1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ophites

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OPHITES, or Ophians (Gr. ὄφις, Heb. נהש, “snake”), known also as Naasenes, an early sect of Gnostics described by Hippolytus (Philosoph. v.), Irenaeus (adv. Haer. i. 11), Origen (Contra Celsum, vi. 25 seq.) and Epiphanius (Haer. xxvi.). The account given by Irenaeus may be taken as representative of these descriptions which vary partly as referring to different groups, partly to different dates. The honour paid by them to the serpent is connected with the old mythologies of Babylon and Egypt as well as with the popular cults of Greece and the Orient. It was particularly offensive to Christians as tending to dishonour the Creator who is set over against the serpent as bad against good. The Ophite system had its Trinity: (1) the Universal God, the First Man, (2) his conception (ἔννοια), the Second Man, (3) a female Holy Spirit. From her the Third Man (Christ) was begotten by the First and Second. Christ flew upward with his mother, and in their ascent a spark of light fell on the waters as Sophia. From this contact came Ialdabaoth the Demiurges, who in turn produced six powers and with them created the seven heavens and from the dregs of matter the Nous of serpent form, from whom are spirit and soul, evil and death. Ialdabaoth then announced himself as the Supreme, and when man (created by the six powers) gave thanks for life not to Ialdabaoth but to the First Man, Ialdabaoth created a woman (Eve) to destroy him. Then Sophia or Prunikos sent the serpent (as a benefactor) to persuade Adam and Eve to eat the tree of knowledge and so break the commandment of Ialdabaoth, who banished them from paradise to earth. After a long war between mankind aided by Prunikos against Ialdabaoth (this is the inner story of the Old Testament), the Holy Spirit sends Christ to the earth to enter (united with his sister Prunikos) the pure vessel, the virgin-born Jesus. Jesus Christ worked miracles and declared himself the Son of the First Man. Ialdabaoth instigated the Jews to kill him, but only Jesus died on the cross, for Christ and Prunikos had departed from him. Christ then raised the spiritual body of Jesus which remained on earth for eighteen months, initiating a small circle of elect disciples. Christ, received into heaven, sits at the right hand of Ialdabaoth, whom he deprives of glory and receives the souls that are his own. In some circles the serpent was identified with Prunikos. There are some resemblances to the Valentinian system, but whereas the great Archon sins in ignorance, Ialdabaoth sins against knowledge; there is also less of Greek philosophy in the Ophite system.

See King, The Gnostics and their Remains (London, 1887); G. Salmon, art. “Ophites” in Dict. Chr. Biog.