture of “Paul” do the Pastoral epistles create and how does this relate to the picture of Paul in the Acts of Paul?  What importance do Greco-Roman values of marriage, the household, and societal structures play in the “Paul” of the Pastorals? How do the “widows” of the Pastoral epistles relate to the Acts of Paul and Thecla?
  • What social and cultural context does MacDonald see as the main context for understanding the “Paul” of the Acts of Paul?  What does he argue about the “victory” of the Pastoral epistles?

3.  Opponents in the Pastoral epistles: One or many?

  • Towner’s article on the opponents and 1 Corinthians: Realized eschatology as the main factor, in his view (contrast MacDonald’s principal focus on women and asceticism)
  • Judaizing opponents? → connection with those who “know”?
    • E.g. 1 Tim 1:3-11 [“genealogies”,”myths”, “law”, “vain discussion”]; 2 Tim 4:3-5 [“myths”]; Titus 1:9-16 [“Judean myths”]; Titus 3:8-11 [genealogies and “the law”)
  • “Knowledge” and “realized eschatology” among philosophically-minded opponents? → connection with asceticism?
    • E.g. 1 Tim 6:3-5 [“knows”]; 6:20-21 [“knowledge” and “godless chatter”]; 2 Tim 2:15-26 [Hymenaeus and Philetus, “godless chatter” and resurrection already passed]; cf. 1 Cor 15 and Acts of Paul
  • Ascetic opponents? → connection with women?
    • E.g. 1 Tim 4:1-5 [vs. chastity and abstinence from foods]
  • Active and teaching women? → connection with “knowledge”? → connection with asceticism?
    • 1 Tim 2:8-15 [“silence”]; 4:6-10 [“old wives’ tales”]; 5:3-16 [“widows”, “idlers”, “gossips”]; 2 Tim 3:4-9 [“weak women” who can never arrive at “knowledge”; Titus 2:1-5 [older women to teach domesticity and submissiveness)
  • Named opponents → realized eschatology
    • Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim 1:19-20); Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Tim 2:17); Alexander (2 Tim 4:14); Demas (2 Tim 4:10)
  • Relationship between these different factors and parallels we have seen elsewhere
  • The overall stance of the author towards societal structures (marriage, household, authorities) and Greco-Roman society


Proponents of the “Philosophy” at Colossae

1. Background on Colossians

  • Authorship and date

2. The Opponents and Their “Philosophy” (see especially 1:15-20 and 2:8-23)

  • Three common scholarly explanations of the background of the opponents:
    • (1) Judeo-Gnostic background (e.g. Lightfoot): Judean customs, mysticism and asceticism, cosmological speculation (e.g. “fullness” / pleroma and intermediary beings)
    • (2) Gnostic and/or mysteries background (e.g. Dibelius): Initiation into mysteries focussed on worship of angels, intermediaries and the elements (stoicheia)
    • (3) Judean background (e.g. Francis, Royalty): Discussion of Royalty’s argument: Judean-style prophets / visionaries connected with John’s Apocalypse and heavenly angelic worship (not worship of angels but angelic worship); other options
    • (5) Anatolian background: Syncretism of local magical and other traditions (e.g. Arnold)
    • (5) Greco-Roman philosophy (e.g. DeMaris): neo-Pythagorian? (Laertius, 8.25-33); Middle Platonic?

3.  Relation to other styles of following Jesus?


Techniques for Attacking Opponents in Jude and 2 Peter

1. Background on Jude and 2 Peter

2. Viewpoints and practices attributed to the opponents

3. Rhetorical techniques in attacking opponents

  • Context of polemics and rivalries in the ancient context

4.  Relation to other styles of following Jesus?


Local and Imperial Opponents of John’s Apocalypse (Revelation)

1.  Introductory matters

  • Authorship and audience
  • Date and context: Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE (compare other Judean apocalypses)
  • What is an Apocalypse?
  • Apocalypticism (world-view), Millenial movements (social groups), and the genre of Apocalypse (writing)
  • The overall situation and response (discussion of deSilva’s article):
    • Traditional explanations: Domitian’s persecution
    • Revised view: Futuristic visions that build upon some current or past incidents in order to convince followers of Jesus to maintain distance from “pagan”
      society and imperialism
    • Response: Sectarian perspective of John’s Apocalypse
      • Call to endurance and worship of God and the Lamb (not the beast)
      • Distance from surrounding society: “Come out of her, my people…”(18:4-8)


    • Overview of the visions: See the outline

2. Local opponents in the letters (discussion of Harland article)

  • Followers of “Balaam,” “Jezebel”, and the Nicolaitans at Pergamon and Thyatira: see Numbers 22-25; 1 Kings 18:4, 13; 19:1-2; 21:25-26)
    • Typological thinking and biblical interpretation in the ancient world
    • Interpreting idol-food and “fornication” (metaphor for participation in “foreign” cultural practices)
  • The “synagogue of Satan” at Smyrna and Philadelphia – rivalries over who are the true “Judeans” (Jews)

3.  Imperial opponents and attitudes towards the Roman empire: Beasts and the Whore

  • The military and religious critique of empire: Worship of the beast (ch. 13)
  • The economic critique of empire: Babylon the whore and the “fornicators” (chs. 17-18)
    • Links with the opponents in the letters (“fornication”)?
  • Comparison with other Christian attitudes towards Roman imperial society (see 1 Peter 2:11-17)
  • Diversity in group-society issues among early Christians: Defining community boundaries


Diversity in the Second and Third Centuries: Sources and Approaches

1. Early Christian Apocrypha

  • Defining the concept / category:
    • “apocrypha” = “hidden” / “heretical” / non-canonical
    • Gelasian decree (VI CE) and the scope of the apocrypha, both available and unavailable (http://www.tertullian.org/decretum_eng.htm)
    • Scholarly definitions of Early Christian or New Testament Apocrypha as a collection (overlaps with other categories, including Nag Hammadi writings)
  • Overview of writings often included:
    • Gospels (fragments, dialogue gospels, infancy gospels, passion gospels); Acts; Pseudo-Clementine literature; Apocalypses
    • Writings we will deal with: “Jewish / Judean” gospels, Pseudo-Clementine literature

2. Nag Hammadi writings

  • History and significance of discovery (in 1945)
    • Gospel studies: e.g. Coptic Gospel of Thomas
    • Study of “gnostic” forms of devotion to Jesus:
      • The opponents speak
      • Overview of “Gnosticism”
        • Problem of “gnosticism” as a category
        • Different schools and variations (e.g. Valentinus, Sethian, etc)
        • Debates about origins of gnosticism
        • Some common elements in the Nag Hammadi literature: Philosophical / Middle Platonic basis (e.g. emanations from the perfect principle); Use of scripture; Knowledge and salvation; Material vs. spiritual; Descent and Ascent; Christ as spiritual saviour figure
  • Overview of writings:
    • Gospels (dialogues); Acts; Biblical interpretations; Apocalypses; Prayers; Letters; Treatises / expositions; Wisdom literature; Philosophical teachings
    • Some writings we will consider: Apocryphon of John, Gospel of Judas, Gospel of Mary

3. Anti-heresy writers

  • Nature and context of these sources
  • Overview of some authors:
    • Irenaeus, elder in Lugdunum / Lyons (II CE): Detection and Overthrow of the False Knowledge (“gnosticism”)
    • Hippolytus of Rome (late II CE – early III CE): Refutation of All Heresies
    • Tertullian of Carthage (II-III CE): Against Marcion
    • Epiphanius of Salamis, metropolitan in Cyprus (IV CE): Medicine Chest (Panarion)

4. Our Approach to these sources: Assessing forms and groups in the sources

  • Review of our findings regarding overlapping strands and forms in Asia Minor:
    • “Judean” and “Judaizing“ strands (Galatians, Ignatius)
    • Docetic strands (Johannine epistles, Ignatius)
    • Ascetic strands (Colossians, Pastoral epistles, Acts of Thecla)
    • Prophetic strands (John’s Apocalypse, Montanism)


  • Review of our findings regarding strategies and techniques in battles between groups devoted to Jesus (struggling with opponents)
  • Assessing forms of Christianity in the Apocrypha, Nag Hammadi writings, and Anti-heresy writers
    • Preliminary steps: Questions of authorship, date, genre, and cultural contexts
    • Searching for forms of Christianity: Belief / Worldview < — > Practice / Ritual
    • Comparing and plotting out forms of Christianity


Judean Followers of Jesus (second-fourth centuries): Ebionites

1. Background: Jerusalem Jesus-followers and their Judean heirs

  • Observance of Judean practices among Jerusalem Jesus-followers
    • Evidence from the situation at Galatia
  • Centrality of James the Just and Peter for Judean forms of Christianity
    • Gospel of Thomas 12
    • James’ death (c. 60s CE; Hegesippus; Josephus, Ant. 20.9)
    • The consequences of the revolt: Settlement of the community in Pella of the Decapolis (?)

2. Ebionites (“Poor ones”) and other Judean followers of Jesus in patristic sources

  • Making sense of the “Ebionites”
    • Ebionim as a positive term in the Hebrew Bible (cf. Psalm 37; cf. 4Q 171 2:9-12; 3:10)
    • Anti-Heresy (patristic) writers identifying heretical “schools” and their founders: Ebion
    • Irenaeus (about 190 CE) and other patristic authors on the Ebionites:
      • Christology:
        • Son of Joseph (Haer. 1.26.2; 5.1.3)
        • Adoptionism based on fulfillment of the law (see Hippolytus, Refut. 7.22)
      • Authoritative writings:
        • Hebrew Bible (Moses and Prophets), Matthew
        • Anti-Pauline
      • Judean way of life:
        • Jesus as example of perfect fulfillment of the torah (Hippolytus, 7.34.2)
    • Epiphanius (4th century): nothing new
      • Dependent on earlier sources and use of Pseudo-Clementine works – but see the Gospel of the Ebionites

3. “Judean / Jewish” Gospels in Origen, Jerome, and Epiphanius

  • Problems in sorting through the quotations: Nature of our evidence in Origen, Jerome, Epiphanius and others
    • Number of gospels involved (two-gospel [G. Hebrews = G. Nazoreans] and three-gospel theories)


  • Gospel of the Hebrews (late first – early second century)
    • Origen as key source; independent of synoptic gospels
    • Key passages:
      • Alternate baptism episode and hints of adoptionism (no. 2);
      • Holy Spirit as mother (no. 3);
      • Seeking-finding (no. 4; cf. Mt 7:7; G.Thom. 2)
      • Centrality of James the Just (no. 7 in Jerome)


  • Gospel of the Nazoreans (early second century)
    • Jerome as key source; closely related to G. Matthew
    • Key passages: Issue of Jesus’ baptism (no. 2); Rich man and the law (no. 16; // Mt 19:16-30)


  • Gospel of the Ebionites (mid-second century)
    • Epiphanius as key source; problems in using Epiphanius (IV CE)
    • Key passages:
      • No locusts and Epiphanius’ claim of Ebionite vegetarianism
      • Alternate baptism episode and adoptionism
  • Beliefs and practices of the Ebionites: An overview

4. The Pseudo-Clementine literature and “Judean / Jewish Christianity”

  • Introductory matters:
    • Genre: Novel about Clement and the preachings of Peter
      • Plot: Family separated; youthful Clement seeking answers to life’s problems in philosophy; conversion to following Jesus; accompanying Peter on his journeys; Peter’s debates with Simon Magus; reuniting of family
    • Date (pre-410 CE) and alternate versions (Homilies, Recognitions, Letters)
    • Problems of solving literary relations: Source criticism and the early edition theory (Preachings of Peter, Strecker)
  • Pseudo-Clementine writings as sources for Judean Christianity and Judean perspectives
    • Epistles of Peter to James (discussion)
      • Peter’s “preachings” as authoritative
      • Alternate interpretations of Peter:
        • vs. the “man who is my enemy” = teaching the “dissolution of the law” (Paul)
      • Strategies in defending “truth” and combating alternate interpretations
        • Institution of requirements and initiations to teach the “preachings” of Peter
        • Compare opposition’s strategies in reverse (differing content to “truth” and “error”)
    • Homilies 17.13-19: Peter vs. Simon (Paul) – debate on visions (discussion)
      • Reminder of Paul’s stance in Galatians 1-2: Independence of Peter and other “pillars”; direct revelation (vision) of Jesus from God
      • The debate between Peter and Simon: What is true revelation? Who truly knows the teachings of Jesus?


  • What do things writings tell us about Judean forms of Christianity and their relation to other (e.g. Pauline) forms of Christianity?

The Marcionites and their Critics (esp. Tertullian)

1. Reconstructing Marcionite Christianity

  • The nature of our sources: Problems in reconstructing Marcionite belief and practice
    • Patristic authors and other materials:
      • Justin (ca. 155 CE), Irenaeus (ca. 190s CE), Hippolytus (early 200s CE)
      • Tertullian (ca. 207-208 CE) as the principal source (will return to his attack and strategies further on)
      • Anti-Marcionite elements in Gospel manuscripts and in other places
    • Attacks from other sides: The Pseudo-Clementines on “Simon Magus” (Judean perspectives on Marcion)
  • Marcion’s background and history:
    • Problems in getting at the truth: The “barbaric” Marcion according to Tertullian
    • Survey of what we think we know of his life
      • Born around 100 CE, perhaps son of a church leader there
      • Shipper from Pontus (Sinope)
      • Activity in Rome around 139-140s CE: Donation, calling of a council, excommunication
    • The demography of his movement: Marcionite Christianity on the map
  • Marcion’s worldview (read various passages from Justin, Irenaeus, and Hippolytus)
    • The legalistic god of this world (creator in the Old Testament) and the loving unknown god (Father) that sent Jesus to save humans from the god of this world
      • Contrasting character of these two gods: Marcion’s read of the Old Testament
      • Use of the tree and fruit metaphor (Lk 6:43-44; see Tertullian 1.2)
      • Distinctions from some Nag Hammadi (gnostic) authors: Creator god not evil (just legalistic and just in his legalism); no sophisticated middle platonic notions of emanations; death of Jesus for sin is central; literal interpretation of Judean scriptures
    • Law (judgement) and Gospel (love)
    • Views on Jesus
      • Jesus not the Judean messiah of the creator god
      • Paying the penalty for sin owed to the creator god (alternate ranson theory)
      • Jesus as only apparently human – Docetism


  • Marcion’s writings and canon
    • The Anti-theses (contrasts): Showing the contrasting characters of the Creator god and the God who sent Jesus
    • Authoritative collection of writings:
      • No Hebrew Bible / Old Testament
      • Centrality of Paul – other disciples misunderstood Jesus and continued to worship the creator god
      • Paul’s letters (10, except Pastorals) and Luke – Excising the bad parts
      • Marcion’s influence and the move towards a canon of scripture
  • Marcionite practices
    • Marriage and asceticism (Tertullian, 1.29)

2. Marcion’s opponents: Basis and nature of the attack in Tertullian’s Against Marcion

  • Tertullian’s Against Marcion
    • Genre and judicial rhetoric: Marcion on trial
    • Structure:
      • Book 1: Debunking Marcion’s Stranger god – non-existent
      • Book 2: Debunking Marcion’s characterization of the Creator God of the Old Testament (Creator God is good, all-knowing, and all-powerful, not sinful, angry, hostile, proud, capricious, petty, weak)
      • Book 3: Debunking Marcion’s view that Jesus came from the unknown god rather than the Creator God (one Christ, not two)
      • Books 4-5: Detailed critique of specific elements in Marcion’s Antitheses


  • Tertullian’s critical strategies, arguments, and techniques in the attack
    • Logic and “common sense” (e.g. 1.3, 1.26)
    • Analogies or examples (e.g. 2.16 on the surgeon’s equipment)
    • Negative view of “philosophy” (e.g. 1.13)
    • New / unknown = inferior; old / known = superior (e.g. 1.8, 1.10, 3.1 on heresy late)
    • Interpretation of authoritative writings:
      • Scripture interpretation (Old Testament) (e.g. book 2, 3.5 ff.)
      • Gospels, Paul’s writings, etc (e.g. 1.20 on Galatians 1-2, 3.8 on the docetism of the opponents of John the elder)
    • Name-calling and guilt by association (e.g. 1.5, 1.9)
    • Apostolic authority and the “rule of faith” (3.1)


  • Tertullian as evidence for Marcionite views and practices


The Nag Hammadi Collection, the Category “Gnosticism”, and Middle Platonism

1. Introduction to the Nag Hammadi Collection (53 documents and variety of genres)

2. “Gnosticism” and “gnostic” forms of Christianity: Problems in categories

  • Discussion of chapter from Williams’ Rethinking ‘Gnosticism’:  What does Williams see as some of the most fundamental problems with the category “gnosticism”?  What are your impressions of the examples of worldviews that Williams outlines?  Would you tend toward using the same label to describe them all?  If not, what terminology would you employ and how would you approach them?
  • “Gnosticism” as varied phenomena and groups – need to approach each writing on its own terms with attention to distinctive elements
  • Overview of Williams’ argument in the book as a whole:
    • Rethinking supposed characteristics of “gnosticism”:  1) Protest exegesis?; 2) Parasitical on other Christian groups?; 3) World rejecting?; 4) Hatred of the body?; 5) Extreme asceticism?; 6) Extreme libertinism?
    • “Biblical demiurgical traditions”

3. Timaeus, Middle Platonism, and perspectives in the Nag Hammadi writings

  • Plato’s Timaeus as cosmology / cosmogony (ca. 360 BCE) and continued influence on philosophers:  Discussion of Plato on his own
  • Seeing the Timaeus in Nag Hammadi worldviews (especially “Sethians”, 11 of 53 documents – see Turner 2006)
    • Original / reason and copy / sensation
    • World-soul (cf. Sophia)
    • Creator / demiurge figure (but shift from neutral to negative)
    • Children of the gods (cf. archons)
    • Soul vs. body distinction
    • Cycle and freedom from the cycle: The “perfect man” and dwelling in your native star (cf. salvation)
  • Developments: Middle Platonism and Numenius’ system – the divine triad as central
    • First God = “the Good”; Second God = Mind / Demiurge; World-soul (rational and irrational)
    • Human souls as fragments of the demiurge – goal of philosophy to reintegrate into the Good

Apocryphon of John: Mythology, Philosophy, and Biblical Interpretation

1. Introducing the Apocryphon of John

  • Date: pre-180 CE (see Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.29-); manuscripts (long and short recensions)
  • Genre and structure:
    • Monologue / dialogue gospel:
      • Debate and John’s questions (1-ff)
      • Monologue answering regarding the spiritual Triad / fullness (entirety), Sophia’s mistake, and the creation of the material world (2.25ff)
      • Dialogue regarding creation of humans (13.19ff)
      • Closing dialogue
  • Traditional categorization as “Sethian gnosticism”
    • Sethian themes across several Nag Hammadi writings
  • The basis and sources of the mythology
    • Platonic philosophy and speculation (discussion of what aspects of Timaeus we see in this)
    • Biblical interpretation (Genesis 1-6; discussion of biblical intepretation techniques)
      • Biblical interpretation in the Apocryphon of John: allegory and non-literal interpretations; some inversion as a result of view of creator god as ignorant (e.g. qualities of Satan)

2. The Mythology and Worldview of the Apocryphon of John

  • Who are the main characters in this mythology, what are their roles, and what is the overall purpose?  What does this monologue / dialogue aim to explain?  What is the nature and significance of the distinction between spiritual and material realms?
  • Bentley Layton’s explanation of the story’s plot (and subplot):
    • Act 1: Expansion of the first principle into the spiritual realm (pleroma = fullness / entirety”)
      • Theft or loss of some aspect of the spiritual realm
    • Act 2: Creation of material universe
    • Act 3: Creation of humans
      • Deception of the thief (Ialdabaoth = creator god of the Hebrew Bible), leading to transfer of spiritual elements or power to humans
    • Act 4: Subsequent history of humanity
      • Gradual recovery of the missing spiritual elements or power as souls return to the spiritual realm through knowledge (gnosis) gained from the saviour
  • 1) Imagining and sketching the perfect spiritual realm (“fullness / entirety”)
    • Background:
      • Judean notions of a heavenly court: Emanations glorifying God
      • Platonic notions: Self-explication (expression) and inward reflection (thinking) of the mind as the source of derived beings
    • The Invisible Spirit and the Primal Triad
      • Parent / Father – Invisible Spirit (monad)
      • Mother – Barbelo – First Thought and Self-Image of the Father – primary mediator between Invisible Spirit and everything else, including mediator of salvation
      • Child
    • Emanations or emissions: Aeons (“Eternities”)
      • Adamas, the perfect human, and Seth
      • Sophia
  • 2) The Fall: The creator god (demiurge) and his creation
    • Sophia (“Wisdom”) and her mistake: The illegitimate thought (emanation) of Sophia
    • The jealous god of the Hebrew bible (Exod 20:5; 34:14; Deut 5:9, etc.) – ignorant creator-god (demiurge) – Ialdabaoth
      • Parallels with Satan in other mythologies
    • Archons (“Rulers”) as offspring of the creator-god
    • Created world as poor imitation of the spiritual realm


  • 3) Creation of humans
    • Interpretation of Genesis 1-4
      • First humans (possessing the spiritual sparks) as superior to the archons
        • Struggle for “the power” in Adam
      • Adam: the image of spiritual Adamas in the water, the breath / spirit blown into the earthly Adam (from the spiritual realm) (Gen 1-2)
      • Sophia’s attempt to right things
      • Eve = Life: Vain attempt of Ialdabaoth to remove Adam’s intelligence, revelation (Gen 2)
      • Paradise and the trees (Gen 3)
      • Yaldabaoth introduces sex
        • Cain and Abel (Gen 4): Offspring of Ialdabaoth
      • Seth and the story of salvation (humans with spiritual sparks in the soul)


  • 4) Salvation and the return to the spiritual realm
    • “Christ” or Barbelo as revealer and bringer of knowledge (gnosis)
    • Seth’s offspring and the return of souls to the pure light


    • Interpretation of Genesis 6
      • Yaldabaoth’s futile attempts in the struggle: Flood and archons mating with daughters of men

3. Implications regarding forms of Christianity


Sophia of Jesus Christ: Platonic Philosophy and Nag Hammadi Forms of Christianity

1. Philosophical background of Nag Hammadi forms of Christianity

  • Importance of Platonic and others forms of philosophy for understanding cosmological speculations among Nag Hammadi Christian authors
  • Platonic philosophy on the nature of the universe
    • Plato’s Timaeus
      • Good creator God (demiurge) who is (being) (e.g. not jealous)
        • Being (original //eternal // mind // soul) vs. becoming (copy //perishable // sensations = passions)
        • Eternal world-soul as prior to body – soul as place of mind, reason, and intelligence
      • Creation
        • Copy of original (ideas) and eternal
        • Creation of gods (planets, stars)
          • Creation of animals and humans from the elements – material elements (fire, air, water, earth) + dilution of the soul of the universe
          • Man: mind/reason/soul vs. sensations
            • Transmigration of souls
            • Righteous life: conquering sensations to comprehend what is with the mind / soul – release from transmigration
            • The “perfect man” – “to return and dwell in his native star”


    • Key developments in “Middle Platonism” (II BCE-III CE)
      • Indirect nature of many of the sources (few writings have survived) and variety among Platonic thinkers
      • Characteristics
        • Blending of philosophical influences: Pythagorean, Stoic and Platonic
        • The “unwritten doctrines” of Plato
          • Reconciling the first principles notion with Plato’s Timaeus: The One/Monad = the Good (sometimes Mind or Father), the Dyad (sometimes Mother), and the Creator (Demiurge)
        • Antiochus of Ascalon (I BCE): Ideas as thoughts in the mind of God
        • Albinus (I CE):
          • Divine Triad – First God (Mind = Good); Second God (Universal Intellect); World-Soul
          • Emanations: First God generates others in his mind (hypostatization = personification of thoughts); Souls as further emanations
          • Descent and ascent of souls
        • Numenius of Apamea (II CE): Divine Triad; Matter is evil


  • Nag Hammadi authors like that of Sophia as free-thinking Platonists: Blending Platonic speculations (especially the divine principle[s] and emanations) with Judean scriptural interpretations

2. Worldviews and mythologies in Eugnostos and Sophia of Jesus Christ

  • Introductory issues: Dates (I BCE and I-II CE) and genres (letter vs. dialogue gospel); Literary relationship between the two works; similarities and differences in details of the worldviews
  • Eugnostos the Blessed
    • Some limited influence of Genesis: e.g. Adam of Light (other than that no obvious Judean cultural connection)
    • Divine Triad and further emanations (by means of “androgynous light”):
      • 1) God of Truth (= Father of the Universe = Forefather);
      • 2) Self-Father (image of the Forefather);
      • 3) Immortal Androgynous Man (= Perfect Mind = Sophia)
        • Son of Man (Adam of Light?)
          • Saviour (= Pistis Sophia)
            • 12 beings or powers then emanate 72 that emanate 360 (calendrical connection)
        • gods, lords, archangels, and angels
    • The coming “one who need not be taught” (Saviour?) and who will bring “pure knowledge”
  • Sophia of Jesus Christ
    • Christianizing of Eugnostos:
      • Framework of dialogue between Christ (identified with the coming “Saviour” and / or Son of Man of Eugnostos) and the disciples
      • Added mythology:
        • The Almighty and “the robbers” or authorities (cf. Apocryphon of John) (manuscript pp. 107ff)
          • Sophia’s mysterious “defect”
          • Drops from the Light (sent from Sophia) in the world of “poverty” (negative view of material realm – not quite as evident in Eugnostos)
          • Wakening the drops, shaking forgetfulness, and going “up to the Father
        • The “defect of the female” interpreted and explained: Sophia’s mistake (“to bring these to existence without her male”)
          • Drop from Light and Spirit in the world of Almighty = Yaltabaoth (BG 118ff)
          • Breath and soul as the means by which the Light entered poverty = “the world of chaos” (?)
          • Salvation: Loosing the bonds of the robbers and rejoining Spirit
            • Gnosis: Knowing the Father in pure knowledge via Christ
            • “Sons of light”


    • Practices: “Unclean rubbing” – attitudes towards sexuality?

3. Implications regarding forms of Christianity

  • Comparing worldviews in Eugnostos, Sophia, and Apocryphon of John
    • Common elements and differences


Valentinian Strands: Ptolemy and the Gospel of Truth

1. Valentinus and Valentinian ideology and practice

  • Introductory matters (discussion of Dunderberg article:
    • Valentinus (c. 100-175 CE) the author?: Valentinus’ education at Alexandria (contact with teachings of Basilides) and activity at Rome (c. 140s CE)
      • Characteristics of Valentinus’ writings and Valentinianism (cf. Bentley Layton):
        • Innovative mythmaker: Adaptation of other “gnostic” teachings yet in a way that tried to intersect with biblical and “cross-centered” Christianity; Allegorical interpretations of “traditional” Christian teachings (living among other Christians)
        • Platonic
        • Personal, experiential, and poetic character of some writings, including Gospel of Truth
    • Disciples of Valentinus (e.g. Ptolemy)
    • Three-fold division of humanity


2.  Ptolemy’s Letter to Flora

  • What does Ptolemy argue and what positions is he arguing against?  How does he view the origins and nature of the Pentateuch (five books of Moses = the Law)?  What sources of authority does Ptolemy employ to make his points?  How does this perspective relate to other readings we have had in “Sethian” documents (differences and similarities)?

3. Gospel of Truth

  • What is the main focus of this writing?  What are the present conditions?  What is salvation and what are the various ways in which this is explained?
  • Context: Compare the prologue to the Gospel of John (Word)
  • The Gospel of Truth and its teachings on Jesus
    • Introduction to the “gospel of truth”: The Word from the mind of the Father as the Saviour; Salvation as redemption of those who are ignorant of the Father
    • Overcoming error and ignorance to return to the Father (17.4-24.9)
      • Ignorance of the Father is error; knowledge makes error disappear
      • Role of Jesus, the Christ: Enlightens and brings truth
        • Jesus’ death re-interpreted (yet no explicit docetism): error grew angry at him (Valentinian forms of Christianity still have a special place for Jesus’ death)
      • Humans: “those from above” ; knowledge brings ascent and return to the totality = Father; analogy of shaking off drunkenness and returning to oneself
    • Appearance of truth / knowledge and its effects (24.9-33.32)
      • Unity and the deficiency
      • Series of analogies: Jars analogy; name analogy; etc.
      • Overcoming illusions
      • Jesus’ work (31): “he came by means of fleshly form”
      • Moral exhortation (33)
    • Returning to the Father (33.33-end)
      • “the children of the Father are his fragrance”
      • the revelation of the Word and the name of the Father = Son
      • “return again” – heed the “root”

Gospel of Philip: Rituals and Initiation into the Mystery

1. Introduction

  • Popular uses in film: Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ lover in the Da Vinci Code (63.32-64.4)
  • Date (early III CE), provenance (perhaps Syria), genre (anthology of teaching and ritual materials – catechesis
  • Content: Problems in finding a structure – sayings (of Valentinus and others?); sayings of Jesus; metaphors and parables
  • Attestation?: Epiphanius (Panarion 26.13.2-3) on a Gospel of Philip

2. Worldviews reflected in the Gospel of Philip

  • Hints of (Valentinian?) mythology:
    • The “fullness” (68.10-15); Echamoth and Sophia; “The world came about through a mistake” (75.1-5)
    • Valentinian background and the mythology of Sophia


  • The human condition:
    • Animals and slaves vs. free children and those who belong above (cf. 78-81)
    • Sons of Adam vs. sons of the perfect man (58.20-30)
    • Separation of Eve and Adam as source of death – “entering again” as destruction of death (68.20-25)
      • “acquire the resurrection” (66.10-25; 75.1-10 [realized eschatology])
      • “Precious” soul and “contemptible body” (56.20-25) – “it is proper to destroy the flesh” (82.25-30)


  • Salvation and the Saviour
    • Jesus = Christ = the perfect man
      • Docetic: “he did not appear as he was” (57.29-58.10; cf. 68.25-30)
      • Christ’s role: ransom / redeem the sons of the perfect man from the robbers = rulers (53.10-15; 55.5-25)
        • “rectify the fall” (71.15-25)
    • “Knowledge” (73.25-74.10; 77.15ff) and knowing oneself (76.15-25)
    • Ritual enactments of salvation: The “mystery”

3. Community practices and rituals (esp. pp. 148-151)

  • The “mystery”: Stages of initiation and the process of reunification
    • Holy of Holies analogy (69.22-25; 84.15-85.20) and stages explanation
    • Components or stages in the ritual process (read 67.27):
      • Rebirth; Baptism; Anointing (Chrism); Redemption
      • Bridal Chamber and “rest” (65.1-23; 68.22-26; 70.12-17; 81.34-82.26)
        • Gender separation analogy and androgyny ideal: “the image [ = male] and the angel [= female] are united” (65.20-25); concept of reuniting with one’s angelic counterpart


  • Kisses and breath
    • The “holy kiss” in Paul’s letters (Rom 16:16; 1 Thess 5:26)
    • Kiss as means of “conception from the grace” (59.1-5; 58.30-59.6)
    • Breath as means of conception (63.6-10; 70.23-24)


  • Views on sexual intercourse (61.10-15) and scholarly debates

4. Relation to other forms of Christianity

  • Valentinus and Valentinian Christianity
  • Critique of the views (“error”) of other Christians (e.g. 53-54; 55; 56.15-20; 65.35ff; 75.1-10)


Rhetorical attacks on marginal groups: Irenaeus on Valentinus’ school and Epiphanius on the Phibionites

1. Introductory matters

  • Reviewing earlier discussions of rhetorical attacks (e.g. Johannine epistles, Jude, 2 Peter, etc)
  • Context of invective in intergroup relations (e.g. ethnic relations):  3-fold mud-slinging techniques
  • Discussion of Williams’ chapter: Asceticism vs. libertinism in the study of “gnosticism”

2. Irenaeus on Valentinians

  • Irenaeus (ca. 130-200 CE), bishop of Lugdunum / Lyon in Gaul / France
  • Against the Heresies (ca. 180 CE) – advice to a friend on “knowledge” falsely so-called
  • Questions for analysis:
    • Irenaeus’ characterization of Valentinianism: What sources does Irenaeus claim the Valentinians used to support their views?  What technique of interpretation is this?  What is the worldview of the Valentinians according to Ireneaus?  What is the progressions in the mythology?  What is the central focus of salvation?  In what ways does this align or not align with what we know from some actual Valentinian authors?  What are the three substances and what is their significance?
    • What techniques does Irenaeus use to attempt to refute or attack Valentinian views?  What similarities or differences do you see between Irenaeus and Epiphanius in this regard?

3. Epiphanius on the Phibionites / Borborites

  • Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis on Cyprus
  • Panarion = Medicine Chest (ca. 374-377 CE) – antidotes to poisonous species
  • Questions for analysis: What is Epiphanius’ purpose?  What are the sources of his information?  How would you describe his techniques of attack?

The Gospel of Judas: Polemics and Critique of Other Christians

1. Introductory matters

  • The figure of Judas in early Christian literature: betrayer
  • Controversy on the portrayal of Judas: Judas as the good guy (e.g. National Geographic), or evil (e.g. DeConick)? Typical revelation of gnosis or parody?
    • Difficulties in translation and interpretation
    • Lack of relevance regarding the historical Jesus
  • Context in polemics: Portrayal of Jesus as laughing at the ignorant disciples – cipher for critique of other followers of Jesus
  • Manuscript (26 pages; 3rd or 4th century), date (140-200 CE), genre (dialogue gospel, but before resurrection)
    • Structure and content: 3 day discussion with disciples; secret revelation to Judas
  • Patristic references to a Gospel of Judas (Irenaeus 1.31.1-2 [see Gathercole, p. 210] and Epiphanius)

2. Gospel of Judas: Portrayal of the eleven disciples and critique of other forms of Christianity

  • Three day discussion with the disciples – the critique of other followers of Jesus
    • Day 1: The laughable eucharist of ignorant disciples, and their god (34-36)
      • Judas’ knowledge of the truth: “You are from the immortal realm of Barbelo” – “step away from the others”
    • Day 2: The great and holy generation (36-37)
    • Day 3: The disciples’ vision of twelve lawless priests sacrificing (= disciples) (37-43)
      • “the many people you lead astray” (39)
      • the god worshipped as Saklas (“Fool”)


  • Secret teachings for Judas (favourite or “favourite” parody)
    • Salvation: The souls of the holy generation “taken up” (43)
    • Vision of the 12 disciples persecuting Judas (45)
    • Judas’ fate and the scholarly debate: Judas as good guy who ascends to that generation or evil guy who will not see that generation (46)
      • Key factor in latter interpretation of DeConick: Gospel of Judas as a parody
    • Cosmology: Origins of the cosmos and human beings’ place within it (47-58)
      • Affinities with Sethian forms: Compare the Apocryphon of John
      • Great invisible spirit and the creation of the aeons / angels
      • Adamas and Seth in the spiritual realm (cf. Apocryphon of John)
      • Saklas among the angels / rulers (archons) over chaos
        • Saklas creates human Adam and Eve
        • The “great generation” with spirit and soul
        • Further critique of other followers of Jesus (“those who have been baptized in your name”): Fornicating and slaying children in Jesus’ name again (end of 54-56); worshipping the “Fool” (Saklas)
      • Ultimate salvation and the end: “the image of the great generation of Adam will be exalted” (57)

Gospel of Mary Magdalene: Ascent of the Soul

1. Introductory matters:

  • Manuscripts (half missing [pp. 1-6, 11-14 missing], some Greek fragments), date (second century), genre – dialogue gospel

2. Analysis of the writing and its worldview:

  • The dialogue about “matter” and “sin”
    • Platonic background:
    • Returning to its roots: material (dissolution) or spiritual (ascent to the spiritual realm)
    • Overcoming the passions of material existence (those things “like the nature of adultery”) in order to return to one’s spiritual origins
    • “Son of Man is within you”: The spiritual element (= perfect man) of the soul


  • Mary Magdalene as the favourite disciple, comforter, and recipient of secret teachings
    • Context:
      • Mary Magdalene in other literature: Gospel of Philip; Dialogue of the Saviour
      • Debates on women’s authority in Christianity: Remember the Acts of Paul and Thecla and Pastoral epistles


  • “I saw the Lord in a vision”: Vision through the soul, spirit, or mind?
  • Mary’s vision of an ascending soul (Saviour or Mary)
    • Ascent of the soul in context
      • Notions of multiple heavens with powers
      • Compare the Dialogue of the Saviour
    • Encountering “powers” that attempt to hinder the ascent of the soul


  • Closing dialogue and controversy about Mary’s teaching — relation to other forms of Christianity
    • Andrew representing other Christians: “strange ideas”
    • Peter representing other Christians: “knowledge” from a woman?
    • Mary’s and Levi’s response: Be ashamed and put on the “perfect man”

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