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Syro-chaldean gnosticism: sethians and bardaisanites

19.05.2018 Author: psiholog pavel horoshutin

In this article, we will talk about the representatives of Syro-Chaldean Gnosticism: Sethians and Bardaisanites.

The Sethians are Gnostics who got their name from the name of the Biblical patriarch Seth (Set), who was the third son of Adam and Eve. The Sethians believed that Seth’s family possessed the highest wisdom, and that Jesus became the earthly incarnation of him.

The Bardaisanites are a religious association (sect) formed by the philosopher and writer Bardaisan. Their beliefs are similar to the works of the supporter of early Christian Gnosticism, Valentine.

Syro-chaldean gnosticism

Sethianism

At the heart of the doctrine of the Sethians is the idea of a chosen spiritual family. With regard to descendants, Seth is surrounded by people from the material world of the clan of Cain. According to the beliefs of the Sethians, only Seth was the son of Adam and Eve. Conversely Cain was born of the creator of the material world, Yaldabaoth, who abused Eve.

Mixing childbirth is considered evil, unlike original sin. The true resurrection and ascension from the physical world into ‘Barbelo’, God’s kingdom is the purpose of the Sethians.

The literary works of Epiphanius of Salamis, Tertullian and Hippolytus of Rome and the authentic Gnostic manuscripts are the basis for the study of the Sethians.

The doctrine of Sethianism includes the following principles:

  • the reverence of the sacred Trinity of the Father, Mother (Barbelo) and Son (Self-born)
  • the existence of the Divine Trinity which emanates aeons that make up the spiritual Pleroma
  • beyond the Pleroma is chaos, an abyss that appears due to the fall of the aeon of Sophia (wisdom), who wanted to create unilaterally, without the permission of the Spirit
  • Sophia’s “illegitimate son” named Yaldabaoth, Saklas, Samael, became the embodiment of her lust. Sophia’s ignorant children created the material world as opposed to the spiritual one
  • Sophia regretted her act and strived to fix everything by restoring the integrity of the Pleroma
  • The Sethians revere their spiritual progenitor, Seth. It is believed that Jesus was his earthly incarnation
  • The Sethians compare their souls to the weakened light in the world of the Demiurge. The rite of “Five Seals” helps followers to break free from the material world.

The Sethian creed is similar to that of the Sethian Gnostic sects, Barbeloites, Archontics, Ophites, and “Gnostic Christians”.

Bardaisanites

Bardaisan (Bardesanes, Ibn Daisan) was a Syrian philosopher, theologian, writer and Gnostic. He created the language of Syrian literature and poetry. He also founded his sect, the followers of which called themselves Bardaisanites.

Bardaisan’s life

He was born in Edessa (modern Turkey), and lived at the same time as King Avgar, who proclaimed Christianity in Edessa. There, in 218, ambassadors from India came to Emperor Elagabalus, from whom Bardesan learned about various Indian beliefs.

Bardaisan was famous for his religious, philosophical, historical and poetic works. The Book of the Laws of the Countries, which was probably written by his disciple Philip, has survived to this day. 

Many of Bardaisan’s religious poems formed the basis of hymns that were relevant for several centuries.

Bardaisan’s life

Cosmology: features common with the valentine system

The doctrine of Bardaisan is essentially the same as the system of the ancient philosopher and supporter of early Christian Gnosticism, Valentine – but in a simplified form.

In the Plerome of Bardaisan, there are seven aeons and the one “Heavenly Christ, the Son of Life”, who appeared from the marriage of the active and passive principle — “the Father of Life and the Mother of Life”.

Christ’s feminine complement is Hackmuth (Sophia). But she, because of her powerlessness, fell into darkness—chaos. Hackmuth, secretly listening to the Heavenly Christ, recreated the Demiurge from the formless matter, and then the physical world, which had its own basis.

This is the main difference between the teachings of Bardaisan and the Valentine system. Otherwise, they are very similar.

Bardaisan’s dualistic psychology

The Bardaisanites believed that the human soul is divided into higher, spiritual, and lower, material elements. The material component of the soul is subdued by circumstances. The supreme soul, being a product of Hackmuth, does not depend on fate and thus has free will.

Souls are purified, overcoming the life trials that have been inflicted upon them. At the end of the world, they will all be reunited with the angels at the marriage festival of Christ and Hackmuth, as they reach Syzygy, the complete and final union.

The philosophy of the Sethians and Bardaisanites corresponds to the teachings of Gnosticism in one way or another. Although each movement adds something of its own, the basic philosophy remains intact.