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The Valentinian Gnostics from After The New Testament

In my previous post I reproduced my Introduction to the Sethian Gnostics from the second edition of my reader in early Christianity, After The New Testament. One other highly important group of Christian Gnostics are known as the Valentinians. Here is what I say about them in the book

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Valentinians

Unlike the Sethian Gnostics, the Valentinians were named after an actual person, Valentinus, the founder and original leader of the group. We know about the Valentinians from the writings of proto-orthodox heresiologists beginning with Irenaeus and by some of the writings discovered among the Nag Hammadi Library that almost certainly derive from Valentinian authors, including one book that may actually have been written by Valentinus himself (The Gospel of Truth).

Valentinus was born around 100 CE and was raised in Alexandria Egypt. He allegedly was a student of the Christian teacher Theudas, who was in turn a disciple of the apostle Paul. Valentinus moved to Rome in the late 130s and there became an influential speaker and teacher. According to some of our early reports he very nearly was elected to be the bishop of Rome. Despite his distinctive views – which for the proto-orthodox seemed completely aberrant – he and his followers continued on in the Roman church. There is nothing to suggest that he or his followers started their own churches; they worshiped with proto-orthodox Christians and were in outer appearance very difficult to tell apart from them.

Valentinus nonetheless had been heavily influenced by the Sethian Gnostic myth and adopted it into a kind of proto-orthodox framework.   His understanding of the divine and material realms were somewhat less complex than the Sethian; his views of the creator God were not as harsh; he was not as condemning of the material world; and he had a more developed understanding of the human race:  according to Irenaeus, he and his followers taught that just as a person has a body, soul, and spirit, so too the race itself is divided up into people who are purely animal (bodies that ceased to exist when they died), or psychic (i.e., “soulish” – these are regular Christians who can be saved and given a decent afterlife if they have faith and do good works), or pneumatic (i.e. “spiritual: – these are the Valentinians who understand the deeper truths that are necessary for a full salvation in a return to the Pleroma above).

None of the surviving Valentinian writings lays out …

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Thomasine Christians and Others, From After the New Testament
The Sethian Gnostics, from After The New Testament

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Comments

  1. crucker  August 26, 2018

    You say the Sethian sect was thriving by the middle of the second century. Any idea when it may have originated? Any chance it could have been in existence when any of the New Testament texts were written? I once heard a pastor say certain parts of 1 John were in response to Gnostic thought, but wasn’t sure if that was feasible or not.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 27, 2018

      There’s no evidence of it that early; I’d guess early second century.

  2. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  August 26, 2018

    From what I understand of Gnosticism it’s roots are debated with some scholars seeing it in Hellenistic philosophies. Gilles Quispel saw Gnosticism as an independent Jewish development, tracing its origins to Alexandrian Jews, to which group Valentinus was also connected. I have also read that Gnosticism also reflects Hinduism and Buddhism especially in the philosophy that states All matter is evil, and the non-material, spirit-realm is good, that there is an unknowable God, who gave rise to many lesser spirit beings called Aeons (Avatars).

    My questions are, do you see Judaic roots in Gnosticism or did it specifically rise in the early Christian Churches? Is there any evidence linking Gnosticism with Hinduism and Buddhism?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 27, 2018

      It does seem to have connections with some form of Jewish apocalyptic thought, and it’s probably no accident that some Gnostic texts are obsessed with the creation accounts in the book of Genesis.

  3. Pattylt  August 26, 2018

    To make sure I have this straight… they would agree with the proto orthodox that Jesus came in the flesh and died for our sins, etc. but also thought that was a simple top layer to a deeper interpretation? Which is why it was so hard to root them out! They were agreeing with the church but then adding deeper meanings to it? How would they discuss these deeper meanings to others? During a church service or having further private meetings after?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 27, 2018

      My sense is that they would be willing to say these things, but that the “deeper meaning” they found in them would, for most people, seem to contradict their literal meaning.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  August 27, 2018

      One analogy might be that the Valentinians were to proto-orthodox Christianity what Kabbalah is to Judaism. That is, it was considered esoterica that the everyday ordinary, woolly believer wasn’t aware of or concerned with, but that the higher level ordained members dabbled in.

  4. Rthompsonmdog  August 26, 2018

    There is a 24-lecture course on Gnosticism in The Great Courses, “Gnosticism: From Nag Hammadi to the Gospel of Judas.” The lecturer is Dr. David Brakke.

  5. saavoss  August 27, 2018

    Is your book “Christianity After the New Testament” a trade book or Text book? Is it available on Amazon? Is it his the only book you’ve written about the various Gnostic sects?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 27, 2018

      It’s an anthology of texts intended mainly for classroom use, but is helpful for anyone wanting to see the writings of Christians in teh second and third Christian centuries. Definitely available on Amazon.

    • SidDhartha1953  October 4, 2018

      Not to deprive Bart of royalties, but booksprice.com is a good source of low cost 2nd hand books.

  6. tompicard
    tompicard  August 27, 2018

    for example
    it seems “resurrection” is a term that Valentenians would use but not literally, compared to their orthodox peers.
    is that right?

  7. Ophiuchus  August 29, 2018

    Where does the Hypostasis of the Archons fit into all of this? Sethian? Valentinian?

  8. SidDhartha1953  October 4, 2018

    Is there any reason to suppose Valentinus is the legendary St. Valentine?

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