University of Virginia Library

Search this document 
Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
170 occurrences of ideology
[Clear Hits]

expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
collapse sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
109  expand sectionV. 
29  expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 

170 occurrences of ideology
[Clear Hits]


Ethics. It is important to begin with ethics because,
while Gnostic systems vary greatly, the ethical outlook
of the Gnostics seems to reflect a basic alienation from
the world which is expressed in two extreme forms.
(1) In the system ascribed to Simon Magus there is the
view that the spark within the Gnostic needs to be
freed from the repressions of conventional morality.
The Old Testament law is the epitome of such morality;
it was ordained by rebellious angels who imprisoned
their mother, Simon's “first thought,” in various human
bodies including those of Helen of Troy and, later, a
Tyrian prostitute. Simon's descent to rescue his “first
thought” is thus a model for the coming of Gnosis to
rescue all Gnostics. His reputed use of magic, especially
love-magic, symbolizes the Gnostic's control over his
environment, from which he is now free. Other Gnos-
tics vigorously attacked the Old Testament law;
Epiphanes, for example, argued that the repressive
injunctions against theft and against coveting a neigh-
bor's wife were ridiculous, for in the natural and origi-
nal state of mankind there was neither property nor
monogamy. Other schools insisted upon the positive
necessity of breaking conventional laws. According to
the Valentinians, it was the Gnostic's duty to imitate
the unions of the angelic powers above. “Whoever is
in the world and does not love a woman so as to possess
her does not belong to the truth and will not attain
to the truth; but he who is from the world and does
not possess a woman will not attain to the truth, be-
cause he has not possessed a woman with desire.” (In
part this language is based on the Gospel of John, but
the conclusion the Gnostics drew was that continence
and good works were necessary for ordinary Christians,
not for themselves.) Several groups claimed that sexual
morality was not the only kind of morality that had
to be transcended. They argued that the Gnostic had
to experience “everything” so that the spark could be
saved. For this reason they held that the great sinners
of the Old Testament were the real saints, and that
Judas Iscariot was the author of Man's salvation. In
some respects these doctrines remind us of Greco-
Roman Cynicism, but the Gnostic found them sanc-
tioned by divine revelation. (2) At the other extreme
there lies a pessimistic and repressive view which led
to extreme asceticism (there is no trace of magic in
these systems). Saturninus, for example, held that the
savior (Jesus) came to destroy evil men and demons
and to save the good; the good were those who rejected
marriage and reproduction as instituted by Satan.

Both kinds of ethical outlook were derived from a
common alienation from convention and from ordinary
human existence, to be transcended either by compul-
sive promiscuity or by compulsive asceticism. Although
in both Judaism and Christianity freedom could lead
to license and self-discipline to asceticism, the Gnostic
ethical outlook was different because it was related to
the conviction that the world lay permanently under
the control of evil creators from whom only the Gnos-
tic could escape.

Theology. Four second-century systems serve to il-
lustrate common themes and variations on the themes.
The first two can be regarded as close to mythology
and to syncretistic reinterpretation of the Old Testa-
ment; the second two will show how the myths were
developed, somewhat more systematically, in the di-
rection of the New Testament. (1) The Coptic versions
of the Apocryphon of John begin and end with a
framework relating the Gnostic revelation to Christian
tradition. At the beginning, John, the son of Zebedee,
sees a vision on a mountain top; at the end, he tells
his fellow disciples what the savior said to him. In the
middle, however, there is the revelation itself, which
clearly reflects the Old Testament narrative but
reinterprets it drastically. The revealer appears in “a
unity of many forms” and declares himself to be the
Father, the Mother, and the Son; but the ultimate
reality is a spirit of immeasurable light, transcending
all gods. From this spirit proceeded a series of emana-
tions, the lowest of which, Wisdom, produced from
herself an ugly son named Ialdabaoth (presumably a
parody of some form of the name Yahweh). In turn
Ialdabaoth produced twelve angels, each accompanied
by seven more; each of the seven had three “powers.”
Then he made twelve more “authorities” or “princi-
palities,” seven to rule over the seven heavens, five
over the underworld. The total is thus 360 and corre-
sponds with the days in a lunar year. In various lists
the seven world-rulers are assigned slightly different
names, but in essence all are based on names of Yahweh
in the Old Testament (Yahweh, Adonai, Elohim,
Sabaoth). Thus far, only the names suggest any relation
to the Old Testament.

At this point, however, the Apocryphon begins to
correct the Old Testament narrative. It was Ialdabaoth
who said, “I am a jealous god; there is no other god
beside me”—thus proving that other gods really exist.
What was “borne about” (Genesis 1:2 in Greek) was
not the wind or the spirit of Elohim but Ialdabaoth's
mother, who had just realized that he had emanated
from her. This took place “not as Moses said, Above
the waters.” The seven authorities saw an image re-
flected from the Holy Perfect Father above and said
to one another, “Let us make a man after the image
and after the appearance of God.” They were unable
to give him life, and therefore some of Wisdom's power
had to be breathed into him before he could stand
upright. The whole story of paradise, largely “not as


Moses said,” tells of how Ialdabaoth and the others
tried to maintain control over the man.

(2) Another mythological system, that of a certain
Justin as set forth in his book entitled Baruch, shows
how some Gnostics fused Greek, Jewish, and Christian
elements. At the beginning, Justin states that the su-
preme deity, called “the Good,” is to be identified with
the Greco-Roman fertility god Priapus, though the
story of the universe is not concerned with him (pre-
sumably because he plays no role in mythology). This
story tells of two inferior principles named Elohim and
Eden. The connection with the Old Testament is obvi-
ous. Elohim loved Eden, for Eden was also the Old
Testament Israel; he “planted a garden in Eden”
(Genesis 2:8), and this garden consisted of twelve angels
who resembled their father, twelve who resembled
their mother. “The angels of this paradise are allegori-
cally called trees”; thus the tree of life is Baruch
(“blessed”), while the tree of the knowledge of good
and evil is Naas (“serpent”). When Elohim later
abandoned Eden as his love for her cooled, she tried
to torment him, especially through the activities of her
angel Naas. Elohim's angel Baruch tried to summon
men to follow Elohim and leave the world, but his
efforts, made not only through Moses and the other
Hebrew prophets but also through Hercules (twelve
labors!), were not successful. Jesus, unlike his prede-
cessors, remained faithful to Baruch and, in spirit,
ascended to the Good. This story is supposed to provide
a key to Greek mythology as well as to the Bible. Thus
Elohim really equals Zeus, who appeared to Leda-Eden
as a swan and to Danae-Eden as a shower of gold.

Justin's system was not only mythological but also
liturgical; at baptism an initiate took the following
oath: “I swear by the One above all, the Good, to keep
these mysteries and to tell them to no one and not
to return from the Good to the creation.” At baptism,
then, he obviously entered into the spiritual world
above, following the example of Elohim himself. Such
oaths, found among other Gnostic groups as well, re-
mind us that the mythology was produced in the con-
text of religious cult.

(3) A somewhat more philosophical form of Gnosti-
cism, at least in expression, is to be found in the system
of Basilides of Alexandria (ca. 117-38). Originally there
was absolutely nothing; then the nonexistent god made
the nonexistent cosmos (= pure potentiality) out of
the nonexistent, “establishing” the seed of the universe
which contained a “triple sonship.” (It has been sug-
gested that Basilides may have come in contact with
Indian ideas at Alexandria, and that they explain his
emphasis on nonexistence.) The first of these sonships
returned to the nonexistent god, while the second tried
to do so but could not come close until “winged with
the Holy Spirit”; the third remained in “the mixture
of seeds.” After this a great archon (ruler) arose and
with his son created the universe; in turn the second
ruler generated a third. (This part of the system is
probably based on Christian ideas.) The function of
all three rulers was to reveal the nature of existence
to the beings beneath them and to assist the third
sonship to move upward. Jesus, the son of Mary, was
their agent. He himself ascended above and thus pro-
vided a model for other souls to imitate. When the
whole third sonship has returned above, cosmic igno-
rance will come upon every being left below, and even
upon the archons. They will remain in ignorance of
what is above and “will not be tormented by the desire
of what is impossible.” Various expressions used by
Basilides find parallels in Middle Platonism and in the
Aristotelian language sometimes employed therein. As
a whole, however, the system is not philosophical, as
Wolfson has pointed out. Basilides himself claimed,
rather unconvincingly, that his doctrine came from the
apostle Peter.

(4) Probably the most important system or group
of systems in the second century was Valentinianism,
surviving to be denounced with other heresies by the
emperor Theodosius in 428. Its founder was a certain
Valentinus, at Rome about 140, but it was system-
atically developed in various directions by Ptolemaeus
(toward philosophy; refuted by Irenaeus), Theodotus
(toward mythology), and Marcus (toward magic and
numerology). The basic system involved either one or
two first principles from which emanated thirty
“aeons”, also called the “pleroma” or totality of the
spiritual beings above the cosmos. The cosmos origi-
nated when the thirtieth aeon, Wisdom, fell into outer
darkness, became pregnant, and gave birth to the
demiurge. He in turn made the seven heavens (angels)
out of his mother's emotions and their expressions (e.g.,
water from tears, light from laughter). Much of the
story thus far is obviously close to that in the
Apocryphon of John, but we know that the Valentinians
went on to describe the process of salvation. The Savior
descended from the pleroma to redeem fallen Wisdom
and the spirits which she had breathed into men. There
are three classes of men: material, with bodies con-
trolled by soul; psychic, with body and soul but capable
of obtaining spirit; and spiritual, with body and soul
entirely controlled by spirit. Spirit is to be rescued from
spiritual men, and this rescue has already taken place
for those whose spirits the Savior presented as brides
to the angels in the pleroma.

The Valentinians usually proved the truth of their
statements by exegesis of isolated New Testament texts,
although Ptolemaeus was able to find the pleroma in
the whole prologue to John, and a little later,


Heracleon produced the first commentary on John in
order to prove his case.

Expressions paralleled in Jewish mysticism often
occur in Valentinian writings, especially in the Gospel
of Truth
(though it may not be fully Valentinian). It
would appear, however, that the essence of the system
lies in a Judaized and Christianized version of a myth
like that in the Apocryphon of John. Conceivably it
arose in a heterodox Jewish-Christian environment.