Amorous Archons in Eden and Corinth

Journal of Unification Studies Vol. 2, 1998 - Pages 19-34

A preoccupation with the textual minutiae of Scripture may stem from either a strict belief in verbal inspiration or simply the scholarly love of trivia, but in any case few Bible students can resist a good exegetical puzzle. One of the most intriguing of such puzzles is Paul’s command for women to remain veiled while prophesying “because of the angels.” (1 Corinthians 11:10) I would like to consider the advantages of what I believe to be a new explanation of Paul’s cryptic sanction. To anticipate, I believe that the best guess is that Paul is referring to a myth according to which the naked (unveiled) Eve was taken from her husband for whom she was created and raped by lustful angels in the Garden of Eden, a myth attested by its later docetizing reinterpretation in the Nag Hammadi texts The Hypostasis of the Archons and On the Origin of the World.


1. Two Previous Explanations

A very early explanation of Paul’s admonition in 1 Cor. 11:10 is that of Tertullian, that (as in my proposal) the unveiled Corinthian prophetesses were inviting the unwelcome attentions of lustful angels. Only in Tertullian’s view, which I will call the “sons of God” theory, the reference is to Gen. 6:1-4, the strange story of the unholy betrothal of the daughters of men to the sons of God. It was assumed these sons of God remained at liberty and had not changed their ways since antediluvian times. Another major early explanation is that of John Chrysostom, who saw the angels as unfallen angels present at Corinthian worship and liable to be offended at the presence of unveiled women. I will call this the “worshipping angels” theory. It is tempting to wonder whether, as was so often the case, these church fathers have borrowed their theories from contemporary Jewish exegesis. “The rabbis had a number of reasons why women should have their heads covered: out of respect for the angels who keep the order of creation, in which women were subject beings, lest evil spirits infest homes, attracted by a woman’s uncovered hair.”1

Both explanations have remained influential up to the present, and the second has recently been refurbished by Joseph A. Fitzmyer who appeals to Qumran evidence for possible parallels. (1QSa II, 8f; 1QM VII, 4-6; 4QDb)2 His theory, though influential, has been challenged by Herbert Braun and Hans Conzelmann.3


2. “That is why . . .”

It seems to me that a serious difficulty besetting both explanations is that neither comes to grips with the puzzling structure of Paul’s sentence. As C. K. Barrett points out,4 when Paul says, “That is why a woman ought to have authority on her head,” the clause should ordinarily be understood as pointing backwards to the preceding words, the statement that “woman [was created] for man.” (verse 9) Yet since the words “because of the angels” follow immediately, ought we not rather understand the words “That is why, etc.” as pointing forward? If so, then Paul would seem to be suddenly breaking any connection with the preceding discussion of the creation of man and woman (Adam and Eve). “The dia touto which opens the verse concludes the theological argument of vv. 3-9; therefore dia touV aggelouV appears as an unexpected afterthought.”5 Similarly F.C. Baur:

Here the apostle is admonishing the Corinthian women not to let themselves be seen with uncovered head, and for this he gives a reason: For this cause ought the woman have a sign of the power… upon her head, because of the angels. Women are thus to wear a veil; but why, what is the connexion between the one thing and the other?… The apostle's main proposition is this: the woman must wear a veil as a sign of the man, for she is, as the apostle explains, ex androV and dia ton andra. Therefore ofeilei h gunh exousian ecein. It is clear that dia touto refers to what goes before; so far the argument is clear. But how is it interrupted and confused if dia touV aggelouV be added, as if a parallel to dia touto? The reason given before was quite sufficient; there is no place for this new and foreign reason, a thing to which not the slightest reference is made either in what precedes or in what follows.

Baur therefore concludes that dia touV aggelouV is a later interpolation.6

I suggest that “because of the angels” is neither an afterthought nor an interpolation. It neither confuses nor destroys the logic of the argument, and it does not represent anything “new and foreign.” The answer to the apparent difficulty is that the words “That is why, etc.” point both backward and forward; in other words, “That is why, etc.” introduces the culmination of the Adam and Eve line of argument, and “because of the angels” is the final conclusion of the same line of thought, the capper, as it were. “If dia touto (verse 10) refers back to what precedes, as seems most natural, then the following dia tous angelous ought also to have some connection with the creation,” remarks Wayne A. Meeks.7 We need, then, if possible, one schema of which angels and the creation of man and woman would form integrated parts. Neither the “Sons of God” nor the “worshipping angels” theory supplies such a schema.

Interestingly, we have a similar structure serving the same purpose in chapter 10, where Paul concludes his discussion of unity around the Lord’s table thusly: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (10:17) Here, too, Paul presents a conclusion (“we who are many are one body”) flanked on both sides by parallel, cumulative reason-clauses.

But how can woman’s having been made for man form part of the same argument as the presence of the angels? Neither the “sons of God” theory nor the “worshipping angels” theory gives the slightest clue. This strange linkage between the creation of woman for man on the one hand and the mysterious angels on the other provides the clue for a new solution of the problem.

In the Nag Hammadi text The Hypostasis of the Archons we meet with one of many Gnostic interpretations of the early chapters of Genesis. Just after the joyous recognition by Adam of the woman (Eve), the Gnostic text reports,

When they [the archons] saw his female counterpart speaking with him, they became agitated with great agitation; and they became enamored with her. They said to one another, “Come, let us sow our seed in her,” and they pursued her. And she laughed at them for their witlessness and their blindness; and in their clutches, she became a tree, and left before them her shadowy reflection resembling herself; and they defiled [it] foully… And they defiled the form that she had stamped in her likeness. (89:19-29)8

We find the same story told in On the Origin of the World:

When they [the archons] saw Eve talking to him, they said to one another, “What sort of thing is this luminous woman?… Now come, let us lay hold of her and cast our seed into her…” Then Eve, being a force, laughed at their decision. She put mist into their eyes and secretly left her likeness with Adam. She entered the tree of [knowledge] and remained there. And they pursued her, and she revealed to them that she had gone into the tree and become a tree. Then, entering a great state of fear, the blind creatures fled. Afterwards, when they had recovered from the daze, they came; and seeing the likeness of this woman with him [Adam], they were greatly disturbed, thinking it was she that was the true Eve. And they acted rashly; they came up to her and seized her and cast their seed upon her… And they erred, not knowing that it was their own body that they had defiled; it was the likeness that the authorities and their angels had defiled in every way. (116:14-117:15)9

These texts are usually dated in the third century C.E., but I suggest that they attest the existence of an earlier form of a myth of which they offer a characteristically Gnostic reinterpretation. Clear precedents exist both for the prototype of the myth and for the docetic approach involved.


3. You'll Escape in the Final Reel

To take a running start toward my conclusion, let me hark back to a much earlier set of occurrences of the basic docetic mytheme, that what first seemed to be a shameful and violent act turned out to be a deceptive sham, and that all turned out well despite initial appearances. In all cases, it seems what we are dealing with is a retelling of an earlier story designed to save face for the characters, to safeguard the sensibilities of a later generation of readers. Such later rehabilitation of earlier, more pungent stories is familiar from the higher-critical comparison of the Yahwist and Elohist versions of common tales. For instance, the Yahwist does not mind portraying Abraham as hen-pecked by Sarah to the point of desperation, whereupon he callously boots Hagar and her infant into the desert (Gen. 16:5-6): good riddance! The Elohist, on the other hand, makes Abraham unwilling to eject Hagar until a divine visitation assures him it will be all right, and then he makes sure she has ample provisions for her hike. (Gen. 21:10-14) Again, the Yahwist makes no bones about it: Abraham tells a bald-faced lie to save his miserable hide: Sarah is his sister, not his wife (Gen. 12:10-20): take her! The blue-nosed Elohist, however, tries to get Abraham off the hook by conveniently positing that Sarah was actually Abraham's cousin, so she could be considered sister and wife at the same time—well, sort of. (Gen. 20:1-12) The Elohist's version was in each case no doubt intended to replace the earlier version, more faithfully represented by the Yahwist. Neither compiler anticipated his work would be placed alongside the other version. The logic is basically one of docetic substitution: it wasn't as bad as it looked. And the shameful events thus expunged were in the one case abandonment to death by exposure, in the other sexual impropriety.

We are closer to what has traditionally been dubbed docetism, the feigning substitution for death, in another group of ancient tales. (Again, I am trying to review the logic of docetism so we can recognize it better when we see it in unexpected places.) Rene Girard juxtaposes two versions of a myth. In the first, the infant Zeus is in danger from his ravenous father, the Titan Kronos, who eats all his children to forestall the possibility of one of them one day usurping his throne, even as he himself had displaced his own father, the divine Uranos. The Curetes, mighty warriors, form a circle around the baby to hide him. To drown out his crying, which might attract the evil Kronos, the Curetes clash their spears against their shields. This noise frightens baby Zeus all the more, hence he cries more frantically, which leads his protectors to greater clangor. Finally, Kronos leaves, his head pounding, and Zeus is saved. Girard sees this myth as a piece of docetism, a rewritten version of an earlier myth in which the young god was in fact collectively murdered by those now presented as protecting him from murder. And in fact, he suggests, that version of the myth still survives. It is the Orphic protological myth of Dionysius Zagreus. In this tale, the infant Dionysius is surrounded by Titans who tempt him with shiny objects, then close in on him, kill him and eat him. Alerted to this foul deed too late, Zeus finds only the beating heart of his son, swallows it and begets him anew. Meantime, Zeus has smitten the offending Titans with his lightning and created the human race from their ashes. Those who contained a portion of the devoured Dionysius became the oft-reincarnated Orphic elect. Once one abstracts the gnosticizing soteriology, one is left with another, more primitive, version of the myth of the Curetes. Zeus is even the star of both shows, since, as Gilbert Murray points out, "Dionysius" seems originally to have meant "young Zeus."10 In the Dionysius version, the murder has already been mitigated by the rebirth of the godling, whereas in the Curetes/Kronos/Zeus version, the death is simply prevented from occurring.11 Why such surgery? "The dignity of Zeus is incompatible with his death at the hands of the Curetes."12

We can also compare two versions of the sacrifice of Iphigenia, necessary to placate the peevishness of the gods who prevented the Greek fleet from leaving port to sail for Troy. In Homer's version, the maiden's blood is shed by the hand of her father, the Generalissimo Agamemnon. The terrible death was real, and one day Clytemnestra would repay the debt. But when we read Ovid's version, the tension is relieved in another way. At the last minute, there is a strategic substitute.

King Agamemnon, while her servants wept,

Took Iphigenia to a blood-stained altar

Where she was well-prepared to give her life.

Even the goddess felt something go wrong:

She wrapped a fog around them, closed their eyes,

And as the scene grew slightly mad with weeping,

She placed a red-haired doe upon the altar—

So someone said—and spared Mycenae's child. (Book XII)

The sacrifice was made, but it was not Iphigenia who paid the price, though the switch was hidden from all eyes by the obscuring cloud.13

A similar story is that of the Binding (Akkedah) of Isaac (Gen. 22), which, as it stands, seems to be a docetic rewrite of (or substitute for) an earlier version, still known by persistent oral tradition to later commentators, which spoke of Abraham burning the corpse of his son and scattering his ashes, and of God raising a slain Isaac from the dead. “When Father Isaac was bound on the altar and reduced to ashes and his sacrificial dust was cast onto Mount Moriah, the Holy One, blessed be He, immediately brought dew upon him and revived him.” (Shibbole ha-Leket 9a-b)14 In an earlier case, that of the implied Uranos-like castration of Noah by his sons (Gen. 9:20-27), ancient scribes have simply snipped the offending element, leaving it for the reader to infer "what his youngest son had done to him."15 In the case of Isaac, a narrow escape has replaced a bloody death like that of Adonis or Attis. With the biblical roots of docetism going this deep, no one should be surprised when, many centuries down the line, the same maneuver is brought to bear to obviate the scandal of the cross of Jesus.

A striking parallel to the canonical (docetic) version of the Akkedah Isaac meets us in the story of the crucifixion of Jesus in the Nag Hammadi Apocalypse of Peter. Peter recalls the arrest of Jesus:

I saw him seemingly being seized by them. And I said, “What do I see, O Lord, that it is you yourself whom they take…? Or who is this one, glad and laughing on the tree? And is it another one whose feet and hands they are striking?” The Savior said to me, “He whom you saw on the tree, glad and laughing, this is the living Jesus. But this one into whose hands and feet they drive the nails is his fleshly part, which is the substitute being put to shame, the one who came into being in his likeness. But look at him and me.” But I, when I had looked, said “Lord, no one is looking at you. Let us flee this place.” But he said to me. “I have told you, ‘Leave the blind alone.’” (81:4-30)16

The crucifixion scene in the Acts of John has many of the same features. This time Christ is not on the cross but is visible above a cross of light.

And the Lord himself I beheld above the cross, not having any shape, but only a voice... saying unto me: “…This cross of light is sometimes called the word by me for your sakes, sometimes mind, sometimes Jesus, sometimes Christ… But this is not the cross of wood which thou wilt see when thou goest down hence; neither am I he that is on the cross… I was reckoned to be that which I am not, not being what I was unto many others; but they will say of me something else which is vile of me and not worthy of me… Care not therefore for the many, and them that are outside the mystery despise… Nothing, therefore, of the things which they will say of me have I suffered.” (98-101)

The true Christ ascends; John returns to the multitude and “I laughed them all to scorn.” (102)17 Note the many points of similarity. In both crucifixion accounts we are told that only a substitute likeness of Christ is killed. He is treated shamefully or vilely. The true Christ, while not being crucified, is nonetheless seen on, or above, or somehow identified with a tree or cross. And Christ tells his disciple to despise the ignorant outsiders. Christ or John laughs at them.

All these features occur also in The Hypostasis of the Archons and On the Origin of the World, but it is the “passion narrative” of Eve in which they occur. In these texts she, too, is seized by an evil multitude who mean to treat her shamefully. She, too, is somehow identified with a tree in her concealment. She, too, laughs in derision of her blind and witless enemies. It is hard not to conclude that the Gnostic exegete is docetizing the shameful fate of Eve just as Gnostics had docetized the shameful fate of Jesus Christ. Such a fate for their heroine Eve would be just as offensive to Gnostics as the fate of Christ was, so, like the latter, the former might be explained away and in precisely the same manner. All this implies the Gnostic interpreters were retelling a preexistent version of the Eden story in which Eve was raped by the lustful angels, just as the docetic crucifixion scenes presuppose passion narratives in which Jesus truly died.

Do we have evidence for such a variant of the Eve story? We do not, of course, have any actual telling of this tale. But we do have highly suggestive circumstantial evidence. There are at least two striking parallels. The first, I will suggest, represents a docetic revision along the lines we have already seen. It is the ancient myth of Ixion, he who for his hubris was crucified on a white-hot metal wheel in Hades.

Improper love… came upon Ixion also. Ixion made love to what was only a cloud, embracing it in a false dream, completely unaware as he was—for the cloud appeared in the shape of Hera, the daughter of Kronos and queen of the gods. The hands of Zeus had placed the cloud before him as a deceit and a beautiful source of misery. (Pindar, Pythian Odes II)

Ixion had set his sites on Hera and meant to have her. This Zeus forestalled by his deceit. Eve as she appears in The Hypostasis of the Archons and On the Origin of the World is not far removed from the divine Hera, and she is spared from a similar indignity, or rather rescues herself. And just as the newly fabricated false Eve continues on in the story to bear the bad seed of the wicked archons, so does the false Hera continue as a distinct character, given the name Nephele, “Cloud.” She goes on to bear children and figures in the myth of Athamas and his near sacrifice of their son Phrixus (a parallel to, really another version of, the Akkedah of Isaac). Thus, neither the false Eve nor the false Hera was simply a phantom. The stories are almost exactly parallel, which shows how old the underlying mytheme was. Both, I am convinced, are docetic substitutes for earlier versions in which the shaming of the heroine was complete. The fact that Nephele is also an actual fleshly woman and yet a double for Hera implies a bifurcation in which, so to speak, Hera is both conquered by Ixion and saved from his sweaty hands. The teller of the tale thus succeeded in having his ambrosia and eating it, too. Think also of the severe punishment dealt out to Ixion. Zeus might well have been angered even at Ixion's intent, but does not his extreme vindictiveness argue for a real liaison of Ixion with the real Hera? But a later raconteur felt it just too unseemly that Hera be depicted in such a fashion, just as the Elohist made sure heathen hands were not laid on Sarah, despite the Yahwist’s ribald implications.

How different at the crucial juncture is our second (otherwise) strikingly parallel story of the near rape of Istahar, the last virgin innocent of the depredations of the Sons of God before the Noahic Flood:

In those days only one virgin, Istahar by name, remained chaste. When the Sons of God made lecherous demands upon her, she cried: 'First lend me your wings!' They assented and she, flying up to Heaven, took sanctuary at the throne of God, who transformed her into the constellation Virgo. (Liqqute Midrashim, 156)18

The same astrological myth underlies the wing-borne escape of the virgin from the dragon in Revelation 12, and in both cases it is clear that the original identity of the virgin was the goddess Ishtar (= "Istahar"), as is evident from the crown of stars, etc. Like Hera and the Gnostic Eve (= the Greek and Phrygian Hebe), the threatened woman is divine. But the difference between the stories of Istahar on the one hand and of Hera and Eve on the other is that Istahar experiences a last-minute clean getaway, while the other two share the revealing motif of the doubling of the original victim into both victim and escapee. If the story of Eve's near-violation as we read it in The Hypostasis of the Archons preserves an original tale in which she was never actually raped, why does it not read more like the story of Istahar—a simple escape? The doubling motif tells the tale: originally Eve was raped.

We have evidence aplenty that among both Jews and early Christians, variants of the Eve story were circulating which involved sexual intercourse between Eve and Satan or demons. Declares F. R. Tennant, “It is beyond question... that various legends concerning the monstrous intercourse of Adam and Eve with demons, and especially of Eve with the serpent or Satan, were both widespread and ancient among the Jews.”19Sabbath 146a, where Rabbi Jose asks, This striking reading of the Eden story served as a Jewish doctrine of a genetically transmitted taint of sin. The idea of the sexual seduction of Eve by Satan occurs in several Talmudic tractates including

Why are the Cuthites contaminated? Because they did not stand at Mt. Sinai; for when the serpent had intercourse with Eve, it injected poison into her. The Israelites, who stood at Mt. Sinai, have lost this poison; the Gentiles, on the contrary, who did not stand on Mt. Sinai, have not lost this poison.

Rabbi Abba ben Kahana suggests that the sexually transmitted taint had disappeared from the house of Israel earlier, by the birth of Jacob’s twelve sons. Rabbi Jose’s view, however, is echoed in Yebamoth 103b and in Aboda Zara 22b.

Other early Jewish writings attest the idea. The mother of the seven martyr-brothers in 4 Maccabees 18:7-8 recalls her life of virtue: “I was a pure virgin and did not go outside my father’s house; but I guarded the rib from which woman was made. No seducer corrupted me on a desert plain, nor did the destroyer, the deceitful serpent, defile the purity of my virginity.” In short, she was not another Eve.

2 Enoch 31:6 seems to refer to the same idea , as is clear in R.H. Charles’ translation: “And [Satan] understood his condemnation and the sin which he had sinned before, therefore he conceived thought against Adam, in such form he entered and seduced Eva, but did not touch Adam.”20 F. I. Anderson’s translation, “In such a form he entered paradise, and corrupted Eve. But Adam he did not contact,”21 retains the word “paradise” supplied in some manuscripts, an option Tennant, following Morfill, rejects, arguing that the verb vnilde, often used in the Slavonic Bible in a sexual sense (“he came in unto her”) is best understood as taking “Eve” as its object. And should we not recognize the presence (insertion) of "paradise" in some manuscripts as another case of sanitizing a shocking story for the more delicate sensibilities of later readers?

The same tradition recurs in the second-century Christian text, The Protevangelium of James, when Joseph, seeing his betrothed Mary is pregnant, immediately assumes she has been unfaithful to him: “Who has thus deceived me? Who has committed this evil in my house, and seducing the Virgin from me, hath defiled her? Is not the history of Adam exactly accomplished in me? For in the very instant of his glory, the serpent came and found Eve alone, and seduced her. Just after the same manner it has happened to me.” (10:4-7)

Another version of the Eve story made Cain the offspring of the sexual union of Eve and Satan. Epiphanius (Haer. XL.5) records a Gnostic version of this story: “they report… the devil came to Eve… as man to wife and begat from her Cain and Abel.” The rabbis also suggest that Satan begat Cain, though not Abel. Just as the Chronicler felt it inappropriate for Yahweh to have prompted David to number Israel (2 Sam. 24:1) and substituted the name Satan (1 Chron. 21:1), so the rabbis felt uneasy with Gen. 4:1, where Eve has Cain “by the help of Yahweh.” Apparently they thought the text implied Yahweh had actually fathered Cain sexually, so they suggested “Satan” be substituted again: “I have gotten a man with the help of Satan.”22 Tennant claims that the two medieval rabbinical sources which attest this belief (Pirke di R. Elieser and Yalkut Schim) contain very ancient traditions, as suggested by their concurrence at many other points with ancient Jewish pseudepigrapha.23 Cain as the physical offspring of Satan and Eve may well be presupposed in 1 John 3:8-12, where haters and murderers are said to be children of Satan, “like Cain who was [born] of the evil one.”24 Similarly, John 8:44 brands Jesus’ Jewish interlocutors as offspring of the devil in view of their manifest desire to murder Jesus.

As Richard J. Arthur points out,25 these Johannine passages seem to presuppose the same mytheme made explicit in another literary product of the Johannine movement, The Apocryphon of John, where we read, again, that Eve was seduced by the archon of this world:

And the chief archon saw the virgin who stood by Adam, and that the luminous Epinoia of life had appeared in her… And when the foreknowledge of the All noticed, she sent some, and they snatched life out of Eve. And the chief archon seduced her and he begot in her two sons; the first and the second, Eloim and Yave… Yave is righteous but Eloim is unrighteous... And these he called with the names Cain and Abel with a view to deceive. (II:24.15-25)26

Here, as in the other two Gnostic texts, the sexual encounter between Eve and her exploiter(s) is of a quasi-illusory nature, since in all three cases, the superior spiritual aspect of Eve has been rapt away just in time.

Enough has been said, I believe, to indicate that a version, indeed more than one version, of the Eve story was circulating in early Christian times, according to which Eve was sexually molested by Satan. In extant sources, this molestation takes the form of seduction, even in a Nag Hammadi text, The Apocryphon of John. The myth of Eve’s rape by the archons implied by the “docetizing” exegesis of two other Nag Hammadi documents, The Hypostasis of the Archons and On the Origin of the World, would simply be still another variant. The existence of this variant in Paul’s day would neatly explain his coupling in 1 Corinthians 11 of the argument from woman’s creation for man (verse 9) and his argument from the angels (verse 10) as one and the same argument: Women are created for their husbands who alone should see their beauty unveiled—thus “woman is the glory of man” (verse 7c), just as Eve was created for Adam; yet as Eve, still naked, unveiled, aroused the lust of the archons, so the unveiled Corinthian prophetesses may arouse the lust of the angels.

Incidentally, some criticized the patristic “sons of God” explanation because they could not see why the angels would be attracted to the women only in church.27 This qualm might arise at my suggestion as well. It is probably expecting too much of Paul to imagine him considering all sides of what is obviously a rather contrived ad hoc argument. Paul is only thinking of women unveiled on this public occasion as opposed to other public occasions in which he assumes they would be veiled, since it is only in church, as prophetesses, that the Corinthian women wish to take off the veil and so directly reflect the glory of God—cf. 1 Cor. 11:7. And at this point The Hypostasis of the Archons offers another tempting, though admittedly tenuous hint: just before the archons attack Eve she is called in the text “the spirit-endowed Woman.” (89:11)28 Was it the spiritual endowment of the Corinthian women in the prophetic state that Paul feared might attract the notice of the angels, who would then begin to lust after the women’s unveiled beauty ?


4. Supplemental Considerations

I believe that a sufficient case has been made to support the claim that the best available explanation of 1 Cor. 11:10 is that Paul was referring to a variant form of the Eve myth in which the uncovered Eve is taken from her husband for whom she was made and raped by the angels. The Hypostasis of the Archons and The Origin of the World seem to presuppose such a myth as the basis for their docetizing exegesis, and such a myth closely parallels other variants circulating in the early Christian period. The likely existence of such a myth and the sense it would make of Paul’s otherwise puzzling statement in 1 Cor. 11:10 ought to be sufficient to secure for the “amorous archon” theory at least the credibility accorded the two previous theories, since neither makes as much sense of Paul’s statement. But obviously the case would be further strengthened if there were further evidence making Paul’s use of such a variant likely. I believe there is some such evidence, admittedly circumstantial.

It seems quite likely that Paul knew the more commonly attested version in which Eve was sexually seduced by Satan. I refer to 2 Cor. 11:2-3, “I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” The language of Paul’s analogy suggests that Eve was led astray from her pure virginity instead of saving herself for her fiancee Adam. What kind of purity is possessed by a virgin awaiting her betrothed that can be seduced away from her? What form must such seduction take? Note the very close similarity of the language here to that in 4 Macc. 18:7-8, where the point is that the serpent deceived Eve out of her virginity.29

If, then, Paul did know the tradition of Eve’s seduction by Satan (Jewish tradition apparently already equated the serpent with Satan—see Wis. 2:23-24; Rev. 12:9),30 is it likely he would also have accepted an alternative version of the story, one in which Eve is not seduced but raped? We do have evidence that Paul could use now one, now another version of a scriptural story, even of the story of the Fall. In 2 Cor. 11:3 Paul seems to lay the blame on Eve for the Fall, but in Rom. 5:14-19 and 1 Cor. 15:22 he holds “one man,” Adam, responsible. Similarly, in the story of Moses receiving the Law on Mt. Sinai, Paul can alternate between a version in which Moses dealt directly with God himself (2 Cor. 3:7, 13, 16 [cf. Exod. 34:34], 18) and another according to which Moses received the Law from the hands of angels, not God, since if only God were involved Moses the mediator would not have been necessary. (Gal. 3:19-20)31 If Paul felt free in these cases to juggle available versions of scriptural stories, why could he not have made use of two versions of Eve’s sexual Fall as each proved more useful in different circumstances? After all, we find within the Nag Hammadi corpus the very same alternation between a seduction of Eve (The Apocryphon of John) and an (attempted) rape (The Hypostasis of the Archons and On the Origin of the World).

We have just seen that Paul could go from one (God) to many (angels) in the Sinai story. Surely moving from a single seducer, Satan (2 Cor. 11:3), to many rapists, the angels (1 Cor. 11:10) would have posed no great difficulty. In fact Paul elsewhere moves from Satan to the evil angels. The “god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4) would seem to be the equivalent of “the rulers of this age." (1 Cor. 2:6, 8) Ephesians similarly speaks interchangeably of “the prince of the power of the air” (2:2) and of “principalities, powers, world rulers of this present darkness, spiritual hosts of wickedness” (6:12) and then again of “the evil one.” (6:16) And these “rulers” are, in Greek, “archons,” just as in the Gnostic text. Of course debate continues to rage over the question whether the “rulers of this age” are to be understood on analogy with the “debater of this age” (1 Cor. 1:20) as worldly human rulers,32 or on analogy with “world rulers of this present darkness... in heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12) as evil angels,33 or possibly as a combination of both, as evil angels are the powers behind earthly thrones. (Dan. 10:13)34 I think it is of little avail to point to the fact that in all other New Testament instances “rulers,” archons, refers to human officials, as do, e.g., Trevor Ling35 and Gordon D. Fee,36 as if the numerical majority of instances control the meaning of the word. This is simply one more instance of the “Kittel mentality” rightly decried by James Barr.37 What makes the best sense in the context? It seems to me that the “evil angels” interpretation as reflected in Gnostic literature supplies the more natural meaning. Finally, remember that the same variation between a single archon seducer and many archon rapists occurs between The Apocryphon of John on the one hand and The Hypostasis of the Archons and On the Origin of the World on the other.


5. Conclusion

I hope to have shown that Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 11:10 seems to make most sense if his references to woman’s creation for man and to the angels are seen as moments in one continuous argument, a reference to a version of the Fall story in which Eve was raped by evil angels who lusted after her unveiled beauty. Such a story seems presupposed by the docetizing exegesis of The Hypostasis of the Archons and On the Origin of the World. Similar stories of a sexual liaison between Eve and Satan were apparently current in Paul's day; indeed he seems to use one such version in 2 Cor. 11:2-3. It is likely that in 1 Cor. 11:10 Paul made use of a variant of that story in which Eve was raped by a gang of evil angels. The “amorous archons” theory proposed here makes sense of Paul’s connection of woman’s creation and the angels, something that neither the “sons of God” theory nor the “worshipping angels” theory can do adequately.



1. Bernard P. Prusak, “Woman: Seductive Siren and Source of Sin?, Pseudepigraphical Myth and Christian Origins,” in Rosemary Radford Ruether, ed., Religion and Sexism (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974), p. 112.

2. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “A Feature of Qumran Angelology and the Angels of 1 Corinthians 11:10,” New Testament Studies 4 (1957): 48-58; rpt. Fitzmyer, Essays on the Semitic Background of the New Testament (London: Chapman, 1971), pp. 187-204.

3. Herbert Braun, Qumran und das Neue Testament (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1966), pp. 193f.; Hans Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians: A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, trans. James W. Leitch, Hermeneia Series (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), p. 189.

4. C.K. Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), p. 253.

5. Richard Boldrey and Joyce Boldrey, Chauvinist or Feminist? Paul’s View of Women (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976), p. 37.

6. Ferdinand Christian Baur, Paul, the Apostle of Jesus Christ: His Life and Work, His Epistles and His Doctrine, trans. A. Menzies (London & Edinburgh: Williams & Norgate, 1875) vol. 2, p. 254.

7. Wayne A. Meeks, “The Image of the Androgyne: Some Uses of a Symbol in Earliest Christianity,” History of Religions 13 (1974): 201.

8. Bentley Layton (trans.), “The Hypostasis of the Archons,” in James M. Robinson (ed.), The Nag Hammadi Library in English (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1977), pp. 154-155.

9. The translation is that of Hans-Gebhard Bethge, Bentley Layton, and the Societas Coptica Hierosolymitana, in James M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English, 3rd. ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1988).

The peculiar detail of the spiritual Eve escaping from the drooling archons by the device of turning into a tree is certainly to be accounted for as a vestige of the ancient story of Daphne's last resort in evading Apollo, who like the Edenic archons enamored of Eve, was pursuing Daphne, smitten with her beauty. She prayed to lose her beauty at the last minute, and her prayer was answered when the gods at once transformed her into the laurel tree, henceforth sacred to Apollo.

10. Gilbert Murray, Five Stages of Greek Religion (Garden City: Doubleday Anchor, n.d.), p. vi.

11. In the same way, the resurrection (i.e., restoration) of Jesus ought to be understood as a variant of the same docetic logic that elsewhere has Jesus secretly escape death. It is ultimately a matter of indifference whether the avoidance of death occurs before or after death. It is the same plot-logic either way.

12. Rene Girard, The Scapegoat, trans. Yvonne Freccero (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), p. 71.

13. The closest biblical parallel to the sacrifice of Iphigenia by Agamemnon is that of Jephthah's fulfillment of his vow, entailing the sacrifice of his daughter in Judg. 11:29-40. There is no later version, known to me, in which the daughter is rescued, but it is just worth noting that pious latter-day Bible readers have tried to find some other way of reading the text to avoid being stuck with a story in which Yahweh receives a human sacrifice. In so doing, they are themselves recapitulating the ancient logic of docetic apologetics.

14. See the larger discussion in Shalom Spiegel, The Last Trial: On the Legends and Lore of the Command to Abraham to Offer Isaac as a Sacrifice: The Akkedah, trans. Judah Goldin (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 1993), pp. 28-44.

15. Robert Graves and Raphael Patai, Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis (New York: Greenwich House, 1983), p. 122.

16. Roger A. Bullard (trans.), “Apocalypse of Peter,” in Robinson (ed.), Nag Hammadi Library, p. 344.

17. M. R. James (trans.), “The Acts of John,” in The Apocryphal New Testament (London: Oxford University Press, 1972), pp. 254-255, 256.

18. The quoted passage is a summary by Graves and Patai, p. 101.

19. F. R. Tennant, The Sources of the Doctrines of the Fall and Original Sin (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), p. 156. The translations of rabbinical sources that follow are Tennant’s.

Indeed, the same conclusion has been independently drawn in similar midrashic fashion by sectarian exegesis in modern times. “Here is what really happened in the Garden of Eden. The Word says that Eve was beguiled by the serpent. She was actually seduced by the serpent... This beast was so close to a human being that he could reason and talk. He was an upright creature and was somewhat in between a chimpanzee and a man, but closer to a man. He was so close to being human that his seed could, and did, mingle with that of the woman and cause her to conceive... That's one of the mysteries of God that has remained hidden, but here it is revealed.” (William Marrion Branham, An Exposition of the Seven Church Ages [Jefferson, IN: William Marrion Branham, n.d.], pp. 98-99).

20. R.H. Charles (trans.), “The Book of the Secrets of Enoch” in R. H . Charles (ed.), Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, Vol. II (London: Oxford University Press, 1963), p. 451.

21. F.I. Anderson (trans.) “2 (Slavonic Apocalypse of) Enoch” in James H. Charlesworth (ed.), The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Vol. 1 (Garden City. NY: Doubleday, 1983), p. 154.

22. Nils Alstrup Dahl, “Der Erstgeborene Satans und der Vater des Teufels” in Apophoreta, Festschrift fur Ernst Haenchen, (Berlin, 1964), pp. 70-84: Henry Ansgar Kelly, The Devil, Demonology and Witchcraft, The Development of Christian Beliefs in Evil Spirits (Garden City: Doubleday, 1974), pp. 14-15.

23. Tennant, p. 159.

24. Brown mentions the “rabbinic tradition that Eve had intercourse with the devil; and Cain was the son of the tempter, while Abel was the son of Adam” and admits “It is tempting to invoke this idea as background for 1 John’s contention that Cain ‘was from’ the devil (3:12a); but it is not clear that the legend was known in the first century A. D. “ (Raymond E. Brown, The Epistles of John [Garden City: Doubleday, 1982], p. 443. Yet so strikingly does the legend seem to fit and to illuminate the Johannine text that I would venture that this text is itself first-century evidence for the legend’s circulation.

25. Richard J. Arthur, “John 8:44 and the Sethians,” paper delivered at the Northwest Sectional Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, 1986. Let me also thank Professor Arthur for pointing out to me the relevant passage of On the Origin of the World.

26. The translation is that of Frederik Wisse in Robinson (ed.), Nag Hammadi Library.

27. Barrett. p. 253.

28. Bentley Layton (trans.), “Hypostasis” in Robinson (ed.), Nag Hammadi Library, p. 154.

29. H. S. J. Thackeray suggested this meaning of Paul’s words in The Relation of St. Paul to Contemporary Jewish Thought (London, 1900), pp. 50-57 .

30. See George Foote Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, The Age of the Tannaim (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1958), Vol. 1, pp. 478-479. It is not, however, all that clear that either of these passages refers to the serpent of Eden rather than to Leviathan or just to the serpent metaphor.

31. The idea of angels as mediators of the Law at Sinai seems to have developed as an attempt to explain certain differences in depictions of God in Exod. 15:3 and 24:10f. In the former God was understood to be depicted as young, as just, and with the name Yahweh, while in the latter he was seen as older, merciful, and using the name Elohim. Could there then be two deities, as some radicals held? Or might the various Exodus theophanies instead be angelophanies? See Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1977), pp. 50-53, 68-69, 211.

32. Scholars who see the “rulers” as human officials include Goudge, Parry, Plummer, Robertson, and Fee.

33. Scholars who see the “rulers” as evil angels include Dibelius, Bultmann, Moffatt, Lietzmann, Schmiedel, Weiss, and Bousset.

34. Scholars who see the “rulers” as evil angels behind human thrones include Cullmann, H. Berkhof, Schlatter, Macgregor, and Ling.

35. Trevor Ling, The Significance of Satan, New Testament Demonology and its Contemporary Relevance (London: SPCK, 1961), p. 75.

36. Gordon D. Fee, New Testament Exegesis (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1983), pp. 88-89.

37. “We may then sum up these criticisms of TWNT by saying that the great weakness is a failure to get to grips with the semantic value of words in their contexts, and a strong tendency to assume that this value will on its own agree with and illuminate the contours of a theological structure which is felt to be characteristic of the New Testament and distinctively contrasting with its environment.” James Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language (London: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 231.