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According to the Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis (ch. 26), and Theodoret's Haereticarum Fabularum Compendium, the Borborites or Borborians (also Koddians; in Egypt, Phibionites; in other countries, Barbalites, Secundians, Socratites, etc.) were a libertine Gnostic sect, said to be descended from the Nicolaitans. The word "Borborite" comes from the Greek word Βόρβορος, meaning "mud"; thus "Borborites" could be translated as "filthy ones".
The Borborites possessed certain sacred books, one called Noria (the name they gave to Noah's wife), a Gospel of Eve, Books of Seth, Revelations of Adam, etc. They used both the Old and New Testament, but did not acknowledge the God of the Old Testament as the supreme deity.
They taught that there were eight heavens, each under a separate archon. In the seventh reigned Sabaoth, creator of heaven and earth, the God of the Jews, represented by some Borborites under the form of an ass or a hog; hence the Jewish prohibition of swine's flesh. In the eighth heaven reigned Barbelo, the mother of the living; the Father of All, the supreme God; and Christ. They denied that Christ was born of Mary, or had a real body; and also the resurrection of the body.
The human soul after death wanders through the seven heavens, until it obtains rest with Barbelo. Man possesses a soul in common with plants and beasts. According to Augustine they taught that the soul was derived from the substance of God, and hence could not be polluted by contact with matter.
Epiphanius says the Borborites were inspired by Sethianism and had as a distinct feature of their rituals elements of sexual sacramentalism, including smearing of hands with menstrual blood and semen, and consumption of the same as a variant of eucharist. They were also said to extract fetuses from pregnant women and consume them, particularly if the women accidentally became pregnant during related sexual rituals.
Epiphanius claimed to have some first-hand knowledge of the sect, and to have run away from certain Gnostic women who reproached him thus:
We have not been able to save the young man, but rather, have abandoned him to the clutches of the ruler!—Epiphanius, Panarion, 26, 17.6
Epiphanius later reported the group to the bishops, resulting in the expulsion of around 80 people from the city of Alexandria.
As all these tellings about the Borborites come from their opponents, it is unknown if they are true or exaggerated. Stephen Gero finds them plausible and connected with earlier Gnostic myths.
It is unlikely they would have called themselves Borborites, yet this, their alternative names, and the descriptions of their beliefs, reveals a connection to Barbelo. Some of the Gnostic scriptures have been called "Barbeloite" because of her appearance in them, such as the Apocryphon of John and Trimorphic Protennoia. The last of these seems to have undergone Sethian revision, although similar, fully Sethian texts have their own distinct perspective—maybe suggesting some Sethians were inspired by Barbeloite writings. These writings do not mention any sexual rituals, but neither any moral codes. Trimorphic Protennoia does describe the divine as a sexual being, but being a highly esoteric work leaves much to the imagination. If the Barbelognostics were libertines and these are their writings, then the unfriendly account of Epiphanius has to be contrasted with the elegant spiritual writings they produced.
- Epiphanius of Salamis. Panarion (Adversus Haereses). Chapters 25 and 26.
- Theodoret. Haereticarum Fabularum Compendium.
- Gero, Stephen (1986). "With Walter Bauer on the Tigris: Encratite Orthodoxy and Libertine Heresy in Syro-Mesopotamian Christianity," in C.W. Hedrick, R. Hodgson (eds.), Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism, and Early Christianity, Peabody, Ma.: Hendrickson Publishers.
This article uses text from The Protestant Theological and Ecclesiastical Encyclopedia (1858) by John Henry Augustus Bomberger and Johann Jakob Herzog, a publication now in the public domain.