Master's Theses

Document Type

Thesis

Date of Award

Fall 2022

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

Advisor

Dr. David Bovee

Abstract

Dragons or great serpents associated with creation stories have been well documented within ancient Near Eastern myths, Classical religion, and Judaism. The motif involved monstrous and hostile supernatural figures emblematic of disorder that were subdued by a benevolent deity. The sect known as the Gnostics that emerged in the first and second centuries AD drew upon these ancient creation narratives and creatively mixed them with the idea put forward by Plato of a Demiurge, or craftsman who ordered the material universe. Because they held that the material cosmos was inherently evil, the Gnostics endowed their Demiurge with the characteristics of the chimeric serpentine monsters of the mythology they borrowed. Therefore, according to the Gnostics the universe had been brought into its present state by a monster, rather than by the defeat of one as the older cosmogonies had claimed. The Gnostics held that this had also been the creator of the Old Testament. In contrast with this transgressive creation narrative, early Christian treatments of the topic demonstrated a relatively high degree of familiarity with past uses of the motif. Early Christian scholars finding the Gnostic narrative untenable observed that this interpretation of the Demiurge was not only inconsistent with Plato’s original meaning, which had more in common with their Logos or Word, but also with their own usage of the sea monster Leviathan from Jewish and Christian scripture which hewed more closely to older traditions in which a great dragon or serpent was subdued by the deity, initiating a state of order. Therefore, the thesis of this paper is that doctrinally orthodox early Christian scholarship held a view closer to the older creation narratives than the Gnostics.

Comments

Notice: This material may be protected by copyright law (Title 17 U.S. Code).

Rights

Copyright 2022 James McPeters


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