Gnosis Undomesticated: Archon-Seduction, Demon Sex, and Sodomites in the Paraphrase of Shem (nhc vii,1)

In: Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies
Author: Dylan M. Burns1
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Scholarship has of late sought to “domesticate” Gnostic literature, situating the Nag Hammadi texts in late ancient Egyptian asceticism. Evidence about “libertine” Gnosticism is now regarded by many to be sheer fiction, entirely without parallel in the Nag Hammadi corpus. Yet not all Gnostic texts are so easy to tame; the Paraphrase of Shem, for instance, is a work replete with seemingly shocking material—ranging from the seduction of an archontic womb to a demonic sex scene and valorization of the Sodomites. This paper will address these sexually explicit passages and demonstrate that they derive from mythic strata associated with “libertine” Gnostic practices, particularly amongst the Manichaeans and the “Borborites” known to Epiphanius of Salamis.

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