The predominant image of the crown is among the most baffling features of several, difficult Gnostic apocalypses, recensions of which we know to have been controversial in the school of the Neoplatonic philosopher Plotinus (ca. 263 c.e.). In these “Sethian” apocalypses, recovered from Nag Hammadi (Upper Egypt) in 1945, crowns adorn heavenly beings, and are donned by seers during their celestial voyages. It is clear they are significant in this literature, but scholarship has yet to answer how, and why. First, while these crowns are relatively common in the “Sethian Gnostic” literature, they are notably absent from the Hellenic philosophical tradition which also informs the apocalypses in Plotinus’ school. The abundance of crown-imagery, however, in contemporary Jewish and Christian apocalypses thus serves as evidence of a Judeo-Christian background for this “Platonizing” Sethian literature, even if it is replete with Neoplatonic jargon instead of references to Jesus of Nazareth. Secondly, the crowns seem to indicate a state of glorification and deification derivative from ancient Jewish tradition concerning the possibility of recovering the primordial glory of humanity, often phrased as becoming an angel. Thirdly, Plotinus’ Christian Gnostic opponents may have seen these crowns differently — as indicative of the glory of martyrdom, reminding us that this early confrontation between Hellenic and Christian Gnostic philosophers followed on the heels of the Decian and Valerianic persecutions.
AbramowskiLuiseBlumeHorst-DieterMannFriedhelm“Nag Hammadi 8,1 ‘Zostrianos,’ das Anonymum Brucianum, Plotin Enn. 2,9 (33).”Platonismus und Christentum: Festschrift für Heinrich Dörrie1983MünsterAschendorffsche Verlagsbuchhandlung110
FrankfurterDavidVanderKamJames C.AdlerWilliam“The Legacy of Jewish Apocalypses in Early Christianity: Regional Trajectories.”The Jewish Apocalyptic Heritage in Early Christianity1996MinneapolisFortress Press129200
LewyHansChaldaean Oracles and Theurgy: Mysticism, Magic and Platonism in the Later Roman Empire. Troisème édition par Michel Tardieu, avec un supplément“Les Oracles chaldaïques 1891–2001”2011 ParisÉtudes augustiniennes
RasimusTuomasTurnerJohn D.CorriganKevin“Porphyry and the Gnostics: Reassessing Pierre Hadot’s Thesis in Light of the Second- and Third-Century Sethian Treatises.”Plato’s Parmenides and Its Heritage2010vol. 2AtlantaSociety of Biblical Literature81110
SchenkeHans-MartinLaytonBentley“The Phenomenon and Significance of Gnostic Sethianism.”The Rediscovery of Gnosticism: Proceedings of the International Conference on Gnosticism at Yale New Haven Connecticut March 28–31 19781981LeidenBrill588616
SchroederFredericTurnerJohn D.MajercikRuth“Aseity and Connectedness in the Plotinian Philosophy of Providence.”Gnosticism and Later Platonism: Themes Figures and Texts2001AtlantaSociety of Biblical Literature303317
TurnerJohn D.TurnerJohn D.CorriganKevin“The Platonizing Sethian Treatises, Marius Victorinus’s Philosophical Sources, and Pre-Plotinian Parmenides Commentaries.”Plato’s Parmenides and Its Heritage2010vol. 1AtlantaSociety of Biblical Literature131172
Abramowski1981:6noted the presence of crowns in the Untitled treatise as well as Zostrianos but did not analyze them.
See Schenke1981:601–602and Turner 2001:122.
Thus Poirier2000:401–402noting further that “one must therefore see in it a symbol of their election or of the perfection they have attained. It is not a crown that is promised but a crown already possessed just as in the Odes of Solomon.”
Turner2000c:136. On Gnostics as rulers over the archons cf. Orig. Worldnhc ii 5.125; Fallon 1979:285.
Sevrin1986:218–220; Turner 2001:195; and Brakke 2009:201–204. Nonetheless the treatise still offers some important data concerning the Sethian traditions it incorporates and so merits analysis here.
This text can be found in Schmidt1978.
See the recent edition of Betz2003.
Meeks1967:235; Fossum 1985:88; see these for passages Mem. Marq. 2.12 4.7 5.3 6.2 in MacDonald 1963.
See Grundmann1964:626on Asc. Is. 9.9 9.24 11.40; b. Ber. 17a; b. Šabb. 104a.
Turfan fragment M5569 = Gardner and Lieu2004:88. When possible I have used the translations offered in Gardner and Lieu 2004.