A significant puzzle in the story of Christian history, one which I have spent more time pondering than I care to admit, is an emerging dichotomy between the Sethians and the Valentinians, specifically as it relates to why the Valentinians had such a reverence for the Apostle Paul, and their Sethian counterparts, who by all indications were forerunners to the Valentinians, seemed unaware of him.
One solution to this puzzle, which I described in The Out-of-Turkey Theory, goes like this:
…perhaps it was Valentinus or his followers who interjected Valentinian Christianity into the Sethian system; in other words, there seems to have been a feedback loop between the Valentinians and the Sethians, and notably absent within this loop was Paul.
There is an alternative explanation that I’ve been considering for some time – it is a very speculative (not to mention untestable) hypothesis, but the more I think about it, the more explanatory power it has. This alternative explanation requires some background into Jewish history, as it relates to Samaria, a town about 45 miles to its north. Josephus described a critical event in Jewish history (Antiquities xiii.3) which I think glues these disparate data together.
Around 150 BCE, there was a dispute about whether Jerusalem should be the most holy of places, or whether it should be at Mount Gerizim. Andronicus ben Meshullam argued for Jerusalem’s supremacy. Two Samaritans, Theodosius and Sabbeus, argued that the holiest place was Mount Gerizim.
Terms were set between the two sides that each would argue their case in front of King Ptolemy VI. The losing side, based on Ptolemy’s decision, should be put to death.
Andronicus was the victor, and so Sabbeus and Theodosius were put to death.
Evidence of tensions between Jerusalem and Samaria can also be found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, particularly 4Q372:
…and fools resided in their land. They made for themselves a high place on an elevated mountain to excite the jealousy of Israel
There is also a polemic in the Testament of Levi 7:
For from this day forward shall Schechem [the land immediately below Mount Gerizim] be called a city of imbeciles.
The origins for this tension arguably began several hundred years earlier than the Ptolemy incident, when the Babylonians captured Judea. The Samaritan temple was destroyed by Jews (John Hyrcanus) in the 2nd century BCE, a few decades after the trial by Ptolemy VI.
Unlike Jews in Jerusalem, the years following Bar Kochba in the 130s were considered the Golden age for the Samaritan community, which was followed by 200 years of independence, characterized by local, aristocratic rule.
There are several Samaritan references within early Christian history. One can be found in John 4:19-22, where the Samaritan woman makes reference to this conflict:
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.
This appears to be another example of the Johannine texts inventing a synthesis which cooled tensions between Jerusalem and Samaria, as compared to the swipe Matthew took in 10:5, when he told his apostles not to go to “any city of the Samaritans”.
Another Samaritan reference relates to Simon Magus, the heretical Samaritan who tried to buy influence in the inner Apostolic circle, and who was subsequently made into a Christian boogie man for the next several centuries.
According to tradition, Simon Magus and
Dositheos, both Samaritans, were original followers of John the Baptist (who I think can be historically paralleled with Theudas). Incidentally, the John the Baptist sect was later linked to the Sabeans; both groups believed they were descendants of Noah. The noteworthy detail here is that Sabeans sounds much like Sabbeus, one of the martyrs who died on behalf of Samaria’s holiness (or lack thereof). Similarly, the name Dositheos seems to be an alteration of the name Theodosius.
The Pseudo-Clementine literature (ii.11) gives the following account of Simon and Dositheus:
Dositheus, when he perceived that Simon was depreciating him…moved with rage, when they met as usual at the school, seized a rod, and began to beat Simon; but suddenly the rod seemed to pass through [Simon’s] body, as if it had been smoke. On which Dositheus, being astonished, says to him, ‘Tell me if thou art the Standing One, that I may adore thee.’ And when Simon answered that he was, then Dositheus, perceiving that he himself was not the Standing One, fell down and worshipped him, and gave up his own place as chief to Simon, ordering all the rank of thirty men to obey him; himself taking the inferior place which Simon formerly occupied. Not long after this he died
The root of this Dositheus/Simon Magus quarrel seems to be related to leadership of the John the Baptist sect. There were several historical links between the John the Baptist sect and the Nasoreans, including even the Haran Gawaita, a Mandaean text; it specifically calls Jerusalem Mandaeans Nasoreans. Epiphanius of Salamis referred to them as the Nazarenes. The root of Nasorean appears to come from Nasirutha, which means “secret knowledge,” which was probably in parallel to the notion of Christian Gnosis.
Another remarkable parallel which amplifies this connection between Jesus, John the Baptist, and the Samaritans, refers to these Nazarenes; the Toledot Yeshu, which is a polemical (anti-Christian), early medieval Jewish text, links the Nazarenes to the netzarim [watchmen] (Jeremiah 31:5-6) of Samaria. According to Epiphanius of Salamis (Panarion i.18), the Nasaraeans rejected the Old Testament, but believed Moses received (secret) instruction from God, but it was not the Jewish law, but rather, other commands which Moses received. The intrigue here is that Epiphanius’ description of the Nasaraeans resembles the Naassenes, a Gnostic sect which revered James and Mariamne, and seem to be derivative of the Ebionites (at least in my opinion).
Another link is that the Mandaeans, the surviving John the Baptist sect (Ginza 43:21-23), believe that Jews falsify the true Jewish law and the works of Abraham.
Yet the term Nazarene is also linked to Christians. Of course, the most obvious connection is that Jesus of Nazareth seems likely to be a mistranslation of Jesus the Nazarene. Matthew 2:23 even makes reference to this:
He shall be called a Nazarene
Acts 24:5 attempts to link Paul to the Nazarenes, when Tertullus referred to Paul as the “ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.”
This claim by Acts must be incorrect. I do not think Paul would have been a Nazarene for a couple obvious reasons:
1. The Nazarenes (if one presumes this is a Greek derivation of the term Nazirite) abstained from wine and grape products – this abstinence would have been incompatible with Paul’s Eucharist
2. The Nazarenes practiced circumcision
If the Acts author was being intentionally deceptive with this reference in 24:5, then one underlying motivation which might have compelled this dishonesty was to invert an earlier depiction of Paul, who might very well have been seen as the anti-Nazarene; given the tendency within Acts to perform these sorts of inversions, I think 24:5 is just another example. Given this contrast, it is actually James the Just who fits the profile of a Nazarene, in the sense that the Nazarene was anti-Paul.
One distinction I have considered between the Ebionites (another anti-Paul group) and the Nazarenes is that the Ebionites lacked the virgin birth, which suggests the Nazarenes added it or the Ebionites removed it…probably the former. In “The Secret Legacy of Jesus,” Butz writes “In fact, the Ebionites and the Nazarenes are one and the same.”
As far as I can tell, the singular difference between the Nazarenes and the Ebionites was that the Nazarenes had a (virgin) birth story, where the Ebionites had a more Docetic view, like Cerinthus, who saw the spirit descending upon Jesus at the time of his baptism (by John the Baptist). In other words, Jesus’ birth was inconsequential to the Docetics, because what made Jesus special was this post-birth phenomenon. Irenaeus writes:
Those who are called Ebionites agree that the world was made by God; but their opinions with respect to the Lord are similar to those of Cerinthus and Carpocrates. They use the Gospel according to Matthew only, and repudiate the Apostle Paul, maintaining that he was an apostate from the law.
Later Docetics, notably Marcion (and in the Acts of John) saw Jesus as a phantom, who was not actually flesh – therefore, could not have suffered. Perhaps this is why the original Gospel of Mark (pre 16:8) lacked a robust resurrection – Jesus was simply gone from the cave.
A tangential detail, which I think is too important of a detail to ignore here, is that *if* the earliest Docetics held that Jesus was sent by a “god above god,” (Cerinthus, Marcion, Simon Magus, etc) then Mary’s virgin birth and celestial insemination would have been a useful device to counter those heretics by claiming that the God who sent Jesus does indeed interact with *this* material world.
In the Demiurge paradigm, where there was a layer of space and story between the Godhead and humanity, the high God lived so far outside of this material realm that material existence required an intermediary god (ie Jehovah, Ialdabaoth) to have created it; hence the advent of the Kenoma as a middle space layer between the Earth and the Pleroma (highest heaven).
In the robust Demiurge model, it was not the role of God to come to humanity; rather, it was humanity’s job (ie the spiritually enlightened) to return to “the father” (John 14:6), and Jesus simply helped guide the way, similar to how Anubis led the way to Osiris in the Egyptian view, or how Hermes did for the Greeks. If God took the time to inseminate Mary, that means he’s not so far away, after all – this would have been a more Jewish-aligned version of the story. My conclusion is that the Nazarenes functioned as Ebionite version 2, because the virgin birth is simply an extension of the notion that the Abrahamic God created this world and sent Jesus; the virgin birth would have been incompatible with the original Docetic view held by Cerinthus.
The Naassenes, who I think were derivative of the Nazarenes (and by extension the Ebionites) were reverent to James the Just, but had a much more Gnostic flare, which I surmise gave rise to the later Valentinians, who also took influence from those Christians who most revered Paul. In this sense, the lines between various sects were oftentimes much blurrier than what we might wish. But this would explain why the Valentinians presumably used the Gospel of Matthew in their corpus.
Another interesting tie-in between Christianity and the John the Baptist sect relates to the so-called pillars of the Old Testament, notably Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In the Mandaean Ginza, Ruha and her seven, are principle representatives of darkness. Jerusalem is depicted as Ruha’s headquarters (Ginza-Right 15.11). Among other schemes, Ruha, along with her planets and demons, planned to “capture Adam and keep him in their world”.
In the same text, a Mandaean hero, Manda de Haje, is spoken of as destroying the seven pillars with his “club of glory”. Manda also revealed in his battle with the “Leviathan of the World of Darkness” a “staff of Living Water,” (Rev 7:17) and a “crown of living fire” (see Rev 12:1).
A fascinating parallel occurs in the writings of Epiphanius (Panarion i.42.4:3-4), which said Marcion claimed that Jesus went to Hell to save Cain, Korah, Dathan, and others, but he has left Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and Solomon. If we consider Simon Magus to be roughly the equivalent of Paul, and Paul to be roughly equivalent to Marcion, then what the Pauline theology represents appears to be a derivative of Samaritan Christianity.
A few paragraphs above, I claimed that Dositheos, that Samaritan and John the Baptist follower, sounds like a reworking of the name Theodosius, the Samaritan who died a martyr defending the sanctity of Mount Gerazim in front of Ptolemy VI.
One early Sethian text, The Three Steles of Seth, actually claims to be a revelation from Dositheos!
In this light, perhaps the reason the Sethians lack reverence to Paul is because Sethian Christianity arose from the Dositheos sect, whereas Asian Christianity came from Simon Magus.