Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre

Embed Size (px)

Text of Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre

  • 8/9/2019 Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre


    Zugnge zur Gnosis

    Akten zur Tagung der Patristischen Arbeitsgemeinschaft

    vom 02.-05.01.2011in Berlin-Spandau

    herausgegeben von

    Christoph Markschies und Johannes van Oort



  • 8/9/2019 Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre



    Christoph MarkschiesVorwort . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . VII

    Christoph MarkschiesVon Afrika bis China Varietten von Gnosis . . . . . . . . . 1

    Jens HalfwassenGnosis als Pseudomorphose des Platonismus: Plotins Gnosis-kritik . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25

    Klaus HerrmannJdische Gnosis? Dualismus und gnostische Motive in derfrhen jdischen Mystik. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43

    Holger StrutwolfTheologische Gnosis bei Clemens Alexandrinus und Origenes 91

    Ismo DunderbergValentinian Theories on Classes of Humankind . . . . . . . . 113

    Einar ThomassenSaved by nature? The question of human races and soteriological

    determinism in Valentinianism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129

    Katrine BrixKosmoskreuz oder Holzkreuz im Evangelium VeritatisNHC I,3? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 151

    Dylan M. BurnsCosmic Eschatology and Christian Platonism in the Sethian

    Gnostic ApocalypsesMarsanes, Zostrianos,andAllogenes. . . . 169

    Uwe-Karsten Plisch(K)ein Buch des Allogenes. Einige Beobachtungen zur viertenSchrift des sogenannten Codex Tchacos (Al Minya-Codex) . . 191

  • 8/9/2019 Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre



    Hugo LundhaugShenoute of Atripe and Nag Hammadi Codex II . . . . . . . . 201

    Glenn W. MostDo Gnostics Tell Stories Differently From Other People? Nar-ratological Reflections on Gnostic Narratives. . . . . . . . . . 227

    Nils Arne PedersenDie Manicher in ihrer Umwelt. Ein Beitrag zur Diskussionber die Soziologie der Gnostiker. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 245

    Desmond Durkin-MeisternstDie Orientierung der Bilder in manichischen Bcherfrag-menten in der Turfansammlung. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 277

    Myriam KrutzschBeobachtungen zur Herstellungstechnik frher gnostischerKodizes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 285

    Peter KoslowskiGnosis: Philosophie des Absoluten und absolute Philosophie.Theosophische Gnosis und Gnostizismus als Typen der Auf-hebung der Differenz von Philosophie und Theologie . . . . . 295

    IndicesAntike und mittelalterliche Autoren, Personen und Personi-fikationen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 319

    Neuzeitliche Autoren . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 322

    Abbildungen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 329

  • 8/9/2019 Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre


    Cosmic Eschatology and Christian Platonismin the Sethian Gnostic ApocalypsesMarsanes, Zostrianos, andAllogenes

    DYLANM. BURNS(The University of Copenhagen)


    One of our most important pieces of evidence about Gnosticism is thatof Porphyry, star pupil of the great Neoplatonic philosopher Plotinus.Porphyry writes that there were Christians in Plotinus circle, who readapocalypses, written by sages such as, Zostrianos, Zoroaster, Allo-genes, Messos, and others1. Texts with titles identical to several ofthose mentioned by Porphyry Zostrianos and Allogenes have been

    unearthed in Coptic translation at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945.Although they are revelatory works, they are also deeply implicated incontemporary Neoplatonism; scholars generally agree that at least one ofthese texts,Zostrianos, was brandished by Plotinus opponents2.

    1 Porph., Plot. 16 (cf. Plotinus in seven Volumes with an English Translation by A.H.Armstrong, Vol. 1: Porphyry on the Life of Plotinus and the Order of his Books. Enne-ads I,1-9, LCL 440, Cambridge 1989), following the translation of M. Tardieu.Les gnostiques dans la vie de Plotin, in: Porphyre: La vie de Plotin, ed. par L. Brisson,Vol. 2: tudes dintroduction, texte grec et traduction franaise, commentaire, notescomplmentaires, bibliographie, Histoire des doctrines de lantiquit classique, Paris1992, 503-546.

    2 ThusK. Corrigan, Platonism and Gnosticism: The Anonymous Commentaryon theParmenides: Middle or Neoplatonic?, in: Gnosticism and Later Platonism. Themes,Figures, and Texts, ed. by J.D. Turner and R.D. Majercik, SBL Symposium Series 12;

    Atlanta 2000, (141-177), 168-171; J.D. Turner, Victorinus, Parmenides Commen-taries and the Platonizing Sethian Treatises, in: Platonisms: Ancient, Modern, andPostmodern, ed. by K. Corrigan and J.D. Turner, Studies in Platonism, Neoplatonism,and the Platonic Tradition 4, Leiden 2007, 55-96. Others have argued that the NagHammadi texts are translations of later, post-Plotinian redactions of the texts knownto Plotinus. (L. Abramowski,Marius Victorinus, Porphyrius und die rmischen Gnos-tiker, ZNW 74, 1983, [108-128] 123-214; R. Majercik, Porphyry and Gnosticism,CQ 55, 2005, [277-292], 277-278).I have argued elsewhere that the CopticZostrianosfrom Nag Hammadi is probably a translation of a pre-Plotinian text, but thatAllogenesideas are more intelligible in the context of Platonism of the fourth century C.E., cf.D. Burns, Apophatic Strategies inAllogenes(NHC XI,3), HThR103, 2010, 161-79.

  • 8/9/2019 Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre


    170 DYLAN M. BURNS

    These apocalypses belong to a branch of Gnosticism called Sethian,chiefly due to its focus on the figure of Seth as revealer and savior3.

    Zostrianos(NHC VIII,1), Allogenes(NHC XI,3), Marsanes(NHC X,1;probably related in some way to the Apocalypse of Nikotheosmentionedby Porphyry), andThe Three Steles of Seth (NHC VII,5) stand out withinthe Sethian literature as particularly exotic. Excepting the Three Steles,they are apocalypses of the cosmological stripe of 1 Enoch, describingtheir eponymous seers heavenly journey and acquisition of heavenlysecrets4. Yet scholars have generally assigned the texts to a Pagan ornon-Christian provenance, because they do not refer to Scripture or to

    biblical figures besides Adam and Seth5

    . Moreover, they are replete withthe jargon of Neoplatonism, that school of thought so strongly associatedwith the last of the Hellenes. In his classic study of Sethianism, John D.Turner has argued that the texts, which he calls the Platonizing Sethiantreatises, represent a turn of the Sethian school away from Christianitytowards Paganism6.

    It is true that the Platonizing Sethian texts were written by trainedPlatonic philosophers, but they also hold positions that could nothave been acceptable to any Hellenic7Platonist, but agree strongly with

    3 The seminal studies remain H.-M. Schenke, Das sethianische System nach Nag-Ham-madi-Handschriften, in: Studia Coptica, hg. von P. Nagel, BBA 45, Berlin 1974, 165-172; id., The Phenomenon and Significance of Gnostic Sethianism, in: The Rediscov-ery of Gnosticism. Proceedings of the International Conference on Gnosticism at Yale,New Haven, Connecticut, March 28-31, 1978, ed. by B. Layton, Vol. 2: Sethian Gnos-ticism, SHR 41.2, Leiden 1981, 588-616. For criticisms, see F. Wisse, Stalking thoseElusive Sethians, in: The Rediscovery of Gnosticism (see note 3), 563-576; and nowT. Rasimus, Paradise Reconsidered in Gnostic Mythmaking. Rethinking Sethianism inLight of the Ophite Evidence, NHMS 68, Leiden 2009.

    4 Following the discussion of apocalypse by J.J. Collins, ed., Apocalypse the Mor-phology of a Genre, Semeia 14, 1979, (1-19), 9.

    5 Most recently, see for instanceL.Abramowski, Nicnismus und Gnosis im Rom desBischofs Liberius. Der Fall des Marius Victorinus, ZAC 8, 2004, (513-566), 561; B.A.Pearson, Ancient Gnosticism. Traditions and Literature, Minneapolis 2007, 99-100.

    6 J.D. Turner, Sethian Gnosticism and the Platonic Tradition, BCNH Section tudes6, Louvain/Paris 2001, (179-182), 293; also in various articles and the introductionsto the BCNH editions of the Sethian texts. See also B.A. Pearson, Introduction:

    Marsanes, in: Nag Hammadi Codices IX and X, ed. by B.A. Pearson, NHS 15, Leiden1981, (229-250), 248.7 I eschew the term Pagan for discussing the various non-Abrahamic religions of the

    ancient world as an obfuscating negative definition. Since here we are only concernedwith philosophers committed to Greek language and literature, we can simply referto them by the term they used to define themselves, Hellenes. Where others haveused the term Pagan in this context, I have not changed their nomenclature.

  • 8/9/2019 Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre



    contemporary Christian Platonism. In the present contribution, I willaddress one of the most significant of these positions, which deals with

    the end of the world, or cosmic eschatology.


    As I just mentioned, the Platonizing Sethian treatises known to Plotinusand his circle were apocalypses, revelatory narratives describing the visionsand heavenly secrets acquired by a seer from an angelic intermediary. The

    literary genre of apocalypse was commonly used in antiquity to exploreimportant but unverifiable speculations about cosmology and the post-mortem fate of the soul. Today, biblical scholarship tends to lump thesetopics under the term eschatology cosmic and personal8.

    Eschatology is central to debate over defining the apocalyptic genre.Scholars ask about the relative importance of historical eschatology,characterized by ex eventuprophecy and reviews of history (e.g. Daniel),and cosmological speculation, characterized by cosmological loreand the revelation of secrets (e.g. 1 Enoch). Like Michael Stone, John J.Collins simply acknowledges that the literary genre deals in both escha-tology and cosmology9, particularly the post-mortem fate of the soul.In Semeia14, he distinguishes these two types of eschatology with theprefixes cosmic and personal, noting a shift towards the latter in laterJewish but especially Christian and Gnostic texts10. Thus, it is this hope

    8 On eschatology in the Old Testament and ancient Judaism, see D.L. Petersen, Art.Eschatology (Old Testament), AncB Dictionary 2, 1992, 575-579; G. Nickelsburg,

    Art. Eschatology (Early Jewish), AncB Dictionary 2, 1992, 579-594. For eschatologyin early Christianity, see D. Aune, Art. Early Christian Eschatology, AncB Dictionary2, 1992, 594-609; D. Allison, Art. Eschatology of the New Testament, The NewInterpreters Dictionary of the Bible 2, 2007, 294-299.

    9 J.J. Collins, Cosmos and Salvation. Jewish Wisdom and Apocalyptic in the HellenisticAge, HR 17, 1977, (121-142), 136; id., The Apocalyptic Imagination. An Introductionto Jewish Apocalyptic Literature, The Biblical Resource Series, Grand Rapids 21998, 13;M.E. Stone, Apocalyptic Literature, in: Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period.

    Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Qumran Sectarian Writings, Philo, Josephus, ed. by M.E.Stone, CRI Sect. 2: The Literature of the Jewish People in the Period of the Second

    Temple and the Talmud 2, Assen/Philadelphia 1984, (383-442), 383.10 J.J. Collins, Morphology (see note 4), 17-18; D. Allison, Eschatology of the NewTestament (see note 8), 298-299. Some scholars, however, are reluctant to use theterm eschatology to talk about individuals. Cf. D.L. Petersen, Eschatology (see note8), 576; D. Aune, Early Christian Eschatology (see note 8), 594. Nickelsburg con-trasts focus on personal immortality with the need for a consummation of historyand resurrection of the dead. G. Nickelsburg, Eschatology (see note 8), 589-590.

  • 8/9/2019 Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre


    172 DYLAN M. BURNS

    for the transcendence of death (of the individual) which is the distinctivecharacter of apocalyptic eschatology over against Old Testament

    eschatology11.A spike of interest in the afterlife of the individual, insteadof nations, was corroborated by the studies in the same volume of AdelaYarbro Collins and Francis Fallon12.

    Gnostic apocalypses, meanwhile, traffic in a highly diverse variety ofeschatologies, both cosmic and personal13. The Sethian texts also exhibitthis diversity, with clearly historical/cosmic apocalypses in the Apoca-lypse of Adam(NHC V,5), the Egyptian Gospel(NHC III,2/IV,2) and theTrimorphic Protennoia (NHC XIII,1), while the Platonizing treatises

    tend to focus on personal eschatology, that is the salvation of souls.Turner (and Pearson, with respect to Marsanes) has argued further thatthere is no sense of cosmic or historical eschatology in the lattertexts, evidence of a movement away from Christian apocalypse towardsPagan Platonism14. However, I will argue that the treatisesMarsanesand

    11 J.J. Collins, Apocalyptic Eschatology as the Transcendence of Death, in: Seers, Sybilsand Sages in Hellenistic-Roman Judaism, by J.J. Collins, Leiden 2001, (75-98), 84.

    12 The more or less systematic review of history, so dominant in some forms of Jewishapocalypses, is virtually absent in the early Christian apocalypses (but) certain pastevents are explicitly recalled as past and recounted as particularly significant for thepresent A.Y. Collins, Early Christian Apocalypses, in: Apocalypse, ed. by J.J.Collins (see note 4), (61-121), 67. This absence is not extended to cosmic eschatology,however; on the other hand, the otherworldly journey is used more frequently toexpress expectations regarding personal afterlife, although it can also be used as avehicle for cosmic hopes as well. (Ead., 95).See also F.T. Fallon, Gnostic Apoca-lypses, in: Apocalypse, ed. by J.J. Collins (see note 4), (123-158), 125.

    13 M.L. Peel, Gnostic Eschatology and the New Testament, NT 12, 1970, (141-165),156-159; thus also H.G. Kippenberg, Ein Vergleich jdischer, christlicher und gnos-tischer Apokalyptik, in: Apocalypticism in the Mediterranean World and Near East.Proceedings of the International Colloquium on Apocalypticism, Uppsala, August12-17, 1979, ed. by D. Hellholm, Tbingen 1983, (751-769), 751; H.W. Attridge,Valentinian and Sethian Apocalyptic Traditions, Journal of Early Christian Studies 8,2000, 173-211.

    14 Cf. above for J.D. Turner, Sethian Gnosticism (see note 6); also id., Introduction:Zostrianos, in: Zostrien. (NH VIII,1), d. et tr. par C. Barry/W.-P. Funk/P.-H.Poirier/J.D. Turner, BCNH.T 24, Qubec/Louvain 2000, (1-224), 50: Phenomenafound in most apocalypses but missing in Zostrianos are generally matters of socialand cosmic eschatological conflict Most of the dozen or so texts that have beenidentified as Sethian indeed do make great use of Jewish scripture and tradition andcosmic eschatological motifs, butZostrianosand the texts associated with it do not The eschatology of Zostrianos is focused on neither cosmos nor society, but on theindividual. This focus is atypical of most Jewish apocalyptic. See also id., Introduc-tion: Marsanes, in: Marsans, ed. et tr. par W.-P. Funk/P.-H. Poirier/J.D. Turner,

  • 8/9/2019 Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre



    Zostrianospresume exactlythe sense of cosmic eschatology that are in theother Sethian treatises; like Jesus of Nazareth, they held that the kingdom

    of heaven is at hand.


    The central passage for the problem is inMarsanes, where the eponymousseer states that the entire defilement (wM) [was saved (tyr[V

    oue]ei)] have come to know it, the intelligible (notov) world;15, as I was deliberating that in every way is thesensible (asqjtv) world worthy of being saved entirely (atrevoueei[ty]rV). [For] I have not ceased speaking [of the] Autogenes16. Pearsonand Poirier simply affirm that the passage is a remarkable example ofPlatonic monism in a Gnostic text, without mentioning the worlds eter-nity17.So far, so good. As Turner points out, the statement is followedby the reminder that the author is still discussing Autogenes, who inMarsanesappears to take upon the Thrice-Male Childs role as a preserverof the world18.

    BCNH.T 27, Qubec/Louvain 2000, (1-248), 27.29-30; id., Introduction: Allogenes,in: Lallogne. (NH XI,3), d. et tr. par W.-P. Funk/P.-H. Poirier/M. Scopello/

    J.D. Turner, BCNH.T 30, Qubec/Louvain 2004, (1-175), 29. Cf. H.W. Attridge,Valentinian and Sethian Apocalyptic Traditions (see note 13), 196: Texts cast in theform of narratives of ascent experiences have less apocalyptic eschatology, as well asless direct connection with biblical figures and themes, than the rest of the Sethiantradition.

    15 Agreeing with Pearsons assumption of the texts corruption and provisional restora-tions; it is hard to make sense of the original (tr. Poirier): et le monde intelligible,il a connu, en distinguant, que, de toute manire, ce monde sensible [est digne] dtreprserv tout entier.

    16 Mar, NHC X,1 p. 5,15-26.17 B.A. Pearson, Notes: Marsanes, in: Nag Hammadi Codices IX and X (see note 6),

    264; id., Gnosticism as Platonism. With Special Reference to Marsanes (NHC X,1),HThR 77, 1984, (55-72), 71; J.D. Turner, Introduction: Marsanes (see note 14), 41(see also ibid., 231); P.-H. Poirier, Commentaire: Marsans, in: Marsans (see note14), 389 (recalling Plot., Enn. II 4 [12] 4,7-9; II 9 [33] 8,8-10.16-20[unconvincingparallels]). Poirier (ibid.,) continues: Elle rejoint un lieu commun platonicien, savoir que le monde sensible, quoiquinfrieur, est bon et mme admirable.

    18 Mar, NHC X,1 p. 3,25-4,2; on the problematic state of the text (irrelevant to thepresent argument),see J.D. Turner, Introduction: Marsanes (see note 14), 112 n. 52.See also ibid., 115, 212.

  • 8/9/2019 Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre


    174 DYLAN M. BURNS

    However, Turner, followed by Poirier, goes on to conjecture thatthis in turn reveals Autogenes as a commander inZostrianoswho per-

    fects Sophia following the creation of the world19. The passage cited the bottom of page ten and top of page eleven of Nag HammadiCodex VIII is lacunous, and requires extensive conjectural restorationon Turners part (left blank by Layton, and Barry/Funk/Poirier) to yieldthe desired meaning:

    Synopsis of ZostrianosNHC VIII,1 p. 10,28-11,2

    Text and tr. Turner

    And [again he said, Sophia became]perfect through [the will of][the commander] through whom [theatmospheric][realm perseveres], having[immutably averted] the destruction ofthe world.

    au[wonp]ea[vesoviaasR]tel[io]sebolit[Mpiouwjnte]pire[V^Rw]pae[tepikaNa]yrm[oun] ebol^Ito[o]T^Veav[pw]wn[eebolM]pita[k]oNtepkosmos^No[u]mN[t]atou[w]tBebol

    Text Barry/Funk/Poirier, Layton/

    Sieber; tr. mine[perfect through [[ ] it [

    [ ] by means of it, as it[revealed] the destruction of theworldby means of its immutability.


    pir. [ ]pae[yrM[ ] ebol^Ito[o]T^V.eav[ou]wn[ebolM]pita[k]oNtepkosmosNo[u]mN[t]atou[w]tBebol.

    In Turners reading, the text states that Sophias repentance ensures thelongevity of creation, contra Plotinus opponents, for whom repentancefor creation connotes its destruction20. Thus Turner, followed by Poirier,readsMarsanesandZostrianosas supporting a Neoplatonic position aboutcosmic eschatology against that of the Christian Gnostics attacked inEnn. II 9, where Plotinus asks:

    19 J.D. Turner, Introduction: Marsanes (see note 14), 115; P.-H. Poirier, Commentaire:Marsans, in: Marsans (see note 14), 389. Oddly, Poirier here refers to the BFP textof Zostrianos, which does not support Turners point.

    20 J.D. Turner, Commentary: Zostrianos, in: Zostrien (see note 14), 514-515; re: Plot.,Enn. II 9 [33] 4,15-19.

  • 8/9/2019 Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre



    When is it (the demiurge) going to destroy it (the world)? For if it wassorry it had made it, what is it waiting for? If its not sorry now for creatingthe world, then why will it be sorry later? Or, if it is waiting for the soulsof the elect, then why havent they all come yet?21

    They (that is, the Gnostics) introduce all sorts of comings into beingand passings away (genseiv ka fqorv)22

    Turner extends this reading to Zostrianosbased upon his restoration ofpages ten and eleven of Nag Hammadi Codex VIII. This approach isunsatisfactory for several reasons. The first of them is internal: by Turnerand Poiriers reasoning,

    1) the Christian Gnostics known to Plotinus read and rejected theSethian perspective on cosmic eschatology inZostrianosand perhaps(depending on how one dates it) Marsanes,

    2) and expressed their own views to Plotinus along with the text ofZostrianos.

    3) He subsequently rejected their views, although4) he must have agreed on this point with Zostrianos,5) which he quotes on other matters in his polemic23, but ignoreswith

    respect to cosmic eschatology, focusing instead on the texts readersin his circle.

    This is a convoluted scenario that supposes that the Sethian treatiseswere, on the issue of cosmic eschatology, of virtually no importance toanyof their readers in Plotinus circle!

    Moreover, Turners reading is based off of restorations to Zostrianosthat are not made in the editions of Layton/Sieber and Barry/Funk/Poirier, which here agree on the text. The question is whether oneshould restore[..]wnas [pw]wn(avert) or [ou]wn(reveal).Paleographically speaking, both readings are possible, although the latteris preferable on grounds that the word pwwn does not appear inany of the Platonizing Sethian treatises. Moreover, the word immuta-bility (mNtatouwtB) is a common epithet in Zostrianos for theProtophanes and Kaluptos sub-aeons of Barbelo and their inhabitants24;

    21 Plot., Enn. II 9 [33] 4,14-23. Cf. also the Gnostic claim that it creates for honorand arrogance and rashness (II 9 [33] 11,22-24).

    22 Plot., Enn. II 9 [33] 6,58-60; see also II 1 [40] 4,29-33.23 Zostr, NHC VIII,1 p. 9,9-22; M. Tardieu, Les gnostiques (see note 1), 528; J.D.

    Turner, Commentary: Zostrianos (see note 20), 519-520.24 Zostr, NHC VIII,1 p. 48,8; 114,6; 116,19; 122,9; 130,24.

  • 8/9/2019 Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre


    176 DYLAN M. BURNS

    it is hard to see how they could have this quality in common with theworld, which inZostrianosis formed of evil matter. Rather, the fate of

    the dissoluble world is contrasted and revealed by providence and itsimmutability, for providence is what holds the world together, asdiscussed below. Thus, at the end of his sermon, Zostrianos invites hishearer/reader to

    look at the dissolution (ouwtB) of this place, and follow the indissolubleunbegottenness (mNtatmise) Dissolve (balebol) yourselves,and that which has bound you will be dissolved. Save yourselves so that it(that is the soul) will be saved! The loving Father has sent you the Savior(swtr) and he has strengthened you. Why do you hesitate? Seek, when

    you are sought. Listen, when you are invited. For time (xrnov) is short.Do not be deceived; great is the aeon of the aeon of the living, (and greatare) the punishments of those who remain unpersuaded. Many are thebondages and the torturers that seek you. Flee quickly, before destructionreaches you. Look to the light, and flee from the darkness. Do not be ledastray to your destruction!25

    Finally, Marsanes references to saving the entire defilement and thesensible world are too vague to refer to an eternal cosmos. The passage

    does notsay that the world will be sustained, or preserved eternally.It does appear to have some kind of monistic view of cosmic eschatology;what view this might be whether Marsanes actually esteems matteritself26, and how that position might be philosophically (in)defensible isnot clear. I would hypothesize instead that the passageis in keeping withthe common Judeo-Christian idea of a new earth, in which the createdworld will be destroyed but replaced by a new, eternal heavenly realm27.In this sense, the world is saved. This new earth was apparently

    25 Zostr, NHC VIII,1 p. 130,21-132,5.26 See (on TractTrip NHC I,5) A.H. Armstrong, Dualism Platonic, Gnostic, and Chris-

    tian, in: Plotinus amid Gnostics and Christians. Papers Presented at the PlotinusSymposium Held at the Free University, Amsterdam on 25 January 1984, ed. by D.T.Runia, Amsterdam 1984, (29-52), 45: even if all matter could be saved, this does notmean that it is esteemed in the first place (on the contrary, it requires divine interven-tion for salvation).

    27 Rev 21,1-2; 2Pe 3,13. See also Isa 65,17; 66,22; 4Ezr 7,89-101; 2Bar 49-52; 72-74.In the untitled treatise in the Bruce Codex (p. 249 cf. C. Schmidt/V. MacDermot,ed. and trans., The Books of Jeu and the Untitled Text in the Bruce Codex, NHS13, Leiden 1978), it is a city, Jerusalem, on which see also L. Abramowski, NagHammadi 8,1 Zostrianos, das Anonymum Brucianum, Plotin, Enn. 2,9 (33), in:Platonismus und Christentum. Festschrift fr Heinrich Drrie, ed. by H.-D. Blumeand F. Mann, JAC.E 10, Mnster 1983, (1-10), 7.

  • 8/9/2019 Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre



    known to Plotinus Christian Gnostics and the Untitled text in theBruce Codex28.

    A hypothesis which accommodates cosmic destruction and elect sote-riology makes sense of other passages in the text. Marsanesrefers to theend times, and the eschatological rewards of the elect:

    It is necessary [for you, (Marsanes), to know] those that are higher thanthese and tell them to the powers. For you (sg. masc.) will become [elect]with the elect ones (netsatP) [in the last] times ([an]aeeuNneouaeij)29

    Those who have received you will be given their choice reward (beke)

    for their endurance (pomon), and he will protect them from evils. But letnone of us be distressed For (the Great Father) looks upon them all[and] takes care of them all.30

    And the reward (beke) which will be provided for this one (sing.masc.) in this manner is salvation (oueei); but () the opposite willbefall there whoever commits sin. [The one who commits] sin by himself[] But you shall examine who is worthy (ziov) of revealing them,knowing that [those] who commit sin31

    These passages contrast the elect, who will receive their reward of salva-tion, with the non-elect, or sinners. The universalist statement that theGreat Father takes care of them all is tempered by the non-universalistreference to an opposite reward for sinners, that is a lack of salvation.The simplest solution is to assume that membership in the elect is opento all, but certainly not accepted by all. In this way, the Father takes

    28 Plotinus says that the Gnostics identify a new earth as the rational form of theworld (lgov ksmou[Plot., Enn. II 9 [33] 5,26-27] = Unt. p. 249 cf. C. Schmidt/V.MacDermot, The Books of Jeu [see note 27]); cf. Plot., Enn. II 9 [33] 11,11-12;VI 7 [38] 11.

    29 Mar, NHC X,1 p. 10,13-18, agreeing with Poirier (P.-H. Poirier, Commentaire:Marsans, in: Marsans [see note 14], 400) that the use of [pa]ev indicates achange of speaker, probably a supernatural authority (i.e. an agent of the Barbelo),who addresses, in the first-person masculine singular, Marsanes. B.A. Pearson, Notes:Marsanes (see note 17), 278, sees Marsanes as talking to his audience, with the use ofthe singular instead of the plural as a textual corruption.Turner recognizes the escha-tological import of the passage but simply states that it is quite unclear whetherthis reflects a scene of a final cosmic judgment, or merely the periodic judgment ofindividual that occurs between successive reincarnations of the soul. J.D. Turner,Introduction: Marsanes (see note 14), 38-39.

    30 Mar, NHC X,1 p. 1,14-25. P.-H. Poirier, Commentaire: Marsans, in: Marsans (seenote 14), 365-366., stresses the paraenetic context and recalls the elect at p. 10,16-23.

    31 Mar, NHC X,1 p. 40,2-23.

  • 8/9/2019 Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre


    178 DYLAN M. BURNS

    care of them, the sinners, but some will not repent and inherit only theopposite reward.

    As mentioned above,ZostrianosandAllogenesalso speak of the fate ofthe non-elect. As for those who have material existence, because theydid not know God, they shall pass away (bwlebol)32. (This isalmost certainly the dead kind of humanity that winds up in fire.)During a discussion of negative theology in Allogenes, the luminariesdeclare that someone who mistakenly identifies God with his attributeshas not known God and is liable to judgement33. In a comment onone of these passages, Turner remarks that the souls pass away without

    judgment, but this is unlikely, given references to judges and judginginZostrianosandAllogenes34.

    Clearly, the Platonizing Sethian treatises have not only a concep-tion of the elect, but also of the non-elect. In terms of personal escha-tology, the texts are non-universalist; in terms of cosmic eschatology,they presume that the cosmos will be destroyed. In the passagesdiscussed here, it is clear that there will be an end time where non-elect souls pass away and others are judged. Thus, to return toMarsanes ostensibly universalist monism, one must ask what theentire perceptible world is worthy of being saved from.As Pearsonand Turner have already noted, Autogenes here seems to care for theworld, or, in the parlance ofAllogenes, rectify its faults by nature, ina demiurgical way35.

    The idea referred to here is likely the dissoluble character of the cos-mos which must be maintained by God via divine providence, an idea

    32 Zostr, NHC VIII,1 p. 128,13-14.33 Allog, NHC XI,3 p. 64,14-25.34 J.D. Turner, Commentary: Zostrianos (see note 20), 650 on Zostr, NHC VIII,1 p.

    128,13-14; for judges, see ibid., 9,6-15; for judgment of souls not knowing God,see Allog, NHC XI,3 p. 64,14-25. Cf. also his reading of the dead souls in fire atZostr, NHC VIII,1 p. 42,6-19. J.D. Turner, Sethian Gnosticism (see note 6), 565-67;id., Commentary: Zostrianos (see note 20), 650.

    35 Allog, NHC XI,3 p. 51,25-32; B.A. Pearson, Notes: Marsanes (see note 17), 264(recalling the demiurgic gods at Pl., Ti. 41a-42a); id., Gnosticism as Platonism (seenote 17), 71; J.D. Turner, Sethian Gnosticism (see note 6), 577; id., Introduction:Marsanes (see note 14), 111-112.

  • 8/9/2019 Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre



    common amongst philosophers Hellenic36, Jewish37, and Christian.Given the close association of Autogenes with salvific activity and its root

    in the Barbelo, the first thought of the Invisible Spirit, it is no surprisethat ancient philosophers usually regarded this cosmic maintenance asthe work of providence. Thus, the passage referring to the salvation ofthe whole world is concerned with Gods providential care that maintainsthe foundation of its cosmos, here via the demiurgical activity of theAutogenes aeon. However, Christians such as Athenagoras and Origenheld that God could also allow the world to eventually pass away38.Marsanes references to the end-times and the fate of sinners appear to

    agree. There is therefore no reason to assume that Marsanes is not inkeeping with the soteriology of the other Platonizing treatises, whereinsalvation is open to anyone who receives the Gnostic call, while thosewho refuse to acknowledge it will be destroyed. None of the Sethiandocuments are universalist39.

    This reading of the texts harmonizes much better with other evidenceabout Sethianism, both from Nag Hammadi and from Plotinus. Each ofthe non-Platonizing Sethian treatises contains a mini-apocalypsedescribing the end of the world. In the Pronoia Hymn at the end ofThe Apocryphon of John, the final descent of providence elicitsan awakening of mans divine nature which is tantamount to thecompletion (suntleia)of their aeon40. The second part of the Trimor-phic Protennoia, entitled On Fate, is the revelation of Protennoia

    36 Pl., Ti. 41a-c; more generally, Lg. X 901d-903b. For the sublunary spheres ascorruptible and in need maintenance, see Arist., Cael. II 3,286a3f.; GC II 10,336a2432; Metaph. L 6,1072a10, cit. R.W. Sharples, Alexander of Aphrodisias on DivineProvidence. Two Problems, CQ 32, 1982, (198-211), 200 n. 20. See also Athenag.,leg. 19,3 (cf. Legatio and De Resurrectione, ed. and trans. by W.R. Schoedel, OECT,Oxford 1972).

    37 Philo, opif., 2.10 (cf. Philo, Works, Greek and English Translation, ed. by F.H.Colson/G.H. Whittaker, Vol. 1-10, Cambridge 1949-1962); for many other passagesin Philo, see D.T. Runia, Philo of Alexandria and the Timaeusof Plato, PhAnt 44,Leiden 1986, 240-241; also ibid., 153-154; D. Winston, Philos Theory of EternalCreation. Prov 1.6-9, PAAJR 46, 1979-1980, (593-606), 599.

    38 Athenag., res. 18,3 (cf. Legatio and De Resurrectione [see note 36]); Or., princ. I 4,3[cf. Origenes, Werke, hg. von P. Koetschau, Bd. 5: De Principiis, GCS 22, Leipzig1913]; id., Cels. V 26 [cf. Origenes, Contra Celsum, Transl. with an Introductionand Notes by H. Chadwick, Cambridge 1953].

    39 Pace J.D. Turner (Commentary: Zostrianos [see note 20], 554), conjecturing thatmost Sethian texts seems to entertain the prospect of universal salvation, except forthose who entirely reject the doctrine, i.e. AJ NHC II,1 p. 25,16-27; 30.

    40 AJ, NHC II,1 p. 31,2.

  • 8/9/2019 Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre


    180 DYLAN M. BURNS

    (providence) herself describing the confusion of the archons and thedemiurge (or Archigenetor). The coming end of the aeon (qa[]y

    Mpaiwnetnajwpe) is to be followed by a harrowing of hell andan aeon without change (paetemNtavMmauNoujibe)41.The Apocalypse of Adam features three cataclysms that befall the world:flood and fire are sent by the demiurge to wipe out the seed of Seth, butthe real eschaton arrives with the coming of the Illuminator, at whichpoint the whole creation that came from the dead earth will be underthe authority of death42.

    In The Egyptian Gospel as well, there are two cataclysms of flood (a

    type [tpov]of the consummation [suntleia]of the aeon) and fire:these things will happen for the sake of the great, incorruptible race. Forthe sake of this race, temptations (peirasmo)will come, an error of falseprophets43After recognizing that these disasters were sent by the devilagainst his people, Seth summons guardians who bring about a thirdparousa, the judgment of the archons and consummation (suntleia)of the aeon44. In fact, Seth was created exactly for this purpose at therequest of Adam, to found the immovable race and that, because of it,[the] silence [and the] voice might appear, so that the [dead] aeon [mayraise itself,] [and](finally) dissolve (katalein)45.

    While Plotinus does not directly attack his Christian Gnostic oppo-nents conception of cosmic eschatology, he clearly thinks they affirm

    41 Protennoia, NHC XIII,1 p. 42,1-45,2; 42,19-21. The redactional relationship of thisapocalypse to the rest of the text and Sethian tradition is not clear. Turner hypothe-sizes that it is a secondary doctrinal addition, drawing on Hellenistic Nekyia tradi-tions to the earlier, aretological stratum of the text (cf. J.D. Turner, NHC XIII,1:Trimorphic Protennoia, in: Nag Hammadi Codices XI, XII, XIII, ed. by C.W.Hedrick and E. Pagels, CoptGnL, NHS 28, Leiden 1990, 371-454).

    42 ApcAd, NHC V,5 p. 68-70; 75,9-16; 76,17-20; for background and interpretation,see G.G. Stroumsa, Another Seed. Studies in Gnostic Mythology, NHS 24, Leiden1984, 83.106; D. Brakke, The Seed of Seth at the Flood. Biblical Interpretation andGnostic Theological Reflection, in: Reading in Christian Communities. Essays onInterpretation in the Early Church, ed. by C.A. Bobertz and D. Brakke, CJAn 14,Notre Dame 2002, (41-62), 46-60.

    43 Gos. Eg., NHC IV,2 p. 72,22-27 = III,2 p. 61,12-15.44 Gos. Eg., IV,2 p. 72,4 = III,2 p. 61,20.4; IV,2 p. 73,27-75,24 = III,2 p. 63,13-64,9;

    see also A. Bhlig/F. Wisse, Commentary: The Gospel of the Egyptians, in:Nag Hammadi Codices III,2 and IV,2. The Gospel of the Egyptians, ed. withTranslation and Commentary by A. Bhlig and F. Wisse, NHS 4, Leiden 1975, (169-207), 189.

    45 Gos. Eg., NHC IV,2 p. 63,3-8 = III,2 p. 51,10-14, transl. A. Bhlig/F. Wisse,Nag Hammadi Codices III,2 and IV,2 (see note 44), modified.

  • 8/9/2019 Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre



    that the world both begins in time and eventually ends. As noted at thebeginning of this section, he expends great energy on attacking their

    conception of the creator, who will destroy the world. He argues thatthey do not understand that the demiurge creates not through discursivethought (dinoia)but contemplation (qewra);

    (This confusion comes from) the people who assume a beginning for whatis eternal; then, they think that the cause of the creating was a being whoturned from one thing to the next and thus changed.46

    Furthermore, Plotinus vigorously insists on the eternal existence ofmatter, which cannot dissolve unless it has something to dissolve into47.

    Two problems are embedded in this complex of evidence. First, Ploti-nus defends a non-literal reading of the Timaeuswhere the demiurge doesnot actually create the world in time, against the literal reading appar-ently used by the Gnostics and mocked by Epicureans48. Second, andmore relevant for the present discussion, Plotinus does not accept theidea that the world can be destroyed since he considers the world eternaland because it would require an intervention by what is eternal in thatwhich is temporal49. If the Platonizing Sethian treatises did indeed

    circulate in Plotinus seminar, it would be unlikely that he would haveleveled the aforementioned criticisms against them and their readers ifthey in fact affirmed that the world was uncreated and eternal.


    At this point, it is worth pausing to consider the Platonic philosoph-ical context of Sethian eschatology. The eternity of the world was an issuethat ancient philosophers staked a great deal of importance upon. The

    46 Plot., Enn. II 9 [33] 8,2-5; see also V 8 [31] 7; VI 7 (38) 1,38; III 2 [47] 2,16-21.47 Plot., Enn.II 9 [33] 3,7-21.48 For a fine survey of passages and the issues at hand, see D.J. OMeara,Gnosticism

    and the Making of the World in Plotinus, in: The Rediscovery of Gnosticism.Proceedings of the International Conference on Gnosticism at Yale, New Haven,Connecticut, March 28-31 1978, ed. by B. Layton, Vol. 1: The School of Valentinus,SHR 41.1, Leiden 1980, 365-378.

    49 Rightly emphasized by E.P. Meijering, God Cosmos History. Christian and Neo-Platonic Views on Divine Revelation, VigChr 28.4, 1974, (248-276), esp. 253-254;see also C. Schmidt, Plotins Stellung zum Gnosticismus und kirchlichen Christentum,TU N.F. 5, Leipzig 1901, 68-71.

  • 8/9/2019 Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre


    182 DYLAN M. BURNS

    central concern for Platonists was the eternity of the soul. In an influ-ential discussion followed by Cicero, Maximus of Tyre, and Macrobius,

    Plato states in the Phaedrusthat all soul is immortal; it has no begin-ning, or rather is a beginning for all else, an unmoved mover. The samegoes for the soul of the world itself, which moves all things in it 50. TheTimaeus, meanwhile, says the world is incorruptible, a proof-text usedby Alcinous51. While Plato, Aristotle, Polybius, and Macrobius didallow for the occasional destruction of civilizations, this was nevertantamount to the destruction of the cosmos52. Other thinkers todefend the eternity of the world included Plutarch53,the Hermetists54,

    and of course Plotinus himself55

    .With the rise of Christian intellectuals and their debates withHellenic interlocutors, the topic became a central and bitterly-debatedlocus of Hellenic-Christian polemics. Like Plato and Aristotle, Celsusdefended the eternity of the world56, but believed that there had beenprior world-cycles of floods and conflagrations; they had been garbled byChristians, who came to think that God will descend bringing fire in

    50 Pl., Phdr. 245c-246a; see also Ti. 41b; Cic.,Somn. Scip. 8-9 (cf. De Re Publica,ed. and transl. by C.W. Keyes, LCL 213, Cambridge 1977); id., Tusc. I 53-54(cf. Tusculan Disputations, transl. by J.E. King, LCL 141, London 1960); Max.Tyr.,Or. 10,4 (cf. The Philosphical Orations, transl. with an Introduction and Notes byM.B. Trapp, Oxford 1997).

    51 Pl., Ti. 41b; Alcin., Epit. 15.2.52 Pl., Plt. 269c-274e; Ti. 29a; Arist., Cael. 1,10;Macr., Comm. Somn. Scip. II 10,9-16

    (cf. Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, transl. with an Introduction and Notes byW.H. Stahl, RoC 48, New York 1952).

    53 Plu., de E Delph. 393f. (cf. Plutarchs Moralia in sixteen Volumes, Vol. 5: 351C-438E,transl. by F.C. Babbitt, LCL 306, London 1936); (cf. Plot. Enn., II 9 [33] 6,58-7,3);de def. Orac. 415f-416a, 433e-f.

    54 Ascl. 29 (cf. Hermetica, The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepiusin a New English Translation with Notes and Introduction, ed. and transl. by B.P.Copenhaver. Cambridge 1995): if the world was and is and will be a living thingthat lives forever, nothing in the world is mortal. Ibid., 31; Corp. Herm. XI 3,5, 15.

    55 Plot., Enn. IV 4 [28] 10,5-7. Probably not (as suggested by C. Schmidt, PlotinsStellung zum Gnosticismus [see note 49], 69) a rebuttal of Rev 4, n kan ka rxmenov; a better candidate would be III 7 [45] 3,31-34. 12,13-29; II 1 [40]1-2.4-5; III 7 [45] 6).While Plotinus defended the worlds eternity, he also adoptedthe Stoic idea of the recurrence of events (presumably following the kind of incom-plete destructions described in Plato and Aristotle Enn. V 7 [18]).

    56 Or., Cels. III 39; IV 79; cf. Minuc., Octavius 11,1 (ANF); J.G. Cook, The Inter-pretation of the New Testament in Greco-Roman Paganism, Peabody 2002, 99.

  • 8/9/2019 Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre



    the manner of a torturer57.Macrobius, too, emphasized that while floodsand conflagrations may nearly devastate the world, the world is never

    destroyed. Nothing ever perishes, but is simply changed. He favorablycontrasts Ciceros words about a world that is mortal in part with thepopular belief that some things seem to perish within the universe58.Alexander of Lycopolis mocked the unintelligible physics of Manichaeaneschatological fire59. Other approaches focused, like Plotinus, on howChristian conceptions of creation complicated temporality and the good-ness of the demiurge: Sallustius states that the universe itself must beimperishable and uncreated; imperishable, because if it perishes God

    must necessarily make either a better or a worse or the same or disorder60


    Macarius Magnes Hellenic interlocutor in hisApocriticuscriticizes 1Co7,31 (the present form of the world is passing away), asking how thedemiurge could have created the world poor enough to pass away in thefirst place61. Later, he attacks descriptions of stars falling and the heavensrolling up (drawn from the Apocalypse of Peter and Isa 34,4), saying

    57 Or., Cels. I 19-20, IV 9,11. Origen responds that Moses and the prophets didnt getthis idea from anyone else (ibid., IV 12; cf. Clem., str. V 14,4 [cf. Clemens Alexan-drinus, hrsg. von O. Sthlin, Bd. 2: Stromata; Buch I-VI, GCS 52, Leipzig 1960])and that the cycle is not unlimited (see also Cels. IV 62, 67-78, V 20; A.F.J. Klijn,Seth in Jewish, Christian and Gnostic Literature, NT.S 46, Leiden 1977, 122; J.G.Cook, New Testament in Greco-Roman Paganism [see note 56], 98).

    58 Macr., Comm. Somn. Scip. II 12,12-16.59 Alex. Lyc., Man. (cf. P.W. van der Horst and J. Mansfeld, An Alexandrian Platonist

    against Dualism. Alexander of Lycopolis Critique of the Doctrines of Manichaeus,translated with an Introduction, Leiden 1974, 95-97; ch. 26 in: Alexandri Lycopoli-tani contra Manichaei opiniones disputatio, ed. A. Brinkmann, BSGRT, Stuttgart1989, 38-40).

    60 Sallust., De diis et mundo 7 (cf. Sallustius, Concerning the Gods and the Universe,ed. with Prolegomena and Translation by A.D. Nock, Cambridge 1996); also 13:everything made in virtue of a function comes into being with the possessor of thefunction, and things so made cannot ever perish, unless their maker is deprived ofthe functional power. Accordingly, those who suppose that the universe perishes denythe existence of gods, or, if they assert that existence, make the Creator powerless.See also Prolegomena, in: Sallustius, Concerning the Gods (see note 60), (xviicxxiii) lx-lxii.

    61 Mac. Mgn., apocr. IV 158 (cf. Macarius Magnes, Le Monogns. Macarios deMagnsie, introd. gnrale, d. critique, traduction franaise et commentaire parR. Goulet, 2 Vols., Textes et Traditions 7, Paris 2003); for discussion, see J.G. Cook,New Testament in Greco-Roman Paganism (see note 56), 222 (seeing the parallelwith Plotinus critique at Enn. II 9 [33] 4), 230 n. 383.

  • 8/9/2019 Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre


    184 DYLAN M. BURNS

    that whoever could believe such things must be padeutov nasqj-tov: heaven cannot change and cannot be judged, for it does not sin62.

    Sethian cosmic eschatology appears instead most intelligible alongsidethe developments of contemporary second and third-century Christianand Gnostic thought. The New Testament, apocalyptic literature, andthe Apostolic Fathers generally held a philosophically nave belief in afinal judgment separating the righteous from the sinner63, the physicaldestruction of the world, usually through fire64, and its subsequent recon-stitution as a perfect, eternal kingdom65. This perspective was also sup-ported in third-century Christianity, as by Tertullian, Hippolytus, or the

    Montanist prophet Maximilla66

    .2 Enoch proposes that time is finite anddivided, as opposed to the undivided single aeon that will follow theFinal Judgment67.

    62 Mac. Mgn., apocrit. IV, 164. Cooks recollection (232) of Plotinus defense of thestars at Enn. II 9 [33] 8 is probably far-fetched.

    63 1En. 1,4-7.38; 2En. 46; 65,5-10; 2Bar. 51,1-6; 54,20-22; 83; Apoc. Abr. 29-31;Apoc. Petr.(Eth.) 4; Apoc. Elij.5,30-35; Rev 20,12-15; 1Clem. 23-28.

    64 Deu 32,22; Mat 5,22; 18,8; Mar 9,43; Rev 20,14; 21,8.65 For discussion and survey of sources, see H. Kraft, Art. Eschatologie. V. Christliche

    Eschatologie, dogmengeschichtlich. RGG32, Tbingen 1957, (672-680), 675-676;G. May, Art. Eschatologie. V. Alte Kirche, TRE 10, Berlin/New York 1982, (299-305), 300-303; D. Aune, Early Christian Eschatology (see note 8), 595; H.W.

    Attridge, Valentinian and Sethian Apocalyptic Traditions (see note 13), 184-185; A.Y.Collins, thouhts on New Testament Eschatology in: Aspects of New TestamentThought, in: The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. by R.E. Brown, J.A.Fitzmyer and R.E. Murphy, London 1990. Examples of the reconstitution of theworld as a new kingdom include Isa 65,17; 66,22; 2Pe 3; Rev 21; 1En. 45,4-5; 2Bar.,

    32,7; 44; 2Clem. 11f.; Herm., mand. 3,8-9. The most egregious examples areChiliasm: Rev 20,6; Apoc. Elij. 5,36-9; Iren., haer. V 28,3 (on the latter, see furtherC.R. Smith, Chiliasm and Recapitulation in the Theology of Irenaeus, VigChr 48.4,1994, 313-331).

    66 Tert., Marc. III 24; id., An. 55 (cf. ANF: Translations of the Writings of the Fathersdown to A.D. 325, ed. by A. Roberts and A.C. Coxe, Vol. 3-4, Grand Rapids 1976);Hipp., Dan. 2,4 (cf. ANF: Translations ot the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D.325, ed. by A. Roberts and A.C. Coxe, Vol. 5, Grand Rapids 1978); Eus., h.e.V 16,18-19 (cf. The Ecclesiastical History, ed. and transl. by K. Lake and J.E.L.Oulton, 2 Vols., LCL 153/265, Cambridge 1973/1975); similarly, Hom. Clem. II

    15,1-3. See furtherG. May, Art. Eschatologie (see note 65), 302-303.67 2En. 65; for discussion in light of contemporary Zoroastrian and Greek concepts of

    time, see S. Pines, Eschatology and the concept of Time in the Slavonic Book ofEnoch, in: Types of Redemption. Contributions to the Theme of the Study-Confer-ence held at Jerusalem 14th to 19th July 1968, ed. by R.J. Zwi Werblowsky andC.J. Bleeker, SHR 18, Leiden 1970, (72-87), 77-82.

  • 8/9/2019 Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre



    More philosophically-inclined apologists, however, attempted to nuancetheir views in hopes of engaging Hellenic thought. Often this amounted

    to attempts to rethink biblical concepts of the worlds destruction in Stoicterms. Justin Martyr argued that if man had free will, he must receiveeternal reward or punishment as merited; this punishment would be a firethat would also consume the entire world68. He charges that the Stoicsrobbed the doctrine of the cosmic conflagration from the Jews, while mis-takenly loading it with determinism as well as the idea of a re-birth ofanother material universe69. Clement never explicitly denounces the eter-nity of the world, but he agrees with Justin that the Stoic kprwsivis a

    scrambled version of Mosaic teaching about the end70

    . Although heaffirmed (limited) successive rebirths of the cosmos71, Origen thought thatthe cosmos as known by humans was finite and would be destroyed. In hispolemic with Celsus as well as in his commentaries, he is quite clear thatthe world is created, destroyed, and judged72. In On First Principles,Origen offers three answers to the question but doesnt settle on any ofthem, proposing that 1)only the material world will be destroyed; 2) itwould be transformed into a spiritual world;3)everything will be annihi-lated73. The tension between the Platonic and Christian perspectives is

    68 Just., 1 apol. 20. 28. 60;2 apol. 7. 9 (cf. ANF: Translations of the Writings of theFathers down to A.D. 325, ed. and transl. by A. Roberts and A.C. Coxe, Vol. 1,Grand Rapids 1977). See G. May, Art. Eschatologie (see note 65), 301; E. Osborn,

    Justin Martyr, BHTh 47, Tbingen 1973, 149-153.69 See Heraclitus ap. D.L. 9.8 (cf. Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers,

    transl. by R.D. Hicks, 2 Vols., LCL 184/185, London 1972/1979); for the eternalreturn, see the sources collected in: A.A. Long and D.N. Sedley, The HellenisticPhilosophers, 2 Vols., Cambridge 1987, 52.

    70 Clem., str. V 1,554.71 Or., princ. II 3,4-5, III 5,3; for an eventual end to the succession of worlds,

    see comm. in Rom. VI 8,8 Scheck.72 Or., Cels. IV 10. On final judgment in his commentaries, see hom. in Jer. 12,5

    (cf. Origen, Homilies on Jeremiah. Homily on 1 Kings 28, transl. by C. Smith, FaCh97, Washington D.C. 1998); hom. in Lev.14.4 (cf. Origen, Homilies on Leviticus,transl. by G.W. Barkley, FaCh 83, Washington D.C. 1990).

    73 Or., princ. II 3,6. See also G. May, Art. Eschatologie (see note 65), 302; D.Y.Dimitrov, Synesius of Cyrene and the Christian Neoplatonism: Patterns of Religiousand Cultural Symbiosis, in: What Happened to the Ancient Library of Alexandria?,ed. by M. el-Abbadi and O. Mounir Fathallah, Library of the Written Word 1.3,Leiden 2008, (149-170), 155. Origen also denies the eternity of the world at comm.in Mt. 13.1 (cf. Origenes Werke, hg. von E. Klostermann, Vol 10-12, GCS 38.40.41,Leipzig 1933-1955 cit. J.W. Trigg, Origen. The Bible and Philosophy in the Third-Century Church, Atlanta 1983, 213).

  • 8/9/2019 Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre


    186 DYLAN M. BURNS

    perhaps most distinctly observed in the person of Synesius of Cyrene, who,on account of his training in Greek philosophy, simply refused to admit

    that the world, with all its parts, must perish74.As Peel showed in his survey of eschatological passages in Gnostictexts75, most Gnostic thinkers also presumed that the world would bedestroyed, whether by means of a restoration (pokatstasiv)76, theconsummation (suntleia)of the aeon77, dissolution (bwlebol)78,fire79, or cosmic war80. Excepting the Epistle to Rheginos, these textsevince little interest in Greek thought or philosophically-palatable notionsof eschatology. However, contemporary Christian interest in articulating

    the end-time terms of the Stoic conflagration (kprwsiv) was strongamongst Valentinians. For Ptolemy, as with Justin and Clement, finaldestruction was favored over the Stoic doctrine of its repeated cycles ofbirth and destruction; unlike contemporary proto-orthodox thinkers,he also stressed the destruction of matter81. For many Gnostics as well as

    74 tnksmonofswkatllamrjsundiafqeresqai(Synes., ep. 105,87-88 [cf. Synsiusde Cyrne, trad. et comment par D. Roques, ed. par A. Garzya, CUFr 397, Paris 2000];see also J. Bregman, Synesius of Cyrene. Philosopher-Bishop, The Transformation of the

    Classical Heritage 2, Berkeley 1982, 159-160; cf. H.-I. Marrou, Synesius of Cyrene andAlexandrian Neoplatonism, in: The Conflict between Paganism and Christianity in theFourth Century: Essays, ed. by A. Momigliano, Oxford 1963, [126-150], 147).

    75 M.L. Peel, Gnostic Eschatology (see note 13), 157-158, to which I am indebted formany of the following citations.

    76 Basilides ap. Hipp., haer. VII 26-27 (cf. ANF [see note 66]; A. Mhat, }Apokatsta-sivchez Basilide, in: Mlanges dhistoire des religions offerts Henri-Charles Puech,Paris 1974, 365-374, emphasizing continuity with proto-orthodox thinkers likeIrenaeus and Clement); Epiph., haer. LXVI 31-37 (cf. The Panarion of Epiphaniusof Salamis, transl. by F. Williams, 2 Vols., NHS 35/36, Leiden, 1987/1994); Rheg,

    NHC I,3 p. 40; Apoc. Petr., NHC VIII,3 p. 73-74.77 OW, NHC II,5 p. 110-11; 114,24; 121-22; 123,19.30-31; 125,32-33; Gos. Eg.,

    NHC IV,2 p. 72,22-27 = III,2 p. 61,12-15; Par. Sem., NHC VII,1 p. 4,2-20; 48,18-22. See also Codex Tchacos Gospel of Judas p. 54,16-57,19.

    78 Dial, NHC III,5 p. 122,2-3; Apoc. Petr., NHC VIII,3 p. 76-77.79 Noema, NHC VI,4 p. 36,3-8; 46.29-32; Pistis Sophia, 106 (cf. Pistis Sophia. Text

    ed. by C. Schmidt with Notes by V. MacDermot, NHS 9, Leiden 1978; The Booksof Jeu [see note 27]; Megale Apophasis ap. Hipp., haer. VI 9,10; Kephalaia 16 [cf.The Kephalaia of the Teacher. The Edited Coptic Manichaean Texts in Translationwith Commentary, ed. by I. Gardner, NHMS 37, Leiden 1995]).

    80 OW, NHC II,5 p. 125,32-34; 126,4-127,4; 126,10-11.14-21; Par. Sem, NHC VII,1p. 29,7-14; 31,11-22; 43,21-44,25; TractTrip, NHC I,5 p. 137.

    81 Ptolemy ap. Iren., haer. I 7,1 (on which see H.W. Attridge, Valentinian and SethianApocalyptic Traditions [see note 13], 184f.); see also Clem., exc. Thdot. 48,4(cf. Extraits de Thodote. Clment dAlexandrie, Texte grec, introd. trad. et notes deF. Sagnard, SC 23, Paris 1970).

  • 8/9/2019 Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre



    Christians and Jews, the eschaton would be accompanied by a finaljudgment82.

    It is in this context that Sethian cosmic eschatology should be under-stood. Despite clear interest in contemporary Stoic and Platonic thought,the non-Platonizing Sethian treatises (theApocryphon of John, TrimorphicProtennoia, Apocalypse of Adam, and the Egyptian Gospel) all hold to un-philosophical Judeo-Christian notions of cosmic eschatology. As notedabove, all of the texts assert a consummation of the world or presentaeon; only the Apocryphon fails to explicitly mention a final judgment.While the Platonizing treatises are not primarily focused on cosmic but

    personal eschatology, references to the dissolution of souls, shortness of thepresent age (Zostrianos), judges of souls (Allogenes), the end-times, andlack of salvation for sinners (Marsanes) make it clear that these texts pre-sume, like the other Sethian treatises, that the cosmos will be destroyed.Broadly speaking, then, all the Sethian texts agree with contemporaryChristian and Gnostic thought on the destruction of the world.

    There are also important differences between the cosmic eschatologyof the Sethian texts and many of their Judeo-Christian contemporaries.First, although the doctrine of the kprowsivclearly was central to thethought of educated Christians and Gnostics (Justin, Clement, Origen,the Valentinians), Sethians appear to have eschewed it entirely, possiblyexcepting the mutilated passage inZostrianosthat appears to associate thedead type of humanity with fire83. More interestingly, the soteriologi-cal schema ofZostrianossimultaneously affirms the doctrines of reincar-nation84 and the end of the world. From a Platonic standpoint, this isimpossible; the doctrine of the transmigration of souls presupposes that

    82 Ptolemy ap. Iren., haer. I 13,6; AJ, NHC II,1 p. 27,22-31; GV, NHC I,3 p. 37,34-38,6; Dial, NHC III,5 p. 127,16-19; Apoc. Petr., NHC VII,3 p. 73,20-74,9; 80,27-29; Silv, NHC VII,4 p. 102,19-22; Pistis Sophia, chs. 106, 108, 111.

    83 Zostr, NHC VIII,1 p. 42,10-26. It is also possible that the fire in question here isthat which purifies sinners: thus Heb 12; 18,29; 2Pe 3; 7; Rev 14,10; 17,16; Apoc.Elij. 5,22-24; Orac. Sib. 2,196-213; 4,171-78; 7,117-31; 8,225-30.

    84 Reading the aeon of the parokjsiv (sojourn, exile), with Sieber and Turner, as alocale of metempsychosis. (Zostr, NHC VIII,1 p. 5,8-9; 11-12; 24-27; 43-45; Siebersnote ad loc. in the CGL edition of Zostr NHC VIII,1 p. 5,2425, re: LSJ 1342a; J.D.Turner, Commentary: Zostrianos [see note 20], 534-544) Abramowski is correct to

    point out the Christian valence of the term (L. Abramowski, Nag Hammadi 8,1 Zos-trianos [see note 27], 3), which probably constitutes a development of the Christianresident alien motif. (See B.H. Dunning, Aliens and Sojourners. Self as Other in EarlyChristianity, Divinations: Rereading Late Antique Religion, Philadelphia 2009.) Cf.Plot., Enn. II 9 [33] 6,1-3; Unt. 263,16-23; C. Schmidt, Plotins Stellung zum Gnos-ticismus (see note 49), 61-62; M. Tardieu, Les gnostiques (see note 1), 527-528 n. 60;

  • 8/9/2019 Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre


    188 DYLAN M. BURNS

    1) there is a finite number of souls but2)the universe is eternal85. None-theless, metempsychosis was adopted by a few Christian writers associ-

    ated with Gnosticism, including Basilides, the Ophites, Elchasai, Mani,and the author(s) of Pistis Sophia86. Together with these thinkers, theSethians adopted a tenet identified amongst later proto-orthodoxChristians as an integral feature of Hellenic Platonism: not the salvationof all souls or the eternity of the world, but reincarnation87.

    J.D. Turner, Sethian Gnosticism (see note 6), 570. I explore this complex of evidenceat length in my Yale dissertation.

    85 There cannot be an infinite number of souls in an eternal universe because, as Alci-nous argues, with an infinite number of free souls, the possible number of acts thesesouls could perform would be infinite, and since these acts are under the governanceof fate, i.e. divine knowledge, the divine would have to have knowledge of an infinityof acts. But that is not possible, because infinity is unknowable. (Arist., Metaph. 2A2,994b22; B 4,999a27; for additional references, see R. Sorabji, Time, Creation, andthe Continuum [see note 71], 186 n. 48). Therefore there cannot be an infinitenumber of souls in existence, unless the universe is finite. (cf. Alcin., Epit. 26,1; DerPlatonismus in der Antike: Grundlagen System Entwicklungen, begrndet vonH. Drrie, fortgefhrt von M. Baltes, Teil 6: Die philosophische Lehre des Platonis-mus, 2 Bde., Stuttgart/Bad Cannstatt 2002, 2. Bde., 259; R. Sorabji, Time, Creation,and the Continuum [see note 71], 188; also adduces Sallust., de diis et mundo 20and Olymp., in Phd. 10,1,2-5 [cf. Olympiodorus, ed. by L.G. Westerink, The GreekCommentaries on Platos Phaedo 1, VNAW.L N.R. 92, Amsterdam 1976].) In hisdefense of the idea that there are Platonic forms of individuals, Plotinus agreed thatthe number of individual souls must be finite (even if they, as according to the Stoics,recur infinitely). (Enn. V 7 [18]; W. Stettner, Die Seelenwanderung bei Griechen undRmern, TBAW 22, Stuttgart/Berlin 1934, 72) See further the sources collected inDrrie/Baltes, Die philosophische Lehre des Platonismus (see note 85), 1. Bd.: 431;2. Bd.: 350 n. 72.

    86 Basilides: Clem., str. IV 165,3 = frg. E Layton = frg. 12 Lhr; id.: Or., comm. inRom.V 1,27 Scheck = frg. 17 Lhr (omitted by Layton). (Following B.A. Pearson,Basilides the Gnostic, in: A Companion to Second-Century Heretics, ed. by A.Marjanen and P. Luomanen, SvigChr 76, Leiden 2005, [1-31], 18; pace P. Nautin,Les fragments de Basilide sur la souffrance et leur interprtation par ClementdAlexandrie et Origne, in: Mlanges dhistoire des religions offerts Henri-CharlesPuech [see note 76], [393-404], 394-398).Ophites: Iren., haer. I 30,14; Epiph., haer.

    XXVI 10,8; Or., Cels. VI 33; AJ, NHC II,1 p. 26,36-27,11.Elchasai: Hipp., haer.IX 9. Mani: seeKephalaia 90, 92, 99, and the collection of sources in: G. Casadio,Manichaean Metempsychosis. Typology and Historical Roots, in: Studia Manichaica2. Internationaler Kongre zum Manichismus, 6.-10. August 1989 St. Augustin/Bonn, hg. von G. Wiener und H.-J. Klimkeit, StOR 23, Wiesbaden 1992, 105-130.See also Pistis Sophia, 283, p. 381,17-383,11.

    87 Nemes., nat. hom. II 34,17-18 (cf. Nemesii Emeseni de natura hominis, ed.M. Morani, BSGRT, Leipzig 1987).

  • 8/9/2019 Burns - Sethian Eschatology and Christian Platonism-libre




    To sum up, the eschatology of Marsanesand Zostrianosdescribes theend of the world and the destruction of souls; references to judgment inAllogenesprobably presume a similar position. The Platonizing Sethiantreatises thus engage Neoplatonic metaphysics and mysticism, but activelyreject Hellenic Platonic eschatology. The Sethian Gnostics met Neopla-tonism head-on and may have even contributed to its development,but they also rejected key cosmological doctrines of Hellenic Platonism,most likely in the interests of maintaining a Judeo-Christian identity.

    Hellenic philosophers like Plotinus and Porphyry, meanwhile, here drewa line in the sand against Christian and Gnostic intellectuals that wouldset the stage for Hellenic-Christian polemics until Justinians closing ofthe Academy in 529 C.E. The Sethian Gnostics thus played a crucial rolein the differentiation of Judeo-Christian and Hellenic thought in LateAntiquity.