ON ELCHASAI AND THE JEWS
EXCERPTS FROM HIPPOLYTUS
EXCERPTS FROM EARLY CHURCH FATHERS
Excerpts from Hippolytus of Rome
01. On the tenets of the philosophers.
02. On the systems of the astrologers.
03. On the Gnostics.
04. On Peratae and Sethians.
05. Concerning Simon Magus.
06. Concerning Valentinus.
07. Concerning Basilides.
08. Concerning Marcion and Carpocrates.
09. Concerning the Docetae.
10. Concerning the Noetians.
11. On Elchasai and the Jews.
12. Hippolytus, the rightful bishop in opposition to Callistus.
11. ON ELCHASAI AND THE JEWS.
Elchasai adopted that tenet of Pythagoras to which I have already alluded. But the Elchasaites have reached such an altitude of pride, that even they affirm themselves to be endued with a power of foretelling futurity, using as a starting-point, obviously, the measures and numbers of the aforesaid Pythagorean art (Refutation of all heresies 9.9).
To those, then, that have been orally instructed by him, he (Elchasai) dispenses baptism in this manner, addressing to his dupes some such words as the following: "If, therefore, (my) children, one shall have intercourse with any sort of animal whatsoever, or a male, or a sister, or a daughter, or hath committed adultery, or been guilty of fornication, and is desirous of obtaining remission of sins, from the moment that he hearkens to this book let him be baptized a second time in the name of the Great and Most High God, and in the name of His Son, the Mighty King" (R9.10).
But in very many other respects he (Elchasai) talks folly, inculcating the use of these sentences also for those afflicted with consumption, and that they should be dipped in cold water forty times during seven days; and he prescribes similar treatment for those possessed of devils (R9.11).
After they had crossed the river Jordan, and had inherited by lot the conquered country, they (the Jews) in various ways rent in sunder the law of God, each devising a different interpretation of the declarations made by God. And in this way they raised up for themselves teachers, (and) invented doctrines of an heretical nature, and they continued to advance into (sectarian) divisions ... For there is a division amongst them into three sorts; and the adherents of the first are the Pharisees, but of the second the Sadducees, while the rest are Essenes (R9.13).
Not even would they (the Essenes) move a utensil from one place to another (on the Sabbath), nor ease nature; nay, some would not even rise from a couch. On other days, however, when they wish to relieve nature, they dig a hole a foot long with the mattock, -for of this description is the hatchet, which the president in the first instance gives those who come forward to gain admission as disciples,- and cover (this cavity) on all sides with their garment, alleging that they do not necessarily insult the sunbeams. They then replace the upturned soil into the pit; and this is their practice, choosing the more lonely spots. But after they have performed this operation, immediately they undergo ablution, as if the excrement pollutes them (R9.20).
But the adherents of another (Essene) party, if they happen to hear any one maintaining a discussion concerning God and His laws-supposing such to be an uncircumcised person, they will closely watch him and when they meet a person of this description in any place alone, they will threaten to slay him if he refuses to undergo the rite of circumcision. Now, if the latter does not wish to comply with this request, an Essene spares not, but even slaughters. And it is from this occurrence that they have received their appellation, being denominated (by some) Zelotae, but by others Sicarii (R9.21).
All those (Greeks) who ventured to make assertions concerning God, or concerning the creation of existing things, derived their principles from no other source than from Jewish legislation. And among these may be particularized Pythagoras especially, and the Stoics, who derived (their systems) while resident among the Egyptians, by having become disciples of these Jews (R9.22).
And (yet there can be little doubt but) that, on beholding the signs of the times of His having been already amongst us, the Jews are troubled; and that they are ashamed to confess that He has come, since they have with their own hands put Him to death, because they were stung with indignation in being convicted by Himself of not having obeyed the laws. And they affirm that He who was thus sent forth by God is not this Christ (whom they are looking for); but they confess that another Messiah will come ... a warlike and powerful individual, who, after having gathered together the entire people of the Jews, and having done battle with all the nations, will restore for them Jerusalem the royal city (R9.25).
It is then possible for those who are disposed to investigate the subject industriously, to perceive how clearly has been demonstrated the existence of a nation of worshippers of the true God, more ancient than all the Chaldeans, Egyptians, and Greeks ... Therefore ye Greeks, Egyptians, Chaldeans, and the entire race of men, become adepts in this doctrine, and learn from us, who are the friends of God, what the nature of God is, and what His well-arranged creation (R10.26-27).
From his own writings, Hippolytus appears as the rightful Bishop of Rome who upheld the true apostolic tradition against the unworthy pontiff Callistus, an impostor and a villain no less than a laxist and a heretic. The surprising reconciliation of the two bitterly opposing groups subsequently took place, following which the Callistians endorsed him as another glorious martyr in a united Church. However, he was only acknowledged as a presbyter or, at most, as a bishop in some uncertain see.
An alternative stance that relates these events to the struggles that rent the Roman Christians in the times of Maxentius is examined in Did Tertullian really exist? Did Cyprian? Did Hippolytus? Once more tolerant tetrarchs overthrew Diocletian’s system in the west, African and Roman rigorists forcefully attempted to depose the prelates that yielded or fled under persecution. Whereas in North Africa Donatus Magnus and Caecilian of Carthage attacked one another through the works of Tertullian and Cyprian respectively, the conflicting Roman ecclesiastical heads Heraclius and Eusebius contended under the figures of Hippolytus and Callistus.
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