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Ptolemy the Gnostic

Ptolemy the Gnostic, a heretic of the second century and personal disciple of Valentinus. He was probably still living about 180. No other certain details are known of his life; Harnack's suggestion that he was identical with the Ptolemy spoken of by St. Justin is as yet unproved (Text. u. Untersuch. New. Ser. XIII, Anal. z. ält. Gesch. d. Chr.). He was, with Heracleon, the principal writer of the Italian or Western school of Valentinian Gnosticism. His works have reached us in an incomplete form as follows:

This letter is found in the works of Epiphanius (Hær. XXXIII, 3-7). It was written in response to Flora's inquiry concerning the origin of the Law of the Old Testament. This law, Ptolemy states, cannot be attributed to the Supreme God, nor to the devil; nor does it proceed from one law-giver. A part of it is the work of an inferior god; the second part is due to Moses, and the third to the elders of the Jewish people. Three different sections are to be distinguished even in the part ascribed to the inferior god:

It includes such precepts as circumcision, fasting, and was raised by the Saviour from a sensible to a spiritual plane. The god who is the author of the law, in so far as it is not the product of human effort, is the demiurge who occupies a middle position between the Supreme God and the devil. He is the creator of the universe, is neither perfect, nor the author of evil, but ought to be called just. In his interpretation of the universe, Ptolemy resorted to a fantastic system of eons. Thirty of these, as he believes, rule the higher world, the pleroma. This system becomes the basis of a wild exegesis which discovers in the prologue of St. John's Gospel the first Ogdoad. (See Gnosticism.)

IRENÆUS, Adv. Hær., I, cc. i-viii; LIPSIUS in Dict. Christ. Biog., s. v. Ptolemœus, I.


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Weber, N. A. "Ptolemy the Gnostic." Early Christian Writings. <>.