Saturday, May 4, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Leviticus 26-27 and Irenaeus Selections: Gnostic Writers

Leviticus 26 – There can be no idols or sacred pillars and the Sabbath must be honored.

Then comes the setting forth of blessings and curses—this was common in contracts in the ancient Near East according to Schocken (632]. The reward for obedience will be God’s care—rain, harvests, food in abundance, security in the land, peace (26:5-6).

“I will set my Dwelling among you, and will not disdain you. Ever present in your midst, I will be your God, and you will be my people; for it is I, the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of the Egyptians and freed you from their slavery, breaking the yoke they had laid upon you and letting you walk erect” (26:11-13).
But if you reject me, “then I, in turn, will give you your deserts” (26: 16)—no crops, devastation, war, pestilence.  Five stages of disobedience and punishment are described, the last of which will be that the Lord will scatter them among the nations (26:33).  

But then, “when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they make amends for their guilt, I will remember my covenant with Jacob, my covenant with Isaac, and my covenant with Abraham; and of the land, too, I will be mindful.  But the land must first be rid of them, that in its desolation it may make up its lost Sabbaths, and that they, too, may make good the debt of their guilt for having spurned my precepts and abhorred my statutes.  Yet even so, even while they are in their enemies’ land, I will not reject or spurn them, lest, by wiping them out, I make void my covenant with them; for I, the Lord, am their God” (26:41-45).

[The Book of Leviticus ended here once.  The next chapter is an appendix, meant to go over how the sanctuary was to be supported monetarily]

Leviticus 27 – Covers the price of “redeeming” people or offerings of other kinds (houses, fields, made or  “dedicated” (given in a “vow of offering”) to the Lord.  These are offerings other than “first-born,” which are necessarily dedicated to the Lord. It refers to human beings that are “doomed” (27:28).  They cannot be redeemed.

Irenaeus of Lyons (c.180 AD)
Valentinus, Secundus, Cerdon and Marcion
11 – Irenaeus notes that there are a number of different gnostic thinkers – “two or three of them anyway” and they don’t necessarily agree on the ideas they have. Valentinus seems to be his greatest concern. He goes on to outline the key concepts of Valentinus’ approach. There are many names associated with the different parts of the system: the “unnamable Dyad” [Ineffable and Silence], “a second Dyad” [Father and Truth]; a “Tetrad” from which come “Logos and Zoe [Wisdom], Anthropos [Man] and Ecclesia [Church].” There are powers that come from these. This is just to give you all a flavor of what he is trying to explain. He obviously does understand their entire system of thinking. I think the key things are the following: Gnostics like Valentinus thought that the God of the Old Testament was only what he called a “Demiurge.”

The other gnostic thinkers see things somewhat differently but use the same big concepts – Ogdoad, Tetrad, Aeons, Proarche, Monad – Look them up - they are interesting but way beyond what I can analyze here. He makes fun of the complexity of their thinking. They all believed that only those who immersed themselves in the mystical and deeply complex “truths” they saw could ever “come to salvation.” The body “cannot be saved.”

The gnostics denigrated the Jewish scriptures. Marcion “dared publicly to mutilate the Scriptures, and more than any others to malign God shamelessly” but Irenaeus seeks in his treatises to refute them, “convicting him from his own writings, and from the words of the Lord and the apostles, which he preserves and uses, I will overthrow him, with the help of the Lord.”

He says that “all those who corrupt the truth and injure the teaching of the Church are the disciples and successors of Simon Magus the Samaritan. Although, in order to deceive others, they do not confess the name of their teacher, yet they teach his views. Setting up the name of Christ Jesus as a kind of decoy, but in one way or another introducing the impiety of Simon, they bring many to destruction, spreading their evil teachings under a good name . . .”

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