Editor’s Preface to the Present Volume

In: The Platonizing Sethian Background of Plotinus’s Mysticism
Dylan Michael Burns Berlin-Charlottenburg

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Editor’s Preface to the Present Volume

The present monograph is a revision of Dr. Alexander J. ‘Zeke’ Mazur’s 2010 doctoral dissertation (submitted to the Committee on the History of Culture, University of Chicago, August 2010), a pioneering work in the study of Plotinus and his relationship with Gnosticism, particularly with reference to the Coptic Gnostic works discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, ca. December 1945. Many scholars, including myself, obtained copies of the long-awaited dissertation as soon as they were available and were impressed by its depth and originality. In 2011, Dr. Mazur submitted the dissertation to Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies for publication, and the series’ managing editor at the time for Nag Hammadi, Prof. Einar Thomassen, accepted it on a provisional basis. This was welcome news, as anyone who had read the dissertation understood that it is a truly significant contribution to the study of Plotinus as well as the philosophical import of the Nag Hammadi Codices.

Following his tragic, unexpected death in August 2016, Dr. Mazur’s notes and work-in-progress were given to his mentor and collaborator Prof. Jean-Marc Narbonne. Together with Prof. Narbonne, Prof. John D. Turner (†2019) went about the task of sorting through Dr. Mazur’s (digital) Nachlass so as to determine what might be brought to publication. Thanks to the efforts of Prof. Narbonne as well as Dr. Francis Lacroix, a set of Dr. Mazur’s studies focused principally on Plotinus’s treatise Against the Gnostics (Ennead II.9[33]) has already been published in English,1 with an abridged version in French to follow in the Collection Βudé. Meanwhile, at the June 2017 conference of the International Society of Neoplatonic Studies in Olomouc, Czech Republic, Prof. Turner and I agreed that Mazur’s dissertation was already sufficiently developed to be published without significant editing of content, that Mazur himself would have wanted to see its publication (given proper editorial care), and that we should undertake editorial work on its style and formatting.

It was not difficult to organize a circle of Dr. Mazur’s friends and colleagues who agreed to share the assignment. Over the course of 2018–2020, Prof. Kevin Corrigan, Dr. Ivan Miroshnikov, Dr. Tuomas Rasimus, and Prof. Turner very generously contributed their time, expertise, and effort in editing this book for style and formatting. I shared in their labors and coordinated the team, with the invaluable support of my assistants at the Freie Universität Berlin, Elisabeth Koch, Janik Petersdorff, and Philipp Scharfenberger. It is thanks to these individuals that Dr. Mazur’s brilliant dissertation has enjoyed a worthy κόσµησις and finally been made available to the scholarly community beyond those who had access to the original Chicago dissertation, in a state that should invite the engagement of scholars of Neoplatonism, Nag Hammadi studies, and related fields.

Prof. Turner and I agreed from the start that the best way to respect Dr. Mazur’s work was to change as little of the Chicago dissertation as possible—to clean up what was already there, permitting the treasures this silenos already conceals to shine all the more. Thus, we have not significantly edited Mazur’s arguments or interpretations of evidence, nor his prose. Nor have we added reference to any of the significant secondary literature on Plotinus and the Gnostics which has appeared in the last decade.2 Rather, the team, to the best of its ability, corrected typos and references, controlled the Greek and Coptic text, removed the occasional spurious reference (never with significant effect on Dr. Mazur’s argument), and standardized references, formatting, and bibliography. Details regarding references and translations are found on the following pages.

The relationship between Gnosticism and later Platonism, and in particular the thought of Plotinus and Porphyry, is one of the most exciting and promising trajectories of research today for scholars of later Greek philosophy, ancient Christianity, and Coptology alike. With the passing of Dr. Mazur in 2016 and Prof. Turner in 2019, the investigation of this trajectory has lost two of its greatest minds and advocates. It is the hope of the ‘friends of Zeke’ who edited the present volume that its publication will stimulate others to reflect further on Plotinus, his mysterious friends, and the significance of the Nag Hammadi texts for our understanding of religion and philosophy in late antiquity and beyond.

Dylan Michael Burns

Berlin-Charlottenburg, 5 May 2020


Zeke Mazur, Introduction and Commentary to Plotinus’s Treatise 33 (II.9) ‘Against the Gnostics’ and Related Studies, edited by Francis Lacroix and Jean-Marc Narbonne (Zetesis; Laval: Presses de l’Université Laval, 2019).


Monographs include Jean-Marc Narbonne, Plotinus in Dialogue with the Gnostics (Studies in Platonism, Neoplatonism, and the Platonic Tradition 11; Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2011); Nicola Spanu, Plotinus, ‘Ennead’ II 9 [33] ‘Against the Gnostics’: A Commentary (Studia Patristica Supplement 1; Leuven: Peeters, 2012); Dylan M. Burns, Apocalypse of the Alien God: Platonism and the Exile of Sethian Gnosticism (Divinations; Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014); Sebastian Gertz, Plotinus. Ennead II.9: Against the Gnostics: Translation, with an Introduction and Commentary (The Enneads of Plotinus; Las Vegas; Zürich; Athens: Parmenides Press, 2017); Nicholas Banner, Philosophic Silence and the ‘One’ in Plotinus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018). Volumes of papers with relevant studies include but are not limited to Kevin Corrigan and Tuomas Rasimus, with Dylan M. Burns, Lance Jenott, and Zeke Mazur (eds.), Gnosticism, Platonism, and the Late Ancient World: Essays in Honour of John D. Turner (Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies 82; Leiden: Brill, 2013); Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies 1–2 (2016); Helmut Seng and Giulia Sfamena Gasparro (eds.), Theologische Orakel in der Spätantike (Bibliotheca Chaldaica 5; Universitätsverlag Winter: Heidelberg, 2016); Helmut Seng, Luciana Soares Santoprete, and Chiara O. Tommasi Moreschini (eds.), Formen und Nebenformen des Platonismus in der Spätantike (Bibliotheca Chaldaica 6; Universitätsverlag Winter: Heidelberg, 2016); Chiara O. Tommasi, Luciana Soares Santoprete, and Helmut Seng (eds.), Hierarchie und Ritual: Zur philosophischen Spiritualität in der Spätantike (Bibliotheca Chaldaica 7; Universitätsverlag Winter: Heidelberg, 2018).