Sophia’s repentance: The Apocryphon of John (NT Apocrypha 20)

In a previous post, I have discussed the (“gnostic”) mythology surrounding the figure of Sophia (Wisdom personified) as developed in some of the Nag Hammadi writings. My discussion of Sophia’s mistake in connection with the document called The Sophia of Jesus Christ placed this mythology within the framework of Middle Platonic philosophy and discussed the manner in which Sophia, as a divine being (aeon), was responsible for the mistake that led to the creation of the inferior material realm, our world as we know it.

The second-century Apocryphon of John (or Secret Book of John, online here) presents a far more developed story of the emergence of the perfect spiritual realm and the abortive creation of the material realm. Here Sophia is once again instrumental in performing a massive blunder that leads to the creation of our physical world, but the story is extended in various ways, including a more developed reference to the fact that Sophia was repentant for the mistake and willing to do penance, so to speak.

In the Apocryphon of John, Sophia is once again among the many emanations from the original monad or perfect spirit, the Father. Sophia is also once again responsible, on her own (apart from her “consort”), for the emergence or emanation of the “ruler” (archon) or “world-creator” (demiurge), here called Ialdabaoth:

“Now the wisdom [Sophia] belonging to afterthought, which is an aeon, thought a thought derived from herself. . . She wanted to show forth within herself an image, without the spirit’s [will]; and her consort did not consent. . . And out of her was shown forth an imperfect product, that was different from her manner of appearance, for she had made it without her consort. And compared to the image of its mother it was misshapen, having a different form” (Apocryphon of John 9.25-10.7; trans. by Layton, The Gnostic Scriptures: A New Translation with Annotations and Introductions [New York: Doubleday, 1987]).

Ialdabaoth (also spelled Ialtabaoth or Aldabaoth), who is largely identified with the creator god of Genesis, then goes on to create other “rulers” (archons) like himself who assist in creating the material realm, including human beings (Adam and Eve). He is an ignorant god (ignorant of where he had come from and from where his power came), according to this author, a god who just loves to assert how he’s the one-and-only (playing on passages from the Hebrew Bible), when in fact he is not : “It is I who am god, and no other god exists apart from me” (11.21-22), or “For my part, I am a jealous god. And there is no other god apart from me” (13:8-12). (This author, like some other “gnostic” authors, expresses some clear anti-Jewish tendencies, at least in the rejection of the Jewish scriptures’ creator God as an ignorant god.) So the physical world comes into being as a result of acts of ignorance and a divine element is trapped within the physical bodies of human beings, an element that properly belongs in the spiritual realm of the Father.

The repentance of a pacing Sophia comes into the picture once she sees what has happened as a result of her independent action:

“when she saw the imperfection that had come to exist and the theft that her offspring had committed, she repented. And in the darkness of unacquaintance, forgetfullness came over her. And she began to be ashamed, moving back and forth. . . And the entreaty of her repentance was heard, and all the fullness lifted up praise on her behalf unto the invisible virgin spirit, and it consented. And while the holy spirit was consenting, the holy spirit poured over her something of the fullness of all. For her consort did not come to her (in person); rather, it came to her through the fullness in order to rectify her lack. And she was conveyed not to her own eternal realm but to a place higher than her offspring, so as to dwell in the ninth (heaven) until she rectified her lack” (13.21-14.12).

Sophia’s mistake, however massive in the view of this author, did not preclude rectification and a continuing important role as part of the perfect spiritual realm.

2 thoughts on “Sophia’s repentance: The Apocryphon of John (NT Apocrypha 20)

  1. Phil Harland Post author

    glaserildiko said…

    Maybe I read too much into the Apocyphon (or not enough), but I never got the idea that Sophia made a mistake. It was her choice, she wanted to bring forth an image of herself without her consort, and by doing so, knowingly broke the rules. Therefore why wasn’t she punished (after all, she did set forth in motion the creation of the imperfect physical world and evil and etc.) or was shame enough?

    11:17 PM
    Phil Harland
    Phil Harland said…

    Thanks, Ildiko. When I spoke of this as a mistake, I was meaning a mistake from the perspective of the author of this document and (by extension) from the perspective of the monad from which all perfect spiritual beings emerged (as understood by the author). It was a mistake, from this perspective, since it introduced an inferior physical world which encased some aspects of the perfect spiritual realm. The narrative does seem to imply that Sophia needs to make up for (rectify) what she has done; you could interpret the passages in question as implying “punishment” of a sort but it is not spelled out in full. Phil

    9:50 AM
    Laura said…

    I’m reading parts of the Pistis Sophia right now for my research paper and the same thing happens in this text: Sophia is fallen but repentant and has faith in her salvation. For this reason, the title pistis sophia has been translated (by some) as ‘the faithful wisdom’.
    But it’s still a contested issue over what the title really means.
    All this to say that I can see where the confusion comes from in the apocryphon of john also. In both texts the ‘mistake’and/or punishment of sophia is not really spelled out.
    All we really know is that she feels bad wants to make it up.

    3:15 PM
    Angela said…

    It seems that in the texts we have read were another world is create as a “mistake”, it is always done so by a type of female deity. I am wondering if there are any texts that refer to a male deity doing such an act.

    8:33 AM

  2. Asher

    Her “mistake” wasn’t a mistake at all, when viewed by Neoplatonic and Pythagoric eyes.

    Sophia, being the emanation on the Monad, naturally becomes the Dyad. The Dyad, by nature, includes gender, polarization, and opposition. She is Wisdom, however with wisdom comes the potential for ignorance.
    With love come the possibility of hate, with light, darkness, with perfection, flaw, etc,etc,..etc.

Comments are closed.