Ophites [key] [Gr.,=believers in the serpent], group of Gnostic sects notorious for extreme cultism and inverted morality. Certain of these sects were known as Naasseni. Almost all that is known of Ophitism has been gleaned from St. Irenaeus, Origen, and other writers opposed to Gnosticism. The Ophites carried to extremes the teaching of Marcion that an essential hostility exists between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. The Ophites held that the Old Testament villains were actually heroes and revered Cain, the Sodomites, and the Egyptians. Specially worshiped was the serpent, as the creature in Eden that tried to give Adam and Eve the knowledge withheld from them by Jehovah. Much of the serpent worship and the occult ritualism was probably symbolic of certain esoteric knowledge. The Ophites acknowledged Jesus as the savior, but rejected the importance of the crucifixion; Christ came to reveal gnosis (knowledge), not to die for people's sins. One Ophitic hymn, the Hymn of the Naasenes, survives.
See E. Buonaiuti, Gnostic Fragments (1924); R. M. Grant, Gnosticism and Early Christianity (1959, rev. ed. 1966).
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