As war rages in Gaza, people of faith search for guidance.
At the time of this writing, the world is holding its breath. As war has broken out between Hamas and Israel, we are conscious that winners and losers of wars always have to answer the question: What comes next? So far, politicians have failed to find a solution.
I propose it is time for religious leaders to search for the deepest and best of their religious teachings and to bring them to the world. For those who practice Abrahamic faith traditions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—it may be time to reconsider the ancient religious figure, Seth.
If you’re not sure who Seth was, be sure to read Hal Taussig’s introduction to Seth in his March 2022 blog post. Bible readers may remember that, according to Genesis 4:25, Seth is the third son of Adam and Eve. Taussig claims that “Seth is still a major Savior around the edges of these three major religions, a powerful and good Savior.”
How intriguing, in the context of the current war between Israel and Hamas, to consider that all three of these faith traditions have embraced the same helping/saving kind of figure at some point in their history! Taussig’s blog post guides readers to the ancient sources with examples of Seth’s connection to all three of these Abrahamic faith traditions.
Significantly, the role of Seth in these religious settings far exceeds an identity as an offspring of Adam and Eve. As his legacy expanded, he became the primary representative of humankind as well as the Savior for humanity, or at least for part of it.
Seth, the Model for a New Beginning
Of course, the question now is how Seth could serve as a savior in the midst of the gruesome and horrific war that erupted in October 2023. After all, Jews turn to their prophets for scriptural authority and guidance; Christians turn to Jesus as their only savior; and Muslims turn to Mohammed (peace be upon him) to bring humanity to light.
Seth still belongs within the heritage of all three in some form or another. Let us remember that Seth represents a new beginning for humanity because he was born to Adam and Eve after the tragedy of fratricide (Cain’s murder of his brother Abel). Seth is the ideal model for a new beginning that follows the cruel fratricide we’ve seen the past few weeks.
Especially during the second and third centuries, when the distinction between Judaism and Christianity was less marked, several writers found inspiration from “the Great Seth.” Plotinus, a third-century philosopher, spoke of some people he knew who were particularly devoted to Seth – perhaps something like “Sethian Christians” – as a community of people who healed the sick and shared concerns about the social ills of the world.
Claiming a Religious Appointment to Help in the World
According to Dr. Lance Jenott, Sethians saw themselves as people with a divinely appointed mission, sent by providence to help others in the world, to promote truth and justice and to work toward the correction of deficiency. (Jenott, “Emmisaries of Truth and Justice: The Seed of Seth as Agents of Divine Providence” from Gnosticism, Platonism and the Late Ancient World, 2013).
The improvement of worldly conditions surely is not built on revenge, violence, and hatred. According to the Secret Revelation of John (Codex II), the “seed of Seth”—meaning, his offspring and descendants—“dwelt for a while, assisting.” That could mean that the descendants of Seth are those who work in sync with the spirit to help others awaken from their “tomb.” The tomb was a reference to all the deadly ways of mortal struggles.
If the religious leaders of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam were to acknowledge together their mutual mission, as “Seth’s seed,” to work toward the gradual perfection of the world, they would identify their enemy as revenge, fear, hatred, antagonism, arrogance, and destruction. They would replace revenge toward people with care for the other. They would exchange fear of others with compassion for them. They would reverse hatred with sympathy.
Some of the second and third-century texts discovered at Nag Hammadi describe Seth and his origin in more detail than the early Hebrew or later Islamic sacred texts. Without the 1945 discovery of the works at Nag Hammadi and the existence of Seth’s tomb in the Asaret mosque, the modern world might never have realized the importance of Seth and his saving power.
Unfortunately, some of these long-lost texts from Nag Hammadi have been too hastily dismissed as “Gnostic” heresy with attitudes of world hatred and alienation. But with a closer look, we find specifically in texts such as Apocalypse of Adam that the people of Seth seek alienation, not from the world, but from the forces of evil. Indeed, they readily identified themselves as a special people sent into the world for the purpose of illuminating, protecting, and saving anyone willing to separate from evil.
Attacking Evil Itself, Not People
Making this distinction between evil itself and the people manipulated by it is precisely the need at this time in the latter part of 2023. Attacking the people of Israel does not solve the problem of Palestinian grievances. Attacking the people of Gaza does not protect the people of Israel.
But Seth’s seed—who could arguably refer to the leaders of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam today—are called to follow Seth’s example by recognizing the sources of evil and opposing the dominion of the “wicked world-rulers.” These would refer to any source that resorts to anger, violence, murder, and revenge to win its way. Seth’s descendants are called upon to participate in the “time and season of truth and justice . . . until the consummation of the realm [of the divine] and its [good] rulers.” (Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit, 62:15-24).
When military and political leaders are unable to answer the question, “What comes next?” religious leaders must step up and do so, exercising their divine authority and pointing the faithful toward beacons of truth and peace like Seth. Seth’s rejection of revenge, violence, and hatred provides a challenging answer to the question. And it’s one that all modern-day Jews, Christians, and Muslims must adopt if there is any hope of living together in peace with respect and mutual blessing.