«3.7 [...] Κοδδιανοὺς ἐπωνόμασαν. οἱ αὐτοὶ δὲ ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ Στρατιωτικοὶ καλοῦνται καὶ Φιβιωνῖται, ὡς ἄνω μοι ἐν μέρει λέλεκται· τινὲς δὲ αὐτοὺς Ζακχαίους καλοῦσιν, ἄλλοι δὲ Βαρβηλίτας. [...]
4. Παρελεύσομαι δὲ εἰς τὸν οἶκον τοῦ βυθοῦ τῆς θανατώδους αὐτῶν διηγήσεως (διάφορος γὰρ παρ’ αὐτοῖς ἡ τῆς ἡδονῆς αὐτῶν κακοδιδασκαλία), ὅτι πρῶτον μὲν κοινὰς τὰς ἑαυτῶν γυναῖκας ἔχουσι. καὶ εἴ τις ξένος παραγένοιτο τοῦ αὐτῶν δόγματος, σημεῖόν ἐστι παρ’ καὶ εἴ τις ξένος παραγένοιτο τοῦ αὐτῶν δόγματος, σημεῖόν ἐστι παρ’ αὐτοῖς ἀνδρῶν πρὸς γυναῖκας καὶ γυναικῶν πρὸς ἄνδρας, ἐν τῷ ἐκτείνειν τὴν χεῖρα, δῆθεν εἰς ἀσπασμόν, ὑποκάτωθεν τῆς παλάμης ψηλάφησίν τινα γαργαλισμοῦ ἐμποιεῖν, διὰ τούτου ὑποφαίνοντες ὡς τῆς αὐτῶν θρῃσκείας ἐστὶν ὁ παραγενόμενος. ἐντεῦθεν λοιπὸν ἐπιγνόντες ἀλλήλους τρέπονται εὐθὺς εἰς ἑστίασιν· δαψιλῆ δὲ τὰ ἐδέσματα κρεοφαγίας καὶ οἰνοποσίας παρατιθέασι, κἄν τε πένητες εἶεν. ἐκ τούτου δὲ συμποσιάσαντες καὶ ὡς ἔπος εἰπεῖν τὰς φλέβας τοῦ κόρου ἐμπλήσαντες ἑαυτῶν εἰς οἶστρον τρέπονται. καὶ ὁ μὲν ἀνὴρ τῆς γυναικὸς ὑποχωρήσας φάσκει λέγων τῇ ἑαυτοῦ γυναικὶ ὅτι «ἀνάστα, ποίησον τὴν ἀγάπην μετὰ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ». οἱ δὲ τάλανες μιγέντες ἀλλήλοις καί, ὡς ἐπὶ ἀληθείας αἰσχύνομαι εἰπεῖν τὰ παρὰ τοῖς αὐτοῖς αἰσχρὰ πραττόμενα (ὅτι κατὰ τὸν ἅγιον ἀπόστολον τὰ παρ’ αὐτοῖς γινόμενα «αἰσχρόν ἐστι καὶ λέγειν»), ὅμως οὐκ αἰσχυνθῶ λέγειν ἃ αὐτοὶ ποιεῖν οὐκ αἰσχύνονται, ἵνα κατὰ πάντα τρόπον φρῖξιν ἐργάσωμαι τοῖς ἀκούουσι τὰ παρ’ αὐτῶν τολμώμενα αἰσχρουργήματα —μετὰ γὰρ τὸ μιγῆναι πάθει πορνείας πρὸς ἐπὶ τούτοις ἀνατείνοντες τὴν ἑαυτῶν βλασφημίαν εἰς οὐρανὸν δέχεται μὲν τὸ γύναιον καὶ ὁ ἀνὴρ τὴν ῥύσιν τὴν ἀπὸ τοῦ ἄρρενος εἰς ἰδίας αὐτῶν χεῖρας καὶ ἵστανται εἰς οὐρανὸν ἀνανεύσαντες, ἐπὶ χεῖρας δὲ ἔχοντες τὴν ἀκαθαρσίαν καὶ εὔχονται δῆθεν, οἱ μὲν Στρατιωτικοὶ καλούμενοι καὶ Γνωστικοί, τῷ πατρὶ φύσει τῶν ὅλων προσφέροντες αὐτὸ τὸ ἐπὶ ταῖς χερσί, καὶ λέγουσιν «ἀναφέρομέν σοι τοῦτο τὸ δῶρον, τὸ σῶμα τοῦ Χριστοῦ». καὶ οὕτως αὐτὸ ἐσθίουσι μεταλαμβάνοντες τὴν ἑαυτῶν αἰσχρότητα καί φασι «τοῦτό ἐστι τὸ σῶμα τοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ τοῦτό ἐστι τὸ πάσχα, δι’ ὃ πάσχει τὰ ἡμέτερα σώματα καὶ ἀναγκάζεται ὁμολογεῖν τὸ πάθος τοῦ Χριστοῦ». ὡσαύτως δὲ καὶ τὸ ἀπὸ τῆς γυναικός, ὅταν γένηται αὐτὴν γενέσθαι ἐν ῥύσει τοῦ αἵματος, τὸ καταμήνιον συναχθὲν ἀπ’ αὐτῆς αἷμα τῆς ἀκαθαρσίας ὡσαύτως λαβόντες κοινῇ ἐσθίουσι. καὶ «τοῦτο, φασίν, ἐστὶ τὸ αἷμα τοῦ Χριστοῦ».
5. Διὸ καὶ ἐν ἀποκρύφοις ἀναγινώσκοντες ὅτι «εἶδον δένδρον φέρον δώδεκα καρποὺς τοῦ ἐνιαυτοῦ καὶ εἶπέν μοι τοῦτό ἐστι τὸ ξύλον τῆς ζωῆς», αὐτοὶ ἀλληγοροῦσιν εἰς τὴν κατὰ μῆνα γινομένην γυναικείαν ῥύσιν. Μισγόμενοι δὲ μετ’ ἀλλήλων τεκνοποιίαν ἀπαγορεύουσιν. οὐ γὰρ εἰς τὸ τεκνοποιῆσαι παρ’ αὐτοῖς ἡ φθορὰ ἐσπούδασται ἀλλ’ ἡδονῆς χάριν, τοῦ διαβόλου ἐμπαίζοντος τοῖς τοιούτοις καὶ καταχλευάζοντος τὸ ἐκ θεοῦ πλάσμα πεπλασμένον. ἀλλὰ τὴν μὲν ἡδονὴν ἐπιτελοῦσιν, εἰς ἑαυτοὺς δὲ ἀπολαμβάνουσι τὰ τῆς ἀκαθαρσίας αὐτῶν σπέρματα, μὴ εἰς τεκνογονίαν καταβαλλόμενοι, ἀλλ’ αὐτοὶ τὸ τῆς αἰσχρότητος ἔσθοντες. ἐὰν δὲ καὶ προληφθῇ τις αὐτῶν ἐγκατασπεῖραι τὴν καταβολὴν τῆς κατὰ φύσιν [αὐτῶν] ἀπορροίας καὶ ἐγκυμονήσῃ ἡ γυνή, τί δεινότερον τολμῶσιν οἱ τοιοῦτοι ἄκουε. κατασπάσαντες γὰρ τὸ ἔμβρυον καιρῷ οἵῳ δἂν ἐπιχειρήσωσι, λαμβάνουσιν ἐκτρωθὲν τοῦτο τὸ βρέφος καὶ ἐν ὅλμῳ τινὶ κόπτουσιν ὑπέρῳ, καὶ ἐγκαταμίξαντες μέλι καὶ πέπερι καὶ ἄλλα τινὰ ἀρώματα καὶ μύρα πρὸς τὸ μὴ ναυτιᾶν αὐτοὺς οὕτως συναχθέντες πάντες οἱ τῆς τῶν χοίρων τούτων καὶ κυνῶν * θιασῶται μεταλαμβάνουσιν ἕκαστος τῷ δακτύλῳ ἀπὸ τοῦ κατακοπέντος παιδίου. καὶ οὕτως τὴν ἀνθρωποβορίαν ἀπεργασάμενοι εὔχονται λοιπὸν τῷ θεῷ, ὅτι οὐκ ἐνεπαίχθημεν, φησίν, ἀπὸ τοῦ ἄρχοντος τῆς ἐπιθυμίας, ἀλλὰ συνελέξαμεν τὸ παράπτωμα τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ. καὶ δῆθεν τοῦτο τὸ τέλειον πάσχα ἡγοῦνται. ἄλλα δὲ ὅσα δεινὰ αὐτοῖς τετόλμηται. ὅταν γὰρ πάλιν ἐμμανεῖς ἐν ἑαυτοῖς γένωνται, φύραντες ἑαυτῶν τὰς χεῖρας τῇ ἑαυτῶν αἰσχρότητι τῆς ἀπορροίας ἐγείρονται καὶ τὰς ἑαυτῶν μεμολυσμένας ἔχοντες χεῖρας εὔχονται γυμνοὶ ὅλῳ τῷ σώματι, ὡς διὰ τῆς τοιαύτης ἐργασίας * εὑρίσκειν πρὸς θεὸν τὴν παρρησίαν. τὰ σώματα δὲ αὐτῶν νύκτωρ τε καὶ μεθ’ ἡμέραν τημελοῦσι, γυναικάρια καὶ ἀνθρωπάρια, μυριζόμενοι λουόμενοι θοιναζόμενοι, κοίταις τε καὶ μέθαις σχολάζοντες. καὶ καταρῶνται τὸν νηστεύοντα, λέγοντες, οὐ δεῖ νηστεύειν· τοῦ γὰρ ἄρχοντος τούτου τοῦ ποιήσαντος τὸν αἰῶνά ἐστιν ἡ νηστεία. δεῖ δὲ τρέφεσθαι εἰς τὸ τὰ σώματα εἶναι ἰσχυρά, εἰς τὸ δύνασθαι τὸν καρπὸν ἀποδιδόναι κατὰ καιρὸν αὐτοῦ.»
Epiphanius, Bände 1-3: Ancoratus und Panarion [Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller],
«3.7 [They] have named them Koddians. But in Egypt the same people are known as Stratiotics and Phibionites, as I said in part earlier. But some call them Zacchaeans, others, Barbelites.
4 But I shall get right down to the worst part of the deadly description of them—for they vary in their wicked teaching of what they please—which is, first of all, that they hold their wives in common. And if a guest who is of their persuasion arrives, they have a sign that men give women
and women give men, a tickling of the palm as they clasp hands in supposed greeting, to show that the visitor is of their religion. And once they recognize each other from this they start feasting right away—and they set the table with lavish provisions for eating meat and drinking wine even if they are poor. But then, after a drinking bout and, let us say, stuffing their overstuffed veins, they get hot for each other next. And the husband will move away from his wife and tell her—speaking to his own wife!—“Get up, perform the Agape [fais l’amour] with the brother.” And when the wretched couple has made love—and I am truly ashamed to mention the vile things they do, for as the holy apostle says, “It is a shame even to speak” of what goes on among them. Still, I should not be ashamed to say what they are not ashamed to do, to arouse horror by every means in those who hear what obscenities they are prepared to perform. For after having made love with the passion of fornication in addition, to lift their blasphemy up to heaven, the woman and man receive the man’s emission on their own hands. And they stand with their eyes raised heavenward but the filth on their hands and pray, if you please— the ones they call Stratiotics and Gnostics—and offer that stuff on their hands to the true Father of all, and say, “We offer thee this gift, the body of Christ.” And then they eat it partaking of their own dirt, and say, “This is the body of Christ; and this is the Pascha, because of which our bodies suffer and are compelled to acknowledge the passion of Christ.” And so with the woman’s emission when she happens to be having her period—they likewise take the unclean menstrual blood they gather from her, and eat it in common. And “This,” they say, “is the blood of Christ.”
5 And so, when they read, “I saw a tree bearing twelve manner of fruits every year, and he said unto me, “This is the tree of life,” in apocryphal writings, they interpret this allegorically of the menstrual flux. But although they have sex with each other they renounce procreation. It is for enjoyment, not procreation, that they eagerly pursue seduction, since the devil is mocking people like these, and making fun of the creature fashioned by God. They come to climax but absorb the seeds of their dirt, not by implanting them for procreation, but by eating the dirty stuff themselves. But even though one of them should accidentally implant the seed of his natural emission prematurely and the woman becomes pregnant, listen to a more dreadful thing that such people venture to do. They extract the fetus at the stage which is appropriate for their enterprise, take this aborted infant, and cut it up in a trough with a pestle. And they mix honey, pepper, and certain other perfumes and spices with it to keep from getting sick, and then all the revellers in this < herd > of swine and dogs assemble, and each eats a piece of the child with his fingers. And now, after this cannibalism, they pray to God and say, “We were not mocked by the archon of lust, but have gathered the brother’s blunder up!” And this, if you please, is their idea of the “perfect Passover.” And they are prepared to do any number of other dreadful things. Again, whenever they feel excitement within them they soil their own hands with their own ejaculated dirt, get up, and pray stark naked with their hands defiled. The idea is that they < can > obtain freedom of access to God by a practice of this kind. Man and woman, they pamper their bodies night and day, anointing themselves, bathing, feasting, spending their time in whoring and drunkenness. And they curse anyone who fasts and say, “Fasting is wrong; fasting belongs to this archon who made the world. We must take nourishment to make our bodies strong, and able to render their fruit in its season.”»
–Epiphanius of Salamis,
The Panarion 26:3-5.
The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Sects 1-46 (Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies) ,
Brill Academic Publishers.
«Epiphanius in his youth had certain unfortunate experiences with the adherents of a libertinist sect in Egypt and the moral shock it gave him seems to have warped his judgment as a historian in this part of his work; it led him to collect every scrap of evidence of obscenity he could lay his hand on and every gross scandal that had come to his ears, and freely to generalize therefrom.»
London, 1896 (Second ed. 1921, repr. 1955),
p. xxxiii f.
«Benko suggests that as Epiphanius' description seems to be based on firsthand knowledge it must be considered authentic. He offers the plausible suggestion that the activities of thePhibionites served as the basis of the calumny against Christians reported by Minucius Felix in the dialogue Octavius (c. 200 A.D.). I would suggest that the false imputation of these activities to Christians serves as the background for a strange dialogue recorded on a newly published Mandaic lead amulet:
Then spoke to him (Jesus) two angels. He said, Sariel said and spoke to him, "The blood of the slain (m.) and the flesh of the destroyed ones (f.) eat for your hunger and drink for your thirst."
And he said to them, "From the cross should I eat for my hunger, and the blood of daughters drink for my thirst?"
It should be noted that though the antinomian Gnostics indulged in sexual license, they did not want to engender any children. According to the Phibionite cosmogony the error of Barbelo's creation resulted in the scattering of her power or psyche into every creature. Salvation consists in the regathering of these scattered sparks. "Procreation is wrong because it only divides this psyche and prolongs the time the psyche must spend in this world."
Benko notes that there are negative references to Gnostics who indulged in such practices as the Phibionites in ch. 147 of the Pistis Sophia, and ch. 43 of the Second Book of Jeu. Nothing in the Nag Hammadi texts refers to such abandoned behavior. Doresse comments, ". . . one finds oneself almost disappointed at this, so freely had the heresiologists given us to understand that mysteries of that description were common practice in the principal sects!»
* Edwin M. Yamauchi,
Gnostic ethics and Mandaean origins
[Γνωστική ηθική και Μανδαϊκές καταβολές],
Gorgias Press LLC, 2004,
pp./σσ. 27, 28.
«Writing in the late fourth century, Epiphanius of Salamis described a group of so-called Phibionite Gnostics that he encountered in Egypt as follows: “. . . having recognized one another, they hasten to dine. And they lavish meat dishes and wines, even if they are in penury. Then, aft er a drinking party where so to speak they have engorged their veins with gormandising, they turn to their frenzied passion” (Pan. 26.4.3). Epiphanius, however, does not stop here with his description of the ethics and social interactions of these so-called “heretics.” We are later informed that the ritual performances of these sectarians include various immoral practices that should, for Epiphanius’ audience, revolt the moral sensibilities of a fourth-century Christian. We learn that these sectarians engaged in illicit sexual activities (orgies so excessive as to lead to male homosexual relations), the consumption of menstrual blood and semen, and even the ritual cannibalism of aborted foetusesthat were conceived during these ritual activities. Epiphanius claims to have withstood the lure of these heretics, a lure that took the form of seductive women.
These polemical barbs directed by Epiphanius against those Christians he considered heretical, though recognized within scholarship as largely hyperbole if not outright fiction, typified much of how ethics within Gnosticism was viewed by not only ancient polemists but also some modern discussions of ethics. Irenaeus, when he moved to southern Gaul in the late second century, encountered what he referred to as followers of Valentinus, specifi cally of Valentinus’ disciple Marcus. Irenaeus, with far more credibility in his descriptive work than Epiphanius, also attacked his opponents (especially Marcus and the Marcosian sect) on ethical grounds (see Haer. 1.13.3). Marcus was perceived as a type of charlatan, a magical cult leader who used his ritual gatherings to simply take advantage of the well-to-do women he enticed to join him. Such enticement, as we would expect, included fulfi lling the sexual appetite of Marcus. References to a bridal chamber sacrament and a heavenly marriage as the climax of the Valentinian sacramental ascent to the Pleroma have further raised questions as to the ethical or unethical activities of Valentinian Christians in these early centuries. Revelling in immoral behaviours, as Gnostic practices have been commonly seen both in antiquity and in modern treatments of Gnosticism, was a simple result of the theological, specifi cally anthropological, system of Gnosticism. Gnostics are, it is claimed, saved by their nature. The body serves no purpose beyond being a prison from which the pneumatic “seed” or “spark” needs to escape and ascend beyond the material realm tothe Gnostic’s true home (the spiritual pleroma). What one does with one’s body is, therefore, irrelevant. Acting well or badly should have no bearing on whether one is saved or not saved.
The discovery of the Nag Hammadi codices in 1945, and the subsequent half-century of intense scholarship on these texts, has raised another possible view of Gnostic ethics. Rather than a licentious and antinomian ethical stance, grounded within a deterministic anthropological and anti-somatic worldview, these tractates seem to emphasize a more ascetic ethos. Not only does the Gos. Thom., arguably the best known Nag Hammadi text within New Testament studies, present such an ascetic ideal that one would expect within a more monastic context (e.g., “Blessed are the solitary and elect, for you will find the kingdom”; logion 49), but even in texts that have no evident Synoptic relationship articulate an ethic of asceticism (e.g., Gos. Phil. 82,2–8; Paraph. Shem 10,24; Testim. Truth 29,26–30,17; and Soph. Jes. Chr. III 93,16–20).»
* Philip L. Tite,
Valentinian Ethics and Paraenetic Discourse: Determining the Social Function of Moral
[Βαλεντιακή Ηθική και Παραινετική Παρουσίαση: Καθορισμός της Κοινωνικής Λειτουργίας του Ήθους]
(Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies Vol. 67),
«Epiphanius presents and refutes heresies that no longer exist because, first of all, he sees a link between them and more recent heresies. He is therefore as interested as the author of the Elenchos in showing that there is a successio haereticorum; the cumulative process of heresies following upon each other gives each heresy a density it would not have if isolated.»
* Gérard Vallée,
A Study in Anti-Gnostic Polemics Irenaeus, Hippolytus and Epiphanius
[Μελέτη στην Αντιγνωστική Πολεμική του Ειρηναίου, του Ιππόλυτου και του Επιφάνιου]
(Studies in Christianity and Judaism 1),
Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1981,
«The charges of immorality continued for as long as there were orthodox polemicists to make them. They continue today, among Christian groups inclined to accuse others of heresy. Often their false teachings are said to be matched by their promiscuous lives. Possibly the most shocking instance from the ancient world occurs near the end of the fourth century in the writings of Epiphanius, in his discussion of a group of Gnostics called (among other things) the Phibionites. It is an intriguing account in no small measure because Epiphanius claims to have known members of the group and to have read their writings. In Book 26 of his Panarion (Medicine Chest), Epiphanius outlines the beliefs of this group and, in shock ing detail, describes their orgiastic and cannibalistic practices. The stunning detail has made scholars wonder: Could this account possibly be true? It may be worth our while to consider Epiphanius’s polemic in detail, as an extreme instance of the orthodox penchant for maligning the character of their heretical opponents.
Epiphanius claims that the Phibionites indulge in sumptuous feasts that begin with a special greeting: The men shake hands with the women, secretly tickling or stroking their palms underneath (Pan. 26.4.2). His description of this entrance ritual may be deliberately ambiguous: It has been read both as an erotic gesture and as a code designed to alert members to the presence of outsiders. But it is only after the company is sated with food and drink that the real festivities begin. Married couples separate to engage in a liturgy of sexual intercourse, each with another member of the community (Pan. 26.4.4). The union is not meant to be consummated, however, for the man withdraws before climax. The couple then collects his semen in their hands and ingests it together while proclaiming, “This is the body of Christ.” When possible, the couple also collects and consumes the woman’s menstrual blood, saying “This is the blood of Christ” (Pan. 26.4.5–8). If for some reason the woman becomes pregnant, the fetus is allowed to develop until it can be manually aborted. Then, claims Epiphanius, it is dismembered, covered with honey and spices, and devoured by the community as a special Eucharistic meal (Pan. 26.5.4–6).
The leaders of the group who have already attained perfection no longer require women for these festive occasions. They indulge in homosexual relations with one another (Pan. 26.11. 8). Furthermore, Epiphanius informs us, members of the group engage in sacred masturbation. They can then consume the body of Christ in the privacy of their own room (26.11.1). This practice is reportedly justified by an appeal to Scripture: “Working with your own hands, that you may have something to give also to those in need” (cf. Eph. 4:28).
It is clear from Epiphanius’s account that these proceedings are not at all unrelated to the Phibionites’ understanding of the cosmos and their liberation from it. They are said to subscribe to the notion, found among other Gnostic groups as well, that this world is separated from the divine realm by 365 heavens, each with its own ruling archon. Just as the divine redeemer who brought the secret knowledge of salvation into the world descended through all 365 heavens and then reascended, so too the redeemed must pass by all the archons, twice. The journey is foreshadowed here on earth through a kind of empathy, as the man, during the course of the sex liturgy, calls out the secret name of one of the ruling archons, effecting a kind of identification with him that allows for safe passage through his realm. Since each archon must be passed by twice, as Epiphanius is quick to point out, each of the Phibionite men can expect to seduce female devotees on at least 730 occasions.
The connections between these alleged practices and the Phibionites’ theology are not restricted to the notion of an ascent through the heavenly realms. As Epiphanius himself suggests, they relate equally to the basic Gnostic notion that the divine seed has been implanted in humans and needs to be liberated from this material world. The goal of human existence is to return to the divine realm, a return made possible only by the reunification of the divine seeds that are currently scattered throughout the world. Since the seed is passed on through the bodily fluids, that is, the man’s semen and the woman’s blood, these are to be collected and consumed, effecting the requisite reunification. When, however, the seed is left inside the woman, it develops into another human being, who represents then yet another entrapped particle of the divine. While procreation therefore defeats the goal of existence and leads to further entrapment and bondage, the ritualistic ingestion of semen and menses, or of fetuses, provides liberation.
Can this tale of unbridled lust and ritual cannibalism be true? As a rule, in most of his polemical attacks on heretics, Ephiphanius has to be treated with a healthy dose of skepticism. He constantly exaggerates, he invents connections between historical events that we otherwise know are unrelated, and he explicitly claims that his horrific accounts (there are others) are designed to repulse his readers from the heresies he describes (Pan. Proem 1.2). But a number of scholars have believed his account of the Phibionites, in part because he claims to have been personally acquainted with the sect. As a young man in Egypt he encountered two Phibionite women who tried to convert him to their group. His description of this encounter—written long after the fact—is intriguing, in no small measure because it is couched in sexual terms. The women were attractive and attempted to seduce him. After learning something of their beliefs, however, Epiphanius successfully repelled their advances (Pan. 26,17). He also indicates, as we have seen, that he then acquired and read a number of their writings, so that he could discuss their teachings from their own Scriptures.
Aside from any general skepticism on our part, are there any particular reasons to question the reliability of Epiphanius’s account of the Phibionites’ sacred festivities?
The place to begin is with Epiphanius’s sources. I don’t think anyone doubts that as a young man Epiphanius had personal contacts with members of the group. He explicitly recounts the advances of his two “seductresses,” and there seems to be little reason to think that he made up the story, so far as it goes. On the other hand, this surely cannot be taken as some kind of warrant for the accuracy of his report concerning the group’s private sex rituals. Epiphanius never says that he actually participated in or even witnessed any of the group’s activities as a young man. Quite the contrary, he explicitly states that he spurned these women before they had enticed him into joining the sect. Among other things, this must mean that he was never admitted to the festivities. And it goes without saying that ceremonies of this kind would not have been open to the public.
Nor can we think that the women had actually divulged to him what the group was doing behind closed doors. Epiphanius does say that they told him about their group (Pan. 26,18,2). But he is remarkably vague concerning what they told him, and he does not indicate that they revealed to him their secret rituals. And it seems implausible that these illicit proceedings would have been explained to potential converts during the preliminary stages of their acquaintance with the group. Even if the group did engage in such activities, they must have been kept secret to all but the initiates. And Epiphanius tells us in unequivocal terms that he spurned the group long before he would have been admitted as an initiate (26.17.5–7).
Is it possible then that Epiphanius had uncovered descriptions of the Phibionite rituals in the group’s sacred books? He clearly had read a good deal of their literature. He discusses several of their works throughout his treatment and quotes a number of their teachings. But he never claims that he found the group’s orgiastic and cannibalistic practices described in them. And it stretches all credulity to think that they could have been: These books could hardly have been “how-to manuals.” Nor would such literature have been publicly available at the local bookstall.
Given the problems posed by Epiphanius’s alleged sources, we do well to consider why he names them in the first place. In fact, as should be selfevident, his encounter with members of the group and his ability to refer to some of their writings serve to authenticate his description—not only of their beliefs but also of their bizarre practices. This authentication has proved remarkably successful. Even down to our own day his readers have accepted the report as trustworthy—disregarding the fact that he never says that he actually saw any of these things take place or even found them prescribed in the Phibionites’ own books. But it appears that Epiphanius made up his accounts of the lascivious Phibionites, possibly creating bizarre ritual activities based on what he knew of their theological beliefs.
In this connection I should perhaps stress once again that since the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library we have been able to study the actual writings of a bewildering variety of Gnostic Christians. And far from condoning, let alone promoting, such outlandish moral behavior, these writings urge and assume just the contrary social and personal ethics. One of the few constants among all the Nag Hammadi tractates is their ascetic orientation. Gnostic Christians appear to have believed, as a rule, in punishing the body, not indulging it. Apparently then, Gnostics were consistently attacked by orthodox Christians as sexually perverse, not because they actually were perverse but because they were the enemy.
And so the struggles for dominance in early Christianity were in no small measure carried out on literary battlefields. We have seen some of the important ploys used in the directly polemical literature of the period, most of it surviving from the proto-orthodox camp, although some remnants of the opposing forces are still, now, in clear evidence.»
* Bart D. Ehrman,
Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew
[Χαμένες μορφές του χριστιανισμού: Οι μάχες για την Αγία Γραφή και οι μορφές θρησκευτικής πίστης που δεν γνωρίσαμε ποτέ],
Oxford University Press, 2005,
For the similar blame against Montanists, see: /
Για την όμοια κατηγορία κατά των Μοντανιστών, βλέπε:
* James B. Rives,
"The Blood Libel against the Montanists"
[Ο Λίβελος του Αίματος κατά των Μοντανιστών],
Vigiliae Christianae Vol./Τόμ. 50, No./Αρ. 2 (1996),