Sophia’s mistake: The Sophia of Jesus Christ and Eugnostos (NT Apocrypha 16)

The mythologies preserved in the Nag Hammadi documents can be both fascinating and bewildering to the modern reader. Many, such as The Sophia (Wisdom) of Jesus Christ (usually dated to the second century CE) quite clearly express their views concerning the origins of the divine realm. Often they build on the assumptions and concepts of contemporary Platonic philosophers who elaborated on the creation of the universe in Plato’s Timaeus (online article on “Middle Platonism“; online translation of Timaeus). One of The Sophia‘s main sources, Eugnostos the Blessed, is saturated in such Platonisms (and Sophia takes them on) in presenting its insights into the five main beings which emerged from the one perfect and indescribable Good, called “God of truth” or “Forefather” by the author. (Eugnostos and The Sophia available online here — check them out for yourself).

Both Eugnostos and The Sophia then go on to innumerate the other main emanations or beings that came to constitute the perfect, spiritual realm along with the Forefather. These beings include the “Self-Father” (the image of the Forefather as if viewed in a mirror), the “Immortal Androgynous Man” (who emerges in the beam of light as the Forefather views his/her image), the “Son of Man” (who is the first-begotten–the others were not begotten), and the “Saviour” (who is “revealed” as a “great androgynous light” by the Son of Man). Each of these figures are androgynous and have their corresponding “female” portion, usually called “Sophia” (Greek for Wisdom). So far, so confused, and I won’t try and sort these out for you now (in the document it is only the Saviour who can explain the whole thing in order to bring understanding).

What I especially want to point out is what The Sophia of Jesus Christ does with this source and an important “story” which the author uses to supplement this scenario. The Sophia places the whole letter of instruction into the form of a dialogue between “the Saviour” (identified with Christ) and his disciples (Eugnostos, on the other hand, shows no signs of being “Christian”, and very little, if any, indication of being “Jewish”). Absent in Eugnostos is any elaboration on how the material realm (rather than the spiritual realm discussed above) came to be, or on who it was that created the material realm in which we humans live and on how we got here.

Enter Sophia and her mistake, referred to in The Sophia document. “Saviour” (Christ) talking here:

“All who come into the world, like a drop from the Light, are sent by him to the world of Almighty, that they may be guarded by him. And the bond of his forgetfulness bound him by the will of Sophia, that the matter might be revealed through it to the whole world in poverty concerning his (Almighty’s) arrogance and blindness and the ignorance that he was named. But I (Saviour) came from the places above by the will of the great Light. . . I have cut off the work of the robbers (powers that created or control the material realm); I have wakened that drop that was sent from Sophia, that it might bear much fruit. . . And you (disciples being addressed) were sent by the Son, who was sent that you might receive Light and remove yourselves from the forgetfulness of the authorities. . . Tread upon their (the robbers or authorities who rule the material realm) malicious intent” (Sophia of Jesus Christ 106-108; trans. D. M. Parrott in The Nag Hammadi Library in English ; explanatory notes added by me).

Here we have what does recur (in variant forms) in some other Nag Hammadi documents (such as the Apocryphon of John) and which is referred to in some heresiologists (like Irenaeus). This is a reference to the story of Sophia’s mistake in desiring, by herself and without her consort, “to bring these (authorities including Almighty, or Yaldabaoth) to existence” (114; BG 118). She created, by this mistake, the “Almighty”, the god of the Hebrew Bible, and his “robber” buddies, in this author’s view. Here the god of the Hebrew Bible is cast as the ignorant creator of the material realm (demiurge), whose work necessitated the sending of a Saviour from another God, the perfect and ineffable Forefather, to awaken and bring back the drops of the perfect spiritual realm (trapped within bodies-prisons in this material realm) to the place they belong. The Saviour came to bring the knowledge of the situation so that “they (the drops) might be joined with that Spirit and Breath. . . and might from two become one,” one with the perfect spiritual realm of the Forefather. This scenario is precisely what salvation is all about, for this author (and some others who also thought of themselves as followers of Christ).

But don’t expect to understand such mythology easily, since the documents that present it presume some previous knowledge of this way of thinking. We (moderns) can at least begin to get a sense of how different this is from some other early Christian writings where salvation instead pivots on Jesus’ death and resurrection (as in Paul’s letters, for instance).

These discussions of Nag Hammadi material (traditionally “gnosticism”) are far longer than what you want a blog entry to be and they certainly do not do justice to the topic. But what can you do?

3 thoughts on “Sophia’s mistake: The Sophia of Jesus Christ and Eugnostos (NT Apocrypha 16)

  1. Phil Harland Post author

    3 Comments

    Angela said…

    Though I feel that my understanding of these documents will not occur anytime in the near future, I do find that the use of Eugnostos by the Sohia document demonstrates how authors and early Christian groups were influenced by their surrounding communities (regardless if the influence was Judeo-Christian or not). Furthermore, it seems possible that “Eugnostos communities” that were “pre-Christian” would have been more willing to accept this document because they were familiar with the Eugnostos teachings. The example of these texts really reminds us to study each text within its social and historical background to find all possible influences.

    9:20 AM
    Sacha M. said…

    I agree with Angela with regard to the ‘Christianizing’ of documents. However, what I find most striking about the ‘Fall of Sophia’ is its similarity with Marcion. Both Marcion and the author of ‘Sophia’ reject the God of the Hebrew Bible. Also notice that ‘the fall’ is again attributed to the feminine (rather than being Eve’s fault it is Sophia’s).

    11:46 AM
    Phil Harland
    Phil Harland said…

    Your comments here underline just how important it is to understand early Christian literature within the broader literary and cultural context of the Greco-Roman world.

    Also, on Marcion, one of the interesting things about him is that his good God (who sends Christ) previously had nothing to do with this here material realm. This contrasts somewhat with Sophia in the document discussed here, who is a consort among the beings that constitute the spiritual realm along with the perfect “Forefather”. For Marcion, the perfect, loving stranger God had no such (indirect) connection to this material world (which was indeed created by an “inferior” creator–identified with the God of the Hebrew Bible). So with both The Sophia of Jesus Christ and Marcion, there are two gods, with an inferior creator god (identified with the God of the Hebrew Bible / OT) and a perfect God who sends a saviour. But they differ on the (previous) relation of the perfect God to the material world and humans within that world. Phil

    2:08 PM

  2. Pastor Bob

    I would like to make two important comments about the Gnostics and the Sophia of Christ.

    1st as a field anthropologist I have traveled to the Mediterranean region and have lived with remote peoples still immersed in ancient cultures. Many of these people still practice Christianity as it was before the rise to power of the Roman Church. Often these ancient Christian values and beliefs are hidden within approved Roman Church dogma and ritual, but they are in fact a belief that would be labeled heretical. The people we in the 20th century did not see themselves as Gnostics in the sense that we portray them. They were believers in the lord and messiah. They were closer to the roots of our Christianity then we probably ever will be. They were the losers in a political struggle that was using the budding religion of Christianity as a weapon of mass destruction. What we have about these early days of the church is legend and history as written by the conqueror, the Roman Church, which by the way was and is a department of the Roman Empire. Had the “Christians” in power at the time practiced a little Christianity we would today have a much better understanding of the ideas and knowledge that these people had collected from the time of the Messiah and the eons from before his birth. I think we need to withhold our labeling of these early Christians as Gnostics as if they believed in a entirely different god.
    2nd I would like to comment on the concept that writings such as the Sophia of Christ are rejecting the God of the Bible as being the “Almighty”. We in English speaking cultures are at a significant disadvantage when we read the Bible, as we must depend on a translator who we do not personally know to interpret what he reads in Greek or Hebrew then accurately relay that thought to us, without bias. This has rarely been done in the past. For example when we read Genesis 1:1 we read in English “In the beginning God created…”, however the Hebrew word Elohim, which is translated as the word God is the plural form of the word and literally means “Gods”, as in a group of entities not a singular one. Don’t confuse this with a monarch saying “we” and speaking in the plural about himself. Because the other problem with English translations is the use of the English word God to represent the thought of Elohim. Actually a more accurate translation of Elohim in twentieth century English would be “eternals”. Thus Yahweh of the Bible becomes Yahweh of the Eternals or the almighty. With this concept in mind we see in our own holy scripture is the story of the eternals (created by Yahweh) making the heaven and the earth. This is the same message as relayed by the Sophia of Christ. One more instance of mistranslating into English that can really contribute to the many apparent paradoxes of the Bible, is found in 2Peter 1:18 “And2532 this5026 voice5456 which came5342 from1537 heaven…” Notice the number 5026 next to the word “this”. This a Strong’s number which allows a reader to look up the original Greek or Hebrew word and its meaning. In this case the word that is translated as “this” is taute’ which as a feminine pronoun and should be translated into English as “her”. Meaning the verse should read in English “And Her voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.”
    A entirely different light would be cast on many early Christian writings and other alternative scriptures, if more people in the English speaking Christian world took the time to not only read their English bible but to question the translation by looking up the underlying Greek and Hebrew words. I think that those who were truly secure in their faith would welcome a clearer vision of the scripture content that would unravel many of the most obvious challenges we face with the Bible.

  3. jerry vaughan

    when i read the sophia of christ it brought tears to my eyes for i understood why christ had come and for those that did not understand it let me refer you to and even older text its called the ribhu gita it predates the hebrew bible by thousands of years the ribhu gita or ribhus song was given to ribhu by the forefather himself in the form of siva i hope that this will help you with your journey and may your journey be a blessed one .

    jerry

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