The Theology of Arithmetic: Number Symbolism in Platonism and Early Christianity

  Kalvesmaki, Joel. 2013. The Theology of Arithmetic: Number Symbolism in Platonism and Early Christianity. Hellenic Studies Series 59. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

3. The Rise of the Early Christian Theology of Arithmetic: The Valentinians

The New Testament shows that the earliest Christians were attuned to the number symbolism of their day. Christ itemized his followers symbolically, choosing 12 disciples and 70 apostles. The Book of Revelation is adorned with numerous sevens and twelves, and a single, infamous 666. That impulse continued after the apostolic period. In the so-called Epistle of Barnabas, an early second-century text, the 318 servants of Abraham (Genesis 14.14) are said to foreshadow Christ: the Greek numeral 318, τιηʹ, stands for the Cross (from the shape of the τ) and the first two letters of Jesus’ name (ιη). [1] The Shepherd of Hermas, of roughly the same period, is riddled with number symbolism, its meaning obscure.

Although this interest in number symbolism was widespread, it was neither systematized nor exaggerated. Early Christian writings from the first century, like contemporary Jewish writings, are adorned with but not built upon number symbolism. In the late second century that changed. There emerged new Christian movements that embraced elaborate, mathematically structured theological edifices. They gravitated to numbers that appeared in the Bible, interpreting even the most innocuous ones in light of their theological metaphysics. This new emphasis on number sprouted in a variety of systems, each more complex than the last.

In the next three chapters I describe some of the most striking and best preserved of these early Christian theologies of arithmetic. I discuss the upper echelons of their theological edifices, emphasizing the arithmetical patterns that came into play. I also note the arithmological strategies deployed for inter-preting the Bible. I describe not only the teachings but the rationale behind them, a rationale that was rooted in classical number symbolism and Pythagorean metaphysics. Although proponents of these systems were part of church life, they were fascinated intellectually and spiritually more with classical number symbolism and Pythagorean-cum-Platonist metaphysics. In their theology they tried to synthesize and challenge religious and secular traditions, to chart new intellectual and spiritual territory, not just in the churches but in late antique culture.

In this chapter I recount the systems of the Valentinians, who were the earliest and most significant part of this movement. Our sources for Valen-tinianism are of two types: sympathetic and hostile. The hostile sources are, of course, the orthodox heresiologists: early ecclesiastical writers, such as Irenaeus and Hippolytus, whose concern for doctrinal purity determines what and how they quote from the Valentinians. Of sympathetic sources, only a handful of literary fragments attributed to specific Valentinians of uncertain date—Valentinus, Ptolemy, and Heracleon—have been preserved, all culled from hostile sources. All other texts written by Valentinians come from the famous Nag Hammadi collection of texts, and they are notoriously difficult to date, attribute, or even classify.

The Origins of the Theology of Arithmetic: Valentinus, Ptolemy, and the Early Valentinians

The Gospel of Truth, a homily dating to the mid-second century, and quite possibly written by Valentinus, exemplifies this original Valentinian impulse. [6] It explores the upper levels of the divinity, explains how error entered the world, and relates how the world found salvation. The central theme of the Gospel of Truth is a knowledge-based path to restoring people to the incomprehensible, inconceivable Father. To analyze the entire text would take us too far afield. [7] But the metaphysics of the Gospel of Truth anticipates the themes that would blossom into the later arithmetical systems. The three primary characters are the Father, the Son/Word, and a special class of beings called ‘aeons,’ collectively called the Pleroma (πλήρωμα). [8] The aeons search after the Father and, failing to find and know him, fall into the error of ignorance and experience a fog of anguish. We ourselves are those aeons, and are still within the Father, whose desire to be known prompts him to send the Savior to open up to the totality of aeons the knowledge of the Father that is already latent within their hearts. Salvation is portrayed as a purifying transformation of multiplicity into unity, matter into fire, darkness into light, and death into life (Nag Hammadi [NH] 1.3:25.3–19). In this drama there thrive other entities or aspects such as the Holy Spirit, Truth, depth, and spaces. Their roles and relationships are rather amorphous, but overall they support this mission of salvation.

In the cosmology of the Gospel of Truth, arithmetic is a subtle and subdued element. The most important arithmetical motif is the transformation of multiplicity into unity, a dominant, guiding principle for the text’s one explicit and colorful use of exegetical number symbolism, that of the number one hundred. In discussing the role of the Savior, the text invokes the metaphor of the good shepherd and the parable of the finding of the lost, hundredth sheep. According to the Gospel of Truth, the Savior rejoices when he finds it, since ninety-nine is a number “held by” the left hand (NH 1.3:31.35–32.16, Matthew 18.12–14, Luke 15.4–7, Gospel of Thomas 107). With the addition of the hundredth, the number passes to the right hand. The lost sheep, then, represents the restoration of a lost unity. The Father is the right hand, which draws in, and therefore perfects, the totality of aeons, represented by the ninety-nine on the left.


Thus Epiphanes sets at the center of his protology a Tetrad, whose aeons correspond closely in name, function, and structure. Monotes and Henotes are a single thing (ἓν οὖσαι), and they “advance without emitting” (προήκαντο, μὴ προέμεναι) Monad, the third aeon. The paradoxical language is intended to combine in a single image the unity and the multiplicity of the highest aeons. The primal Tetrad is both an individual entity and a quartet of unities—a complex unity. The unities relate to each other in a hierarchy and sequence modeled upon their numeric character. Each aeon’s name is some variation on the word ‘one.’ The names follow a pattern, with the root μον- forming the names of the first and third entities, and ἕν- those of the second and fourth. And when identified individually, the odd aeons are called “sources” and the even “powers” (but as a collection they are called “powers” indiscriminately). The Tetrad can be arranged in a square:


Epiphanes’ square protology resembles other popular neo-Pythagorean foursomes, for example the four disciplines of the quadrivium, the four elements (fire, air, water, and earth), and the first four numbers. But Epiphanes is not merely indulging in Pythagorean pop culture. With this he also enters a little-known mathematical and philosophical debate of his time, over the differentiation and definition of terms. In the writings of pre-Hellenistic philosophers such as Plato, the noun μονάς ‘unity’ is not sharply distinguished from the abstraction τὸ ἕν ‘the One’, an adjectival noun. But some time in the Hellenistic period, when new metaphysical levels were being postulated by neo-Pythagoreans, philosophers began to distinguish the two terms to refer to two different levels of reality. By the second century, many of the neo-Pythagoreans were championing the notion that the monad exists on a plane higher than the One, against the opposite tendency to prioritize the One (see Excursus A). Epiphanes adopts the neo-Pythagorean position, by putting Monotes and Monad prior to Henotes and One. And he doubles the pattern, by suggesting that as the Monad is to the One, so the concept of unity (Monotes and Henotes) is to its instantiation (Monad and Hen). This second distinction replicates the common differentiation between numbers and numerable things (see Excursus A), but places it on the highest metaphysical level. Epiphanes was aiming in his system for philosophical coherence. Perhaps behind Irenaeus’ brief report we see a theologian trying to contribute to the philosophy of his day.

The Valentinian Ogdoad

The most common early Valentinian systems are those in which the Pleroma is said to consist of an octet of aeons. Irenaeus discusses many of these systems. A prime example comes from a group who, Irenaeus quips, thought themselves “more prudent” than the Ptolemaeans (Against Heresies 1.12.3). According to Irenaeus, these “more prudent” Valentinians taught that from Forefather (Προπάτωρ) and his Thought (Ἔννοια) emanate all at once six other aeons, thus producing the Ogdoad. The emanation follows a certain sequence (see Figure 1). When the Forefather decided to emit something, it was called Father (Πατήρ, the third aeon). And because it was true, it was also named Truth (Ἀλήθεια, the fourth). Then, when the Forefather wanted to show himself, Human (Ἄνθρωπος, the fifth aeon) was generated; and those whom the Forefather preconceived were named Church (Ἐκκλησία, the sixth). Human then spoke the Word (Λόγος, seventh), and Life (Ζωή, eighth) followed on the heels of Word. This completes the upper Ogdoad.

In this system the existence of an original Dyad—Forefather and Thought—is assumed. The Dyad emits the aeons both outside time (all at once) and in a sequence, one that begins with certain activities of the Forefather and terminates in the fruits of otherness. This Valentinian system explains multiplicity as a function of properties, actions, and naming. New entities emerge whenever Forefather or one of the other aeons acts or exhibits a special property. Those acts become objects, and the reification permits the object to be named. Hence Truth comes about only when it can be named as a property of Father.

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Figure 1. The anonymous “more prudent” Valentinians’ system of the aeons, based on Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.12.3. Male aeons are designated by triangles; females, by circles. (Illustration by author.)

Names are important in this Ogdoad, just as they are in Epiphanes’ Tetrad. They are patterned to reinforce the numerical structure of the aeonic realm. They indicate hierarchy and function. For example, the sequence Forefather → Father → Human → Word follows a descending chain of being, proceeding from that which precedes intelligence and begetting down to that which is the product of intelligence and begetting. The overtones of the names’ meanings (especially on the left side of Figure 1) mark how one level relates to the others. The names also mark gender within each dyad, with masculine terms for the aeons in the odd-numbered positions and feminine for the even-numbered ones. Gendered aeons are essential to many Valentinian protologies. In this Ogdoad, each new dyad is generated by a male aeon above it, seemingly without the participation of its female counterpart. So all action and initiative is the responsibility of the male alone, a treatment of gender and procreation that stresses a monadic chain of generation, to complement and offset its dyadic structure.

A Ptolemaean Protology

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Figure 2. The “more knowledgeable” Ptolemaeans’ system of the aeons, based on Irenaeus Against Hereseis 1.12.1. Male aeons are designed by triangles; females, by circles. (Illustration by author.)

Behind this bewildering account lies a simple pattern, a variation on the standard Valentinian Tetrad. Depth was a common name for the first aeon (the Forefather), and the third aeon was often also called Only Begotten or Mind (not just Father). The Ptolemaeans have added to the Valentinian Tetrad the aeon Will. They have subtly footnoted this modification by calling Will “added later” (ἐπιγενητός), a term that identifies her adventitious role. In contrast, her “sister,” Thought, is called “uncreated” (ἀγένητος), a description more befitting the second aeon of the other Valentinian systems.

The Ptolemaeans’ gender alterations to the Pleroma disturb the equilibrium of the traditional Valentinian theology of arithmetic. None of the powers is given a numerically derived name, and they are not explicitly grouped into Dyads or Tetrads. Their interrelations no longer follow the arithmetical rhythm of pairs found in standard Valentinian Ogdoads. The total number of entities is five, not the expected four. The chiastic generation of the powers adds crisscrossing elements to the traditional horizontal and vertical movements. This complex geometry justifies the special term given to Thought and Will, ‘dispositions,’ which implies spatial order as well as personal behavior.

This system shows that various Valentinian groups experimented with and challenged other models. Perhaps these variations were offered in a spirit of competition, perhaps of collaboration. No matter the motives, stable arithmetical patterns in Valentinian theology were not a given.

The Extended Valentinian System

Many scholars refer to this group as ‘Ptolemaean,’ based on Irenaeus’ promise in the preface to discuss the teaching of the followers of Ptolemy. Some scholars also refer to this as the ‘grand’ or ‘main’ system, based on its length and prominence in Irenaeus’ argument. But these labels slightly overinterpret the text. In the preface, Irenaeus promises to discuss two groups: the followers of Valentinus and those of Ptolemy, the latter merely “insofar as I am able.” Thus the system discussed in chapters 1 through 9 could refer to either group, and Irenaeus (uncharacteristically for book 1) never says which. [23] So it would be hasty to say it is Ptolemaean. And nowhere does he imply that it is the archetype of Valentinianism. True, it is the one Irenaeus discusses at the greatest length, but as we shall see, he considers Marcus to be the apex of Valentinian doctrinal development. The Valentinian Triacontad, for Irenaeus, is a fine specimen of a story that kept bifurcating and changing. [24] Its prominence in Against Heresies is explained partly by the original plan of Book 1, at least in its first draft: to broadcast and refute Valentinian doctrines that were not widely known. [25] Irenaeus also gives it prominence because it was extensively described in the handful of Valentinian writings he had secured so that his claims could be corroborated. Thus to call this the ‘grand system’ reflects our own impressions and the accidents of survival, and so I refer to it here as Irenaeus’ ‘extended’ or ‘first’ system, or merely as the Triacontad.

The complexity of the ideas and Irenaeus’ terseness make this extended system very difficult to understand, even after two or three very slow readings. So here I summarize and streamline the narrative, focusing on the very strong mathematical character of the Triacontad (captured visually in Figure 3).

In this first system the preexistent, transcendent aeon, called Forefather—also called Foresource and Depth—coexists with his consort, Thought—also called Grace and Silence. Depth impregnates Silence, and she brings forth Mind—also called Only Begotten, Father, and Source of All. At the same time Mind is generated, so too is his consort, Truth. Thus, according to Irenaeus, Depth, Silence, Mind, and Truth are the first, original Pythagorean τετρακτύς, what they call “the root of all” (Against Heresies 1.1.1). From this first Tetrad emerges a second: Mind begets Word and his consort Life; Word and Life beget Human and Church. Thus is formed the Ogdoad, “root and foundation of all things.”

Word and Life, after begetting Human and Church, project another five pairs of aeons, called the Decad, given the names Profound and Copulation (Βύθιος, Μῖξις), Ageless and Union (Ἀγήρατος, Ἕνωσις), Self-engendered and Pleasure (Ἀυτοφυής, Ἡδονή), Immovable and Intercourse (Ἀκίνητος, Σύγκρασις), and Only Begotten and Bliss (Μονογενής, Μακαρία; Against Heresies 1.1.2). Human and Church project six pairs of aeons, the Dodecad: Advocate and Faith (Παράκλητος, Πίστις), Paternal and Hope (Πατρικός, Ἐλπίς), Maternal and Love (Μητρικός, Ἀγάπη), Ever-Mindful and Understanding (Ἀείνους, Σύνεσις), Churchly and Blessedness (Ἐκκλησιαστικός, Μακαριότης), and Desired and Wisdom (Θελητός, Σοφία). Thus all the emanations combined—the Pleroma—constitute the Tria-contad, thirty aeons arranged in three groups: Ogdoad, Decad, and Dodecad (Against Heresies 1.1.3; A Valentinian Exposition NH 11.2:22–31; see Figure 3).

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Figure 3. The Valentinian Pleroma recounted in Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.1–9. Male aeons are designated by triangles; females, by circles. Hollow triangles and circles represent the base thirty aeons. Arrows indicate lines of projection. The large hexagon represents Limit, who is assigned six names and is said to be hexagonal. (Illustration by author.)

If this unfurling of the Pleroma is act 1 of the Valentinian drama, act 2 is the fall of Wisdom. The first aeon, the Forefather, is unseen and unfathomable, known only to Only Begotten, the third aeon. But Wisdom, the last of the thirty aeons, experiences a desire (in the absence of her male consort, ironically named Desired), a desire that spurs her to seek after and contemplate the Forefather. In her journey into the vastness and inscrutability of the Father, Wisdom is nearly annihilated by the Father’s sweetness, and she falls from the company of the Pleroma. She finds herself unable to return (Against Heresies 1.2.1–3).

The Valentinian story enters act 3, a discussion of how the Savior enters the fallen world, to make a path of salvation, not just for Wisdom, but for the world she begat. Details of this part of the story are too complex and off-topic for a full summary. But it is worth noting some of the arithmetical patterns, because the world outside the Pleroma is also mathematically arranged.

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Figure 4. The Valentinian emanation of the lower realms, according to Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.1–9. Broken lines indicate activity; solid arrows, generation. The three bands indicate the tripartition of the world outside the Pleroma. (Illustration by author.)

The prologue of the Gospel of John mentions the upper Ogdoad, according to the Valentinians. They argue that John, intending to discuss the generation of all that exists, at verses 1 and 2 distinguishes God from the Beginning and from the Word (Against Heresies 1.8.5). That is, “In the Beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” mentions the first three male aeons, the term ‘Beginning’ (ἀρχή) here being shorthand for the Source of All (Ἀρχὴ τῶν πάντων), one of Mind’s alternate names. The same verses show how one is the projection of the other and how they follow a specific sequence. Verse 4—“in him was Life”—introduces Life, the consort of Word. A phrase in the same verse, “the life was the light of men,” alludes through ‘men’ to Human and Church, insofar as ‘men’ (ἀνθρώπων), being plural, must refer to someone other than the singular figure Human. Thus, the entire second Tetrad—Word and Life, Human and Church—is referred to. The first Tetrad is discussed in verse fourteen—“we beheld his glory, glory as of the Only Begotten from the Father, full of Grace and Truth”—where Father, Grace, Only Begotten, and Truth are all mentioned. So John “has clearly indicated” the structure of the two Tetrads in the prologue of his gospel. The lower ogdoad, that of Akhamoth, is represented in the Bible too, most especially in the prophetess Anna, who lived for seven years with her husband, then alone afterward (Luke 2.36–38; Against Heresies 1.8.4). Likewise, the Tetrads and the Ogdoad are indicated in Genesis 1.1, where Moses refers to them with the terms ‘God,’ ‘beginning,’ ‘heaven,’ and ‘earth’ (Against Heresies 1.18.1). The second Tetrad, the offspring of the first, Moses refers to soon after with the terms ‘abyss,’ ‘darkness,’ ‘water,’ and ‘spirit.’ And in honor of the Tetrad, the sun was made on the fourth day, the tabernacle was made of four things, and the stones on the high priest’s robe were arranged in four rows (Genesis 1.14–19; Exodus 26.1, 28.17). According to some Valentinians, man was fashioned on the eighth day (not the sixth, as other Valentinians held, in agreement with Genesis), because of the Ogdoad (Against Heresies 1.18.2). The Ogdoad is clearly declared also by Noah’s ark, which carried eight people, by David’s rank as the eighth brother, and by circumcision on the eighth day (Genesis 7.7; 1 Peter 3.20; 1 Samuel 16.10–11; Genesis 17.12; Against Heresies 1.18.3).

The Decad is also mentioned in Scripture, namely in the iota, the letter used for the numeral 10: at Matthew 5.18, Jesus promises that not one iota will fall away from the law before all is fulfilled (Against Heresies 1.3.2). The iota as a theological symbol for ten is common throughout early Christianity, as will become evident in later chapters. [42] Here Jesus’ very name, Ἰησοῦς, encodes this symbol, denoting the Decad and Ogdoad together in the first two letters, ιη, the Greek numeral for 18 and the standard early Christian nomen sacrum. [43] The Decad is proclaimed also in Genesis 1.3–11, in the creation account, where one finds the ten terms ‘light,’ ‘day,’ ‘night,’ ‘firmament,’ ‘evening,’ ‘morning,’ ‘dry,’ ‘sea,’ ‘plant,’ and ‘wood,’ in that order (Against Heresies 1.18.1). [44] Throughout Genesis the Decad is alluded to in numerous passages: the ten nations whose territory God promised to the Hebrews, Sarah’s giving her slave to Abraham after ten years, Abraham’s servant giving ten golden bracelets to Rebecca, Rebecca’s delay for ten days, and the ten sons of Jacob who go to Egypt to buy grain (Against Heresies 1.18.3). Elsewhere in the Old Testament, Jeroboam assumes the rule over the ten tribes, the Tabernacle has ten courtyards, and the gates measure ten cubits, all symbols of the Decad. And after the Lord’s Resurrection, he reveals himself to the ten disciples (Thomas in absentia) who were hidden, just as the Decad is unseen. [45]

Throughout their exegesis, Valentinians say the Scriptures “reveal” (μη-νύειν), “make clear” (δηλοῦν), or “point out” (ἐπιδείκνυσθαι) the arithmetic of the Pleroma. Such language might tempt us to think that the Valentinians regarded the Bible as the foundation of their system. But this is to read into the sources a quasi-Protestantism. To the Valentinians, the Scriptures have hidden meaning that can be unlocked to reveal the numerical structures of the Pleroma. The Bible shows these things “clearly”—the Valentinians frequently use σαφῶς in their exegesis—not because the structures of the cosmos and Pleroma are clear and apparent for all to see, but for the opposite reason. Allusions to or teachings about them in Scripture are hidden and need to be made manifest. That manifestation can be made only to those capable of understanding, namely, to initiates in their inner circle (see e.g. Against Heresies 1.pref.2, 1.21.1). To the Valentinians, any knowledge of the aeons of the Pleroma is hidden from everyone in the lower realms—particularly from the Demiurge and his acts of creation (e.g. Against Heresies 1.20). Thus the Valentinians claim not that the Scriptures are the source or the basis of their doctrines, but that the doctrines and the knowledge of them explain and unlock the Scriptures.

Mathematics, Metaphor, and Metaphysics

In their protology and their Bible interpretation, the Valentinians developed a number symbolism that was neither haphazard nor capricious. It drew from the mathematics, philosophy, and mythology of their culture, and it was deployed to shape that same cultural terrain. On one level it resembles lowbrow, pop mysticism, but a closer examination shows that the Valentinians used subtle terms and concepts to signal to the cultural elite that they wanted to engage with them in science and philosophy.

Number symbolism could also be used to augment their myth of salvation. This is especially evident in Irenaeus’ extended system. There the number four is applied to the upper realm, but only infrequently to the lower one, and always as a symbol of intervention and salvation. In the one counterexample, the Savior-like figure called the Lord is said to take on a fourfold character, in imitation of the Tetrad. But this makes him an oddity in a world where the nature of humans is threefold. In this adaptation of the Platonic tradition, which taught that the soul was tripartite, the trifold human nature is a microcosm of the fallen universe. [65] And that fallen realm is everywhere divided in threes. Three kinds of offspring emerge from Wisdom’s Resolution-Akhamoth, and they result in spiritual, soulish, and material substance. This tripartition leads to humanity’s falling into three classes: the elect, the Church, and those without hope of salvation. The boundaries between these three classes of people were well defined liturgically, through baptism and a special sacrament the Valentinians called redemption (Against Heresies 1.21.2). [66] The three human categories correspond to Seth (spiritual and receptive of the seed of salvation), Abel (soulish and not receptive of that seed), and Cain (earthly, material, and wicked; Against Heresies 1.5.1, 1.6.1, 1.7.5). Even the material world, which in the ancient world was normally divided into four elements, is tripartitioned, with fire intermixed with water, air, and earth (Against Heresies 1.5.4). [67] The three elements are the direct result of the three passions of the Mother Akhamoth: fear, pain, and perplexity. Threes belong to the Fall. [68]

But other Valentinians, not so highly principled in using number symbolism to mark the two halves of the universe, appealed wherever possible to the order of the material world to corroborate their notions of the Pleroma, even if it brought the lower and upper realms together. According to Against Heresies 1.18.1, some Valentinians said that the Tetrad, Ogdoad, Decad, and Dodecad are enshrined in the human body: the four senses (touch is omitted), the eight receptacles of those senses, the ten fingers, and the twelve innards. [69] Others argued that the four elements—fire, water, earth, and air—are all projected, and so are an image of the first Tetrad. Along with a derivative, second Tetrad—the energies of these elements: heat and cold, dry and wet—the four natural elements encode the Ogdoad (Against Heresies 1.17.1). To these same Valentinians the Decad is indicated by seven circular bodies, an eighth heaven encircling them, and the sun and moon. [70] The zodiac indicates the Dodecad. [71] And since the highest heaven is “yoked against” the orbit of the totalities, it goes from one portion of a sign to the next every thirty years. [72] The motion of the heavens is an icon of Limit, which encloses the Triacontad. Other Valentinian parallels to the natural world are numerous: the moon’s circuit is thirty days; that of the sun, twelve months; the day is divided into twelve hours; each twelfth part of a full day is further divided into thirty parts; and the earth is divided into twelve zones.

The Valentinians’ appeal to the natural world and Scripture as repositories of the symbols of the Pleroma resembles similar comparisons by Philo and Plutarch, who identify in texts and the material world patterns that reciprocate their favored number symbols. But the Valentinians moved well beyond this occasional use, and pioneered a single, extended cosmology, a symbolic center of the universe that could bring mathematics, science, and Pythagorean lore within its orbit.

Monism versus Dualism

Valentinian theology pushed the boundaries not only of Pythagorean number symbolism but of middle Platonist and Pythagorean metaphysics. Valentinians took up the two major philosophical positions—both traditional Platonist dualism and the newly emergent Pythagorean monism. They took sides, or attempted new syntheses and explanations. Although they were not philosophers, the Valen-tinians interacted with the philosophical models of their day, and they advanced perspectives that proved to be influential, if only in method.

Thus Hippolytus’ Valentinians exhibit two critical differences from Irenae-us’ extended Valentinian system: First, the Monad has no consort: the Dyad emerges separately from and subordinate to the Monad. Second, Wisdom’s fall occurs not because she desires to know the Monad, but because she tries to replicate his solitude. She tries, essentially, to become a Monad. Both these differences are central to Hippolytus’ contention that there were two kinds of Valentinians: monists and dualists.

But this contention was a gross simplification, and being a careful reader of Irenaeus, Hippolytus should have known so. At Against Heresies 1.11.5, after discussing an anonymous Valentinian system, Irenaeus outlines three types of monadic or dyadic Valentinianism, revolving around the original state of the first aeon, Depth: (1) Depth is without consort since he is neither male nor female, nor even altogether subject to existence; (2) Depth is androgynous, encompassing in himself the nature of a hermaphrodite; (3) Depth has Silence as a bedfellow (συνευνέτις), and the two constitute the first syzygy. The three positions are incompatible, and fall along a spectrum ranging from monadic to dyadic. The first position, which claims for the Monad utter solitude, resembles Hippolytus’ system. Irenaeus’ extended Valentinian system, which emphasizes the paratactic relationship between Depth and Silence, falls in the third, dyadic position. The second position is a middle ground, envisioning Depth as bi-sexual, its own consort. It promotes a vision of the Monad as being intrinsically dyadic. To these Irenaeus adds a fourth position when he moves on to the Ptolemaeans (discussed above), who taught that Depth has two consorts. Overall, Irenaeus is sensitive to the Valentinians’ wide variety of protological models, which he takes as evidence of their incoherence and inconsistency.

Unfortunately, many modern presentations of Valentinianism, despite occasional dissent, follow Hippolytus’ oversimplification, dividing the school and its texts into only two camps, monadic versus dyadic. [83] To be sensitive to the complexity of the positions is essential for understanding how the Valentinian treatises intended to interact with the philosophy of their day. Take the Tripartite Tractate, written probably in the late third century, but based on earlier material. [84] This metaphysical treatise describes the origins of the universe, presented from the top down, and unfolds its story in three stages: the origin of the Father, Son, and aeonic realm; the creation of the material world; and its redemption. The system begins with a preexistent, single Father, unbegotten, uncrea-ted, unchangeable, and immovable. He has neither consort nor coworker, and he creates or begets without any primordial forms, separate material, or internal substance—those who hold to such views are ignorant (a swipe against Platonists and other Valentinians; NH 1.5:53.21–39). With him is the firstborn, only begotten Son, existent from the beginning. The Church—called the “aeon of the aeons”—comes forth from the Father and the Son like kisses, and from there come the aeons, who reside within the Father like a seed or fetus. The Pleroma of aeons undergoes a process of individualization through glorification, and they settle into three levels of glory in the Pleroma (NH 1.5:69). Although the Pleroma is tripartitioned, there is no suggestion of any further organization into Dyads, Tetrads, and so forth. There are, in fact, neither gendered pairs nor genders. Gendered differentiation is the consequence of the fall of the errant aeon, femininity being a sickness and a deviation from the norms of masculinity (NH 1.5:78.11–13, 94.17–18).

So the Pleroma is rather simple, consisting merely of Father, Son, and Church, the last two eternal and latent within the Father. This may suggest that this form of Valentinianism is quite primitive, like that found in the Gospel of Truth. But arithmetic and numerical unity are essential to the description of relationship between the monadic figure (the Father) and the rest of the Pleroma. In the preface, the Father is at first said to be “like a number” (ⲈϤⲞⲘ̅ⲠⲢⲎⲦⲈⲚ̅ⲚⲞⲨⲎⲠⲈ; NH 1.5:51.9–10), but is then immediately said to be unlike a “one” or “solitary individual” (ⲈϤⲞ̆ Ⲙ̅ⲠⲢⲎⲦⲈⲚ̅ⲞⲨⲈⲈⲒⲞⲨⲀⲈⲈⲦϤ̅ ⲈⲚ’; NH 1.5:51.11–12). [85] The apparent contradiction is resolved in the role of the Son, whose eternal presence with the Father makes it impossible to speak of the Father only as one. Nevertheless, the Father is singular. The Father’s unity is always shared with the Son, who preexists eternally with the Father (NH 1.5:51.12–15, 16, 24; 57.33–59.1). The Son is to the Father “the form of the formless, the body of the bodiless, the face of the invisible, the word of [the] unutterable, the mind of the inconceivable” (NH 1.5:66.13–16; trans. Attridge and Mueller). The Son projects from the Father, “the one who stretches himself out,” the term “stretching” being a common philosophical term to describe the monad’s departing from itself to become a dyad (NH 1.5:56.2–3, 16–17; 65.4–5; 66.6–7). [86]

The Tripartite Tractate is monadic, but it does not exhibit the pure monism found in Hippolytus’ system, which emphasizes the absolute solitude and monarchy of the Monad. Although in the Tripartite Tractate the Father also has no consort, he is perpetually filled with his offspring, both the Son and the aeons that compose the Church, earning him the epithet ‘the Entireties’ (πληρώματα). The Father is an incomprehensible plenitude of goodness. The Son and the Church exist from eternity in the thoughts of the Father, which are externalized, like sprouting seeds. The process is not one from nonexistence to existence, as would be expected in a purely monadic system, but of interior latency to external individualization. The Tripartite Tractate avoids metaphors of gender, marriage, and procreation, and restricts itself to an eternal hierarchical Father–Son relationship. It thus offers an unusual type of monism, one that makes plurality an essential, eternal condition of the Monad, something similar to Irenaeus’ second of three positions regarding Depth.

Sometimes a monistic universe could have pronounced elements not just of pluralism but of dualism. An example is the system of the Barbelo-Gnostics, a group related to the Valentinians (Against Heresies 1.29.1–4). [87] According to Irenaeus and Theodoret, they held that the uppermost aeon, the unnameable Father, dwelt within the second one, the virginal spirit called Barbelo. [88] But neither apologist further explains the relationship between the two uppermost aeons. Their testimony on its own would imply a dyadic system. But the Apocryphon of John, a Barbelo-Gnostic text that survives independent of the apologists, with its very similar account of the aeonic realm, shows that the system begins with the absolute solitary monarchy of the Monad, frequently called the invisible Spirit. Two pages are devoted to describing its transcendent properties (NH 2.1:2.26–4.26). All things exist in him, and he in nothing else. He is radiant, perfect light, and in that light appears a reflection that becomes the first power, Barbelo. She is his first thought and becomes the womb for all other aeons. But she emerges at a specific stage in the solitary life of the Monad, the invisible Spirit. Although called Father and given the pronoun “he,” the invisible Spirit is not otherwise described in terms of gender. He is called virginal, not because he abstains from conjugal relations (Barbelo conceives by him at NH 2.1:6.12–13), but most likely because he transcends gender, just as he transcends all his other predicates. By contrast, Barbelo is androgynous, is called “Mother-Father” and “Thrice-Male,” despite her feminine persona and pronoun. So even though Barbelo and the invisible Spirit form a kind of pair, the conjugal aspect is downplayed. One is ungendered and the other bi-sexual. At its core the system is monadic, but because the myth is intended to explain the emergence of multiplicity, it retains a strong dyadic flavor, evident especially in the reports by Irenaeus and Theodoret.

The converse construction was also possible, as some Valentinian systems that were primarily dyadic had a monadic dimension. In his summary of the system of pseudo-Valentinus (Against Heresies 1.11.1), Irenaeus presents what seems to be an obviously dyadic version of the Triacontad. Yet that same system introduces two Limits, one encompassing the Pleroma, the other separating the ineffable one, Depth, from his consort and all other aeons. That is, by distinguishing the ungenerated aeon from all other, generated aeons, the first limit preserves a monadic quality in the Pleroma. Another Nag Hammadi text, A Valentinian Exposition, also offers a form of dyadic Valentinianism with monadic elements. Previous commentators and editors have treated the text as being primarily monadic, but there are no good reasons to do so (see Excursus C). In fact, A Valentinian Exposition describes a Pleroma that is nearly identical to the Triacontad of Irenaeus’ extended system. The Father has a companion, Silence, and they form a dyad. Yet the Father exists monadically, a special solitude he enjoys within his dyadic condition. He dwells in the Monad, Dyad, and Tetrad, and this Tetrad generates the next Tetrad to produce the Ogdoad, although it is not explicitly named so in the extant text (NH 11.2:25.19–20). The third and fourth syzygies—Word and Life, and Human and Church—generate the Decad and Dodecad, respectively (NH 11.2:30.16–19), thereby generating the Triacontad.

Of the two ideals, monism, a gift of the neo-Pythagoreans, exercised a powerful (but not irresistible) attraction on the Valentinians. The latter, like the former, as Einar Thomassen has noted, employ technical terms of “extension” and “spreading out” to describe theories of how the Monad emerges into multiplicity. [91] For both groups this indefinite expansion is typical of a dyadic entity. The Monad, on the other hand, is characterized by limit and definition. [92] The parallels between the two groups concerning the uppermost unity and multiplicity extend also to the lower world. Sophia in Irenaeus’ extended Valentinian system commits an act of audacity that results in separation, otherness, alienation, and the engendering of the corporeal world, a drama that coincides with both of Moderatus’ systems. [93] That audacity occurs well after the emergence of the Dyad, just as it does in Moderatus’ system. Thus the activities described in classical Valentinianism, rooted in the definition of number as progression, resonate with those of the neo-Pythagoreans. The monadic–dyadic tensions in Valentinianism echo the ambiguities and paradoxes seen in the contrast between the neo-Pythagorean systems discussed by Eudorus and Moderatus and the broader Platonist legacy. If there is any discernible departure from the neo-Pythagoreans, it is in the regular concern that plurality still needed to be explained and somehow linked to the prime mover. Valentinian theology crisscrosses to and from the one and the many.

Like Philo and Plutarch, the Valentinians used numbers to interpret texts and the world so as to illustrate religious truth. But whereas the first two were intent on illuminating tradition-based cults that were familiar to the public, the Valentinians were intent on explicating a private revelation within the Christian tradition—itself on the periphery of second-century Greco-Roman society. The Valentinians drew from competing metaphysical accounts offered by the neo-Pythagoreans and the Platonists, infused into these systems new arithmetical patterns and insights, and put their multiple levels of reality into story form. Christian concepts and entities played an important part, too, but the Valentinians chose to include them as parts of a larger mathematical universe. In one sense, Hippolytus was correct: intellectually, they were at heart Pythagoreans. But that Pythagoreanism was a literary tissue, not a community, an intellectual skin that the Valentinians stretched and altered as much as they depended upon it. With Marcus, as we shall see, that skin only grew.


[ back ] 1. “Barnabas” Epistle 9.7–9. On second-century Christian and Jewish exegeses of Genesis 14.14 see Ferguson 1990, Hvalvik 1987, Lieberman 1987:168n47, and Gevirtz 1969.

[ back ] 2. Desjardins 1986. Five texts are certainly or very probably Valentinian: The Tripartite Tractate (Nag Hammadi [NH] 1.5), The Gospel of Philip (NH 2.3), The (First) Apocalypse of James (NH 5.3), The Interpretation of Knowledge (NH 11.1), and A Valentinian Exposition (NH 11.2). Two texts are possibly Valentinian: The Gospel of Truth (NH 1.3/12.2) and The Treatise on the Resurrection (NH 1.4). Thomassen argues for this classification (1995:244). See also Thomassen 1994–1995.

[ back ] 3. The principal texts concerning Valentinus: Irenaeus Against Heresies 3.4.3; Epiphanius Panarion 31.2.3; Tertullian Against the Valentinians 4.1; and Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho 35.6. See also Thomassen 2006:417–422.

[ back ] 4. A following is attested in 155 (Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho 35.6: οἱ δὲ Οὐαλεντινιανοί). The term ‘Valentinian’ is used by the orthodox heresiologists, not by the Valentinians themselves, at least in the texts that remain. Thomassen regards the term as pejorative, and therefore sets it in quotes (2006:4). But in antiquity one person’s slur could be another’s honor. As noted below, Irenaeus associated the Valentinians with Pythagoreanism and meant it to be an insult, but they embraced the association. So maybe they called themselves Valentinians, too. In any case the term ‘Valentinian’ remains useful, and need not be colored by Irenaeus’ polemic.

[ back ] 5. Like Tertullian, scholars were generally skeptical that Valentinus had anything to do with Valentinian doctrines. But Sagnard, who tried to connect the teacher to his tradition, shaped scholars’ attitudes in the later twentieth century (Sagnard 1947). See Stead 1980:75–76. For arguments for reverting to the traditional view, see Markschies 1992 and TRE 34:495–500, now tempered by Thomassen 2006, esp. 430–490.

[ back ] 6. On the date and authorship, still debated, see Thomassen 2006:146–148.

[ back ] 7. See the insightful summary and analysis in Thomassen 2006, chap. 17.

[ back ] 8. The specialized term ‘aeons,’ used throughout Valentinian and gnosticizing literature, applies to emanations from the Father/Monad, sometimes in concert with the Dyad. The identity and function of these aeons are ambiguous. On the one hand, aeons are individuals, participants in the cosmological drama. They have volition, duties, and the capacity to act independently. On the other hand, they are abstractions. Their harmonic interdependence is treated as essential to the well-being of the universe. Their names (see below) give clues as to what they symbolize within the larger philosophical structure. They are also sometimes called powers (δυνάμεις), roots (ῥίζαι), or sources (ἀρχαί). As powers, they act with force and resolve. As roots, they can sprout new life. As sources, they form the spatiotemporal foundations for subsequent entities. As aeons (αἰῶνες), they rule over timeless epochs.

[ back ] 9. This interpretation of the Good Shepherd was popular in early Christianity, among both orthodox and heterodox, and may go back to the first century. See Jerome Letter 48.2, Bovon 2009:32, and Williams and Williams 1995 and extensive references and studies cited there, to which should be added the finger calculus of Marcus, discussed in the next chapter.

[ back ] 10. Tertullian Against the Valentinians 4.2, 5.1. His knowing the difference between master and disciples explains why Tertullian doesn’t call his treatise Against Valentinus.

[ back ] 11. The letter is preserved by Epiphanius Panarion 33.3.1–33.7.10. For a convenient English translation see Layton 1987:308–315.

[ back ] 12. Epiphanius Panarion 33.4.1–2, 14.

[ back ] 13. Epiphanius Panarion 33.7.3–4.

[ back ] 14. Epiphanius Panarion 33.4.2, 14; 33.5; 33.6.1–5.

[ back ] 15. On perfect numbers see n. 78 below. Ptolemy’s observation parallels Heracleon’s. See pp. 132–133 below.

[ back ] 16. Epiphanius Panarion 33.7.9.

[ back ] 17. Epiphanius Panarion 32.5, dependent wholly upon Irenaeus’ account (as is Hippolytus’ Refutation of All Heresies 6.38.2–3). Over these next two chapters the reader may find it helpful to have on hand Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, Book 1. Text (Latin and Greek fragments): Rousseau et al. 1965–1982. Translations: Unger and Dillon 1992 is preferable to the ANF translation.

[ back ] 18. The other, simpler Valentinian ogdoads, in order of increasing complexity, are: (1) that of Secundus, who says that there is a right Tetrad and a left Tetrad, corresponding to light and darkness (Against Heresies 1.11.2, reported also by Epiphanius [Panarion 32.1] and Hippolytus [Refutation of All Heresies 6.38.1]); (2) an anonymous system in which the “male” aeons are generated first, then the “female” (the names used are nongendered and highly abstract, focusing on perception; Against Heresies 1.11.5, these too are reported by Epiphanius [Panarion 32.7] and Hippolytus [Refutation of All Heresies 6.38.3–4]); (3) the Barbelo-Gnostics (a group perhaps only influenced by the Valentinians), whose Ogdoad both comes from a preexisting pair (Barbelo and Father) and generates a little ogdoad of its own (among other entities; Against Heresies 1.29.1–4, recounted in Theodoret Compendium of Heretical Fables 1.13 and various versions of the Apocryphon of John); and (4) systems (discussed below) of thirty aeons, which build upon a core Ogdoad. For a full analysis of the differences, see Thomassen 2006, chap. 20.

[ back ] 19. Οἱ δὲ περὶ τὸν Πτολεμαῖον ἐμπειρότεροι. Also reported in truncated fashion by Hippolytus: Refutation of All Heresies 6.38.5–7. Irenaeus’ comment can be read in two ways: either that one Ptolemaean group was smarter than the rest, or that all the Ptolemaeans were smarter than the other Valentinians.

[ back ] 20. Dispositions: διαθέσεις, a special Ptolemaean term suggesting the arrangement or state of Depth and reserved for the second and third powers.

[ back ] 21. Thomassen argues that Irenaeus, not the Ptolemaeans, call Thought and Will consorts (σύζυγοι) of Depth (2000:208–209, arguing on the basis of Against Heresies 1.12.2). But this argument assumes that any time Irenaeus associates doctrines of a group with a preceding topic, he invents the connection. This is a possibility, but so is its opposite. Irenaeus claims that the Ptolemaeans “say [Depth] has two consorts, which they also call dispositions.” So Irenaeus states that both ‘consorts’ and ‘dispositions’ are the Ptolemaeans’ words. If we accept that ‘dispositions’ was a Ptolemaean term (as Thomassen does), why not the other too? Further, the Ptolemaeans build upon Valentinian systems that describe Thought/Silence as Depth’s consort. And to introduce two consorts helps the Ptolemaean effort, evident elsewhere, to subvert the gender patterns of most Valentinian protologies.

[ back ] 22. A Valentinian Exposition, Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.1–9 and 1.11.1, Tertullian Against the Valenti-nians, Hippolytus Refutation of All Heresies 6.29–36, Epiphanius Panarion 31.5–6.

[ back ] 23. Καί, καθὼς δύναμις ἡμῖν, τήν τε γνώμην αὐτῶν τῶν νῦν παραδιδασκόντων, λέγω δὴ τῶν περὶ Πτολεμαῖον, ἀπάνθισμα οὖσαν τῆς Οὐαλεντίνου σχολῆς, συντόμως καὶ σαφῶς ἀπαγγελοῦμεν. Markschies 2000:251; Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.pref.2. Irenaeus’ promise to treat the Ptolemaeans only as far as he was able, Markschies argues, indicates that he could treat them only briefly, namely at Against Heresies 1.12. Thomassen 2006:18 et passim regards Against Heresies 1.1–9 as Ptolemaean, but he does not deal with Markschies’s arguments, which are in my view more compelling.

[ back ] 24. Irenaeus claims that the Valentinians (1) have a common false doctrine and (2) constantly disagree with each other, each variation being a lie. It is similar in our own day to evolutionist arguments against creationists, that they all (1) share a false doctrine of the origins of the physical world, yet (2) continually change their story on whether Genesis teaches a young earth, an old earth, or some other variant.

[ back ] 25. For the hypothesis that Book 1 was written in two drafts see Kalvesmaki 2007b.

[ back ] 26. A Valentinian Exposition, NH 11.2:30.34–38. See also Irenaeus Against Heresies 2.22.2.

[ back ] 27. In A Valentinian Exposition, the “Root of the All” (i.e. the topmost aeon) goes through three stages of revelation and emanation (NH 11.2:23.32, 26–31), beginning with the 360. It seems puzzling that the 360 would be at the top of the hierarchy. Turner suggests that Mind is the subject, working his way from the bottom of the zodiac, i.e. Silence (1990:154–156). But their interpretation depends upon incorrectly assigning to the monadic Valentinianism of Hippolytus (on which see below) a primary tetrad of Mind–Truth and Word–Life, and it does not explain why Silence and the 360th are to be equated. In other texts from Nag Hammadi the 360 are lower beings: Eugnostos (NH 3.3/5.1) 83.10–20, 84.4–11. Cf. Gospel of Judas 49.12–50.3.

[ back ] 28. See Against the Valentinians 6.1, where Tertullian complains that the gender of the names cannot be replicated in Latin translation. See also Against the Valentinians 11.2.

[ back ] 29. Valentinians differed over the number of powers to assign to Limit. Cf. A Valentinian Exposition, where Limit has four powers: separator (ⲞⲨⲢⲈⲤⲠⲰⲢ̅Ϫ̅), confirmer (ⲞⲨⲢⲈⲤⲦⲀϪⲢⲞ), form-provider (ⲞⲨⲢⲈⲤ [Ϯ Ⲙ]ⲞⲢⲪ̣Ⲏ), and substance producer (ⲞⲨⲢⲈⲤϪⲠⲈⲞⲨⲤⲒⲀ; NH 11.2:26.31, 27.31–33). On this see Turner 1990:99–101, 158–159, and Thomassen 2006:238–240. Thomassen opposes the “they” of 27.34 (assigning to Limit two powers) to the “others” of 27.33 (assigning to Limit four powers), and so treats the Exposition as incorporating two contradictory protologies. But I regard the “they” and “others” as identical. Thus, the “for” (Ⲛ̅ⲄⲀⲢ) of 27.34 stresses the explanation of, and not the doubt behind, the “why” ([ⲈⲦ]Ⲃ̣ⲈⲈⲨ) of 27.30. The text at 27.34–38 explains how the first two powers function in Limit, and the last two powers would have been explained on the next folio (28), where there is now a large lacuna. The passive verb also fits and reduces the contrast (Timbie’s observation).

[ back ] 30. ἀποθέσθαι τήν προτέραν ἐνθύμησιν, σύν τῷ ἐπιγινομένῳ πάθει ἐκ τοῦ ἐκπλῆκτου ἐκείνου θαύματος. Passion (πάθος) may be an aeon too, although Rousseau and Doutreleau do not capitalize it here in their edition. See Irenaeus’ critique at 2.20.5 and my discussion below, p. 112.

[ back ] 31. This alludes to the common belief that in all offspring the male provided the form, the woman the matter. See e.g. Aristotle On the Generation of Animals and Plutarch Isis and Osiris 53–54 (372e–373a). The notion was common in Pythagorean and Platonist theology of the time. See Thomassen 2006:270–291.

[ back ] 32. Stead (1969:79) notes that the generation of Christ and the Holy Spirit produce a Pleroma of 32, not 30, aeons, which suggests that Irenaeus is introducing into a dyadic Valentinian system elements of a monadic one. The inconcinnity is noteworthy, but recourse to the monadic/dyadic dichotomy cannot resolve the difficulty. See pp. 52–58 below.

[ back ] 33. This account parallels the Tripartite Tractate, where the fallen aeon (called Word, not Sophia) begets three orders of beings in all. The first two, the psychic and the material, are placed in antithesis, are given opposing epithets, and are said to represent the difference between the Jews and the Greeks (NH 1.5:98.12–20, 109.24–113.1). The third, the spiritual, comes at the advent of the Savior, replicating the joy of the Pleroma and corresponding to humans of a spiritual nature (NH 1.5:93.14–95.38).

[ back ] 34. ἀποσῴζουσαν τὸν ἀριθμὸν τῆς ἀρχεγόνου καὶ πρώτης τοῦ Πληρώματος Ὀγδοάδος. See also Against Heresies 1.3.5, 1.4.1. The same sentiment seems to underlie the Valentinian notion preserved in Clement of Alexandria Epitomes 47.1, where Proverbs 9.1 (“Wisdom has built for herself a house and has established seven pillars”) is taken to refer to Wisdom and the Demiurge. For other references to the Demiurge as the Hebdomad see A Valentinian Exposition (NH 11.2:37.12–15); Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.5.2, 1.14.6; Hippolytus Refutation of All Heresies 6.32.7.

[ back ] 35. Cf. Treatise on the Resurrection NH 1.4:45.40–46.2 and n. 33 above. In the Tripartite Tractate, each tripartitioned part of the material world is assigned a principal vice: arrogance, lust for power, and envy (NH 1.5:103.13–36).

[ back ] 36. Not all Valentinians tinkered with the canonical four elements. In the Gospel of Philip, the four elements—earth, water, wind, and light—are matched with the four virtues faith, hope, love, and knowledge (NH 2.3:79.18–30). Here the sequence of the four material elements from dense to rarified provides both a corresponding hierarchy of the virtues and a subtly gnosticizing addendum to Paul, that although love may be greater than faith and hope (1 Corinthians 13.13), knowledge trumps them all. Further, in A Valentinian Exposition’s story of Wisdom, the “Tetrad of the world”—presumably referring to the four elements fire, water, earth, and air—is said to “bring forth fruit,” in imitation of the Pleroma, or Demiurge (NH 11.2:37.12–15). On the earthly Tetrad see Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.17.1, 1.18.1.

[ back ] 37. In the Tripartite Tractate, the three elements spirit, soul, and material are mixed to form the first human, who was accordingly given three (not two: cf. Genesis 2.9) trees to eat from in the garden of paradise (NH 1.5:106.18–31). So all humanity is separated into three categories: spiritual, psychic, or material, in imitation of the Word (i.e. fallen Wisdom), who brought forth these three classes of beings (NH 1.5:118.14–23). For other threesomes in the Tripartite Tractate see Attridge and Pagels 1985:23.400–401.

[ back ] 38. Dispensation: οἰκονομία, a term used by the orthodox to describe the Incarnation of God the Word.

[ back ] 39. The fourfold model is clarified through Tertullian’s interpretation: Against the Valentinians 27.2. Irenaeus’ “ineffable” dispensation Tertullian takes to be the bodily aspect, and Tertullian turns Irenaeus’ ἐκ τοῦ Σωτῆρος into Sotericiana, i.e. the (higher, aeonic) nature of the Savior.

[ back ] 40. Four sections of Book 1 are devoted to Valentinian exegesis (Against Heresies 1.1.3, 1.3, 1.8.2–5, and 1.18). The first three come from Irenaeus’ first Valentinian group. The fourth, however, comes after Irenaeus’ discussion of Marcus, and it summarizes features that apply to Valentinians generally. Strictly speaking, the exegesis reported in chapter 18 does not belong to the extended Valentinian system. But it is quite compatible, so I synthesize here all four sections, which share the same patterns of scriptural exegesis. It all likely comes from a single anthology of Valentinian interpretations. See p. 114n20 below.

[ back ] 41. ταῦτα δὲ φανερῶς μὲν μὴ εἰρῆσθαι διὰ τὸ μὴ πάντας χωρεῖν τὴν γνῶσιν αὐτῶν, μυστηριωδῶς δὲ ὑπὸ τοῦ Σωτῆρος διὰ παραβολῶν μεμηνῦσθαι τοῖς συνιεῖν δυναμένοις οὕτως·

[ back ] 42. See pp. 76, 118, 131 below.

[ back ] 43. See Hurtado 1998 for the intriguing suggestion that the nomina sacra emerged because of the number symbolism latent in the contractions or abbreviations. I owe this reference to Michael Grondin.

[ back ] 44. See also pp. 128–129 below.

[ back ] 45. Genesis 15.19–21 (here relying upon the Hebrew: the LXX lists eleven nations), 16.2–3, 24.22, 24.55, 42.3; 1 Kings 11.31; Exodus 26.1, 26.16; John 20.19–24.

[ back ] 46. Luke 2.42–46; Matthew 10.2; Luke 6.13. See also Clement of Alexandria Epitomes 25.2.

[ back ] 47. Matthew 9.20; Luke 8.44, 8.41–42; Genesis 1.14–16, 1.21, 1.20, 1.24, 1.26. Unlike the exegesis of the Decad (see above), this does not follow the order given in Genesis. Also, ἥλιος, σελήνη, and ἰχθύες do not appear in Genesis 1 LXX, and must be inferred. In contrast, the Valentinian decad of creation closely follows the wording of Genesis 1.3–11 LXX.

[ back ] 48. Genesis 35.22–26, 49.28; Exodus 28.21, 36.21. The twelve bells are not mentioned in the Bible. See, however, Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho 42.1 and the comments of Rousseau et al. 1965–1982:262.

[ back ] 49. Exodus 24.4; Joshua 4.9, 4.20, 3.12; 1 Kings 18.31.

[ back ] 50. Genesis 6.15; 1 Samuel 9.22 (following the Hebrew: LXX has seventy elect); 1 Samuel 20 (but inexactly: three days in both Hebrew and Greek; the Valentinian exegete may have extrapolated thirty from three); 2 Samuel 23.13 (somewhat loosely: three of thirty came to David, in both LXX and Hebrew); Exodus 26.8.

[ back ] 51. Matthew 13.33; Luke 13.20–21; 1 Corinthians 2.14–15, 15.48.

[ back ] 52. Ἔστι δὲ ἀριθμός, ὡς τύπῳ εἰπεῖν, σύστημα μονάδων, ἢ προποδισμός πλήθους ἀπὸ μονάδος ἀρχόμενος καὶ ἀναποδισμὸς εἰς μονάδα καταλήγων; following Stobaeus Eclogae (Wachsmuth and Hense 1884:1.8). Compare the definitions of Nicomachus, who flourished shortly after Modera-tus: “Number is a defined multitude, or a collection of monads, or a flow of quantity composed of monads”: ἀριθμός ἐστι πλῆθος ὡρισμένον ἢ μονάδων σύστημα ἢ ποσότητος χύμα ἐκ μονάδων συγκείμενον. Introduction to Arithmetic 1.7.1.

[ back ] 53. Aristotle Metaphysics 1088a4–8: σημαίνει γὰρ τὸ ἓν ὅτι μέτρον [5] πλήθους τινός, καὶ ὁ ἀριθμὸς ὅτι πλῆθος μεμετρημένον καὶ πλῆθος μέτρων (διὸ καὶ εὐλόγως οὐκ ἔστι τὸ ἓν ἀριθμός: οὐδὲ γὰρ τὸ μέτρον μέτρα, ἀλλ ᾽ ἀρχὴ καὶ τὸ μέτρον καὶ τὸ ἕν). See also Metaphysics N1.1–2, esp. 1087b33–1088a14. See also Annas 1976:36–39.

[ back ] 54. Burkert 1972:165–166 and Annas 1976:39. The notion can be appreciated in light of certain uses of ‘number’ in English that preclude singularity, e.g. “she has a number of friends.”

[ back ] 55. Book 7, defs. 1–2: “A monad is that by which each existent thing is called one. Number is a multitude composed of monads”: Μονάς ἐστιν, καθ’ ἣν ἕκαστον τῶν ὄντων ἓν λέγεται. Ἀριθμὸς δὲ τὸ ἐκ μονάδων συγκείμενον πλῆθος.

[ back ] 56. Aristotle Metaphysics A6 987b29–988a1; N3–4, 1091a13–29; Burkert 1972:22; Annas 1976:43. For a vivid application of this definition of number see Plato Parmenides 143c–144a.

[ back ] 57. Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.11.1.

[ back ] 58. Expressed as formulas, the three progressions are x, x + n, x + 2n; x, nx, n2x; and x, 2xy/(x + y), y (alternatively: x, x + n, x[x + n]/[x – n]).

[ back ] 59. Numerous sources from classical through late antiquity attest to the association of odd and even with male and female. See references at Burkert 1972:34, 268, 429, 468–469, 475–476.

[ back ] 60. In Philolaus, fragment 20a, the dyad is called the consort of Kronos. See also his testimony 14, where the angle of a triangle is assigned to male gods, and the right angle is assigned to goddesses. See Huffman 1993:351–352, and Plutarch Isis and Osiris 30; Proclus Commentary on the First Book of Euclid’s “Elements” 130.8–14, 166.25–167.14, 173.11–13, 174.12–14; Damascius Commentary on “Parmenides” 2.127.7–17. Xenocrates, fragment 15 (Isnarde Parente 1982:213), calls the monad and dyad gods. This fragment derives from Aetius Placita 304/Stobaeus Eclogae 1.1.29b.44–57. Note that the monad is Kronos in Philolaus, but Zeus in Xenocrates; common to both is that mytho-logy, not etymology, is applied to odd and even numbers. Compare the later tradition in which Pythagoras is said to have likened the monad to Apollo and the dyad to Artemis. Moderatus, fragment 3; Plutarch Isis and Osiris 10.

[ back ] 61. Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.11.2, concerning a certain Secundus, who applies three of the ten opposites: male/female, left/right, light/dark.

[ back ] 62. Καὶ εἶναι ταύτην πρώτην καὶ ἀρχέγονον Πυθαγορικὴν Τετρακτύν, ἣν καὶ ῥίζαν τῶν πάντων καλοῦσιν· (Against Heresies 1.1.1). Cf. Tertullian Against the Valentinians 6.6, where the first Valentinian tetrad is called quadriga, a four-horse chariot, not a τετρακτύς. Thus the term ‘root’ need not be interpreted exclusively as a Pythagorean symbol.

[ back ] 63. See p. 183 below.

[ back ] 64. The Valentinians used the term τετρακτύς in other contexts, particularly concerning the crea-tion of the world (Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.18.1). See also chapter 4 below.

[ back ] 65. See Stead 1980:92–94.

[ back ] 66. On this so-called redemption see Thomassen 2006:360–364, 401–402.

[ back ] 67. See also Clement of Alexandria Epitomes 48.4.

[ back ] 68. See also Clement of Alexandria Epitomes 28 and Ptolemy’s Letter to Flora, discussed above. This principle is not followed in every Valentinian system. The lower world could be organized by fours (Hippolytus Refutation of All Heresies 6.32–34 and Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.18.1, discussed below), and the upper world by threes (Irenaeus Against Heresies 2.15.2; Tripartite Tractate passim; Clement of Alexandria Epitomes 80.3).

[ back ] 69. Eight receptacles: two nostrils, two eyes, two ears, and the division in the tongue between bitter and sweet. The twelve innards are not specified. Cf. Marcus’ body of Truth, discussed in chapter 4 and p. 131n20 below.

[ back ] 70. But in antiquity the sun and moon were included among the seven planets, so this list has counted them doubly. Possibly “sun and moon” here is a euphemism for other celestial entities. Or perhaps this is a muddled attempt to imitate the Pythagorean cosmology of ten spheres (see Burkert 1972:337–347). Our source does not explain.

[ back ] 71. See also Clement of Alexandria Epitomes 71, which reproduces notes by a Valentinian who relates the twelve zodiacal signs to circumstances in life.

[ back ] 72. This seems to refer to precession (see p. 139n64 below), since it posits a one-degree movement of Earth’s axis against the stars every thirty years, more than twice its actual speed.

[ back ] 73. Scholars have recently tried to settle once and for all questions as to how many Hippolytuses there were, who they were, which Hippolytus wrote what work ascribed to the single Hippolytus, and so forth, but no consensus has been reached. See the issue of St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly devoted to the status quaestionis in 2004 (volume 48, numbers 2–3). My analysis relies exclusively upon the author of the Refutation of All Heresies, whatever Hippolytus he may have been.

[ back ] 74. For a fuller comparison of Irenaeus’ and Hippolytus’ accounts of Valentinianism, see Stead 1969.

[ back ] 75. Paralleling Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.1.1, even down to a very minor detail: no mention is made of Truth’s role in projecting Word and Life.

[ back ] 76. See e.g. the system of Monoïmus, discussed in chapter 5 below. Stead 1969 argues that such a hebdomadic structure would have appealed to a second-century reader of Philo.

[ back ] 77. Cf. Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.1.2, where Word and Life, not Mind and Truth, beget the Decad, a difference Hippolytus notes at Refutation of All Heresies 6.30.4.

[ back ] 78. Cf. Theology of Arithmetic 81.9. In ancient number symbolism various numbers are called perfect, most notably 3, 6, 7, and 10, each for a different reason: 3 has beginning, middle, and end; 6 is the sum of its factors (including 1, but excluding itself); 7 has cosmological and theological perfection, especially in the Jewish and Christian traditions; and 10 is the image of 1, the most perfect number. For other ancient discussions of 10 as perfect, see Aristotle Metaphysics 986a8, Problemata 910b31, and fragment 203 (= Alexander of Aphrodisias Commentary on Aristotle’s “Metaphysics,” Hayduck 1891:40); Plutarch The E at Delphi 9 (388e); anonymous [On the Numbers] (Delatte, ed., lines 20, 55); Philo Questions and Answers on Genesis 4.110; Clement of Alexandria Stromateis (discussed below, p. 131); Monoïmus in Hippolytus Refutation of All Heresies 6.24.1–2, 8.14.6 (discussed below, p. 91); Hippolytus Refutation of All Heresies 1.2.8–9, 4.51.6, 6.23.5; Porphyry Life of Pythagoras 52; Chalcidius Commentary on the “Timaeus” 84.5–8; and anonymous, The Mysteries of the Letters 11 (Bandt 2007:122).

[ back ] 79. Cf. Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.1.2, where Human and Church beget the Dodecad, a difference Hippolytus notes at Refutation of All Heresies 6.30.5. The comment on the relative imperfection of the Dodecad must be Hippolytus’, since there is no indication in any other Valentinian system that the number twelve symbolized deficiency. Very rarely were numbers treated as inauspicious, prognostic texts aside. Hippolytus’ other heresies are frequently obsessed with the perfection of the number ten (see previous n. and below, chapters 7 and 8), and it is likely that Hippolytus was so struck by the consistency of this motif across different systems that he inferred that the Valentinian Decad must signify perfection, and so conversely the Dodecad imperfection.

[ back ] 80. Ogdoad: Refutation of All Heresies 6.31.7, 6.32.9, 6.33.1, 6.34.8, 6.35.4, 6.36.1. Hebdomad: 6.32.7, 6.36.1, 6.33.1.

[ back ] 81. On such polemics by Hippolytus, see Marcovich 1986:35–38 and Mansfeld 1992.

[ back ] 82. See inter alia Burkert 1972, Staab 2009.

[ back ] 83. See Stead 1969:77n2–3. The monadic-dyadic dichotomy informs Turner’s edition of A Valentinian Exposition (91, 97–99) and the commentary of Attridge and Pagels on the Tripartite Tractate (1985:22.179–180; 23.218–219). But Attridge and MacRae, commenting on The Gospel of Truth, note that in Valentinian systems a primordial principle may also be thought of as dyadic: “It is, in fact, likely that the divergences within the Valentinian tradition on this subject are more matters of emphasis in articulating a complex fundamental theology than they are radically distinct theological positions” (1985:22.77).

[ back ] 84. On the date see Thomassen 2006:263–266, 1994–1995:302–303, and 1989:18–20; Attridge and Pagels 1985:22.178. I follow the Coptic text in Thomassen’s edition.

[ back ] 85. Technically there is a problem here, since in antiquity one was not a number (see above) but the source of number: ἀριθμός implies plurality. To solve it, Thomassen suggested that this means “multitude” (πλῆθος), not “number” (ἀριθμός) (1989:261–262), but the problem still remains, since one is also never multitude, which is, anyway, a species of number. See Nicomachus of Gerasa Introduction to Arithmetic 1.3.1–2.

[ back ] 86. Thomassen 2006:275–277.

[ back ] 87. The exact relationship is unclear. See Markschies 2003:94–97.

[ back ] 88. Systems where the second principle envelops the first appear frequently in Pythagorean texts of the period. See e.g. Theology of Arithmetic 1.10–12, 3.1–5 and other examples at Thomassen 2006:293–294.

[ back ] 89. Although pseudo-Valentinus (Against Heresies 1.11.1) seems dyadic, the first aeon, Depth, is separated from the rest of the Pleroma, even from its conjugal aeon; without an original source the ambiguity cannot be resolved. Secundus (Against Heresies 1.11.2) does not discuss Depth, and so we are left to suppose, from his emphasis on a primordial Ogdoad divided into left and right Tetrads, that he was dyadic. But this is conjecture. Other systems: Epiphanes is ambiguous (Against Heresies 1.11.3); the anonymous Valentinians seem monadic (Against Heresies 1.11.5); and the anonymous, “more prudent” Valentinians appear dyadic (Against Heresies 1.12.3). But these are once again impressions from the little that is extant.

[ back ] 90. Tertullian Against the Valentinians 7.5.

[ back ] 91. Thomassen 2006:275–277 and 2000:5–6.

[ back ] 92. Thomassen 2006:279–280 and 2000:13–14.

[ back ] 93. Thomassen 2006:273–275, 283–287, and 2000:5, 9–12.