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Savoir et Salut: Traditions juives et tentations dualistes dans le christianisme ancien (review)

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Abstract

This volume is a collection of twenty-one previously published articles by Professor Stroumsa, who holds the Martin Buber chair in history of religions at Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Stroumsa provides a basic chronological pattern to the articles by grouping them in four sections: Jewish traditions (6 articles); the gnostic temptation (5 articles); Manichean origins (4 articles); the Manichean challenge (6 articles). In the first section, Stroumsa explores connections between traditions in early Christianity and in Judaism. The first article investigates the background of the notice in Hippolytus that Elchasai received revelations from two figures, a masculine angel and a feminine spirit of God. Stroumsa suggests, via Origen, that these figures go back to an exegesis of the two cherubim over the Ark of the Covenant, and that this interpretation was an attempt to avoid any anthropomorphic view of God by positing intermediary figures. In the second article, he seeks the background to the divine polymorphism found, for example, in the Apocryphon of John where the revealer appears as a young man, an old man and a servant (Stroumsa insists on this translation); and in a combination of Jewish exegetical discussions about the descriptions of God in Dan 7.9 as the Ancient of Days and in the Song of Songs 5.11 as the young lover with speculation about the angelic figure Metatron, also called the Servant of God. The third article further explores the figure of Metatron as an angelic hypostasis of God whose body has cosmic dimensions. Stroumsa asks whether the image of the Body of Christ in Colossians might be a Christian adaptation of this Jewish macranthropos. The next two articles of the first section discuss how the gnostic revolt against time is in fact the writing of a counter-history which found the hidden meaning of the events of biblical history behind the literal meaning of the text, and how early Christianity, in the face of the gnostic temptation as well as paganism, retained a basic similarity to Jewish cosmology and insistence on the unity of the human person. The final article in this section demonstrates the continuing existence of an active Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem and its environs in the fourth century. The second section first discusses the evidence for esoteric oral traditions within Christianity in the second and third centuries, and then seeks to distinguish monastic ascetic practices from those of gnostics in terms of their goal—monastic asceticism sought to purify the personality; gnostic, to protect an innate purity. Stroumsa then insists that both gnostics and Christians sought salvation and that soteriology was central to both, but that Christians rejected a dualist cosmology and insisted on ethical progress, with weapons drawn from Judaism. The final two articles in this section zero in on Origen and Augustine: Stroumsa discusses how Origen's view of the incorporeality of God led him to see allegorical interpretation of the Bible as a mean between the perils of anthropomorphism and dualism; Augustine, for Stroumsa, brings to completion the Christian discovery of the person as a unified composite of soul and body with his/her sense of self-reflection, seeing the self as divided and as an object of thought, yet bounded in time. The third section first places Mani in the context of other Jewish-Christian esoteric traditions on the doctrine of God and the exegesis of the Bible, and then nicely shows how Manichean ontological dualism was not so strict as sometimes presented but grew out of ethical dualism. Stroumsa is particularly interesting in his discussion of how the good God uses a ruse to trap the evil powers, and what the ethical implications of the strategy entail. Stroumsa then explores Manichean eschatology, especially as found in a Coptic text, "Sermon of the Great War," authored by one of Mani's early disciples, which Stroumsa sees as a development of the apocalypse found at Mark 13 and par. Finally, Stroumsa argues against the notion that Mani was considered by Manicheans as the "seal of the prophets," as Islamic heresiologists claimed. Rather, Stroumsa emphasizes that Mani never called himself a prophet, but rather an apostle, one sent. The final section of the book sees Stroumsa exploring evidence...

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