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Zostrianos

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Treatise
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Greek
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Estimated Range of Dating: 200-230 A.D.

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Information on Zostrianos

John D. Turner writes, "Zostrianos contains a pseudonymous account of the otherworldly journeys of Zostrianos, legendary son of Yolaos and father of Armenios, said by Plato (Republic X 614b) to be the father of Er the Pamphylian, who was later assimilated with Zoroaster (cf. Clement of Alexandria Miscellanies 5.14.103.2). Probably originally composed in Greek in late second- or early third-century Alexandria, it reflects a non-Christian form of Gnostic Sethianism that had thoroughly reinterpreted its ritual and mythological traditions by means of a massive fund of second-century Neopythagorean and Middle Platonic metaphysical speculation whose originality had commended Zostrianos and its sister treatise Allogenes the Stranger to the critical attention of Plotinus and his circle in third-century Rome. Those two treatises and the Three Steles of Seth and Marsanes are all sufficiently heavily indebted to Platonism as to merit the designation 'Platonizing Sethian treatises.'" (The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, p. 537)

Bentley Layton writes, "The theory of the soul's progress from higher to higher abstraction toward a mystical leap to gnosis had been laid down by Plato in a much-studied passage of the Symposium (210a-212a), and it was a standard element in the teaching of Platonism in the second century A.D. The mystical ascent is not, therefore, the final and decisive ascent of the soul after death, but rather a means of gaining nondiscursive knowledge or gnosis ('acquaintance'). Once it has achieved its goal, the soul must descend back through the same levels it passed before, in reverse order. Zostrianos thus narrates the intellectual voyage of the mystic. In accordance with a convention of apocalyptic literature, the voyager is accompanied by a series of revealing angels who explain the various levels of abstraction and incidentally mention other details of the gnostic myth." (The Gnostic Scriptures, p. 121)

Birger A. Pearson writes, "There are no identifiably Christian elements in Zostrianos. The Platonizing elements predominate, but there are also indications of Jewish influence. Zostriano's experience of being assimilated to 'the glories' in each of the levels of heaven he traverses (5,15-20) resembles very much the experience of Enoch in the Second Book of Enoch, an apocalypse composed in Greek, probably in first-century Alexandria, depicting the ascent of Enoch to the tenth heaven. Enoch reports that he had 'become like one of the glorious ones' (2 Enoch 22:10). Another indication of possible influence from 2 Enoch occurs toward the end of Zostrianos. At the conclusion of his visionary experience, Zostrianos is told that he has 'heard all these things of which the gods are ignorant and that are undefined for angels' (128,15-18). Enoch is told by God, 'not even to my angels have I explained my secrets ... as I am making them known to you today' (2 Enoch 24:3)." (Ancient Gnosticism, p. 88)

Bentley Layton writes, "The limited scope of Zostrianos does not allow for reference to the history of Israel or the foundation of Christianity, and the pseudepigraphic frame story and its main character imply a setting in pre-Christian Persia. Some scholars therefore consider Zostrianos to be the prime evidence for the existence of a non-Christian variety of the gnostic sect. On the other hand, early Christians as well as non-Christians were fascinated by the idea that ancient religious heroes of the East, including not only Moses but Zoroaster, Hermes Trismegistus, and others, had extraordinary information about divine things. Zostrianos might thus be the work of a Christian author writing in a pseudo-Zoroastrian mode. A third-century observer states explicitly that Zostrianos was used by Christians (Prophyry 16.1f). The same source refers to a lengthy refutation of Zostrianos written by Amelius, a Neoplatonist disciple of Plotinus; the refutation does not survive." (The Gnostic Scriptures, pp. 121-122)


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