Sunday, June 12, 2011

Was the So-Called 'Ophite Diagram' Really an Alexandrian Secret Doctrine Associated with St Mark?

A quick note. I think everyone knows about the so-called 'Ophite Diagram.' Celsus mentions a diagram with "circles upon circles." Origen has read Celsus's whole account and identifies it as something he was very familiar with in Alexandria:

In this diagram were described ten circles, distinct from each other, but united by one circle, which was said to be the soul of all things, and was called "Leviathan." [Origen Contra Celsum 6.34]

And again:

But when Celsus speaks of "circles upon circles," (he perhaps borrowed the expression) from the aforementioned heresy, which includes in one circle (which they call the soul of all things, and Leviathan) the seven circles of archontic demons [Origen Contra Celsum 6.35]

Yet Celsus never says that the diagram came from a group called 'the snakes' or the Ophites. It is Origen who provides us with this information and most scholars have just taken him at his word.

Some scholars nevertheless have pointed out that it seems odd that Origen knows so much about this group. Could this really be indicative instead of some secret knowledge associated with Origen's own church, the Alexandrian community of St. Mark? All that is clear is that the Philosophumena clearly identifies the same concept with a heretical group called 'the followers of Mark.'

We read at the end of the account that the followers of Mark:

compute ten powers thus. (There are, they say,) seven orbicular bodies, which they likewise call heavens. There is next a circle containing these within its compass, and this also they name an eighth heaven: and in addition to these, they affirm the existence of both a sun and moon. And these being ten in number, they say, are images of the invisible decade that (emanated) from Logos and Zoe. (They affirm,) however, that the dodecade is indicated by what is termed the zodiacal circle. [Philosophumena 6.48]

The same account in what we have demonstrated to have been the later version of the same original material from Irenaeus:

They next reckon up ten powers in the following manner:--There are seven globular bodies, which they also call heavens; then that globular body which contains these, which also they name the eighth heaven; and, in addition to these, the sun and moon. These, being ten in number, they declare to be types of the invisible Decad, which proceeded from Logos and Zoe. As to the Duodecad, it is indicated by the zodiacal circle, as it is called. [AH 1.18.1]

Clement however who has already been demonstrated by Schaff and many others (including myself) to be a Marcosian let's it slip at one point that the diagram belongs to his tradition:

And we must, in a word, ascending above all the others, stop at the mind; as also certainly in the universe overleaping the nine divisions, the first consisting of the four elements put in one place for equal interchange: and then the seven wandering stars and the one that wanders not, the ninth, to the perfect number, which is above God, and the tenth division, we must reach to the knowledge of God, to speak briefly, desiring the Maker after the creation [Strom. 2.11]

Χρὴ δὲ ὡς ἔπος εἰπεῖν τῶν ἄλλων πάντων ὑπεραναβαίνοντας ἐπὶ τὸν νοῦν ἵστασθαι, ὥσπερ ἀμέλει κἀν τῷ κόσμῳ τὰς ἐννέα μοίρας ὑπερπηδήσαντας, πρώτην μὲν τὴν διὰ τῶν τεσσάρων στοιχείων ἐν μιᾷ χώρᾳ τιθεμένων διὰ τὴν ἴσην τροπήν, ἔπειτα δὲ τὰς ἑπτὰ τὰς πλανωμένας τήν τε ἀπλανῆ ἐνάτην, ἐπὶ τὸν τέλειον ἀριθμὸν τὸν ὑπεράνω τῶν θεῶν, τὴν [δὲ] δεκάτην μοῖραν, ἐπὶ τὴν γνῶσιν ἀφικνεῖσθαι τοῦ θεοῦ, συνελόντι φάναι μετὰ τὴν κτίσιν τὸν ποιητὴν ἐπιποθοῦντας

This discovery will actually open a new door to investigate the knowledge of Secret Mark in contemporary Patristic literature. Indeed, it should be remembered that Celsus original discussion of the diagram occurs immediately following his citation of material from Mark 10:17 - 31 and the implicit existence of 'Carpocratians' (i.e. Christians whose doctrines 'steal' from Plato). I am sure I will surprise many of my readers with what I have discovered.

Those of my readers who are familiar with the Patristic testimonies related to the Marcionites will remember that the Syrian sources tell us that 'Marcion' understood 'the third heaven' to be a place above the seven heavens. The last I checked (7 + 3 = 10) ...

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