Heretical Embellishment And Genealogical Speculation

Justin considerably expanded the tale of Simon the Samaritan; Irenaeus adds still more details. The author of Acts accused someone named Simon of engaging in magic prior to his acceptance of Christ. Justin accuses Simon of continuing magical practices after baptism for the express purpose of leading the faithful astray. Irenaeus spells out the type of magic the Simonians preferred.45 Justin suggests that Simon presented himself and Helena as a god and goddess. Irenaeus reports that their followers made idols of their founders in the form of demon-gods. Justin implies that the Simonians were licentious. Irenaeus informed his readers that the Simo-nians were, in fact, led by "mystic priests" who actively promoted licentiousness and pursued debauchery at every opportunity. The horror of the "Simonians" was described in increasingly lurid terms.46 A similar process can be observed in Irenaeus' treatment of the Nicolaitans. The Nicolaitans were first mentioned by John of Patmos in the book of Revelation; they were a group of Christ followers with whom the author disagreed, perhaps because they permitted the consumption of food that had been sacrificed to the gods (Rev 2:6, 14-15). Justin does not mention them, but Irenaeus includes them among other miscellaneous heresies, connecting them to Nicolaus, a proselyte from Antioch mentioned in Acts 6:5. John of Patmos implies that their error involved idolatry, labeling this idolatry "fornication" (porneia). Irenaeus goes a step further, explicitly accusing them of teaching that porneia and the consumption of sacrificial meat "are matters of indifference" (Iren. Adv. Haer. 1.26.3).47 In other words, Irenaeus actively embellishes tales of earlier "heretics" in order to provide the Val-entinians with an appropriate family tree.48

Justin argued that the philosophical heresies were a "hydra of many heads"; their degraded condition was made evident by their diverse opinions and their many schools. Irenaeus applies a similar image to the Val-entinians, asserting that their doctrines were generated "like a Lernaean hydra" out of the Valentinian school (Iren. Adv. Haer. 1.30.14). Irenaeus and Justin share the opinion that diversity implies error and unity implies truth; hence, the more numerous the heresies the more obvious their error. Irenaeus then produces an impression of diversity and multiplicity by comparing rival Valentinian origin myths—even the Valentinians cannot agree on their doctrines, Irenaeus argues—and by listing other heresies for comparison. The Valentinians were the principle target of the refutation, as Irenaeus explains in the preface to the first book: having read some of their commentaries, he resolved to demonstrate that their propositions were "absurd, inconsistent, and discordant with the truth" (Adv. Haer. Pr. 2). He begins the first book with a lengthy, decidedly prejudiced narration of their creation myth, designed to make their beliefs appear to be as ridiculous as possible (Adv. Haer. 1.1-7.5).49 After mocking their beliefs, he sets out to challenge their exegesis of Scripture: "They disregard the order and the connection of the scriptures and, as much as in them lies, they disjoint the members of the truth" (Adv. Haer. 1.8.1). He then accuses them of contradictions and fragmentation, presenting alternative versions of their myths (Adv. Haer. 1.11.1—5).50 Finally, he announces his intention to overthrow all the heresies by exposing their "root," Simon, and by demonstrating that all of the heretics are ultimately related to one another through him (Adv. Haer. 1.22.2). He then introduces Simon's spawn—that is, the heresies—one by one, developing a suitably repugnant genealogy for the Valentinians in the process.

By cataloging Christian heresies, highlighting their diversity, and comparing their opinions and practices, Irenaeus places the Valentinians within a genealogical line of Christian corruption that can be contrasted with the line of faithful and apostolic Christians. By beginning with Simon, Irenaeus places the origin of the heresies within the apostolic age, adopting the perspective that Christian heresies began only after Christ's ascension, a belief he shared with Justin (1 Apol. 26.1). By enumerating the diversity ofValentinian and other Christian myths, he diversifies their doctrines even as he unifies their origins and their basic characteristics. They were unified in their failure at consistency: the Valentinians "do not say the same things about the same subject, but contradict themselves in regard to things and names" (Iren. Adv. Haer. i.ii.i); each heresy had its own nonsensical spin on the "endless [divine] genealogies" these heretics love.51 They were unified by the demonic source of their teachings: inspired by demons, they had Satan as their divine "father" and could not be counted either among the Jews or among the Christians.52 They were unified by their disguised demon worship: though they pretended to be Christians, they remained demon-worshipping gentiles. Finally, they were united by their (alleged) promotion of porneia: even when they pursued enkrateia (self-mastery) they did so out of slavery to lust. Contradictory, demon-inspired, and enslaved to desire, the heretics remained "gentiles" even when they pretended to be "Jews."


According to Irenaeus, the Jews of his time read their scriptures "like a fable" since they did not accept the true meaning of what they had been told (Adv. Haer. 4.26.1). "Tradition" demonstrated there was one God, identical with the God of Israel, and this God had chosen the followers of Christ as his people.53 The patriarchs and the prophets "prefigured our faith and sowed on earth the coming of the Son of God, announcing who and what he would be" (Adv. Haer. 4.23.1), yet the Jews misunderstood and, therefore, they will be judged (Adv. Haer. 4.33.1). With the Jews placed outside of salvation, Irenaeus can further disparage his opponents by accusing them of adopting pseudo-Jewish practices and procedures: they might be demon-inspired gentiles, but they foolishly acted like "Jews." The Valentinians, for example, pronounced phony Hebrew words during worship to impress their initiates (Adv. Haer. 1.21.3), and the Ebionites foolishly practiced circumcision, maintained Jewish legal customs, and prayed while facing toward Jerusalem (Adv. Haer. 1.26.2).54 Marcion, though he identified the creator God as a demon, "circumcise[d] the scriptures" when he chose to adopt only the Gospel of Luke and portions of the writings of Paul (Adv. Haer. 1.27.2-4). In other words, Irenaeus accuses him of behaving like a Jew even as he rejects any continuity between Judaism and Christianity.55 The heretics could attempt to "be Jewish," but they always failed, remaining gentile through and through.

Irenaeus repeatedly likenes heretics to gentiles, depicting them as gentile in type if not in name.56 He compares Valentinian, Marcosian, and other Christian narratives of divine origins to the tales of Homer and Hesiod, suggesting that the heretics drew their beliefs from the poets rather than from the apostles. The Valentinians, for example, devised "false fabrications" that were invented in imitation of those who misquote Homer for their own self-aggrandizement (Adv. Haer. 1.9.2—4). Moreover, their narratives included sexual unions between divine beings, an aspect of gentile myth that the apologists had previously derided;57 these ideas could not have originated with Christ but only with demons (Adv. Haer. 2.14.1—5).58 The Valentinians also displayed their inner gentile by deriving doctrines from Cynic contrariness, Pythagorean numerology, and Aristotelian argu ment, developing "subtle investigations" in their efforts to attack the true faith (Adv. Haer. 2.14.5—6). Not only were their origin myths gentile in type, their practices were equally idolatrous. The Valentinians were "the first to meet during the festivals of the gentiles," eager to honor idols and attend "the murderous spectacles"(Adv. Haer. 1.6.3). Valentinians, Simo-nians, Carpocratians, and Nicolaitans went so far as to venerate idols in the name of Christ (Adv. Haer. 1.15.4, 1.23.4, 1.25.6, 1.26.3). Some Christian schools recommended ritual orgies (Adv. Haer. 1.6.3, 1.13.2—7, 1.23.2, 1.25.4-5, 1.31.2), others declared that marriage was from Satan (Adv. Haer. 1.24.2, 1.28.1), but all were "slaves of lust" (Adv. Haer. 5.8.4). In other words, these people remained gentiles even as they posed as Christians or adopted the errors of the Jews.

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