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Agrippa Castor
2nd century
Ancient Christian Church

Agrippa Castor has been identified as "the earliest recorded writer against heresy, and apparently the only one who composed a book solely devoted to the refutation of Basilides" [1], but of whom we know only what is told quite second-hand in the ancient recollections. No modern scholar appears to have devoted attention not merely to him but for his role in the history of anti-heretical literature. The name is totally Latin.
1. Agrippa, while an old Roman cognomen, came again into prominence with Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (c. 63-12 BC), a leading supporter of Augustus, who was married into the Julian family;
2. but it was also recalled by virtue of the two mentioned in the New Testament as "kings" in Judaea or its northern neighboring territory, "Marcus Julius 'Herod' Agrippa (I)" (10 BC-AD 44; Acts 12) and "Marcus Julius Agrippa (II)" (AD 27-100; Acts 25-26);
3. Castor, while associated with Pollux as the divine "twin brothers" of the zodiac, protective to sailors (Acts 28:11), from its original Greek meaning "beaver" was being used as personal name in this era;
4. for example cf. Castor of Rhodes, a first century B.C. rhetorician, whose work might well have been influential on the present person, just as the other name Agrippa suggests an origin within a Hellenized Palestinian Judaism of the later first century A.D.
Agrippa Castor was known by both Eusebius [2] and Jerome [3] exclusively as the one who provided that critique of Basilides (died c. 132) and his twenty-four books of "Exegetics," without any other datum by which Agrippa Castor himself might be remembered. Eusebius, by locating him within the narrative of early gnostic "succession" and schools, provides no more hint of his lifetime, while Jerome incorporates his remarks on Agrippa Castor between those on Quadratus [4] and Aristides [5] both at Athens, the first of the Christian "apologists" [6], and those on Hegesippus [7], and Justin [8] both at Rome, the latter of whose apologetic writings are sufficiently preserved to provide some kind of exact chronological placement [9].

From this limited evidence, it could be surmised that "Quadratus wrote when Hadrian visited Athens" in the winter of 124-125; "Aristides and Justin probably replied to the attack made by the rhetorician Fronto" who was consul suffectus in 143 [10]. Hegesippus is not included by modern scholarship among the "apologists," being known instead with Eusebius and Jerome as historian, who "went to Rome in the time of Anicetus, the tenth bishop after Peter, and continued there till the time of Eleutherius" [11], which can be dated between circa 155 and 189 [12]. Of that "History," or those "Memoirs" with Eusebius, by Hegesippus, little remains beyond the several longer quotations included [13], which, according to Jerome, covered "all ecclesiastical events from the passion of our Lord down to his own period."

Within this framework and into this interval, Agrippa Castor belongs, and what he has to say about Basilides shows much of the same opposition to "idols" as does Hegesippus. "Agrippa accuses Basilides of teaching that it was a matter of no moral significance to taste food offered to idols" [14], that one could "renounce without reservation the faith in times of persecution" and that "he imposed upon his followers a five years' silence after the manner of Pythagoras" [15], but otherwise Agrippa Castor is recorded as having found in Basilides the same concern for the numerical significance of names, like "Abrasax" ascribed to "his most high God" [16], otherwise found engraved on Greek magical gems or recorded in Greek magical papyri [17]. Agrippa Castor must have been one of the first to "demonize" magic and sorcery in the ancient Christian world.

Clyde Curry Smith


1. Lawlor 1928: 123.
2. H. E. IV.7.6-8; Oulton 1927: 109; Grant 1946: 22; Stevenson 1957: 84.
3. J 21; NPNF 2 III (1892) 368.
4. J 19.
5. J 20.
6. Grant 1955: 25; 1988: 35-39.
7. J 22; Grant 1968: 298-299.
8. J 23.
9. Grant 1988: 50-53.
10. Grant 1955: 30.
11. J 22; cf. H.E. IV.11.7.
12. Kelly ODP (1986) 10-12; for the "succession list" which covers these bishops through Eleutherius, Irenaeus III.3.3 apud Grant 1997: 125.
13. H.E. II.23.4-18; III.20.1-6; IV.8.1-2, 22.1-9.
14. Carrington 1957: 64.
15. H.E. IV.7.11 apud Oulton 1927: 109.
16. J 21.
17. Carrington 1957: 64; Ogden 1999: 46-50.

Bibliography (see link to abbreviations table below):

J 21
PG 5; FOTC 100 41-42; OEEC 18 (Gladocsi)

Supplementary Bibliography:
Carrington 1957 The Early Christian Church, by Philip Carrington. Cambridge: At the University Press. 2 volumes.
Grant 1946 Second-Century Christianity: A Collection of Fragments, by Robert McQueen Grant. London: SPCK.
Grant 1955a "The Chronology of the Greek Apologists", by Robert McQueen Grant. Vigiliae Christianae IX/1 (January) 25-33.
Grant 1968 "Church History in the Early Church", by Robert McQueen Grant. In Transitions in Biblical Scholarship, edited by John Coert Rylaarsdam. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
Grant 1988 Greek Apologists of the Second Century, by Robert McQueen Grant. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.
Grant 1997 Irenaeus of Lyons, by Robert McQueen Grant. The Early Church Fathers, edited by Carol Harrison. London and New York: Routledge.
Lawlor 1928 Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, The Ecclesiastical History and the Martyrs of Palestine, translated with Introduction and Notes, by Hugh Jackson Lawlor and John Ernest Leonard Oulton. London: SPCK. 2 volumes. Volume II: Introduction, Notes, and Index, by Hugh Jackson Lawlor.
NPNF 2 III 1892 Jerome, De viris inlustribus, translated by Ernest Cushing Richardson, in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Buffalo and New York: Christian Literature. Series 2, Volume III, pp. 359-384.
Ogden 1999 "Binding Spells: Curse Tablets and Voodoo Dolls in the Greek and Roman Worlds", by Daniel Ogden. In Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome, edited by Bengt Ankarloo and Stuart Clark. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Pp. 1-90.
Oulton 1927 Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, The Ecclesiastical History and the Martyrs of Palestine, translated with Introduction and Notes, by Hugh Jackson Lawlor and John Ernest Leonard Oulton. London: SPCK. 2 volumes. Volume I: Translation, by John Ernest Leonard Oulton. (Specific references also cited as H.E. with book and chapter).
Stevenson 1957 A New Eusebius: Documents Illustrative of the History of the Church to A.D. 337, by James Stevenson. London: SPCK.

This article, received in 2001, was researched and written by Dr. Clyde Curry Smith, Professor Emeritus of Ancient History and Religion, University of Wisconsin, River Falls.

Click here for Abbreviations and Source References for Ancient African Christians.