John D. Turner is both Professor of
Religious Studies and Professor of Classics and History at the University
of Nebraska-Lincoln, having taught at that institution since 1976. Professor
Turner has devoted much of his academic career to Nag Hammadi studies both
in terms of writing and service.
He has served on the Society of Biblical Literature Nag Hammadi Seminar as well as on the Steering Committee of the Nag Hammadi Section of that society. From 1971-72 he was an associate of the Technical Subcommittee for the International Committee for the Nag Hammadi Codices of UNESCO and the Arab Republic of Egypt. Written contributions to Nag Hammadi studies have included numerous articles on the relationship of Gnosticism to Platonic philosophy and the editio princeps of the Book of Thomas the Contender, The Interpretation of Knowledge, A Valentinian Exposition, Allogenes, and Hypsiphrone.
1. Early Sethian Eschatology. The Sethian versions of this activity structure it into four distinct epochs of saving history marked by the flood, the conflagration and the judgment of the powers as in the Apocalypse of Adam and Gospel of the Egyptians. Or the epochs are marked by three distinct manifestations of a being more exalted than Sophia who descends first in a male mode, then in a female mode as Epinoia, and finally as the Logos (as in the Apocryphon of John, Trimorphic Protennoia and Gospel of the Egyptians). What makes the Sethian versions' adoption of this history of deliverance distinctive is their stress on Seth and their self-identification with Seth's seed, "the unshakable race," who since the flood and conflagration live simultaneously on earth and in the aeons of the four Lights until the judgment of the Archons by a dramatic eschatological manifestation of Seth as the Logos. Between the conflagration and the final judgment of the Archons, the Sethians keep in contact with their heavenly counterparts by means of: (a) revelations Seth left behind inscribed on steles of brick and clay, or on wooden tablets, or in certain books, all preserved on a special mountain, as well as by means of (b) a ritual of celestial ascent conceived in baptismal imagery, which Seth conferred upon his seed for their enlightenment.
2. Sethian Tripartitions. In accord with their tripartition of the history of salvation and of the modes in which the redeemer appears throughout this history, the Sethians structured their transcendent world into Father-Mother-Son triads as a more distinctive way of conceiving the saving work of the transcendent (aspect of) Sophia than was the (more biblical) triad of Man (the high deity), Son of Man (the androgynous heavenly Adam), and a Son of the Son of Man (Seth; cf. the terminology of the non-Sethian Eugnostos and Sophia of Jesus Christ). The androgynous image of God could be conceived either as the heavenly Adam (Adamas, Geradamas) or, stressing its female aspect, Is the Thought (Ennoia) of the high deity who could be conceived as the Mother of the Son of Man. Thus her voice reveals to the Archon the existence of her higher consort, Man or the Father, and of her offspring, the Son of Man. Of course, conceiving the second member of the triad as female, a transcendent Sophia-figure distinguished from the Sophia who worked below, meant a transformation of the second member into a Mother (still androgynous) figure distinguished from Adamas the Son of Man (who now takes third place). This duplication is reflected in the alternate but equivalent designations of the Mother as, for instance, male virgin, womb, Father of the All, first Man, and thrice-male. Note, for example, how the second part of the Apocryphon of John in NHC II prefers the designation Mother-Father (II,1:5,7; 19,17; 20,9; 27,33) instead of the designation "merciful Father" or, "merciful Mother" Is in BC8502,2 (but cf. 77,11 which has "Mother-Father"). While this might account for the identification of the Father and Mother portion of the triad, the identification of the Son is a more complex problem. Given the tripartite Sethian history of salvation, the Son would be involved in the third and finally decisive salvific manifestation of the divine into the world. He could be the third manifestation of the Illuminator (Apocalypse of Adam) or the Logos which puts on Jesus, which in Gospel of the Egyptians is identified with Seth or in Trimorphic Protennoia with Christ. Or he could be viewed as the Christ who has appeared to John the son of Zebedee after the resurrection (Apocryphon of John). Or he could be simply conceived as the third and finally effective saving manifestation of the divine as in the Pronoia-hymn at the end of the Apocryphon of John II,l (not even distinguished as Son).
This divine triad could be conceived in two fundamental ways: as a vertically schematized ontological hierarchy that gives rise to and structures the transcendent world, or else as a horizontally schematized succession of three divine manifestations. In the latter case, the three manifestations might be conceived as three manifestations of a single being in three modes such as the Father-Voice, Mother-Speech, Son-Logos (Trimorphic Protennoia), or as three separate beings in some sense identical with but mythologically distinguished from a higher being, such as the Autogenes, the Epinoia of Light, and Christ, all sent by the (Mother-)Father in the Apocryphon of John. The vertical scheme is illustrated in the Invisible Spirit, Barbelo, and the Autogenes in Allogenes, Zostrianos, Three Steles of Seth and Marsanes. In the Christianized Sethian theogonies, the third level is called either Christ (Iren. Haer. 1.29, Apocryphon of John and the first part of Trimorphic Protennoia) or the Thrice-Male Child of the Great Christ (Gospel of the Egyptians).3. Hymnic Accounts of the Savior's Descent. A careful reading of the Apocryphon of John (longer version) reveals that Trimorphic Protennoia is, in part, an expansion of the concluding Pronoia hymn (Ap. John II,1:30,12-31,25). The hymn contains a brief aretalogical self-predication of the divine Pronoia speaking in the first person singular (31,12-16) followed by the narration of her three descents into Chaos or Hades taking on the form of the seed to save them (30,16-21; 30,21-31; 30,31-31,25). In the third stanza there is a sudden shift from a third person plural to a third person singular designation for her seed, introduced by a gloss in 31,4 identifying the prison of Hades as the prison of the body. This seems to introduce material originally foreign to the hymn (reflected once earlier in Ap. John II, 1:23,30-31) employing the topos of awakening sleepers (cf. Eph 5:14) ensnared in the bonds of oblivion by reminding them of their predicament (31,4-10 and 31,14-22). It seems likely that the third stanza of the original hymn must have concluded:
4. A Descent Hymn Elaborated: Trimorphic Protennoia. The
Pronoia hymn, or something much like it, then underwent expansion in its
first stage as an aretalogy of Protennoia as Father-Voice, Mother-Speech,
and Son-Word now found in Trimorphic Protennoia. Furthermore, another
stage of composition was devoted to spelling out the ,'mysteries" communicated
by the revealer as well as the nature of the (Five) "Seals" brought by
him or her. A final stage saw to its Christianization.
Assuming that Trimorphic Protennoia finds its basis in the hymnic ending of the longer version of the Apocryphon of John, a closer analysis shows the following approximate compositional history for Trimorphic Protennoia. The underlying basis of the tractate can be seen in the consistent egô eimi "I am" self -predications of Protennoia which are structured into an introductory aretalogy (XIII,1:35,1-32) identifying Protennoia as the divine Thought (35,1-32) followed by three egô eimi aretalogies of about forty lines each in the same style. The second and third of these aretalogies form separate subtractates in Trimorphic Protennoia (Protennoia is the Voice of the Thought who descends first as light into darkness and gives shape to her fallen members [35,32-36,27; 40,29-41,11; Protennoia is the Speech of the Thought's Voice who descends second to empower her fallen members I)v giving them spirit or breath [42,4-27; 45,2-12; 45,21-46,31; and Protennoia is the Word of the Speech of the Thought's Voice who descends a third time in the likeness of the powers, proclaims the Five Seals, and restores her seed [members] into the Light [46,5-7; 47,5-23; 49,6-23; 50,9-201). If this, or something like it, is what the author started with, it can be seen that he has expanded this tripartite aretalogy with six doctrinal insertions (36,27-40,29-, 41,142,2; 42,27-45,2; 46,7-47,top; 47,24-49,top and 49,22-50,9). Three of these insertions are "mysteries" which Protennoia is said to have communicated to her sons. The first and longest insertion (36,27-40,29) narrates the story of the Autogenes Christ and his four Lights. The last of these Lights (Eleleth) emits Sophia (his Epinoia) to produce the demon Yaldabaoth who steals the Epinoia's power to create the lower aeons and man. It concludes with the restoration of Epinoia-Sophia who is regarded as completely innocent of fault. It is constructed in third person narrative. The first of the "mysteries" (41,1-42,2) narrates the loosening of the bonds of flesh by which the underworld powers enslave Protennoia's fallen members. This mystery is announced in direct discourse to a second person plural audience. The second mystery (42,27-45,2), called the "mystery of the (end of) this age" (42,28), is addressed to a similar group in the second person plural. It narrates an apocalyptic announcement of the end of the old age and the dawn of the new age with the judgment of the authorities of chaos, the celestial powers, and their Archigenetor. The third mystery (47,24-49,top), called "the mystery of Gnosis" (48,33-34) is again addressed to a second person plural audience, now called the "brethren." It narrates the descent of Protennoia as the Word who descends incognito through the various levels of the powers and strips away the corporeal and psychic thought from her brethren and raises them up to the Light by means of a baptismal celestial ascent ritual identified as the Five Seals.
It is clear that Trimorphic Protennoia has been secondarily Christianized. Three glosses identifying the Autogenes Son with Christ in the first subtractate (37,; 38,22; 39,6-7) probably derive from the traditional theogonical materials common to the Apocryphon of John and Iren., Haer. 1.29, upon which the author has drawn. But in the third subtractate the situation is much different, and seems to suggest that Trimorphic Protennoia has undergone three stages of composition. First, there was the triad of aretalogical ego eimi self-predications of Protennoia as Voice, Speech, and Word. Second, this was supplemented by doctrinal insertions based upon traditional Sethian cosmological materials similar to those of Apocryphon of John and Iren. Haer. 1.29, as well as upon (apparently non-Sethian) traditional materials treating the harrowing of hell and the eschatological overthrow of the celestial powers, and again upon Sethian traditions about the baptismal ascent ritual of the Five Seals. After circulation as a Sethian tractate in this form, the third stage of composition seems to have been the incorporation of Christian materials into the aretalogical portion of the third subtractate.
Specifically, the narrative of the incognito descent of Protennoia as Word, hidden in the form of the Sovereignties, Powers, and Angels, culminating in the final revelation of herself in her members below, seems to have undergone a Christological interpretation. In 47,14-15, it is said that as Logos, Protennoia revealed herself to "them" (i.e., humans?) "in their tents" as the Word (cf. John 1:14). In 49,7-8 it is said that the Archons thought Protennoia-Logos was "their Christ," while actually she is the Father of everyone. In 49,11-15, Protennoia identifies herself as the "beloved" (of the Archons), since she clothed herself as Son of the Archigenetor until the end of his ignorant decree. In 49,18-20 Protennoia reveals herself as a Son of Man among the Sons of Man even though she is the Father of everyone. In 50,6-9, Protennoia will reveal herself to her "brethren" and gather them into her "eternal kingdom." In 50,12-16, Protennoia has put on Jesus and borne him aloft from the cross into his Father's dwelling places (cf. John 14:2-3). In this way traditional Christological titles such as Christ, Beloved, Son of God ("Son of the Archigenetor") and Son of Man are polemically interpreted in a consciously docetic fashion. By implication, the "orthodox" Christ is shown to be the Christ of the "Sethian" Archons; the "orthodox" Beloved is the beloved of the Archons; the "orthodox" Son of God is the "Sethian" son of the ignorant Archigenetor; and the "orthodox" Son of Man is only a human among the sons of men, while for the Sethians, the true Son of Man is Adamas, the Son of the supreme deity Man (the human form in which the deity revealed himself as in Ap. John 11,1:14,14-24 and Gos. Eg. 111,2:59,1-9), or perhaps he is Seth, the Son of Adamas as in Ap. John 11,1:24,32-25,7. Therefore, the Protennoia-Logos is in reality the Father of everyone, the Father of the All who only appears as the Logos "in their tents" (skênê; a gloss on "the likeness of their shape" in Trim. Prot. XIII,1:47,16 in what seems to be conscious opposition to John 1:14). That is, he appeared in the "likeness of their shape" but did not become flesh as the "orthodox" believe. in only disguising himself as the "orthodox" Christ, the Logos indeed had to rescue Jesus from the "cursed" (not redemptive!) cross and restore him to the "dwelling places of his Father." In what seems a conscious reference to John 14:2-3, Jesus did not prepare a place for his followers: instead, the Logos, invisible to the celestial powers who watch over the aeonic dwellings (i.e., the four Lights?), installs Jesus into his Father's dwelling place (Trim. Prot. XIII,1:50,12-16; perhaps in the Light Oroiael as in Gos. Eg. III,2:65,1617).
Most of these polemical Sethian reinterpretations of "orthodox" Christology in Trimorphic Protennoia seem to depend on key texts from the Gospel of John in order to score their point in any acute fashion, although this has been a matter of scholarly dispute. It seems that the key to the resolution of this dispute lies in the recognition that Trimorphic Protennoia, in its first two stages of composition, was a product of non-Christian Sethianism, drawing its Logos-theology from a fund of oriental speculation on the divine Word and Wisdom as did the prologue to the Gospel of John in a similar but independent way. But both the prologue and Trimorphic Protennoia later underwent Christianization in a later stage of redaction; the prologue in Johannine Christian circles, and Trimorphic Protennoia in Christianized Sethian circles. Indeed, Trimorphic Protennoia may have undergone Christianizing redaction in the environment of the debate over the interpretation of the Gospel of John during the early second century. This debate is reflected in the Johannine letters, and a bit later in western Valentinian circles is concerned with the interpretation of the Logos (e.g., The Tripartite Tractate of NHC I) and of the Gospel of John (e.g., Ptolemaeus in Iren. Haer. I.8.5 and the Fragments of Heracleon).
5. The Early Sethian Baptismal Rite. The spiritualized conception
of baptism as a saving ritual of enlightenment reflected in the Sethian
texts must also have been current in the first century, to judge from the
complex of ideas in Col 2:8-15, where circumcision (regarded as a stripping
off of the body of flesh) is connected with a baptism conceived as a dying
and rising, and Christ's death is interpreted as a disarming of the principalities
and powers. To judge from the Sethian baptismal mythologumena, the Sethians,
wherever they derived their original rite, must have developed it in close
rapprochement with Christianity. They must have sustained their initial
encounter with Christianity as fellow practitioners of baptism, indeed
a baptism interpreted in a very symbolic and spiritual direction. For example,
the Sethian name for their Living Water, itself a conception found also
in Johannine Christianity (John 4:7-15), is Yesseus Mazareus Yessedekeus,
which seems very much like a version of the name of Jesus into which Christians
were baptized, perhaps in a threefold way. Yet to adopt this name did not
necessarily mean understanding oneself principally as a Christian, as the
rather cryptic and concealed form of this name suggests. Indeed it was
adopted by the redactor of the (apparently in all other respects) non-Christian
Apocalypse of Adam.
In many respects, the baptismal rite seems to have provided the context or occasion for many of the principal Sethian themes to coalesce in various combinations. This is quite obvious in the case of the Sethian rite of cultic or individual ascent, and also in the theme of the descent of the redeemer bearing the Five Seals. Yet the web of interlocking themes could be even more complex, as in the case of Apocalypse of Adam, part of which seems to draw on an old mythical pattern to illustrate thirteen versions of the descent of the Illuminator. It exhibits a myth which could be developed in various ways to portray the origin of mankind, the origin of the Savior, and perhaps the origin of both water baptism and celestial baptism as well.
In a very illuminating article, J. M. Robinson drew attention to a series of striking parallels between the structure and motifs of the thirteen kingdoms, i.e., thirteen opinions concerning the coming of the Illuminator "to the water," and a similar mythical structure to be found in the NT Apocalypse of John (Rev 12:1-17) and reflected in the baptism and "temptation" stories of Mark 1:9-13, and in some fragments from the Gospel of the Hebrews. As can be seen from Robinson's study, there underlies Mark 1, Revelation 12 and Apoc. Adam V,5:77,26-82,19 a basic mythical structure concerning a divine child and his divine mother who are threatened by an evil power, but who are rescued and find safety in the wilderness until the evil power is destroyed. This general pattern could be made to apply not only to Adam and his divine mother or to Seth and his mother Eve, but also to the birth of Jesus, to Mary and their flight to Egypt from Herod, and perhaps more remotely to certain aspects of the Isis-Osiris-Horus cycle.
For our immediate purposes, however, it is important to see that facets of such a myth were applied to baptism not only in Mark (where wilderness is also ultimately a place of safety) and in the fragments of Gospel of the Hebrews but also in Apocalypse of Adam. In Mark the Savior is baptized in the (ordinary) water to which he comes, after which the Spirit descends to the Savior together with a Voice that pronounces him Son of God. The parallel in Matthew agrees, but has reservations about the baptism in water by John. Luke omits explicit mention of Jesus' baptism by John, and has the Spirit descend on Jesus during his post-baptismal prayer. The Fourth Gospel suppresses Jesus' explicit baptism by John in mere water, demoting John to the Voice of one crying in the wilderness, whose only subsequent function is to witness to the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus. Instead, the Fourth Gospel (John 4:7-15) understands Jesus as the source of Living Water, which to drink means eternal life, and as the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, which the author identifies with the Living Water (John 7:37-39). Likewise, the second compositional stage of Trimorphic Protennoia regards the Logos, who descends with the Five Seals at the conclusion of the first-stage aretalogy, as the Logos-Son. He pours forth Living Water upon the Spirit below out of its source, which is the Father-Voice aspect of Protennoia, called the unpolluted spring of Living Water. So also Gospel of the Egyptians understands the descent of Seth as Logos to be the bestowal of a holy baptism, probably in Living Water. These baptismal descents of the Logos or Seth are initiated by Barbelo, the Father-Mother, an exalted Sophia figure, who communicates to those who love her by Voice or Word (the Johannine prologue, Trimorphic Protennoia), Jewish wisdom texts portray the exalted Sophia as the fountain or spring (cf. Sirach 24; Philo, Fuga 195) from which comes the Word like a river (Philo, Somn. 2.242; cf. Fuga 97), the Mother of the Word through whom the universe came to be (Fuga 109; cf. Trimorphic Protennoia and the Johannine prologue). To be baptized in her water is to receive true gnosis. Thus her Voice (bath qol) is the revelation of the truth: e.g., "Man exists and the Son of Man" in the Apocryphon of John or the Gospel of the Egyptians; "This is my beloved Son" in Mark 1:11 (cf. 9:7), where the heavenly Voice comes down to water; similarly the Voices in Trim. Prot. XIII,1:40,8-9; 44,29-32 and Apoc. Adam V,5:84,4. Indeed it is likely that Trimorphic Protennoia derived its scheme of Voice, Speech, and Logos from such a complex of notions.
The conclusion to be drawn from these clusters of ideas is that the Sethian soteriology involving the saving descent of Barbelo, or of her Voice, or of Seth or of the Logos was most likely worked out in a baptismal environment characterized by speculation on the significance of words spoken and waters involved (cf. Zost. VIII,1:15) during the first century. In this environment it rubbed shoulders with Christianity, but probably did not fully take the step of identifying their savior with Christ or Jesus, which it would soon do, but in a rather polemical fashion.
6. The Earliest Sethian Compositions. Thus I would suggest that by the end of the first century, Sethians possessed at least the following sacred texts. First, several versions of a possibly hymnic narrative of the threefold descent of the divine Mother like the one contained at the end of the longer version of Apocryphon of John according to which the third descent was finally effective and was understood to be the mythical origin of a Sethian baptismal rite called the Five Seals. This might also have existed in the form now embedded as source B in C. W. Hedrick's redactional theory of the Apocalypse of Adam, in which three men (!) appear to Adam in a dream to awaken him from the sleep of death (V,5:65,24-66,12; 67,12-21). They speak of the third descent of the Illuminator who performs acts that disturb the God of the powers. He cannot recognize the power of this "man" and punishes his flesh only after he has caused his elect to shine and he has withdrawn to the holy houses (the four Lights?) in the great aeon from which he had come (V,5:76,8-11; 76,14-82,17; 82,19-83,4). Indeed, the redactor leads us to believe that prior to his withdrawal, he imparted to his elect a secret gnosis which is "the holy baptism of those who know the eternal knowledge through those born of the word and the imperishable illuminators (the four Lights?) who came from the holy seed (of the celestial Sethians): Yesseus, Mazareus, Yessedekeus, [the Living] Water" (V,5:85,22-31). Furthermore, the tripartite narrative attributed above to the first redactional stage of Trimorphic Protennoia would belong here.
1. The Apocryphon of John. To judge from Iren. Haer 1.29 and the four versions of the Apocryphon of John (which represent already Christianized versions of the Sethian myth of Barbelo the Mother and the sender of both the primordial saviors, Autogenes and Epinoia [Sophia, Eve] and also the eschatological savior, the Autogenes [Christianized as Christ], the Apocryphon of John first exhibited the following profile. The Father, the invisible virginal Spirit, emitted his female aspect conceived as his Thought (Ennoia) which took shape as his First Thought (or Forethought) named Barbelo, who in Jewish tradition was probably a manifestation of the divine Name. Since (as her name suggests) God is in four, she requests the Invisible Spirit to realize four of her attributes as separate hypostases: Foreknowledge, Incorruptibility, Eternal Life and Self-begotten or Autogenes. The last of these is later identified with her Son Adamas, or Christ. Since Barbelo is the self-begotten divine Mind and wisdom of God, her Son should likewise possess similar powers and so his own attributes (Mind, Will, Logos and Truth) are manifested. At this point, there remains to be explained the origin of the four Lights, the celestial dwellings of Adamas, Seth, the celestial seed of Seth, and the future home of the historical Sethians. They are a traditional part of the Sethians' baptismal lore as shown in Gos. Eg. III,2:64,9-65,26 and in the baptismal prayer in Melch. IX,1:16, 16-18,7. The four Lights are explained by forming a tetrad of pairs composed of the hypostatized attributes of both Barbelo and her Son so that the "Autogenes" attribute of the Son and the Incorruptibility aspect of Barbelo produced the four Lights: Harmozel, Oroiael, Davithe, and Eleleth. At that point, to judge from the current versions of the Apocryphon of John and the Gospel of the Egyptians, Barbelo caused a further pairing of her attribute of Eternal Life and her Son's attribute of Will (Thelêma). They give rise to four further feminine attributes, Grace, Will (Thelêsis), Understanding, and Wisdom (the upper Sophia, perhaps called Phronesis; cf. Hyp. Arch. II,4:93,18-19 and 94,2-4). This sets the stage for the fall of Sophia, a lower aspect of the Mother. After giving rise to the Archon, she projects the image of the Son, Adamas. Later still, she causes the conception of Seth and his seed, whom she also rescues, either by herself or, as in the Apocalypse of Adam, by angelic beings, perhaps the servants of the Lights. In order to provide even more primordial spiritual prototypes of these beings, a further pairing of attributes, the Mother's Foreknowledge and the Son's Mind, must have produced the archetypal patterns for Adam, Seth, and his seed. They are then placed in the first three of the four Lights, leaving the fourth as a dwelling for the restored lower Sophia.
The systems of Irenaeus and the Apocryphon of
John each contain subtle departures from this hypothetical arrangement,
either by way of simplification, confusion, or more likely, in the case
of the Apocryphon of John, to enhance the position of Christ instead
of Adamas as the Son in the wake of Christianization. As van den Broek
has pointed out,
the birth of Autogenes from Ennoia and Logos found in Irenaeus is suppressed
in the Apocryphon of John because Autogenes is identified with the
Christ who has, in the extant versions of the Barbeloite system, become
identified as the Son of the Father and Barbelo. He points out that while
in the Apocryphon of John Christ the Son is identified with his
Autogenes aspect, in Iren. Haer. 1.29, this Autogenes and his son Adamas
are lower beings produced by Ennoia and Logos. They receive, however, great
honor in a way that would suit a much higher being. He shows convincingly
that, since Irenaeus says all things were subjected to Autogenes, the Barbeloite
system originally considered him little less than God, crowned with glory
and honor and given dominion over all things, an application of Ps 8:4-6.
Originally, therefore, Autogenes had a higher rank. This would be the rank
that Christ the Son now holds in the Christianized system, although this
presupposes a stage still prior to the Father-Mother-Son triad in which
there was Man and the Son of Man, little less than God. Thus the development
of the bisexual nature of the Son of Man into Mother and Son demoted the
Son, the Autogenes Adam, one notch. The Barbeloite system preserved the
rank of Autogenes by identifying him with Christ (Ap. John BG8502,2:30,6;
but not in NHC 11,I) but demoted Adamas. On the other hand, Irenaeus' version
demoted both Autogenes and Adamas, leaving only Christ as the supreme Son.
The Apocryphon of John results from a combination of this theogony with the Sethian story of Yaldabaoth's creation of the protoplasts and the subsequent struggle between him and the Mother depicted in terms of Genesis 2-6. The entire work is then construed as the final revelation of the Mother who in the form of Christ reveals the whole thing to his disciple John. The source upon which the longer and shorter versions seem to depend may possibly have been produced during the first quarter of the second century. The long negative theology of the Invisible Spirit at the beginning seems quite in keeping with the interests of such thinkers of this period as Basilides, the Neopythagorean Moderatus and, farther afield, of Albinus. As E. R. Dodds showed in 1928, this negative theology is only a natural development of Plato's doctrine of the Good "beyond being in power and dignity" in the Republic, 509B and of the speculations about the non-being of the One in the Parmenides, 137Cff.
Perhaps by the end of the first quarter of the second century, the shorter recension (BG8502,2 and NHC III,1), supplemented by the short excursus on the soul (BG8502,2:64,9-71,2) came into existence in the form of a dialogue between the resurrected Christ and his disciple John, son of Zebedee, together with the appropriate Christian glosses substituting Christ for the Autogenes Adam (cf. the similar phenomenon in the case of Eugnostos and the Sophia of Jesus Christ).
2. Trimorphic Protennoia, Perhaps at this time the second compositional stage of the Trimorphic Protennoia was also achieved by the addition of the four mysteries to the triple descent aretalogical narrative, as discussed above. The first of these mysteries indeed seems dependent on the already Christianized system common to the Apocryphon of John and Iren. Haer. 1.29, and the fourth draws on the Sethian baptismal tradition of the Five Seals.
1. The Apocalypse of Adam (Source B). The redactional
combination of a triple descent narrative culminating in the Sethian rite
of baptismal enlightenment with a major version of the Sethian history
of salvation derived from an exegesis of Genesis 1-6 in the case of the
Apocryphon of John may have occurred at about the same time that
part of a similar triple descent narrative (fleshed out with the opinions
on the thirteen kingdoms) in source B of the Apocalypse of Adam
was connected by its redactor with the Genesis-inspired Sethian salvation
history of source A. At the same time he also incorporated Sethian baptismal
tradition, but in a polemical way. Although the Apocalypse of Adam was
not Christianized in an obvious way by the redactor, it is at least arguable
that Source B contained concepts that originated in close contact with
Christianity such as the punishing of the flesh of the man upon whom the
spirit has come (V,5:77,16-18) and the (unsatisfactory) speculations on
the origin of the Illuminator as the son of a prophet, or son of a virgin
or son of Solomon attributed to the second, third, and fourth kingdoms
(V,5:78,7-79,19). just as is the case with the Christological motifs in
the third subtractate of Trimorphic Protennoia, such concepts seem
to be introduced in a polemical vein, suggesting that the triple-descent
motif may have been developed in connection with In attempt to distinguish
Sethianism from Christianity with its increasing stress on the once-for-all
nature of Christ's redeeming activity. For Christianity, the period of
Israel was one only of preparation for the advent of salvation in Christ,
while for the Sethians, salvation had been in principle already achieved
in primordial times, with the raising of Seth and his seed into the Aeon.
Thus the first and second descents of the redeemer had actually already
performed the fundamental work of salvation in primordial times and left
witnesses to it on inscribed steles and in books. The third descent of
the redeemer is therefore only to remind the earthly Sethians of what had
been accomplished for them in the past, and to grant them a means of realizing
this in the present through the baptismal ascent ritual.
That this third descent of the redeemer is identified with the preexistent Christ who brings salvation as gnosis rather than salvation through his death on the cross should occasion no surprise. There were tendencies toward such views in Johannine Christian circles as well. One should bear in mind that also during this period (140-160 C.E.) Valentinus likewise developed the notion of a pneumatic Christ coming to waken the sleeping spirit in humankind, a notion which lies at the core of his system. Valentinus and his successors made Christ the focus of their system and thus were allied principally with Christianity. 'rite Sethians, however, seemed to find their sense of uniqueness in opposition to the Church on the grounds just mentioned. Since various groups were not isolated from one another but freely made use of texts and ideas borrowed from other groups, the adoption of Christ into their system was only natural, but did not fundamentally change its basically non-Christian nature and inner cohesion.
2. The Hypostasis of the Archons. Finally, it is also probable
that in the mid-second century or slightly later, Hypostasis of the
Archons reached its present Christianized form, perhaps derived from
a hypothetical "Apocalypse of Norea," posited by H.-M. Schenke
as the source common to Hypostasis of the Archons (II,4) and On
the Origin of the World (II,5). The prominence in this work
of Norea as sister of Seth and offspring and earthly manifestation of Sophia
through Eve may have inspired the short treatise Norea, which conceives
Norea in two levels. She is the upper Sophia who cried out to the Father
of the All (i.e., Adamas conceived as Ennoia) and was restored to her place
in the ineffable Epinoia (perhaps the Light Eleleth to whom she cries in
Hypostasis of the Archons) and thus in the divine Autogenes. Yet
she is also the lower Sophia manifested as daughter of Eve and wife-sister
of Seth who is also yet to be delivered from her deficiency, which will
surely be accomplished by the intercession of the four Lights, or their
ministers. It is interesting that here Adamas is himself the Father of
the All, yet is also called Nous and Ennoia as well as Father of Nous,
a set of identifications which recalls the bisexual nature of Adamas as
both Father and Mother, or Man and Son of Man (which are perhaps the two
names that make the "single name" Man).
In this presentation, I have urged an early dating (125-150 C.E.) for the Apocalypse of Adam, Hypostasis of the Archons, Norea, Trimorphic Protennoia, and the longer recension of the Apocryphon of John; earlier yet (100-125 C.E.) for the shorter recension, the first two compositional stages of Trimorphic Protennoia prior to its Christianization, and source B of the Apocalypse of Adam; and a still earlier date (prior to 100 C.E.) for the traditional materials they include: the Sophia myth, the exegesis of Genesis 1-6 and other OT traditions, and an already spiritualized Sethian baptismal rite. Christian influence was at work in all these periods and explicitly so in the last two, while Neopythagorean speculation becomes influential around 100-125 C.E. On the other hand, the polemical use of Christological motifs appears in the last period, 125-150 C.E., when explicit heresiological summaries and refutations of the gnostic systems begin to appear, e.g., Justin's lost Syntagma. All these documents stress the movement of salvation from above to below by means of descending redeemer revealers appearing at certain special points in primordial and recent history, bearing gnosis and not infrequently conferring a baptismal rite (not in Norea or Hypostasis of the Archons).
1. The Gospel of the Egyptians. As H.-M. Schenke has suggested,
the emphasis of Gospel of the Egyptians seems to lie upon baptismal
traditions and prayers which conclude it (cf. III,2:64,9-68,1), while the
preceding sections seem to function as a mythological justification for
them. Indeed the first part of the Gospel of the Egyptians seems
to be built almost entirely on these five doxologies or presentations of
praise which enumerate the origins of the principal transcendent beings
of this treatise. These are the great Invisible Spirit, the male virgin
Barbelo, the Thrice-Male Child, the male virgin Youel (a double of Barbelo),
Esephech the Child of the Child (a double of the Triple Male Child), the
great Doxomedon Aeon (containing the last three beings; cf. Zost. VIII,1:61,15-21
and Gos. Eg. 111,2:43,15-16: the great aeon, where the Triple Male
Child is), and various other pleromas and aeons. Apparently Gospel of
the Egyptians understands the Invisible Spirit, Barbelo and the three
beings (Thrice-Male Child, Youel and Esephech) contained in the Doxomedon
aeon to constitute the Five Seals. This suggests a baptismal context for
these doxologies, perhaps also suggesting Schenke's
notion of a divine pentad (cf. Ap. John II,1:6,2 and Steles Seth
VII,5,120,20) of names (cf. Trim. Prot. XIII,1:49,28-32; "the Five
Seals of these particular names") which are invoked in the course of the
baptismal ascent (in five stages: robing, baptizing, enthralling, glorifying,
rapture into the light, XIII,1:48,15-35). Thus the Son figure of the Father-Mother-Son
triad of the Apocryphon of John has been subdivided into another
Father-Mother-Son triad, leaving the Autogenes Logos dangling in this system,
although still produced by the (Invisible) Spirit and Barbelo ("Pronoia")
and still establishing the four Lights by his Word. It would appear that
the Gospel of the Egyptians has combined two traditions. They are
the Invisible Spirit-Barbelo-Autogenes triad from the system of the Apocryphon
of John and Trimorphic Protennoia, and another tradition of
a pentad, derived from the Sethian baptismal tradition. Strikingly, Gospel
of the Egyptians also seems to move towards the postulation of another
triad (which is possibly developed, for example, by Allogenes into
the Triple Power) between the Invisible Spirit and Barbelo, namely "the
living Silence," an unspecified Father and a Thought (Ennoia, which in
turn becomes the Father in the triad, Father/Ennoia, Mother/Barbelo, and
Son/Thrice-Male Child). Finally, Adamas seems to occupy a still lower rank,
as in the Apocryphon of John (where he is produced by Foreknowledge
and Mind): Adamas follows and is separated from the Autogenes Logos, and
is produced by "Man" (perhaps the Invisible Spirit) and a lower double
of Barbelo, Mirothoe. In turn Adam conjoins with Prophania to produce the
four Lights and Seth, who conjoins with Plesithea to produce his seed.
The Gospel of the Egyptians seems also to know the myth of Sophia from the version found in Trimorphic Protennoia . a according to which a voice from the fourth Light Eleleth urges the production of a ruler for Chaos, initiating the descent of the hylic Sophia cloud, who produces the chief archon Sakla and his partner Nebruel, the makers of twelve aeons and angels and of man. After Sakla's boast and the traditional voice from on high about the Man and Son of Man, a double of Sophia (Metanoia) is introduced to make up for the deficiency in the Aeon of Eleleth due to Sophia's descent. She descends to the world which is called the image of the night, perhaps reflecting an etymology of Eleleth's name, perhaps Lilith or lêylâ "night," and suggesting that Eleleth is ultimately responsible for the created order.
The Gospel of the Egyptians also mentions the three parousias of flood, conflagration and judgment through which Seth passes, which seems to show awareness of the scheme of Apocalypse of Adam in its presently redacted form. Again this tradition is set in a baptismal context, since the third descent of Seth serves to establish a baptism through a Logos-begotten body prepared by the virgin (Barbelo?). And indeed this Logos-begotten body turns out to be Jesus, whom Seth puts on, as in Trim. Prot. XIII,1:50,12-15 (cf. the Ophite version of this theme in Iren. Haer. 1.30.12-13).
Finally there is the lengthy list of the various baptismal figures (Gos. Eg. III,2:64,9-65,26) and the two concluding hymnic sections (Gos. Eg. III,2:66,8-22, and 66,22-68,1) which Böhlig-Wisse have adroitly reconstructed in the form of two separate hymns of five strophes each, perhaps again reflecting the tradition of the Five Seals. In this regard, the Five Seals tradition may even have given rise to the fivefold repetition of the doxologies (enumerated above) constituting the basis of the theogony in the first part of Gospel of the Egyptians. The concluding baptismal hymns are strongly Christian in flavor, especially the first one, mentioning Yesseus Mazareus Yessedekeus and, very frequently, Jesus. The list of baptismal figures preceding the prayers reveals a multitude of new figures (most of which show up in the baptismal sections of Zostrianos) alongside the more traditional ones, such as Micheus, Michar, Mnesinous, Gamaliel and Samblo (in Apocalypse of Adam and Trimorphic Protennoia), and Abrasax and Yesseus Mazareus Yessedekeus (in Apocalypse of Adam). Also included are Adamas, Seth and his seed, and Jesus residing in the four Lights Harmozel, Oroiael, Davithe, and Eleleth (as in Apocryphon of John and Trimorphic Protennoia).
Before passing on to the Allogenes group of treatises, one should also note the occurrence of Kalyptos in Gos. Eg. IV,2:57,16, a name which may be present in translated form also in Trim. Prot. XIII,1:38,10 as a cognomen for Barbelo. Likewise in Gos. Eg. IV, 2:55,25 there seems to occur the phrase "the First One who appeared," likely a translation of Protophanes (here apparently a cognomen for the Thrice-Male Child), a term occurring also in Ap. John II,1:8,32 as a cognomen for Geradamas, further suggesting an original connection between Adamas and the Triple Male Child. Perhaps also Prophania, who in Gospel of the Egyptians functions as Adamas' consort in the production of Seth and the four Lights, is a feminine variant of Protophanes, again suggesting the bisexual Adamas, the Son of Man, as the first to appear, doing so in Sethian terms as both female (Mother, Barbelo, the Ennoia of the First Man) and male (the Autogenes Son).
2. Allogenes and Zostrianos. Zostrianos is heavily
indebted to the Sethian dramatis personae especially as they occur in Gospel
of the Egyptians, and collects these into three rather distinct blocks
(Zost. VIII,1:6; also pp. 29-32 and 47). But the bulk of Zostrianos
is cast in a truly new scheme and conceptuality, which seems to have been
developed independently by the author of Allogenes and adopted by
Zostrianos in a somewhat confused way. This new scheme is the Sethian
practice of visionary ascent to the highest levels of the divine world,
which seems to be worked out for the first time by the author of Allogenes
utilizing a large fund of philosophical conceptuality derived from contemporary
Platonism, with no traces of Christian content, Zostrianos appears
to be based on the scheme of visionary ascent and the philosophical conceptuality
in Allogenes, but it makes a definite attempt to interpret this
ascent in terms of the older tradition of baptismal ascent and its own
peculiar dramatis personae, especially as they occur in Gospel of the
The metaphysical structure of both Allogenes and Zostrianos, as well as Three Steles of Seth, appears to be centered on the triad Father-Mother-Son as is the case with the Gospel of the Egyptians, Apocryphon of John, and Trimorphic Protennoia. In Zostrianos this triad is conceived as a vertical hierarchy of beings. The Father at the metaphysical summit (perhaps himself beyond being) is the Invisible Spirit and is accompanied by his Triple Powered One. Below him, the Mother member of the triad is named Barbelo, who herself subsumes a triad of hypostases. The highest of these is Kalyptos, the Hidden One. The next lowest is Protophanes, the First-Appearing One, who has associated with him another being called the Triple Male (Child). The third of the triad is the Son called the divine Autogenes.
So also the various levels of the Aeon of Barbelo, the divine Mind (Nous), are described in terms of their content, again expressed in terms of the Platonic metaphysics of the divine intelligence ("noology"). As the contemplated Mind, Kalyptos contains the paradigmatic ideas or authentic existents; Protophanes, the contemplating Mind, contains a subdivision of the ideas ("those who exist together"), i.e., universal ideas, perhaps "mathematicals," distinguished from the authentic existents by having "many of the same" and being combinable with each other (unlike the authentic existents; cf. Plato, according to Aristot. Metaph. I. 6 and XIII. 6), and also distinguished from the ideas of particular things ("the perfect individuals"). The particular ideas ("the [perfect] individuals") are contained in Autogenes, a sort of demiurgic mind (the Logos) who shapes the realm of Nature (physis) below. Since the distinction between the "individuals" in Autogenes and "those who exist together" in Protophanes is rather slight for the author of Allogenes, the Triple Male Child fits nicely as a sort of mediator between them. This mediating function of the Triple Male also qualifies him for the title of Savior (Allogenes XI,3:58,13-15).
The doctrine of the Triple Powered One found in Allogenes also occurs in Three Steles of Seth, Marsanes, and Zostrianos. It is clearly the most intriguing feature of these treatises and perhaps the crucial feature by which they can be placed at a definite point in time (and in the Platonic metaphysical tradition). In Allogenes, Three Steles of Seth, and Zostrianos, the Triple Powered One of the Invisible Spirit consists of three modalities: Existence, Vitality or Life, and Mentality or Knowledge (or Blessedness). In its Existence modality, the Triple Powered One is continuous with (i.e., potentially contained within) and indistinguishable from the Invisible Spirit. In its Vitality modality, the Triple Powered One is the boundlessness of the Invisible Spirit proceeding forth in an act of emanation both continuous and discontinuous with the Invisible Spirit and its final product, Barbelo, the self-knowledge of the Invisible Spirit. In its Mentality modality, the Triple Powered One his become bounded as Barbelo, the self-knowledge of the Invisible Spirit. It has taken on form and definition as perceiving subject with the Invisible Spirit as its object of perception.
This is the same doctrine as is found in the anonymous Parmenides commentary (Fragment XIV) ascribed by Hadot to Porphyry, where the Neoplatonic hypostasis Intellect unfolds from the absolute being (to einai) of the pre-existent One in three phases. In each phase the three modalities of the Intellect (namely Existence, Life, and Intelligence) predominate in turn. First as Existence (hyparxis), Intellect is purely potential, resident in and identical with its ideas, the absolute being of the One. In its third phase, Intellect has become identical with the derived being (to on) of Intellect proper (the second Neoplatonic hypostasis) as the hypostatic exemplification of its paradigmatic idea, the absolute being of the One. The transitional phase between the first and third phase of Intellect is called Life and constitutes the median modality of Intellect (boundless thinking). The same idea is also found in Plot. Enn. 6.7. 17,13-26:
1. Zostrianos. While Allogenes (like Three Steles of Seth) takes no interest at all in the realm of Nature below Autogenes (mentioned only once at Allogenes XI,3:51,28-32 as containing failures rectified by Autogenes), Zostrianos and Marsanes do treat this realm. They seem to enumerate six levels of being below Autogenes, called the thirteen cosmic aeons (i.e., the world), the airy earth, the copies (Antitypoi made by the Archon) of the Aeons, the Transmigration (paroikêseis); the Repentance (metanoia) and the "self-begotten ones" (plural). Although it is unclear in Zostrianos as it now stands, the Untitled Text of the Bruce Codex (Schmidt-MacDermot, Bruce Codex, 263,11-264,6) allows us to conjecture that "the self-begotten ones" constitute the level at which Zostrianos is baptized in the name of Autogenes. It contains the Living Water (Yesseus Mazareus Yessedekeus), the baptizers Micheus, Michar (and Mnesinous), the purifier Barpharanges, a figure called Zogenethlos and, besides these, the four Lights Harmozel, Oroiael, Daivithe, and Eleleth, together with Sophia. In Zostrianos, Adamas is found in Harmozel; Seth, Emmacha Seth and Esephech the Child of the Child, in Oroiael; and the seed of Seth, in Davithe. In addition, certain triads of beings ,ire either residents in or cognomens of the four Lights (Zost. VIII,1:127,16-128,7). It is unclear whether the repentant souls (of the historical Sethians?) are contained in Eleleth, as would be expected, or in the level of Metanoia immediately below the self-begotten ones. It appears also that the figures of Meirothea (Zost. VIII,1:30,14-15) and Plesithea (Zost.VIII,1:51,12) and Prophania (Zost.VIII,1:6,31) also belong to the self-begotten ones. It seems that in comparison to Allogenes, Zostrianos really is guilty of multiplying hypostases, but these are no doubt derived from the Sethian baptismal tradition, not only from free invention. It seems fair, then, to see Zostrianos as a derivative from Allogenes and Gospel of the Egyptians.
2. The Three Steles of Seth. The Three Steles of Seth clearly represents the same system as Allogenes; yet it is constructed as a triptych of presentations of praise and blessing to Autogenes, Barbelo, and the pre-existent One in connection with a communal practice of a three-stage ascent and descent. After an initial revelation and various blessings rendered by Seth (Steles Seth VII,5:118:25-120,28) who praises the bisexual Geradamas as Mirothea (his mother) and Mirotheos (his father), the rest of the treatise uses the first person plural for ascribing praise to (1) the Triple Male, (2) to Barbelo who arose from the Triple Powered One (characterized by being, living and knowing, and is also called Kalyptos and Protophanes), and (3) to the pre-existent One who is characterized by the existence life mind triad. The whole concludes with a rubric (Steles Seth VII,5:126,32 127,22) that explains the use of the steles in the practice of descent from the third to the second to the first; likewise, the way of ascent is the way of descent. The fact that the method of descent is mentioned first is strange (one notes that Jewish Merkabah mystics called themselves Yordê Merkabah, "descenders to the Merkabah"). Another instance of the interdependence of these texts is a common prayer tradition: Steles Seth VII,5:125,23 126,17, Allogenes XI,3:54,11 37 and Zost. VIII,1:51,24 52,24; 86,l3 88,bottom.
3. Marsanes. Last of all, Marsanes and the Untitled
Text of the Bruce Codex should be mentioned as probably the latest
of the Sethian treatises that we possess. Like Zostrianos and Allogenes,
Marsanes records the visionary experience of a singular individual,
probably to be regarded as one of the many manifestations of Seth. B. A.
Pearson in his fine introduction to this tractate,
suggests that the name Marsanes, mentioned in the Untitled Text
of the Bruce Codex (Schmidt MacDermot, Bruce Codex, 235,13 23) in
connection with Nicotheos (and Marsianos by Epiphanius [Pan. 40.7.6]
in his account of the Archontics), reflects a Syrian background for its
author, and dates Marsanes in the early third century. But one might argue
for dating it to the last quarter of the third century since it indeed
posits an unknown Silent One above even the Invisible Spirit, in much the
same way as Iamblichus during the same period posited an "Ineffable" beyond
even the One of Plotinus.
As mentioned previously, the first ten pages of Marsanes present a visionary ascent to, and descent from, the highest level of the divine world. They depict the same basic structure as Allogenes, but with the omission of the Triple Male and the addition of at least the Repentance (perhaps in unrecoverable parts of the text one would find mention of the Transmigration and Antitypes) and the "cosmic" and "material" levels. From page 55 onward one notes the occurrence of a few baptismal terms, such as "wash," "seal," and perhaps "[Living] Water" (Marsanes X,1:65,22). Indeed the entire perceptible and intelligible universe is structured according to a hierarchy of thirteen seals. Aside from the narrative of the unfolding of Barbelo from the Triple Powered One (of the Unknown Silent One, or of the Invisible Spirit?) and the plentiful occurrence of Platonic metaphysical terms such as "being," "non being," "truly existing," "partial," "whole," "sameness," "difference" (esp. Marsanes X,1:4,24 5,5), one learns that Marsanes has not only come to know the intelligible world, but also that "the sense perceptible world is [worthy] of being saved entirely" (X,1:5,22 26), an idea quite in line with Allogenes as well. These texts, Allogenes, Zostrianos, Three Steles of Seth, and Marsanes, which I call the "Allogenes group," all exhibit a tendency not only toward an ontological monism, but also, save perhaps in the case of Zostrianos with its Sophia myth, a rather positive attitude toward the sense perceptible world, the realm of Nature. Even Zostrianos, which afflrms the existence of the demiurgic work of the Archon, its artificiality and its death threatening bondage, concludes: "Release yourselves, and that which has bound you will be dissolved. Save yourselves, in order that it may be saved" (VIII,1:131,10 12).
4. The Untitled Text of the Bruce Codex. Finally, as previously
mentioned, the Untitled Text of the Bruce Codex also belongs among
the Sethian treatises, and seems to have affinity mostly with Zostrianos
and Gospel of the Egyptians. It is almost entirely devoted to an
elaborate cosmology involving the transcendent Sethian dramatis personae
arranged into various levels and groups called "fatherhoods" and "deeps"
consisting of myriads of powers. It narrates the descent of the light spark
and Christ through Setheus, bearing a salvation which seems to be effected
by the baptismal rite already discussed. It is by all standards a most
complex work defying any simple analysis. I can do no more than state that
has dated it to the end of the second century, although I would be inclined
to put it a bit later, around 350 C.E., but for no reason other than its
extraordinary prolixity in comparison with the other Sethian treatises.