Sunday, November 18, 2012

Beyond Valentinus: Discovering Palestinian 'Heaven' Worshipers in the Second Century

I have come up with the explanation as to why the 'Valentinians' are always treated as a group in the earliest Church Fathers but 'Valentinus' is ignored or unknown.  Irenaeus for instance begins his Against the Valentinians (strangely) with a discussion of Ptolemy rather than Valentinus.  Tatian and the Encratites are  described by Irenaeus as having both Valentinian and Marcionite teachings.  Ambrose, the patron of Origen, is identified as both a Valentinian and a Marcionite by Eusebius and Jerome.  Marcion and Valentinus are inevitably lumped together by all the third century Church Fathers as if somehow connected.

My assumption now is that the term goes back to something in Aramaic or at least Semitic.  Epiphanius when speaking of the Valesians references the possibility that their name may go back to a lost Arabic terminology. Given their location (= c. second century Philadelphia) Aramaic seems a more likely possibility.  Nevertheless the clue is quite important.  The figure of Vales or Valesius is assumed to be a second century heretic who explains the presence of countless eunuchs who worship heaven and share 'antinomian' ideas with the Marcionites.  The Valentinians also share ideas with the Marcionites but are associated with 'secret knowledge' of all the powers in the 'pleroma' of heaven.

I think I can make a case that 'Valesian' and 'Valentinus' go back to a (self) identification of early heretics as heaven-worshippers or heavenly beings. Jastrow in his Jewish Aramaic dictionary mentions the term 'vilon' (]וילו m.) which goes back to the Latin velum, Greek βῆλον and means door-curtain, curtain.  What's the connection?  As the Jewish Encyclopedia notes "the term βῆλον (= vēlon) can stand for either sail, curtain or banner (from latin velum)."  There are numerous examples of the association of 'vilon' with the 'heavens.'  The Gemara identifies all the heavens to be wrapped in this curtain:

Resh Lakish said: [There are] seven, namely, Vilon, Rakia’, Shehakim, Zebul, Ma'on, Makon, ‘Araboth. Vilon serves no purpose except that it enters in the morning and goes forth in the evening and renews every day the work of creation, for it is said: That stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in. Rakia’ is that in which sun and moon, stars and constellations are set, for it is said: And God set them in the firmament [Rakia’] of the heaven. Shehakim is that in which millstones stand and grind manna for the righteous for it is said: And He commanded the skies [Shehakim] above, and opened the doors of heaven; and He caused manna to rain upon them for food etc. Zebul is that in which [the heavenly] Jerusalem and the Temple and the Altar are built, and Michael, the great Prince, stands and offers up thereon an offering, for it is said: I have surely built Thee a house of habitation [Zebul], a place for Thee to dwell in for ever. And whence do we derive that it is called heaven? For it is written: Look down from heaven, and see, even from Thy holy and glorious habitation.36 Ma'on is that in which there are companies of Ministering Angels, who utter [divine] song by night, and are silent by day for the sake of Israel's glory, for it is said: By day the Lord doth command His lovingkindness, and in the night His song is with me…‘Araboth is that in which there are Right and Judgment and Righteousness, the treasures of life and the treasures of peace and the treasures of blessing, the souls of the righteous and the spirits and the souls which are yet to be born, and dew wherewith the Holy One, blessed be He, will hereafter revive the dead. [b. Hagigah 11b]

As Charlesworth notes on this passage "Wilon, derived from the Lat. velum, “curtain,“ “veil,“ denotes an ordinary door curtain in rabbinic Heb. (m.Ke1 20:6; m.Neg 11:11). It would seem, then, that the first heaven is regarded as a sort of veil or curtain which either conceals the heavenly world from human eyes, or which, by being opened and shut, is the cause of daylight and darkness. b. ag 12b describes its function thus: “It does not serve for anything, but enters in the morning and leaves in the evening and renews every day the work of creation" (cf. Midra§ Konen, BHM, vol. 2, pp. 36f.; Seder Rabbah diBere'sit, BM, vol. 1, p. 39; Baraita' di Ma'aseh Bere'sit, ed. Séd, A 70-72; B 58f.). Note also Midras 'as'eret hadibberot (BHM, vol. 1, pp. 63f.): “The Holy One, blessed be he, created seven heavens. The lowest of them is called Wilon and it is like a curtain [wiltin] drawn across the doorway of a house, so that those within can see those without, but those without cannot see those within." See further, b.Ber 58b; ARN A 37 (ed. Schechter, 55b) 55b); Midras Tehillim 19:6 (ed. Buber, 83a—b), and 114:2 (ed. Buber, 236a)." [Charlesworth Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Volume 1, p. 269]

Now let us go back to Epiphanius's description of the 'Valesians' - a name he identifies as possibly going back to an unknown 'Arabic' term - but as the reader will see really has connections with the groups interest in heaven:

But these people are really crazy. If they mean to obey the Gospel's injunction, "If one of thy members offend thee, cut it off from thee. It is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of heaven halt or blind, or crippled"--how can anyone be maimed in the kingdom? (2) For if the kingdom of heaven makes all things perfect, it can have no imperfection in it. And since the resurrection is a resurrection of the body, all the members will be raised and not one of them left behind. (3) And if any member is not raised, neither will the whole body be raised. And if just the one member that causes offense is left behind, none of the members will be raised at all, for they have all caused us to offend. (4) Who is going to tear his heart out? And yet the heart is the cause of offenses at every turn, for scripture says, "From within proceed fornication, adultery, uncleanness and such like." All right, who will tear his heart out? 2,5 But if, as some people say in their stupidity and impiety, the body is not raised, how will this Valesian rule make any difference? If none of the members enter the kingdom of heaven, what further need is there to be short one member, when other people do not do this? (6) But if the body is raised--and it is--how can there be bodily mutilation in the kingdom of heaven? How can a kingdom of heaven containing damaged bodies not be unfit for the glory of its inhabitants? (7) And if the offending member must be cut off at all, it has been cut off without having sinned! But if it has been cut off without sinning, since it didn't sin it ought to rise first of all.

In his conclusion Epiphanius again emphasizes "but if they claim to have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake, how can they distinguish themselves from [the case covered by] the text, "There are eunuchs which were made eunuchs of men?" (11) For if one makes himself a eunuch with his own hands, he is a man, and his hands have done this infamous thing. And even though he could not do it himself but was made a eunuch by others, he still cannot be a eunuch "for the kingdom of heaven's sake" because he was "made a eunuch by men," whether by his own hand or the hand of others."  So much for the origins of the Valesians and 'Valentinus' (Valen + tinus = 'belonging to Vilon' or heaven).

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