Friday, August 30, 2013

The Intertextual Sammael: Variations on Sammael in Pirkve de Rabbi Eliezer and Selected “Gnostic” Works from Nag Hammadi (3)

Sammael in the “Gnostic” Nag Hammadi Literature

            In this section we will examine Sammael in some of the Nag Hammadi literature.  We will do this in order to get a typological view of how he is used in some of these works, and to get a base line for the “intertexual” criticism in the final section of this paper.  At some points, we will outline some key differences between the PRE use of Sammael and his role and place in the Nag Hammadi works.  These differences will become crucial to the intertextual analysis of the next section.
Sammael appears in some of the Nag Hammadi literature.  He is explicitly named in several works, and in many others, his name and that of other characters are mixed or used interchangeably.  In the The Secret Book of John Sammael is one of the three names of the “dim ruler,” “the first name is Ialtabaoth, the second, Saklas, and the third, Samael.” [Layton,36].  Behind the three names is a common thread: “… the ruler is impious, in its madness that is with it.  For it said. It is I who am god, and no other god exists apart from me,” [Layton,37].  In the Reality of the Rulers we get an etymology of Sammael’s name:

            Their chief is blind; [because of its] power and its lack of acquaintance [and its] arrogance it said, with its [power] “It is I who am god, there is none apart from me.”
            When it was said it sinned against [the entirety].  And this utterance got up to incorruptibility; then there was a voice that came forth from incorruptibility, saying “You are mistaken, Samael” – which is, “god of the blind.” [Layton,68].

            These Nag Hammadi works explicit about the origin of Sammael’s name than the PRE.  They are also less concerned with Sammael’s name in a specific sense; he is known by many names, and in at least these three examples, Sammael is the name conferred on him by a higher being. Other rabbinical works also interchange Sammael for other names, including Asmodeous, Satan, and Saklas, to name a few [8].  In Nag Hammadi, Sammael is called Saklas, Yaldaboath (variously spelled) and more commonly, the First Ruler or First Archon.
            Unlike the PRE, the Nag Hammadi texts that we are examining are extremely interested in Sammael’s paternity.  In the Secret Book of to John the conception of Sammael begins with an act of divine hubris.  Here wisdom decides “to show forth an image, without the spirit’s [will]; and her consort did not consent.”  Wisdom creates an offspring that is an “imperfect product,” and “compared to the image of its mother it was misshapen, having a different form” [L,35].
            The First Thought in Three Forms contains yet another variation on this story.  Here, Sakla/Ialtabaoth/Sammael springs forth from a “verbal expression” coming from the great luminary Eleleth [L93].  There then “shown forth a great demon that rules over the bottom of Hades and chaos, and which is misshapen and imperfect.”  This being is called “Sakla”, i.e. Sammael-Ialtabaoth.  This creature, called a “great demon,” from its ignorance and hubris began to order the “eternal realms (aeons) in the manner of the eternal realms that exist.” [Layton,93].  Sammael starts to create the material world.
            These myths of the birth of Sammael/Iadltaboth/Sakla have points of similarity.  One of the chief correspondences is that Sammael’s creation is an error.  The next is that Sammael wrongly identifies himself as the only God that exists, an error that is exposed in different ways in each text.  But overall The Secret Book According to John, The Reality of the Rulers, and the First Thought in Three Forms can be identified with some of the conceptions of Sammael we saw in the PRE.  He is a divine creature that revolts against God.  He tampers with a higher power’s prerogatives by attempting to usurp them.
            We may ask, at this point, why the birth narrative of Sammael is important to these three Nag Hammadi works but not the PRE?  The first answer is that in these “Gnostic” works the laying out of the birth of Sammael seems vital to the overall mythological narrative.  Sammael’s illegitimate birth and usurpation of power are key to the unfolding of the demiurgical drama, whereas in PRE, they are not a concern at all.
            Sammael in the Nag Hammadi works under discussion is an usurper, presumptive and jealous of power, and in many ways, blind to the true nature of the cosmos and its real ruler.  Yet         Ialadoboth/Sakla/Sammael shows his greatest promise in the section of these Nag Hammadi works that deal with the Adam, Eve, and the Garden.  In the Secret Book of John the mother of Sammael tries to recover some of her spirit that she inadvertently left in her creation.  She tricks Sammael into blowing life into the man that the powers have created for “[i]t did not understand, and the mother’s power left Altabaoth and entered the animate body which they had labored at after the image of the aboriginal existent.” [Layton,44].  Ialadaboth/Salka/Sammael is tricked into passing on his divine spirit into the earthy man. The human being surpassed Sammael because of the “light’s shadow” that existed within him, his “thinking surpassed all those who had made him.” [Layton,44].  A little later, the First Ruler extracted a portion from the first man to “perform another act of modelling in the form of a female.” [Layton,44]  At this point an entity known as the “luminous forethought” removed the veil from around Adam’s eyes, and Adam sees the female creature beside him, which the Secret Book of John calls Zoe, and takes its cue from Genesis calling her Eve “the mother of the living.”  Thanks to Eve Adam tasted “perfect acquaintance,” [Layton,46] seemingly the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and realized that they both “dwelled in a corpse, and they knew that they were naked.”
            After this episode, Aldabaoth curses the earth, and casts the man and woman from the garden.  He then sees “the female virgin” standing with Adam and the “living, luminous afterthought had been shown forth within her,” and Aldabaoth became filled with ignorance, and the forethought “caught life (Zoe) up out of Eve,” [Layton,47].  Here, the forethought seems to take the vital or divine element out of Eve, but this does not stop the First Ruler, Ialdaboath/Sakla/Sammael from defiling her.  This rape of Eve by the first ruler produces two sons:

…the first and the second, Eloim and Iaue.  Eloim has the face of a bear; Iaue, the face of a cat.  One is just, the other is unjust: Iaue is just, Eloim is unjust.  It established Iaue in charge of fire and wind, and established Eloim in charge of water and earth.  And it called them by the names Cain and Abel, with trickery in mind [Layton, 47]

            After the bearing of these two children by Ialdaboath and Eve, we are told that “after Adam had known the image of his prior acquaintance, he begot the image of the human being, and called him Seth, after the race in eternal realms.” [Layton,47].  After this episode, Adam and Eve were given “water of forgetfulness” by the first ruler, so they might “not know where they came from.” [Layton,47]
            Here the Secret Book of John takes a detour, and deals with the destiny of the human soul for several paragraphs before taking up the Genesis story line again.  There is a flood narrative here, and we are told that Noah and some other members of the “immovable race” were hid, not in an ark, as Moses claims, but “went into a certain place and hid within a luminous cloud” [Layton,50]
            Finally, the Secret Book of John tells a version of the fallen angel’s tale.  Here “the ruler brought darkness upon the earth” and “it sent angels to the daughters of humankind to take some of them unto themselves” [L,50].  At first, this plan did not succeed.  The angels then assembled together and made another: the angels “changed their image, after the image of their spouses, filling them with the spirit of darkness.”  These counterfeit spouses brought “gold, silver, gifts, copper, iron, metal, and all kinds of raw material,” to the earth. But most important of all, they “married women and begot children out of the darkness, after the image of their spirit.”  This class of humans closed their hearts and “hardened with the hardness of the counterfeit spirit,” and rather ominously, they exist “to the present time,” [50].
            There is a surprising uniformity in the portrayal of the Sammael character in the The Secret Book of John, The Reality of the Rulers, and the First Thought in Three Forms.  Sammael, also known as Iadlaboath/Sakla, or in some cases, the “First Ruler,” and is born in an act of illegitimacy.  This is further compounded by a further act: Sammael’s mistaken apprehension that he is the sole god.  The Secret Book of John fleshes out the full implications of this: Sammael expels Adam and Eve from the Garden, attempts to rape Eve (whose spiritual portion, Zoe, is rescued before she is assaulted) giving birth to Cain and Abel, who are also associated with Eloim and Iaue, most likely the two divine names of God found in the Bible, Elohim אלהים and Yahweh יהוה.  This Eloim and Iaue are represented theriomorphically, as animals.  The Secret Book of John contains a flood story, but interestingly before the race of “giants” sired by the angels and human women.  The flood story is not about Noah surviving in an ark, but many people escaping in some remote area and in a cloud, away from the first archon’s realm of control.  Finally, the Secret Book of John contains the story of the fallen angels: the archons descend to earth and try to seduce its women.  They are not successfully, so they retreat to form a new plan.  They disguise themselves as the women’s husbands and have sex with them.  They also introduce all manner of “luxuries” into the world, which the narrator seems to regard negatively.  But most important, the race of half human – half achonic beings continue to live to the present age – and spread darkness on the earth as their forefathers did.
            The Sammael character in the “Gnostic” texts consistently maintains his revolt against the true God, and against the principal being in creation, human beings.  This is done primarily through reproductive strategies: the human race is literally stained with archonic blood.  Some members of humanity are heir to Sammael, while other are not and therefore pure.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Intertextual Sammael: Variations on Sammael in Pirkve de Rabbi Eliezer and Selected “Gnostic” Works from Nag Hammadi (2)

Sammael in The Pirkve de Rabbi Eleizer

For a pseudepigraphal work the PRE enjoyed a considerable readership [3].  The book was reputedly written by Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyraknos, who lived in the latter half of the first century and the early part of the second century.  Known for his wisdom, scholarship and piety, Rabbi Eliezer was nevertheless excommunicated [4].  The work has an astonishing range and is probably a redaction of several different sources. It is first quoted in 850 CE, but the material in it probably dates much earlier [5]. 
Sammael is a key figure in the PRE [6].  He appears over a dozen times, often at critical moments in the history of Israel.  In the PRE he is introduced as the “great prince in heaven,” and while the Chajjoth had four wings, and the Seraphim had six wings, “Sammael had twelve wings” [PRE, 92].  Here, at least, Sammael’s identity and stature are not fully fleshed out.  His exalted status is implied by his having twelve wings, in contrast to the Chajjoth and Seraphim.  Sammael descends from heaven with his “band” [PRE, 92] and surveys all of the creation of God.  He finds that none is so skilled to do evil than the serpent.  The serpent’s appearance was “something like that of a camel” [PRE,92] and Sammael mounted and rode it.  The pre-existent Torah then questions Sammael asking why he is rebelling against God.  Subsequent to this, the PRE provides two parables to illustrate the relationship between the serpent and Sammael [PRE, 92-3].  The PRE then follows the Genesis account with some variations: Sammael confirms, through his mouthpiece the serpent, that God told Eve that if she touches the tree in the center of the garden she will die.  The serpent touches the tree, and when Eve sees that he continues to live, she touches it as well.  She immediately sees the angel of death approaching her, and fearing that she will die and God will make another woman for Adam, she convinces Adam to eat the fruit as well so: “if we shall die, we shall both die, and if we shall if we shall live, we shall both live.”  After God curses the first couple, he “cast down Sammael and his troops from their holy place in heaven,” and here Sammael drops out of the narrative of PRE for some time [PRE,99].
We pick him up again in Chapter 21.  This chapter opens with a quote from Genesis 3:3: “But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden,” and a reference to a Tannaitic tradition not found in the Mishnah:

Rabbi Ze’era said: Of the fruit of the tree – here “tree” only means man who is compared to the tree, as it is said “For man is the tree of the field” (Deut 20:19).  “Which is in the midst of the garden” is here only a euphemism.  “For which is in the midst of the garden” – “for garden” means here only a woman, who is compared to a garden, as it is said “A garden shut up is my sister, bride” (Song of Songs 4:12).  Just as with this garden whatever is sown therein, it produces and brings forth, so with this woman, what seed she receives, she conceives and bears, through sexual intercourse [PRE,150].

This short introduction to chapter 21 is a mixture of allegory and interpretation concerning the status of sexuality immediately following the expulsion from Eden.  Here, Adam is allegorized as a tree, with phallic connotations, and Eve is allegorized as the Garden, with the “midst of the garden” or middle of the garden, alluding to her genitals.  We might expect, after this that Adam and Eve would procreate. But after this set up, Sammael appears to enter the scene again “riding on the serpent came to her, and she conceived.” [7]. In the next sentence, “Adam came to her, and she conceived Abel, as it is said And Adam knew Eve his wife.”  The text then asks “What is the meaning of “knew?” Rather than what we may expect, that Genesis is referring here to sexual intercourse, the PRE explains that “(Adam) knew the she had conceived.”  Adam, it seems, is aware that Eve has conceived through Sammael and wished to have a child as well.  When Cain is born, Eve saw that his appearance was not “of the earthly beings, but of the heavenly beings, and she prophesied and said I have gotton a man from the Lord” [PRE,151].
            Once more, Sammael enters the narrative of the PRE and becomes a central figure in human history.  He is the mastermind behind Adam and Eve’s stumble in the garden, and even the serpent is merely his unwitting instrument.  Sammael jettisoned the first couple out of the garden, and is toppled from the heavenly sphere as punishment.  Now, he tampers with human procreation.  Riding the serpent, he impregnates Eve with Cain.  In response, it seems, Adam has sex with her, and she bears Abel.  Abel is fully human, while Cain bears the markings of his heavenly origins.  The text goes on to suggest that Cain and Abel, although they have different fathers, are twins, i.e. were conceived and then bore at the same time [PRE,152].  To add to these complexities, also born with them are twin sisters.
            Cain is a man who loved to till the ground, while Abel tended to flocks.  The PRE tells the familiar story from Genesis: Cain’s offering is not accepted to God, while Abel’s is; but expansion occurs here, and two sources are cited to prove that it was not merely God’s rejection of Cain’s offering that enraged him.  It was also sexual jealousy over Abel’s wife.  In support of this, the text allegorizes Genesis 4:8: “And it came to pass when they were in the field,” PRE explains: “In the field, means woman, who is compared to a field,”  and then Cain slays Abel with a stone.  The offspring of Sammael and Eve kills the first naturally born human being.  Sexual jealousy lies at the heart of this murder [PRE,155].  Sammael’s son has a genetic resemblance to his father.  Just as Sammael was jealous of God and humanity, so is Cain jealous of Abel’s offering, and more importantly, sexually jealous of his brother’s wife. 
            Elsewhere in the PRE Sammael also plays the role of jealous spoiler.  In a discussion of Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac, Sammael once again plays off the gullibility of a woman to upset the course of events:
            When Abraham returned from Mount Moriah in peace, the anger of Sammael was kindled, for he was that the desire of his heart to frustrate the offering of our father Abraham had not been realized.  What did he do? He went and said to Sara: Hast though not heard what has happened in the world?  She said to him: No.  He said to her: Thy husband, Abraham, has taken thy son Isaac and slain him and offered him up as a whole burnt offering upon an altar.  She began to weep and cry aloud three times… and her soul fled, and she died. [PRE,234]

Sammael’s incessant need to tamper with human affairs causes Sarah to die prematurely.  Sammael also attempts to distract the ram that is intended to be offered instead of Isaac [PRE,228].  Sammael makes a few other appearances in the PRE.  He enters the golden calf after Aaron has constructed it, and moos to mislead Israel [PRE,355].  In a chapter dealing with Moses revelation on Mount, we learn that Sammael was conferred vast powers:
Sammael said before the Holy One…Thou has given me power over all the nations of the world, but over Israel Thou hast not given me power.   He answered him, saying : Behold, thou hast power over them on the Day of Atonement if they have any sin, but if not, thou hast no power over them.  [PRE,263]

            Although Sammael appears relatively infrequently in the PRE, when he does his actions are telling of his importance.  In chronology, he first and foremost acts as the spoiler of God’s creation, particularly his crowning achievement, humanity.  Evil is introduced into the world from Sammael’s impregnation of Eve.  This race of half-human and half-divine beings are out of place on the earth, and continue to practice evil ways and influence humanity for the worse.  Seth was the only legitimate offspring of Adam and Eve: “From Seth arose and were descended all the generation of the righteous” [PRE,158], while from Cain “arose and descended all the generations of the wicked who rebel and sin [PRE,158].  The PRE goes into extraordinary detail about the moral habits of these Cainites.  The men and woman went about stark naked “like beasts” [PRE,159] and they sexually defiled themselves in all manner of ways, in all types of sexual unions, and out in the public, for all to see [PRE,159].  God begin to regret creating humanity, their iniquity is so great.  And matters get worse.  The sons of God האלהים בני  who fell from heaven in Genesis 6:2, see the daughters of Cain “walking about naked with their eyes painted like harlots,” and took them as wives.  The daughters of Cain, themselves half human and half divine, form unions with the Sons of God, and “bare their sons like a great reptile, six children at each birth.”  At the hour of their birth they “stood on their feet and spoke the holy language, [PRE,161] and these creatures, more fully divine than their mother’s, become totally depraved.  Noah chastises them for their sins, and they grow afraid.  They decide to continue to sleep with women, but to spill their seed on the ground, so as not to continue to procreate and anger God.  They also form a plan to thwart God’s flooding of the world.  They are so tall, their necks will reach above the waters and their feet will plug up the depths.  God responds to this by heating the waters of the flood [PRE,163].
            The PRE presents a remarkably consistent picture of Sammael, but this does not detract from its complexity.  He is the paragon of divine beings.  In the text, only God is higher than him in power.  He rebels against God and his foremost created being, the humans, and is cast down from heaven.  He is punished for this, but oddly he is given great powers: command of the earth except for the nations of Israel, and except on the Day of Atonement.  Rather than cease to have influence over the world after he tricks Eve and Adam into eating the fruit, his influence appears to grow.  His progeny from his union with Eve and later the Cainites women’s union with the sons of God  האלהים בני  create a race of beings even more divine, and even more dangerous to the world.  God decides that he must essentially destroy his creation, and begin again with Noah, a second Adam.  After the flood, we are told that “Noah found a vine which was lying which came out of the garden of Eden” [PRE,170].  Noah uses this vine from Eden to make wine.
            Sammael, as the arch-fallen angel, and his cohorts, the sons of God in Genesis 6:2, become in the PRE the very material cause of evil in the world.  The eating of the fruit in the garden by Adam and Eve is little more than collateral to what is in effect a revolt by some of God’s angels against him.  A portion of the divine world rebels against God, and in effect controls the destiny of humanity, and by extension, the world.  When we examine some of the Nag Hammadi works below, this revolt, and its results, will become a key event.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My Last "Academic Paper"

Written for a class at Cornell before I decided to take a less chosen path:

Eric Maroney
Final Paper
NES 428

The Intertextual Sammael: Variations on Sammael in Pirkve de Rabbi Eliezer and Selected “Gnostic” Works from Nag Hammadi

The Two Sammaels: The Rabbinic and the “Gnostic”

            Several Rabbinical texts and “Gnostic” works from the Nag Hammadi library feature Sammael as a prominent character.  In the Rabbinical literature he is usually associated with Satan, the chief of the fallen angels.  In later traditions he is often the husband of Lillith, the chief female demon [1].  He is given far ranging powers on earth, and in some cases, the world is his sole dominion.  He punishes Israel for its sins, and death is his prime instrument of retaliation, so much so that later he is often associated with the angel of death.  In the “Gnostic” works of Nag Hammadi library, Sammael is associated with the “demiurge,” the creator god of the universe who erroneously considers himself as the only god.  The Rabbinical conception of Sammael and the “Gnostic” are often viewed by scholars as wholly opposite.  Gedalaliahu Strousma, in his Another Seed: Studies in Gnostic Mythology, sees Sammael as Satan in the Jewish tradition, and the Chief Archon in the “Gnostic” [2]. While this statement is true across a certain range of meanings, it certainly does not wrap up the significance of this figure in both “traditions.”  
            In fact, there is a great deal of literary overlap between conception of Sammael in the “Gnostic” texts of the Nag Hammadi library and very many works of Rabbinical Judaism.  It is fair to ask what the relationship between these two bodies of works are, especially regarding Sammael, and because they become key to understanding Sammael’s function, the stories of Adam, Eve, the Serpent and the Garden of Eden?  Judging the criteria of this overlap is the central thesis of this paper.  We will primarily use the method of “intertextuality” to illustrate that the author(s) of the rabbinical work Pirkve de Rabbi Eliezer we will choose were most likely engaged with “gnostic” notions of Sammael, and sought to displace them with their own version.  As we will see later, this view is the opposite of what Stousma claims in his book Another Seed.
            We will primarily use the PRE  as our Rabbinical text.  Here, Sammael is given a prime importance, and one that has significant parallels with some of the works in Nag Hammadi. Other, later works, also feature Sammael as a character, but seem widely reliant on the PRE for their traditions.  So, the PRE give us a decent snap shot of Sammael, one that preserves early traditions about him, and was quite influential in subsequent works.  For the “Gnostic” works we will primarily use the “The Secret Book of John,” “The Revelation of Adam,” and “The Reality of the Rulers.”  These are works that have Sammael as a character, and from a narratalogical standpoint, contain crucial stories about Adam, Eve, the Serpent, and the Garden of Eden.  It will be necessary, now and again, to involve other texts as well.
            We will examine Sammael in the PRE first.  Then, we will give an overview of his appearances in the Nag Hammadi works featured above.  Following this, we will examine the lines of “intertexuality” between the uses of the stories of Sammael found in the PRE and the Nag Hammadi works, to illustrate the PRE’s engagement and transformation of “Gnostic” ideas and concepts.