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Reading Plan /file 2A
Texts 5 through 8

Reading the Nag Hammadi Codices


The Mysteries and the Master

1, Allogenes 490 Allogenes
2, Apocalypse of Peter 372 Apoc Peter
3, Dialogue of the Savior 244 Dial Sav
4, Gospel of Thomas 124 Gos Thom
5, Second Treatise of Great Seth 362 Treat Seth
6, Sentences of Sextus 503 Sent Sextus
7, Teachings of Silvanus 379 Teach Silv
8, Thunder, Perfect Mind 295 Thund


5, The Second Treatise of Great Seth: VII, 2, NHLE p 362. Eight pages in good condition. Revelation discourse. CORE: rigorous anti-Jewish anti-Christian polemic, Anthropos doctrine, warning against false religious ideology, subterfuge of the Archons, recognition of true humanity.

The Second Treatise of Great Seth jolts us from the banal and innocuous idiom of the Gospel of Thomas back to radical teachings on the Archons and their insidious attempt to deviate humanity. As the title indicates, this text belongs to the Lego category of "Sethian Gnosticism." A character named Seth is mentioned once, and once only, in the Old Testament, Genesis 4:25: "And Adam knew his wife again, and she bare a son, and called his name Seth: "For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew." Significantly, it is the mother Eve who names Seth. Evidently she regards him as a replacement and consolation for the murder of her son, Abel. Much ado has been made of the Cain and Abel story, and its consequences for humanity, as we all know.

But what about the Seth story?

Anti-Christian View

Some scholars, most notably Birger Pearson, consider that the Gnostic movement arose as a heresy within Judaism. Because Gnostics told a different version of Genesis, they must have been intimately familiar with the known version. And because the heretics are so emphatic about their version of Genesis with its startling reversal of values—the serpent is a benefactor; Jehovah is a demented imposter who believes he created the world and tries to involve the primal parents in his megalomania; initiated by the Snake, Eve becomes the instructor or humanity—it is likely that Gnosticism emerged from the Jewish tradition, Pearson argues.

My fix: The Gnostic version of Genesis reflects the intensity of their protest against Judaism, but it does not prove that the Gnostic movement derived from Judaism.

It is known that some Palestinian Jewish rabbis, whose names have survived, defected to Gnostic groups, but the notion that Gnostics themselves arose from Jewish religion is refuted by their self-definition. Seth is the odd man out in the sacred narrative of the ancient Hebrews. He does not belong to the line of Patriarchs, who are brutally ridiculed in Treat Seth. By their own definition, Gnostics spring from "another seed," as Eve said. Scholars today show no interest in the geographic-cultural matrix of the Gnostics, but such a matrix can be identified. By their own account, the Children of Seth trace their origins to the sacred White Mountain of Seir. The geographic location of this mythical site is northwestern Iran, on the plateau east of Lake Hormun. The time of the original cultus may have been as early as 6000 BCE, contemporary with the rise of Zoroastrian religion.

From ancient Iran the Sethians spread into the Middle East (and elsewhere, both toward Asia and Europe) to become established in many places in the Levant, Palestine, and Egypt. After 500 BCE, the Gnostic movement seems to have been concentrated in the region immediately south of the Dead Sea and the nearby hills of the Negev Desert. This region was in Biblical times called the Land of Seir, recalling the ancestral Iranian homeland. It is likely that Gnostics were common figures in the thriving society of the Nabataens whose magnificent site, Petra, is now a world tourist destination. NHC materials tell us that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, once located at the southern tip of the Dead Sea, were sacred to the Sethians.

Significantly, the first deed of Abraham's divine commission, received from the eerie Melchizedek, was to destroy those cities (Genesis, 18). The animosity of the Abrahamic cult toward Gnostics runs very deep. Divine paternalism cannot tolerate competition. In the War Scroll from the Dead Sea caves, the Children of Seth and "the remnant of Seir" top the list of enemies to be destroyed by the Zaddakim, the Righteous Ones, with the aid of supernatural warrior-angels led by Melchizedek.

So, the mere title of this treatise already tells us a lot about what it contains. By the way, there is no surviving First Treatise, leaving scholars perplexed about why this one would be so named.

"The Second Treatise of the Great Seth is a Christian Gnostic homily in the form of a speech of the ascended Christ to his followers on earth." So writes Gregory Riley, the scholar who translates this text in the CGL edition. (The translation in the NHLE is somehwat different.) With all due respect to Professor Riley, those who are following this reading plan to learn how to assess the NHC materials will be suspicious about this characterization. It carries the inference that Treat Seth reduces to some sort of Christianity (mystical? occult? primitive?), and flatly asserts that the author of the teaching is Christ—that subline character whom we already know so much about from the New Testament, of course.

But upon examination Treat Seth is about as anti-Christian as anything to be found in the Coptic corpus. By anti-Christian I mean: against Christian doctrines and salvationist ideology. Scholars may put their Lego pieces in whatever boxes they like, but the fact is, Christianity is defined by a body of doctrines, its ideological mindset, and a text may properly be called anti-Christian if it opposes and refutes that mindset. Even if the refutation comes through a mouthpiece called "Christ."

With that hefty qualification on board, let's begin to delve into this fantastic document. With the four preceding books of Level One, "The Mysteries and the Master," we have already seen how deep we need to go in order to detect and extract genuine Gnostic elements. The fact is, it is impossible to read the Coptic materials in a superficial way. You comprehend them in depth, or not at all. Delving into NHC VII, 2 takes us very deep, indeed.

The Second Treatise of the Great Seth opens with a benedictory greeting that looks arresting in the "poetic" layout of the CGL:

The perfect Vastness, then, abides
in the
ineffable light within
the Truth, the mother
of all these and all of you

Which is about as good as it gets. Even unenlightened people have the Buddha Nature. This truth seems to have been as profoundly realized by Gnostics (of the late, Hellenistic period) as it was by their contemporaries and counterparts, the Mahayana Buddhists of India. The Perfect Vastness (megethos) matches the Buddhist Void, Shunyata. The "ineffable light within the truth" is the Organic Light. My Paraphrase:

The perfect Vastness, then, abides
in the Light
Ineffable, within
the mother tongue of Truth
of all those who have attained,
and all of you, as well.

The Revealer (Greek phoster, "light-bearer") of the discourse speaks in the first person. Here the Revealer seems to be male, but in most Gnostic treatises she is female. This individual is teleios, "initiated, knowledgable in ultimate matters." Evidently, this text is a transcription of the discourse of a telestes who speaks as if channelling a higher power, Seth, the Revealer. As with Allogenes, we are again in the atmosphere of a Mystery cell. Another direct disclosure of Gnostic illumination is about to unfold.

Children of Enlightenment

Having arrived at item 5 in the plan, and having learned something from the preceding texts about how to read this arcane material, the reader will not be misled by the apparent Biblical jargon: "Since I brought forth a word to the glory of the Father through his kindness" (49.20-22). As usual, the Coptic term shadje occurs for "word." By now the reader might intuit that "the word" in Gnostic idiom is not an artifact of revealed religion, not a fixed doctrine delivered by God to a chosen emissary. It is a living code, a unit of cosmic intentional language, like a lettered strand of DNA, or like the Buddha Dharma expounded perpetually by the Tathagatas.

"Father" is the usual Coptic term EIOT, pronounced ee-yot. In Coptic the Greek letter PI attaches to a word to indicate the definite article: pi-ee-ot, "The Father." This is patriarchal slang for a lofty transcendent idea, the First Aeon, the Originator. The word "kindness" is coded, written, MNTXRS with a superlinear stroke over the RS. MNT is a Coptic prefix equivalent to the English suffix -ness. MNTXRS is Chrestos-ness. In fact, there is no way to tell if XRS denotes Christos or Chrestos, but the translator in this instance assumes the latter. Chrestos signifies "goodness, benevolence," rather than "anointed." Chrestos was the generic name in the Piscean Age (began 120 BCE) for the master expected to appear and teach humanity the decisive lessons of that Age.

Note that the master teacher expected in that age was not a messiah or god-sent avatar, just a human being endowed with superior understanding of ultimate things. In short, a telestes of the Mysteries. Scholars of religion responsible for handling the Gnostic Coptic materials do not have the background to know about such nuances, so they do not distinguish the enlightened teacher of the Age from the messiah of redeemer pathology. The experts are facing insurmountable problems here. A few lines later we find the XS with stroke translated as "Christ," because the sacrificed messiah is clearly indicated.

Since I brought forth (in human terms) the living code (that) gloriously (shows) the goodness and imperishable mind of the Originator, it is enslavement that we should die with Christ, with flawless and imperishable mind (at our bidding). This is a wonder not understood. (49.20-30)

This extraordinary statement comes over as pure drivel in the NHLE, and not much better in the CGL. The translation is a haul, no matter how you cut it, but I am fairly certain that "die with Christ" is meant ironically: it is enslavement to an illusion to accept the death of the messianic Christ literally, and imagine we are implicated in it, or saved by it, when in reality we have the mind to know otherwise. The wonder is that we do not realize that enlightenment is in our minds, already attained.

"It is shame to be enslaved by the idea of salvation when our minds are self-liberating." A more lucid contrast between salvationist and illuminist viewpoints can hardly be imagined.

So, Treat Seth opens with an obscure passage that demands a major piece of work. The first paragraph in the NHLE is gibberish, and any sane person would be reticent to proceed. "The scripture of the ineffable water which is from us is this word." What do you do with a line like that? Not much. This is the moment for some scanning, until a clear burst occurs. At 50.21 the Revealer speaks in a more familar, accessible way: "I came forth to reveal the glory of my kindred friends and spiritual brethren." Okay, that'll do for the moment. The Gnostic Revealer generously includes us in the company of the Enlightened.

Next, we are surprised by direct mention of Sophia, the central figure in Gnostic cosmology, whose plight is described in a tumble of words, like the gasping declaration of someone who has run far to deliver an urgent message: "The will of Sophia, our sister - a whore, on account of her innocence - who was not sent - did not ask anything from the All, the Pleroma - back when she emerged - set up conditions for the Children of Light" (50.25 - 51, my italics). Translators render the striking word Greek loan word prunikos, "outrageous, unrestrained," as "whore: TISOPHIA TMSOME THETE NOUPRONIKOS

The Coptic MPSHIRE MPOYOIEN, "Children of Light," may be compared to Bodhisattvas of Buddhist teachings: Children of Enlightenment, if you will. All humans are potential Bodhisattvas (and all Bodhisattvas are potential humans). Thus all humanity is covered by this term. In the planetary world (kosmos) produced from her own power, the Goddess Sophia prepares for the embodiment of humanity, but some who are embodied "came to the end in ruin in their dwellings," while others "stand ready to receive the saving Word of the Monad. (51.13)" The Monad is the singularity of the Anthropos, the potential of humanity to introduce novelty into the cosmos. The teaching here says that we have in the conditions of our embodiment the means to save ourselves by recognition of the originating code ("Word of the Monad") — that is to say, the cosmic intelligence that produced humanity in the first place.

Who Is Humanity?

Now comes a remarkable detail, unique in the entire corpus. The Revealer seems to describe himself as what New Agers call a walk-in. "I visited a bodily dwelling. I cast out the one who was previously in it and I went in" (51.20f). How Gnostics would have understood the "walk in" phenomenon will become evident in a moment. (The phenomena of the walk in was originally introduced by Ruth Montgomery. New Age guru Drunvalo Melchizedek claims to be a walk in.)

Now, enter the Archons. They play a huge role in Treat Seth, often indicated between the lines. The Archons are disturbed by the walk-in, who turns out to be Christ, written CHRS. By my best guess, I would say that this passage might suggest that the Aeon Christos, who never incarnates from scratch, can extend into human form by copping a body from someone already alive. Some Gnostics argued that Jesus could not be the incarnation of Christ from the womb, but the Aeon could have descended upon the man Jesus at the baptism in the Jordan. Gnostic heretics rejected virgin birth, but some of them accepted some kind of incarnational scenario. It is certain that different Gnostic groups held different views on this issue, short of the standard Christian doctrine of the Incarnation.

Passages 52 - 55 are extremely dense and difficult. The Revealer, who explicitly says "I became Christ" (52.4), describes a range of cosmic disturbances involving "the Sophia of Hope" (Pandora?) and "the race of Adonaios." He warns that something is working against human perception of "the Man of the Greatness," Coptic PIROME NTE T IMNTNOG, "supreme humanity," is a way to describe the Anthropos. These passages are hardly intelligible without foreknowledge of the "Anthropos doctrine," as scholars call it. This is a core Gnostic teaching that asserts the pre- and extra-terrestrial origin of the human species. The Anthropos doctrine is a version of "directed panspermia": i.e., the human species was seeded on earth from an extraterrestrial matrix.

The trouble described in 52-55 is due to two interrelated factors: "the plan of the Archons" to deviate humanity, and the inability of some humans to recognize their cosmic origin in the Anthropos. How these two factors are related, the one reinforcing the other in a blind collusion, should be obvious, but if it's not, the teacher spells it out:

But they, the Archons belonging to the domain of Yaldabaoth, lay bare the circuit of the angels. This is what humanity was going around seeking because they did not know the Man of truth. (53.12-17)

Yaldabaoth is the chief Archon, identified by Gnostics with Jehovah, the Father God of the Old Testament. His domain is the planetary system exclusive of the three-body Gaian system: earth, sun, moon. I suspect that "to lay bare the circuit of the angels" means that the Archons present to humanity a stripped down version of cosmic order, the celestial mechanics of the planetary system, their domain. And humanity goes around and around, samsarically confused, looking for divine order out there, and so fails to realize that the divine resides in its own innate capacity, the ordering powers of human intelligence.

The "Man of truth" is PI (the)ROME (human) NT (of) ME (truth). The Coptic ME (pronounced may) is an ancient Semitic root found in Gilgamesh and other myths from Mesopotamia where it refers to the ordering principles of the universe. Its Egyptian cognate is Ma'at, "cosmic order." In a famous myth, the goddess Ishtar steals the sacred MEs (principles of order) from Enki, Lord of the Earth. The same root occurs in the Greek metra, "measure," as in the name of the goddess, Dea-meter. ME in Coptic means both truth and love.

Directly following the explanation of humans' inability to recognize their cosmic origin, the teacher says of the Archons that "Adam appeared to them as the one whom they had fashioned" (53.18). This makes sense: if humans do not realize that they proceed from a cosmic template, the Anthropos projected by the true Gods, they are apt to believe other things. Such as that the Archons created them. This is of course what the Sumerian cunieform tablets tell us: the Annunaki (read: Archons) created humanity by genetic engineering, using the secrets of alien biotechnology. Gnostics appear to have been quite familiar with this narrative. Here is it shown to be an illusion fostered by the Archons in their insane plan to take over humanity. Humans who accept Jehovah as their creator god are dupes of the Archons.

It must be understood that the Aeons of the Pleroma, from which Sophia comes, did not create humanity, any more than Jehovah does. The Aeons emanate the genetic template for humanity. In the Gnostic view, humanity is not created in the image of the Gods, for the Aeons do not imprint themselves narcissistically upon what they emanate. PIROME NTME (pie-romey nut-may), "the true humanity," is a living expression of divine imagination, not a progeny modelled after its divine creators.

The paramount challenge expressed throughout all the Gnostic materials is for humanity to learn to see itself in cosmic terms, to recognize the Anthropos, and to resist illusions about human nature presented in bogus cosmic schemes and religious doctrines. In its tone and content, the Second Treatise of the Great Seth represents a high point of this struggle. It focusses the spiritual challenge carried in the Gnostic message in a single question: "Who is humanity?" (54.1)

The Revealer exposes the subterfuge of the Archons who counterfeit humanity, and condemns human accomplices who disguise the counterfeit item in religious ideas. To counter this deception, he advises us to be continually mindful of "a single emanation (aporroia) from the eternal Ones, the unknowable Aeons, immeasurable and indefiled" (54.18). This is a rare instance of the Greek word for "emanation," aporria. (Elsewhere in the site I have explained emanation theory at length. Modern plasma cosmology seems to be approaching an understanding of this dynamic. Emanation theory in Gnostic teachings has an exact parallel in Hindu Tantra as well as in the Dreamtime of indigenous peoples.) The "single emanation of the eternal Ones" is the Anthropos, described in cosmological texts (ahead) as monogenes, "single-generating."

Redeemer and Revealer

Passage 55 states the main theme of Treat Seth: "the scheme they planned against me, to prevent the destruction of their Error (plane) and their senselessness" (55.10f). Plane (plah-ney), the signature of the Archons, is variously translated as error, deception, deviation, leading astray. It is the root of the word planet, which figures, for the Archons belong to the realm of the planets, excluding the earth, sun and moon. Planets deviate, or go astray, from the background patterns of the fixed stars.

The plan of the Archons cannot be achieved by imposition of an alien will upon humanity, but only by human submission to, and collusion with, deceit. One of the most potent ideas on earth is the belief that the suffering of a superhuman entity can atone for human wrong-doing. Is this idea deceptive? If it is, how would be know? Treat Seth squarely refutes the idea of vicarious atonement. The Revealer says "I was not afflicted at all. I did not die in solid reality" (55.15f). Thus, even if some kind of drama of redemption did occur, no real suffering occured, such as could atone for others. Those who accept the doctrine of divine atonement actually achieve the opposite of what they believe: "For my death, which they think happened to me, actually happened to them in their error and blindness" (55.30). A more succint refutation of redemptive theology can hardly be imagined.

"They nailed their own humanity up to die" (55.30), the Revealer continues, pressing hard on this crucial issue. Next comes another glimpse of the laughing savior (56.18) seen in the Apocalypse of Peter, but this passage goes further and describes a shape-shifting phantom.The phantom savior of Gnostic docetism is consistent with the Nirmanakaya of Buddhism. The Revealer celebrates his triumph over the delusional powers in a lofty passage (57-8) where he praises those who become free and noble persons through their experience of the truth about human nature. The language becomes symbolic and obscure, with a description of a resurrection scene, obviously not to be taken literally. Then the polemic against "those who think they are advancing the name of Christ" (59.24) resumes, and intensifies.

The Second Treatise of the Great Seth is white hot in point by point argument against redemptive theology.

59.12 introduces a theme to be repeated several times in the remaining text: "And it was a laughingstock" (CGL translation) or "And it was ludicrous" (NHLE). With this motif the Revealer mocks those who fall for the antimimon, the counterfeit reality of the Archons. Topping the list of phony items is the redeemer complex, "the doctrine of a dead man" (60.20). Gnostics saw in the Jewish Messiah (the figure that later morphed into the Divine Redeemer, Jesus Christ) a counterfeit version of the Revealer. There is but one Christ, Christian doctrine asserts, but Gnostic heresy counters that there are many Revealers who appear periodically through the ages to enlighten and teach. They are completely human, unlike Jeus Christ who is said to be divine. Each Revealer is an example of a human being who has realized the true identity of humanity, rooted in the Anthropos, but the unique case (so claimed) of Jesus Christ represents an ideal model of humanity that does not reflect the Anthropos. Treat Seth highlights the heretical argument that the "Only-Begotten son of God" is a fraud foisted on humanity.

At this point the Gnostic critique of salvationism touches some highly sensitive ground. It would be helpful to remember that Gnostic refutation of salvationist belief highlighted two points of that belief: the redemptive value of suffering, and the unique nature of the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Rejection of the first point was common among Pagans in antiquity. You did not have to be a Gnostic initiate to deny that one person's suffering can atone for another. The issue of the Divine Redeemer, on the other hand, had to be refuted from a specialist viewpoint. The Anthropos doctrine is part of the Sophia Mythos, hence a matter of initiation. Those who taught about the Anthropos were Revealers, Bodhisattvic teachers. To them it was evident that the figure of Jesus Christ, as represented in Pauline and Johannine theology, was a distortion of the Anthropos, as well as a co-option of the Revealer! If Saint Paul was to be believed, Jesus the Christ was not only the sole and supreme embodiment of the Anthropos, he was also the Revealer of what he was. To the telestai, this was manifest absurdity. It both confused and misrepresented the sacred teaching of the Mysteries on the origins of humanity.

Of course, it could be argued that Jesus was a true Revealer, a teacher from the Mysteries, whose message came to be distorted and wrongly used by other people. But if Jesus was an initiate, would he have said many of the things attributed to him in the New Testament, and would he have made claims about himself consistent with the theology of Paul and John? Take away all that, and what is left of "Jesus the Initiate"? It is almost impossible to find anything that can pass for initiated teaching in the words attributed to Jesus. The argument that Jesus was a great initiate, or, in some way, the greatest of all initiates, can only be maintained by continual regression to Pauline-Johannine theology with its double whammy, locking together the redemptive ideology of suffering and the divine status of the redeemer. This whammy is precisely what Treat Seth refutes.

To Gnostics of the Mystery Schools, these salvationist beliefs were a subterfuge, clear evidence of Archontic counterfeiting. In passage after passage, the Treatise of the Great Seth ruthlessly exposes this ploy. It urges us to strive for knowledge of what is genuinely human, our unique potential as singularity. The Anthropos is the psychogenetic matrix of human nature. If we do not know about it, and find our humanity in it, nothing else we know can enable us to realize what it means to be human. In becoming genuinely human, we transcend ourselves and become empty of all personal pretence. Thus the Revealer says that we come to "know the Gnosis of the Vastness (Shunya, the Void), that is beyond us, from the fountainhead of truth" (61).

Archontic Simulation

The expose of those caught in the Archontic Lie continues, but this is not moral condemnation, not a righteous, holier-than-thou judgment. Rather, it is rigorous psychological insight into the delusional behavior that arises from wrong beliefs. Those who succumb to "slavery and jealousy and fear and love of worldly things" (61.4f) act wrongfully out of ignorance, not because they are bad or sinful. This is a lucid, compassionate observation, not a righteous condemnation. Acts of compulsion, violence and exortion are "guarded by God," but this is not the true "noble-born" God whose wisdom lives in us, if only we would admit and access it (61.25f).

Passage 62 celebrates friendship, a Gnostic principle held equal in regard with love. The spirit of friendship allowed those who participated in the Mysteries to come together in "the joining of truth, that they should have no adversary" (62.12). They agreed on the "big picture" because there were all initiated into the same visionary experience, and within the framework of that collective vision each telestes developed individual, even idiosyncratic teachings. (Something similar applies today among the Nyingma Pa in Tibet, Bhutan and Assam. Lamas all agree on the general frame of Tibetan mysticism, but in each valley and village lamas are free to develop and express singular expressions and applications of the Dharma.)

62.27 restates the ludicrous motif: "And Adam was ludicrous, and Abraham, and Jacob, and David, Solomon, the Twelve Prophets, Moses, John the Baptist...". "None of them knew me, the Revealer, nor my brethren" (63.34). In this passage the lineage of Gnostic teachers is entirely dissociated from Biblical tradition. The condemnation of "bitter rules and dietary slavery" (64.2) is a direct swipe at orthodox Judaism, but the overall tone is more universal, more far-reaching.

They never knew truth,
nor will they know it
for there is a great deception
upon their soul, and they cannot
ever find the mind of
freedom, in order to know
themselves, in true humanity.

This passage (64.4f) uses the Coptic word HAL , "trick, deception, simulation," instead of the more common plane, "error, going astray." These lines capture the whole tragedy of the human race: to be misled from its true potential by simulation, falling for a false version of itself. This warning seems to be unique to the radical protest of the Gnostics. It anticipates the concept of the AntiChrist that appears, quite inexplicably, in Christian ideology. It is likely that the AntiChrist was co-opted from Gnostic teachings by Christian ideologues. Or perhaps it was planted in the emergent Christian ideology as a sabotage device.

To clarify the Gnostic protest against salvationism in Treat Seth, the work of ethologist Konrad Lorentz is helpful. Lorentz is known for the famous experiment in which he imitated a mother duck and got a group of fledglings to take him for their mother. He proved that the triggering of instinctual programs in animals depends on an initial act of "imprinting." The ducks had the innnate capacity to learn how to be ducks from their mother, but the capacity did not become active until they "imprinted" their mother — who happened to be replaced in this case by Lorentz.

Like other animals, human beings activate and unfold their potential according to what imprints them and "entrains" that potential. Most creatures are imprinted by members of their own species, of course, but humans have the capacity to be imprinted by symbolic and metaphoric systems, rather than living systems. Ludwig von Bertalanffy, one of the founders of systems theory, observed that

There is no doubt about the presence of aggressive and destructive tendancies in the human psyche which are of the nature of biological drives. However, the most pernicious phenomena of aggression, transcending self-preservation and self-destruction, are based upon a chacteristic feature of man above the psychological level, namely his capacity of creating symbolic universes of thought, language, and behavior. (Cited in Erich Fromm, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, p. 253, n.2)

When they saw the figure of the divine redeemer emerge within the context of the Palestinian ideology of divine atonement, Gnostics were alarmed that humanity would become imprinted by that figure, rather than by the Anthropos, the true image of human species. The Second Treatise of the Great Seth warns us against imprinting by "symbolic universes of thought, language and behavior," especially those that appear in the guise of religious ideals and beliefs. "The most pernicious phenomena of aggression" is not the invasion of a predatory species from outer space, but the subterfuge in our own minds.

Today, social psychologists use the term "metaphoric entrapment" for what the Gnostics called HAL, "simulation." Entrapping metaphors can function as attention sinks, mental prisons, addictions, and even soap-operas, but their most potent and widespread manifestion is religious belief-systems. (For an introduction to this subject see: http://www.laetusinpraesens.org/docs/entrap.php)

The Inner Guide

From 65 to the end (four passages), Treat Seth repeats the main points already developed. In 65.18 the Revealer declares "I am Christ, the Child of Humanity, the one in you who is you." The Revealer can only mirror to us what is already within us. In Gnostic terms, the "Christ within" is not an inner divine essence of personhood, but the divine capacity of knowing who we are as a species. The God-Self equation, so popular in New Age interpretations of the Nag Hammadi material, is definitely not meant here, although it is readily obvious how the above statement could be taken as such.

Treat Seth does not merely rant about avoiding metaphoric entrapment, it also indicates how we are guided toward the right relation to our own humanity. Consistent with this line of instruction, 66.7 presents an extremely rare disclosure of the inner guide, the Mesotes, "the medium of Jesus." As far as I know, this concept is unique to the Coptic Gnostic material. The Mesotes of Jesus is one of the most enigmatic elements in Gnostic teaching. It is, however, anything but unique in human mystical experience across many cultures and ages.

On the Mesotes and species-self identity, see Mesotes - Matrix of Animal Powers.

All in all, the Second Treatise of the Great Seth is a ferocious display of Gnostic dissent and a stunning expression of the Anthropos teaching, a close parallel to the Bodhisattva ideal of Mahayana Buddhism.

It is worth noting that the Bodhisattva ideal was formulated in the 2nd century CE, exactly at the moment when Gnostics emerged into public debate with the first Christian ideologues. This historical parallel bears some close reflection. Could the unprecedented public disclose by Gnostics of the Mystery teaching on the Anthropos have influenced or inspired the Bodhisattva ideal?


6, The Sentences of Sextus: page 503. 5 pages, numbered sayings, partially intact. Aphorisms and adages, some with a distinctly Gnostic flavor.

By sharp contrast to the startling originality of Treat Seth, this short treatise is highly derivative. It is a collection of aphorisms also found in other languages and Pagan sources. Most of the sayings are non-Christian, and some give the genuine flavor of homegrown Pagan wisdom in antiquity. There are many simple and pious lines like “The love of humanity is the beginning of godliness” (371), and "A godly heart produces a blessed life" (326b). Some sayings are distinctly Christian in the sense of being anti-body and anti-pleasure: ""Do not seek goodness in the flesh" (317), and "The pleasure-loving man is useless in everything" (172).

The motley and contradictory nature of Sent Sextus supports my argument that the NHC is a reworking of shambolic Greek notes ("original writings") taken down in by scribes who understood little of what they were writing, and translated into the weird shorthand idiom of Coptic by scribes who understood even less. If the "original writings" in Greek were confused, the awkward Coptic rendition only increases the confusion.

"Do not give the word of God to everyone" (350) echoes the Gnostic interdiction against disclosing Mystery teachings, and, indeed, against evangelization in general. "Whoever thinks that no one is in the presence of the Divine, is not humble toward the Divine" (380) is a wonderful refutation of the Judeo-Christian belief that God is utterly transcendent. It implies that humility toward the Divine comes from realizing its presence, not its absence. This sentence sounds like it really could have been said by someone who underwent egodeath in the initiatic tradition of the Mysteries. "Promise everything, rather than say 'I am wise' " (389b) is a wry little saying that glimmers with distinctive Gnostic irony.

Here and there in Sent Sextus are genuine gems that hint at the Gnostic sense of life, but on the whole this shapeless compilation is rather tedious and tendentious. The ascetic outlook made this book popular in Christian circles, says translator Frederick Wise. If we read the aphorisms with the expectation of finding Gnostic thoughts, we will be mislead by this attitude of world-denial. By and large, the content of Sent Sext supports the view that the NHC corpus was compiled for didactic use in Coptic monasteries. This document surely could have been intended for such a purpose, but how do we reconcile that theory of the origin of the codices with the presence of radical heretic material such as the Second Treatise of the Great Seth? Answer: We don't.

Whoever collected and translated the NHC corpus, and why they did so, remains a complete mystery.


7, The Teachings of Silvanus: page 379. 15 pages, homily or sermon. A longish Christian homily that nevertheless contains some salient Gnostic views

The translators tell us that the author of Teach Silv was an "educated Christian" who "found it necessary both to reject erroneous pagan thought and yet, simultaneously, to appropriate the best of such thought to clarify and make cogent the Faith." Well, fair enough. It looks like item 7 in the reading plan presents us with an ideal opportunity to test the skills we've acquired for reading with discernment. Can we now distinguish genuine, uncompromised Gnostic elements from co-opted Gnostic elements, on the one hand, and from patently non-Gnostic elements, on the other? The close merge of contrasting elements gives cause for careful evaluation. This text poses an formidable exercise in distillation.

“The mind is the guide, but reason is the teacher” (85.25), is a Stoic rather than a Christian opinion. Stoicism was the mundane ethical profile of Gnosticism. Sent Seth emphasizes the use of the mind (nous) in ways less indicative of initiation than of Stoic education:

    Listen, children, to this advice. Do not be arrogant in opposition of every good opinion, but take for yourself the side of the divinity of reason. Observe the sacred instructions of the Jesus Christ, and you will live regally in every place on earth and be honored by the angelic messengers, and even by the archangels who send them. Then you will acquire them for friends and allies, and you will access all places in the heavenly realms.

The tone is parental, but not overbearing. (Read aloud to get a sense of delivery.) One does not find "the divinity of reason" endorsed in the Gospels. What are "the sacred instructions of Jesus Christ"? This is anyone's guess. As usual, the name Jesus Christ is coded: IS CHRS with linear strokes. Scholars fill in the blanks: I (EU)S(OS), which gives the Greek spelling, Ieusos, of the Hebrew Yeshua, but this is a long way from naming an historical person.

And there is more than one way to fill in the blanks. IS can also be expanded to I(ASIU)S. The term Iasius was Pagan jargon for "healer." A strong man was a Hercules, a man with healing powers was an Iasius. Discussing the repression of the Mysteries in Shamanism, Patriarchy and the Drug War, Dan Russell writes:

    The whole issue... hinges on sacramentalism, actual or symbolic entheogenic ingestion. Many Gnostics practiced actual entheogenic ingestion, and came to identify the entheogen with Iasius, "the Healer," Jesus. The canonical fascists, bent on political conquest of the Empire, murdered both the original Nazarenes and their early Gnostic followers, and burned their writings.

We must accept the very real possibility — I would rate it about 50% certain — that readers of the Coptic Gnostic materials in the 4th century when they were concealed would have read IS and XRS as code terms for an entheogenic sacrament. Russell here does his own verson of the scandalous thesis of Gnostic scholar John Allegro (The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross) who proposed that the name Jesus was a Nazarene code term for the sacred mushroom, amanita muscaria. To do so, he went to absurd extremes with his etymological tropes.

In the passage cited, Russell conflates Gnostics with the Jewish Nazarenes of the Dead Sea in a way I would not allow myself to do. I do reckon though that the Nazarene fanatics in the Zaddikim cult may well have used amanita muscaria for their sacrament. Note that fly-agaric, as it is commonly known, is not a true entheogenic, although it is a potent shamanic "power plant." Russell's observation about the substitution of "symbolic entheogenic ingestion" for the real thing has been passionately argued by Jonathan Ott, the leading pharmako-shamanic ethnobotanist on the planet. Ott maintains that the true sacrament given to us by nature gives us faith, but the symbolic sacrament, such as the communion wafer, is a placebo that demands our faith. (On the placebo effect, see The Tyranny of Faith.)

This little digression proves that even with relatively banal material, we are never far from hidden depth in the NHC.

Everything depends on expectations. Come to this text with the expectation of hearing about the teachings of Jesus Christ and that's what you will find. But the expectation has to be set up beforehand. You need a preconception of who Jesus Christ is as a distinct historical person, and of what is attributed to that person. That preconception then attaches itself to the ambiguous encoded name. But it is possible to read Teach Silv and withhold that expectation. Doing so, we find that the tonality of the entire text is Stoic, sober and cautionary, rather than evangelic:

    From this moment on, children, return always to your divine nature. Separate from evil, deceiving friends. Accept the Chrestos, the spirit of true friendship, as your good teacher. Cast away death, which has become like a parent to you. For death did not exist at first, nor will it exist in the end.

    (90 end - 91)

    Do not flee from the divine gift and the teaching endowed in you, for that which teaches loves you very much. It shall bestow on you a noble austerity.

Even when the language is distinctly Christian, putting emphasis of sin rather than ignorance, some genuine Gnostic conviction rings through:

    Do not impale yourself on the sword of sin. Do not burn yourself, oh wretched ones, with the fire of futile longing. Do not surrender yourself to barbarians like a prisoner of war, nor to savage animosity which wants to crush you. For these are as lions which roar loudly over the dead. So be not dead, lest they trample you. You shall be human. It is possible through reasoning to master all of this.

The assertion "you shall be human" is arresting. It recalls the white hot argument of Treat Seth with its urgent call to recognize geniuine humanity, divine humanity, the singularity, but here the tone is tempered, gentle, reassuring. The assertion that we can realize humanity through reasoning is, again, purely Stoic. There is no mention of the Mesotes, the inner guide, in Teach Silv, but 87.20 advises: "Do not flee from the divine potential and the teaching that is within you, for he who is teaching you loves you very much." In this idiom, Christos is identified more as an inner teacher than an outer historical figure, but it is nonetheless probable, as the translator notes, that the author of the sermon was a Christian attached to the historical persona of the savior.

The identification of Christos with "the Light" recalls the figure of Amitabha in Pure Land Buddhism. "Light the light within you" (106.10) echoes the words of Gotama Buddha to Ananda and the bhiksus, "Be lamps unto yourselves!" The explicit identification of Christ with Wisdom (Sophia) is a clear co-optation of the feminine divine element. Teach Silv also says pointedly that "Reason and mind are male names" (102.15), but Sophia is a female name. The text strains here and there in its emphasis to be masculine, i.e., fit into patriarchal expectations. The orthodox view of redemption is endorsed: "And the Life died for you when he (Christ) was powerless, so that through his death he might give life to you who have died" (107.15). Compare this with the brilliant remark on self-liberation in the Second Treatise and the Great Seth: "It is enslavement that we should die with Christ, with flawless and imperishable mind (at our bidding). This is a wonder not understood" (49.20-30). Indeed it is.

And it is no wonder that scholars go schizo trying to categorize the Coptic materials. The NHC contains patently contradictory statements in almost every text, and across texts the material is bafflingly in conflict with itself. No doubt this reflects the confused and anguished mindset of the people who collected it.

It is possible to read the Teachings of Silvanus straight through as a meditation text. This cannot be said of any other document in the NHC, I believe. Read it aloud, slowly and reflectively, and the distillation skills acquired by previous steps in the reading plan will be effectuated, more or less automatically. In other words, by reading this text in a careful, meditative way, you can allow your subconscious to resonate to those elements that are genuinely Gnostic, because it has been trained to detect those elements: that is to say, the illuminist features of the text that point us to our innate potential for self-liberation through seeing in naked awareness.

"Be illumined in mind" (94.25)!

On balance there are probably more genuine illuminist elements in Teach Silv than straightforward Christian homily. This observation is lost to scholars who have no clear criteria for the concept of illuminism. I use that term for the Pagan and Gnostic equivalent of the Buddha dharma, the message of enlightenment.


8, Thunder, Perfect Mind: page 295. 6 ½ pages, poem, CORE: a unique revelation text of a mystical and enigmatic flavor, that takes the form of a "channelling" from Sophia.

There is no better place to conclude Level One of the reading plan than with this extraordinary text. By diving into Allogenes and the Treatise of the Great Seth, we got a taste of the sublime discourse enounced by illumined masters in the Mysteries. At some points it took quite an effort to reach the true depths of the material. With NHC VI, 2, we do not have to delve arduously into the language, or hold our breath when making plunges into the core material. The thunder comes rolling right to us.

I was sent forth from the ultimate power,
and I have come to those who reflect on me,
and I have been found among those who seek after me.

Look upon me, you who reflect upon me,
and you listeners, hear me.
You who are waiting for, take me to yourselves.

Speaking boldly and directly to the listener, the Wisdom Goddess introduces herself. The epiphany of Sophia in Thunder, Perfect Mind is consistent with the figure of Vajravahari, the "Adamantine Sow" of Tibetan Buddhism. In fact, Vajra means "thunderbolt." The parallel is so close and striking that even Gnostic scholars who routinely ignore parallels to Buddhism have noted it.

Vajravahari appears as a tutelary dakini in the initiation of Padma Sambhava (Evans-Wentz, The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation, p. 121.) As a Vajra deity, she is a revealer of the Divine Light. "Adamantine" suggests whiteness, such as the luminosity beheld by initiates who encountered the Mystery Light. The "thunder" that accompanies this epiphany is deep, roaring Silence. In Buddhism, "perfect mind" is the Buddha Nature, but in Gnosticism, it is the mind in perfect attunement with Sacred Nature — with Gaia, the Earth Goddess.

For I am the first and the last
The honored and the scorned,
The harlot and the holy one,
The wife and the virgin,
The mother and the daughter,
And I am the members of my own motherhood.

I am the incomprehensible silence and
the often-remembered thought,
I am the voice of many sounds and
the expression of many designs.
I am the utterance of my own name.

For I am the Sophia of the Greeks
And the Gnosis of the barbarians.

The one who has been hated everywhere,
and loved everywhere.

I am godless and I am she whose godhood is multiple.

I am the one whom you have considered and
whom you have scorned.
I am unlearned, and it is from me that you learn.

I am the gnosis of my seeking,
and the finding of those who seek after me.

Thunder, Perfect Mind induces an act of silent knowing.

The text requires no comment, but should one be needed, go to the feminist scholars' site Diotima for the translation with notes by Anne McGuire:
http://www.stoa.org/diotima/anthology/thunder.shtml

 

Here concludes Level One of the Reading Plan.
Return to texts 1 - 4.
Advance to Level Two, texts 9 - 11.
One-click ACCESS to all texts in the Reading Plan.

jll: Summer Solstice 2005

 

 


Material by John Lash and Lydia Dzumardjin: Copyright 2002 - 2014 by John Lash.