Gedaliahu A. G. Stroumsa Another Seed: Studies in Gnostic Mythology Nag Hammadi Studies XXIV (Leiden: Brill, 1984) 195 pages.
About the Author:
Gedaliahu Stroumsa was born in
Introduction: Gnostic Sexual Myth
Stroumsa views Gnosticism, particularly Sethian Gnosticism, as a mythological phenomenon, "the last significant outburst of mythical thought in Antiquity." It is significant as one of a very few creations of new mythological patterns whose origin and early development are not buried in prehistory. Gnosticism is self-consciously both a mythology and a theology, so that its myths have a peculiar character that is both post-philosophical and post-biblical. Sethian Gnosticism is examined as a radical reconception, even inversion, of Jewish values and elements, which is reflected in the reorganization of the elements of Jewish myth.
His study aims to delineate the background of biblical
as Greek philosophy against which Gnosticism emerged, in order to
analyze the organizing and governing principles concealed in the
Gnosticism. The hope is
the gap between phenomenological descriptions and the research
Part One: From Origin of Evil to Origin of Righteousness
1. Unde Malum: From Apocalyptic Literature to Gnostic Myth
The dualism of the Sethian gnostic texts is viewed as a
between the world and the spiritual realm of the higher God. An obsessive preoccupation
problem of evil is viewed as the basis for the Gnostic rejection of
world and its creator.
apocalyptic and pseudepigraphic literature provides a defined
in which the emergence of the Gnostic mythological confrontation
be examined. Apocalyptic
already represents a process of reflection on the origin of evil
in two biblical myths of the Urzeit:
the sin of Adam and Eve, and
of the 'Sons of God' from their heavenly abode and their copulation
daughters of men (Gen. 6:1-4).
Biblical account is etiological; it accounts for the moral depravity of
puts the origin of evil in the attempt to mix the unclean elements
or matter with the pure elements of light or spirit (mixis). Salvation is possible
elements remained untainted.
The myth of the Fallen Angels assumes a role at the core of the
mythological expression of Gnostic consciousness. The Jewish theological problem
existence of evil is inverted in Gnosticism, so that Gnosticism seeks
the possibility of salvation in a creation that is utterly evil. In the resulting myth, evil
the lust of the angels; salvation depends on the transmission of a
women who escape unsoiled.
2. The Archons as Seducers
There are three elements (mythologoumena) which are identified as keys to the Gnostic sexual myth: the Seduction of Eve by Yaldabaoth, the presence of the Female Spiritual Principle in the snake, and the birth of Cain and Seth. In the Jewish texts, the theme of intercourse between the sons of God and daughters of men is integrated into human history 96 the origin of evil was not commitant with God's creation. Gnosticism has a vested interest in showing that the pattern of mixis was begun in the first generation of mankind. In some texts, the responsibility for the sin of Adam and Eve is attributed to the demiurge himself; sexual impulse is seen as stemming directly from the male/female duality. The existence of the imperfect world is explained as an abortion/miscarriage.
Stroumsa proposes that the Gnostic interpretation is rooted
exegesis of Gen. 4:1b, 4:25, and 5:3.
Gen. 4:1b could be interpreted as meaning that Cain was the
Sammael and Eve. This
explain Cain as murderer.
Seth is then the first son of Adam.
Alternatively, Cain is the son of the earthly Adam, and Gen.
interpreted to mean that Seth's father is the heavenly, not
Adam. This builds on the
1:27, 5:1 and 5:3. These can
be combined so that Cain is the son of Eve and the archon, and Seth
of heavenly Adam. The
possibility eliminates the earthly Eve as the mother of Seth since
explicitly mentioned in Gen. 5:3.
Part Two: The Gnostic Race
3. Seth and the Child
The child as savior is a variously represented theme in the literature of Antiquity. Seth is one of the clearest manifestations of the savior-child. Seth tends to be considered the first son of Adam. The First Adam 96 heavenly counterpart of Adam 96 was identified with the supreme God, and the heavenly counterpart of Seth was developed on the basis of Gen 5:3 'according to his likeness, in his image'. Seth was the savior of mankind since he 'recovered' the glory of Adam and Eve before the fall (Apoc. Adam). In Gos. Eg. the parousia of Seth was identified with the advent of Jesus, who is considered to be the earthly manifestation of the heavenly Seth.
The name Seth seems to stem either from the root 'to drink', or 'to plant'. The idea being evoked is that of a seed planted which is watered to bring it to full growth. This becomes a metaphor of a 'pure seed' which grows into a plant that 'bears fruit'. The community of Gnostics is variously identified with the 'plant' or the 'fruit'.
4. Gnostic Salvation History
Gnostic soteriology has been considered to be totally ahistorical and non-temporal in its attitude. This chapter examines this assumption with particular focus on the Apocalypse of Adam, in which there is a 'seed of men' who escaped the rule of the demiurge and his archons, and received the life of knowledge. These form a 'kingless race' in a 'holy dwelling place'. They remain pure and undefiled by any desire. These are fundamentally different from common humanity and do not share in its history.
The Apoc. Adam describes three major events in
which correspond to three advents of the illuminator of knowledge. Each time the illuminator
comes to save
his seed and to usher in a new period.
The first two events are cataclysmic attempts by the demiurge
the Gnostics. The first is the Flood in the days of Noah. In the second, the powers of
demiurge throw fire, sulphur, and asphalt on the 'kingless race'
This is the second longest chapter of the book, and perhaps the least successful. The argument for a 'Gnostic' conception of salvation history rests almost entirely on a single text (Apocalypse of Adam). There are several elements in this text which are clearly associated with salvation history in other pseudepigraphic literature. However, the essential characteristic of the Gnostic race remains its total independence of the world, its archons, and thus its history. At most, Stroumsa delineates a point of tension between the Gnostic self-conception as 'other' and participation in the life and events of the world.
5. Sacred Geography
This chapter begins by examining the Gnostic texts for
The promised land with a holy dwelling place (Apoc. Adam)
essentially otherworldly, not a geographical location The 'holy
is a new creation where they will go away from this one. This also occurs in Marcion,
Manicaeanism. This place
with the help of an illuminator or through attainment of Gnosis,
live there with angels of the great light.
It was a land of truth where the Holy Spirit dwelt, and the
illuminator comes from.
of salvation or promised land retains some temporal reality from
heritage, in that Gnostics in some sense belong there
6. Sons of God or Sons of Seth
This chapter examines the various Jewish and Christian interpretations of 'the sons of God' in Gen 6:1-4 as the context for the Gnostic self-identification as the sons of Seth. There is a clear tradition during the first centuries of the common era that the 'sons of God' in this passage are angels who descend from heaven and become the teachers of women and the fathers of giants. This tradition is reflected in Greek translations of Genesis, as well as 1Enoch and other pseudepigraphic literature. A second tradition identifies 'the sons of God' with the descendents of Seth as a line of righteous men, leading to Enoch, and Noah. The intercourse between the 'sons of God' and the 'daughters of men' that is responsible for the birth of the giants and the corruption of the world, is then viewed as intermarriage between the descendents of Seth and the descendents of Cain, so that the descendents of Seth become opposed to Noah. The second tradition tends to dominate later Jewish and Christian exegesis.
The Gnostic description of the seed of Seth is another race,
opposed to the 'material race' (Tri. Trac. 119:8-10). This race is immovable and
incorruptible, living and immovable.
It is a 'race of the immortal soul (Apoc. Adam
78:3-5). The father of
this race is
man', the Great or heavenly Seth.
Schenke proposed that a gap exists in the Gnostic texts
sons of Seth and the Gnostics contemporary to the texts. Stroumsa postulates that the
self-identification with the descendents of Seth merged with the
opposition of Noah to the sons of Seth provides one of the
vilification of Noah and the vindication of
Part Three: Echoes and Repercussions
7. Gnostic Elements in Hermetic Traditions
In this chapter, Stroumsa explores the writings of Zosimus, a 4th century alchemist, which reference traditions concerning the lust of angels for women as a source of technical knowledge. Zosimus also connects the race of philosophers, who spend their lives in immateriality, with the man inside Adam, 'Phos'. These may be liberated by the coming of the Son of God, who is opposed by the 'demon who mimics'. Stroumsa sees the transformation of the leader of the Sons of God into the false Son of God as originating in the Gnostic version of the Genesis story.
This chapter outlines some of the ways in which
transformed elements of Sethian gnosticism into its own form. The chapter attempts to
tension in Manichaean thought between independent use of Jewish
traditions and the use of Jewish apocalyptic traditions transformed
gnostic thought. The
Manichaean thought in Sethian gnosticism are evidenced by the
'Sethel', the seduction of the archons, the view of the material
'abortion' or miscarriage.
independent use of Jewish apocalyptic is briefly examined in the
between the Manichaean Book of Giants and the fragments found
Conclusion: The Gnostic Sexual Myth
This concise summary of the conclusions of the previous chapters emphasizes the Gnostic dualistic view of history as a permanent conflict between the Gnostics and the forces of evil. This dualistic view of history is tied to the central Gnostic myth of a dual humanity; a common humanity born of the rape of Eve by the archon, who becomes the demiurge himself, and the 'pure' seed of Seth. Stroumsa uses the connections he has drawn between Gnostic and apocalyptic literature to argue that the roots of Gnosticism were in the exegetical problems of first century interpretation of Genesis. He sees Gnosticism as a radicalization and recrystallization of selected Jewish exegetical traditions which did not require Christian mediation. He sees the transition from the 'fall of Eve' to the fall of Sophia as deriving from:
As a result, he
development of a hierarchical duality between God and the
Judaism, as an answer to the problem of biblical anthropomorphisms. The Gnostics, in turn,
duality and radicalized it by demonizing the demiurge and
Satan. The identification
with matter is secondary to the demonization process, which
hierarchical duality into a conflicting dualism.
The book as a whole provides a valuable source for connecting various elements of the Gnostic myth with other Jewish literature of the period. Stroumsa shows a keen appreciation for the variation with the Gnostic corpus as well as an eye for common elements. This wealth of detail will make the book extremely difficult for a reader who is not already familiar with the Gnostic or pseudepigraphic texts involved. It succeeds very well at placing Gnostic interpretation of the first few chapters of Genesis within the larger context of biblical exegesis in antiquity. In particular, the delineation of the Gnostic tendency to shift particular events or elements 'backward' into the story of Adam and Eve works very well.
Stroumsa is less successful at uncovering the origins of
Gnosticism. His attempts to
elements (mythologoumenon) through the literature are hindered as
historical development of ideas by questions concerning the
the texts and traditions.
particular, Stroumsa often states that an exegetical tradition found
text reflects a much earlier tradition.
Since there is no way of knowing how much earlier, or to
of the tradition this actually applies, the effect is to introduce
measure of historical uncertainty.
 Quoted from http://www.jewishhistory.huji.ac.il/Profs/HU/Other/stroumsa.htm.
 The triple emanation of the Immortal Man, the Son of Immortal Man, and the Son of Son of Immortal Man in Eugnostos is a very clear description of this.
 This tradition may be built on the connection of the
 Zosimus was born in