Thursday, July 22, 2010

Was the Gnostic Figure Ialdabaoth Present in the Earliest Documents of the NT?

The answer of course is no; the name Ialdabaoth is universally acknowledged to be a corruption of something else. Most scholars think it goes back to a Semitic term owing to the termination 'baoth' which resembles Sabaoth and other Hebrew words. 

Yet no one has satisfactorily come up with a solution to this riddle. 

I have long noted that Ialdabaoth most closely resembles the Syriac term ܒ݁ܥܶܠܕ݁ܒ݂ܳܒ݂ܽܘܬ݂ܳܐ which can be roughly rendered as baldababota and means 'enmity' or 'hatred.' What has always stood in the way of turning this suspicion into something substantive is the transformation of the bet (i.e. the letter b) into a yod (the letter y). I have never been able to account for this and so I have never attempted to seriously put forward my theory. 

Nevertheless it certainly has a lot going for it. Enmity seems to perfectly suit the third god in the Marcionite system who embodied pure evil. This figure should be distinguished from the other two divinities in their system (a) 'the Good' and (b) 'the god of the Jews.' 

Baldababota seems to have a mythical presence in the Pauline writings which would help explain a lot of Marcionite conceptions. I don't have time to make a large list of these references but it is worth noting that baldababota appears in what I consider the be the most important mystical passage in the Pauline writings:

For he is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the wall of separation between them; And he has abolished by his precious basora (gospel/flesh) the baldababota between them, and he has abolished by his commandments the ordinances of the law, that he may create, in his person, from the two, a new man, thus making peace and he reconciled both in one body with God, and with his cross he destroyed the baldababota [Eph 2:15 - 16]

The idea of Ialdabaoth or 'enmity' being destroyed by the cross implies to me at least the origins of the idea that the devil or Satan was crucified by Jesus's death. This is not necessarily a gnostic idea as it show up even in the late orthodox writers (cf. S. Athanasius (de Incarn. Verb.) says, “The Lord came to cast down the devil, to purify the air, and to make for us a way to Heaven.” S. Basil (Hom. de Humil.) says, “The devil was crucified in Him whom he hoped to crucify, and was put to death in Him whom he had hoped to destroy.” And S. Leo (Serm. x. de Pass.), “The nails of Christ pierced the devil with continuous wounds, and the suffering of His holy limbs was the destruction of the powers of the enemy.”)

Of course we have just stayed in the peripheries of the gospel so far. There are a number of other passages in the Pauline writings worth looking at. But as I am interested in following just this one motif - the idea that Ialdabaoth might have been the baldababota destroyed by Jesus's crucifixion it is worth going back to the description in Ephesians before we dip our toes in the gospel narrative. 

The important thing to remember is that the Apostle references baldababota/Ialdabaoth being between two things:

For he is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the wall of separation between them; And he has abolished by his precious basora (i.e. his gospel/flesh) the baldababota between them [ibid]

It is worth noting that the gospel also has baldababota standing between two figures in the narrative as we read again in the Peshitta:

And on that day, Pilate and Herod became friends to each other; for there had previously been baldababota between them [Luke 23:12]

Now ἔχθρᾳ is the word which appears in the Greek and there are numerous references in the gospel which we might compare here with the Peshitta. Yet the reference I am most interested in is still preserved in a Semitic language in our gospel, albeit not Aramaic curiously but Hebrew. 

I should say that the Syriac baldababota or ܒ݁ܥܶܠܕ݁ܒ݂ܳܒ݂ܽܘܬ݂ܳܐ is made up of two words. The first ܒ݁ܥܶܠ is the familiar word ba'al which means 'lord' or 'owner.' The word for husband in Aramaic is ba'al, which as noted is the general term for an owner, master, possessor of property, bearer of responsibility, or practitioner of a skill. The owner of a house is ba'al ha-bayit, the man responsible for an open pit is ba'al ha-bor, the owner of an ox is ba'al hashor, the owner of a slave is ba'al ha-eved, and the husband of a woman is ba'al isha. 

The second part of the word dababota is means 'hatred' and comes from a root dbb which is quite common in Jewish Aramaic. Geiger ("Urschrift," p. 53) argued over a century ago that Baal Zebub, in his capacity as god of the hated Philistines, became the representative of the heathen power and consequently the arch-enemy, the foe par excellence, and therefore the name "Baal debaba" ("debaba" being the Aramaic form corresponding to Hebrew "Zebub") acquired the meaning of "hostility," the verb with the sense of "hostile action" being derived from it. Similar formulations were Döderlein and Storr, and revived in Riehm's "Realwörterbuch" who notes that be' el debaba in Aramaic might mean either 'lord of flies' or 'enemy.' 

The argument has been taken up more recently by Peggy L. Day (An adversary in Heaven: Śāṭān in the Hebrew Bible 1988) who again puts forward the idea of a connection through a wordplay on be'el dibaba (the Aramaic equivalent of ba'al zebub, the corrupted form of ba'al zebul) and be'el debaba' (Aram, "enemy").

The question that has puzzled everyone is why the Baalzebul form (half Hebrew, half Aramaic has made its way into all the earliest MSS of the gospels). The substitution of Beelzebub for Beelzebul by the Syriac, Vulgate and other versions implies the identification of the New Testament arch-fiend with the god of Ekron; this substitution, however, may be due to the influence of the Aramaic be'el dababa 'adversary' which the Encyclopedia Britannica notes 'is sometimes held to be the original of these names."

Of course I still haven't resolved where the yod came from at the beginning of Ialdabaoth. The rest is easy to explain. What nevertheless emerges in my mind is one of the most powerful arguments that the heretical traditions are not as stupid and 'inventive' as most scholars assume. The Nag Hammadi material in my mind comes generally from a later period when corruption with regards to original Aramaic terms could well have taken place without correction and then been recycled over and over again until they took on a life of their own.

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