The Naassenes

In Refutation of All Heresies, Hippolytus describes a Gnostic sect he called the Naassenes.  According to Hippolytus, the Naassenes were the first Christians to be called Gnostics.

Hippolytus wrote “The Naasseni ascribe their system, through Mariamne, to James the Lord’s brother”.  The Naassenes were concerned with the first man (Adamas) and had a system consistent with other Gnostic sects, which included a material paradigm which had 3 classes of men: material, psychic, and spiritual.  This trinitarian view of man is consistent with the Valentinians.

“Naas” is a reference to the serpent; this elevation of the serpent in Genesis is not unlike other Gnostic sects, or other groups between Syria and Alexandria.  The serpent represented the “moist essence of the universe”.  This puts the Naassenes in a similar category as the Ophites or Sethians, who believed the serpent in Eden was the Logos of God sent from heaven to rescue Eve and Adam from the rulers of material.

michelangelo2c_fall_and_expulsion_from_garden_of_eden_04

In the Paul/James Christian dichotomy tradition, which presumes a divergence between Judaized and Greek Christians in the late 1st century, the Naassenes are a puzzle.  For instance, Hippolytus explains that the Naassenes are understood through a passage in Romans – Romans 1:27

And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

There is dissonance here, in terms of their awareness of Paul.  Hippolytus writes this James-reverent group used a Pauline letter.  Of course, the fact that this Pauline passage is about homosexuality may reveal Hippolytus was constructing a polemic.  It might also be the case that Hippolytus was incorect, lying, or mis-attributing details to this group.

But I do not think any of these alternatives are correct.  One of the central Naassene tenets was that the primal man was androgynous – again, in parallel to the Valentinians.  It is therefore not unexpected that the Naassenes practiced homosexuality within their sect.

Also noted about the so-called “Naassene fragment“, which is a portion of the text Hippolytus claimed belonged to the Naassenes, is that it relied on excerpts from 1 and 2 Corinthians, as well as Galatians and Ephesians.  The reference to Ephesians, at least to this writer, is unanticipated, as it is viewed by many critical scholars as being inauthentic.  A solution here is either the Naassenes sprang up after Paul’s authentic letters had already been written (assuming Pauline forgeries only began after Paul’s death), or Ephesians was forged in Paul’s lifetime.  Alternatively, Ephesians is at least partially authentic.

The explanatory factor in the Naassene fragment is its awareness of the Gospel of Thomas.  Hippolytus states:

They transmit a tradition concerning this in the Gospel entitled “According to Thomas,” which states expressly, “The one who seeks me will find me in children of seven years and older, for there, hidden in the fourteenth aeon, I am revealed

I have described the bridge between Jamesian Christianity and Pauline Christianity in terms of the Gospel of Thomas in other posts.  There are 2 separate logia within the Gospel of Thomas which clarify the matter.  In one saying within Thomas, the disciples ask Jesus who they should follow, and Jesus responds that they should follow James, because the heavens and the Earth were constructed for him.

In another saying, Jesus told his disciples that they should be on the lookout for one not born of a woman.  I have made the argument that this saying in Thomas explains why Paul made references to “pains of his childbirth” (Gal 4:19), and being born of a miscarriage (ektroma) (1 Cor 15:7-8) in the context of Christ revealing himself to James prior to revealing himself to Paul.

I have also made the case that this reference in Thomas to “one not being born of a woman” is simultaneously a reference to the Paraclete, or the subsequent recipient of the  Christ Spirit in the current generation, along with being the prototype of the virgin birth.  The Gospel of Mark, in my opinion, is a pro-Paul drama which has his doppelganger, Simon of Cyrene, being the new recipient of the Christ Spirit after Cephas and the other disciples abandon him.

In my post about Elxai, I pointed out that he had two 96 mile tall spirits in the sky, and he led a group of Essenes, Ebionites, Nasaraenes, and Nazarenes.  Critical scholars have pointed out the relationship between the Ebionites and Nazarenes; the distinguishing factor was the belief in the virgin birth – the Nazarenes were essentially Ebionite 2.0.  I also pointed out that Elxai believed the Christ had reincarnated several times across many generations, undergoing different birth circumstances each time.

The connection here is that Paul was taking up this tradition; his awareness of pains from childbirth, along with odd circumstances he claimed about his birth, was an invocation of Paraclete attributes.  The fact that Paul is so often considered a reworking of Simon Magus is not inconsequential, considering that Simon Magus, like Jesus Christ, had a female companion attached at the hip – Helen.

The significance of the Naassene reverence to Mariamne is critical here, especially in light of Mariamne being a disciple of James.  The James-Mariamne relationship is synonymous with the Simon-Helen relationship, as well as so many other repetitions of this motif.  Marcus the Magician had a Deacon’s wife that he went around with; the Marcionite Apelles had a Philumene; Montanus had 2 female companions.  And Jesus Christ had Mary Magdelaine.

In other words, these early Christian leaders believed themselves to be earthly incarnations of the masculine and feminine spirits which were proposed by Elxai.  James and Mary were just another in a long line; however, Paul’s awareness of James probably indicates that James (and Cephas) preceded him.  In light of the Naassene awareness of Paul, the Naassenes might represent a snapshot in time prior to a fallout between Jamesian and Pauline Christians.  And James…he was just another in a long line of Jesus Christs.

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Author: Tim...Stepping Out

Tim Stepping Out

18 thoughts on “The Naassenes”

  1. This is what happens when people make shit up and others take it seriously. This is too complicated to follow in bits and pieces. Even were the whole mess on the table at once, there is little in the way of unifying principles to form any coherent whole, so we are left with a fragmented Christianity, with each fragment engaged in a fight for dominance, with the most ruthless and least principled destined to win.

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  2. From the fragment:
    Then Jesus said, “Behold, Father, she wanders the earth pursued by evil. Far from thy Breath she is going astray. She is trying to flee bitter Chaos, and does not know how she is to escape. Send me forth, O Father, therefore, and I, bearing the seal shall descend and wander all Aeons through, all mysteries reveal. I shall manifest the forms of the gods and teach them the secrets of the holy way which I call Gnosis […..]”

    I’m probably alone in this but the one in bold looks like it was used by the gospel writers especially Matthew 28:18-20. Also, the phrase “I shall manifest the forms of the gods and teach the secrets of the holy way…” looks like that these Naassenes are a little bit pantheists or even the Christian doctrine of Ecumenism which is upheld by some Protestant congregations like the Methodists and to an extent, the Catholic Church.

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    1. I don’t think you’re alone…you’re just in the minority. Most observers say that any correlation between the canon and apocrypha must mean the apocrypha copied from the canon. Hard to prove one or the other (unless it’s really obvious), but I try not to dwell.

      There definitely is non-Christian stuff in the Naassene text, which is interesting on its own, considering that they seem pretty early.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It looks like the Naassenes are pandering to their pagan counterparts with the phrase “I shall manifest the forms of the gods and teach them the secrets of the holy way which I call Gnosis”, even though Gnosticism can be traced centuries prior to the common era which makes sense. I read somewhere that there was a Jewish Gnostic movement prior to the common era which are diaspora with some suggesting it started in Alexandria, Egypt although it can also be traced in Syria, which is why Damascus is often referenced in Acts. I think the Egyptian sage Hypatia who learned the works of Aristotle and Plato, is also a Gnostic. Unfortunately, none of her writings ever survived and she was mercilessly murdered by barbaric Christian mobs (aka alt-right of the time).

        But to not further derail, I think that Naassene phrase was definitely used by even modern Christians while proselytizing. Back in high school, we visited some pre-Christian tribes in the Philippines who preserved their nature worship rituals and our resident Priest and catechists are insinuating to the people that believing in Jesus is not so different with believing in their nature inspired deities. Back then, I was a sucker to everything the Church is telling me to do. Not anymore.

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  3. Hello Tim!

    I’m here on the suggestion of John Zande at TheSuperstitiousNakedApe, introducing myself as a former deconverted Reformed Theologically Seminary educated grad, 12-year church/missonary staffer, to see if YOU would like to be involved in an Arkanaten/John Zande and myself idea of a co-hosted, two-part, two seperate blog-posts joint effort covering…

    (My part) the highly problematic theological and Scriptural concept of Jewish Messianism, God Incarnate, the Nativity, Massacre of the Innocents, and Amazement at the Temple by a 12-year old followed by Trinitarianism… followed by the 2nd accompanying part/blog-post (your part?) of the severe LACK OF independent corroborating sources/evidence for all of the Gospel and Pauline narrations, exegesis, and Hellenistic-Christology he purported/sold to the Gentile world, again without truly exhaustive independent corroborations!

    Arkanaten and John Z have deferred to you if you are interested. 🙂

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    1. Hi Professor Taboo, have you done studies concerning the dating of the four canonical gospels and the Pauline epistles? This comment of yours made me curious:

      followed by the 2nd accompanying part/blog-post (your part?) of the severe LACK OF independent corroborating sources/evidence for all of the Gospel and Pauline narrations, exegesis, and Hellenistic-Christology he purported/sold to the Gentile world, again without truly exhaustive independent corroborations!

      Do you subscribe to the two source hypothesis or even the slightly altered two source hypothesis which suggest that Matthew and Luke didn’t used Mark as a reference but rather, the three canonical synoptic gospels used an earlier common source which is a Mark-like document called the “Ur-Markus”?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “…have you done studies concerning the dating of the four canonical gospels and the Pauline epistles?”

        Yes Sir, I have for a number of years. If I’m guessing as to why that question, I’d preempt a fuller answer for you with: regarding the Canonical New Testament, Paul’s epistles were written before any of the Synoptic Gospels as I’m guessing you know as well. The fact that Saul/Paul — who never even met Jesus in person, and who Jewish records and traditions reasonably postulate was an epileptic with seizures — spends at least 3-years in Arabia (learning something? radical theology? what?) then returns to seriously confront/oppose the Jerusalem Council (James the brother of Jesus and next inline to lead!) that was essentially just a neo-Jewish sect, but nonetheless the ‘truer form’ of Jesus’ sayings. Sadly, those particular Jewish Sectarians were in the path of the mighty Roman Fretensis X Legion when they sacked the Temple and Jerusalem and any Judeo-Christians who opposed them. This is why so many manuscripts/testaments were hidden, like the Dead Sea Scrolls. As a result, Hellenistic Pauline Christology came out on top in those critical decades.

        But I’m probably rambling too long without knowing exactly why you asked that question, eh? 😉

        “Do you subscribe to the two source hypothesis or even the slightly altered two source hypothesis which suggest that Matthew and Luke didn’t used Mark as a reference but rather, the three canonical synoptic gospels used an earlier common source which is a Mark-like document called the “Ur-Markus”?”

        I subscribe or will subscribe to what the current majority of historical, biblical, and archaeological scholars cumulatively and with interdisciplinarily-supported evidence… subscribe to WHILE entertaining other plausible theories. In other words, I am always open to new well-supported theories, even those that will/would change the historical record significantly. I hope that answers your question Jonathan, albeit broadly. LOL 😉

        Footnote and Release of Liability Clause — I reserve the right to modify and/or refine everything I’ve stated above! 😛

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  4. @Professor Taboo, just curious if you agree with the current mainstream dating of the four canonical gospels of post 70 AD to 100 AD for mainstream liberal scholars and 30 AD to 60 AD for conservative scholars. I think their dates are based on a priori assumption that all or some of it actually happened.

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    1. For Jonathan–
      Considering that’s just a ~40 years difference, personally I’m not overly concerned; it’s within one human generation with either timeframe as opposed to three or more. Personally, when discussing dates/years concerning the Synoptic Gospels and Paul’s epistles, I typically use a c.65 CE to c.90 CE window for the three gospels, but I don’t try to split hairs when everyone is discussing somewhere between c.40 CE to c.100 CE for the three. Regarding the bulk of Paul’s letters, I’m fine with dates close to c.55 CE but not before. For me, the significant time-relations for these three gospels suggest they are NOT 100% (nor 50%? 20%?) reliable; afterall, the original extant Gospel of Mark (the very first gospel written c.55 CE) ends at v. 16:8, the Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, BOTH highly regarded earliest bibles. In other words, as you are probably already aware Jonathan, those first extant Mark-versions mention nothing of LATER resurrection stories of Yeshua. This omission or non-event, considered with the fact that Paul (whose extant epistles were written BEFORE these Mark-versions) does not discuss at all, much less in any hinting manner, a resurrection story! This strongly suggests (for me) the purported resurrection, ascension, etc, were later added myth/mystic divination creations — a common practice of the time for kings and emperors.

      For me personally, these later Yeshua events probably did NOT happen as the later Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John purport — further suggesting the then new Greco-Roman Christian Church Fathers (not the James the Just and Jerusalem Council followers) had to “modify” texts to their own version in order to better attract Gentile Roman followers.

      Apologies again for rambling on. 🙂

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      1. Several points of contention here. To begin with, saying that any Gospel predates the Temple destruction is itself highly problematic, as all four canonicals essentially revolve around this event. But all four books also make references to events that took place under Hadrian and bar Kochba. So you could say that there were prototexts written c. 55-90ad, and that they were not yet in their current form until roughly 138ad. But I’d still have to disagree with that, as it’s become clear that no Gospel was written in the first century. Nor do I think Mark was even close to being the first Gospel. Rather, I think it was either a proto-John, or G-Hebrews.

        Secondly, Paul, or the Pauline corpus, was a second century figure. I have him pinned as an actual historical figure who died in 157ad, and whose texts and life were heavily embellished by the emerging Orthodox. But the real figures to examine are James and John.

        Everything in Christianity, including its texts, fits a post bar Kochba environment.

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      2. Hello Daniel and thanks for your feedback and perspective.

        I am curious and certainly open to hear/read new theories that corroborate your perspective if you’d like to list them.

        …saying that any Gospel predates the Temple destruction is itself highly problematic, as all four canonicals essentially revolve around this event.

        On a subject like this I do try not to split hairs about dates. I’m not a stickler about precise years/months. That said, I have found in the past when discussing Gospel dates-of-creation, especially Mark as the first Gospel, that some/many persons might not realize the significant differences between several developing of papyrus manuscripts, compilations of traditions transcribed from several sources both oral or written, but nonetheless a collection of events (puzzle pieces?) occuring at different points of time… compared to one FINAL manuscript as if it were a single-person testimony admissible in modern-day courtrooms. The Synoptic Gospels and the more theological high-Christology Gospel of John were “Works in Progress” related to and in reaction to developing events surrounding the 2nd century Movement. For me personally, I feel it unnecessary to precisely nail-down years/months of the Gospels because they just didn’t develop that way. In other words, until the 4th and 5th century CE process of Canonization, the earliest narrations of Yeshua’s life/movement that were floating around were OPEN to or fluid for additions and/or subtractions.

        Precise chronological ordering of events to the minute or hour was not a high priority for 2nd century CE scribes. The dramatic effect of a story was top priority. Could not the destruction of the Temple and the story of resurrection have been inserted later as the earliest Church Fathers saw fit, even though earlier recorded papyrus manuscripts floating around could not have documented such an event? This is why I referenced two of the most earliest extant copies of the Gospels: Sinaiticus & Vaticanus Codises. Both Marks stop at 16:8. Later older versions of Mark have more, suggesting the fluidity of addressing rising contentions to a Hellenized-Gentile Christ versus a failed Jewish Messiah. Hope that makes sense Daniel. 🙂

        And without listing a full page/screen (or more) of sources/bibliography of recent & current biblical scholarship, I will list only two — one of my references from my own library as well as this Boston College Vimeo video-clip “Dating the Gospels” — sources of academia that assisted me in my comment above:

        #1 — “The Bible Through the Ages,” a Readers Digest publication from many biblical scholars and contributors, 1996; ISBN #0-89577-872-6

        #2 — https://www.bc.edu/schools/stm/crossroads/resources/birthofjesus/intro/the_dating_of_thegospels.html
        The Boston College Mini-course on Vimeo

        But I’d still have to disagree with that, as it’s become clear that no Gospel was written in the first century.

        The majority of established biblical academia would disagree Daniel. From p. 166 of The Bible Through the Ages:

        One of the pivotal events in the history of Christianity occurred when a Christian put pen to papyrus and wrote in Greek, [Mark 1:1].* The name of this Christian who wrote the Gospel According to Mark is uncertain. The second-century bishop Papias identified him as John Mark, a young associate of the Apostle Peter [of the Jerusalem Council, btw].* According to Papias, John Mark had served as Peter’s interpreter in Rome and based his Gospel on Peter’s preaching. Another early Christian writer claimed that the Gospel was written in Alexandria, Egypt. The Gospel itself gives no indication of either author or place of composition. But the Gospel writer’s explanation of Jewish practices, his use of translated Aramaic words, and his unfamiliarity with Palestinian geography all point to someone not native to Palestine writing for a Gentile audience. The Gospel of Mark was most likely written about A.D. 70,** the year the Romans destroyed the Temple.

        * my insertion
        ** my emphasis

        Nor do I think Mark was even close to being the first Gospel. Rather, I think it was either a proto-John, or G-Hebrews.

        As Judaism of the time was HIGHLY Sectarian, especially in relation to the oppressive Roman Empire’s politics and ruling kings/tetrarchs, styles of a “proto-John” and/or a “G-Hebrews” could have been floating around, sure — the Dead Sea Scrolls offer us a fantastic idea/picture of the Judaic time-window, the tension and the Messianic expectations. As mentioned previous, I am open to read/listen to your source(s) on this posture. Thanks. 🙂 The WONDERFUL thing about the scientific Historical Method (for narrations, archaeology, manuscripts from Antiquity, etc) is that the cumulative consensus CAN be modified, ammended, or overhauled completely based upon new compelling evidence! I always keep an open-mind.

        Secondly, Paul, or the Pauline corpus, was a second century figure. I have him pinned as an actual historical figure who died in 157ad, and whose texts and life were heavily embellished by the emerging Orthodox. But the real figures to examine are James and John.

        Everything in Christianity, including its texts, fits a post bar Kochba environment.

        Very, very intriguing Daniel. Can you elaborate in more detail or give hyper-links to these sources? I am not familiar with this/these New Testament stance(s). Thanks again!

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      3. Correction! Due to non-stop interruptions around me (LOL), this sentence should’ve read…

        Both Marks stop at 16:8. Later older versions of Mark have more, suggesting the fluidity of addressing rising Roman audiences’ contentions to a failed Jewish Messiah versus a rising more popular Hellenized-Gentile successful Christ.

        Apologies Daniel.

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  5. @Professor Taboo

    First of all, thank you for your comments and even that Vimeo video you linked. However, I still don’t buy that dating for a couple of reasons even if it’s the common dates given by mainstream liberal scholars.

    1. All of the gospels are anonymous. They are not written by those names they bear. Even in the upper echelons of the Church and even something like the online Catholic Encyclopedia agrees that the authorship according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are added later.
    2. The first Church Father who attests the gospels by name is Irenaeus in 180 AD. No one earlier than him cites any gospel by name.
    3. While most scholars say that Justin Martyr quotes the four gospels aka “memoirs of the apostles”, it should be kept in mind that he doesn’t name any of the gospel he cites. While a lot from his quotations does match up to the gospels, there are elements from his memoirs that simply don’t match with any of our canonical gospels. One example is in the Dialogue with Trypho where Justin said that Jesus was born in a manger inside a cave. That doesn’t reflect with the Lukan tradition.
    4. The so-called writings of the apostolic fathers are forgeries (See Joseph Wheless’ Forgery in Christianity)
    5. Mainstream scholars say that Papias (fl. 120-140 AD) who was said to be a student of the apostle John, that he attests Matthew and Mark. But we do not have any writings of the guy. All we have from him are third hand testimonies from Irenaeus and Eusebius so the early dating notion is standing on thin ice.
    6. Conservative scholars tend to say that the P52 or the Rylands Fragment is a piece of the original gospel of John which dates around 80-100 AD. But even Christian scholar and NT professor from University of Edinburgh Dr. Larry W. Hurtado weighs in saying that we should be careful in making such claims especially for a small fragment and he’s right. It’s a tiny piece of papyrus the size of a credit card with the only word you can make is the Greek word “και” which means “and”. The fragment could have been from anything. Furthermore, paleographic analysis tend to get less reliable as the papyrus in question is smaller and paleographic dating has a margin of error of +/-50 years so if a papyrus that small is dated at 100 AD, it could’ve been from 150 AD. Same goes for the brouhaha in 2012 or 2013 with the alleged 1st century gospel of Mark fragment which was never released to the public for inspection and was only dated by a single paleographer which is very imprecise.
    7. Anachronisms: The four gospels tend to say a lot of stuff that didn’t happen until decades or even a century later. The gospels tend to depict synagogues as places of Jewish worship but in reality, they only became Jewish places of worship until the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. In Matthew 16:18 & 18:17, why is it the Church is described as something already established when “churches” only became Christian houses of worship until the second century. Another anachronism is the five porticoes in the pool of Bethesda in Jn 5:2. That structure didn’t appear in the historical record until the time of emperor Hadrian in 135 AD. Christian scholars tend to say that John has an incredible accuracy in describing Jerusalem and they’re right, but he’s describing a post-Hadrianic Jerusalem.
    8. Lukan Prologue:
    Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.

    This is a smoking gun for the late dating of the gospels especially Luke. First of all, the author specifically says that there are people before him writing stuff about Jesus and that he’s not an eyewitness of those events and that he’s stepping in to write his own gospel by closely inspecting others which was addressed to a guy named Theophilus. Church Fathers Origen (Homily on Luke), Epiphanius (Panarion), and Jerome (Commentary on St. Matthew) basically said that the gospels that came before Luke are not Matthew or Mark but the heretical gospels like the one according to Egyptians, to the twelve, Basilides, Cerinthus, Thomas, Matthias, Bartholomew, and Apelles. Since those gospels are dated at early second century and that the Church Fathers basically said that these heretical ones came before the canonical ones, then the dates when the canonical gospels emerging to the historical record cannot be earlier than 150-180 AD.

    I hope you like this one and thanks for the comments Professor.

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