In my previous post I started a mini-series on Gospels that we know about but that are still lost. One of the early Gnostic figures mentioned by the late-second century heresy-hunter Irenaeus was a man named Basilides. As with the Cainites, we do not have any writings from Basilides or any of his followers, and so all we know about these people and their writings is what authors like Irenaeus tell us. That is somewhat like asking Karl Rove for a fair assessment of Obamacare. You have to take the description with a pound of salt.

We don’t know if Basilides actually had a Gospel, but Irenaeus does tell us of an episode from the life of Jesus from one of the writings used by Basilides, so it’s completely plausible that this was found in a Gospel book available to him (alternatively, it could simply have been a tradition he passed along). It has to do with Jesus’ crucifixion. And it’s an amazing story.

To understand Basilides’ account of the crucifixion, it’s important to realize (or remember) that many Gnostics did not believe that Christ, as a divine being, could actually suffer.   If he seemed to suffer (he was crucified, after all), then it was in fact all an appearance.  Different Gnostics had different ways of explaining how it was an appearance: some said that Christ did not have a real flesh-and-blood body, so that when it appeared that his enemies inflicted pain and death on him, they were actually unable to do so; others said that the Christ was a divine being and that Jesus was a separate, human being, in whom the Christ came at his baptism and left at his crucifixion, leaving Jesus, the man, to suffer alone, while the Christ, the divine being, was beyond suffering.   And Basilides had yet a different explanation.

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