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Texts 14 and 15

A Reading Plan for the Nag Hammadi Codices

LEVEL TWO

Ritual and Revelation

With The Hypostasis of the Archons, we explored the first, and briefest, of the six cosmological treatises in the NHC. Codex II is particularly dense with this kind of material.. It contains one of the three drafts the Apocryphon of John found at Nag Hammadi. This is an extremely complex cosmological text. The Hypostasis of the Archons in Codex II is another mythological text, On the Origin of the World, coming up next in the plan. It would seem there is a pattern in the organization of texts in Codex II, but then both the innocuous Gospel of Thomas and the Buddhistic discourse, The Book of Thomas the Contender, are also included. These are marginally Gnostic at best, and they contain no cosmological or mythological elements.

Let's recall that the Gospel of Philip is also found in Codex II. This is a dense, high-powered document disclosing more about Gnostic ritual than any other text. Regarding the mysteries of the nymphion ("bridal chamber"), one scholar wrote: "This most important sacrament in the Gospel of Philip achieves the unity of male and female in this life, thereby creating a transcendent pleroma here and now" (Jorunn Jacobsen Buckley, "The Holy Spirit is a Double Name," in Images of the Feminine in Gnosticism, ed. Karen King, pp. 211-227). Clearly, the Gospel of Philip shows that Gnostics practiced what they knew, especially when it came to their unique cosmology, the Sophianic vision. The concentraiton of ritual and revelatory material (i.e., the content of spiritual imagination, or cosmological vision) in Codex II is unique to the Coptic corpus.

 

9 1st Apocalypse of James V, 3 p 260 Apoc Jas
10 Apocryphon of James I, 2 p 104 Ap Jas
11 Book of Thomas the Contender II, 7 p 199 Thom Cont
12 Gospel of Philip II, 3 p 139 Gos Phil
13 Hypostasis of the Archons II, 4 p 161 Hyp Arch
14 On the Origin of the World II, 5 p 170 Orig World
15 Testimony of Truth
IX, 3 p 448 Test Truth
16 Tripartite Tractate I, 5 p 58 Tri Trac
17 Valentinian Exposition XI, 2 p 481 Val Exp


14, On the Origin of the World : page 170, 17 ½ pages. A long and well-preserved text on cosmology, the Archons, the Anthropos.

On the Origin of the World is a great challenge to read for its vivid account of the Sophia Mythos, including details not found in other cosmological material. In all there are six cosmological texts in the list: The Hypostasis of the Archons (13), The Origin of the World (14), The Tripartite Tractate (16, the longest document in the NHC), The Apocryphon of John (20, also long, with baffling passages), The Paraphrase of Shem (29) and Trimorphic Protennoia (31). The last two are classed in Stage Three of the Reading Plan. They are obscure to the point of total exasperation. But the essential outlines of the Sophia Mythos can be constructed from 13, 14, 16 and 20.

Cosmic Overflow

Orig World opens in a rather stilted professorial tone. A Gnostic teacher states his/her intention to correct certain ideas about cosmology held by those who "are not knowledgable about the origin of chaos, nor its root." Passages 98-100 emphasize the contrast between the primordial light (Organic Light) of the Pleroma, and the shadow-producing light exterior to the divine matrix. The Aeon Sophia figures immediately, so we have here the first glimpse so far in the Reading Plan of textual material specific to the Sophia mythos, the sacred narrative of the Mysteries:

    "After the natural structure of the immortal beings had completely developed out of the infinite, a likeness then emanated from Pistis (Faith), it is called Sophia (Wisdom)" 98.10-15.

Paraphrase: When the infinite living awareness of the galactic core (Pleroma) reached a certain point of maturity, at which it could no longer evolve its internal structure without overflowing, there emerged from it an emanation of the divine intelligence, called Sophia.

In this account, the plunge of Sophia is viewed as a natural, spontaneous surflux from the divine matrix. This interpretation of the conditions that produced her emanation is unique to Orig World. No doubt different Gnostic seers held different views on cosmology, or, better said, their visionary accounts differed by nuances. However, the telestai did not squabble over these differences. They had no rigid doctrinal canon to impose, no orthodoxy that defined itself against non-orthodoxy. Members of the Mystery cells did not repress and persecute other members whose descriptions of cosmic events differed from theirs. All the guardians of the sacred narrative relied on a loose consensus that arose from sober, sustained observation of nature and disciplined, coordinated sessions of instruction by the Light.

Pistis, "faith, confidence," an alternative name for Sophia, reflects the Gnostic view that in the human psyche, and in the divine matrix of the Pleroma, there is an indwelling certitude about supreme matters, a kind of cosmic confidence. We can know with confidence how the world originated because the root of our power to know was present in the primal emanation of our world.

But consciousness veils itself in order to manifest in a myriad ways. This insight from Hindu Tantra tallies closely with Gnostic teaching: "and so Sophia functioned as a veil dividing the realm of mankind from the Pleromic origin" (98.20). In Tantric cosmology, the self-veiling power is called Mayashakti. "Now the eternal realm of truth has no shadow outside it, and casts none," but the first emanation of the Aeon, as it proceeds beyond the Pleromic membrane, produced a shadow-effect as it pours into the dark sea of elementary matter, the "chaos below.".

Shadow World

Gnosis agrees with Asian metaphysics in postulating that matter is co-eternal with consciousness. The Pleromic core, "the eternal realm of truth," is Organic Light and pure consciousness, but this divine matrix floats in a whirlpool of quantum foam consisting of dense elementary matter arrays, the dema. Upon contact with the dema, the living, self-aware, shadowless radiance of Sophia produces a play of shadows. These shadow-forms are themselves alive and sentient, after a fashion:

Then the shadow-form perceived there was something more vast than itself, and reacted with something like envy, or jealousy... It turned out to be a thing with no internal coherence, like an aborted foetus, incompletely formed. (99.5-10)

Such is the odd language Gnostics used to describe physical actions and reactions at the quantum level. It may sound preposterous but today quarks are said to have charm, so is that any less bizarre? Like a prematurely born fetus, the dema impacted by Sophia´s current formed into a zone of activity and assumed a substantiality all its own. "It rushed to her in the chaos" - suggesting that the disturbance Sophia produced in atomic matter rose up and swarmed around her, threatening to engulf her, so that "she blew into its face" to repel it.


Yaldabaoth

Passage 100 describes how the first recognizable entity arises in the zone of elementary matter abnormally excited by Sophia´s impact. This entity is "lion-like in appearance, androygynous, having great authority with him and ignorant of whence he came to be" (100.5). His authority (Gk exousiai) derives from the powers inherent to blind matter (ousia) which have been expelled in reaction to Sophia´s impact. This passage presents a rare instance where the first archon is named: Yaldabaoth, "Child, pass through this space," thought to be based on an Aramaic pun. The "child" is Sophia´s anomalous offspring, and the space it occupies is to become the region occupied by a planetary system, distinct from the planet which Sophia herself will become when she morphs into the Earth. Thus we learn that the archons acquire a space or cosmic habitat prior to the formation of the Earth. They are called archons (from archai, "primary, from the beginning") because they emerge first, before the planet Earth is formed.

The "Lord Archon" is so obtuse that he cannot even name himself:

He is ignorant of the force of Pistis (original certitude of knowing). He did not see the figure of Sophia, rather, he saw in the waters of chaos a reflection that spoke to him, and because of that voice he called himself Yaldabaoth. (100.20-25)

100 to 103 describes the formation of the Archontic realm, including an arresting statement: "From matter he made for himself an abode, called heaven, and from matter the archon made a footstool, called earth" (101.5-10). Here, so it seems, is a straightforward assertion that the Earth was made by the master archon or demiurge. The Church Fathers who condemned the Gnostics as heretics declared that Gnostics taught that the material world was created by a demonic entity rather than the true Creator. They ascribed to Gnostics the spirit of "anti-cosmic dualism," meaning that Gnostics condemned the physical world as the evil production of a demonic being, due to their perverse insistence on two creators, one evil or archontic and one good or divine. This passage would seem to lend irrefutable support to the Fathers' condemnation of Gnostic heresy —a condemnation uncritically repeated by every scholar of Gnosticism.

Unfortunately, all is not so clear-cut in Gnostic cosmology. True enough, Orig World does say that Yaldabaoth (operating with the collective body of archons, we may presume) created the earth, but it also says that "his heaven and his earth were destroyed" (102.25)! To interpret Gnostic cosmology as the Church Fathers did, we must read the texts carelessly and inconsistently, and misconstrue, if not deliberately misrepresent, much of what we find in them. Some points simply cannot be made clear on the basis of the surviving materials, but only by careful inference, and some points cannot be made clear at all. Nevertheless, clear and consistent outlines for the Sophia mythos can be derived from the surviving texts. The story is complex, to be sure. It helps to read and reread the plot in synopsis - hence I have provided on site a summary and a synopsis in nine Episodes (extracted from my book to be published in 2006 by Chelsea Green).

Yaldabaoth produces his "sons" by a type of mantric incantation, using the power of sound. In the realm of chaos there appear seven entities, or types of entities, with male and female aspects and names. "The feminine name is Pronoia (forethought) Sambathas, which is 'week' "(100.25). What this may mean is anyone´s guess. Pronoia is the foundation awareness of the cosmos, equivalent to the Tibetan rigpa: the awareness that precedes and produces thinking, without every becoming thought. Sambathas is a Mystery name that recalls Samathabadra in Buddhism. The system of seven forces or Hebdomad is the mark of the Archons. The names and attributes given are largely unintelligible. The important thing to get here is that Yaldabaoth constructs this system "consistent with the pattern that existed before them, according to the wish of Sophia" (102.5). This line states a recurrent theme: the Archons can only imitate, they cannot create.

So the "prime parent" (archigenetor) constructs a kind of virtual heaven that imitates the living patterns of the Aeons in the Pleroma, but the construction is not alive, it is inorganic, celestial mechanics. This realm is populated by his "army of angels." Then, for some inexplicable reason, the system collapses and the Lord Archon and his legion subside again into chaos. It appears that some rudiments of the original Archontic realm remain, but they are reconstituted through an aspect of Sophia (called Astaphios, 101.30) that belongs to the Hebdomad. "Since that moment, heaven, along with the earth, has incorporated itself through Sophia the daughter of Yaldabaoth, she who is below them all" (103). How some lesser aspect of the Pleromic power of Sophia can be incorporated into the planetary system is not entirely clear, but this is the inference of the text.

The Conversion of the Sun

In 102.5 we encounter an incident that is repeated several times in the cosmological texts and elsewhere in the NHC: the Lord Archon declares in blind arrogance that he is the only god in the universe. This event in the Sophia mythos reflects the Gnostics' firm rejection of Judeo-Christian monotheism. Although no text says flatly that Yaldabaoth is Jehovah, you'd have to be pretty dense to miss the connection. Needless to say, early Christian converts and party ideologues were infuriated at the Gnostic blasphemy of declaring the Father God to be a demented alien. But the act of blasphemy goes even further by having Sophia herself shame the self-declared "Supreme Being":

When Pistis saw the impiety of the chief archon she was filled with anger. She was invisible. She said, "You are mistaken, Samael," that is, "blind god." "There is an immortal child of light that came into existence before you and who will appear among your modeled forms, who will trample you to scorn just as potter's clay is pounded. And you will descend to your mother, the abyss, along with those that belong to you. For at the consummation of your works the entire defect that has become visible out of the truth will be abolished. (102.15-25)

To shame the archons, Sophia's invokes the numinous image of divine humanity, the Anthropos, which has already been projected into the outer cosmos by the Aeons but remains held in solution as it were, not yet manifested in modeled, sense-perceptible forms (plasmata). The Coptic OUROME NATHANATOS RRMOUOEIN looks like one of those tabloid word-puzzles giving letters that need to be rearranged to spell a phrase. It literally means "a humanity deathless and radiant." This is how the seers in the Mysteries described what they saw in altered states—imagined, if you prefer—when they gazed into the night sky at the Orion Nebula, M 42. The human-like figure we see, striding across the sky with arms raised, its massive torso identified by the distinctive three-star belt, is a kind of schematic, dot-to-dot version of what the initiates saw by gazing into the depths of the nebular blotch on the right thigh of the figure.

(Actually, if you analyze the stars in the naked-eye constellation of Orion, you find fractal variations of the three-star alignment within the overall composite. It is as if the visible star-pattern was a fractal mirroring of something hidden, the numinous template deposited in the nebula. With a detailed star atlas you can plot the fractal, self-similar patterns, which are readily observable to the naked eye.)

In the same dramatic episode, one of the archontic entities responds to Sophia´s act of shaming the chief archon. Sabaoth, "the Deity," is one of the seven offspring of Yaldabaoth listed in 101.30. In response, this cosmic entity receives a jolt of light from Sophia so that it "was illumined, receiving power against all the forces of chaos" (104.5). Who, then, or what, then, is Sabaoth? This appear to be the name given in some Mystery instruction to the Sun, the mother star of our planetary system. It seems that the Sun initially belongs to the Hebdomad, the system of seven archontic powers, but it somehow recedes and aligns with Sophia, thus producing a great disturbance among the seven powers ("a great war in the seven heavens"). This is called the conversion of Saboath.

Gaia Theory

More momentous developments occur in the wake of this decisive event. Sophia endows Saboath the Sun with sevenfold powers of its own, so that it can stand against the Hebdomad. Most significantly, Sophia confers upon the Sun the power of Zoe, life, animation, organic existence. Having first emerged with the Hebdomad, the Sun was a cosmic body of inorganic composition, unable to support life, but with the infusion of divine live-force, Zoe, it becomes aligned to Sophia´s own life-giving powers. The unique coupling of Sun and Earth, which has allowed the Earth to maintain an even range of temperature that supports life even though the Sun's thermal intensity has increased by 30% since the Earth was formed, is a noted feature of Gaia theory.

In the Gnostic myth Sabaoth was converted to an ally of Sophia, who becomes the physical Earth. In the physics of the solar system, the energy streaming from the Sun is converted by the atmosphere of the Earth.

Eros and Blood

Passages 105 through 109 repeat the cosmology so far, as if the teacher, for some reason, decided to go through the material of the lecture again from the start. The shaming of the Archons and the conversion of Sabaoth are restated, with some details added. For instance, "When the prime parent saw that the light was beautiful as it radiated, he was amazed... And in that light appeared a human likeness" (108.5-10). So the chief archon is given a glimpse of the Anthropos, the primal human form. Another new detail is the entity called "the emissary" and "Adam of Light," ADAM OUOEIN, or "Holy Adamas," and "the luminous man of blood." These are designations of the Anthropos, or, better said, aspects of the Anthropos by which it is bonded to the Earth. The arresting phrase, "the Holy Land of Adamantine," contains the Coptic KAZ derived from the Greek ge, "earth," the same word used in the account of Yaldaboath creating the Earth for "a footstool. PE KAZ NADAMANTINE: the adamantine earth. This strange language recalls the use of "adamantine" in Tibetan Buddhism - for instance, Varjavarahi is called "Adamantine Sow." I believe that in Mystery jargon the term adamantine referred to the visible, snow-white, shadowless Organic Light. Orig World is unique in its description of two creations of the Earth, the archontic construct that is destroyed, and the later, enduring, living Earth that congeals from the Organic Light of the Aeon Sophia. The co-presence of a planetary body, formed of visible sensory elements, with a body of Organic Light that can only be seen in heightened awareness, was one of the deepest secrets of initiation.

I have commented on the long passage on Eros elsewhere in this site: See "Earthbound Eros" in Coco de Mer, II. To elaborate further on this passage would exceed the limits of the Reading Plan, if not human imagination itself. I will just point out that the arboreal motifs evident here belong to the oldest strata of human memory on Earth, pointing back to a time when the only inhabitants of the planet were women who lived in trees and who were trees, dryads, tree-nymphs. The mystic lore of "the female creature that had turned into a tree" (118.10) points back to the initial emergence of human life in the biosphere, probably during the late Ordovician epoch, 438 million years ago. The first humans were all females, because the Anthropos template had been sheared by Sophia´s spin into terrestrial form, and the male component of the template was left behind, suspended like a moist, torn cobweb in the Orion Nebula. Various esoteric systems and indigenous lore refer to this event in terms of "the separation of the sexes." The men who evolved from the sheared-off component arrived later, dropping in like spores parachuting from the open sky.

The "chthonic romance" of the Orion men and the Gaian tree nymphs is the first chapter in the prehistory of our species — a story found in another mythopoetic opus by yours truly: Translations from the Andromedan. Commentaries on the translations provide the third segment of the four-part Gaia Mythos, titled "The Gender Rift." Orig World hints at the plot: "Woman-folk followed Earth, pulled into Gaia´s body and woven into plants. And mating followed woman-folk, when the men arrived. Procreation followed mating, at first only for pleasure, not offspring. Degradation of the species followed the act of procreation" (109.20).

For more on this aspect of the Gaia Mythos see the Overview.

Orig World uniquely contains yet another direct allusion to the Organic Light: "The Tree of Gnosis in its glory is like the moon when fully radiant" (109.20) This long passage on Eros, Psyche, and the quandaries of mystic conjugation among the virgin daughters of Gaia ends with a dramatic curtain-fall: "And immediately darkness covered all the universe."

Eve, the Instructor

At Passage 112 The Origin of the World makes another huge thematic shift. The curtain rises on a cosmic setting where the lower Sophia fashions great luminous bodies and stars to serve as temporal signs and seasons. "In this way the entire region of the sky was adorned" (112.5). The "eighth heaven" (or simply the Eighth) is Mystery jargon for the realm of the Zodiac. The teaching here is deeply arcane. It says that Adam of Light could not reach the Zodiac so he produced a version of it within himself—that is, he internalized the Zodiac. This accords with enduring and universal notions that the human form is modeled after the celestial patterns seen in the constellations. Amazingly, the archons see Adam and his celestial archetypes and laugh at their leader for his arrogant boasting. Even the archons can see that Yaldabaoth could not create such a wonder!

This incident introduces a new motif: the attempt of the archons to create a human or humanoid form. To do so, they contrive to produce a hybrid, "according to the image of our own bodies and also according to the likeness of this being, Adam" (113). Let´s be clear at this point that Adam is not the Anthropos whole and entire, but only the male component of the template that was sheared from the female component by the cosmic rush of Sophia´s "fetal attraction," her mega-morph into the planet Earth. So the archons attempt to create an artificial man. The creation of a female form is far beyond their powers, not to mention their wildest dreams.

The teacher now says that the artificial man, the archontic male form, will become "an enclosure of the light" (113.10). This statement has been widely misread to mean that the human spirit, upon entering physical form, becomes entrapped in matter. Yet again, here is another distorted view of ancient wisdom, attributing to Gnostics the belief that human embodiment causes the entrapment of divine sparks which must be freed by releasing them from this evil world, etc., etc. This is utterly perverse and not that was taught in the Mysteries. Far from it. The real problem is more complex and does not involve a simple-minded dichotomy of spirit versus matter. Because the archons try to meddle in life on Earth, complications arise in how we, the human species, see ourselves in physical terms. We have such problems with our self-image that we can be duped into taking an artificial version of ourselves for our true, authentic nature. This, and not entrapment of our "spiritual spark" in matter, is the dilemma that faces humanity due to archontic intrusion.

There is irony aplenty in the Gnostic view of this cosmic conundrum. And a generous dose of arcane humor, you might say. Orig World explains how Sophia Zoe was on to the archons' game, knowing they were given "the gnosis necessary to create man," unable to do it out of their own capacities, and then allowed to play out their subterfuge. "They did not realize what they were about to do." Are the Aeonic powers bemused by this situation? Indeed, it seems that they are, but the entertainment does not make them forget their essential work. Zoe makes her own man. The form she produces comes from life, an expression of the eternal life-force; it is not the simulated artifact of inorganic processes. It is composed of living carbon, or watery carbon (carbohydrate), not dry-as-dust silicon.

Adam and the Beast

Once the true, authentic, living form of humanity emerges from the continuum of Zoe, cosmic vitality, it has to be endowed the intelligence suited to it—that is, the faculties we need to face the odd situation posed by the artificial intelligence of the archons:

Now the introduction of the Instructor came about as follows: When Sophia released a droplet of Organic Light, it flowed into the watery sheath of the Earth, and immediately the human form appeared, with both the genders intact. (113.20)


Our bodies are water-cells, and the particular form they first assumed, the larval form of our species, was androgynous, blending both genders. "But that droplet Sophia molded first in female form" (113.25) because even though the body-mold (plasma) was androgynous, the male genetic component was missing. Eve, the first woman, is both androgynous and female. This is exactly how the female organism can be viewed in biological terms, of course. Today we know that woman's body does not merely reproduce the species, it is the generic mold for the species. Males emerge from a female ground plan, by the mere addition of the Y chromosome. Eve is androgynous in her reproductive mode and female in her biological structure. Anatomically, women have the inverted rudiments of the male organs: penis (clitoris) and testicles (ovaries).

It is a relief to realize that this arcane material makes some sense, and can be related to current knowledge of biology and anatomy, but hold on, there is hard rowing ahead. The identification of the Instructor with "the Beast" (therion) launches a dense passage full of enigmatic language, some of it expressed in aretologies, "I am" statements that recall another NHC text, Thunder, Perfect Mind (8 in the Reading Plan). One thing is clear: the primal race of women who inhabited the Earth before men arrived on the scene, and even for considerable time after the men arrived, reproduced asexually, "without a husband," and "served as her own midwife." (Some ecofeminists, such as the outrageous and irrepressible Mary Daly, want to get back to those good old days and do away with the male entirely. But the Gaian dryads were not man-hating lesbians, as far as I know.)

Next the treatise goes into the bizarre way that Adam, the male organism, came to be formed. This complex process occurred by states, by a kind of serial assembly of organs and members. The Apocryphon of John, another major cosmological text, describes the organs and members, and names each entity who fashions them. It presents a bizarre list like a manufacturer's inventory of parts, each with a signed inspection slip. Orig World dispenses with the inventory but clearly describes the same process. Imagine this: into the primal body-receptacle or plasmic mold of the male form, Adam, organs are inserted, or they grow in there by some kind of long-term accretion, as if they are foreign bodies that are deposited in the mold and take up habitation there, like symbionts.

SET Theory

In metaphorical terms, the language in the Orig World and Apoc John comes close to Lynn Margulis' concept of serial endosymbiosis, SET theory. According to this theory, complex, nucleated, multi-cellular organisms, including large animals like humans, evolve from less complex organisms which, by infesting and living in the cytoplasm of certain organisms, cause those primary organisms to mutate into complex animals with well-defined members and internal organs. The internal parasites who evolved us are endosymbionts, "living within." The building up of the human organism "took place by parts, one at a time," as symbionts invaded the plasmic mold, the primal human cell or "animate vessel," as Orig World calls it (115.5)

To imagine this process, picture the human form (head, arms, torso and limbs) as a clear plasmic sac, a gel-sac, but without high definition, i.e., its external features are not completely defined, its extremities are vague, it has no internal skeletal structure, no fingernails, etc. Then picture how alive, squiggling specks of symbionts penetrate the bounding membrane of the sac and take up residence within it. As the symbionts grow inside the animate vessel, organs appear (liver, adrenals, heart), and the organism takes on more detailed definition (eyes, ears, bone structure, fingers and toes, even fingernails, all described in the inventory of Apoc John). The teacher of Orig World specifies that "Adam had taken form like an abortion, in that no spirit was in him" (115.5). This means that the larval body did not originally evolve by an internal principle of organization but through assimilation from without. It was not autopoetic, and could not move by its own power or motivate itself: "Adam could not stand up" (115.10). But "Zoe Sophia sent her breath into Adam" and he came alive autonomously, endowed with an internal spirit.

Consider this: not only does Gnostic myth describe the Goddess Sophia, rather than the Father God, fashioning and breathing life into the human form, but it places this act in a cosmic setting where emergent humanity is at risk from alien entities who try to duplicate the feat of the Aeon. From the first moment of human existence, the human species has been confronted with the risk of mistaking its true organic nature and losing its way in the evolutionary scheme of the Earth. Due to the intrusion of the archons, we are at risk of taking a replica or simulation for what is real, mistaking the genuine Anthropos for a fraudulent copy. Nowhere in Judeo-Christian mythology do we find anything like this scenario, either in content or in sophistication.

Two Generations

Not all of Orig World is intelligible, especially following Passage 115. Nor can this text be, or should it be, transposed line by line into Margulis-style biological description. It is, however, extremely important to clarify that the "animate vessel" of Adam is distinct from the primal form of Eve. The archons attempt to replicate man, the male, not the human genome per se. The male of the species was formed by the long-term symbiontic accretion of organs, but the female was not, and it preceded the male, anyway. The female of the human species was coeval with plant life on Earth, in the late Ordovician. The rudimentary male organism may have emerged in the late Silurian epoch with the first vascular plants, about 408 million years ago.

Imagine this: There were two distinct paths of generation or anatomical formation of the human species. Such is the ancient Mystery teaching—not to be believed or disbelieved, but investigated.

Let's recall that "birth followed mating, and dissolution followed birth" (109.20). According to Mystery teachings preserved at Eleusis and elsewhere (especially the Egyptian temples of the Upper Nile), sexual, two-parent procreation was imposed on the female by the male. At Eleusis this remote event in human evolution was remembered (encoded, if you will) in the myth of the rape of Persephone. This happened because the male organism, loaded with symbiontic organs, mated with the female organism for pleasure, but eventually merged (superimposed) with it in the process—just as man and woman still merge in the sweet flow of sexual surrender. Doing so, the male superimposed its entire set of symbiontic traits into the "animate vessel" of woman. Previous to mating with men, women did not need to reproduce in that way, i.e., by cellular replication such as produces the set of human chromosomes from combined strands of DNA. Men do not merely reproduce with women, they forcefully imposed the biological process of reproduction on the parthenogenic female organism. This is why Gnostics rejected the act of procreation as a form of violence, although they embraced and celebrated—indeed, sacralized—sexual congress without offspring.

On the Origin of the World continues from 116 to the end—seven pages of dense arcane exposition! It would take an entire book to do it justice. The intrepid reader who forges on to the end will discover the Gnostic account of the temptation in Eden (118-120), in which the Instructor (Eve-Serpent-Kundalini) is a benefactor to our first parents, rather than an enemy; the curse of the Archons and the superiority of Adam to them (120-1): the inception of heimarmene (astral fate) (121); the phoenix and bull, symbolic of cosmic timing (122); the role of the archons "who instructed mankind in many kinds of error," placing a distinctly negative accent on alien intrusion (123); and a long summary statement with an apocalyptic message, rare in Gnostic writings (124-7). At the end Orig World returns to the stiff, didactic tone of the opening lines.

Access to all texts.

15, The Testimony of Truth: Page 448. 9 pages. An untitled tractate patched together from a complaint against ecclesiastical Christians and a retelling of Genesis. Contains a rare protest against certain practices of other Gnostic sects. Fragmentary condition.

With this text we shift from the lofty splendors of Gnostic mythmaking to the immediate concerns of a Gnostic cell or community facing persecution. Although poorly preserved, this text gives a good impression of what it was like to belong to a religious community under threat, not only by the aggression of Christian converts, but by the errors these converts were promoting. There is a sense of tension and disorder about this tractate, the impression that things are going wrong in the world. At moment it attains a tone of whining.

Test Truth makes radical assertions of some Gnostic principles and practices. For instance, it refutes the resurrection (34.27 - 35.5), and condemns the baptism and propagation (child-bearing). It accuses converts to Christianity of "double-mindedness" (37.8), an awkward translation of MNTHET. This word is a compound using HET, "heart," so the literal meaning is "two-hearted." A more pointed rendering, perhaps. The text takes some direct swipes at scribes and pharisees (29.1), but mainly it criticizes different views held by different Gnostic groups. Scholars have identified the groups as Valentinians, Basilideans, Simonians, and Archontics. The views held by the author reflect an "encratic ethic" that denies pleasure and devaluates the body. These are, of course, the marks of anti-cosmic duality or world-denial typically (and wrongly) attributed to the Gnostic movement in general.

The author is thought to be an Alexandrian named Julius Cassianus, or perhaps Hierakas of Leontopolis, a contemporary of the Coptic Christian Pachomius, whose monastery was located close to the Nag Hammadi find. Is it extremely rare that scholars have even the slightest idea who might have written a text in the NHC. My bet is on Hierakas, a man caught between the lines. As a Gnostic assimilated to Christianity, he would have had ambivalent views toward both sides of the argument. Whatever the case, the author of Test Truth a cranky dude, caught up in a tense and precarious situation.

There is little Gnostic instruction to salvage in this text. It opens with a direct attribution of Jewish religion, "the old leaven of the Pharisees," to the influence of the erring powers: "The Pharisees and scribes are those who belong to the Archons, who have authority over them" (29.18 - 21). It condemns Jewish Law (logos), the Torah, saying that those who follow it "are assisting the world (kosmos)." Throughout the NHC, kosmos denotes the system of the human world, not the cosmic order. It is a condemnatory term. Hence, Gnostic writers routinely used terms like logos and cosmos — terms connected with the highest reaches of Platonism, Hellenistic philosophy, and, later, Christian theology — in a discounting manner.

The passage of John and the Jordan is puzzling. It contains the recurrent trope, "and the Jordan turned back," which has been interpreted as a reference to the practice of Kundalini yoga, turning back or inverting the current of the life force, and denying sexual intercourse; but this is dubious. "John is the Archon of the womb" (31.5) is cryptic. "To receive the word of truth perfectly (-teleios)" means "by initiation," by the telestic method. 31.22 -32.8 flatly states that those who confess Christian beliefs are in error and have fallen under the spell of the "principalities and authorities," arche and exousia. In psychological idiom, error and compulsion.

32.22 recounts the descent of Christ into Hell, a motif that occurs just a few times in the Gnostic corpus."He raised the dead," "And he walked upon the waters of the sea" seem to follow the Gospel narratives literally. The text does not say that Christ does these things. The code CHS is not used here, though later in the text it occurs six times. The more frequently used term is PESHIRE MMN TEROME, "the son of man," or "child of humanity," if you prefer. 34.6-8 again attributes erroneous belief (martyrdom) to "the wandering stars," i.e., the planets, identified with the realm of the Archons. Page after page, the document is badly damaged. In the NHLE Test Truth covers a little over 9 pages. The bilingual edition with Coptic text on the left, runs to 80 pages, nine times longer. Many of the pages contain only a few legible words. They require numerous insertions and restorations. Even the scholars who make them admit how tenuous these are.

In short, there is hardly a burst in the entire text. But at 36.29 we are hit by this: "Do not expect carnal resurrection.. which is destruction." 40.28 alludes to the division of the sexes, a key mythological theme we encountered in text 14, The Origin of the World. 41.26 on goes into a series of rhetorical questions, followed by a long passage in which an unidentified "he," "having been filled with wisdom (sophia)," performs magical or initiatory deeds. As so often happens with the Coptic language, we do not know who "he" or "you" or "they" are. This passage seems to be recommending the behavior of a self-realized Gnostic.

45.6 returns to John the Baptist, describing his birth compared to that of "Christ." The names John and Elizabeth are fully spelled, but Christ is indicated by the code CHS. The author credits virgin birth, which is generally denied in Gnostic teachings. There is then a segue into the Genesis scenario, with events recounted more or less as they are in the Bible. But at 47.15 the author asks, "But what sort is this God?," and launches into a critique of the Jewish myth. God did not have foreknowledge, he is malicious and envious, etc. He is blind and jealous. To prevail, the Archontic deity must stupefy his subjects:

And he said: 'I will make their hearts thick, and I will cause their intelligence to become blinded, so that they might not know or comprehend the things that are said. And this is how he talks to those who believe him and serve him! (48.8 - 15)

Here, finally, is an outstanding burst. The God of the Jews and Christians does not bring enlightenment. In fact, he does everything to impede it. What manner of god is this? And what kind of believers will go along with such a tyrant, knowing that they are being blinded and deceived by it?

In The Murder of Christ, Wilhelm Reich asked what he thought to be the most baffling question facing humanity: We are imprisoned in a cage, and the door is open, so why don't we just walk out?

There follows a tirade against the serpent and the magic of serpent power — apparently a swipe at the Ophites, snake-worshippers (adepts of Kundalini). The passage is too damaged to make sense. 68.7 says that "Mammon is the father of sexual intercourse (synousia)." This expression condemns procreation. Gnostic teachers are named and reproved: Isidore, Basilides, Simon. There is more on the defilements of baptism, all pretty incoherent. And so on, to the end of the tractate.

In closing, the author warns, "Even if an angel comes from heaven and preaches to you something surpassing what we have preached before you, may he be anathema!" (73.18). Here is a rare instance of a heretic pronouncing anathema! This line may allude to the figure of the AntiChrist. Scholars are uncertain about the origin of this figure, or when it emerged. However, I have long had a hunch that some ingenious Gnostics may have introduced the idea of the AntiChrist as a sabotage device, cleverly planted in the Christian mindset when the doctrines of the faith were being formulated. In effect, the AntiChrist works as a doubt-engendering motif: Christians who take things on belief can never be sure of their convictions because some beliefs, stated in the name of Christ and even in the manner of Christ, may be deceptive, originating from a subversive source, not the Christ of their faith! It is a twisty proposition, granted, but this is precisely how the notion of the AntiChrist works: to sabotage or put in doubt faith in Christ.

The Testimony of Truth ends with an almost poignant note. The ruined state of the text gives the impression that we are hearing the breathless, incoherent testimony of someone under enormous stress:



He baptized himself, and the… he became divine; he flew up (and) they did not grasp him… there the enemies… since it was not possible…. down again… If every… grasps him [with] ignorance, attending to those who teach on the corners and artful tricks, they will not be able to

 

Remaining in Stage Two of the Reading Plan: 16, The Tripartite Tractate, and 17, A Valentinian Exposition. To be posted as file ReadingPlan2D.php. In progress.

jll: Dec 8 2005 Andalucia

 

 

 


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