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Were the Sicarii Gnostic?

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  • g
    In an earlier post I commented on the similarity between the Sicarii chief s suicidal rally speech at Masada and the gnostic view of a soul rising into
    Message 1 of 20 , May 5 5:16 PM
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      In an earlier post I commented on the similarity
      between the Sicarii chief's "suicidal rally" speech
      at Masada and the gnostic view of a soul rising
      into heaven immediately upon death.

      Are there other ideas or textual indicators that
      might support or refute the idea that the Sicarii
      were gnostic?

      [ Just in case I need to explicitly state this...
      this post should **not** be construed as PROVING
      anything. I am gathering informed opinions and
      relevant information.
      Ciao! ]

      George
    • David C. Hindley
      George, ... chief s suicidal rally speech at Masada and the gnostic view of a soul rising into heaven immediately upon death.
      Message 2 of 20 , May 5 6:31 PM
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        George,

        >>In an earlier post I commented on the similarity between the Sicarii
        chief's "suicidal rally" speech at Masada and the gnostic view of a
        soul rising into heaven immediately upon death.<<

        You will have a problem getting anyone to take seriously the idea that
        the speech was anything resembling Eleazar ben Jair's actual words
        (that is, if he actually gave a speech). First of all, no one except a
        few women survived the siege of Masada, and in that period women were
        just not privy to the decision making process of men. The speech is
        tremendously long, much longer than the average person could remember
        accurately. Josephus styled Jewish factions as "philosophies" to make
        the sects within Judaism intelligible to Greek readers. He was trying
        to explain to them why Jewish resistance fighters were willing to
        commit suicide rather than surrender and accept slavery, without
        suggesting that Jews were overly "superstitious."

        No, I think he borrowed Greek philosophical terminology and fitted it
        to a speech he made up for Eleazar.

        Regards,

        Dave Hindley
        Cleveland, Ohio, USA
      • George Brooks
        David, It would never occur to me that anyone would interpret the speach LITERALLY transcribed. I think the point Josephus was making was explaining the
        Message 3 of 20 , May 6 12:08 PM
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          David,

          It would never occur to me that anyone would
          interpret the speach LITERALLY transcribed.

          I think the point Josephus was making was explaining
          the Sicarii viewpoint about the afterlife.

          If you don't think this was the Sicarii viewpoint,
          do you have thoughts as to why Josephus would have
          put such gnostic views in the mouths of the Sicarii?

          If you DO think this was the Sicarii viewpoint,
          do you have thoughts as to how the Sicarii might have
          fit into the "spectrum" of Gnostic sects or views?

          George



          --- In gthomas@y..., "David C. Hindley" <dhindley@c...> wrote:
          > George,
          >
          > >>In an earlier post I commented on the similarity between the
          Sicarii
          > chief's "suicidal rally" speech at Masada and the gnostic view of a
          > soul rising into heaven immediately upon death.<<
          >
          > You will have a problem getting anyone to take seriously the idea
          that
          > the speech was anything resembling Eleazar ben Jair's actual words
          > (that is, if he actually gave a speech). First of all, no one except
          a
          > few women survived the siege of Masada, and in that period women
          were
          > just not privy to the decision making process of men. The speech is
          > tremendously long, much longer than the average person could
          remember
          > accurately. Josephus styled Jewish factions as "philosophies" to
          make
          > the sects within Judaism intelligible to Greek readers. He was
          trying
          > to explain to them why Jewish resistance fighters were willing to
          > commit suicide rather than surrender and accept slavery, without
          > suggesting that Jews were overly "superstitious."
          >
          > No, I think he borrowed Greek philosophical terminology and fitted
          it
          > to a speech he made up for Eleazar.
          >
          > Regards,
          >
          > Dave Hindley
          > Cleveland, Ohio, USA
        • David C. Hindley
          George, ... viewpoint about the afterlife. If you don t think this was the Sicarii viewpoint, do you have thoughts as to why Josephus would have put such
          Message 4 of 20 , May 6 12:51 PM
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            George,

            >>I think the point Josephus was making was explaining the Sicarii
            viewpoint about the afterlife. If you don't think this was the Sicarii
            viewpoint, do you have thoughts as to why Josephus would have put such
            gnostic views in the mouths of the Sicarii?<<

            Well, yes and no. He was "explaining" to Hellenic readers why those
            Jews preferred death to life, but I do not think he wanted to say
            anything about resurrection (and I do presume that the Sicarii
            believed in it, committing suicide as a way of cheating the enemy) for
            fear of portraying the Jewish rebels as superstitious fanatics. Greeks
            almost universally thought resurrection was a crazy idea. However,
            ascent of the soul after death was a known idea in Hellenistic
            philosophy, and Josephus made use of this idea as an "explanation" for
            the suicides which his readers would understand.

            My opinion as to why the Sicarii even got involved in the war was that
            they, among with several other groups, were sick and tired of foreign
            domination, and joined the rebellion in hopes that God himself would
            soon get directly involved. They were experts in terrorism, and had
            early on captured the fortress and its cache of arms by stealth,
            something you don't do without a plan of political action. I think
            that under the leadership of Menachem they had worked out exactly what
            they expected would happen.

            They aided the rebellion by providing captured arms to the rebels in
            Jerusalem, and then apparently tried to install Menachem their leader
            as a sort of king (he was killed after entering the Temple in a
            procession of bodyguards while decked out in royal purple robes). When
            the other factions turned on Menachem and killed him, they retreated
            to Masada.

            Things had NOT gone according to their expectations, which appears to
            have stunned them, and for the remainder of the war never did anything
            other than raid villages for supplies. Nor did they escape when they
            could have, fleeing to Egypt or wherever. The new leader, Eleazar ben
            Jair, appears to have reversed Menachem's policies and decided not to
            get directly involved, as if they expected divine intervention. These
            sound like apocalyptic visionaries, not the contemplative types
            Gnostics were later known to have been.

            Regards,

            Dave Hindley
            Cleveland, Ohio, USA
          • George Brooks
            David, While I understand the reasonableness of what you are saying, I think you are too quick to dismiss what Josephus might have been doing. In other
            Message 5 of 20 , May 6 6:03 PM
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              David,

              While I understand the "reasonableness" of what
              you are saying, I think you are too quick to dismiss
              what Josephus might have been doing.

              In other places, Josephus tells his audience that
              Greek ideas come from the Jews. And if Josephus
              was merely trying to rationalize why the Sicarii
              would kill themselves he could have easily have
              limited his explanatory speech to the more conventional
              concepts of denying the enemy their women and children
              and so on.

              But Josephus adds more to this. And presumably
              Josephus is QUITE well informed about the nature of
              Sicarii thinking.

              It would appear that Josephus is DELIBERATELY
              casting the Sicarii into Gnostic-style viewpoints.

              George
            • Michael Grondin
              ... Excuse me, George, but what s Gnostic about a soul in the body? Or about the soul leaving the body upon death? Plato believed it; was he Gnostic? Mike
              Message 6 of 20 , May 6 9:27 PM
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                >It would appear that Josephus is DELIBERATELY
                >casting the Sicarii into Gnostic-style viewpoints.

                Excuse me, George, but what's "Gnostic" about a soul in the body? Or about
                the soul leaving the body upon death? Plato believed it; was he Gnostic?

                Mike
              • George Brooks
                There is quite a bit of questioning about exactly where Gnostic ideas came from. There are Jewish gnostics and Christian gnostics, and it would appear to come
                Message 7 of 20 , May 7 5:12 AM
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                  There is quite a bit of questioning about exactly where Gnostic ideas
                  came from. There are Jewish gnostics and Christian gnostics, and it
                  would appear to come out of the time period just prior to Jesus. Or
                  so it is argued by some.

                  You ask why the ideas of the Sicarii should be considered gnostic?
                  Well, almost by definition, because the Sicarii would be unlikely
                  candidates for being devoted to a theology attested to by, or
                  designed by, Plato. I am no expert on gnosticism, but there seems
                  to be more than a passing similarity between the ideas raised in
                  Eleazar's speech [see below] and gnosticism in general. Is it
                  your thought that Josephus deliberately portrayed the Sicarii
                  as Platonists?:

                  (VIII.) CONCERNING MASADA AND THOSE SICARII WHO KEPT IT; AND HOW
                  SILVA BETOOK HIMSELF TO FORM THE SIEGE OF THAT CITADEL.
                  ELEAZAR'S SPEECHES TO THE BESIEGED.

                  (7)[337] This was Eleazar's speech to them.....

                  THE JEWISHNESS OF THESE IDEAS:
                  "....... the laws of our country, and of God himself, have from
                  ancient times, and as soon as ever we could use our reason,
                  continually taught us, and our forefathers have corroborated the
                  same doctrine by their actions, and by their bravery of mind,
                  that it is life that is a calamity to men, and not death;

                  THE BODY IS UNDESIRABLE:
                  for this last affords our souls their liberty, and sends them by
                  a removal into their own place of purity, where they are to be
                  insensible of all sorts of misery; for while souls are tied down
                  to a mortal body, they are partakers of its miseries; and really,
                  to speak the truth, they are themselves dead; for the union
                  of what is divine to what is mortal is disagreeable.

                  THE MORTAL BODY IS A PRISON:
                  It is true, the power of the soul is great, even when
                  it is imprisoned in a mortal body; for by moving it after a way
                  that is invisible, it makes the body a sensible instrument, and
                  causes it to advance further in its actions than mortal nature
                  could otherwise do. However, when it is freed from that weight
                  which draws it down to the earth and is connected with it, it
                  obtains its own proper place, and does then become a partaker of
                  that blessed power, and those abilities, which are then every way
                  incapable of being hindered in their operations.

                  MORE:
                  It continues invisible, indeed, to the eyes of men, as does God
                  himself; for certainly it is not itself seen while it is in the
                  body; for it is there after an invisible manner, and when it is
                  freed from it, it is still not seen. It is this soul which hath
                  one nature, and that an incorruptible one also; but yet it is
                  the cause of the change that is made in the body; for whatsoever
                  it be which the soul touches, that lives and flourishes; and from
                  whatsoever it is removed, that withers away and dies; such a
                  degree is there in it of immortality. Let me produce the state
                  of sleep as a most evident demonstration of the truth of what I
                  say; wherein souls, when the body does not distract them,
                  have the sweetest rest depending on themselves, and conversing
                  with God, by their alliance to him; they then go every where,
                  and foretell many futurities beforehand. And why are we afraid
                  of death, while we are pleased with the rest that we have in
                  sleep? And how absurd a thing is it to pursue after liberty while
                  we are alive, and yet to envy it to ourselves where it will be
                  eternal!

                  http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus:
                  text:1999.01.0148&query=section%3d%23694&word=sicarii

                  [END OF TEXT]

                  Perhaps one of the reasons it is so difficult to locate
                  the "sources" of Gnosticism is because either we are
                  unwilling to think it originated in Greece?.... or because
                  we are unwilling to think it originated in the roots of
                  the Sicarii? I would assume, Michael, that you are not
                  happy with either scenario. While I tend towards the
                  latter one.

                  George





                  --- In gthomas@y..., Michael Grondin <mgrondin@t...> wrote:
                  > >It would appear that Josephus is DELIBERATELY
                  > >casting the Sicarii into Gnostic-style viewpoints.
                  >
                  > Excuse me, George, but what's "Gnostic" about a soul in the body? Or
                  about
                  > the soul leaving the body upon death? Plato believed it; was he
                  Gnostic?
                  >
                  > Mike
                • David C. Hindley
                  George, ... sources of Gnosticism is because either we are unwilling to think it originated in Greece?.... or because we are unwilling to think it
                  Message 8 of 20 , May 7 6:43 AM
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                    George,

                    >>Perhaps one of the reasons it is so difficult to locate the
                    "sources" of Gnosticism is because either we are unwilling to think it
                    originated in Greece?.... or because we are unwilling to think it
                    originated in the roots of the Sicarii? I would assume, Michael, that
                    you are not happy with either scenario. While I tend towards the
                    latter one.<<

                    Varying according to the flavor of Gnosticism under consideration, the
                    sources are actually fairly well known. They are, in theme,
                    essentially Platonic speculations about ideal and perceived reality,
                    and a heavy dose of cosmological speculation often based on the Jewish
                    Pentateuch, especially Genesis. We do know that Platonism originated
                    some centuries before the beginning of the Christian era, and that the
                    Sicarii originated in the mid 1st century CE.

                    If you follow up on passages in Josephus about the Sicarii, you will
                    see a movement accused of carrying out assassinations of important
                    Jewish political figures, including high priests, much like modern day
                    terrorists did in the 70's-80's, and still occasionally do today. Is
                    this the kind of group from which we can expect a contemplative
                    movement, shunning material things, such as Gnostics are said to be,
                    to have sprung? You can search in vain, I am pretty confidant, for any
                    association between Roman politics and Gnosticism (except Church
                    politics in Alexandria and Rome in the 2nd century CE).

                    As for my contention that Josephus' talk about an immortal soul was
                    veiled reference to a doctrine of resurrection, you will also note
                    that the term "resurrection" nowhere shows up in Josephus (except the
                    questionable _Discourse on Hades_ which is attributed to him) even
                    though other contemporary and earlier texts do suggest such a belief
                    was held by some Jews.

                    Also, aside from your quoted passage (_War_ 7.8.7), let us also not
                    forget the following description about the belief of the Essenes:

                    War 2.8.10 [The Essenes, when tortured by foreigners to force them to
                    do something forbidden by the law, rather] resigned up their souls
                    with great alacrity, as expecting to receive them again. 11. For
                    their doctrine is this: That bodies are corruptible, and that the
                    matter they are made of is not permanent; but that the souls are
                    immortal, and continue for ever; and that they come out of the most
                    subtle air, and are united to their bodies as to prisons, into which
                    they are drawn by a certain natural enticement; but that when they are
                    set free from the bonds of the flesh, they then, as released from a
                    long bondage, rejoice and mount upward. And this is -like- the
                    opinions of the Greeks, that good souls have their habitations beyond
                    the ocean, in a region that is neither oppressed with storms of rain
                    or snow, or with intense heat, but that this place is such as is
                    refreshed by the gentle breathing of a west wind, that is perpetually
                    blowing from the ocean; while they allot to bad souls a dark and
                    tempestuous den, full of never-ceasing punishments. And indeed the
                    Greeks seem to me to have followed the same notion, when they allot
                    the islands of the blessed to their brave men, whom they call heroes
                    and demi-gods; and to the souls of the wicked, the region of the
                    ungodly, in Hades, where their fables relate that certain persons,
                    such as Sisyphus, and Tantalus, and Ixion, and Tityus, are punished;
                    which is built on this first supposition, that souls are immortal; and
                    thence are those exhortations to virtue and dehortations from
                    wickedness collected; whereby good men are bettered in the conduct of
                    their life by the hope they have of reward after their death; and
                    whereby the vehement inclinations of bad men to vice are restrained,
                    by the fear and expectation they are in, that although they should lie
                    concealed in this life, they should suffer immortal punishment after
                    their death. These are the Divine doctrines of the Essens about the
                    soul, which lay an unavoidable bait for such as have once had a taste
                    of their philosophy.

                    Josephus' equation of the Essene's concept of life after death with
                    the Greek idea of an afterlife in the "Isles of the Blessed" (which I
                    believe is connected to a popular mystery religion) is essentially a
                    way of presenting the Jewish idea of a resurrection that will allow
                    the faithful of all ages to enjoy a fruitful, peaceful messianic age.
                    Well, anywise, that is how I would interpret these passages.

                    If you think about it, then, the Sicarii are closer to Essene thought
                    with regard to the soul. Are Essenes Gnostics too? Christian
                    Gnosticism is known for a fact to exist by the mid 2nd century CE, but
                    Essenes were around in the mid 2nd century BCE. To call them
                    "Gnostics" is putting the cart before the horse. You would be better
                    to suggest that the Gnostics derived from the Essenes and/or Sicarii.
                    Of course, this should be based on more than a similarity in concept
                    of life after death (presuming they really are that similar).

                    This might be a good project for yourself. Research out all the
                    references in source materials to the beliefs of Essenes, Sicarii, and
                    Gnostics, and note the relative periods in history in which they
                    flourished as well as their geographical situations. Be as specific as
                    you can, do not generalize too freely. Go ahead and use translations,
                    but keep in mind the limitations they impose (different translations
                    may use different words to translate the same original language word
                    or phrase, or the same word or phrase to translate different words or
                    phrases in the original language, etc.). Then, draw up charts
                    indicating the parallels and differences between them. Now you are in
                    a position to search for secondary literature that deal with these
                    specific points, and clarify the questions you may still have as to
                    the original words or phrases, provenance, etc.

                    When you get overwhelmed, take a break for a week or so, and then get
                    back to it. It is amazing how a little break helps clarify things.
                    Expect to spend several months, maybe over a year, at this (I'm not
                    kidding). Once you have finished, I think you will surprise yourself,
                    upon reflection, as to how differently your views will be.

                    Good luck!

                    Dave Hindley
                    Cleveland, Ohio, USA
                  • George Brooks
                    David, Your last post was marvelous. Very detailed. Good information. Though, we don t quite agree on particulars yet. I especially valued your reference to
                    Message 9 of 20 , May 7 8:45 AM
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                      David,

                      Your last post was marvelous. Very detailed. Good information.
                      Though, we don't quite agree on particulars yet.

                      I especially valued your reference to the Island of the
                      Blessed. For this is the same vocabulary used in a work
                      translated by Charlesworth called: The History of the
                      Rechabites: Volume I: The Greek Recension.

                      Charlesworth gave me permission to quote it at length a year
                      or so ago. Maybe I should go ahead and finish that project.

                      The interesting thing about this is that the soul's flight
                      to this island is not strictly RESURRECTION - - at least, not
                      how the Pharisees viewed it. Resurrection to them, as I have
                      been told by any number of fundamentalist scholars, is where
                      the soul sleeps until the End of Days. And then, all the
                      souls awake. This is consisent with Paul's view of the soul.

                      However, it was exactly on this point that Jesus himself appears
                      to differ from the Pharisees. Two different NT passages suggest
                      that Jesus held to the more "Essene-like" view, rather than
                      the Pharisaic one - - where the soul does NOT sleep, but flies
                      instantly to Paradise (or somewhere else).

                      And what is ESPECIALLY interesting about the reference to
                      the RECHABITES is that the Greek Suda (Suidas) SPECIFICALLY
                      says the Rechabites (a little known people discussed in the
                      Old Testament) are the source of the Essene movement.

                      I have a little bit more to tie in to your comments, David.
                      But that will be for a later post coming today or tomorrow.
                      But for now, this post should should certainly be a good start
                      to the points you raised.

                      George
                    • Tom Saunders
                      I found an old World Book Encyclopedia (66) definition of Gnostic. I am sorry to say this but the term Gnostic in this group has fallen into a state that
                      Message 10 of 20 , May 7 9:15 AM
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                        I found an old World Book Encyclopedia (66) definition of 'Gnostic.'

                        I am sorry to say this but the term Gnostic in this group has fallen into
                        a state that cannot clarify the term. It is like calling Santa Clause a
                        communist because he wears a red suit.

                        "....An early sect of Christianity. The Gnostics beleived that knowledge,
                        not blind faith held the key to the mysteries of life. But they thougtht
                        that knowledge came from spiritual insight, rather than from scientific
                        study. the Gostics attempted to harmonize Christian beliefs with Greek
                        and Oriental philosophies. They made arbitrary interpretations, and caused
                        much unrest. But they were the first to give the Gospels the same importance
                        as the Epistles of the Apostles...."

                        I hope this helps 'nail down' what is Gnostic and what is Gnostic-like.

                        Tom




                        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                      • mgrondin@tir.com
                        ... The idea of a soul trapped in the body is probably as old as the word psyche itself. Plato articulated the view, but he wasn t its sole proponent. In
                        Message 11 of 20 , May 7 10:50 AM
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                          --- George Brooks wrote:
                          > You ask why the ideas of the Sicarii should be considered gnostic?
                          > Well, almost by definition, because the Sicarii would be unlikely
                          > candidates for being devoted to a theology attested to by, or
                          > designed by, Plato.

                          The idea of a soul "trapped" in the body is probably as old as the
                          word 'psyche' itself. Plato articulated the view, but he wasn't its
                          sole proponent. In fact, it was probably almost as widely believed
                          then as now. One might as well argue that all Christians are
                          gnostics, cuz they believe in a soul.

                          > I am no expert on gnosticism, but there seems
                          > to be more than a passing similarity between the ideas raised in
                          > Eleazar's speech [see below] and gnosticism in general. Is it
                          > your thought that Josephus deliberately portrayed the Sicarii
                          > as Platonists?

                          No. It's my thought that the belief in a soul was so widespread
                          among countless religious groups that to call it "gnostic" is to
                          make almost everybody gnostic.

                          Mike
                        • George Brooks
                          The post that defines gnosticism as ONLY a Christian orientation seems to miss the point completely, yes? Isn t it commonly held that there were Jewish
                          Message 12 of 20 , May 7 11:24 AM
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                            The post that defines gnosticism as ONLY a Christian
                            orientation seems to miss the point completely, yes?

                            Isn't it commonly held that there were Jewish gnostics
                            as well as Christian gnostics? And if so, one of these
                            groups had to be first. I am inclined to think the
                            Jewish gnostics came first (if only because the
                            Mandaeans (the so-called "John-ist remnant") in Iraq
                            are notorious for being the surviving gnostic group
                            from the time of Jesus and there are pretty good reasons
                            to believe this group does descent from John's group, and
                            thus would obviously pre-date Christian groups.

                            Mike,
                            My comments about the soul were not about ANY view
                            of a soul. It had to do with the specific role that
                            a soul fulfills, or of the expectation of what the
                            soul would experience in the afterlife. The whole
                            vein of my thinking was triggered by other posts
                            that suggest that the Thomas community had some
                            gnostic views. But I'm sure not everyone agrees
                            with this idea.

                            Is it your opinion that Plato felt that one's soul
                            was to experience a "paradise" after death? Or that
                            it "slept" in the shadowly realm of the eternal that
                            is commonly associated with a non-Christian view of
                            the afterlife.

                            George
                          • mgrondin@tir.com
                            ... From Phaedo : (as at http://www.vt.edu/vt98/academics/books/plato/phaedo) And now I will make answer to you, O my judges, and show that he who has lived
                            Message 13 of 20 , May 7 12:20 PM
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                              --- George Brooks wrote:
                              > Mike,
                              > My comments about the soul were not about [just] ANY view
                              > of a soul. It had to do with the specific role that
                              > a soul fulfills, or of the expectation of what the
                              > soul would experience in the afterlife. ...
                              > Is it your opinion that Plato felt that one's soul
                              > was to experience a "paradise" after death? Or that
                              > it "slept" in the shadowly realm of the eternal that
                              > is commonly associated with a non-Christian view of
                              > the afterlife.

                              From "Phaedo":
                              (as at http://www.vt.edu/vt98/academics/books/plato/phaedo)

                              "And now I will make answer to you, O my judges, and show that he who
                              has lived as a true philosopher has reason to be of good cheer when
                              he is about to die, and that after death he may hope to receive the
                              greatest good in the other world. And how this may be, Simmias and
                              Cebes, I will endeavor to explain. For I deem that the true disciple
                              of philosophy is likely to be misunderstood by other men; they do
                              not perceive that he is ever pursuing death and dying; and if this
                              is true, why, having had the desire of death all his life long,
                              should he repine at the arrival of that which he has been always
                              pursuing and desiring?"

                              "In this present life, I reckon that we make the nearest approach to
                              knowledge when we have the least possible concern or interest in the
                              body, and are not saturated with the bodily nature, but remain pure
                              until the hour when God himself is pleased to release us. And then
                              the foolishness of the body will be cleared away and we shall be pure
                              and hold converse with other pure souls, and know of ourselves the
                              clear light everywhere; and this is surely the light of truth. For
                              no impure thing is allowed to approach the pure. These are the sort
                              of words, Simmias, which the true lovers of wisdom cannot help saying
                              to one another, and thinking. You will agree with me in that?"

                              "And I conceive that the founders of the mysteries had a real meaning
                              and were not mere triflers when they intimated in a figure long ago
                              that he who passes unsanctified and uninitiated into the world below
                              will live in a slough, but that he who arrives there after initiation
                              and purification will dwell with the gods. For "many," as they say in
                              the mysteries, "are the thyrsus bearers, but few are the mystics," -
                              meaning, as I interpret the words, the true philosophers."

                              "That soul, I say, herself invisible, departs to the invisible
                              world to the divine and immortal and rational: thither arriving, she
                              lives in bliss and is released from the error and folly of men,
                              their fears and wild passions and all other human ills, and forever
                              dwells, as they say of the initiated, in company with the gods. Is
                              not this true, Cebes?
                              Yes, said Cebes, beyond a doubt.
                              But the soul which has been polluted, and is impure at the time of
                              her departure, and is the companion and servant of the body always,
                              and is in love with and fascinated by the body and by the desires
                              and pleasures of the body, until she is led to believe that the
                              truth only exists in a bodily form, which a man may touch and see
                              and taste and use for the purposes of his lusts - the soul, I mean,
                              accustomed to hate and fear and avoid the intellectual principle,
                              which to the bodily eye is dark and invisible, and can be attained
                              only by philosophy - do you suppose that such a soul as this will
                              depart pure and unalloyed?
                              That is impossible, he replied."

                              And much more of the same. The fact that for Plato the "other world"
                              is "below" rather than "above", and that he calls it 'Hades' - which
                              later came to have negative connotations - is of no consequence. The
                              point is that, yes, it is my opinion that Plato felt that one's soul
                              would experience a "paradise" after death, provided, of course, that
                              one had a "good" soul - which was for him the soul of a philosopher.

                              Mike
                            • George Brooks
                              Good information, Mike! I might be a little less quick to dismiss the significance of a Paradise up rather than below than you. Sometimes small flags
                              Message 14 of 20 , May 7 12:51 PM
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                                Good information, Mike!

                                I might be a little less quick to dismiss the significance
                                of a Paradise "up" rather than "below" than you. Sometimes
                                small "flags" like this might be the crucial clue in tracing
                                the evolution of an idea. But for the moment, let's agree
                                with your position that Gnostic imagery comes from Platonism
                                or related ideas, yes?

                                How then would you distinguish the Gnostic Mandaeans from
                                ordinary pagan schools of thought? Once we can agree to
                                this distinction, we can use it as a litmus test for
                                these other groups: the Thomas community, the Sicarii,
                                and anyone else we might want to place on a continuum.

                                George
                              • Michael Grondin
                                ... No - that s not my position (I m not even sure what you count as Gnostic imagery ). I had the simple and limited objective of showing that Eleazar s
                                Message 15 of 20 , May 7 11:07 PM
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                                  George Brooks wrote:
                                  >... for the moment, let's agree with your position that
                                  >Gnostic imagery comes from Platonism or related ideas, yes?

                                  No - that's not my position (I'm not even sure what you count as "Gnostic
                                  imagery"). I had the simple and limited objective of showing that Eleazar's
                                  speech in Josephus doesn't appear to contain any uniquely Gnostic ideas (or
                                  "imagery"). Certainly, 2nd century Xian Gnosticism appears to have been so
                                  heavily Platonistic that an alternate label might have been "Xian
                                  Platonism". That's presumably why some of them were among Plotinus's
                                  students (his discourse AGAINST their views giving us one of the few clear
                                  statements of what those views were, and also indicating that he wasn't
                                  buying their synthesis of Xianity with [neo-]Platonism). Further, it seems
                                  safe to say that their label indicates that they would have been
                                  fundamentally opposed to Paul's view that faith was all that was necessary
                                  for salvation. So if we concentrate just on SOME elements of their
                                  belief-system (dualism, e.g.), and drop the idea of special gnosis being
                                  necessary for eternal happiness, I submit that we're probably not talking
                                  about Gnosticism at all. (Simply put, no gnosis, no Gnosticism.) So in the
                                  search for pre-Xian Gnosticism, I'd suggest keeping the central notion of
                                  'gnosis' in mind. When we do that, it looks like the "initiation
                                  practioners" that Plato mentions might be good candidates. This seems to
                                  suggest a commonality between gnosticism and what we now call "mystery
                                  cults". I hasten to add, however, that I would regard this as basic or
                                  low-level gnosticism - as opposed to the full-blown "high-Gnosticism" that
                                  extended dualism to the heavens, with its notion of an inferior
                                  creator-god. (With respect to GTh, I'd say that it might be regarded as
                                  low-level gnostic-Xianity - twice-removed from high-level Xian-Gnosticism,
                                  though perhaps its precursor.)

                                  >How then would you distinguish the Gnostic Mandaeans from
                                  >ordinary pagan schools of thought? Once we can agree to
                                  >this distinction, we can use it as a litmus test for
                                  >these other groups: the Thomas community, the Sicarii,
                                  >and anyone else we might want to place on a continuum.

                                  Why do you consider the Mandaeans Gnostics?

                                  Mike
                                • George Brooks
                                  Michael, You conclude your last post by questioning how I got the idea that the Mandaeans were/are gnostic. I believe it is common knowledge that the Mandaeans
                                  Message 16 of 20 , May 8 9:26 AM
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                                    Michael,

                                    You conclude your last post by questioning how I got
                                    the idea that the Mandaeans were/are gnostic.

                                    I believe it is common knowledge that the Mandaeans
                                    were/are, indeed, gnostic. But I will find a few citations
                                    to back this assertion up. Perhaps my memory is flawed
                                    regarding this. You never know. I'll be getting
                                    a post to you relatively soon. (While obviously I should
                                    be able to back up "arguable" ideas on the list, I hope
                                    it is not your intention to force me to PROVE every idea
                                    that has been advanced by the last 2 decades of dozens
                                    of journals right here on this list.)

                                    However, if it is more or less confirmed that the
                                    Mandaeans ARE gnostic, then they become a good benchmark
                                    to evaluate the nature of the Thomas community - - in
                                    terms of a purported gnostic nature.

                                    It may be that *your* definition for what is gnostic is
                                    not the normative one. Or.... perhaps it is the best one
                                    to use.

                                    While I endeavor to answer YOUR question, I will ask
                                    you a question: How do you define a gnostic believe
                                    system? The definition provided by an earlier post is
                                    not quite there. I'm sure you have command of a more
                                    comprehensive or more exact definition.

                                    Can you give an example of a Jewish group (assuming
                                    you agree that there were JEWISH gnostic groups) that
                                    demonstrates these definitional elements in a way that
                                    distinguishes them from Platonic-like pagan groups?

                                    Perhaps the group that YOU suggest will be the
                                    better benchmark?

                                    Thanks.

                                    George
                                  • George Brooks
                                    Michael, I was delighted to find out that scholars of gnosticism think the Mandaeans are gnostic. At this URL: http://www.webcom.com/~gnosis/library/mand.htm
                                    Message 17 of 20 , May 8 9:59 AM
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                                      Michael,

                                      I was delighted to find out that scholars of gnosticism think
                                      the Mandaeans are gnostic.

                                      At this URL:

                                      http://www.webcom.com/~gnosis/library/mand.htm

                                      we read:

                                      The Mandaean tradition represents a living stream of the Gnostic
                                      tradition surviving from classical times up to the present
                                      in Iraq. For more texts and several introductory articles, also
                                      visit the Mandaean Section at SGN.
                                      [END OF TEXT]


                                      This should mean that we can use the Mandaeans as one
                                      possible benchmark to evaluate the gnostic nature (if
                                      any) of the Thomas community.

                                      George
                                    • David C. Hindley
                                      George Brooks stated, ... gnostic, then they become a good benchmark to evaluate the nature of the Thomas community - - in terms of a purported gnostic
                                      Message 18 of 20 , May 8 12:14 PM
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                                        George Brooks stated,

                                        >>However, if it is more or less confirmed that the Mandaeans ARE
                                        gnostic, then they become a good benchmark to evaluate the nature of
                                        the Thomas community - - in terms of a purported gnostic nature.<<

                                        If I may interject ... "gnostics" came in a variety of forms, it
                                        seems. As for the Mandaeans being "gnostic", you may be thinking of G.
                                        R. S. Mead's _Gnostic John the Baptizer: Selections from the Mandaean
                                        John-Book_ (London, UK: J. M. Watkins, 1924, and recently available as
                                        an undated reprint, ISBN 1-56459-375-4, from Kessinger Publishing).

                                        However, if you look at G. R. S. Mead's earlier _Fragments of a Faith
                                        Forgotten_ (New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1960 reprint of 1900
                                        original), you will see that Mead and many others in that period
                                        before the discovery of the Nag Hammadi codices were laboring under a
                                        number of romantic notions about Gnosticism that turned out to be
                                        entirely or partially wrong.

                                        That doesn't mean that he and others of his era did not make some
                                        interesting, true, and even important observations about the gnostic
                                        literature known at the time, and how Christian apologists like
                                        Irenaeus understood or dealt with Gnostic ideas. One of those ideas
                                        was to link Mandaeans with Gnostic schools as we know them from Egypt
                                        (what we usually identify as "Gnostic"). They were also sometimes
                                        called "The Christians of St John" although they were certainly not
                                        Christians either!

                                        They live (or lived, if Saddam hasn't exterminated them after draining
                                        their marshes after the Gulf war) in a highly symbolic world, with
                                        baptist roots, and they had traditions about John the baptist and even
                                        Jesus (not a positive one, BTW), but any direct connection between
                                        them and John are hazy, as they came by these traditions by way of the
                                        Elkesites, If I recall correctly. But having traditions involving
                                        esoteric symbolism does not make one a Gnostic. Usually that means
                                        that you claim special knowledge that most others are not aware of,
                                        and which has some sort of salvific value. For Mandaeans, their
                                        esoteric traditions are just part of their culture.

                                        BTW, that web site you mention in a different post is not really a
                                        scholarly site. THE GNOSTIC SOCIETY (4516 Hollywood Blvd. Los Angeles,
                                        California 90029), established in America in 1928, "is dedicated to
                                        advancing the study, understanding, and individual experience of
                                        Gnosis." However, this is a decidedly "popular" movement. Although
                                        they try to have at least a surface understanding of ancient
                                        Gnosticism, they are a quite different, and quite modern, movement.
                                        They also publish a glossy magazine.

                                        Regards,

                                        Dave Hindley
                                        Cleveland, Ohio, USA
                                      • George Brooks
                                        David, Your post was deftly drafted. It leaves the reader completely unable to decide whether you agree that the Mandaeans are gnostic or not. Could you site
                                        Message 19 of 20 , May 8 1:07 PM
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                                          David,

                                          Your post was deftly drafted. It leaves the reader
                                          completely unable to decide whether you agree that
                                          the Mandaeans are gnostic or not.

                                          Could you site a source that says they are not?
                                          And if you can, could you suggest a useful "benchmark"
                                          group of Gnostics (that are distinguishable from "merely
                                          Platonic" groups)?

                                          To evaluate the Thomas community, we will need a benchmark.
                                          I have proposed the Mandaeans. But I am open to a different
                                          group you might propose.

                                          George


                                          --- In gthomas@y..., "David C. Hindley" <dhindley@c...> wrote:
                                          > George Brooks stated,
                                          >
                                          > >>However, if it is more or less confirmed that the Mandaeans ARE
                                          > gnostic, then they become a good benchmark to evaluate the nature of
                                          > the Thomas community - - in terms of a purported gnostic nature.<<
                                          >
                                          > If I may interject ... "gnostics" came in a variety of forms, it
                                          > seems. As for the Mandaeans being "gnostic", you may be thinking of
                                          G.
                                          > R. S. Mead's _Gnostic John the Baptizer: Selections from the
                                          Mandaean
                                          > John-Book_ (London, UK: J. M. Watkins, 1924, and recently available
                                          as
                                          > an undated reprint, ISBN 1-56459-375-4, from Kessinger Publishing).
                                          >
                                          > However, if you look at G. R. S. Mead's earlier _Fragments of a
                                          Faith
                                          > Forgotten_ (New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1960 reprint of
                                          1900
                                          > original), you will see that Mead and many others in that period
                                          > before the discovery of the Nag Hammadi codices were laboring under
                                          a
                                          > number of romantic notions about Gnosticism that turned out to be
                                          > entirely or partially wrong.
                                          >
                                          > That doesn't mean that he and others of his era did not make some
                                          > interesting, true, and even important observations about the gnostic
                                          > literature known at the time, and how Christian apologists like
                                          > Irenaeus understood or dealt with Gnostic ideas. One of those ideas
                                          > was to link Mandaeans with Gnostic schools as we know them from
                                          Egypt
                                          > (what we usually identify as "Gnostic"). They were also sometimes
                                          > called "The Christians of St John" although they were certainly not
                                          > Christians either!
                                          >
                                          > They live (or lived, if Saddam hasn't exterminated them after
                                          draining
                                          > their marshes after the Gulf war) in a highly symbolic world, with
                                          > baptist roots, and they had traditions about John the baptist and
                                          even
                                          > Jesus (not a positive one, BTW), but any direct connection between
                                          > them and John are hazy, as they came by these traditions by way of
                                          the
                                          > Elkesites, If I recall correctly. But having traditions involving
                                          > esoteric symbolism does not make one a Gnostic. Usually that means
                                          > that you claim special knowledge that most others are not aware of,
                                          > and which has some sort of salvific value. For Mandaeans, their
                                          > esoteric traditions are just part of their culture.
                                          >
                                          > BTW, that web site you mention in a different post is not really a
                                          > scholarly site. THE GNOSTIC SOCIETY (4516 Hollywood Blvd. Los
                                          Angeles,
                                          > California 90029), established in America in 1928, "is dedicated to
                                          > advancing the study, understanding, and individual experience of
                                          > Gnosis." However, this is a decidedly "popular" movement. Although
                                          > they try to have at least a surface understanding of ancient
                                          > Gnosticism, they are a quite different, and quite modern, movement.
                                          > They also publish a glossy magazine.
                                          >
                                          > Regards,
                                          >
                                          > Dave Hindley
                                          > Cleveland, Ohio, USA
                                        • David C. Hindley
                                          George, ... could you suggest a useful benchmark group of Gnostics (that are distinguishable from merely Platonic groups)?
                                          Message 20 of 20 , May 8 2:13 PM
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                                            George,

                                            >>Could you site a source that says they are not? And if you can,
                                            could you suggest a useful "benchmark" group of Gnostics (that are
                                            distinguishable from "merely Platonic" groups)?<<

                                            Mike has noted that Gnostics were not "merely" Platonists, as Plotinus
                                            (or was that Porphyry?) marveled how they managed to hold onto their
                                            peculiar ideas and still consider themselves Platonists. They took
                                            things a step farther than most Platonists were willing to do. As for
                                            someone who might assert that they are *not* Gnostics, I am not sure
                                            where I would find one. They are not according to *my* definition, but
                                            others do seem to think they qualify.

                                            For instance, Kurt Rudolph considers them a gnostic "relic" and
                                            simultaneously calls them a gnostic sect and a baptist sect,
                                            independent from other movements usually so termed although oriental
                                            in origin. They do have a dualistic way of looking at things and
                                            consider death a form of deliverance (but so did Plato). Get a copy of
                                            his _Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism_ (San Francisco:
                                            Harper & Row, 1977) and he devotes a chapter (pages 343-366) to the
                                            Mandeans.

                                            On the other hand, Bentley Layton notes that the Mandean sect opposed
                                            the Borborite gnostics (originating in the mid 4th century CE) in the
                                            7th-8th century CE (_The Gnostic Scriptures_, New York: Doubleday,
                                            1987, pg 7) but says nothing else about it. The book is not designed
                                            to give an overview of gnosticism, though, but it may be important to
                                            note that he does *not* include Mandean literature with the assortment
                                            of gnostic texts he samples.

                                            >>To evaluate the Thomas community, we will need a benchmark. I have
                                            proposed the Mandaeans. But I am open to a different group you might
                                            propose.<<

                                            I'd use Valentinian Gnosticism. Now, they were certainly a form of
                                            "high-Gnosticism" with well developed myths and an "escape vehicle"
                                            from this world. The best description we have of it is from one of its
                                            opponents, Irenaeus (although it can be argued, as did Mead, that
                                            Irenaeus completely garbled and misunderstood the Gnostic myths).

                                            Regards,

                                            Dave Hindley
                                            Cleveland, Ohio, USA
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