Members-only podcast episode
Geoffrey Smith Valentinicates Further
This is a special podcast episode for SHWEP members only
Already a member? Log in here to view this episode
In a fascinating extension of our interview, Geoffrey Smith and your host discuss a number of Valentinian topics, including:
- The importance of Irenæus’ Against the Heresies for the drawing of battle-lines in the struggles for second-century Christian identity, including Valentinian identity,
- The helpfulness of using Justin’s circle at Rome (second-century Christian intellectuals about whom we know quite a bit) for trying to model what Valentinius’ circle at Rome (about whom we know tragically little) might have been like,
- The elements of esotericism found in early Christianity across the board,
- The question of whether highly apophatic approaches to god might be a defining feature of early marginalised Christianities, setting them apart to some degree from what was developing into Orthodoxy in the period,
- The ways in which the cultural and educational institutions of Hellenism are used and abused in the second-century debates over what ‘proper’ Christianity should look like,
- Two important texts with Valentinian characteristics – the Gospel of Philip from Nag-Hammadi and the Excerpts of Theodotus, a Greek text traveling among the works of Clement of Alexandria – which may have more to teach us about Valentinianism,
- Another text, the Commentary on the Prologue of John, surviving in a citation by Irenæus, which may be the earliest New Testament commentary which we have from antiquity. This work, possibly by Valentinus’ student Ptolemy, is a reading of John’s prologue which makes the entire text into a metaphysical treatise, with the nouns (‘beginning’, ‘logos’, etc. etc.) as actors in a universal metaphysical drama,
- And finally, some reflections on the Nachleben of Valentinus and his school in the thought of the Eranos group, Quispel and Jung in particular.
Works Cited in this Episode:
- Flavia Sophê inscription: A Valentinian tombstone from Rome, CIG 4.9595a – see the photograph in the notes for the last episode.
- Bathhouse inscription: NCE 156 (see image right).
- Justin Martyr: Justin’s Apology gives us precious data about what a second-century Christian church-service at Rome looked like. The Martyrdom-Account of Justin (which can be found at P.G. VI, 1565-72) describes Justin’s study-circle, which met above the Baths of Martinus. The ‘Dialogue’ mentioned is Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho, an important Christian apologetic work which attacks the theology Justin associates with Valentinus.
- The Gospel of Philip (NHC II): Not really a gospel, and not really much to do with Philip. It is a collection of passages, known from the Nag-Hammadi Coptic library, with Valentinian traits.
- Excerpts of Theodotus: As we mentioned last time, this mysterious text will return to the podcast when we discuss the angelology of Clement of Alexandria.
- Recent article shewing that the bridal-chamber motif was a traditional norm in funerary inscriptions: H. Gregory Snyder. ‘A Second-Century Christian Inscription from the Via Latina’ Journal of Early Christian Studies, 19(2):157–95, 2011.
- Ismo Dunderberg. Beyond Gnosticism: Myth, Lifestyle, and Society in the School of Valentinus. Columbia University Press, New York, NY, 2008.
- Hal Taussig. A New New Testament: A Bible for the Twenty-First Century Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, MA/New York, NY, 2013.
February 7, 2020
This Marcus guy seems like a blast. I definitely want to try that mixed wine.
February 12, 2020
So I’m maybe a little disappointed by reality. (It’s ok, there are bigger issues). Gnosticism and Valentinianism, no matter how hard I squint, don’t suggest that there was an early Christianity based on a Platonic-Philo-ian ineffable Oneness and the Logos as “son” of the One that incarnated in Jesus. (Maybe, maybe in Marcion, for throwing out the old testament person god — but that’s hardly satisfying).
Essentially, I’m disappointed that there wasn’t an Origen at the origin. Saaad.
For that matter, I’m disappointed that even pagan philosophers didn’t seem to have a notion of “the extended mind”/”distributed cognition” — perhaps with the exception of certain readings of Plato’s world soul.
Do you know anything that might say otherwise? Asking for a friend.
February 12, 2020
I feel your pain. I think Philo is, indeed, the Origen you are looking for.
That being said, maybe our guys did have such a Platonising theology, but it just hasn’t survived — this would not surprise me at all in the case of Basilides or Valentinus, actually. Both guys had a strongly apophatic theology of the first god, and saw Christ as a kind of emissary of that god from beyond the cosmos …. Also, we haven’t yet looked at Sethianism, because our surviving texts belong to the third and fourth centuries, but there’s plenty in them to suggest 1: second century provenance (in some form), and 2: Platonising metaphysics to the hilt.
As for the extended mind issue, I think such a model was actually standard in philosophic Platonism; soul is consciousness by definition, and the cosmos is made of soul, hence the cosmos is conscious (hyper-conscious, since not limited by human strictures, having a body made of the entire cosmos). All the Platonists who address the issue consider the stars conscious gods, and the stars are of course less than the world soul … Plotinus argues in Ennead VI.7 that each of the four elements has a soul. Everything is alive and has consciousness in philosophic Platonism.
Then, of course, ‘extended mind/distributed cognition’ is a perfect description of the Stoic theory of immanent logos (see our episodes on Stoicism). So I would say the pagans don’t disappoint in this regard.
February 13, 2020
Thanks, that’s comforting.
Back to Philo. I do wonder about the Essene/Pythagorean/Therapeut connection as it might have related to Jesus/John and even Joseph and Mary (in their flight to Egypt). Super mysterious to have such historical support (both Philo and Josophus) for a Jesus-Time relation that is completely absent from the Christian narrative. Relates to the missing “Nazarene” story.
On the second point. First, I look forward to listening to the stoic episodes.
Second, you say: “soul is consciousness by definition, and the cosmos is made of soul, hence the cosmos is conscious (hyper-conscious, since not limited by human strictures, having a body made of the entire cosmos)”
Super cool. I always would have seen Soul as Consciousness, by definition. But for another view, see Pythagorean Philolaus who considers “feelingness” to result from the intersection of soul and body. Soul, for him, I assume to be the platonic forms. I don’t know any other articulation of this view after him, aside from maybe Max Tegmark.
23 A. (Claudianus Mamertus, De Statu Animae, 2. p. 7). The soul is introduced and associated with the body by Number, and by a harmony simultaneously immortal and incorporeal….the soul cherishes its body, because without it the soul cannot feel; but when death has separated the soul therefrom, the soul lives an incorporeal existence in the cosmos (DK 22). B. (Macrobius, Commentariorum in Somnium Scipionis, 1. 14). Plato says that the soul is a self-moving essence; Xenocrates defines the soul as a self-moving number; Aristotle called it an entelechy; and Pythagoras and Philolaus, a harmony.
February 13, 2020
Some nice passages from Eusebius on Philo meeting Peter — and depictions of the early Christian community in Egypt. Super Pythagorean.