1. (ἀβράξας or ἀβράσαξ), a mystical word composed of the Greek letters α, β, ρ, α, ξ, α, ς, which together, according to Greek numeration, make up the number 365. Basilides taught that there were 365 heavens between the earth and the empyrean, and as many different orders of angels; and he applied the Cabalistic name Abraxas to the Supreme Lord of all these heavens (Irenaeus, lib. 1, cap. 24, 67). SEE BASILIDES. In his system there was an imitation of the Pythagorean philosophy with regard to numbers, as well as an adoption of Egyptian hieroglyphical symbols. Jerome seems to intimate that this was done in imitation of the practice of thus representing Mithras, the deity of the Persians; or the sun, otherwise Apollo, the god of healing. For instance:
α=1 β=2 ρ=100 α=1 ξ=60 α=1 ς=200
Abraxas = 365
μ=40 ε=5 ι=10 θ=9 ρ=100 α=1 ς=200
Meithras, or Mithras = 365
Probably Basilides intended, in this way, to express the number of intelligences which compose the Pleroma, or the Deity under various manifestations, or the sun, in which Pythagoras supposed that the intelligence resided which produced the world.
Bellerman derives the word from the Coptic; the syllable sadsch (which the Greeks were obliged to convert into σαξ, or σας, or σαζ, as the last letter of this word could only be expressed by Ξ, Σ,or Ζ) signifying "word," and abrak, "blessed, holy, adorable;" abraxas being, therefore, "adorable word." Others make it to signify "the new word." Beausobre derives it from άβρός, which he renders magnificent; and either σάω, I save, or σᾶ, safety. Others assume that it is composed of the initial letters of the following words: אָב, father; בֵּן, son; רוּח, spirit; אֶחָד, one (that is, one God); Χριστός, Christ; ᾿Α᾿νθρωπος, man (that is, God-man); Σωτήρ, Savior. The latest suggestion is that it is the Aramaic for זו עזקא רכא, "this is the great seal," read backwards. SEE ABRACADABRA.
2. Abraxas Gems or Images. — A great number of relics (gems and plates, or tablets of metal) have been discovered, chiefly in Egypt, bearing the word abraxas, or an image supposed to designate the god of that name. There has been much discussion about these relics, some regarding them as all of Basilidian origin; others holding them, in part or in whole, to be Egyptian. Descriptions of them may be found in Macarii Abraxas seu de Gem. Basil. Disquisitio, edited by Chifflet (Antw. 1657, 4to); Montfaucon, Paloeogr., Groec. lib. 2, cap. 8; Passeri, De Gemmis Basilidianis, in Gori, Thesaurus Gem. Astrif. (Flor. 1750, 3 vols. 4to); Bellermann, Ueb. die Gemmen der Alten mit dem Abraxas-bilde (Berlin, 1817-1819); Walsh, Ancient Coins, Medals, etc. (Lond. 1828, 8vo); Kopp, Paleographia Critica (Mannh. 1827, pt. 4). Matter (in Herzog's Real-Encyklopadie, and in his Histoire du Gnosticisme, vol. 3) gives a classification of them which will tend greatly to facilitate their study. Some of them contain the Abraxas image alone, or with a shield, spear, or other emblems of Gnostic origin. Some have Jewish words (e.g. Jehovah, Adonai, etc.); others combine the Abraxas with Persian, Egyptian, or Grecian symbols. Montfaucon has divided these gems into seven classes.
1. Those having the head of a cock, the symbol of the sun;
2. Those having the head of a lion, expressive of the heat of the sun: these have the inscription Mithras;
4. Sphinxes, apes, and other animals;
5. Human figures, with the names of Iao, Sabaoth, Adonai, etc.;
6. Inscriptions without figures;
7. Monstrous forms.
He gives 300 facsimiles of gems with different devices and inscriptions, one of which is shown in the accompanying cut from the collection of Viscount Strangford. It is of an oval form, convex on both sides, and both the surface of the stone and the impression of the sculpture highly polished. On one side is represented a right line crossed by three curved ones, a figure very common on gnostic gems, and perhaps representing the golden "candlestick." This is surrounded by the legend ΑΒΡΑΧΑΞ ΙΑΩ, words also of very common use, and which are to be found either by themselves, or accompanied by every variety of figure. The word ΙΑΩ, in a variety of modifications, is also found on most of the gems of the Gnostics; and, next to Abrasax, seems to have been the most portentous and mysterious. It is generally supposed to be a corruption of the tetragrammaton, יהוה, or Jehovah, to which the Jews attached so awful an importance. Irenseus supposes it has allusion to the name by which the Divine character of Christ was expressed; as if the ΑΩ was intended to be the Alpha and Omega of the Revelation, and the characters ΙΑΩ stood for Jesus the "Redeemer, the first and the last." See Mosheim Comm. 1, 417; Matter, Hist. du Gnosticisme, t. 3; Neander, Gnost. System, 1818; Neander, Ch. Hist. 1, 401; Lardner, Works, 8, 352 sq.: Jeremie, Ch. Hist. p. 149; Schmid, Pent. Dissert. (Helmst. 1716); Jablonski, Nov. Miscell. Lips. 7, 1, 63 sq.; Beausobre, Hist. du Manich. 2, 50; Gieseler, in the Stud. u. Kritiken, 1830, p. 413 sq. (who shows that not all Abraxas gems were of Gnostic origin); King, The Gnostics and their Remains (Lond. 1864), which contains various cuts of gems, but is otherwise of little value. See SEE GNOSTICISM; SEE BASILIDES.