Gnostic teacher, 2d-century founder of a Gnostic school in Alexandria. Of the life of Basilides little is known with certainty. Epiphanius (Haer. 1.23) reports that he was a fellow pupil of Saturnilus under Menander in Antioch. Basilides taught at Alexandria, most probably under the reigns of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius (c. a.d. 120–145). The most distinguished disciple in his heretical sect, still in existence in the 4th century, was his son Isidore. Basilides composed his own version of the Gospels, a commentary on this work in 24 books called the Exegetica (fragments in hegemonius, Acta Archelai 67.4–12 and clement of alexandria, Strom. 4.81–88), and some odes and psalms now lost.
It is difficult to determine precisely the doctrines of Basilides. According to irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 1.24) he began with a system of emanations starting with the Father, the Nous, the Logos, Phronesis, Sophia, and Dynamis, followed by 365 groups of angels and powers, each of which created a heaven, and the last of which created our world. Christ was the Nous who visited the world but was not really crucified. Salvation comes by knowledge of the Nous and the system, the acts of the body are a matter of indifference, magic and incantations have an important role. hippolytus of rome (Ref. 7.20–27), however, describes a much more original doctrine involving a nonexistent God from whose seed arise a triple order of Sonship, a series of Archons, and upper and lower regions called the Ogdoad and the Hebdomad. A key feature of this presentation is the denial of the typically Gnostic doctrine of emanation. Despite the marked differences in their account of Basilides' teaching, it is possible that Irenaeus describes an earlier version of his doctrine and Hippolytus a later one. Hegemonius (supra ) states that Basilides taught Persian dualism, though the other accounts present his system as monistic. Clement of Alexandria (supra ) was chiefly concerned with ethical aspects of his teachings. Basilides seems to have been mainly a philosopher; his very subtlety may have impeded the spread of his sect beyond Egypt.
See Also: gnosticism.
Bibliography: w. vÖlker, Quellen zur Geschichte der christlichen Gnosis (Tübingen 1932) 38–57. a. s. peake, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. j. hastings (Edinburgh 1908–27) 2:426–433. j. h. waszink, Reallexikon für Antike und Christemtum 1:1217–25. j. quasten, Patrology, 3. v. (Westminster, MD 1950) 1:257–259. r. m. wilson, The Gnostic Problem (London 1958). j. doresse, The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics, tr. p. mairet (New York 1960). r. m. grant, Gnosticism: A Sourcebook (New York 1961).
[g. w. macrae]
A Gnostic sect founded by Basilides of Alexandria, who claimed to have received his esoteric doctrines from Glaucias, a disciple of the apostle Peter. Basilides recognized one supreme being named Abraxas. The sect posited three grades of existence—material, intellectual, and spiritual—and possessed two allegorical statues, male and female. The doctrine had many points of resemblance to that of the Ophites and the Jewish Kabala.