The Gnostics and Their Remains, by Charles William King, , at sacred-texts.com
Diodorus Siculus, when enumerating the different legislators of antiquity, says, "Amongst the Jews Moses pretended that the god surnamed Iao gave him his laws" (i. 94). And this is elucidated by the remark of Clemens Alexandrinus, that the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, or Mystic Name, is pronounced ΙΑΟϒ, and signifies "He that is and shall be." Theodoret states that the same four letters were pronounced by the Samaritans as ΙΑΒΕ (Jave); by the Jews as ΙΑΩ. Jerome (upon Psalm viii. says, "The Name of the Lord" amongst the Hebrews is of four letters, Iod, He, Vau, He, which is properly the Name of God, and may be read as ΙΑΗΟ (Iaho) (that is in Latin characters), which is held by the Jews for unutterable. The author of the 'Treatise on Interpretations' says, "The Egyptians express the name of the Supreme Being by the seven Greek vowels ΙΕΗΩΟϒΑ": * which sufficiently explains the mighty potency ascribed to this formula by the inspired author of the 'Pistis-Sophia,' and equally so its frequent appearance upon the talismans now under consideration.
Rabbi Tarphon (Tryphon), who could remember the Second Temple, noticed that the Ineffable Name, though occurring a hundred times in the course of the daily service, was "rather
warbled than pronounced." A precious hint this, as indicating how the Gnostic strings of boneless vowels give an approximation to the audible and yet unuttered sound. Since the destruction of the Temple, the Name has never been heard in prayer, or pronounced aloud. It is communicated, indeed, to every Rabbi, after his ordination, but not in full. One half of it is told; the rest he is left to make out for himself.
The first idea of an "Ineffable Name," and all its inherent virtues, evidently came to the Egyptians (from whom the Jews borrowed it) from the Hindoo doctrine respecting the title AUM,--itself, like the ΑΙΩ, trilateral--representing the Triad, Brahma-Vishnu-Siva: A standing for the Creator, U for the Preserver, M for the Destroyer. The connection between Indian and Egyptian mythology is certain, however difficult to account for, the names of the principal deities in the latter having the appearance of pure Sanscrit. Thus Isis signifies in that tongue the Mistress; Tat and Sat, Virtue and Power; Serapis, Sripa, the Blood-drinker; Nila, Blue-water, &c. The original identity of the two religious systems no one can doubt who has intelligently studied the monuments of each: but which country instructed the other?
The balance of probabilities is strongly in favour of India, the confinement of the peculiar system within the narrow limits of Egypt betokening an importation by a colony from some very remote source. Traces of a very ancient intercourse between the two countries are discernible, though very dimly, in history. The Periplus of the Red Sea mentions that as late as Cæsar's time the town Endæmon on that coast was the entrepôt where the Indian and Egyptian traders used annually to meet. In prehistoric times therefore it is conceivable that Brahminical missionaries may have laboured amongst the aborigines of the Valley of the Nile. This religious analogy manifests itself in the meanest details, in the sacred titles as well as attributes. For example, as the Brahmins teach that each of the letters A, U, M envelops a great mystery, so does the Pistis-Sophia ('Prayers of the Saviour,' § 358) interpret the Ι, Α, Ω, as the summary of the Gnostic, or Valentinian, creed. "Ι signifies All goeth out; Α, All returneth within; Ω, There shall be an end of
ends": thus expressing the grand doctrines of the Emanation, the Return, and the Annihilation, or rather reabsorption, of the Universe. *
To turn now to Greece--in the same way as Abraxas is no other than a numerical title of the Solar god, so does Iao actually make its appearance as an epithet of the same divinity. Macrobius (Sat. i. 18), whilst labouring to prove that the Sun-worship was in truth the sole religion of Paganism, under whatever name it was disguised, gives a notice very much to our purpose. The Apollo of Claros, when consulted as to the true nature of the god called Ἰαὸς, gave the following response:--
Here we find Iao expressly recognised as the title of the Supreme God whose physical representative is the Sun. Again we have Dionysos or Bacchus added to the list by Orpheus, who sings
A distinct recognition this of the grand principle of Brahminism--that all the different deities are but representations of the different attributes of the One. The same truth is curiously expressed upon a talisman (Hertz collection) which at the same time sets forth the triune nature of the Supreme Being whose visible type is the Sun. It is a heart-shaped piece of basalt engraved with seated figures of Ammon and Ra (the Zeus and Helios of the Greeks), with the sacred Asp erect between them. The reverse bears the invocation neatly cut in characters of the third century--
[paragraph continues] "There is One Bäit, One Athor, their power is one and the same, there is One Achori. Hail Father of the universe, hail God under three forms!" Concerning the three figures a word is necessary in explanation of their titles. As for the hawk-head Ra, Horapollo gives for reason of the type: "The hawk stands for the Supreme Mind, and for the intelligent soul. The hawk is called in the Egyptian language 'Baieth,' from bai soul, and eth heart, which organ they consider the seat or inclosure of the soul." A sufficient explanation this for the shape in which the talisman is formed. Achoreus, the virtuous priest-councillor of the last of the Ptolemies (see Lucan), derives his name from the sacred serpent here invoked.
That Iaos was recognised by the Greeks as an epithet for the Sun in the autumnal quarter has been shown from Macrobius. The philosophical interpreters of the ancient mythology discovered in Dionysos also a mere type of the same luminary. "One is Zeus, Hades, Helios, and Dionysos." And Serapis is substituted for the last in an oracle quoted by Julian: nor must it be forgotten that the main object of Macrobius in the above-quoted dissertation is to prove, that Serapis is a representative of the various powers of the Solar deity all combined in one figure. Again, to the same effect, comes Virgil's famous apostrophe--
where "Bacchus" and "Ceres" do no more than interpret Osiris and Isis, the Sun and Moon. Here lies the reason for equipping Bacchus with horns in some of his statues.
"Accedant capiti cornua Bacchus eris," says Sappho to Phaon. For in Hebrew a radiated and a horned head is expressed by the same word. When Moses came down from the Mount, "cornuta erat facies ejus," according to the version of the Vulgate; and on the strength of this mistranslation Christian art hath ever graced the Jewish lawgiver with these appendages.
In this very title Iao undoubtedly lies the origin of the universal persuasion of the ancients that the Jehovah of the
[paragraph continues] Jews--whose name was thus expressed in Greek letters--was no other than the Egyptian Bacchus. For this notion they found strong support in the Golden Vine which formed the sole visible decoration of the Temple; in the "blowing the trumpets at the New Moon," and the custom of keeping the Feast of Tabernacles in huts made of leafy boughs, accompanied with many of the ceremonies used at the Grecian Dionysia: "Quia sacerdotes eorum tibia tympanis concinebant, hedera vinciebantur, vitisque aurea templo reperta" (Tacit. Hist. v. 5.) This opinion as to the real nature of the Jewish worship Tacitus quotes as the one generally held by the learned of his own times, although he cannot bring himself to accept it as satisfactory--although merely on the grounds that the gloomy and unsocial character of the religion seemed to disprove its relationship to the merry worship of the "god of wine," the only character in which the Romans recognised Bacchus. Nevertheless this ancient theory has found supporters in modern times, notably in the overlearned Dr. Stanley, rector of St. George the Martyr, who (without giving much scandal to his own easy-going generation) advocated this heterodox opinion in an elaborate treatise which puts to shame the boldest flights of the 'Essays and Reviews,' or even the interpretations of our indiscreet apostle to the Zulus. Ludicrously enough, the German Jews still celebrate the Feast of Purim, and the Fall of Haman, by getting as royally drunk as their means afford, and thus to the present day do their best to perpetuate the old Roman aspersion. Amongst the later Gnostics, indeed, some rites were unmistakably borrowed from the Bacchanalia, singularly modified by Christian doctrine. Epiphanius relates (Hæres. xxxvii.) how that "they kept a tame serpent in a chest or sacred ark, and piled loaves upon a table before the same, and then called upon the serpent to come forth. Whereupon, opening of himself the ark, he would come forth, mount upon the table, and twine about the loaves, which they broke in pieces, and distributed amongst the worshippers, calling this their 'Perfect Sacrifice' and their 'Eucharist.'"
Another explanation as to the true character of the god
named Iao must not be passed over in silence, however little foundation it may have in truth, seeing that it is supported by the authority of the learned historian of Gnosticism, Jacques Matter. The Moon to the Egyptians, as to the Orientals of to-day, was of the masculine gender, and was designated by the phonetic name Aah or Ioh. Thoth was sometimes identified with this deity; and therefore Thoth's emblem, the ibis, accompanied with the crescent, bears the legend Ioh, "because (says Plutarch) Mercury attends the Moon in her journey round the earth in the same way as Hercules Both the Sun." When Thoth, Tat, appears as Mercury he has the head of an ibis; but in his character of the Moon-god, or Deus Lunus, he shows the face of a man supporting the lunar crescent enclosing the sun's disk and surmounted by a double plume.
Hence came the notion mentioned by Plutarch, that "the Egyptians call the Moon the Mother of Creation, and say it is of both sexes": and to the same effect Spartian (Caracalla, vii.) explains that the Egyptians in the mysteries (mystice) call the Moon a male, though designating it a female in ordinary speech. He adds that the people of Carrhal (famed for its great temple of Deus Lunus) hold that "whatsoever man thinks the moon should be called of the feminine gender shall pass his life a slave unto women, whereas he that holds it to be a male deity shall rule over his wife and be secured against all female treachery." A very sufficient reason this for the fondness of Spartian's contemporaries for wearing in their signet rings the vera effigies of the Carrhene god, a youth in a Phrygian cap, his bust supported on the crescent that gives his name. This elegant effeminate lunar genius is in truth no other than the modernized and tasteful version of the grim old Assyrian "Sin," pictured in the Ninevitish monuments as an aged man leaning on his staff as he floats through the heavens on the crescent, presenting a ludicrous resemblance to our popular idea of the "Man in the Moon." A blue calcedony in my possession fully illustrates Plutarch's title of "Mother of Creation." It exhibits a perfect hermaphrodite figure wearing the Egyptian head-dress, and squatting down so as more clearly to display its bisexual nature: below creeps a snail surmounted by a
butterfly, the well-understood emblems of lasciviousness and life, the fount of propagation.
All this brings us to Matter's theory (based on a statement of Origen's), that Iao, Adonai, Sabaoth signified the genii of the Moon, the Sun, and the Planets--being far inferior in power and even antagonistic to Abraxas, who is the actual representative of the Supreme Source of Light. Matter therefore explains the warlike attitude in which the Abraxas-god is regularly depicted as declaring his office of scaring away the Adversary, or demon, Iao, who is expressed by his name alone, placed in the lowest part of the scene, to denote his inferiority. But the authority of the monuments themselves is more than sufficient to upset such an interpretation of the meaning given to them by the actual manufacturers. The doctrine mentioned by Origen was, it cannot be denied, that of the more recent sect, which set itself above all old Egyptian or Hebrew tradition: but it most assuredly was not of the immense body of primitive Kabbalistic Gnostics who excogitated and put their trust in the sigils that they have bequeathed to us in such fantastical profusion. These talisman-makers evidently held Thoth and Moses in equal reverence: they had nothing to do with the Valentinians, who had an obvious motive for exalting their newly-invented invisible Tetrad, by so immeasurably degrading below it the most venerated names of the old religion. The Valentinians were Greeks by education, really drawing their inspiration from Pythagoras and Plato, and only too well pleased with the opportunity of venting their natural spite upon the most cherished ideas of the Alexandrine Kabbalists, the grand fabricants of our talismans, those veritable "Pierres d’Israel."
The Pistis-Sophia continually introduces, as a most important actor in its scenes of the judgment and purification of the soul, "the great and good Iao, ruler of the Middle Sphere," who when he looks down into the places of torment causes the souls therein imprisoned to be set at liberty. The very collocation of the words on our talismans clearly denotes that Adonai, Sabaoth, are equally with Abraxas the titles of Iao, who is the god actually represented by the symbolical figure these
words accompany. What else would be the motive for their collocation in a prayer like this (on a gem published by Matter himself)--"Iao, Abraxas, Adonai, Holy Name, Holy Powers, * defend Vibia Paulina from every evil spirit"? And, again, these same names perpetually occur united together, and followed by the address ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ, "Thou art our Father"; CΕΜΕC ΕΙΛΑΜ, "Eternal Sun"; a mode of adoration that could not possibly have been applied to beings of a discordant, much less of an antagonistic, nature to each other. Besides, if Abraxas were the opponent and ultimate destroyer of Iao, it would have been absurd to put the names of the two in such close union, the latter even taking precedence; each, too, being equally invoked in the accompanying prayer, and honoured with the same epithets of majesty. Moreover the composite figure, or Pantheus, which, as all writers agree, represents the actual god Abraxas, is much more frequently inscribed with the name ΙΑΩ than with ΑΒΡΑCΑΞ; and nevertheless, though the former name stands alone, it is followed by the same glorification, "Thou art our Father," &c., as when the two names are engraved in juxtaposition. It is moreover quite opposed to all the rules of symbolism to represent the one actor in a scene by his proper figure or emblem, and to indicate the other by the simple letters of his name: and equally repugnant to common sense to depict the figure of the god with the name of his adversary placed in the most conspicuous portion of the tableau. The absurdity is as great as though in Christian art one should paint a Crucifix with Satan's name in the place of the holy I . N . R . I, and give for explanation the hostility of the two personages. And lastly, it has been already shown that the numerical or Kabbalistic value of the name Abraxas directly refers to the Persian title of the god, "Mithras," Ruler of the year, worshipped from the earliest times under the apellation of Iao. Matter himself
publishes (Pl. iii. 2) a gem that should have convinced him of his error, had he not overlooked the force of its legend. The type is Horus seated on the lotus, inscribed ΑΒΡΑCΑΞ ΙΑΩ--an address exactly parallel to the so frequent ΕΙC ΖΕϒC CΑΡΑΠΙ on the contemporary Heathen gems; and therefore only to be translated by "Abraxas is the One Jehovah."
The "Great Name" with its normal titles is often to be observed interpolated by a Gnostic hand upon works of a better period and creed, but whose subjects were fancied analogous to the ideas conveyed by the Iao Pantheus: such as Phœbus in his car, the Lion--House of the Sun, the Sphinx emblem of royalty, and the Gorgon's Head of the Destructive Force, or of Providence. * But the most interesting of such adopted types that has come to my knowledge, as unmistakably pointing out the deity really understood by the name Abraxas, is a work discovered by myself amongst the miscellanea of a small private collection (Bosanquet). In this we behold the familiar Pantheus with head of cock, cuirassed body, and serpent-legs brandishing the whip and driving the car of Sol, † in the exact attitude of its proper occupant, Phœbus. In the exergue is the salutation CΑΒΑΩ, "Glory unto thee": on the reverse, in a cartouche formed by a coiled asp--precisely as the Hindoos write the Ineffable Name AUM--are engraved the titles ΑΒΡΑCΑΞ, attesting that one deity alone is meant, and that one to be the Ruler of the Sun.
319:* According to the Talmud, the Name of God, which was communicated only to the most pious of the priesthood, was composed of twelve letters. And upon our talismans the vowels inclosing ΙΑΩ are often found repeated so as to make up that number; whence it may be inferred that their union represents the same ineffable sound. In the same passage mention is made of another Name of God, consisting of forty-two letters, which in its turn may serve to account for the lines of often-repeated vowels similarly to be met with.
Dante alludes to a curious tradition that the name of God, revealed to Adam, was I, which succeeding times changed into Eli:--
321:* This has a remarkable analogy with the Brahminical definition of God as "the Self-existing, Eternal, Supreme Being, who is the Cause of everything, and into whom everything is finally absorbed"?
321:† ἀβρὸν Ἰαὼ, where the epithet seems suggested by the name Abraxas so generally coupled with it.
326:* A parallel to this form still exists in the Turkish amulet composed of the ninety-and-nine epithets of Allah written on a paper, and believed to possess wondrous protective power. The spirit of all Oriental religions is to glorify the one object of adoration by heaping upon him a multitude of honorific titles expressive of his various attributes. Amulets of this and various other kinds are regularly sold at the mosques.
327:* The holy name has often been added to intagli of a foreign nature merely for the sake of turning them into talismans: for example, on the reverse of a heliotrope with Victory, inscribing a shield (R. S. Williams, Utica, U.S.).
327:† Exactly as Serapis (also a type of the Sun-god) makes his appearance upon an Alexandrian coin of Hadrian's, which has been already cited (section "Abraxas gems"). The god is giving the benediction with his right hand, and holds a sceptre in his left. Upon another coin of the same emperor and mint he is seated on the Ram, clearly meaning the Sun in that sign, and perhaps having no deeper meaning than the date of the month when, coined.