is made of the Alexandrian bishop, who at that time was Demetrius. Indeed, he had become bishop in Alexandria the same year as Victor in Rome (189). Whatever letter was sent from Alexandria to Palestine came apparently from the presbytery acting collectively, rather than the bishop, who had evidently not yet consolidated his power over the Alexandrian church.
The situation was completely different by the mid-third century, during the time of bishop Dionysius (247-64).78 His voluminous correspondence, including 'official' letters to bishops in Rome, Antioch and elsewhere, attests to the growing importance of the Alexandrian church in the empire. By the end of the third century, the Alexandrian church was at least as influential in the east as the Roman church was in the west.
In his five-volume work Adversus haereses, Irenaeus traces the Gnostic heresy, 'gnosis falsely so-called', back to Simon 'Magus' of Samaria (Haer. 1.23.1-4; cf. Acts 8:9-24). Next in line as 'successor' to Simon is Menander, also a Samaritan (1.23.5), who became active in Antioch (cf. Justin, 1 Apol. 26.4). Then, 'arising from these men', come Saturninus of Antioch and Basilides, who promulgated his system in Alexandria (Haer. 1.24.1). Eusebius, in his Chronicon, makes the following entry for the sixteenth year of Hadrian's reign (132): 'Basilides the heresiarch was living in Alexandria; from him derive the Gnostics.'79 Thus, from this information one could conclude (incorrectly) that Egyptian Gnosticism began with Basilides in Alexandria.80
However, Irenaeus makes specific mention of a 'Gnostic' sect, whose basic myth (excerpted in Haer. 1.29) is not the same as the one he attributes to Basilides (Haer. 1.24.3-5), though it does somewhat resemble that of Saturninus (1.24.1-2). Of Basilides' contemporary in Alexandria, Valentinus, Irenaeus reports that 'Valentinus adapted the fundamental principles of the so-called "Gnostic" school of thought to his own kind of system' (Haer. 1.22.1).81 As is well known, Irenaeus' excerpt of the 'Gnostic' myth (Haer. 1.29) corresponds
78 On Dionysius see esp. Bienert, Dionysius von Alexandrien.
79 My translation of the Latin ofJerome's version in Helm, ed., Chronik des Hieronymus, 201.
80 See Pearson, Emergence, 150-3. On Basilides, see Pearson, 'Basilides the Gnostic'. On the problem of defining 'Gnosticism' and delimiting it historically and phenomenologically see Pearson, Gnosticism and Christianity, ch. 7: 'Gnosticism as a religion'. For different approaches see Williams, Rethinking'Gnosticism', and pt 111, ch. 12, above. For complete bibliography on Gnosticism and the Coptic Gnostic codices, see Scholer, NagHammadi bibliography.
81 Layton's translation in Layton, Scriptures, 225.
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