Michael McClymond vs Dr. Ramelli on patristics


McClymond is definitely commiting guilt by association.


Yes Qaz :slight_smile: I think in this instance he certainly is and I am being fair to him in saying this - even though Mike annoys me greatly for a number of reasons :smiley: I’ve read exactly the same translation of The Treatise on the Resurrection as Mike has and I’ve read exactly the same introduction to this as him too. But we have both come away with completely different things. Mike accuses Ramelli of ‘selection bias’ in his book. Of course we are all guilty of that - and he and I have both made our own selections in this case. I find Mike’s argumentation heavy going and often obscure - but I have done my best to attend to what he is saying in my post above; and I do think in this instance he is definitely committing the error of guilt by association. Will post again next week on this matter.

All good wishes



I’d love to hear what @JasonPratt thinks of McClymond’s book.


Ach - I won’t do any more here :slight_smile: I’ve given y’all a hint and that’s enough :slight_smile: Good luck to JP and blessings :slight_smile:


We all would like you to continue on as you find time and motivation to do so, Dick!! I find your explanations fascinating, Old China!!


Yes, i second that.


Ramelli’s 2015 response to an earlier review of her book by McClymond is available here:

In the chapter of The Devil’s Redemption (2018) critiquing Ramelli’s tome, once again McClymond relies on “The Hope of the Early Church” by Brian E. Daley, 1991.


In his Vol.I of “The Devil’s Redemption”, & chapter 2 titled “Ancient Afterlives: The Gnostic, Kabbalistic, and Esoteic Roots of Christian Universalism”, Michael McClymond quotes from a book re Jewish Mysticism:

“Originally [in Jewish Kabbalah]…The emphasis is on the restoration of the original coexistence and correlation of all things…They speak of ‘ha-sabbat kol ha-dabarim le-hayatim’ [the Sabbath of all living things] which corresponds exactly to the term ‘apokatastasis’ that has played so large a part in the ideas of many Christian mystics. — Gershom Scholem” (p.125-126).

This reference to “the Sabbath of all living things” as “apokatastasis” recalls the Epistle of Barnabas’ (70-135 AD) 15:7-8 remark in the context of an eschatological 8th day Sabbath rest, when wickedness ceases to exist, all things are made new & God will be “giving rest to all things”:

15:7-8 Behold, therefore: certainly then one properly resting sanctifies it, when we ourselves, having received the promise, wickedness no longer existing, and all things having been made new by the Lord, shall be able to work righteousness. Then we shall be able to sanctify it, having been first sanctified ourselves. Further, He says to them, “Your new moons and your Sabbath I cannot endure.” Ye perceive how He speaks: Your present Sabbaths are not acceptable to Me, but that is which I have made, [namely this,] when, giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world.

Page 128 of McClymond’s tome again remarks on the “Sabbath of all living things” in relation to ‘apokatastasis’:

“As Gershom Schloem noted, Kabbalah conflicted with an eternal hell. By the seventeenth century, when Kabbalah in its Lurianic form spread throughout the Jewish world, a fervent debate over eternal punishment broke out among the rabbis of Amsterdam (D R 2.8). The Jewish notion of a “Sabbath of all living things” functioned as an analogue to the Origenist teaching on ‘apokatastasis’ or universal restoration. The ‘Shekinah’ would return from exile, the primal separation would be undone, and all existing things would once again attain unity in the realm of the divine ‘Sefiroth’.”

A third McClymond reference to those who “experience the rest” (cf. Epistle of Barnabas above) of ‘apokatastasis’ or universal restoration occurs on p.146. In regards to an early gnostic writing, “The Wisdom of Jesus Christ”, McClymond says:

“Another Nag Hammadi text, the ‘Wisdom of Jesus Christ’, seems to teach the same nuanced universalism. Some know the Father “in pure knowledge”, and others “in a defective way”, and yet both groups will finally “experience the rest” appropriate to each group.”

The same text makes reference to the “rest that the eighth realm provides”, or “the rest of the Eighth”. Compare the “eighth day” & “rest to all things” in the Epistle of Barnabas quote above (The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, ed. Marvin Meyer, 2008, p.296, subsection titled “The Restoration and Unification of Humanity”, p.295f, in the chapter on “The Wisdom of Jesus Christ”). http://gnosis.org/naghamm/sjc.html



“The Wisdom of Jesus Christ”, like the Epistle of Barnabas, is connected with Egypt, quite possibly Alexandria where Clement of Alexandria (c.150-215 AD) & Origen (c.184-253 AD) resided:

“…the ‘Wisdom of Jesus Christ’ can be dated in the middle of the third century, in Egypt. Parrott proposes, on the contrary, a date of composition in the second half of the first century, shortly after Egypt was Christianized” (The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, ed. Marvin Meyer, 2008, p.286).

For some additional comments relating the Epistle of Barnabas (70-135 AD) to universal salvation, this may be of interest:


I find it interesting that McClymond claims universalism is a kabbalistic idea. I’ve studied Judaism a fair bit and only recall reading universalism in one kabbalistic text, and it was one that wasn’t accepted as ‘standard’. Does McClymond give any quotes from kabbalists about everyone being saved?


Hiya Origen 

That’s very interesting information about the ‘Epistle of Barnabas’. I had no idea:-). I know that Illaria Ramelli, somewhere in her great tome, looks at several Universalist Church Fathers who associated the ‘Apocatastasis’ as the eight day of creation. Eight is a week plus one, so it symbolises all things new on the day of resurrection. Perhaps there is some significant link between the ‘eighth day’ and the ‘rest that the eighth realm provides’ in the Gnostic resurrection dialogue named ‘The Wisdom of Jesus Christ’. It is possible both can be seen as having the archetype of eight in common, as a special number widely used in ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern cultures to indicate idea of total completion and consummation.

But I am cautious when drawing analogies. I need to think carefully about how complete the match is between the two things under comparison. Thus the ‘eight day’ is a concept of time that in visual terms is moving in a horizontal/forward direction towards its end/telos. And in some of the writers of the Christian tradition of ‘Apocatastasis’ the eight day is the ‘telos’ which is the holistic completion of all God’s creation – both the physical and the spiritual.

By way of contrast ‘the eight realm’ in the ‘Wisdom of J.C.’ is visually a vertical idea drawn from ancient cosmology. It is about moving soul upwards from the earth (the place where matter is found in its most heavy and debased form) through the seven planetary spheres (where matter becomes progressively refined the higher we soar), up to the ethereal eighth realm/’Ogdoad’. This eighth realm is on the threshold of the ‘Pleroma’ – the perfect fullness of the Father’s Spirit - but wonderful as it may be is still falls short of this fullness of the ‘Pleroma’.

Yes, the biggest contrast between ‘Barnabas’ and ‘Wisdom of J.C.’ is their basic assumptions about reality. For Barnabas the world is the creation of God in His Goodness that needs redemption but is still a good creation. In ‘Wisdom’ the material world is the creation of an evil lesser god who has cruelly imprisoned immortal humanity in mortality. Therefore the creation is to be escaped like a sinking ship rather than redeemed. And that is a Gnostic view of creation.

Let’s pause for thought here. . Actually, I’d strongly dispute Mike’s contention that the ‘Wisdom of J.C.’ is in any way a ‘Universalist’ text. It clearly is not and there is no valid interpretation that can make it so. It is true that the close immortal humanity is saved by knowledge from the prison of the material world as the spiritual powers are judged and despoiled of their captives. It is also true that ‘Jesus’ speaks of two classes of those who are set free – those with imperfect knowledge who attain the ‘rest of the eight realm’ (a great blessing but not the absolute blessing) and those with perfect knowledge who attain the full beatitude of the ‘Pleroma’. However, the idea that this redemption is not universal comes earlier in the text (and you can check this out because you seem to have access to the Myers edition).

‘’He (the risen Jesus) spoke out and said. ‘’Whoever has ears to hear about infinite things should hear – It is to those who are awake that I speak.’’
He went on and said. ‘’Everything from the perishable will perish since it is from the perishable. But everything from the imperishable does not perish but become imperishable, since it is from the imperishable. Many people have gone astray because they did not know about this distinction, and they have died.’’ (97-98)

This clear enough. There will be two classes among the ‘saved’ in the end, but also there is a third class. This class is of people whose knowledge is neither complete nor defective but actually non-existent. They have identified themselves so completely with finite matter that they simply perish when they die because they are already spiritually dead.

Actually I think nearly all of the Gnostic texts which Mike McClymond declares may well be Universalist are demonstrably nothing of the kind. I will say more sometime… but the next post will be something about the Kabbala :slight_smile:


I want to say something for Qaz and Origen about Kabbalah and Universalism (using Origen’s quotations from ‘The Devil’s Redemption’ as scaffolding)

‘’In his Vol.I of “The Devil’s Redemption”, & chapter 2 titled “Ancient Afterlives: The Gnostic, Kabbalistic, and Esoteic Roots of Christian Universalism”, Michael McClymond quotes from a book re Jewish Mysticism:

“Originally [in Jewish Kabbalah]…The emphasis is on the restoration of the original coexistence and correlation of all things…They speak of ‘ha-sabbat kol ha-dabarim le-hayatim’ [the Sabbath of all living things] which corresponds exactly to the term ‘apokatastasis’ that has played so large a part in the ideas of many Christian mystics. — Gershom Scholem” (p.125-126).

This is a footnote quotation from Gershom Scholem who revolutionised the study of Kabbalah with his seminal work ‘Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism’ that was published in 1945. The footnote is for p.402 of this great work of scholarship. I note the obvious here – Scholem’s area of expertise was Jewish mysticism and not Christian mysticism or the Christian doctrine of Apocatastasis. Indeed his term ‘many Christian mystics’ is a bit vague – and footnotes are often no more than afterthoughts. There obviously is an analogy between the two terms in his view– that much is clear; but no specifics of comparison and contrast.

Mike McClymond is interested in at least suggesting a very strong kinship between the two. It’s part of his schtick of tracing a lineage from second century ‘Gnostic universalism’ through to Origen through to the medieval Cathars, through to the Jewish Kabbalists, through to the Christian Kabbalists (Knorr and van Helmot et al.). My problem with Mike’s generalisations about Universalism and Jewish Kabbalah is that he obviously has not steeped himself in the primary/original texts as Scholem had. He’s read Scholem and bits and bobs of others like Moshe Idel who are secondary sources – but he’s no expert (nor am I – but I wouldn’t trust him as my guide).

I have my own questions. For starters, I wonder whether Jewish Kabbalah is actually Gnostic – it is esoteric and mystical but is certainly not dualistic, unlike many schools of Christian and Pagan Gnosticism; it doesn’t assume the idea that the physical creation is evil. Kabbalists would not have been able to operate within the Jewish fold if this were so (see ‘Major Trends’ p.13).

Also I think it is legitimate to ask, as Qaz does, whether Jewish Kabbalists were/are necessarily Universalists. The Zohar of Moses de Leon, a key Kabbalistic text from the thirteenth century, is not Universalist. Like a key text in the Talmud it envisages that most sinners will stay in Gehenna for a short period. However, the most heinous sinners – murderers, apostates etc. – will enter the purifying fires of Gehenna but never emerge from these because the flames will annihilate them (see ‘Major Trends’ p. 242).

“As Gershom Schloem noted, Kabbalah conflicted with an eternal hell’’.

Scholem actually says something slightly different here (his pp. 242-43). He’s not talking about all Kabbalistic literature. He’s talking about the Zohar of Moses de Leon. In this work there are two conceptions of divine punishment. First, punishment in Gehenna – either temporal and purifying or eternal and annihilating (depending on the gravity of sins); second, punishment through reincarnation/transmigration. However, there is no real conflict because in the Zohar reincarnation is the penalty for one sin only – that is a sin against procreation. If a man fails to obey the command to be fruitful and multiply then he must be reincarnated to be given another opportunity to do this. (I find it confusing that Mike McClymond frequently summarises someone else’s arguments making a small change to the original – this small change makes a chap start to think that all Kabbalistic texts have no concept of hell in them. Lots of small changes can and do become very misleading in his book)

On the question of whether later texts which seem to speak of universal restoration are actually Universalist, see Konstatin Burmistov, Christian Kabbalah and Jewish Universalism (p. 151)

‘’In this context, one of the key questions has much to do with understanding of the nature of human soul: are all human souls alike or the souls of Jews, as a chosen people, differ essentially from those of the rest of humanity? The early Spanish Kabbalah of the 13th c. made no distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish souls, whereas later Kabbalistic systems established a crucial difference between them, which was caused by the fact that they had stemmed from different sources4. On the whole, it is advisable to remember that the notion of the “otherness” of the Jewish people and its status of a chosen group is retained in all Kabbalistic systems. That is why we are entitled to speak only of a relative universalism present in some of them— in those that treat the “Jewish/non-Jewish” ratio in terms of “more perfect/less perfect”, without implying that these two elements differ in their very essence.

(Note that Mike McClymond uses Burmistov as one of his secondary sources). So the Lurianic Kabbalistic texts of the sixteenth century – the ones that speak most clearly of universal restoration -are actually only speaking about pan-Jewish Universalism because gentiles are not perceived as spiritual beings that can be restored (which is not surprising given the severity of persecution endured by Jews at this date, during and after the catastrophe of the Spanish expulsion). To call this ‘Universalism’ would be a bit like calling five point Calvinism a ‘Universalism of the elect’ (well the analogy is not exact here I guess - so forgive me for playing for laughs).

Even the defender of ‘Universalism’ in the famous debate about eternal punishment between two prominent Rabbis in Amsterdam in the seventeenth century only maintained that ‘all Israelites would be saved’ and not all people. And he did this only because he was concerned that the teaching that Apostates are annihilated in Gehenna was pushing Jews who had converted to Christianity under pressure away from the possibility of reconverting. And even Mike McClymond has to acknowledge this.

What is certain is that the Protestant Christian Kabbalists of the seventeenth century – Knorr, van Helmont, Lady Anne Conway etc…, - reinterpreted Kabbalah to fit their Christian Universalist sympathies . That’s a long story … but I find it difficult to affirm that universalism was part of Jewish Kabbalah before it was Christianised and universalised.



Good stuff sobornost. A while ago I looked into whether or not Judaism teaches universalism. The only kabbalistic text I’m aware of that (maybe?) teaches it is Emek haMelech.


Tell me more Qaz :smile: - I’m very interested :slight_smile: