Sunday, February 3, 2013

Norea as the Wife of Nicolaus

Birger Pearson drew attention to the fact that the Greek text of the Acts of Archelaus describes a cosmic virgin with an adjective which point to her being the gnostic Norea/Horaia figure (see previous post):

A certain virgin comely (ώραία) and well-adorned attempts to despoil the archons that had been borne up and crucified in the firmament by the Living Spirit, and she appears to the male archons as a beautiful woman, but to the female archons as a handsome and lusty young man. The archons, whenever they look at her in her beautiful appearance, are overcome with the passion of love, and unable to grasp her they burn terribly, out of their minds with the pangs of love. Whenever they run after her the virgin disappears. (Hegemonius, Acta Archelai 9 GCS ed. Beeson).

Yet I think we can take this one step further.  Epiphanius connects this same Norea with the extremely early Christian heretic Nicolaus.  Nevertheless it is generally unknown that Clement of Alexandria - undoubtedly borrowing from the same literary source or tradition as Epiphanius - speaks of Nicolaus's 'wife' in identical terms:

But when we mentioned Nicolaus’ remark we omitted one point. They say that he had a pretty wife (ὡραίαν γυναῖκα). After the Savior’s resurrection he was accused of jealousy by the apostles. He brought his wife out into their midst and offered her to anyone who wanted her in marriage.  They say that his action was consistent with the saying "The flesh is to be treated with contempt." Those who are members of his sect follow his word and act simply and uncritically, and indulge in unrestrained licence. (Clement Stromata 3.25)

In other words, all the silly stories about the Nicolatians 'sharing women in common' or engaging in sexual promiscuity is clearly based on their 'sharing' a spiritual bride in common - Norea/Horaia.

This is confirmed a little further when Clement goes on to twist the original meaning of their interpretation of scripture:

Anyway, there is a story that one of them encountered one of our beautiful virgins (παρθένῳ ὡραίᾳ) and said, "It is written, ‘Give yourself to anyone who asks.’"  She did not understand the fellow’s impudence and replied with the height of propriety, "If the subject is marriage, speak to my mother."  What godlessness! These communists in sexual freedom, these brothers in lustfulness, actually pervert the Savior’s words. They are a disgrace not just to philosophy but to the whole of human life. They deface the truth, or rather raze it to the ground insofar as they can.  The wretches make a religion out of physical union and sexual intercourse, and think that this will lead them into the kingdom of God. (ibid 3.27)

I cannot believe that anyone is so stupid that they really believe that these gnostics partook in orgies and wife swapping (but of course it does help sell books which is probably why people like Bart Ehrman allow the material to pass at face value).

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