The Ophites or Ophians (from Greek ὄφιανοι > ὄφις = snake): any of numerous Gnostic sects in Syria and Egypt about 100 AD. The common trait was that these sects would give great importance to the serpent of the biblical tale of Adam and Eve, connecting the Tree of Knowledge (of Good and Evil) to gnosis. In contrast to Christian interpretations of the Serpent as Satan, Ophites viewed the serpent as the hero, and regarded the figure that the Bible identifies as God instead as being the evil demiurge.
Since the Bible says that the serpent is a wild animal (hayah ha'sadeh), the Ophites felt perfectly justified in their position, pointing to the serpent's trying to cause Adam and Eve to gain knowledge, and the forbidding of this knowledge by the figure which Christianity and Judaism identify as God. Christians who supported the church orthodoxy viewed Gnosticism as their archenemy, and took particular offense at the Ophites turning their view of the serpent on its head.
Most information about the ophitic sects must be gleaned from what their enemies said of them: Hippolytus (Philosoph. v.), Irenaeus (Against Heresies, i), Origen (Contra Celsum vi. 25 seq.) and Epiphanius of Salamis (Panarion. xxvi.). A few Ophite texts have been recovered from discoveries such as the Nag Hammadi find.
- Francis Legge, Forerunners and Rivals of Christianity, From 330 B.C. to 330 A.D. (1914), reprinted in two volumes bound as one, University Books New York, 1964. LC Catalog 64-24125.
- The Ophite Diagrams, briefly by the christian Origen and Pagan Celsus. Emanations and angels reveal Persian influence.
ophite in German: Ophiten
ophite in Spanish: Ofitas
ophite in French: Ophites
ophite in Italian: Ofiti
ophite in Russian: Офиты
ophite in Finnish: Ofiitit