reveal their competition with other readers in their milieu. For example, in Ap.John, the saviour's statements to John that what happened 'is not as you have heard that Moses wrote' (1122-3; cf. 13:19-21; 29:6-7) indicate the existence of a generally accepted reading that the author expects his audience to know.
Some Gnostic authors found in biblical characters or groups representatives or prototypes of contemporary persons, especially themselves,16 and thus used the language of race and kinship to delineate themselves and other groups. The proper name of the sect was the 'Gnostic school of the thought' (gnostike hairesis), a self-promotional designation that identified it as that school of thought capable of supplying 'knowledge' (gnosis). But the gnostics' terms for themselves as the ideal religious people were racial or ethnic: 'the immovable race', 'the seed of Seth', 'Those People'.17 Such language drew both on the genealogically oriented narratives of the early chapters of Genesis and on the wider ancient practice of using ethnic or kinship language for groups that shared the same religious practices (or of seeing religious practice as part of the definition of a nation or kinship group).18 Opponents of the Gnostics interpreted this language to mean that the Gnostics considered religious identities to be predetermined and fixed: Gnostics, as the seed of Seth, were saved 'by nature'; all other people, destined for destruction 'by nature'. But in general the use of ethnic or kinship language to speak of religious identity in antiquity did not necessarily imply such deterministic beliefs: ancient people could imagine persons moving from one 'nation' to another.19 And in this case several Gnostic texts appear to assume that people can choose to become a Gnostic and to leave after they have joined the sect.20 A ritual of baptism may have incorporated a person into the seed of Seth or immovable race.21
Responses to the Gnostic sect: heresiology, theology and authority
The Christian authors whose works provide the best evidence of self-differentiation from the Gnostic sect - Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, Origen and the Valentinians - inherited, adapted and supplemented a set of strategies that were developed in Rome in the early 140s by persons whose works survive much less completely than those of their successors. Marcion, Valentinus
17 Layton, 'Prolegomena', 336-9.
18 Buell, 'Relevance of race', 458-66.
19 Buell, 'Relevance of race', 466-72.
20 Williams, Rethinking'Gnosticism', 189-212.
21 Sevrin, Le dossier baptismal Sithien.
Was this article helpful?