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Dositheans

Followers of Dositheus, a Samaritan who formed a Gnostic-Judaistic sect, previous to Simon Magus. Although the name of Dositheus is often coupled with that of Simon Magus as the first of all heretics, we possess but scant information concerning him. He is not mentioned in Justin or Irenæus, but first occurs in Pseudo-Tertullian's "Adv. Hær.", a Latin rendering of the lost "Syntagma" of Hippolytus (about A.D. 220). "I pass over in silence", says the author, "the heretics of Judaism, I mean Dositheus the Samaritan, who first dared to reject the Prophets, as not having spoken in the Holy Ghost. I pass over the Sadducees, who, springing from this root of error, dared in addition to this heresy to deny even the resurrection of the flesh" (ch. i). If, however, the Sadducees sprang from Dositheus, he must have begun to teach sometime previous to the Christian Era, and cannot properly be counted amongst heretics of Christianity. St. Jerome, who copied Pseudo-Tertullian, distinctly speaks of "those who before the coming of Christ undid the Law". An independent witness to the same fact is found in the Pseudo-Clementine "Recognitions", I, 54: "the author of this [Sadducee] opinion was first Dositheus and then Simon". On the other hand in "Recognitions", II, 8, we read that Dositheus founded a sect after the death of John the Baptist. Origen states that "Dositheus the Samaritan, after the time of Jesus, wished to persuade the Samaritans that he himself was the Messias prophesied by Moses" (Contra Celsum, VI, ii); and he classes him with John the Baptist, Theodas, and Judas of Galilee as people whom the Jews mistakenly held to be the Christ (Hom. xxv in Lucam; Contra Celsum, I, lvii). He informs us that the Disotheans gave out that they possessed some books of Dositheus and told some tales about him as being still alive in this world, and he further accuses Dositheus of having mutilated the Scriptures. It is not certain, however, whether Origen did not confound Dositheus the Pseudo-Messias with an Encratite sectary who lived somewhat later. This is suggested especially by a passage in Origen's "De Principiis", IV, vii, where he ascribes to Dositheus the Samaritan and others some absurdly strict observance of the Sabbath. This is also, probably, the reason why Dositheus is placed by Hegesippus after Simon Magus instead of before. In Talmudic literature (Pirke d. R. Eliezer, xxxviii, and Tanhuma Vayyusheb, ii) there occurs a Samaritan of the Syro­Macedonian period named dwshay, and it has been plausibly argued that the patristic references which connect Dositheus with the Sadducees arise from a confusion of Dositheus the Samaritan Pseudo-Messias with this early Jewish heretic. If this be true, there would have been three persons of this name, one at the time of Alexander the Great, another at the time of Christ, and a third, a generation later. But the mention of a fourth, at the time of Salmanasar (about 700 B. C.) makes one cautious of Talmudic information. It is certain, however, that a Jewish sect, mentioned by several Arabic and other historians under the name of Dusitamya or Dostân, continued to exist till the tenth century, and that they were considered similar to the Kutîm, or Samaritans. But they seem never to have possessed any importance in the Christian world, in which from the earliest times there existed but a vague reminiscence of their name, though they continue to be mentioned in descriptions and lists of heresies, such as the "Hæreses" of Epiphanius and similar collections.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume V
Copyright © 1909 by Robert Appleton Company
 

 

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