Tag Archives: platonism

The Apocalypse of the Alien God

Apocalypse of the Alien God: Platonism and the Exile of Sethian Gnosticism by Dylan M Burns, in the Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion series, from University of Pennsylvania Press, may be of interest.

Dylan M Burns Apocalypse of the Alien God from University of Pennsylvania Press

“In the second century, Platonist and Judeo-Christian thought were sufficiently friendly that a Greek philosopher could declare, ‘What is Plato but Moses speaking Greek?’ Four hundred years later, a Christian emperor had ended the public teaching of subversive Platonic thought. When and how did this philosophical rupture occur? Dylan M. Burns argues that the fundamental break occurred in Rome, ca. 263, in the circle of the great mystic Plotinus, author of the Enneads. Groups of controversial Christian metaphysicians called Gnostics (‘knowers’) frequented his seminars, disputed his views, and then disappeared from the history of philosophy—until the 1945 discovery, at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, of codices containing Gnostic literature, including versions of the books circulated by Plotinus’s Christian opponents. Blending state-of-the-art Greek metaphysics and ecstatic Jewish mysticism, these texts describe techniques for entering celestial realms, participating in the angelic liturgy, confronting the transcendent God, and even becoming a divine being oneself. They also describe the revelation of an alien God to his elect, a race of ‘foreigners’ under the protection of the patriarch Seth, whose interventions will ultimately culminate in the end of the world.

Apocalypse of the Alien God proposes a radical interpretation of these long-lost apocalypses, placing them firmly in the context of Judeo-Christian authorship rather than ascribing them to a pagan offshoot of Gnosticism. According to Burns, this Sethian literature emerged along the fault lines between Judaism and Christianity, drew on traditions known to scholars from the Dead Sea Scrolls and Enochic texts, and ultimately catalyzed the rivalry of Platonism with Christianity. Plunging the reader into the culture wars and classrooms of the high Empire, Apocalypse of the Alien God offers the most concrete social and historical description available of any group of Gnostic Christians as it explores the intersections of ancient Judaism, Christianity, Hellenism, myth, and philosophy.” [via]

Imagining Karma

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Imagining Karma: Ethical Transformation in Amerindian, Buddhist, and Greek Rebirth by Gananath Obeyesekere.

Ganath Obeyesekere Imagining Karma

Obeyesekere works through a project of “comparative structural interpretation” (354), using simplified and idealized models of the processes described by rebirth doctrines within and among various cultures. One of his goals is to demonstrate that reincarnation “eschatologies” are not unique to Indic religions, as is sometimes supposed. The societies that furnish Obeyesekere with ethnological data are Vedanta and Upanishadic Hinduism, Theravada Buddhism, West Africa, Trobriand, Northwest Coast Amerindians, Inuit, Tlingit, Kwakiutl, Classical Hellenism (as Pythagoreanism and Platonism), “Heterodox Islam” (as Druzes and Ismailism), and Bali. He omits the kabbalistic metempsychosis of mystical Judaism, as well as some Australian and Asian cultures of reincarnation, noting that he is especially interested in those who hold beliefs permitting cross-species rebirth of humans. This latter idea he ties to the notion of “species sentience” (his term) and relates structurally to vegetarianism, by means of an endoanthropophagy (cannibalism) taboo.

Obeyesekere distinguishes a “karmic eschatology” from the basic “rebirth eschatology” according to the presence of two features, which he groups under the process of “ethicization” of the reincarnation process. The first feature is a differentiation of post-mortem otherworld experiences based on the ethical status of the deceased. The second is the ethicization of rebirth per se, so that the ethical value of one life has the determinative effect on the identity and quality of the next life. (He notes that this latter feature correlates to a devaluation of animals, when compared to rebirth schemas that lack it.) Tied to this ethicization is the establishment of a salvation that lies outside the cycle of rebirth altogether. Obeyesekere also asserts a parallel process of “axiologization,” by which preexisting local values are conceptualized and universalized. While outlining his model of the “karmic eschatology,” he counters Western descriptions (or “inventions”) of Buddhism as essentially and originally “rational” (151 ff.).

Having constructed the model of Buddhist rebirth ideas, with reference to those of “small-scale societies,” Obeyesekere compares it to other cultures under his consideration. He also discusses instances of deviance from the model within Buddhism (e.g. 132), and variability within the other cultures. None are presented as static or uniform, but the structure(s) described by Obeyesekere serve(s) as a strange attractor around which the instances group themselves, according to “expectability” and its circumstantial thwarting. He emphasizes (e.g. 139) that “popular” features durably contradicting “pure” doctrines are as likely to be survivals from the religion’s first codification as they are to be “contaminations” from a subsequent, alien source.

He explains that his methodological goal is to demonstrate that while cultures as wholes may be “incommensurable,” comparison of important aspects or dimensions of culture can be undertaken productively. Although I found plenty of his more specific arguments questionable (often provocatively so), I think he succeeds on this most general plane of his ambition. [via]


Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition, Vol 3 No 24

Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition, Vol 3 No 24, which is organized around the theme “Platonism”, was released today, for the Vernal Equinox 2013. Contents listed include:

To Become Like God, So Far as Possible, Editorial by J. S. Kupperman
Theurgy in Antiquity by J. Pedro Feliciano
The Gnostic Stranger in Unpanishadic Thought by Alexander Rivera
The Kybalion’s New Clothes by Nicholas E. Chapel
Interview with Michael Wilding by Teresa Burns

… as well as book reviews and other sundries of interest, including the theme “Eros and Agape” for next issue.

The Apocalypse

The Apocalypse” is the theme for the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition, No 23 Vol 3, Autumnal Equinox 2012, which is now available online. In addition to several interesting articles, including the first of a series of translations of and commentary on writings of the Bavarian Illuminati, there are book reviews for a number of recent publications you may wish to check out.

 


Cover: The Angel of Silence by J. S. Kupperman

 

“This issue of the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition offers two featured articles. The first of these, The Apocalypticism of Joachim of Fiore and the Western Mystery Tradition, by Dr. William Behun, explores various approaches to apocalyptic literature within the framework of Joachim of Fiore and applies them to the Western Mystery Tradition. In doing so, Dr. Behun advances perspectives on the subject that should prove important to anyone engaged in either the study or practice of the various WMT traditions. The second paper, In Search of the Illuminati: A Light Amidst Darkness by K. M. Hataley is not so much about an apocalypse, but is itself a revelation. This issue marks the first of a series on the Bavarian Illuminati, including not only elements of its history, but, for the first time, English translations of original Illuminati texts!” [via]

The next two issues will focus on Platonism and Eros, respectively, so you may wish to check out the current submissions guidelines and contribute.