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Theodotos
2nd century
Ancient Christian Church
Alexandria/Egypt


Theodotos, literally "gift of god" or "given by god," remained not only a common name in the second century, but even among several, who were minimally recalled by subsequent Christian writers and ultimately considered among Christian heretics when recalled, it has become difficult to be certain that they can be separated one from the other. He who was usually identified as Theodotos, "the currier from Byzantium" seems easiest to distinguish [Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies VII.23 and X.19; ANF V (1885) 114-115, 147; Carrington 1957: II.415-417; Q1 p. 279] though of no concern to a "Dictionary of African Christian Biography." But among those known by some profession, as the Apostle Paul was known to have been a "tentmaker" (skênopoios, Acts 18:3; cf. Hock 1980), such as the "cobbler" or "shoemaker" or "tanner" (presumably the same as the one designated "from Byzantium"), or as the "banker" [Hippolytus, Refutation VII.24; ANF V (1885) 115; Carrington 1957: II.418] and said to have been a disciple of the "cobbler" (according to the source, "The Little Labyrinth," quoted by Eusebius, H.E. V.28.9; Oulton 1927: 173; Lawlor 1928: 189-190), it is less than certain who exactly the one being identified really was. Often each appears in some context where the same kind of confusion, which the anti-heretical literature meant to foster generally, is present, so that it may not be clear just how well it was possible in antiquity to differentiate this Theodotos of Alexandria.

Nevertheless, within the manuscript history of the Strômateis of Clement of Alexandria (160-215), there are attached as an appendix, "the so-called Excerpta ex Scriptis Theodoti," which consist of "extracts from the writings of Theodotos although he himself is mentioned in only four of them" (Q1.7.2.9 p. 265; cf. Q2.1.3 p. 15; Goodspeed 1966: 131). This suggests that the Theodotos of Alexandria belonged to a temporal situation somewhat earlier in the second century than the dates late in that century usually associated with the others named Theodotos. While these excerpts are generally fragments of material typical of the school of Valentinus, regarding matters such as "the plêrôma, the Ogdoad, and the three classes of mankind," there are also present comments upon "the mysteries of Baptism, the Eucharist of bread and water, and anointing, as means to free oneself from the domination of the evil power" (Q1.7.2.9 p. 265) which illustrate the fact that the Eastern Valentinians had also organized the equivalent of an ekklesia or "church" (Carrington 1957: 68, 78).

Excerpts 60-61 provide Theodotos' understanding 'that the "incarnation" took place when Jesus "assumed" spiritual and psychic elements,' which "spiritual Jesus had to be differentiated from the Son of Man" who was "rejected, insulted, crucified" (apud Grant 1993: 73).

Excerpt 66, in common with other Valentinian exegesis, "divided the teaching of Jesus into three parts": "(1) figurative and mystical, (2) parabolic and enigmatical, and (3) clear and evident" (apud Grant 1957: 68-69; cf. Grant 1961a: 12-13), with the latter being that which mattered, which had been "given the disciples only when Jesus was alone with them," and which had been "transmitted by secret tradition through Paul to a certain Theodas, and through Theodas to Valentinus himself" (Grant 1957: 69). But in general, Theodotos' exegetical method was "allegorical," demonstrably derived directly from Philo (c. 20 BC-AD 50) (Grant 1957: 123; cf. Grant 1961b: 139).

Clyde Curry Smith



Bibliography (see link to abbreviations table below):

CPG 1.1139; TLG 0555.007
DECL 571 (CMarkschies); GEEC 1121 (RRea); OEEC 830 (MSimonetti)


Supplementary Bibliography:
ANF V 1885 Hippolytus, translated by Stewart Dingwall Fordyce Salmond, in Ante-Nicene Fathers. Buffalo and New York: Christian Literature. Volume V, pp. 9-153.
Carrington 1957 The Early Christian Church, by Philip Carrington. Cambridge: At the University Press. 2 volumes.
Goodspeed 1966 A History of Early Christian Literature, by Edgar Johnson Goodspeed, revised and enlarged by Robert McQueen Grant. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Grant 1957 The Letter and the Spirit, by Robert McQueen Grant. London: SPCK.
Grant 1961a The Earliest Lives of Jesus, by Robert McQueen Grant. New York: Harper and Brothers.
Grant 1961b Gnosticism: A Sourcebook of Heretical Writings from the Early Christian Period, by Robert McQueen Grant. New York: Harper and Brothers.
Grant 1993 Heresy and Criticism: The Search for Authenticity in Early Christian Literature, by Robert McQueen Grant. Louisville, KY: Westminster/ John Knox Press.
Hock 1980 The Social Context of Paul's Ministry: Tentmaking and Apostleship, by Ronald F. Hock. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Lawlor 1928 Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, The Ecclesiastical History and the Martyrs of Palestine, translated with Introduction and Notes, by Hugh Jackson Lawlor and John Ernest Leonard Oulton. London: SPCK. 2 volumes. Volume II: Introduction, Notes, and Index, by Hugh Jackson Lawlor.
Oulton 1927 Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, The Ecclesiastical History and the Martyrs of Palestine, translated with Introduction and Notes, by Hugh Jackson Lawlor and John Ernest Leonard Oulton. London: SPCK. 2 volumes. Volume I: Translation, by John Ernest Leonard Oulton. (Specific references also cited as H.E. with book and chapter).



This article, received in 2001, was researched and written by Dr. Clyde Curry Smith, Professor Emeritus of Ancient History and Religion, University of Wisconsin, River Falls.


Click here for Abbreviations and Source References for Ancient African Christians.