Christianity and the Myth Of Philomela

In a previous post, I wrote about why Marcion and Valentinus were theologically closer than most people presume.  Their use of the Paul letters, their depiction of the Demiurge as a menacing figure, and their relationships with the Johannines all give strong indication of a connection, even though the Heresiologists (Irenaeus, Hippolytus, etc) don’t explicitly state it.

In Book 10 of Refutation of All Heresies, Hippolytus gives several hints which corroborate my overall view of these early Christian heretics, specifically the idea that there was less discrepancy between the sects than what the emerging orthodoxy attempted to convey in their polemical treatises.

In his brief summation of Tatian (originally Justin Martyr’s student, but later joined “the dark side” by becoming a Valentinian), Hippolytus makes reference to Tatian’s connection to Valentinus, but then in the next sentence writes “…and almost in nothing differs from Marcion, as appertaining both to his slanders, and the regulations enacted concerning marriage”*.

*Note:  The Marcionites would have rejected marriage and reproduction because these activities would represent shameless acceptance of Yaldabaoth’s offerings to humans; reproducing would increase the population of people enslaved by the Demiurge and the archons.

In the very next section, Hippolytus gives a brief summation to Marcion and Cerdo (linking the 2 together, like Irenaeus), and then, he writes a blurb on Apelles, who Hippolytus referred to as Marcion’s disciple.

Hippolytus writes “But this heretic [Apelles] is in the habit of devoting his attention to a book which he calls ‘Revelations'”.  Hippolytus gives authorship of Revelations to a prophetess named Philumene, and then writes, “In this manner he composed his treatises against the law and the prophets, and attempts to abolish them…”

Here, Hippolytus makes it clear that Apelles was consistent with Paul doctrine and was almost certainly a Marcionite.

Hippolytus’ reference to this long-lost “Revelations” is intriguing; I can’t help but wonder if this was not a reference to the Book of Revelation, which I’ve posited in earlier posts, was written by Cerinthus, who I also think was Marcion’s real teacher.  Compounding my suspicion is that the very next section in Hippolytus’ work was about Cerinthus.  In that section, Hippolytus affirms Cerinthus was trained in Egypt, like the Apollo who was referenced by Paul and can be found in Acts of the Apostles 18:24; more to the point, Cerinthus also parallels Pope Kedron of Alexandria, who I suspect was the original historical person underlying Marcion’s Cerdo.

Hippolytus, echoing Irenaeus, wrote “Cerinthus maintains…Christ came down in the form of a dove upon Him…”  Here we find a potential parallel between Cerinthus’ dove and (the name of) Apelles’ Revelation author, Philumene.

In the Greek mythological story of Philomela (originally by Sophocles), Philomela was a daughter of Pandion the 1st, the King of Athens.  She was also the sister of Procne.  In the story, Philomela is raped by her sister Procne’s husband Tereus; Tereus then cuts out Philomela’s tongue and imprisons her to prevent her from telling her sister what he had done.

Philomela is eventually freed by her sister.  With Procne’s assistance, Philomela gains revenge by killing Tereus’ son and serving him to Tereus in his supper.  Tereus attempts his own revenge by chasing Philomela and her sister, but during the chase Philomela is transformed by the Gods into a bird – a swallow (not a coconut-carrying African swallow, but rather a European swallow).  Tereus was turned into a bird as well, a sandpiper.

USAGE_ID        = 1025425
*A depiction of Philomela and Procne preparing to sacrifice Tereus and Procne’s son, Itys

This bird parallel is obviously not proof of anything; however, consider the Gnostic re-write of the Adam and Eve story:

And the Archons became attracted to Eve, the primal woman. They said to one another, “Come, let us sow our seed in her,” and they pursued her. And she laughed at them for their witlessness, and their blindness; and within reach of their clutches, she turned into a tree, and left before them a shadowy reflection of herself.

Compare the similarities between Philomela and the Sethian Myth:

  • Female victim (Philomela, Sophia)
  • Rape/Attempt
  • Imprisonment (Sophia was imprisoned by Yaldabaoth in the Kenoma)
  • Absence of an important appendage (Philomela=Tongue, Sethian=Divine Spark)
  • Child Sacrifice (Itys, Jesus)
  • Transformation into a different form of material with the help of God(s) (Philomela turned into a bird, Eve turned into a tree [Sophia turned into the snake])

The story of Philomela mirrors Gnostic myth so closely at points, one can’t ignore the similarities, particularly given Hippolytus’ reference to Philumene; Philumene and Philomela are equivalent names.

I propose Apelles’ reference to Philomela was a representation of the Gnostic depiction of the Demiurge.  Alternatively, the story of Philomela was one that early initiates learned, and was the story Gnostic Christians told to obfuscate the later secrets of their doctrines.  Or it might simply be that the person who described Apelles’ doctrine to Hippolytus referenced the story of Philomela as a parallel, and Hippolytus obscured the original reference.

This transformation would have worked well in interpreting the synoptic narrative, as well.  Consider Jesus’ post-trial journey in Mark 15:

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. 22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 23 Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

Perhaps Simon of Cyrene was the bird, carrying Jesus’ cross, and becoming the next medium for the Christ, referring back to the foreshadowing in Mark 8:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

In this context, it is easy to see why so many Christian sects believed that the Christ and Jesus were separable entities, and that the spirit entered Jesus after his baptism by John.


Author: Tim...Stepping Out

Tim Stepping Out

4 thoughts on “Christianity and the Myth Of Philomela”

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