Search Results

Author: Zeke Mazur

Throughout Enneads ii.9[33], commonly called Against the Gnostics, Plotinus repeatedly complains that the gnostics claim to possess an extraordinary capability to undertake a visionary ascent beyond the divine Intellect itself so as to attain the transcendent (and hyper-noetic) deity: a claim which he considers the height of arrogance. Plotinus further implies that this gnostic claim was in some way connected with the disparagement of Plato and the Greek philosophical tradition. No explicit trace of such disparagement has been found. This paper argues that (1) the extant Platonizing Sethian corpus, and in particular the tractate Zostrianos (nhc viii,1), envisions a complex hierarchy of types of souls, each correlated with both a different potential for visionary ascent and a corresponding position in the postmortem cycle of transmigration; that (2) Zostrianos tacitly suggests that the non-Sethian academic Platonists are those condemned to exile in the intermediary strata due to their cognitive overreach for the Good in the absence of Sethian revelation, and that (3) this reflects a gnostic deployment—against the Platonists themselves—of the supposedly Platonic injunction (in the 2nd Letter) that the soul’s attempt to comprehend the supreme principle, with which the soul has no kinship, inevitably leads to a fall into evil.

In: Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies
In: Practicing Gnosis
In: Gnosticism, Platonism and the Late Ancient World
Author: Zeke Mazur
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.
Author: Zeke Mazur

In several iterations of the Gnostic ontogenetic myth, we find variations on an intriguing notion: namely, that the first rupture in the otherwise eternal and continuous procession of ‘aeons’ in the divine ‘pleroma’ is caused by a cognitive overreach and failure (the “fall of Sophia”). As much as it might contain a distant echo of certain myths concerning hubris in the classical tradition or in biblical literature, this general schema of cognitive overreach—cognitive failure—fall has no obvious parallel in Greek philosophy prior to Plotinus, in some of whose more pessimistic accounts of hypostatic procession we find a similar schema, in which the generation of each ontological stratum occurs as the result of a cognitive failure on the superjacent level. If Plotinus borrowed this schema from the Gnostics, one might ask how the latter came up with it in the first place. In response, this paper makes the following three points. [1] Gnostic thinkers ultimately derived this schema from a particular juxtaposition of two profoundly aporetic Platonic passages referring to the travails of the individual soul, one certainly genuine (the description of the unexplained but catastrophic fall of the soul that fails to follow the heavenly train of the gods through the intelligible realm at Phaedrus 248c2-d3), the other quite possibly spurious (the claim that the cause of all evils is the desire, and the failure, of the soul to understand the nature of the notoriously enigmatic ‘King,’ ‘Second,’ and ‘Third,’ at 2nd Letter 312e1-313a6). [2] The Platonizing Sethian Gnostics closest to Plotinus also employed this latter source text to justify their conception of the individual soul, whose vicissitudes were understood to parallel those of Sophia. [3] This hypothesis is confirmed by evidence of tacit anti-Gnostic argumentation alluding to the 2nd Letter throughout Plotinus’ oeuvre.

In: The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition