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p. 280 Chapter XXXVIII.—The Heresy of the Elkesites.

Another error also arose at this time, called the heresy of the Elkesites, 2055 which was extinguished in the very beginning. Origen speaks of it in this manner in a public homily on the eighty-second Psalm: 2056

“A certain man 2057 came just now, puffed up greatly with his own ability, proclaiming that godless and impious opinion which has appeared lately in the churches, styled ‘of the Elkesites.’ I will show you what evil things that opinion teaches, that you may not be carried away by it. It rejects certain parts of every scripture. Again it uses portions of the Old Testament and the Gospel, but rejects the apostle 2058 altogether. It says that to deny Christ is an indifferent matter, and that he who understands will, under necessity, deny with his mouth, but not in his heart. They produce a certain book which they say fell from heaven. They hold that whoever hears and believes 2059 this shall receive remission of sins, another remission than that which Jesus Christ has given.” Such is the account of these persons.



The Elkesites (Ελκεσαιταί) were not a distinct sect, but “a school scattered among all parties of the Judæo-Christian Church.” They are described by Hippolytus (Phil. IX. 8–12) and by Epiphanius (in chap. 19 among the Essenes, in 30 among the Ebionites, and in 53 among the Sampsæans). We learn from Hippolytus that, in the time of Callistus or soon afterward, a certain Alcibiades, a native of Apameia in Syria, brought to Rome a book bearing the name of Elkesai (Ηλχασαί), which purported to contain a revelation, made in the time of Trajan, by the Son of God and the Holy Spirit in the form of angels, and teaching the forgiveness of all sins, even the grossest, by means of belief in the doctrines of the book and baptism performed with certain peculiar rites. The controversy in regard to the forgiveness of gross sins committed after baptism was raging high at this time in Rome, and Hippolytus, who took the strict side, naturally opposed this new system of indulgence with the greatest vigor. Among other doctrines taught in the book, was the lawfulness of denying the faith in time of persecution, as told us by Origen in this chapter, and by Epiphanius in chap. 19. The book was strongly Ebionitic in its teaching, and bore striking resemblances to the Clementine Homilies and Recognitions. Its exact relation to those writings has been disputed; but Uhlhorn (Homilien und Recognition des Clemens Romanus) has shown conclusively that it is older than the latter, and that it represents a type of Ebionitic Christianity less modified than the latter by the influence of Christianity. In agreement with the Ebionites, the Elkesites (as all those were called who accepted the teachings of the book, to whatever party they might belong) taught that Christ was a created being; and they also repudiated sacrifices, which compelled them to reject certain portions of the Old Testament (cf. Origen’s statement just below). They likewise refused recognition to the apostle Paul, and ordained the observance of the Jewish law; but they went beyond the Clementines in teaching the necessity of circumcision and the repetition of baptism as a means to the forgiveness of sins. The origin of the name Elkesai has also been disputed. Hippolytus says it was the name of the man who was claimed to have received the revelation, and Epiphanius calls Elkesai a false prophet; but some critics have thought them mistaken, and have supposed that Elkesai must have been the name of the book, or of the angel that gave the revelation. It is more probable, however, as Salmon concludes, that it was the name of a man whom the book represented as receiving the revelation, but that the man was only an imaginary person, and not the real founder of the school, as Epiphanius supposed. The book cannot well be put back of the beginning of the third century, when it first began to be heard of in the Catholic Church. It claimed to have been for a century in secret circulation, but the claim is quite unfounded. Eusebius speaks of the heresy as extinguished in the very beginning, and it seems, in fact, to have played no prominent part in history; and yet it apparently lingered on for a long time in the East, for we hear of a sect in Arabia, as late as the tenth century, who counted El-Chasaiach as their founder (see Salmon’s article, p. 98). See the work of Uhlhorn already mentioned; also Ritschl’s Entstehung d. alt. Katholischen Kirche, p. 234 sq. (Ritschl holds that the Clementines are older than the book of Elkesai), and Hilgenfeld’s Nov. Test. extra Can. rec. III. 153, where the extant fragments of the book are collected. See also Salmon’s article in the Dict. of Christ. Biog. II. p. 95 sq.


On Origen’s writings on the Psalms, see chap. 24, note 3. This fragment is the only portion of his homily on the eighty-second Psalm extant.


Alciabades, according to Hippolytus (see above, note 1).


The apostle Paul (see note 1).


Origen does not mention the baptism of the Elkesites, which is described at length by Hippolytus. It seems that both belief in the teachings of the book and baptism were necessary. It may be that in Origen’s opinion the receiving of the book itself involved the peculiar baptism which it taught, and that, therefore, he thought it unnecessary to mention the latter.

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