ARCHON (Grk. ’αρχον [archon]—he who stands first or ahead)—the highest official in ancient Athens; in the Judeo-Christian tradition, a demon who leads other impure demons; in neo-Platonic philosophy, a spiritual being lower than an angel; in the Gnostic system, a ruling spirit endowed with creative power.
The institution of the archon appeared in the eighth century BC in Athens. The archons formed the highest council of the land consisting of nine persons. They were elected annually and held the highest executive, priestly, military, and judicial power. In the late sixth and early fifth century the office of archon began to decline in importance. The term “archon” became a permanent part of Greek vocabulary and meant a person (or being) who stands at the head of a society, organization, etc.
In the Septuagint, “archon” (corresponding to ro’sh in Hebrew) refers to the leader of a country (or prince) or the supreme military commander (Job 29,25, Ez 28, 2–3); in the New Testament it also refers to the highest rank of priest in the synagogue (Lk 8, 41–49). In the synoptic gospels a new meaning of the term “archon” appears (Mt 9, 34; 12, 24; Mk 3, 22; Lk 11, 5)— the term is applied to the prince of demons—archon ton daimonion [’αρχον των δαιμονιων.
The neo-Platonist Iamblichus calls cosmic deities archons. Under the influence of Babylonian and Chaldean astrology, he distinguished several spiritual beings between God and the soul; archangels, angels, demons, archons, and heroes. The archons are below angels and demiurges in the hierarchy. According to Iamblichus, there are two categories of archons: cosmic archons (κοσμοκρατορες [kosmokratores]) who are responsible for the coming-into-being of the cosmos and maintenance of order in the cosmos, and hylic archons (της ‘υλης προεστηκοτες [tes hyles proestekotes])— the creators of matter. Their abode is in the sublunary region (De mysteriis, II 3, 71).
In Gnostic systems the archons are beings who rule over lower spirits, planets, the world, and men. The Gnostics ascribe to them a creative or legislative role (Simonians, Carpocratians). The Gnostic archons who made the world most often have the character of demiurges and so as the creators of the material world they are the source of the evil that exists in the world. Like the biblical angels they also possess proper names. The Egyptian Gnostic Basilides accepted the existence of an archon called Abraxas who was the prince of 365 spiritual beings (Irenaeus, Adversus haereses, I 24). The Orphics accepted the existence of seven archons: Iadabaoth or Ialdabaoth (who created the six others), Iao, Sabaoth, Adonaios, Elaios (Astaphanos), and Horaios (Origen, Contra Celsum, VI 31), who was the author of man’s beginning after the model of the cosmic Anthropos. The Archontists (a sect of Valentinians) also held to the existence of seven archons. They taught that spiritual beings who were the guardians of the planets controlled the planets—Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Sun, and the Moon. They also created the world and one of them called Sabaoth instituted baptism. The myth of the seven planetary archons is found in a Coptic treatise, Hypostasis of archons (Nag-Hammadi, Codices, II, 4).
W. Carr, The Rulers of this Age—I Corinthians 2, 6–8., New Testament Studies 23 (1976–1977), 20–35; G. Delling, in: Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Michigan 1985, I 488–489; J. W. van Heuten, in: Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, Lei 1995, 153–159.
Anna Z. Zmorzanka