University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006
A Study of the Ophite Myth and Ritual and their Relationship to Sethianism
Doctoral dissertation, August 2006.
This thesis examines the mythology in and social reality behind a group of texts from the Nag Hammadi and related literature, to which certain leaders of the early church attached the label, Ophite, i.e., snake people. In the mythology, which essentially draws upon and rewrites the Genesis paradise story, the snake's advice to eat from the tree of knowledge is positive, the creator and his angels are demonic beasts and the true godhead is depicted as an androgynous heavenly projection of Adam and Eve. It will be argued that this unique mythology is attested in certain Coptic texts from the Nag Hammadi and Berlin 8502 Codices (On the Origin of the World, Hypostasis of the Archons, Apocryphon of John, Eugnostos, Sophia of Jesus Christ), as well as in reports by Irenaeus (Adversus Haereses 1.30), Origen (Contra Celsum 6.24-38) and Epiphanius (Panarion 26). It will also be argued that this so-called Ophite evidence is essential for a proper understanding of Sethian Gnosticism, often today considered one of the earliest forms of Gnosticism; there seems to have occurred a Sethianization of Ophite mythology. I propose that we replace the current Sethian Gnostic category by a new one that not only adds texts that draw upon the Ophite mythology alongside these Sethian texts, but also arranges the material in smaller typological units. I also propose we rename this remodelled and expanded Sethian corpus "Classic Gnostic." I have divided the thesis into four parts: (I) Introduction; (II) Myth and Innovation; (III) Ritual; and (IV) Conclusion. In Part I, the sources and previous research on Ophites and Sethians will be examined, and the new Classic Gnostic category will be introduced to provide a framework for the study of the Ophite evidence. Chapters in Part II explore key themes in the mythology of our texts, first by text comparison (to show that certain texts represent the Ophite mythology and that this mythology is different from Sethianism), and then by attempting to unveil social circumstances that may have given rise to such myths. Part III assesses heresiological claims of Ophite rituals, and Part IV is the conclusion.
This publication is copyrighted. You may download, display and print it for Your own personal use. Commercial use is prohibited.
© University of Helsinki 2006
Last updated 03.08.2006