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Gnosticism and Egyptian Religion Douglas M. Parrot

Gnosticism and Egyptian Religion Douglas M. Parrot

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Gnosticism and Egyptian Religion
Gnosticism and Egyptian Religion

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NovumTestamentumXXIX,1(1987)
GNOSTICISMANDEGYPTIANRELIGIONbyDOUGLAS M.PARROTT
UniversityofCaliforniaatRiversideI
Somewhatover acenturyagoaFrenchman decided to write adoctoraldissertationonEgyptianGnosticismandwasledbyhisresearchtomaintainthat themajorityof theteachingsof thegnosticValentinuswere"inspirees parle soufflereligieuxdel'an-cienne
Egypte."1
M. E.Amelineau,well known forhis workinCoptologyandEgyptology,thusbecameperhapsthe firstperson,inmoderntimes,toargueforanideologicalconnectionbetweenGnosticism andEgyptian Religion.Unfortunatelyhisunder-standingofthemwasnecessarilylimited,andhiswork hashad nolasting significance.But his thesissprangfrom thesensible observa-tion thatareligiousmovement(Valentinianism)that haddevelopedinEgyptwouldlikelyhave beeninfluencedbyEgyptianreligion.2Several decades later WilhelmBousset,as hewaswritinghisHauptproblemeerGnosis,glanced brieflyatthepossibilitythatEgyp-tianreligionmighthave had asignificantinfluenceon thegnosticbeliefsystem. ImportantCoptic-gnostictexts hadonlyrecentlybecomeavailable,and so it was natural that thequestionshould be
1Essai sur legnosticismeigyptien.sesddveloppementstsonorigine dgyptienne:Annalesdu museeGuimet,Vol.14(Paris:Ministere del'instructionpublique,1887),p.10.
2
"Valentin n'avaiteuqu'a jeterlesyeuxsurlesmonumentsquil'entouraientenEgypte, qu'a preterl'oreille auxlegendesdivines,etilavaitainsi trouvelaplusgrande partiede satheologie.Cela estsivraiqu'iln'yapas jusqu'asonPleromequine seretrouve danslareligionegyptienne..."Essai,p.293. Amelineauwasinfluencedbytheearly19thcenturyGerman scholar Gieseler to thinkthatGnosticismdevelopedinthreemain areas:Syria,wheredualistic Gnosticismarose;AsiaMinor,which was thebirth-placeofpractical,ratherthanspeculativeGnosticism;andEgypt,wherepantheisticGnosticism came intobeing(Essai,p.5-6).
 
DOUGLAS M. PARROTT
raised.Bousset's concernwastoidentifytheinfluencesthathad af-fectedthebasicconvictions ofGnosticism,and on thatissue hisconclusionregarding Egyptianreligionwasquitenegative,althoughheleftopenthepossibilityofsecondaryinfluence:"DassAgyptenein ZentrumdergnostischenBewegung gewesenist,kannnichtgeleugnetwerden,mandenkean dievielenneuentdecktenkoptisch-gnostischenSchriften....Aberandrerseits warAgyptensichernicht derHeimatboden derGnosis,agyptischeEinfliissesindindenwurzelhaftenGrundanschauungenderselben nichtnachweisbar,wohl aber insekundirenWeiterbildungen."3Thatconclusion wasperhapsnotsurprising,in view ofthe excitementatthat time overdiscoveriesintheMesopotamianarea,as wellasthecontinuinglimitations onknowledgeofEgyptian religion.Thediscoveryof theNagHammadiLibrary providedindica-tionsof connections betweenEgyptandGnosticismthat couldhavereopenedthequestion.Thediscoverywas made inEgypt.Thelibrarycontainedatext called TheGospels oftheEgyptians.It hadreferencestoEgyptian myths,suchas thatofthePhoenix.4 It hadthreetractatesinwhichthehightest deitywascalled,"TheHiddenOne,"whichcould be atranslation(intoGreek and then intoCop-tic)ofthe name of theEgyptian deity,Amun.5Inaddition,thegnostic conception,found elsewherebut reiterated intheNagHammadiLibrary,of thejourneyof thesoul afterdeath,which in-
3
HauptproblemederGnosis(Gottingen:VandenhoeckundRuprecht:1907),p.5,n.1.Thenewlrdiscoveredwritingsincludedthe Berlingnosticcodex(PapyrusBerolinensis8502),which Carl Schmidtwaseditingat that time. Boussetmayalsohavehadinmind theAskew and BruceCodices,theformercontainingPistisSophia,and thelatterincludingThe BooksofJeu,which hadrecentlybeeneditedandpublished.Bothcodices, however,werediscoveredinthe 18thcentury.
4
OntheOriginoftheWorld(II,5),121,35-123,1.Thepassageconcludes with thefollowingsentence,indicatingaclose connectionwithEgypt:"Thesegreatsignsappeared onlyinEgypt,notinotherlands,signifyingthat it is like the Paradiseofgod"(H.-G.Bethge/OrvalS.Wintermutetranslationin TheNagHammadiLibraryinEnglish,ed.by JamesM.Robinson[SanFrancisco:Harper&Row,1977]),p.176. For a full discussion of theEgyptianelements in thistractate,seeMichelTardieu,Troismythesgnostique:Adam,Eros et les animauxd'Egyptedans unecritdeNagHammadi(11,5). (Paris:EtudesAugustiniennes,1974),chapter5.
5
The Three StelesofSeth(VII,5),122,14;123,1; 126,5.Zostrianos(VIII,I)13,3;15,12;18,10;passim. Allogenes (XI,3)45,31;46,31;48,16; 51,17;58,19.TheCop-ticcontains the GreekxaXuc6roS.Othersources arepossible,includingthedeityoftheBible(Deut.31:17,18;Ps.10:11; 13:1;passim).However theterm"The Hid-den One"isnot usedof the Biblicaldeity.
74
 
GNOSTICISMANDEGYPTIANRELIGION
volvedknowingcertainkeywords orphrasesfor thejourney'ssuc-cessfulcompletion,had its closestparallelinEgyptian Religion.6These indicationsdidnot,however,reopenthequestionof anEgyptianconnectioninanysignificant way. JeanDoresse was thefirstto comment on the matter after thediscoveryofthelibrary.Followingabrief examination of severalparallels,heconcludedthat "in allthis thereis noproofofEgyptianinfluenceuponthebasicconceptionsof Gnosticmythology."7Inwritingthis,heseemedsimplytoberestatingthepositionofBousset,whose wordshe could haverepeated virtuallywithout modification. This samepositionwas reaffirmedbyC.J.Bleeker,theEgyptologist, writinga decade later than Doresse for the internationalcolloquiumon theoriginsofGnosticism,at Messina.8Healsoexamined someparallelsbetweenGnosticismandEgyptianreligion,but none weredistinctiveenoughto make therelationshipmore thanpossible.Onlytwoother articlesdealingsignificantlywith Gnosticism andEgyptianreligionhave beenpublished.9At the same Messina collo-
6
IntheNagHammadiLibrary,seeTheApocalypseofPaul(V,2),and The(First)ApocalypseofJames(V,3).In thelatter,seeparticularly33,2-34,25.Foradiscus-sion,see L.Kakosy,"Gnosis undagyptische Religion,"inLeOriginidelloGnosticismo,ed.by UgoBianchi(Leiden:E.J.Brill,1967),pp.240-44.Thelibraryalso containedaportionof the Hermetic tractateAsclepius(VI,8)that hasasignificantnumber ofEgyptianparallelsinthe section often calledtheEgyptianapocalypse (70,3,-74,6);seeMartinKrause,"AgyptischesGendankengutin derApokalypsedesAsclepius,"ZDMG,SupplementaI(1969),pp.48-57.
7
The SecretBooksoftheEgyptianGnostics. An Introduction o the GnosticCopticManu-scriptsDiscoveredat Chenoboskion(trans.by PhilipMairet) (NewYork: TheVikingPress: 1960[orig.Frenched.,1958]),pp.272-75.His erroneous statement that"ourwritingsdo not... even mentionthe nameofEgypt exceptas thesymbolof accursed matter"(p. 272) (seenote4above),maywell have had anegativein-fluence onsubsequentscholars,manyof whom were notinapositionuntil someyearsafter he wrote tojudgeforthemselves.
8
"TheEgyptianBackgroundofGnosticism,"inLeOrigini,p.231.BleekerquotesBoussetexplicitly.Bleeker,however,echoingAmelineau,thinks thatit is"aprioriplausiblethat thinkers like Basilides and Valentinus borrowed certainideasfrom the oldreligionof thecountrywherethey taughttheir wisdom"(p.231).9Thearticleswere identified fromNagHammadiBibliography1948-69,ed.byDavid M. Scholer(Leiden:E.J.Brill,1971)and thesupplementsto that volumeappearing annuallyin Novum Testamentum.Another article shouldperhapsbenoted: GertrudThausing, "AltigyptischeGedankeninderGnosis,"inKairosN.F. 15(1973),pp.116-22.She definesGnosticismas amystical "way"andas"deep knowledge,"and therefore is notdiscussingthetopicofthis article.Thereis also averybriefpaper byPahorLabib,"EgyptianSurvivalsintheNagHam-madiLibrary,"publishedinNagHammadi andGnosis.Papersreadat the First Interna-tionalCongress of Coptology(Cairo,December1976),ed.byR. McL. Wilson(Leiden:E.J.Brill,1978), pp.149-51.
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