Amelius’ “Pagan” Interpretation of Johannine Incarnation as a “Phantasma”

In this paper I will focus on what is probably the earliest extant “pagan” interpretation of (the Prologue of) John’s Gospel, its paraphrase by the Platonist philosopher Amelius, who was a pupil of Plotinus in Rome in the mid-3rd century (246-269 CE). Two aspects demand our attention: 1) Amelius’ explicit comparison of the Johannine Logos with the Logos of Heraclitus; 2) and his understanding of the incarnation as a “phantasma” (Eusebius of Caesarea, Preparation for the Gospel 11.19.1-3). The first aspect possibly provides the opportunity to define the locus of Amelius’ paraphrase in his own work. The second aspect offers potential insight into the religio-philosophical context of John, through a further exploration of the terminology of “phantasma”, with discussion of the comparable view of such Greek poets and playwrights as Stesichorus and Euripides that “the real Helen” never went to Troy as a fake Helen was put in place, as a phantom (Euripides, Helen 569) of the real Helen. It is argued that John, in his First Letter, does not simply take issue, in an inner-Christian mode, with Christian-Gnostic Docetism, but rather, and primarily, disagrees with the general Greek understanding of incarnation in the weaker sense of the “phantasma” of a divine epiphany.