The Sethians and the Gnostics of Plotinus

Authored by: Tuomas Rasimus

The Routledge Handbook of Early Christian Philosophy

Print publication date:  November  2020
Online publication date:  November  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138685048
eBook ISBN: 9781315543512
Adobe ISBN:


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Sethians is the name given to early Christians who revered the third son of Adam and Eve, Seth, as their spiritual ancestor who had recently been incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth. Their writings are strongly colored by Platonism: the foundational Apocryphon of John, for example, may be seen as a Philonic reading of the Gospel of John, which, together with the Allogenes and Zostrianus, anticipates the Plotinian and post-Plotinian anatomy of nous as an intelligible triad (thereby also anticipating the Trinitarian speculations of Marius Victorinus). The final section argues that both Plotinus and Porphyry show the influence of these Gnostic texts (to which Porphyry alludes at Life of Plotinus 16), although Plotinus came to distance himself from his former associates by advancing a different reading of Timaeus 39e.

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