Borborites

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According to the Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis (ch. 26), and Theodoret's Haereticarum Fabularum Compendium, the Borborites or Borborians (Greek: Βορβοριανοί; also Koddians; in Egypt, Phibionites; in other countries, Barbalites, Secundians, Socratites, etc.) were a libertine Christian Gnostic sect, said to be descended from the Nicolaitans. The word Borborite comes from the Greek word βόρβορος, meaning "mud"; the name Borborites can therefore be translated as "filthy ones".

Teachings[edit]

Sacred texts[edit]

The Borborites possessed a number of sacred books, including Noria (the name they gave to Noah's wife), a Gospel of Eve, The Apocalypse of Adam, and The Gospel of Perfection. They also used a version of The Gospel of Philip,[1] but a quotation from the Borborite Gospel of Philip found in Epiphanius's Panarion is not found anywhere in the surviving version from Nag Hammadi.[2] Several of the Borborites' sacred scriptures revolved around the figure of Mary Magdalene, including The Questions of Mary, The Greater Questions of Mary, The Lesser Questions of Mary, and The Birth of Mary.[3] The Borborites also used a number of sacred texts attributed to Seth, the son of Adam and Eve, including The Second Treatise of the Great Seth and The Three Steles of Seth.[4] Although the Borborites did also use both the Old Testament and the New Testament, they renounced the God of the Old Testament as an imposter deity.[5]

Epiphanius of Salamis records that The Greater Questions of Mary contained an episode in which Jesus took Mary Magdalene up to the top of a mountain, where he pulled a woman out of his side and engaged in sexual intercourse with her. Then, upon ejaculating, Jesus drank his own semen and told Mary, "Thus we must do, that we may live." Upon hearing this, Mary instantly fainted, to which Jesus responded by helping her up and telling her, "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?"[6]

Cosmology[edit]

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 Jesus 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 Saint Augustine, they taught that the soul was derived from the substance of God, and hence could not be polluted by contact with matter.

Sexual sacramentalism[edit]

Sixteenth-century engraving showing a Black Mass involving similar sexual sacrementalist rituals to those allegedly practiced by the Borborites

Epiphanius claims that the Borborites were inspired by Sethianism and that elements of sexual sacramentalism formed an important role in their rituals. He asserts that the Borborites engaged in a version of the eucharist in which they would smear their hands with menstrual blood and semen and consume them as the blood and body of Christ respectively.[7] He also alleges that, whenever one of the women in their church was experiencing her monthly period, they would take her menstrual blood and everyone in the church would eat it as part of a sacred ritual.[8] The Borborites 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.

Because everything that is known about the Borborites comes exclusively from polemics written by their opponents, it is still disputed whether or not these reports accurately reflect Borborite teachings or if they are merely propaganda intended to discredit the Borborites. Stephen Gero finds the accounts written by Epiphanius and later writers plausible and connects them with earlier Gnostic myths.[9]

Barbelo[edit]

It is highly improbable that the Borborites ever actually used this name to refer to themselves. Nonetheless, this name, along with 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.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Kim, Young Richard Kim (2015). Epiphanius of Cyprus: Imagining an Orthodox World. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press. pp. 37–39. ISBN 978-0-472-11954-7. Retrieved 26 May 2017. 
  2. ^ Hanegraff, Wouter J.; Kripal, Jeffrey J. (2011). Hidden Intercourse: Eros and Sexuality in the History of Western Esotericism. New York City, New York: Fordham University Press. pp. 11–12. Retrieved 26 May 2017. 
  3. ^ Kim, Young Richard Kim (2015). Epiphanius of Cyprus: Imagining an Orthodox World. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press. pp. 37–39. ISBN 978-0-472-11954-7. Retrieved 26 May 2017. 
  4. ^ Hanegraff, Wouter J.; Kripal, Jeffrey J. (2011). Hidden Intercourse: Eros and Sexuality in the History of Western Esotericism. New York City, New York: Fordham University Press. pp. 11–12. Retrieved 26 May 2017. 
  5. ^ Epiphanius of Salamis 26.6.1 [1]
  6. ^ Epiphanius of Salamis 26.8.1-3 [2]
  7. ^ Hanegraff, Wouter J.; Kripal, Jeffrey J. (2011). Hidden Intercourse: Eros and Sexuality in the History of Western Esotericism. New York City, New York: Fordham University Press. pp. 11–12. Retrieved 26 May 2017. 
  8. ^ Hanegraff, Wouter J.; Kripal, Jeffrey J. (2011). Hidden Intercourse: Eros and Sexuality in the History of Western Esotericism. New York City, New York: Fordham University Press. p. 13. Retrieved 26 May 2017. 
  9. ^ 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.

Sources[edit]

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.