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RE: More Re: [XTalk] Violence

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  • David C. Hindley
    Steve, I ve been searching the web for articles about cases of ancient Jews who felt that their fellow Jews, without some sort of qualification such as those
    Message 1 of 104 , Aug 11, 2002

      I've been searching the web for articles about cases of ancient Jews who
      felt that their fellow Jews, without some sort of qualification such as
      "those bad (different thinking) Jews" or "those Sadducees," chronically do
      something that fills up the measure of their sins so that God's wrath
      finally comes upon them, or find his brothers "detestable, disobedient,
      unfit for any good deed," or that they are so bad that "their condemnation
      (what condemnation would this refer to if actually by Paul?) is just."
      Unfortunately, I did not find anything except modern movies or fictional
      stories featuring innerly tortured Jewish Nazi skinheads or something
      equally ridiculous. There, of course, are the usual "Hitler's mother was
      actually Jewish" type stories, with young Adolph in deep denial.

      In Birger A. Pearson's _Gnosticism, Judaism, and Egyptian Christianity_,
      there is a chapter on "Anti-Heretical Warnings in Codex IX from Nag Hammadi"
      (pp. 183-193) but these all appear to be directed at other Gnostic groups or
      to adherents of more orthodox Christian practices and teachings. I cannot
      find anything directed at the Jewish people or Judaeans. If they were
      disposed to mock their opponents, the irony of the Creator God of the Jews
      allowing or causing the punishment of his own favored people would have been
      an ideal weapon.

      Pearson says:

      "What is of special interest ... is the hermeneutical principal at work in
      the Gnostic synthesis. This hermeneutical principal can be described as one
      of revolt. In the Gnostic reinterpretation the God of Israel, the God of
      history and creation, is demonized ... Inasmuch as the Gnostic synthesis
      reflects the use and reinterpretation of Jewish scripture and tradition, it
      is apparent that the Gnostic phenomenon itself originates in a Jewish
      environment as an expression of alienation from ("orthodox") Judaism. As a
      result a new religion, which can no longer be called "Jewish," is born."
      <pp. 37-38>

      "probably the most important feature of Gnostic speculation on Seth is the
      idea that Gnostics constitute a special race of Seth." <pg. 68>

      "Given the massive Jewish influence discoverable in Gnostic texts, how does
      one interpret the Gnostics' attitude vis-a-vis their roots? It is obviously
      not enough to speak of "Jewish Gnosticism," [not the type of Jewish
      mysticism that Gershom Scholem called by this name] for once the Gnostic
      hermeneutical shift has occurred one can no longer recognize the resultant
      point of view as Jewish. One finds, instead, an essentially non-Jewish,
      indeed anti-Jewish, attitude ... Concomitantly, one finds reflected in the
      Gnostic texts a radically new self understanding, expressed, to be sure, in
      many different ways." <pg 125>

      "If the Gnostics are "no longer Jews," who, then, are they? Curiously
      enough, even their own self-definition turns out to be based to some extent
      on Jewish traditions!" <pg. 130>

      If the Rabbinic condemnations of the Min and Minim in general included
      Jewish Gnostics, as is very likely, Gnostics must have also been rejected by
      their ethnic brothers, and subject to similar charges and "persecution" that
      was meted out to Christians, if only in their own perception. I think R.
      Travers Herford covers most of the Rabbinic references to the Min and Minum
      in _Christianity in Talmud and Midrash_ (KTAV, 1975 [1903]). Although
      Gnostics, like Christians, came to regard themselves an ideological "race,"
      separate from their individual ethnic "races," on the basis of their common
      religious beliefs (see Denise Kimber Buell, "Rethinking the Relevance of
      Race for Early Christian Self-Definition," HTR 94:4 (2001), 449-476, which
      can be found online at their web site), I still do not see angry gloating
      over the misfortunes of their (former) ethnic brothers, as I feel is the
      case in the NT, if the authors of the NT books are truly assumed to be
      (mainly) ethnic Jews. This difference in polemic argues against early
      Christians being ethnic Jews themselves, as Jewish Gnostics would still be,
      ethnically, Jews, yet still manage to refrain from such gloating.

      So, how then does Pearson see the Jewish influence over the development of
      Jewish Gnosticism?

      "Judaism, as a religion that takes history seriously, and that also has a
      market tendency in the direction of messianism, provides ipso facto a
      context in which, given the critical circumstances of history, an attitude
      of revolt could easily develop. There is a strong case to be made for the
      view that ancient Gnosticism developed, in large part, from a disappointed
      messianism, or rather a transmuted messianism.*" <pg. 28>

      * "Cf. R. M. Grant's thesis Gnosticism developed out of disappointed
      apocalyptic hopes after the destruction of Jerusalem, in _Gnosticism and
      Early Christianity_ (New York: Harper & Row, 1966 [New York: Columbia U.P.,
      1959]), esp 27ff. His view that the fall of Jerusalem was the decisive
      historical event out of which Gnosticism arose is surely wrong, and has
      subsequently been withdrawn, but otherwise his theory has some merit." <pg.

      Later, he says:

      "... it seems most plausible to conclude that the earliest Gnostics were
      Jewish intellectuals eager to redefine their own religious self
      understanding, convinced of the bankruptcy of traditional verities. It is
      quite possible that an important factor in the development of this Gnostic
      attitude was a profound sense of the failure of history. This appears to be
      reflected in the way in which the Gnostic sources depict the foibles and
      machinations of the Creator.*" <pp. 133-134>

      * "Robert M. Grant's well-known theory that Gnosticism arose out of the
      debris of apocalyptic hopes shattered by the destruction of Jerusalem in 70
      C.E. has often been criticized, and has subsequently been abandoned by Grant
      himself; see _Gnosticism and Early Christianity_ (New York: Columbia
      University Press, 1959) 27-38. The socio-historical factors of the origins
      of Gnosticism are, nevertheless, worth pursuing, difficult as the task is.
      Cf. Rudolph, _Gnosis_, 275-94; and his "Forschungsbericht," ThR 36, 1971."
      <pg. 134>

      This I take to mean that he sees the Jewish Gnostic synthesis as a
      psychological reaction to disappointed messianic hopes. His caution over
      attributing the destruction of Jerusalem as a cause for the creation of the
      Gnostic synthesis, it seems, is not so much directed at the idea that the
      destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE influenced Gnostic development, but that
      it was *the decisive historical event* that did so. Rudolph, for sure, lists
      a multitude of other influences upon the Gnostic synthesis, such as Jewish
      apocalyptic and sectarian traditions, wisdom teaching, skepticism, Iranian
      ideas, Hellenistic ideas including middle Platonism, Egyptian Hermetic
      teachings, mystery religions, Orphism, tendencies toward individualism,
      esotericism and spiritualization, Graeco-oriental syncretism, socio-economic
      factors and forms of social protest, popularity of foreign cults, and
      religious intellectualism.

      However, like some chemical reactions, the creation of a new substance from
      individual ingredients requires the influence of a catalyst. This is the
      function I would assign, in the case of early Christian development, to the
      war of 66-74 CE, especially as it affected Coele-Syria (including Judaea,
      Samaria, Transjordan and Galilee) and Syria (up through Tyre and Sidon).

      In a similar manner, Pearson suggests the following origin for the Hermetic
      tractate _Poimandres_:

      "How do we account for the curious mixture of Jewish piety, Gnosticism, and
      Hermetic paganism found here in the [Hermetic tractate] _Poimandres_? Is it
      possible to reconstruct the religious history of this text? To be sure, such
      a reconstruction would be, at best, tentative and incapable of proof. But I
      should like to suggest the following scenario: An individual who has been
      closely associated, perhaps as a proselyte or "God-fearer." with a Jewish
      community somewhere in Egypt (Alexandria? Hermopolis?) forms a new group
      devoted to the Egyptian god Hermes-Toth, the "thrice greatest," attracting
      like-minded followers to the new cult. In the formation of the group,
      familiar Jewish traditions and worship patterns are remodeled and recast,
      with the aid of further study of eclectic Greek philosophy and assorted
      other religious revelations readily available in Roman Egypt. ... Such a
      process would most likely occur in a historical situation in which Judaism
      is on the wane, and other religions and philosophies, including native
      Egyptian ones, are on the rise. A specific point in time and space can be
      suggested for this development: the aftermath of the Jewish revolt in Egypt
      against the Emperor Trajan, 115-117 (or 118) C.E. After this revolt Judaism
      ceased to represent an important religious force in Egypt, and other
      religions and philosophies filled the breach." <pg. 147>

      It is not clear to me whether this is intended to make a differentiation
      between the origins of the person who wrote this Hermetic tractate (a Jewish
      convert or converts) and of those who synthesized Jewish Gnosticism as
      represented by Sethian Gnostic schools (Jewish intellectuals, presumably
      ethnically Jewish). However, the differences between Pearson's explanations
      for the Gnostic synthesis and my explanation for the Christian synthesis is
      that I cannot accept that early Christians were "Jewish" (ethnically, at
      least, for reasons indicated above and elsewhere).

      Besides the different ethnic composition of the groups that synthesized
      Jewish Gnosticism and early Christianity, I see differences in location
      (Alexandria or Egypt for Jewish Gnosticism, and possibly Coele-Syria and
      Syria for early Christianity), each of which had different socio-economic
      situations, populations, etc.

      As a result, I see a somewhat different set of previously existing
      conditions leading to the synthesis of early Christianity: Gentile
      associates or converts, rejected (or perceiving themselves to be rejected)
      by ethnic Jews in reaction to a traumatic social upheaval (the war of 66-74
      CE), redefining traditions they had incorporated from their newfound Jewish
      faith under the influence of other ideas and traditions they were exposed to
      or had previously participated in, who then (re-)fashioned a new
      understanding of Jewish prophesy.

      Hope this wasn't too tedious to wade through.


      Dave Hindley
      Cleveland, Ohio, USA
    • Thomas G. Barnes
      I know this is off topic, however, during the past few days I noticed the discussion going on about the use of copyrighhted material. Anyway, my question is
      Message 104 of 104 , Nov 13, 2002
        I know this is off topic, however, during the past few days I noticed the
        discussion going on about the use of copyrighhted material. Anyway, my
        question is this, how do I properly cite a web page I used information from
        in an academic paper. I am a student and an interested historical Jesus
        individual. I realize this is off topic so please send reply to me off the

        Thomas G. Barnes
        Philadelphia, PA
        Temple University
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