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The Gnostic Revolt Against the God of Judaism
the Demiurge and the Wisdom Dialogue
by Mark Gaffney
They teach the insidious doctrine
For many heretics have said that the God
In the first centuries of our era, Gnostic Christians overthrew the Jewish God Yahweh and attributed the work of Creation to a lesser deity or demiurge, known as Ialdabaoth (also spelled Yaldabaoth, or Jaldabaoth). The word has been translated as: “begetter of Sabaoth,” a pejorative pun for YHWH Sabaoth, one of the names of Yahweh in the Old Testament.1 The fact that Ialdabaoth turns up in the Nag Hammadi Library and is mentioned in the Naassene Sermon, i.e., the Refutation of All Heresies compiled by Hippolytus, raises important questions that Christian scholarship has never satisfactorily addressed, among them: Did Jesus teach or ratify the demiurge concept?
Origins Within Judaism
Most scholars regard the demiurge as a Gnostic rebellion against Judaism.2 But the rebellion was not a simple phenomenon. Certainly it was not always a matter of either/or. While many Gnostics summarily rejected the Old Testament, not all did. At least one Gnostic sect, the Jewish-Christian community of the Naassenes, based in cosmopolitan Alexandria, retained the Old Testament. The Naassenes are especially important because they claimed to have received their spiritual ideas from James the Just, the brother of Jesus.
Another question is simply: Why did the Gnostics rebel against the God of the Jews? The fact is partially explained by historical events, namely, the three failed Jewish revolts against Roman rule. The first and best known of these was the Jewish War of 66-73 AD. A second less well-known uprising was put down during in 115-117 AD, during the rule of Trajan. And a third and final insurrection, the Bar Kokhba rebellion, was crushed in 135 AD. There is no doubt that these failed political revolts against Rome seriously undermined the prestige of Yahweh. For which reason the Gnostic demiurge could date to anytime after 70 AD, the year of the cataclysmic destruction of the famous temple of Herod. 3
But political history does not tell the full story. The devaluation of Yahweh was also rooted in a process of religious reform that had been underway within Judaism for centuries, and which only attained its full fruition in the person of Jesus. To understand this reform, and how it came about, we must look to the Old Testament, in particular, to the seminal book of Job. (Many scholars have sought answers in Genesis, which is understandable, given that the demiurge is associated with Creation, but with less satisfactory results.)
Most Christians probably assume that the God of the Hebrews in the days of Abraham was the same as the God of Moses and, furthermore, that this God was also equivalent to the Father mentioned by Jesus with such love and devotion. Any such assumptions are false, however, but not because God changed. God’s nature, being absolute and eternal, never changes. What does change is human understanding. The human conception of God, the God concept, has changed many times over the course of history and will continue to evolve in the future. In a famous essay called "The God of the Fathers," first published in 1929, the Old Testament scholar Albrecht Alt explored whether such a transformation had occurred at the time of Moses. Alt found clues in the Pentateuch suggesting that the Elohist scribe had amended the earliest accounts to bring the more archaic God-concept of the early Hebrews, the God of the patriarchs, in line with the later (and more pure) monotheism of Moses. Alt's paper touched off a lively debate among biblical scholars that continues to this day. 4
The reform I am about to discuss is another example of the sort of evolution observed by Alt. The need for reform of the Old Testament God-concept was real enough. While some Old Testament passages describe Yahweh as merciful, loyal, forgiving, and benevolent, he is at least as often portrayed as jealous, grouchy, wrathful, irritable, proud, boastful, unforgiving, temperamental, cruel, vengeful, and even bloodthirsty, prepared to sanction cold-blooded murder or mass slaughter, including the annihilation of entire cities. Given the numerous examples of God-sanctioned mayhem in scripture, it is no wonder that discriminating readers have sometimes doubted whether this same Yahweh can inspire our confidence and trust, to say nothing of love, devotion, respect and emulation. Oftentimes, fear and trembling seems a more likely human response. And while fear of divine retribution can be a powerful force for good, and, at times, perhaps, a necessary motivator, if the goal is to uplift humanity from a moral standpoint, the example set by Yahweh in the Old Testament falls short of inspirational (to say the least).
The Book of Job
The Old Testament Book of Job, whose author is unknown, has two main themes: the question of evil, and the character of Yahweh. Many scholars rightly regard Job, along with Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, as representative of the high-water mark of the Old Testament.5 The central part of the book is a series of poems that was probably composed sometime in the fifth or sixth century B.C.E. Part folk tale, prophetic oracle, hymn, lamentation, didactic treatise, and epic, Job makes use of almost every genre in the Bible. The question it raises is no less pertinent today: Why does evil flourish while good people suffer? The answer the story provides broke sharply with Judaic tradition, and for this reason Job was surely controversial in its day. Tradition held that God would eventually reward the good man, regardless of his sufferings. Like the prophet Jeremiah, however (see Jeremiah 13:14, 24–25 and 15:6–7), the author of Job adopts a much more pessimistic outlook that probably reflects the bleak aftermath of the conquest and destruction of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar in the early sixth century B.C.E. Although the precise composition date of Job is not known, the book is obviously from the time of exile or later.6
The story openly portrays Yahweh in league with Satan. God torments the good man (Job) despite the fact that he keeps the Law and lives a morally upright life. Job's many trials are the work of Satan, Yahweh's servant (or possibly his son), who whispers false accusations in God's ear and receives permission to punish Job in order to test him and expose the wickedness allegedly concealed in his heart. Job’s flocks are stripped from him, his servants are slaughtered, and his sons and daughters are killed in a mighty whirlwind. He himself is stricken with a terrible wasting disease that causes great suffering and brings him to the edge of the grave. Job’s body literally becomes an open wound. To make matters worse, Job’s wife and his friends also turn against him: His wife urges him to curse Yahweh and to abandon all faith in God; meanwhile, his friends make superficial religious cant and castigate Job for having the temerity to maintain his innocence. One after another they admonish him, insisting that because Yahweh is punishing him, ipso facto, he must be guilty. They advise him to submit quietly to his sufferings, which obviously have been ordained by God. But Job will have none of it. Like a rock he holds fast to principle. Stubbornly he maintains his innocence and insists upon justice. Yet, at the same time, he remains faithful to Yahweh, refusing to condemn or even criticize the Almighty.
What is shocking about the story is the ease with which Yahweh succumbs to Satan's false witness about Job's alleged faithlessness. Being omniscient, Yahweh should be able to easily verify Job's goodness and constancy. But instead he hands Job over to Satan with a single proviso: "He is in your power," Yahweh says. "But spare his life." Though Job remains faithful throughout, before his terrible ordeal is done he curses the day of his birth. No less shocking is Yahweh's failure to acquit Job even after his innocence has been established. There is to be no moment of truth and no justice under heaven. Instead of vanquishing Satan for making false accusations, Yahweh turns on the victim. Instead of offering solace and comfort to the innocent, he badgers Job and bullies him, sneers at him with rhetorical questions, and then confronts the hapless man with a mind-boggling display of divine wrath.
In the end poor Job is beaten down and brought to his knees. But how can it be otherwise, given Yahweh's overwhelming might? The rod of God is an awesome thing. In the end Job is reduced to a stuttering simpleton. He repents, even though he is innocent, and admits that he has been talking about things far beyond his ken. Having seen the omnipotence of Yahweh, he is prepared to eat dust. In this vein Job responds: "What reply can I give to you, I who carry no weight?" (Job 40:4; 42:2) In a final prose epilogue Yahweh shows a loving touch by restoring Job's health and property, but there is no mention of restoring his dead servants and children. Indeed, the somewhat cheery conclusion feels out of step with the rest of the composition, as if a later scribe who was no less shocked than we by Yahweh's repulsive behavior added it to redeem God’s tarnished image. Indeed, so subversive is the Book of Job that it is remarkable the book was retained in the bible. Probably the scribal “correction” saved it from being thrown out, this and the fact that Job is a literary masterpiece. Of course, even with its modified ending, the story is far from satisfactory. Job’s total submission in the face of brute force seems a lame solution to the problem of evil. Nonetheless, the book is momentous because the questions the story fails to resolve were to redound over the centuries, as we shall see, and preoccupy the final books of the Old Testament.
So what is the root of the matter in the story of Job? Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, points out in his able commentary Answer to Job that for all of his infinite power Yahweh ultimately damns himself. By humiliating Job, by making him eat dust, God unwittingly reveals his own deep character flaw, brutishness, while at the same time elevating the impotent but righteous human. Job may be powerless before the Almighty, yet he remains free to choose, and by choosing well he shows impressive moral strength. Indeed, Job’s fortitude stands in marked contrast with Yahweh's rage and reproaches the deity’s ratification of evil. To be sure, Yahweh carries the day. With infinite power at his disposal, the outcome is not in doubt. Yet, from a moral standpoint Yahweh’s display of heavenly fireworks and thunder fails to impress. This is the beautiful and terrible irony of the story: that Job, despite his relative impotence, comes to stand in righteous judgment over God himself. As Jung put it:
“We do not know whether Job realizes this, but we do know from the numerous commentaries on Job that all succeeding ages have overlooked the fact that a kind of Moira . . . rules over Yahweh, causing him to give himself away so blatantly. Anyone can see how unwittingly he raises Job by humiliating him in the dust. By so doing he pronounces judgment on himself and gives man the moral satisfaction whose absence we [find] so painful in the Book of Job.”7
The word Moira refers to fate or destiny. In Greek religion Moira was one of the three personified seasons that accompanied Zeus, and were often pictured hovering just above his shoulder. The point is that Zeus was governed by them even though he was the most important Greek deity. The mere thought that such a thing might also hold in monotheistic Judaism is shocking. Surely the Godhead cannot be subject to fate. It is God, after all, who determines the destinies of others. Nonetheless, from the story it is clear that despite his omnipotence Yahweh is lacking in something. Job apparently intuits this because in his suffering he asks: “But tell me, where does Wisdom come from? Where is understanding to be found?” (Job 28:12) In the very next verse Job answers his own question. “Wisdom?” he says. “It is fear of the Lord.” Here, as Jung notes, Job shows that he is unaware of his own achievement. He does not seem to understand that in holding firm, standing on his innocence, and insisting on justice he has won a tremendous moral victory, not just for himself, but for all mankind. Job’s answer may seem unsatisfactory, but it is important because during the apocalyptic age it became the grist for the scribal mill, as we shall see.
Now back to the problem raised by Jung, that Yahweh is ruled by fate: Even though Yahweh as God must have access to all knowledge, in the story of Job, as we have seen, he has neglected or forgotten, as Jung phrases it, “to consult his own omniscience.” It seems that Yahweh has been split off from a part of himself, which means that he is not fully conscious. Which is incredible! And what of his boasting? Indeed, what could possibly compel an all-powerful and all-knowing Being to stoop to bluster and threats in the first place? This discomfiting aspect of Yahweh's behavior, analyzed long ago by the unknown author of the Secret Book of John, one of the Gnostic gospels found at Nag Hammadi, was the key Gnostic insight:
“[H]e [Yahweh] said to them, ‘I am a jealous God and there is no other god beside me.’ But by announcing this he indicated to the angels who attended to him that there exists another God, for if there were no other one, of whom would he be jealous?”8
Of whom, indeed? No scholar in the modern era has understood the theological question implicit in the Book of Job better than the Gnostic scribe of old. Nor has anyone stated it more succinctly. While the phrase "I am a jealous God..." does not appear in the text of Job, it is implied, and it does occur in Exodus 20:5 and Isaiah 14:5–6. In addition, numerous other passages in the Old Testament, eg., Deuteronomy 4:35; 6:15–16; and 32:19–21 and Isaiah 4:8; 44:6; 45:5, 21; and 46:4, convey a similar meaning. In fact, Yahweh’s jealous tantrums are a prominent feature of the Old Testament, running through scripture like the surly residue of the old Canaanite storm god, which is precisely the point. It is of interest that the famous heretic hunter Irenaeus, writing two generations before Hippolytus, quotes the very same line about the jealous Yahweh in his lengthy treatise, Against Heresies.9 Was it mere coincidence that Irenaeus devoted the largest portion of his five-volume opus to an attempted refutation of the Gnostic demiurge? Or was it an accurate indication of the historical importance of Yahweh’s character defect? There is no question that the controversy surrounding the demiurge was one of the major battle lines separating the Gnostics from orthodox Christianity.
Let us now investigate why Yahweh would allow Satan’s experiment to be foisted on an innocent man. Jung was apparently intrigued by the same question, for he writes:
“It is indeed no edifying spectacle to see how quickly Yahweh abandons his faithful servant [Job] to the evil spirit and lets him fall without compunction or pity into the abyss of...suffering. From the human point of view, Yahweh's behavior is so revolting that one has to ask oneself whether there is not a deeper motive hidden behind it. Has Yahweh some secret resistance against Job? That would explain his yielding to Satan. But what does man possess that God does not have?10
The psychologist goes on to suggest that Yahweh's behavior is driven by an ulterior concern, namely, the divine suspicion that our frail human consciousness is more keen than his own. The very idea is stunning. Consider, though, that driven by the ever-present knowledge of our own severe limitations as well as our relative impotence, we humans are required to cultivate consciousness simply to survive. Yahweh, on the other hand, has no such need for introspection because he is unchallenged, has no opposition, and encounters no obstacles; nothing requires him to reflect upon himself.
Stranger still is the conclusion that follows from a related question: Why would Yahweh instruct Satan to spare Job's life? Judging from Yahweh’s sadistic behavior, the reason can have nothing to do with compassion. Yahweh is perfectly content to wreak mayhem on Job without regret or remorse. Nor can the reason involve a former loyalty, namely, the Mosaic convenant; for the Book of Job reflects the period following the destruction of the first temple, when the old covenant must have seemed a moot article. In fact, in Job there is not the slightest pretense of a covenant. Why then does Yahweh spare Job’s life? Does he enjoy having someone present to witness his thundering about heaven? Can it be that Yahweh actually needs Job? Quite probably he does, which would explain Jung’s purpose in mentioning Moira, the season of destiny.
Here, an example from the Greeks may help. We know from the oldest extant account from Greek mythology, the Hymn of Demeter, that when Hades abducted Demeter's beautiful daughter, Persephone, and took her to his realm of the dead, Demeter, the grain goddess, became so heartsick that she refused to extend her usual bounty upon the earth.11 Stricken by a year-long drought and resulting crop failures, humanity faced extreme privation, even mass starvation. In this dire circumstance mighty Zeus was compelled to intervene and arrange a compromise: Zeus ordained that henceforth Persephone would spend part of the year above ground with her mother, Demeter, and the rest below it with her new consort, Hades. And why would Zeus be concerned enough to intervene? Quite simply, something had to be done because a mass die-off of humanity would leave no human supplicants to perform the daily sacrifices and rituals in honor of the gods!12 Just as humankind needed the gods, so also did the Greek gods need humankind.
In the story of Job we find hints of a similar phenomenon. Yahweh makes Job suffer, yes, but he dare not exterminate him because he needs a living and breathing Job to honor and glorify his divine name. It is Yahweh’s fate to require worship. Of course, the relationship between God and human is not between equals. An enormous gulf separates Yahweh from the puny and subservient Job. Nevertheless, it is a reciprocal relationship. Yahweh needs humans as much as humans need him. The deeper conclusion to which this leads is never openly stated in the Book of Job. But it is certainly implied, which explains why Job was (and remains) so controversial: If Yahweh is subject to fate and if he requires worship, how can he truly be the penultimate Godhead, the first without a second? Of course, he cannot. Yahweh as presented in Job is but a figurehead, a demiurge on a par with Zeus and the other pagan storm gods.
Job's query regarding Wisdom takes us to the heart of the matter, for Wisdom is the quality Yahweh lacks. The Greek word for her is Sophia. She is the Divine Mother, the feminine companion to God. She is well known in the East, where she is the active principle in the Godhead, with many names. In the various Hindu traditions she appears as Kali, Shakti, and Durga, among others. It is she who both manifests the world, sustains it, and transforms it. But, East or West, she is inseparable from the Godhead. In Judaism, however, awareness of her nature and importance was a late development. That it happened at all may have been due in no small part due to the anonymous scribe responsible for the Book of Job.
The problem is how reconcile her gentle and wise nature with the gruff and irritable Yahweh. The temperamental patriarch of old stubbornly resists the intrusion of her feminine presence. The Hebrew God prefers to stand alone, imperious in his majesty, bristling with archetypal wrath. Indeed, in his raging aspect Yahweh is almost the antithesis of Wisdom. It is no wonder that many of the Old Testament descriptions of Yahweh closely resemble the old Canaanite gods El and Baal, the raw matter for so much of his composite character.13 In the sixth century B.C.E. these dross elements were still very much in evidence.
The patriarchal storm God dies hard. Yet, change (i.e., evolve) God must, because from the moment the author of Job exposes Yahweh's dark underside, his deficiency can no longer be ignored, neither on earth nor in heaven. Thus, we find her, Sophia, Wisdom, described in the eighth Proverb, where we are told that her presence is as old as Creation:
“The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way,
When he established the heavens, I was there,
When he marked out the foundations of the earth,
Parts of Proverbs are very old and may even date to the time of Solomon, but the chapters about Wisdom, including the ones cited above, were composed much later, although an exact date has never been established. Dating Proverbs has proved difficult. Jung interpreted the presence of Wisdom as evidence of Greek influence and dated the above passage to the third or fourth century B.C.14 While this has yet to be confirmed, there is no doubt about the very late date of a similar description of Wisdom in Ecclesiasticus 24:3–30:
“I came forth from the Most High,
Here she is the spirit of God who broods upon the waters in the moment of Creation. Thus, there is no doubt about her antiquity. Yet, Ecclesiasticus dates to no earlier than around 200 B.C.E. The description is meant to be taken retroactively, but the passage itself was a late addition to scripture, and is firm evidence of a process of reform of the Jewish God-concept.
The same theme also repeats in the Song of Songs, in Ecclesiastes, and again in the Book of Wisdom. All of these books are part of what is today known as the Wisdom literature. All were written after the time of Job, during the apocalyptic age, and all are heavily indebted to Job, again and again taking up themes that first appear in that book. For example, the preacher of Ecclesiastes 9:16-17 states: “Wisdom is better than might, but a poor man's wisdom is never valued and his words are disregarded. The gentle words of the wise are heard above the shouts of a king of fools.” And in the Book of Wisdom 5:1–2 the scribe offers firm support for Job's right to demand justice: “[T]he virtuous man stands up boldly to face those who have oppressed him, those who thought so little of his sufferings.”
In the Wisdom literature we also learn more about the nature of the great feminine companion to the Deity. As it happens, she is a marvelous boon to mankind. Wisdom 10:17 waxes eloquent about her:
“To the saints she gave the wages of their labors;
And in the Song of Songs, which pretends to be the composition of Solomon (but isn’t), we find details of the wondrous union, or syzygy, of both sides of God, male and female.
The Wisdom Dialogue Continues
In the centuries before Jesus, the scribal dialogue about Yahweh’s better half (his feminine side) was played out in the last books of the Old Testament. This was a positive and important development because it produced a deeper awareness of the sublime attributes of the Godhead. The process continued in the person of Jesus, who campaigned vigorously against every kind of superstitious nonsense, including society’s morally reprehensible treatment of lepers.15 At issue, time and again, was the old Judaic belief in a vindictive God. The affirmation of Wisdom by Jesus is evidenced also by his respectful treatment of women. That this new awareness of the Divine Mother was also absorbed into Gnostic Christianity is confirmed by the text of the Naassene Sermon, which was embedded en toto in the Refutation of Hippolytus. The Sermon quotes a hymn honoring the Mother as the companion to the Father: “From thee [comes] Father and through thee [comes] Mother, two names immortal, progenitors of Aeons...“16 (Refutation 5.6.5)
We know from a lost scripture called the Gospel according to the Hebrews that Jesus made another extraordinary contribution to the Wisdom dialogue. Though this gospel was suppressed and thus did not survive, from the descriptions of early writers it seems that it closely followed the Gospel of Matthew, except that it was written in Hebrew or Aramaic instead of Greek; hence its name. The scripture was apparently so popular that it was referred to as the “fifth gospel.” Most important, it included the following key passage quoting Jesus, which was preserved (in two separate places) in the writings of Origen, and also in Saint Jerome: “Even now did my Mother the Holy Spirit take me by one of my hairs, and carry me away to the great Mountain of Tabor.”17 Here, the words of Jesus explicitly link the Holy Spirit with the Divine Mother; and virtually the same idea occurs in the Gospel of Thomas (101):
“[Jesus said,] Whoever does not hate his father and his mother as I do cannot become a disciple to Me. And whoever does [not] love his father and his mother as I do cannot become a [disciple] to Me. For my mother [gave me falsehood], but [my] true [Mother] gave me life.18
The passage is also noteworthy for its use of the word life, a word specifically used by Jesus in reference to spiritual life. The idea that the Spirit (spiritual life) flows from the Divine Mother was unprecedented in Judaism, and thus was a momentous development in the West. But the idea had long been understood in the East. In the Hindu traditions the same Divine Mother who brings the world into existence and sustains it also makes available a very special form of her own divine Self: a divine grace that is the Eastern equivalent of the Holy Spirit. Hindus believe that by means of this extremely subtle energy, known as the Chitti Kundalini or the Shakti Kundalini, the Divine Mother brings about the dramatic reversal of the flow that leads to the heavenly source. Today, the living traditions of Hinduism describe this key concept of the reversal of the flow reversal in almost exactly the same language used by Gnostics in the first centuries of Christianity. The only difference is that Hindus describe the “descent” of Spirit as an awakening from within. Either way, it is the decisive turning point in the spiritual life of the disciple.
The Gnostic Response
More than 1900 years after the fact it is very difficult for us to comprehend the extent of the calamity that enveloped Judea during 66–73 C.E., and again in 115 and 135 C.E. From the riveting account of Josephus, the consequences must have been horrific, much worse than the damage wreaked by Nebuchadnezzar six centuries before. In the act of breaching the walls of Jerusalem and destroying the great temple, the Roman general Titus proved the prophecies of the apocalyptic age to be a colossal failure, indeed, a collective fantasy. Many Jews survived the siege, the famine, and the final battle only to be crucified. Tens of thousands of others were carried off into slavery, or were thrown to the lions in the great Coliseum of Rome. Traumatized by war, many Jews in its aftermath must have questioned their faith, including the darker attributes of Yahweh. In 1927 a scholar named A. Marmorstein found evidence of this in rabbinical texts.19 For Jews who had believed in the grand apocalyptic vision, there were only three possible options. According to scholar Robert Grant, they could rewrite the apocalypse and postpone history; they could explain the failed prognostications by trying to show that the sacred writings had been misinterpreted; or they could simply abandon their faith.20
Little has been written about the war’s impact on the first Christian community of the Nazarenes. One scholar who did study the matter, S. G. F. Brandon, concluded that the impact was no less horrendous.21 The war scattered Jewish Christians far and wide. And if the followers of Jesus were as angry with their Jewish brothers as they were with the Romans, they had good reason: The zealots had hijacked Judaism and brought ruin upon the nation. For which reason Jewish Christians probably shared the conviction that if only more of people had listened to Jesus, events might have turned out very differently. Anyone with an eye in his head, after all, could see that the zealots had been blind. The entire nation had been led off the cliff like a pack of lemmings. To think the fools had believed that Yahweh would come down out of the sky and destroy the Romans! Where was Yahweh? Was he sleeping? Or was something the matter with the national God-concept?
The scattered remnants of the original Jerusalem Church found it difficult to regroup. We know that Roman pursuit continued, and was intense.22 Eventually, Jewish Christian sects did emerge, including the Ebionites and Elchaisites, and held on in places like Alexandria. But Jews would never again dominate the Jesus movement. The war and the subsequent Jewish revolts had set in motion a great reshuffling of men and ideas, and out of the rubble emerged Gentile Christianity.
So began a new phase of the Wisdom dialogue within the rich and diverse literature of Gnostic Christianity; and Alexandria was one of the primary cauldrons. Increasingly, the teachings of Jesus passed into Gentile hands. Probably for this reason, as time passed, there was less sympathy for Yahweh’s noisy tantrums, less tolerance for the residue of the old pagan storm god. There may also have been a feeling that the Wisdom literature did not go far enough. To many it probably seemed that events had completely discredited the Jewish God along with his people. Thus, the God of the Jews suffered the fate history has always accorded losers. Yahweh was demoted to the lesser status of a demiurge. To be sure, the Fathers of the Church vociferously resisted this trend. Irenaeus devoted much of his leaden prose, including the greatest portion of Against Heresies, to refuting the Gnostic “error.”23 Notwithstanding the views of men like Irenaeus, the Gnostic repudiation of Yahweh was not a case of apostasy. Indeed, to many Christians it must have seemed like an advance. Certainly the demotion of Yahweh was not the end of God or heaven. The Godhead, after all, had not changed. What had changed was the concept of God, which simply reconstituted itself in human understanding. Indeed, the sloughing off of the less desirable elements in Yahweh's character surely helped many to clarify the nature of the Godhead. Yahweh was rechristened as Saklas, “the fool,” and as Samael, “the blind.” Behind Yahweh, unseen by him, stood Wisdom (the Divine Mother, Sophia, Achamoth, the Ogdoad, Barbelo, and so forth), now recognized as the true boss. Yahweh was simply the hired man. Above Wisdom, indeed, over all, presided the incomprehensible Father about whom Jesus had spoken in such loving terms.24 It is interesting to note that although Wisdom was often ranked below the Father, their relationship was intimate: Wisdom was an integral part of the Godhead.
The fate of the old Yahweh was not a happy one. Some of the more extreme Gnostics dealt harshly with him. In the Hypostasis of the Archons, one of the Gnostic scriptures found at Nag Hammadi, Ialdabaoth is cast down into dark Tartarus, the hellish realm beneath Hades where the Titans had been hurled after the defeat of Cronus.25 The Naassene Sermon, however, mentions no such dismal fate. In its milder tone we may see maintained the sturdy link with the Old Testament.
Just as it is difficult for us moderns to understand the full measure of the destruction wreaked upon Judea by the Romans, so also it is difficult to apprehend the Gnostic resynthesis that occurred in the war’s aftermath, and why, especially from the perspective of places like Alexandria, that reform was so necessary.
© Mark Gaffney 2005
This article is an edited chapter taken from Mark Gaffney's book, Gnostic Secrets of the Naassenes, released by Inner Traditions in May 2004. Mark's first book, Dimona: the Third Temple?, was a pioneering 1989 study of the Israeli nuclear weapons program. For links to more of Mark's stuff check out his web site www.gnosticsecrets.com Mark can be reached for comment at email@example.com
SYNOPSIS of the book Gnostic Secrets of the Naassenes by Mark Gaffney
Gnostic Secrets of the Naassenes investigates a key Gnostic source text from the early period of Christianity. Known as the Naassene Sermon, the document was only discovered in 1842, after being lost for many centuries. First translated into English in 1868, it continues to be widely ignored by Christian scholars, yet it is of inestimable importance, because the Naassene scribe who composed it claimed to have received secret instruction from James the Just, the brother of Jesus. Ironically, the Naassenes were also one of the first Christian sects to be branded as heterodox. We know of their existence only because the orthodox Bishop Hippolytus, who regarded them as the root of all heresy, embedded the text of their Sermon in book five of his Refutation of All Heresies.
Fortunately, the text preserved by Hippolytus supports a detailed reconstruction of Naassene spirituality. In his book Mark Gaffney decodes this exciting material and shows that Hippolytus did not understand what had passed into his hands. Intended for advanced seekers, the Naassene Sermon was nothing less than a handbook for higher consciousness. Gaffney argues that the Naassenes, based in Alexandria, were a satellite community of the original Jerusalem Church. This revolutionary book documents a half-dozen major breakthroughs in our understanding of the origins of Christianity.
1. The demiurge was not a Gnostic invention, however. Nearly 500 years before Christianity, Plato described a similar Creation scheme in his Timaeus. In fact, as we know from a number of pagan theogonies that have come down to us, the same formula existed throughout the ancient world. For a detailed study of various Greek theogonies see M.L. West’s brilliant book, The Orphic Poems, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1983; for a look at the Egyptian theogony see Robert Bauval and Adrian Gilbert, The Orion Mystery, New York, Crown Books, 1994; for a discussion of the Sumerian gods see Samuel Noah Kramer, The Sumerians, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1963, chapter 4.
2. Most scholars have followed Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion, Boston, Beacon Press, 1958, pp. 92-93.
3. For a good discussion see Yehoshafat Harkabi, The Bar Kokhba Syndrome, Chappaqua, NY, Rossel Books, 1983.
4. Also see Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan, Garden City, NY, Doubleday, 1968, p. 168; also see Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1973, pp. 3-75.
5. For example, see Michael Grant, The History of Ancient Israel, New York, Scribners, 1984, p. 175.
6. W.F. Albright noted the absence of references in Job to any of the prophetic books, and cited this as evidence that Job was composed before these books, i.e., in the seventh century BC, or even earlier. Albright drew the same conclusion based on allusions in Job to Chaldea. But I take a very different view. Where Jeremiah criticizes King and nation Job goes farther and critiques God himself, that is, the all male God-concept that is pervasive even in the Books of Jeremiah and Isaiah. There was good reason for Job to stand apart! Allusions to Chaldea also point to a late (post-exilic) rather than an early date. The presence of the Son of Man in Ezekiel, Second Isaiah, and Job all points to a common eastern source. Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan, 1968, pp. 260-261.
7. Carl G. Jung, Answer to Job, trans. by R.C. Hull, Princeton, NJ. Princeton University Press, 1958, p. 23.
8. James M. Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Library, San Francisco, Harper and Row, 1977, p. 106.
9. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, I, 29, 4; 30, 6.
10. Jung, Answer to Job, p. 13.
11. R. Gordon Wasson, Albert Hofman, and Carl A.P. Ruck, The Road to Eleusis, New York, Harcourt Brace, 1978, p. 59.
12. Ibid, p. 67.
13. Twentieth century Archaeology established the prevalence of goddess worship in ancient Israeli folk religion. Which was in sharp contrast with the official state religion: the pure Yahwism of the temple priesthood. For some reason, although Yahweh assimilated to himself the various epithets and qualities of male Canaanite gods such as Baal and El, the same did not happen with the pagan goddess. Ephraim Stern, “Pagan Yahweism”, Biblical Archaeology Review, May-June 2001, p. 21. Also see Israel Finklestein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, New York, Free Press, 2001, pp. 241-241.
14. According to W.F. Albright the eighth Proverb swarms with Canaanite words and expressions that refer to the pagan goddess. Albright dated it to as early as the seventh century BC. Yet, as Albright notes, paeans to Wisdom can be found in the literature from Ugarit dating back well into the second millennium BC. All of this is curious. If Wisdom entered into Judaism as early as Albright asserts, how then do we explain the all male character of Yahweh? Albright never explained this. The fact is that Yahweh did not assimilate aspects of Wisdom until very late. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins U. Press, 1940, p. 368.
15. If the late Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin is correct, the village of Bethany was a leper's colony in the first century. Hershel Shanks, ed., Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls, New York, Random House,1992, p. 104. In which case Jesus surely defiled himself in the eyes of the Essenes and other strict Jews by spending time there. Matthew 21:17; 26:6; Mark 11:11; 14:3; Luke 24:50; John 11:1; 12:1. His visits were probably meant as a strong protest against the extremism of Jewish purity laws. the Jews were a superstitious people, as evidenced by the Old Testament, a people who regarded leprosy as a curse visited upon the wicked. II Kings 5:7; II Chronicles 26:20.
16. The hymn refers to the hermaphroditic Primal Man. But clearly his androgynous nature mirrors the Godhead. The very next line even states that, “the knowledge of him [Primal Man] is the originating principle of the capacity for knowledge of God.”
17. Montague Rhodes James, The Apocryphal New Testament, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1924, pp. 1-2.
18. Robinson, 1977, pp. 128-129.
19. Cited in Robert M. Grant, Gnosticism and Early Christianity, New York, Columbia U. Press,1966, (chapter 6, n. 23), p.33.
20. Grant, 1966, p. 35.
21. S.G.F.Brandon, The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church, London, S.P.C.K., 1951, chapter 9.
22. In his history Eusebius reports that the Romans pursued the family of David for many years. The successor of James the Just was finally hunted down and executed during the reign of Trajan. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, chapters 11,12, and 32.
23. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4, 4.
24. For an abundance of detail see the Secret Book (Apocryphon) of John, Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Library, p. 98.
25. Ibid, p. 158.