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