The androgyne, whether as a symbol, a concept, or a bodily reality, appears to be employed in different and sometimes apparently contradictory ways within gnostic discourse. On the one hand, the heavenly father himself is an androgyne (Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit 51–52); the divine Barbelo, herself, is a “mother-father” and a “thrice-named androgyne” (Apocryphon of John 12.1–8), and Adam can only long for his ungendered days, when s/he was higher than the creator god (Apocalypse of Adam 64.5–65.25). On the other hand, we also learn that Ialdabaoth himself, that same evil material creator, the most abject entity in gnostic myth, is also an androgyne (Hypostasis of the Archons 94.8–19). This apparent discrepancy serves as the focal point of this paper, which aims to explain the complex, albeit largely consistent, use of the concept of the queered gender in gnostic myth. By reading this myth according to its internal order of events, I attempt to show that gnostic androgyny, far from being a ratification of Greco-Roman discourse (as has been sometimes suggested), is actually a subversion of this very discourse, constructed so as to reify the gnostic disapproval of an important Greco-Roman cultural premise — one that has been aptly defined by David Halperin as “the ancients’ deeply felt and somewhat anxiously defended sense of congruence between a person’s gender, sexual practices, and social identity” (1990:23).
BethgeHans-GebhardLaytonBentleySocietas Coptica HierosolymitanaLaytonBentley“On the Origin of the World”Nag Hammadi Codex ii 2–71989Volume 2: On the Origin of the World Expository Treatise on the Soul Book of Thomas the ContenderLeidenBrill2993
D’AngeloMary R.CoviGiovannaLocatelliCarla“Transcribing Sexual Politics: Images of the Androgyne in Discourses of Antique Religion”Descrizioni e iscrizioni: politiche del discorso1998TrentoDipartimento di scienze filologiche e storiche115146
MartinDale B.FinucciValeriaBrownleeKevin“Contradictions of Masculinity: Ascetic Inseminators and Menstruating Men in Greco-Roman Culture”Generation and Degeneration: Literature and Tropes of Reproduction from Antiquity through Early Modern Europe2001DurhamDuke University Press81108
See especially King2003. The differences between King’s objection to the politics involved in the very act of defining (and thus [re]creating) “Gnosticism” and Michael Williams’s denial of the usefulness of the scholarly typological construct of “Gnosticism” (Williams 1996) should be emphasized especially considering how often both objections are lumped together in scholarship to the benefit of neither. The difference is nowhere clearer than in Williams 2005 as opposed to King 2005.
See also Jonas1963:96: “[P]rovocation and scandal . . . [were] an intended effect of the [gnostic] novel message”; and 1963:241 where Jonas refers to Gnosticism and the “Greek mind” as “attacker” and “attacked” respectively.
See for instance D’Angelo1998:130. I would like to thank Sharon Weisser for facilitating my access to this publication.
HippolytusRefutation of all Heresies5.7.14–19; the Greek term is ἀρσενόθηλυς.