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.

4. The Apogee of Valentinian Number Symbolism: Marcus “Magus”

The most complex number symbolism of any Christian theology in the second century is found in the writings of a Valentinian named Marcus. He was given the epithet magus by ancient heresiologists because of his liturgi-cal alchemy and his interest in ideas normally associated with magical texts. Very little is known about him. Förster, the only modern scholar to investigate Marcus’s teaching thoroughly, suggests that he flourished between 160 and 180, which would make him a contemporary of other Valentinians such as Secundus and Heracleon. [1] He lived in Asia Minor, where he developed a cultic following within the churches. His teachings and liturgical practices agitated church leadership, which subsequently expelled him, a dispute immortalized in a polemical poem of the mid-second century, written by an unnamed orthodox cleric of Asia Minor (Against Heresies 1.15.6). In addition to eyewitness accounts and personal observation of a branch of Marcus’ sect at work near his see of Lyons, Irenaeus had at his disposal texts that came from Marcus’ circle, including a liturgy and an account of a revelation given to him. The revelation and Irenaeus’ assorted paraphrases of Marcus’ teaching reveal an esoteric, mystical arithmology that bordered on numerology.

Irenaeus begins his treatment of Marcus by revealing both the secret liturgical rites the latter used to seduce women into becoming his patrons and consorts, and the methods his followers used to draw away church members (Against Heresies 1.13). After describing the Marcosians’ activities, Irenaeus introduces a revelation said to be from the Tetrad to Marcus (Against Heresies 1.14.1). That this is a paraphrase or close reconstruction of a written composition is indicated by Irenaeus’ regular use of ancient quotation marks (the words “say-ing” and “says,” λέγων, ἔφη) and, as we shall see, by the tight, self-referential internal narrative. For the sake of convenience, I refer to Irenaeus’ source as the Revelation to Marcus.

In the beginning of this text Marcus boasts that he has become the womb and receptacle of Colarbasus’ Silence, that he is the Only Begotten and “most alone” (μονώτατος), and that he has brought forth the seed planted in him. [2] Thus Marcus identifies himself as the aeon traditionally placed third in the Valentinian Ogdoad: the Only Begotten, the offspring of Silence. He says that he is a kind of surrogate mother to the aeons. [3] As the Revelation progresses this relationship is enhanced, as the Tetrad descends to Marcus in the form not of a man but of a woman, since its masculine form would overwhelm the world. She tells him who she is, then reveals to him, whom she calls the “most alone,” the creation of the universe, a revelation never before delivered to gods or people. Her cosmology is couched in obscure, difficult language, and is packed with detail. A cursory summary of the Revelation to Marcus (Against Heresies 1.14–16) would do no justice to the complex doctrines already compressed in Irenaeus’ summary, and any strict translation is impenetrable. So to strike a balance between intelligibility and analysis, I paraphrase each passage (the original Greek appears in the Appendix, p. 191). I omit a number of details that do not materially affect my discussion of Marcus’ number symbolism. Such omissions are few, since the symbolism is so pervasive. At the end of this chapter I synthesize the disjointed ends of the Revelation to Marcus, to assess Marcus’ place in the early Christian theology of arithmetic.

Select Paraphrase and Analysis of the Revelation to Marcus

The Father—who is neither male nor female, and who is without substance and unknown—wished to make the unutterable utterable and to give shape to the unseen, and so opened his mouth and sent forth a Word similar to himself. The Word then came beside the Father and showed him who he was, becoming manifest as the shape of the unseen. The utterance of the name [presumably the Father’s name, which seems equivalent to the Word] began with the Father speaking the first word [or Word], a collection (literally, “syllable”) of four oral letters (στοιχεῖα): ἀρχή. He added a second collection, and it too consisted of four oral letters. Next, he uttered a third collection, of ten oral letters, and a fourth, of twelve. Thus there were four collections, a total of thirty oral letters. Each oral letter has its own written letters (γράμματα), impression, utterance, shapes, and images. [4] No oral letter sees or knows the form of the one of which it is an element. In their individuality, the oral letters know only their own utterance, and not their neighbors’, and when they utter everything, the individual oral letters think they are naming the whole. These oral letters—parts of the whole—never stop echoing until there subsists only the last written letter of the last oral letter, speaking alone. That is the recapitulation, when everything, descending into one written letter, will resound with a single utterance. The image of this recapitulation is the word amen, when spoken by all of us in unison. The sounds provide shape to the uppermost aeon, which is without substance and is unbegotten.

(Against Heresies [Revelation to Marcus] 1.14.1)

At the outset, the Revelation to Marcus creates a universe built upon linguistics, distinguishing uttered letters from their lower, written counterparts. Each oral letter has written letters and other properties attached to it. The oral letters are isolated from each other, and to reach their original unity they converge on a single oral letter that has a single written letter—an aperçu of the eventual resolution of all things in the Father. So the cosmology of the Revelation to Marcus begins and ends monadically, starting and terminating in a single utterance. And the world of the ear takes precedence over that of the eye.

The regular, verbal names of the oral letters the Tetrad terms ‘aeons,’ ‘words,’ ‘roots,’ ‘seed,’ ‘pleromas,’ and ‘fruit’ [that there are six terms anticipates other sixes to come]. Every single name and its properties are encompassed by and understood through the name of the Church. Of these various oral letters, the last written letter of the last oral letter sends forth its own voice, the echo of which begets its own oral letters, which adorn the present world and the regions just above it. This last written letter is taken by its collection into the fulfillment of the All, but its echo, following along with the lower echo, remains exiled in the lower realms. The very oral letter whose written letter descended with her utterance contains thirty written letters, and each of these possesses other written letters, by which its name is declared, as well as the names of the letters composing its name, and so on. For example, the oral letter delta has five written letters: delta, epsilon, lambda, tau, and alpha (δ + ε + λ + τ + α). And these five written letters are written down through other written letters, following the same process of begetting and succeeding, a process that can be extended infinitely. If this infinite expansion happens with a single written letter, how much greater the ocean of all the written letters belonging to that oral letter? How much greater for all the written letters of the entire name of Depth, the letters that the Forefather is composed of? So the Father, recognizing the Forefather’s incomprehensibility, granted to each oral letter, unable on its own to utter the All, its own utterance.

(Against Heresies [Revelation to Marcus] 1.14.2)

Details in this and the previous sections are mutually enlightening. Each of the thirty oral letters that form the Forefather’s name contains written letters. Note here how the Revelation to Marcus has moved from the names ‘Father’ and ‘Word’ to ‘Depth’/’Forefather’ and ‘Father,’ indicating a shift in protology as well. The thirtieth oral letter contains thirty written letters, and, so it is implied, the other twenty-nine oral letters contain thirty written letters each. Each written letter, when spelled out (e.g. δέλτα instead of δ), is composed of other written letters, which are themselves composed of others, and so on. The result is a three-tiered hierarchy. At the top is a triacontad of oral letters, each comprising a triacontad of written letters, the middle tier. Each of those written letters yields an ocean of written letters, thanks to the process of naming, the very process that caused Word to emerge from the Father. Thus the Revelation to Marcus posits an expansion of the Pleroma into a third, infinite realm, similar to the appearance of the innumerable aeons that populate the Church, the third tier in the Pleroma of the Tripartite Tractate (NH 1.5:70.24).

The twist on the Valentinian story produces other novelties. Sexual and gender metaphors have given way to grammatical ones. Aurality is to the visuality of a written letter as male is to female in the traditional Valentinian syzygy. Sound rules over image. This explains the sequence of 14.1, where the Father first wills the unutterable to be uttered, and only then the invisible to take shape. The hierarchy also explains why there is a limited number of oral letters (thirty), but an infinitude of written letters. The new metaphor sharpens in new ways certain points made in earlier Valentinian systems. Written letters are properties of spoken letters, and so cannot leave the root of their being. Hence the errant written letter’s abortive attempt to give voice (φωνή) results in a mere echo and its own exile. The notion of a written figure trying to speak is as stark an absurdity as a woman trying to bear a child alone—both metaphors that were applied to the errant aeon Wisdom.

The Tetrad [here called the Tetraktys] now introduces Truth, depicted as a naked woman. Each of her twelve body parts is marked by two Greek letters: alpha and omega are assigned to her head, beta and psi to her neck, and so on down to her feet, mu and nu. This is the body of Truth, the shape of the oral letter and the impression of the written letter. The oral letter is called Human, who is the fount of every word, the source of every voice, the utterance of everything unspoken, and the mouth of mute Silence.

(Against Heresies [Revelation to Marcus] 1.14.3)

The term ἐπίσημον must be addressed first, to correct confusion regarding the terminology of Greek numerals, and to set the stage for Marcus’ arithmological theologoumenon. Greek numeration from the Hellenistic period onward followed an alphabetic convention, with α used for 1, β for 2, and so on up to ι, representing 10; κ for 20, and so on up to ρ for 100, σ for 200, and so on. To mark a letter as a numeral, a supralinear stroke was often placed just above it or to its right. Thousands were designated by the letters α through θ, placed usually at the beginning of the numeral and marked by a sublinear stroke to the left. Designating numbers in this fashion requires twenty-seven unique characters. But the classical Greek alphabet has only twenty-four. The three extra numerals were represented by nonalphabetic characters, whose placement in the series reflects their origin in a preclassical Greek alphabet from Asia Minor. The entire alphabetic system of numeration, with the nonalphabetic numerals underlined, is as follows:

α 1 ι 10 ρ 100
β 2 κ 20 σ 200
γ 3 λ 30 τ 300
δ 4 μ 40 υ 400
ε 5 ν 50 φ 500
ϛ 6 ξ 60 χ 600
ζ 7 ο 70 ψ 700
η 8 π 80 ω 800
θ 9 ϙ or ϟ 90 ϡ 900

The term ἐπίσημον implies something written or etched, but not uttered. Indeed, ἐπίσημον, παράσημον, and their cognates were widely used to describe imprints or other distinguishing marks on coins or shields. [15] Thus by calling Jesus the ἐπίσημον, the Revelation to Marcus uses number symbolism to highlight, through the six letters of his name, both his “excellence” and the way he imprinted himself upon the coin of humanity. It also emphasizes the humbleness of the Incarnation, since Jesus deigned to become written, not uttered, letters. I say much more about the ἐπίσημον in chapter 7.

The twenty-four written letters of the Greek alphabet are “reflective effluences” of the three powers that encompass the entire number of the upper oral letters. There are nine consonants (ἄφωνα), which correspond to the Father and Truth because they too lack sound [ἀφώνους, a pun that turns on φωνή ‘voice’]. The eight semivowels (ἡμίφωνα) reflect Word and Life, since they dwell between the vowels and consonants and can absorb the effluence of the consonants coming from above and the reciprocation of the vowels coming from below. The seven vowels belong to Human and Church, since the echo “of his voice” gave shape to the All. [16] Because of the unequal ratio 7:8:9, one of the nine who was enthroned beside the Father descended on a mission to the realm that was once off limits to him, to rectify what had been done, so that the unity of the Pleroma, which possesses equality, might generate from the All a single power for the All. From this embassy, the realm that has the seven vowels obtains the power of eight, thus equalizing all three realms at eight members apiece. All three are then ogdoads, and in their interplay the three groups of eight furnish evidence for the number twenty-four. [At this point the Revelation to Marcus provides another story, about the generation of the lower oral letters. Unfortunately, the two sentences explaining this are garbled. The various translations are generally accurate, but unintelligible. [17] What is clear is the following:] There are three oral letters who belong to the three Powers [mentioned above as encompassing the All]. Because the three Powers are syzygies, the three oral letters are actually six. [18] The twenty-four oral letters flow out of the three oral double letters. When the three oral double letters are quadrupled by the ratio, factor, or word of the ineffable Tetrad, they create a number equal to the aforementioned twenty-four oral letters. These twenty-four oral letters belong to the Unnamed One. The three oral letters are worn or carried by the three powers, to imitate the invisible one. The double written letters in the Greek alphabet (ζ, ξ, ψ) are an image of these three oral letters, which are themselves images [i.e. of the three Powers]. When the three double oral letters are added to the twenty-four oral letters, it makes the number thirty, through its potential for proportion. [19] [No wonder the translations are unintelligible.]

(Against Heresies [Revelation to Marcus] 1.14.5)

The key to understanding this section is to appreciate its setting. We are no longer in the Pleroma, but outside it, beginning with the realm of three Powers who circumscribe the Pleroma, and ending with what seems to be the origin of the Greek alphabet. The entire section explains how the alphabet ultimately derives from the Powers, but the two halves of the text reverse the proper narrative order. The three Powers who circumscribe the All are syzygies. How these Powers fit into the larger scheme is never explained, although it is tempting to see them as equivalent to the six-sided Limit that is found in Irenaeus’ first Valentinian system, which also surrounds the Pleroma. Or the three Powers may simply be the Hexad in Hippolytus’ Valentinian system, or the lower three of the four syzygies that make up the Ogdoad. No matter. The three Powers utter oral letters, six in total, which are their image. The six oral letters are multiplied by the ineffable Tetrad [another figure whose position in the system is not explained] to project twenty-four oral letters that belong to the Unnamed One (again, an unexplained entity; it cannot be any of the characters we have met so far, since they all, including the ineffable Father, have names). All these oral letters combined are potentially proportionate to the upper thirty oral letters. Now, just as those upper oral letters have derivative written letters attached to them, so too have the lower oral letters. The lower, derivative written letters are the Greek alphabet, and the three classes of letters, like the three Powers, are images of the three bottom pairs of the primal Ogdoad, correlated in a hierarchy that begins with consonants, opposite to what a Platonist might have expected: [20]

Father and Truth nine consonants
Word and Life eight semivowels
Human and Church seven vowels

This section is confusing partly because there are several numerical series at work, series that would be mutually incompatible were they not unfolding on different levels of the cosmology. At the highest level is the series 4–4–10–12—oral letters constituting the Word (Revelation to Marcus 1.14.1). Each letter presides over thirty written letters, presumably grouped in similar fashion. Outside this highest realm, the All, are three syzygal Powers who generate a series of oral letters: 2–2–2, multiplied by the Tetrad to result in 8–8–8. Beneath this are the written Greek letters, which follow a series that is transformed from 9–8–7 to 8–8–8.

Concerning this ratio [that of the six oral letters quadrupled by the Tetrad] and its providential arrangement, the Fruit [another name for Jesus in Irenaeus’ extended Valentinian system] has appeared in the likeness of its image [cf. Romans 1.23]. This is he who, after six days, ascended the mountain as the fourth and became sixth [Matthew 17.1, Mark 9.2], who then descended and was thereby possessed by the Hebdomad. He was the “episēmos ogdoad”—the “noteworthy octet.” He also possessed in himself the entire number of oral letters. When he came to be baptized, the descent of the dove made this number manifest [Matthew 3.13–17, Mark 1.9–11, Luke 3.21–22]. The sum of the letters in περιστερά ‘dove’) is 801, written as ωα´—the omega and the alpha. Because of all this, Moses said that man was created on the sixth day and the divine dispensation occurred in the sixth day [Genesis 1.31]. This is the Day of Preparation, when the last man was made manifest for the rebirth of the first. The beginning and end of this divine dispensation occurred at the sixth hour, when he was nailed to the wood [Matthew 27.45, Mark 15.33, Luke 23.44]. Why? Because the perfect Mind, knowing that the numeral for six possesses the power of creation and rebirth, revealed to the sons of light the rebirth that came about through the appearance in him of the number of the ἐπίσημον. This is why the double letters (ζ, ξ, ψ) refer to the ἐπίσημον. [22] For when this ἐπίσημον was mixed with the twenty-four oral letters, it perfected the name written with thirty letters.

(Against Heresies [Revelation to Marcus] 1.14.6)

The Revelation to Marcus interprets the Transfiguration as a numerical code for the construction of the universe. It starts with the six days, mentioned in two of the Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration, and takes it as a sign of the three doubled oral letters. Jesus, the fourth person (Peter, James, and John are the other three), represents the ineffable Tetrad. At the appearance of Moses and Elijah he becomes the sixth, the factor against which the Tetrad gene-rates the twenty-four oral letters. So Jesus possesses within himself the entire number of the oral letters. His ascent, then, symbolizes the generation of the thirty oral letters from the three Powers, discussed in the previous section. Likewise, Jesus’ descent from the mountain represents the movement from the oral to the written letters. He becomes a metaphor for the written letter that joins the hebdomad of vowels to convert it into an ogdoad.

Marcus also interprets the Baptism so as to link Jesus to the entire alphabet. The value of the letters in περιστερά ‘dove’ (80 + 5 + 100 + 10 + 200 + 300 + 5 + 100 + 1) is 801. This number is written ωα´, and therefore points to Christ as the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end of the Greek alphabet. Then follow four exegetical points concerning numbers. The first pair deals with man’s creation: the first man was created on the sixth day of Creation, and was reborn by the last man in his passion, also on the sixth day. The second pair concerns the divine dispensation (οἰκονομία), which happened on the sixth day of the Transfiguration, but as a sort of transit point to and from the cross: the beginning and end of the dispensation is in the sixth hour, when Jesus was crucified. So Scripture places the power of the number six at the center of the Creation and its dispensation.

Silence goes on and says that the ἐπίσημον uses the magnitude of seven as a deacon, so that Fruit, of its own independent will, might be made manifest. She charges Marcus to think of the numeral ἐπίσημον in current use as the one who was shaped into the ἐπίσημον, the one who was, as it were, divided in half and remained outside. This is the one who, through his power and forethought, endowed with a soul this world—the world of the seven powers, seven to imitate the power of the Hebdomad—and everything visible, by means of that which he projected. The ἐπίσημον uses the resultant product as if it had emerged on its own. Other matters, being imitations of inimitable things, serve the Ἐνθύμησις of the Mother. Each of the seven heavens that constitute this world utters a vowel, from alpha to omega, and the intermingled sound of the seven Powers echoes and glorifies the one who projected them, and the glory of the echo is offered up to the Forefather. The echo of that doxology descends to earth and thereupon molds and creates the things of earth.

(Against Heresies [Revelation to Marcus] 1.14.7)

So much in this section is vague, ambiguous, or unexplained that it is difficult to flesh out the cosmogony accurately. It appears to describe how the entity Akhamoth created the world by means of her projection, who in turn created the cosmos and the seven heavens as a reflection of the Hebdomad, to give glory to the Forefather. The echoes of this glory become responsible for shaping the earth. The Revelation to Marcus alludes here to the Valentinian myth of the exiled aeon Akhamoth, representing him (not her!) by the number six, and her projection, the demiurge, by the number seven, the number used for the creation of this world. But at this point in the Revelation to Marcus, so many things have been called the ἐπίσημον—Jesus, the six oral letters projected by the three Powers, the Greek numeral, and now Akhamoth—and so many pronouns have been sundered from their referents that the overall picture is rather jumbled.

The proof of this is the soul of a newborn baby, who, while proceeding from the womb, cries out the echo of each of these seven oral letters [that is, the vowels]. Just as the seven Powers glorify the Word, so the soul in wailing infants glorifies Marcus himself [probably, but not certainly, Irenaeus’ sarcastic interjection]. All this is illustrated in David’s phrases, “Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babes thou hast perfected praise” and “The heavens declare the glory of God” [Psalms 8.3, 18.1 LXX]. So too, the distressed soul often resorts to uttering the last vowel, omega, in times of distress, as a sign of praise, so that the higher soul, its kinsman, might dispatch help.

(Against Heresies [Revelation to Marcus] 1.14.8)

The seven vowels were held to have an innate connection with the seven planets and the seven notes of the musical scale. This association, regarded as Pythagorean, no matter its historical merits, the Revelation to Marcus capitalizes on and justifies with Scripture, to lend support to its cosmogony. So Marcus’ theological edifice straddles Scripture, Pythagorean lore, and occult science.

[(1.14.9) This section merely recapitulates 1.14.1–8.] Concerning the Tetrad: Henotes coexists with Monotes, and from them come two projections, Monad and Hen. Two plus two make four, and when the operation is repeated—four is added to two—the number six is made evident, and these six quadrupled bring forth the twenty-four forms. Silence then turns to the names of the first Tetrad, to show how they couch within themselves ineffable, holy mysteries known only to the Father and Son. The names Ἄρρητος and Σειγή [sic], Πατήρ and Ἀλήθεια consist of a total of twenty-four oral letters, since the first and last each have seven written letters [the distinction between στοιχεῖον and γράμμα now blurs] and the middle two, five. The same can be shown in the second Tetrad, Λόγος and Ζωή, Ἄνθρωπος and Ἐκκλησία, the written letters of whose names add up to the same number. Further, the uttered name of the Savior, Ἰησοῦς, consists of six written letters, but his unutterable name has twenty-four written letters. Yet Υἱὸς Χρειστός [sic: “Son Christ”] has twelve written letters, so that the unutterable name in Christ has thirty written letters. This, says Silence, explains why he is alpha and omega, in order to disclose the dove, the letters in whose name add up to this number [explained above].

(Against Heresies [Revelation to Marcus] 1.15.1)

[In one manuscript, toward the end of this section, is an addition that probably comes from the Revelation to Marcus or a related early source. It goes as follows:]

καὶ αὐτὸ τοῖς ἐν αὐτῷ γράμμασι κατὰ ἓν στοιχεῖον ἀριθμούμενον, τὸ γὰρ χριστόν ἐστι στοιχείων ὀκτώ· τὸ μὲν γὰρ χ̅ρ̅ι̅ τριῶν, τὸ δὲ ρ̄ δύο, καὶ τὸ εἶ δύο, καὶ ῑ τεσσάρων, τὸ σ̄ πέντε, καὶ τὸ τ̄ τριῶν, τὸ δὲ οὖ δύο, καὶ τὸ ν̄ τριῶν· οὕτως τὸ ἐν τῷ χριστῷ ἄρρητον φάσκουσι στοιχείων τρίακοντα.

[My paraphrase:] When the written letters in each oral letter in the name Χρεῖστος are added up you get thirty: chi has three letters, rho two, ee two, iota four, sigma five, tau three, ou two, and nou three. That is, χεῖ + ῥό + εἶ + ἰότα + σῖγμα + ταῦ + οὖ + νοῦ [my reconstruction] is twenty-four letters, which when added to the unutterable name of six letters makes thirty.

The concept of naming, which was so dominant a theme in the early parts of the Revelation to Marcus, now returns, to explain the logic behind the names of the traditional Valentinian Ogdoad and Jesus Christ. The names are not arbitrary, as shown by the number of letters in each, provided one uses the correct spelling variation. Thus, the Revelation to Marcus depends upon the longer spelling of ‘Christ,’ and, within that spelling, upon a creative spelling of its constituent alphabetic letters. [26]

Jesus’ ineffable origin is shown by the generation of the second Tetrad, which comes forth from the first as if a daughter from a mother. They become an ogdoad and from this emerges the Decad. The Decad comes alongside the ogdoad, multiplies it by 10, and makes it 80. Multiplying by 10 once more, the 80 becomes 800. Thus the entire number of written letters is demonstrated by the progression from ogdoad to decad, from 8 to 80 to 800, for a total of 888, the value of the sum of the letters in Ἰησοῦς. This clearly indicates that Jesus’ birth is supercelestial. It also explains why the Greek alphabet has eight units, eight tens, and eight hundreds: it points to Jesus, who consists of this number. And it explains yet again why Jesus is named the alpha and omega, to indicate his origin in all things. Furthermore, when the first Tetrad was added incrementally to itself [1 + 2 + 3 + 4], the number 10 appeared, and this is represented by iota, Jesus’ initial. Further, Χρειστός has eight written letters and thus indicates the first Ogdoad, which, in combination with 10, produces ‘Jesus’ [i.e. 8 + 10 = ηʹ + ιʹ = ιηʹ(σους)]. He is also called Υἱὸς Χρειστός, which has four plus eight written letters, thus indicating the magnitude of the Dodecad. Before the ἐπίσημον of his name, ‘Jesus,’ appeared, people were in exceeding ignorance and error. But at the appearance and incarnation of the six-letter name, which possesses both the six and the twenty-four, those who knew this were freed from ignorance and went from death to life. His name becomes for them a path to the Father of Truth, who desired to destroy ignorance and death, so he could be known. This is why the human constructed in the image of the upper Power was elected.

(Against Heresies [Revelation to Marcus] 1.15.2)

So the mathematical properties of the alphabet and of the Pleroma are demonstrations of the power in the name ‘Jesus.’ The sum of the numerical values of the letters making up the name Ἰησοῦς is 888 (10 + 8 + 200 + 70 + 400 + 200), a number whose significance is confirmed by the alphabetic system of numeration and the interplay of the Ogdoad and Decad. That interplay is further paralleled in the coincidence of the initial iota and the eight letters of ‘Christ,’ the two parts of the familiar name ‘Jesus Christ.’ The less common title ‘Son Christ’ points to the Dodecad. All in all, the Revelation to Marcus argues that the six-letter name ‘Jesus’—stressing the name over the person—is a conduit to knowledge of the Father. Note that this section conceives of the Ogdoad as consisting of one tetrad begetting a second, but it builds upon that familiar model to arrive not at the Triacontad but at explanations for the name Jesus and for the structures of the Greek alphabetic numerals. [27]

The aeons, or powers, proceed from the Tetrad formed by Human and Church, and Word and Life. These powers generate Jesus, whose appearance on earth consists of four places, reserved for Word, Life, Human, and Church, supplied by the angel Gabriel, the Holy Spirit, the power of the Most High, and the Virgin respectively (Luke 1.26, 35). The human born by divine dispensation through Mary was chosen by the Father, to make himself known by means of Word, and when Jesus entered the water there descended upon him as a dove the very power who ascended and fulfilled the twelfth number. This power is the Father’s seed, and in him, sown at the same time, is the seed of all of who descend and ascend with him. This power possesses within himself Father, Son, the unnamed power of Silence, and all the aeons. This power is the Spirit who speaks in Jesus, confesses him to be the Son of Human, and makes the Father manifest. It descended on Jesus and united with him. This, the Savior of the divine dispensation, destroyed death and reveals that Christ is his father. Although the name of the (ordinary) human chosen for the divine dispensation was ‘Jesus,’ the name was fashioned in the resemblance and shape of the Human who was about to descend on him. This Human contained the Ogdoad: Human, Word, Father, Ineffable, Silence, Truth, Church, and Life.

(Against Heresies [Revelation to Marcus] 1.15.3)

This section describes the mission of the Savior and distinguishes sharply between the human born of Mary and the Human sent by the Ogdoad of the Pleroma to unite with him at baptism. To prepare for this union the second Tetrad issued four powers to create four spaces within this human, adequate for the salvific mission. Just as in Irenaeus’ extended Valentinian system, this savior figure is a Tetradic being, in imitation of the Pleroma. In Marcus’ system, however, all four elements of Jesus are assembled by the second Tetrad, not the first. His Tetradic constitution also explains his ascent to the mountain as the fourth person.

In this section there is a slightly obscure response to the criticism that emphasizing the numerical properties of the letters of a pedestrian name like ‘Jesus’ was ridiculous. The Revelation to Marcus grants that the name was mundane, but says that it nevertheless took on special supernatural properties, actualized by his union with the Savior figure. The argument of this section, in line with previous parts of the revelation, is that when one looks beneath the surface at the mathematical symbolism, the name ‘Jesus’ is very powerful, as revealed in its number and letter symbolism.

[(1.15.4–6) In these sections Irenaeus either criticizes Marcus’ doctrines or merely recapitulates earlier material. When Irenaeus returns to Marcus’ teaching, it is no longer obvious that he is depending upon the Revelation to Marcus as his source. When he mentions his opponents he moves from the singular to the plural, which suggests that the remainder of his report is based upon material derived from a number of Valentinians, Marcus included.] Those people, who reduce everything to numbers, try to combine the unfolding of the aeons mystically with the parable of the lost sheep. They claim that all things come from Monad and Dyad. Adding up from Monad to four [1 + 2 + 3 + 4], they engender the Decad. The Dyad, too, progressing from itself up to the ἐπίσημον [2 + 4 + 6] indicates the Dodecad. Yet a further progression of even numbers from the Dyad to the number ten reveals the Triacontad [2 + 4 + 6 + 8 + 10], wherein reside the Ogdoad, Decad, and Dodecad. This Dodecad they also name Passion, since it has the ἐπίσημον accompanying it. [28] This is expressly related to the fall of the twelfth member of the Dodecad, and this event is related to the parables of the lost sheep and the lost drachma [Luke 15.1–10]. In the former parable the grazing sheep wandered off; in the latter, the woman who lost her drachma lit a lamp and found it. In the former parable there were eleven members left over, and in the latter, nine. When these remainders are multiplied [9 × 11], they give birth to the number ninety-nine. For this very reason Amen has this same number [Ἀμήν = 1 + 40 + 8 + 50].

(Against Heresies [Revelation to Marcus] 1.16.1)

The Valentinians appeal in this section to the mathematical properties of the Tetraktys (see Excursus B) and the series of even numbers to explain the logic intrinsic to the thirty-aeon system. To the same end, to show how the Triacontad is encoded in Scripture, they then point to two parables that mention numbers. In one of these parables, concerning the lost sheep, the substitution of ninety-nine for twelve may seem baffling, but it is explained in the next section.

The reference to amen and its psephic sum is significant. This is the earliest association of amen with the Greek numeral for 99, ϙϑ´, which appears in numerous manuscripts and papyri from late antiquity and the Byzantine period as an abbreviation for amen. [29]

The oral letter eta, along with the ἐπίσημον, is an ogdoad, since it is in the eighth place after alpha. Furthermore, reckoning the oral letters up to eta, without the ἐπίσημον [1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 7 + 8], adds up to the number thirty, thereby revealing the Triacontad. This shows that the Ogdoad is the “mother of the thirty aeons.” And since the number thirty is compiled from three powers [i.e. Marcus’ three Powers], so when it is tripled it makes ninety. So the Trinity, multiplied by itself, makes nine. In this way the Ogdoad gives birth to the number ninety-nine. So they say that the twelfth aeon abandoning the Dodecad was a type of the written letters that are positioned in the arrangement of the Word. That is, the eleventh written letter is Λ, lambda, whose numerical value, thirty, remains an image of the upper, divine dispensation, since the sum of the written letters that precede it [again, omitting the ἐπίσημον] is ninety-nine. That lambda, being eleventh in rank, descended to find the one similar to it, to complete the twelfth number. Once the lambda found it, it was completed by the shape of the oral letter. The letter Μ [the twelfth letter] is made up of two Λs lying side by side. Therefore they use knowledge to flee the land of the ninety-nine to pursue the one (τὸ ἕν), which, when added to the ninety-nine, results in a transfer from the left hand to the right.

(Against Heresies [Revelation to Marcus] 1.16.2)

In this final section Irenaeus reports yet more demonstrations of Valenti-nian logic based on the alphabet, alphabetic numeration, and the shapes of the letters. The Ogdoad leads to the Triacontad. The Triacontad is linked to the three Powers, called here a Trinity (τριάς, the same term used by the orthodox for Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), which leads to the ninety-nine. This calls to mind the ninety-nine sheep in the parable discussed in the previous section and in the Gospel of Truth (see chapter 3 above). Here is the explanation for why the Valentinians felt free to use eleven instead of ninety-nine as the number symbolizing the sheep who were not lost: α + β + γ + δ + ε + ζ + η + θ + ι + κ + λ (the first eleven letters) equals 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 7 + 8 + 9 + 10 + 20 + 30, which equals 99. Note also that lambda is the first letter of Λόγος, the “Word” referred to in the previous sentence. All this, plus one lambda’s rescuing the other, make for a colorful addition to the Valentinian interpretation of the parable of the lost sheep via finger counting.

Another element to note is Marcus’ interest in isopsephy. We have already seen in Irenaeus’ extended system how the numeric value of the iota, the first letter in ‘Jesus,’ held important symbolism. This is similar to pseudo-Barnabas’ exegesis of τιηʹ (318) as a prophecy of Christ. But Marcus applies isopsephy to entire words, not just initials. The word περιστερά, because it adds up to 801, symbolizes Jesus (1.14.6, 1.15.1). And the word ἀμήν has the auspicious psephic value 99. The Revelation to Marcus is the first datable Christian attempt to use the practice not as a riddling device but as a tool for interpreting the Bible and language.

Did that tool verge on the world of magic and prognostication? We have seen elements in the Revelation to Marcus that would resonate with such practices: the zodiac-like Body of Truth and the primal utterance of the seven vowels. There is yet further evidence that Marcus was connected with prognostication. Hippolytus recounts at length a psephic technique that was used to determine which of two people would win in a contest of one sort or another (Refutation of All Heresies 4.14). One would take each contestant’s name, add the numeric values of the letters, reduce each sum to a number between one and nine, then look up the two numbers on a chart, which would indicate the victor. According to Hippolytus, proponents of the technique developed numerous variations, a sign of its popularity. This form of numerology flourished in the later, Byzantine tradition, as confirmed by scores of manuscripts, which often credit the technique to Pythagoras. There is no evidence for psephic numerology before the late second century, and ample evidence for it after. [35] Hippolytus implies that a certain Colarbasus was the inventor of this technique. And this very Colarbasus is said in the Revelation to be associated with Marcus as a fellow Valentinian (Against Heresies 1.14.1). Whether or not Marcus had a hand in numerology, and whether or not he collaborated with Colarbasus, he shows the same affinity for the intellectual apparatus that underlies numerical divination. Both Marcus and the numerological texts take psephy seriously, without relegating it to a parlor game or literary adornment. They both exhibit a common belief that psephy can reveal the hidden knowledge of the world. Whereas isopsephic prognostication delved into the mechanics of how to predict the future, Marcus explored a theology that could provide it with a conceptual foundation.

The Revelation to Marcus shows how adventurous and far-reaching Valen-tinian theology could be. The neo-Pythagorean philosophical and exegetical underpinnings have been smothered with layers of speculative arithmology. Marcus reaches into the far corners of culture and language, pushing the limits of Valentinianism and Christianity. As we shall see in the next chapter, he was not the only pioneer.


[ back ] 1. Förster 1999:390.

[ back ] 2. The epithet μονώτατος may allude to the terminology used at Against Heresies 1.15.1, where the highest aeon is called μονότης. See n. 25 below.

[ back ] 3. It is impossible to tell whether the “of” in “womb of Silence” is objective or subjective (Förster 1999:166–167). He claims to be either a womb for Silence to be born on earth, or else Silence’s personal womb, whereby her offspring can be brought to earth.

[ back ] 4. I translate στοιχεῖον as “oral letter” and γράμμα as “written letter,” since the Revelation to Marcus distinguishes the terms (Förster 1999:201), as did grammarians of the second century. See OCD s.v. “Dionysius (15) Thrax” with Uhlig and Hilgard 1883–1901:1:9; OCD s.v. “Apollonius (13) Dyscolus,” with Uhlig and Hilgard 1883–1901:3:31–32, 323 (assigned to Apollonius Dyscolus at Schneider 1910:3). See also Scholia in Dionysius Thrax 1:323.33–35 (author: “Heliodoros”); 1.3:32.18–20, 1.3:31.19 (author: “Melampus/Diomedes”); 1.3:192.27–28 (author: “Stephen”). Each grammarian had his own scheme, but all distinguish a letter written from a letter uttered, even if the term στοιχεῖον was also used in a broader sense, to apply to letters’ shapes or names (see e.g. Scholia in Dionysius Thrax 1.3:317.32–37). See also Förster 1999:198–199, 204, and p. 144 below.

[ back ] 5. See e.g. NH 1.5:66.13–29.

[ back ] 6. References and analysis at Thomassen 2006:180–181.

[ back ] 7. ἦχος here probably puns on Ἀχαμώθ, the entity called Resolution in Irenaeus’ first Valentinian system.

[ back ] 8. For the many primary sources and scholarly studies see Förster 1999:222–225 and Kalvesmaki, forthcoming.

[ back ] 9. Compare the Gospel of Truth, which calls Truth the Father’s mouth and the Holy Spirit its tongue. NH 1.3:26.28–27.7.

[ back ] 10. Digamma is an ancient term, but as I argue below (p. 144), it referred to the obsolete letter, not the numeral. I have been unable to find the term stigma used in any ancient text. The same applies to the term sampi for ϡ. Surely, this derives from the Byzantine expression [ὡ]ς ἂν πῖ (“just like pi”), but the only attempt I have found to date the term is that of Keil: “Dieser Name [Sampi] stammt übrigens in dieser Form aus der 2. Hälfte des 17. Jahrh. n. Chr.” (1894:265n2). But Keil gives no evidence.

[ back ] 11. Mystery of the Letters 2:30–31, 33 (Bandt 2007:108, 170–176). For more on this unusual text, see Dupont-Sommer 1946; Galtier 1902; Bitton-Ashkelony 2007; and Kalvesmaki, forthcoming.

[ back ] 12. Mystery of the Letters 33 (Bandt 2007:174). A similar list appears in a ninth-century codex, the Psalterium Cusanum, in a Latin text intended to acquaint readers with Greek conventions, but with the last two terms mixed up: S (VI) is Episimōn, F (XC) is Enacōse, and ‰ (DCCCC) Cophē: cod. 9, fol. 64v in Marx 1905:6–7. The manuscript is discussed in Gardthausen 1913:260 and C. Hamann 1891.

[ back ] 13. Vienna, MS theol. gr. 289, fol. 44r. See Hunger and Lackner 1992:s.v.

[ back ] 14. This appears in two very similar passages, attributed to different authors (a certain Heliodorus, and anonymous): Uhlig 1883:1.318.29–37 and 319.21–31. The idea of the three numerals as “signs” is continued in the Latin and Greek manuscript Laon, cod. 444, f. 311v, column a: “├ etet Ϛ et F et · non sunt literae apud Graecos, sed notae et signa” (Catalogue général 1849:234–236). See Miller 1880:213. The term ἐπίσημον fell out of currency not long ago. In the early eighteenth century Montfaucon called the three nonalphabetic numerals ἐπίσημον βαῦ, ἐπίσημον κοφῆ, and ἐπίσημον σαμπι (1708:122, 128, 132).

[ back ] 15. LSJ, 655b–656a, 1323b–1324a. Note, however, that LSJ does not include the technical definition of παράσημα discussed here.

[ back ] 16. The nine consonants: π, κ, τ, β, γ, δ, φ, χ, θ; eight semivowels: λ, μ, ν, ρ, ς, ζ, ξ, ψ; seven vowels: α, ε, η, ι, ο, υ, ω. This threefold division of the alphabet is typical in this period. See Förster 1999:238–242 for parallels and discussion.

[ back ] 17. E.g. Rousseau et al. 1965–1982:2.223, Förster 1999:234; ANF 1.337, 5.95; F. Williams 1987:217.

[ back ] 18. Förster sees this point as unclear, and offers different solutions (1999:247–248). His alternative suggestion (248, paragraph 2), that this refers to the double letters ζ, ξ, ψ, is most plausible. We need not infer that these were to be written out ΔΣ, ΚΣ, ΠΣ, as Förster suggests, since these are στοιχεῖα, not γράμματα (see n4 above).

[ back ] 19. The phrase δυνάμει τῇ κατὰ ἀναλογίαν is peculiar. The closest parallel I have found is in Alexander Commentary on Aristotle’s “Metaphysics,” 682.19–20 (ed. Hayduck 1891), where commensurability is qualified as being either potential or actual.

[ back ] 20. See Philebus 18bc on the Egyptian origin of the three classes, with vowels at the top of the hierarchy.

[ back ] 21. The key phrase is ὁ ἀφεδρασθεὶς ἐν τῷ πατρὶ κατῆλθεν. The hapax legomenon ἀφεδράζειν may be as innocuous as Lampe takes it—‘to set apart’ (1961: s.v.)—but the Greek words most closely related suggest it means to discard menstrual or toilet waste! See LSJ, s.v. ἄφεδρος, ἀφεδρών, ἀφεδρεία, and especially Matthew 15.17. Neither possibility can easily handle “in the Father,” since the verbal prefix ἀπό contradicts ἐν. The Latin translator, otherwise quite literal, gave up here and rendered the entire phrase qui erat apud Patrem descendit. I believe the best interpretation is that this entity found itself in the lower regions, but was rescued, enthroned within the Father, and sequestered from the lower regions until called to this mission.

[ back ] 22. That is, in addition to the cosmological scheme, discussed below, the double letters signify the number six: ζ is the sixth letter (despite its numerical value of 7), ξ = 60, and ψ = 600.

[ back ] 23. Although the editions of Hippolytus (Refutation of All Heresies and Epiphanius (Panarion 2.12.20), upon which Irenaeus’ Greek text is largely reconstructed (Against Heresies, render the name Χριστός (the spelling preferred today), the original has to have been Χρειστόν since, later in the text, Marcus makes the theological point that “Son, Christ” (Υἱός Χρειστός) is composed of twelve letters, and “Christ” (Χρειστός), of eight (Irenaeus Against Heresies, 2.41–50; cited in Hippolytus Refutation of All Heresies, 5.1; Epiphanius Panarion 2.18.11, 19.16–20.1). What is otherwise a rather innocuous variant in spelling (to the modern editor, a misspelling) here takes on theological importance. See n. 26 below.

[ back ] 24. Papyri Graecae Magicae 1.13–19. Other examples are legion.

[ back ] 25. Revelation to Marcus 1.11.3, which Förster suggests is a literary fragment of Marcus (1999:15, 296). Besides the obvious parallels in substance, he says, καθὰ προείρηται in Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.16.1 seems to refer to 1.11.3. I accept the parallelism, but I doubt that the two passages are by the same author. Yes, both use the same names for the elements of the Tetrad: μονότης, ἑνότης, μονάς, ἕν. But at 1.11.3, the male members of the tetrad are also called ἀρχαί (or προαρχαί), whereas female members are called δυνάμεις. Marcus uses ‘source’ and ‘power’ without the terminological rigor of Epiphanes. Further, the source for 1.11.3 uses προίημι for “project,” suggesting it was his preferred term (cf. Irenaeus’ corresponding mockery, which thrice reuses the term, 1.11.4, lines 74 [bis] and 79 in Rousseau et al. 1965–1982). Marcus also uses the same verb, but without the same regularity, and only twice (1.14.1 [line 143 Greek], 1.14.2 [line 176 Greek]). Thus I treat the two passages as independent, with Marcus adding Epiphanes to his bricolage.

[ back ] 26. Other texts rely upon unconventional spellings of Χριστός to make specific points. See n. 23 above, and Förster 1999:318–319; Hippolytus Refutation of All Heresies 6.49.4–5; and an inscription at Shnān (IGLS 1403, with commentary by Kalvesmaki 2007a).

[ back ] 27. Compare the several Tetrad-to-Tetrad models of the Ogdoad reported by Irenaeus at Against Heresies 1.11.

[ back ] 28. The various Greek editions of Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Epiphanius (in Rousseau et al. 1979, Marcovich 1986, and Holl 1922, respectively) make little sense. The three Greek manuscripts (P = Paris. supp. gr. 464 [14th c.], V = Vat. gr. 503 [9th c.], M = Marcianus 125 [11th c.]—commas omitted), compared with the Latin text edited in Rousseau et al. 1979:
Duodecadem igitur eo quod episemon habuerit consequentem sibi propter episemum, passionem vocant.
P τὴν οὖν δωδεκάδα διὰ τὸ ἐπίσημ(ον) ἐσχηκέναι συνεπηκολούθησεν αὐτῇ τὸ ἐπίσημον πάθος.
V τὴν οὖν δωδεκάδα διὰ τὸν ἐπίσημον διὰ τὸ συνεσχηκέναι συνεπακολουθήσασαν αὐτῇ τὸ ἐπίσημον πάθος λέγουσι.
M τὴν οὖν δωδεκάδα διὰ τὸν ἐπίσημον διὰ τὸ συνεσχηκέναι συνεπακολουθῆσαν αὐτῇ τὸ ἐπίσημον πάθος λέγουσι.
Based on its affinity with the Latin, M seems the superior reading, although we may wish to emend the ninth word to read {συν}εσχηκέναι. M follows the Latin almost precisely, with the notable exception that propter episemum is placed after the eo-quod clause, not before, where it could be taken as the referent of a relative clause. The thrust of the passage is that the Dodecad is being given the epithet ‘Passion,’ and this because of the action of the ἐπίσημον.

[ back ] 29. Among many studies see Robert 1960, Vidman 1975. The intriguing question of whether Marcus’ theologoumenon was directly responsible for the widespread phenomenon remains open.

[ back ] 30. See also Förster 1999:306–310, on possible metaphysical parallels with late antique philosophy.

[ back ] 31. See Förster 1999:301–302.

[ back ] 32. But she is thought of as engendering the number seven, which is assigned, true to other Valentinian systems, to the Demiurge (Against Heresies 1.14.7).

[ back ] 33. Méautis 1918:20. The resemblance is only apparent in name, function, and even structure, since the Egyptian ogdoad was really an ennead. If in Isis and Osiris 3 Plutarch refers in veiled terms to Hermopolis’ ogdoad, the enneadic structure is confirmed, since he makes Isis/Justice the head of the nine muses, i.e. the nine gods of Hermopolis. Plutarch’s analogy, which does not correspond to the ancient ogdoad, is a reminder that non-Egyptians in late antiquity knew little about the ogdoad of Hermopolis. See Gwyn Griffiths 1970:264–265 and Méautis 1918:21, 24–25.

[ back ] 34. For these and other parallels, see Quacquarelli 1973.

[ back ] 35. Luz 2010, an excellent introduction to the topic.