The Platonizing Sethian Background of Plotinus’s Mysticism


In The Platonizing Sethian Background of Plotinus’s Mysticism, Zeke Mazur offers a radical reconceptualization of Plotinus with reference to Gnostic thought and praxis.
A crucial element in the thought of the third-century CE philosopher Plotinus—his conception of mystical union with the One—cannot be understood solely within the conventional history of philosophy, or as the product of a unique, sui generis psychological propensity. This monograph demonstrates that Plotinus tacitly patterned his mystical ascent to the One on a type of visionary ascent ritual that is first attested in Gnostic sources. These sources include the Platonizing Sethian tractates Zostrianos (NHC VIII,1) and Allogenes (NHC XI,3) of which we have Coptic translations from Nag Hammadi and whose Greek Vorlagen were known to have been read in Plotinus’s school.

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Alexander J. ‘Zeke’ Mazur, Ph.D. (2010), University of Chicago, was a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Philosophy of Université Laval, Québec, Canada. His research and publications focused on Plotinus and the Gnostics as well as other aspects of the relationship between religious praxis and academic philosophy in late antiquity.
'Speculations, hypotheses, and unanswered questions haunt this fascinating volume. [...] [we can] accept his general claim that Platonizing Sethian spirituality influenced and inspired Plotinus’ own view of the ascent of the soul to the One.' Mateusz Strozynski, University Adam Mickiewicza, BMCR 2021,
Editor’s Preface to the Present Volume
Author’s Acknowledgments
Editor’s Note on References, Editions, and Translations
List of Tables
Author’s Preface

1 Introduction: The Gnostic Background of Plotinus’s Mysticism
 1 The Fundamental Problem of Plotinian Mysticism
 2 Problems with the Prior Scholarship on Plotinian Mysticism
 3 Platonizing Sethian Visionary Ascent and the Historical Context of Plotinian Mysticism
 4 The Current State of the Research

2 The Structure of Plotinus’ Ascent to Mystical Union with the One
 1 Introduction
 2 Phase A: Catharsis
 3 Phase B: Mystical Self-Reversion
 4 Phase C: Autophany
 5 Excursus: A First Meditation on the Identity of the Mystical Subject
 6 Phase C2: Self-Unification
 7 Phase D: Annihilation
 8 Excursus: Second Meditation on the Identity of the Mystical Subject
 9 Excursus: On Beauty
 10 Phase E: Union with the One
 11 Vision and Light
 12 Ennead VI.9[9].11.22–25 [See Complete Passage in Appendix A8]
 13 Ennead VI.7[38].36.10–26 [Appendix A16]
 14 Ennead V.3[49].17.28–38 [Appendix A19]
 15 Excursus on V.3[49].17–28
 16 Ennead V.5[32].8.18–21 [Appendix A12]
 17 Convergence of Center-Points
 18 Sexual Intercourse
 19 Excursus on VI.7[38].35.23–32
 20 Rapture or Spatial Displacement
 21 Excursus on VI.7[38].35.36–40
 22 Excursus on VI.7[38].36.15–18
 23 Cultic Praxis
 24 Phase E2: Desubjectification
 25 Conclusion

3 The Identity of Prenoetic and Hypernoetic Subjects in Plotinus
 1 Introduction
 2 1. Plotinian Ontogenesis
 3 2. The Identity of the Hypernoetic Subject with the Prenoetic Efflux
 4 3. The Convergence of Prenoetic and Hypernoetic Ecstasy
 5 Conclusion

4 “The Way of Ascent is the Way of Descent”: The Mechanism of Transcendental Apprehension in Platonizing Sethian Gnosticism
 1 Introduction
 2 1. The Structure of Ascent in the Platonizing Sethian Ascent Treatises
 3 2. Mystical Self-Reversion and Autophany in Gnostic Visionary Ascent
 4 3. The Faculty of Transcendental Apprehension in Platonizing Sethianism
 5 Conclusion

5 Conclusion: Dissolving Boundaries
 1 Introduction
 2 1. Platonists and Gnostics in Alexandria and Rome: Biographical and Socio-historical Reflections
 3 2. Philosophical Contemplation and Ritual Praxis
 4 Conclusion
All interested in the history of Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, and the relationship between religious praxis and academic philosophy in late antiquity.
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