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The Unreliability of Irenaeus’s Reference to Syneisaktism (Adversus Haereses 1,6,3)

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AbstractIn modern scholarly research there seems to be a consensus that Irenaeus’s Adversus Haereses 1,6,3 should be interpreted in connection with the ascetic practice of syneis­aktism (“spiritual marriage”). Irenaeus writes that some Valentinians who “pretend at first to live in chastity with them as with sisters, have been proved in the course of time to be in the wrong, when the sister gives birth to a child of her brother”. At first sight this sentence indeed seems to describe a practice in which the living together in chastity is the central focus and a link with syneisaktism is therefore not far-fetched. In this article, however, I present another interpretation. By looking to the content of the text and its context, it will be possible to prove that the paragraph in question is a polemical reproach that does not find any firm ground in the range of thoughts really held by this particular Gnostic movement.

Affiliations: 1: PhD fellow Research Foundation—FlandersFaculty of Theology and Religious StudiesResearch Unit History of Church and TheologyCharles Deberiotstraat26—box 3101BE-3000


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