Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Intertextual Sammael: Variations on Sammael in Pirkve de Rabbi Eliezer and Selected “Gnostic” Works from Nag Hammadi (5)

The end of my last fully  academic paper, written in the Fall of 2005.  After this class and paper, and because of it in an inverse influence, I decided to write a book, Religious Syncretism, which was published in 2006.  Then I took another set of classes on the Hebrew Bible (no extant papers), and the inverse force worked again, and wrote and published another book in 2009.


The “scandalous” tales of the Gnostics are put to good use in the PRE, especially regarding antediluvian times: PRE appropriates the motif of a divine rebellion against the one true God by lesser divine entities; it contains a seduction of Eve by Sammael; there is the tale of two races, one chosen and human and the other of mixed human and divine parentage.  Rather than being the sole possession of oral traditions handed down unchanged and unsullied, as Strousman asserts, the PRE is engaged in active redirection, reinterpretation, and re-characterization of some of the “Gnostic” tales we have been discussing.   Sammael in the Nag Hammadi works examined here is clearly a demiurgical entity.  He is a lesser God that is guided by arrogance and folly.  PRE takes this image of the arrogant Sammael found in the “Gnostic” works, reproduces it, but also shifts the emphasis toward some notions that are key to the PRE’s narrative agenda: Sammael is a lesser entity but other than the reproductive role that he steals (from Eve), he is not a creator at all.  All his power is derived from God’s mandate.  PRE Sammael steals what he can, and is more powerful than demiurgual Sammael.  Here the “rabbis’ are taking a “Gnostic” notion and molding it to suit their needs; they maintain Sammael’s role as a lesser divine entity, capable of great power, but strip him of any demiurgal functions; they do invest him with a healthy does of legitimacy that notions of Sammael in the Nag Hammadi works often lack.  We can see here some of Karen King’s assessments: the characterization of Sammael in Nag Hammadi is used by PRE in order to supersede them.  The result is the opposite of Strousma’s: the “Gnostic” informs the Rabbinic. Intertextual analysis does not draw exact lines of transmission from text to text.  Rather, what we have are a series of possible influences rather than exact lines of communication.  If this is more uncertain than Strousma it leaves more lines of investigation open than Strousma’s open and shut case.


[1] Dan, Joseph, “Samael, Lilith, and the Concept of Evil in the Early Kabbalah,” AJS Review, Vol. 5, 1980, pp. 17-40.

[2] Another Seed: Studies in Gnostic Mythology, Strousmsa, Gedalihahu, 1984, E.J. Brill: Leiden.

[3] Pirkve de Rabbi Eliezer, introduction, Friedlander xvii. Rashi quotes the work in his commentary of Genesis, Deuteronomy, and Jonah.  Yehudah ha-Levi uses it in the Kuzari.  The work is quoted, sighted and used by Maimonides in the Moreh Neubikim.

[4] Rabbi Eliezer seemed to run afoul of the majority opinion in the Sanhedrin and was placed under the ban.

[5] PRE, Freidlander xviii. Freidlander states that the first known reference to the work are from the Geonim of Babylon in the Siddur of Rab Amram around 850 CE xviii.  Stroumsa claims that the PRE was redacted in “the early days of the Ummayad dynasty,” around 661 CE, but that it often records “much earlier traditions,” Stroumsa, Gedaliahu, A. G., Another Seed, 1984, E.J. Brill: Leiden, p. 26.

[6] Sammael or Samael appears in Talmudic and post-Talmudic literature as an accuser, seducer and destroyer. During the Middle Ages, he was considered a magician, and in the Kabala he was employed during the preparation of amulets.  His name is etymologized as סםיאל, “the venom of God” or “blind God,” from the Aramaic word for blind, סוםא, Stroumsa, 44; Kabbalah, Gershom Scholem 385-8.

[7] PRE, 150; here the Hebrew text does not use Sammael’s name, but implies it is he:   נחש ורוכבת אליה בא      there seems to be a problem with chronology here.  Earlier in the PRE we are told that the serpent’s legs are cut off as punishment for his collusion with Sammael, PRE, 99.  Yet here, Sammael is riding the serpent again, as if he was still in the form of a camel.

[8] Scholem, Gershom, Kabbalah, 385.

[9]  Allen, Graham, Intertextuality,  3.

[10] ibid., 3.

[11] ibid., 3.

[12] Aichele, George, The Postmodern Bible, 130.

[13] ibid., 130.

[14] King, Karen, The Gospel of Mary, 98.


Aichele, George et al, eds., The Postmodern Bible, 1995, Yale University Press, New Haven.

Allen, Graham, Intertextuality, 2000, Routledge, London, New York

Bonner-Klein, Dagmar, (trans), Pirke de-Rabbi Elieser, Hebrew and German, 2004, Walter de Gruyter: Berlin

Dan, Joseph, “Samael, Lilith, and the Concept of Evil in the Early Kabbalah,” AJS Review, Vol. 5, 1980

Friedlander, Gerald (trans), Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, 1965, Hermon Press: New York

King, Karen, The Gospel of Mary of Magdala, Jesus and the First Woman Apostle, 2003, Polebridge Press: Santa Rosa, CA

Layton, Bently (trans), The Gnostic Scriptures, 1987, Doublday & Company: Garden City.

Scholem, Gershom, Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition, 1960, Jewish Theological Seminary of America: Philadelphia

Scholem, Gershom, Kabbalah, 1974, Quadragnle/New York Times Book Co: New York.

Stroumsa, Gedaliahu, Another Seed: Studies in Gnostic Mythology, A.G., 1984, E.J. Brill: Leiden

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