Re: Sethian and Cainite: Defining Terms
- Rev. R. P. Orso D.D.
We also talk about Judas here... but I think it could be important
to point out some historical issues in your post.
>>>Sethian and. Cainite: Defining TermsFrom what I understand from the term Sethian, is that this is a
adjective used to describe Gnosticism with a Cosmology and
Christology that claims Seth as an ancestor and Savior like
Christ. This is a great oversimplification of the complexity of
this term, and nuanced details are provided by John D. Turner in his
The term "Sethian" is used in two ways. One is the name of a
specific sect mentioned by heresiologists, and the other is one of
the two basic categories of Gnosticism. The latter was taken based
on the attributes of the former. The second category is Valentinain,
which was likewise also a sect. I have actually had some issues with
the practice of naming the categories after sects because I think it
creates some confusion.
In our files section you can find this brief outline of the two
non Christian (Using inverse Jewish mythology)
Demiurge is negative
revelation in primordial times (Seth or Adam)
Soteriology given by Seth
Heavy emphasis on cosmos (detailed cosmologies)
Baptism is emphasized in initiation
Demiurge isn't negative (ambivalence)
Revelation now (new adam, creation, reality, comes with Christ)
Soteriology given by Christ/Logos (which isn't always the same as
Little interest in Cosmos
Bridal Chamber is the higher initiation (baptism being a lesser
emphasis in the text)
>>>Cainite* seems to be a charge leveled by Origen, Tertullian,Epiphanius of Salamis, Hippolytus and Irenaeus against certain
Gnostics "who were known to worship Cain as the first victim of the
Demiurge Jehovah, the Old Testament God, who was identified by many
groups of gnostics as evil. They venerated Cain, on the basis that
by creating murder Cain allowed men to deny it, and thus have a
greater chance at redemption from Original Sin." (see
The accounts of the Cainites seems to have originated with Irenaeus.
The other accounts are dependant on this one, with some flavor being
added each time.
>>>Questions:Does anyone have any ideas on what would differentiate a Sethian
Gnostic from a Cainite, is it a matter of heresy being in the "eye
of the beholder"?<<<
There is reason to believe that the "Cainites" never actually
existed, and that Irenaeus was simply splicing together his
observations of this Sethian text, with some urban legends common to
his time, and labeling it "Cainite". On the off chance there really
was a branch of Sethianism that refered to itself as "Cainites",
they almost certainly did not look much like the accounts of the
>>>Would Church Fathers often misunderstand a Sethian GnosticChristian for a Cainite?<<<
Dr Williams, in "Rethinking Gnosticism" pretty convincingly argues
for that scenario.
>>>Why do Sethian Gnostics seem to have a longer span of influencethan the Cainites?<<<
I suppose we would have to further deal with whether the Cainites
even existed in order to answer that question fully.
>>>Is the "Gospel of Judas" a Cainite ancient text or a SethianGnostic one? Why?<<<
Even if the Cainites did exist, they seem to fit the "Sethian"
category, which is what scholars mean when they clasify a text.
>>>*Cainite in this context should not be confused with the Vampirelore sometimes called the Cainite Myth or Cainite Heresy, nor should
they be confused with Kenites "a tribe of the ancient Levant
possibly a branch of the Midianite nation" (see
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenites) Nor should it be confused
with the anti-Semitic slur used by the radical "Christian Indentity
I don't think you have any worry that people here will make these
mistakes. Many of us have been dealing with Gnostic history for a
good number of years now. ;)