TO SEE THE LIGHT:
A GNOSTIC APPROPRIATION OF JEWISH PRIESTLY PRACTICE AND SAPIENTIAL AND
APOCALYPTIC VISIONARY LORE
TO SEE THE LIGHT:
A GNOSTIC APPROPRIATION OF JEWISH PRIESTLY PRACTICE
AND SAPIENTIAL AND APOCALYPTIC VISIONARY LORE
John D. Turner
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Pp. 63-113 in Mediators of the Divine: Horizons of Prophecy and
Divination on Mediterranean Antiquity (ed. R. M. Berchman; Florida
Studies in the History of Judaism 163; Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1998)
I. Baptism and Visionary Experience in Sethian Gnosticism:
Even the most casual reader of the Sethian gnostic treatises from the Nag
Hammadi Library cannot fail to notice their numerous references to visions
of the transcendental world and its contents, numerous references to baptisms,
washings, anointings and sealings, as well as the presence of various prayers,
doxologies and hymns mentioning or directed to a rather fixed set of divine
beings. Such references generally occur in stanzaic, even hymnic, passages
to be found especially in Gos. Egypt., Apoc. Adam,
Zost., Ap. John, and Trim. Prot. They
apparently refer to a sequence of ritual acts involving a kind of baptism,
which the texts often designate by the term "the Five Seals."
In whatever baptismal tradition the Sethian treatises
and their readers stood, it is clear that, in spite of the more than several
references to ritual acts that could indeed be enacted by ordinary human
beings, the importance of the rite lay primarily in the spiritual plane,
an emphasis that seems characteristic of Christian and probably non-Christian
baptizing circles throughout the first century. In particular, the Sethian
baptismal water was understood to be of a celestial nature, a Living Water
identical with light or enlightenment, and the rite itself seems to have
been conceived as a series of visionary experiences resulting in complete
enlightenment and therefore total salvation.
The frequent references to visionary experiences
suggest a self-performable mental or psychic praxis or a contemplative
technique that could--although not necessarily--be enacted independently
of any outward ritual actions, and in which baptismal terms are employed
to designate entrance into ever higher states of mental abstraction from
the realm of sensible experience. In this sense, terms which on face value
seem to refer to ritual acts, such as "baptism," "immersion," "water,"
"disrobing," "enrobing," stripping," "putting on," "sealing," and the like,
come to designate acts of mental transformation, conceptual refinement
and abstraction, abstention from previous behavioral dispositions, "unlearning"
of older and adoption of new perceptions of self and world, and entrance
into a higher state of enlightenment. It is natural to assume that such
a mental transformation arose out of the individual experience of actual
cultic and ritual praxis, a praxis of a sort that could be taught and enacted
either while participating in the physical setting and associated gestures
of the rite or quite apart from them.
This close association of baptism with visionary
experience in the Sethian treatises seems to have antecedents that lie,
at least in part, within ancient and later Jewish priestly protocol.
On entering the Jerusalem temple, ritual purity was required of both priests
and laity, and various forms of lustration or self-immersion were practiced
by the priests prior to service in the temple so long as it was in existence.
But during the periods of the temple's demise, from 586 BCE to its rebuilding
in 515 BCE, and after its final destruction in 70 CE, as well as throughout
the period of the widespread Hasidic rejection of the temple and its administration
during the Hasmonean regime, visionaries and apocalyptists in the wake
of Ezekiel developed the notion of a superior, supramundane temple. It
was there that God had caused his glory to reside in preference to a corrupt
or damaged earthly temple, a place that could be approached only by an
act of vision. By such acts of vision, transcendent and eschatological
things and events could be made a present reality. Furthermore, if ritual
cleansing and immersion was required for service at the Jerusalem temple
when it existed, how much the more would such cleansing be required for
service in the heavenly, eschatological temple that replaced the earthly
temple during the periods of its destruction or corruption? Thus one would
expect lustrational practices to have continued to be the appropriate means
of purifying oneself for attendance in the supramundane temple as well,
except that in this case, they became a prelude to acts of vision, and
even the means through which visionary ascent was achieved, as well as
a component of the vision itself.
One might further expect that a close connection
between lustration and visionary experience had arisen within the realm
of the apocalyptic thought that developed throughout the first five centuries
BCE and continued on in the early Christian and associated movements such
as that of John the Baptist and his followers, as well as the Sethian Gnostics.
Such a connection is strikingly evident in the case of the traditions concerning
the inaugural baptism of Jesus by John, as well as in the Sethian texts
themselves. It seems likely that certain priestly visionary practices were
known to the authors of apocalyptic and sapiential literature insofar as
they shared in a general affiliation between scribes and priests or Levites.
As I hope to show, it is in this sacerdotal-sapiential-apocalyptic speculative
environment that the Sethian visionary and baptismal traditions are likely
to have arisen.
II. The Baptismal Doctrine of the Sethian Treatises
1. The Apocryphon of John
The only explicit reference in Ap. John to the Sethian baptismal
or ascensional rite of the Five Seals occurs in the three-stanzaed hymnic
conclusion to the longer versions of Ap. John, which portrays
a series of three descents of the divine Pronoia into the world of darkness
(II, I: 30,11-31,25).
Using a first-person self-predicatory style much like those of the Isis
aretalogies and of certain wisdom poems, each stanza of this hymn-like
passage narrates a separate saving descent of Pronoia, who is to be considered
identical with the figure called Barbelo or Ennoia or the merciful Mother-Father
throughout the earlier part of the treatise. This Pronoia aretalogy, which
seems to have once existed apart from the larger body of Ap. John
and only included at a later compositional stage,
tells how Pronoia, "the remembrance of the pleroma," descends twice into
the lower world and shakes the foundations of chaos and returns to the
world of light without effecting any permanent salvation, but then in a
third descent enters the prison, said to be the body, awakens the soul
from its corporeal forgetfulness, and raises it into the light by sealing
it "in the light of the water with Five Seals." 
This luminous water is identical with the first emanation from the supreme
deity, appearing as a reflective medium in which his own self-image is
manifested in the form of the divine Pronoia herself (Ap. John,
NHC II,1: 4,19-29). Baptism is therefore the initiate's immersion
into the waters that immediately surround the supreme deity.
Corresponding to the three descents narrated in
the Pronoia monologue, in the main body of Ap. John, Barbelo/Pronoia
initiates three redemptive movements from the higher world into the lower
world: her original self-manifestation as the image of the divine Adam
into the lower world, her manifestation as the spiritual Eve for the enlightenment
of the earthly copy of the divine Adam and the concomitant self-condemnation
of the archontic powers, and her final manifestation in the form of the
Christ of the enclosing narrative frame. Ironically, the inclusion of the
first person self-predicatory language of the Pronoia aretalogy as part
of the first person revelation of the Christ of the narrative frame has
the effect of claiming the baptism of the Five seals as the gift of the
masculine Christ rather than the feminine figure envisioned in the actual
text of the Pronoia hymn.
2. Trimorphic Protennoia
Using nomenclature reminiscent of that found in Ap. John,
Prot. identifies the initiator and bringer of salvation as Protennoia
or Barbelo, the First Thought of the Invisible Spirit. She appears in three
successive forms: First, as Father, she is the divine but as yet inarticulate
Voice of the First Thought of the Invisible Spirit who presides over the
establishing of the heavenly dwellings for her members and descends to
chaos to loosen their bonds. Second, as Mother, she is the articulate Speech
of the Thought who overthrows the old aeon ruled by the evil powers and
announces the dawn of the new age. Third, as the Son, she is the fully
articulate Logos who adopts the guise of successively lower powers, descends
to and enters the "tents" of her members, puts on
Jesus, thus rescuing
him from the cross, and leads her members back to the light by means of
the celestial ascent ritual of the Five Seals.
The imagery of water, light, ascent and descent
found in the Pronoia hymn and in Trim. Prot. seems heavily
indebted to the Hellenized Jewish wisdom tradition.
These two works appear to be old, likely contemporaneous with the Johannine
prologue with which they share a common mythological structure, suggesting
an early date for these works, perhaps the early second century CE.
At various points throughout Trim. Prot., the triple
descent of Protennoia and the various forms in which she appears, namely
as Voice, Speech and Word, are interpreted by means of concepts which are
drawn from the Sethian baptismal terminology: The Voice is said to be the
unpolluted spring from which flows Living Water, characterized as radiant
The Word, bearing Living Fruit, pays the tribute of this Fruit to the Living
Water, which it pours out upon Protennoia's "Spirit" (i.e., her gnostic
"members" who share affinity with her) which originated from the Living
Water but is now trapped in the soul (i.e. the psychic realm) below. The
baptismal rite of the Five Seals is the celestial ascent by which one strips
off the psychic and somatic garments of ignorance (cf. Col 2:11-15). It
transforms and purifies Protennoia's members within those aeons from which
Protennoia initially revealed her masculine likeness (43,20-25; probably
in the form of the Autogenes who established the Four Lights), and it clothes
them with radiant light (48, 7-14):
I gave to him] from the Water [of Life, which strips] him of the Chaos
[that is in the] uttermost [darkness] that exists [inside] the entire [abyss],
that is, the thought of [the corporeal] and the psychic. All these I put
on. And I stripped him of it and I put upon him a shining Light, that is,
the knowledge of the Thought of the Fatherhood.
Rather than designating a fivefold immersion in
the Living Water, the Five Seals are interpreted as a five-stage ritual
of psychic ascent: the investiture of the stripped Spirit with light, its
enthronement, its baptism by Micheus, Michar and Mnesinous in the spring
of Living Water, its glorification with the Fatherhood, and its rapture
into the light (perhaps the Four Lights) by the servants of the Four Lights
Kamaliel, [..]anen and Samblo (48, 15-35). The stages of this visionary
rite do not seem to follow in an intuitively obvious sequence (e.g., in
45, 13-20 one has the following sequence: glorification, enthronement,
investiture, baptism and becoming Light). Indeed, since most cults practiced
naked baptism, one might expect the order: baptism, investiture, enthronement,
glorification and final rapture.
In the concluding section of Trim. Prot.,
the Five Seals are equated with the "ineffable ordinances of the Father,"
taught by Protennoia to her "members," "the brethren." The Five Seals are
said to be "complete by means of Nous." Whoever possesses the Five Seals
"of these particular names"
has stripped away all ignorance and darkness and has put on a shining light,
permanently free from the power of the hostile archontic forces and experiencing
a mutual indwelling with Protennoia until the time when she gathers all
her members into her eternal kingdom. It is thus clear that these Five
Seals are connected with an ability to name and experience the presence
of certain spiritual beings, and the transmission of a doctrine that enables
one to reject (strip away) a profane occupation with the world (ignorance)
and to adopt (put on) an appropriate way of seeing things. The rite is
the dramatization of this process, and the Sethian myth is in effect its
The fact that the author refers to the recipients of this baptismal
ascent ritual in the first person plural and as "brethren" suggests a (Sethian)
community with a well-established tradition of water baptism that has been
conceived as a mystery of celestial ascent, and which brings Gnosis (48,33-34)
and total salvation, as H.-M. Schenke suggested in 1978.
The baptismal doctrine of Trim. Prot. seems to sustain a
close relationship especially to Gos. Egypt., Zost.,
and more distantly to Melch. and perhaps Marsanes and even
Adam. A distinctly Christian treatise, Melch. exhibits prominent
Sethian features at two points. The first occurs in a speech addressed
to Melchizedek by Gamaliel, the one sent to "the congregation of [the children]
of Seth" (IX,1: 5,17-6,10; in other treatises he is identified as
one of the "ministers" of the Four Lights). The other occurs in an invocation
spoken by Melchizedek as he undergoes baptism in response to Gamaliel's
previous revelation (IX,1: 14,16-18,7). Each of these contains baptismal
imagery, and the first contrasts the receipt of two kinds of baptism, perhaps
one in ordinary water and the other in celestial water.
Melch. would strike one as a Christian meditation
upon the relation between Jesus Christ and the high priest Melchizedek,
were it not for the fact that the two speeches contain an admixture of
Sethian Gnostic terminology that may have been added to an originally non-Sethian
treatise. Each speech includes invocations of holy powers such as the Father
of the All, Barbelo as the Mother of the Aeons, Doxomedon as the first-born
of the Aeons, the Four Luminaries (Harmozel, Oroiael, Daveithai and Eleleth),
Pigeradamas the Man-of-Light, Mirocheirothetos (elsewhere Meirothea, mother
of Adamas), and Jesus Christ as Commander-in-Chief. It seems as if Melch.
is a basically Christian work which has been Sethianized.
In Marsanes, one finds baptismal language scattered throughout.
Washing" is mentioned on page 55; pages 64-66 seem to narrate Marsanes'
vision of certain angels, which include Gamaliel, who is over the spirit(s)
and "takes" him somewhere in an action which involves a "spring," probably
of "living" water, a "washing" and a "sealing" with the "seal of heaven."
Like Zost., this treatise also seems to interpret the various levels
of visionary ascent with baptismal terminology, indeed without a trace
of Christian language.
This shows that transcendentalizing baptismal terminology was featured
not only in Christian-influenced Sethianism, as Melch., Trim.
and Gos. Egypt. show, but also in forms of Sethianism apparently
uninfluenced by Christianity, as in Zost. and Marsanes, which
are instead influenced by a contemporary Platonic practice of visionary
5. The Gospel of the Egyptians
In many ways the Sethian treatise that is most explicit about the baptismal
rite is "the Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit," commonly called
the Gospel of the Egyptians. As suggested by Schenke, Gos.
can "be understood as the mythological justification of a well-defined
ritual of baptism including the invocations that must be performed therein."
He observes that the emphasis of this text falls on its final part (III,
63,4-68,1; cf. IV, 2: 74,17-80,15). Here the text narrates the three
parousiai of Seth, namely his descents at the flood, at the conflagration,
and at the judgment of the archons, to save his seed ("saints") who have
gone astray in the world (similarly in Apoc.
the first two salvific visitations of Seth occur in primordial times to
preserve his seed from the flood and probably from the conflagration of
Sodom and Gomorrah, his third visitation presumably occurs during the celebration
of the contemporary Sethian baptismal rite. Here Seth descends wearing
a Logos-begotten body prepared for him "by the virgin," in order to "put
on" Jesus and to defeat the powers of the thirteen aeons.
This is the same pattern found in Trim. Prot.,
where Barbelo first descends to loosen her member's bonds to this world,
second, to overthrow the power of the archons and their chief, and third,
to confer the rite of the Five Seals. On that third descent, the Logos-aspect
of Protennoia is said to descend through the levels of the various powers,
at each level disguising herself in the garments and form of each one,
finally putting on Jesus and bearing him and her seed aloft into the holy
light. While Trim. Prot. identifies this Logos with the perfect
Son, the Autogenes Christ, Gos. Egypt. identifies the Logos
as the son of the Great Christ. Both Trim. Prot. and Gos.
associate the Logos with a figure who descends from the Four Lights in
order to introduce to the Sethian gnostic a form of baptism in the celestial
Living Water. Gos. Egypt. identifies this water as Yesseus
Mazareus Yessedekeus (a barbarized version of the name of Jesus).
Prot. identifies the Living Water with the Voice-aspect of Protennoia
which the Logos pours out on her members below, stripping them of the corporeal
and psychic thought and replacing it with radiant light. Ap.
John identifies the same water with the fount of luminous water streaming
from and surrounding the supreme Invisible Spirit. The prominent presence
of the names Christ and Jesus in these accounts suggests that some form
of Christianity played an important, though not necessarily exclusive,
catalytic role in the formulation of these traditions.
Gos. Egypt. connects the baptismal rite quite firmly
with the Seth's three parousiai, the third of which corresponds
with the descent of the Logos. On the other hand, Trim. Prot.
seems to witness another, probably earlier, understanding of the rite,
in which it was connected, not with the story of Seth, but instead with
the story of the descent of the divine Wisdom or First Thought of God in
the form of the Logos who pours forth enlightenment on those who would
attend to her. This same understanding underlies the Pronoia hymn at the
end of Ap. John, where it is the dominantly feminine figure
of Pronoia who descends to confer the Five Seals. There, however, she is
not identified explicitly with the Logos, even though the effect of the
frame narrative of the entire work is to identify the first-person statements
of Pronoia as the words of the Christ who narrates the three descents to
Another difference between Trim. Prot.
and Gos. Egypt. is that, while Trim. Prot.
attributes this replacement of the psychic nature with one of light to
a conferral of the rite of the Five Seals by Protennoia in the guise of
the Logos, Gos. Egypt. interprets the Logos-begotten body
of Seth as the instrument of the holy baptism. The bodily form adopted
by Seth for the judgment of the archons on his third and final appearance
(contemporary with the current Sethian community) is none other than that
of Jesus; it was prepared and put on by Seth by the aid of the "virgin,"
which might be a reference either to the tradition of Jesus' virgin birth,
or to the male virgin Barbelo. In all accounts, the original establishment
of the holy baptism brought by the logos-begotten Jesus whom the great
Seth has put on is attributed ultimately to Barbelo, the Pronoia of the
Father (III,2: 63,21-64,3). She is the primary actor behind the
scenes, appearing in the world as the Logos in certain guises.
In Gos. Egypt. this baptism effects
not only rebirth, but also invocations and the receipt of visions, enlightenment,
and immortality. Rebirth is said to be a begetting of the saints through
invisible secret symbols, the "killing"
and renunciation of both the world and the god of the thirteen aeons.
Certain invocations (epiklêtos) of the saints form the prelude
to the receipt of visions: at the appearance of Seth along with Aerosiel,
Selmechel and 400 angels who are to guard the incorruptible race until
the consummation of the age, the great men of the great Seth receive visions
of various spiritual beings. Among these are beings whose names occur repeatedly
in the Sethian treatises.
Finally, in III,2: 65,26-66,8 it is said that through the incorruptible
man Poimael, those "who are worthy of (the) invocation (epiklêsis),
the (baptism of) the renunciations (apotaxeis) of the Five Seals
in the spring-baptism will know their receivers (paralêmptôres)
as they are instructed about them; they will be known by them and by no
means taste death."
In III,2: 66,9-68,1 there follows a long prayer in which the
baptizand praises the Living Water Yesseus Mazareus Yessedekeus as the
eternal Jesus who truly is, the glorious name that is now upon and within
him, granting him immutability and the armor of (en)light(enment). Stretching
out his hands while yet folded, the baptizand apparently symbolically portrays
the circle of all those who have received enlightenment, and praises the
man (Seth?) who raises up the man (Jesus?) in whose name the baptizand
will be purified. Having received the incense of life, the baptizand has
mixed it with "water after the model of the archons" (presumably the earthly
water of his baptism), now to live with the savior in the peace of the
Gos. Egypt. is replete with references
to certain gestures and verbal performances capable of ritual enactment:
invocation, renunciation, receipt of incense, doxological prayers, pronouncement
of names, manual gestures, and elevation as well as baptism itself. Throughout,
the use of the passive voice for ritual actions and the use of the plural
in reference to the saints begotten through instruction appears very much
to refer to a community ritual in which there were initiates and officiants,
as well a tradition of prescribed actions and declarations.
What is more, it may be that the entire Gos.
and not just its conclusion has the baptismal rite in view. It is significant
that the five doxologies punctuating the completion of various stages of
its cosmology invoke nearly the same set of beings as are invoked in the
doxologies of Melch. (IX,1: 5,17-6,10; 14,16-18,7), there
revealed by Gamaliel and pronounced by Melchizedek as he is baptized.
If the term "Five Seals" originally designated a fivefold baptismal procedure,
it may be that Gos. Egypt. was read aloud during the administration
of each phase of the ritual: after the reading of a section of the cosmology,
the baptizand may have repeated the doxology concluding each section as
a way of affirming the receipt of each of the Five Seals. A similar correlation
between baptismal sealings and depictions of the structure and deployment
of the transcendent world occurs also in Zost, although there the
sealings are clearly given a celestial, rather than earthly, setting.
Finally, what of the matter of Christian influence?
In both Gos. Egypt. and Trim. Prot., the final
act of salvation is the descent of Seth in the form of the Logos or of
the Logos in the form of Christ, who "puts on," that is, appears in the
form of, Jesus. The salvation of Jesus implied in these two texts certainly
reflects Christian influence, but of an extremely polemical sort, since
rather than being the savior, Jesus becomes the one saved. In view of this
Sethian Christological reinterpretation, one would characterize these two
texts as reacting to rather than merely submitting to Christian influence.
In the case of Trim. Prot., I have elsewhere tried to show
that this reaction is the result of a polemical redaction of an originally
On the other hand, the Gos. Egypt. in its present form is
so thoroughly Christianized that one would tend to see the mutual relationship
of Seth and Jesus as one of its original features.
6. The Apocalypse of Adam
Among other things, Apoc. Adam contains a dream vision revealed
to Adam by three glorious men who narrate a third saving mission conducted
by an illuminator whose origin is unknown to the evil powers. Thirteen
opinions of his origins are rejected; in reality he comes from a great
aeon to enlighten his elect. The illuminator does not experience birth
or generation, and does not receive nourishment, glory and power in the
beyond and then "come (down) to the water," which the author or redactor
regards as polluted and chaotic.
Instead, the Illuminator remains above in the light where he resides with
the three imperishable illuminators Yesseus, Mazareus, Yessedekeus, the
Living Water. At some point, angelic beings will bring the truth to the
Sethians below in a way independent of the written word of the evil creator,
a truth that is apparently communicated by a holy baptism through logos-begotten
illuminators. Thus there is a distinction between the holy baptism with
Living Water and a baptism ordained by the creator and practiced by his
servants who have polluted the water of life.
As they stand independent of context, the thirteen
kingdoms seem to be speculations on the coming of the Illuminator into
the world (i.e., "to the water" is here a metaphor for the Illuminator's
coming "into the world" through some kind of earthly baptism). But already
their context in Apoc. Adam (NHC V,5: 77,26-82,19) betrays possible
Christian motifs such as the "signs and wonders" of the Illuminator and
the punishing of the flesh of the man upon whom the Holy Spirit comes,
perhaps referring to Jesus' baptism in the Jordan. Moreover, it is said
that the powers who are disturbed and blinded by the Illuminator's third
descent "will use the name in error" in an attempt to determine his origin.
Since the phenomenon of pronouncing "the name" plays a prominent role in
many baptismal accounts, one may presume that Apoc. Adam
is concerned here with baptismal doctrine.
The thirteen opinions concerning the descent of
the Illuminator seem to exhibit a myth that could be developed in various
ways to portray the origin of mankind, the origin of the Savior, as well
as the relation of water baptism and celestial baptism to the experience
of birth and rebirth. Some years ago, J. M. Robinson
drew attention to a series of striking parallels to the structure and motifs
of these thirteen opinions concerning the origin of the Illuminator, which
are to be found in the NT Apocalypse of John (Rev 12:1-17), in the baptism
and "temptation" narrative of Mark 1:9-13, and in some fragments from the
Gospel of the Hebrews. He suggested that Rev 12 and Apoc. Adam
shared a common mythical tradition concerning the appearance of a divine
child who together with his divine mother is threatened by an evil power,
yet is rescued and finds safety in the wilderness until the evil power
is destroyed. Apoc. Adam rigidified this myth into a repeated
outline of possible origins of the Illuminator, while the author of Revelation
merely added Christian interpretation. While the thirteen kingdoms of Apoc.
reflect the mythical coming and baptism of the Illuminator, Rev 12 takes
it as a birth story of the Lamb of God, causing variations within certain
episodes of the myth between these two works. Very significantly, just
as Apoc. Adam places this myth of origins in a baptismal
context, Mark 1:10-13 and the Gospel of the Hebrews both reflect this same
myth in the context of Jesus' baptism rather than his birth. It may be
that entrance into the world through baptismal rebirth is a more effective
symbol of divine origin than entering through birth. Clearly baptism and
birth both represent those liminal transformations through which one enters
a new mode of existence, in this case, adoption as God's Son; little wonder
that the Gospel of John (ch. 3) and later Christian literature conceive
of baptism as a rebirth.
Zost. likewise records most of the names of the divine figures associated
with the baptismal rite reflected in the Gos. Egypt. But
in Zost., the baptismal imagery is not applied to any earthly phenomenon
or process, nor to the descent of a revealer figure from the divine world
bearing the Five Seals. Instead, the imagery of baptism and sealing is
used solely to delineate the various stages in a supracelestial ascent,
and is not explicitly connected with a redemptive ritual brought below
by Seth or Christ or some other manifestation of the Logos. This interpretation
of baptism owes to the influence upon Zost. of a tradition of visionary
ecstatic ascent achieved as a self-performable technique originally at
home in religious Platonism and likely mediated to Zost. by teachings
identical with or similar to those found in the treatises Allogenes
(and more distantly Marsanes and the Three Steles of Seth).
These treatises commemorate the ecstatic ascent of a single exceptional
individual, such as Zostrianos or Allogenes or Marsanes, who from a Sethian
perspective ought to be seen as alternative manifestations of Seth. While
the preponderant teaching and scheme throughout Zost. is drawn from
the kind of doctrine and scheme also found in Allogenes, it is clear
that in pages 6-62, Zost. draws on the very sort of baptismal ascent
traditions found especially in Gos. Egypt., interpreting
them in the light of the scheme of ascent and doctrine of transcendent
metaphysical levels found also in Allogenes.
The basic scheme of Zost., like that of Allogenes,
is built around the reception of a graded series of revelations and visions
of the transcendent realms appropriate to each successive ontological level
visited by the visionary. At each stage of the ascent, he is instructed
about its character and spiritual inhabitants, and is assimilated to their
nature. Allogenes marks each level of ascent by the mental internalization
of successively higher revelations from various figures, the attendant
visions he has achieved, and increasing degrees of cognitive abstraction
and "learned ignorance." Zost. marks the stages of ascent by a graded
series of baptisms or washings and sealings. Indeed it seems that the author
of Zost. is interpreting the Platonic metaphysical and ascensional
doctrine found in Allogenes, the Three Steles of Seth, and
in terms of Sethian baptismal tradition.
The metaphysical or ontological structure of both
and Zost. as well as The Three Stelesof Seth,
is centered on the triad Father-Mother-Son as is the case in Gos.
Egypt., Ap. John and Trim.
Zost. this triad is conceived as a vertical hierarchy of beings.
At the ontological summit, perhaps beyond the metaphysical level of being
itself, one finds the Triple Powered Invisible Spirit. 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 however has associated with him another being
called the Triple Male (Child). The third being is the Son of the traditional
Father-Mother-Son triad, the divine Autogenes or Self-begotten God.
According to Zost., below these beings, in
descending order, one finds the following ontological levels: 1) that of
the Self-begotten Ones characterized by partial existence; 2) the level
of Metanoia or Repentance which seems to mark the level of the repentant
Sophia and the repentant souls assigned in Ap. John to the
lowest Light Eleleth; 3) the level of the Paroikesis or Sojourn,
a sort of transitional level between the Repentance and the next lower
level, called the Antitypoi or copies of the seven aeons, produced
as a reflection (by the Archon) of the reflection produced by Sophia's
downward inclination; 4) the level of the Ge Aerodios or
Airy Earth, probably the earth's sublunar atmosphere; and finally the earth
itself. Marsanes (X, 1: 2,12-4,23) enumerates each of these
levels (earth, atmosphere, planetary and stellar aeonic copies, the Sojourn,
Repentance, self-begotten ones, Autogenes, Protophanes, Kalyptos, Barbelo,
the Triple Powered One, the Invisible Spirit, and an ultimate unknown "Silent
One") as "seals" in ascending order. Like Marsanes, Zost.
seems to be using baptismal terminology to interpret the doctrine of contemplative
ascent of the sort found in Allogenes and The ThreeSteles
of Seth, which themselves do not refer to baptism.
Throughout the first sixty or so pages of Zost.,
it seems that Zostrianos is baptized more than twenty times in the course
of his ascent: Once at the airy earth, seven times in the copies of the
aeons, once in the Sojourn and six times in the Repentance for a subtotal
of fifteen. At the level of the Self-begotten Ones he is baptized four
times (once for each of the Four Lights) by the traditional Sethian baptizers
and purifiers, and again for a fifth time at the level of Autogenes, where
he becomes divine. In a further baptism at the level of the Triple Male
Child, he becomes truly existing, and lastly, it seems that he is baptized
once more at the level of Protophanes, where he becomes perfect, for a
subtotal of seven, and a grand total of some twenty-two or more baptisms
or washings. Although the fragmentary state of the text precludes certainty
on the total number of baptisms or their precise significance, here baptism
here has clearly become interpreted as a metaphor for the process by which
a visionary becomes assimilated to the being and nature of each level of
the transcendent realm to which he ascends.
Zost. portrays a visionary experience which
has no explicit ritual setting. It seems that terms which may once have
had a ritual reference now serve only as means to articulate the various
stages of a visionary ascent. As in certain visions of the heavenly temple,
e.g., the concluding chapters of Ezekiel, the waters are of a celestial
nature. What is one to make of this? Does Zost. lie at the terminus
of a process of development in which acts of vision that occurred in the
context of the Sethian baptismal practice (witnessed in Ap. John,
Prot., and Gos. Egypt.) were subsequently separated
from their original ritual context to become a self-contained, independent,
and self-performable contemplative practice? Or does Zost. merely
represent a later expression of an associated but alternative trajectory
of visionary practices that developed alongside but independently of specifically
Sethian communal baptismal rite? Clearly, the knowledge of the nature of
the Sethian encounter with both Platonism and Christian forms of gnostic
Sethianism would help to resolve the puzzle of ritual origins, assuming
that their various forms are not merely the result of free invention.
III. Towards a Theory of Sethian Baptism
The recent study of Sethian baptism by Jean-Marie Sevrin argues that an
actual baptismal rite underlies the Sethian treatises, even though that
rite was not an original part of the Sethian sacred history.
Sevrin hypothesizes that the original baptismal rite reflected in the Sethian
treatises was adopted rather than instituted by the Sethians. It was probably
performed only once as an initiation, and had the goal of fructification
and quickening through "Living Water," not of lustration or purification,
even though it resulted in separation from the profane world. The receipt
of "living water," identified as life and light, was a metaphor for enlightenment
through receipt of the saving Gnosis that made possible the Sethians' insight
into their celestial origins. Although this rite shows itself to have been
heavily spiritualized and nearly completely transformed into a visionary
and contemplative practice of spiritual ascent, it was consistently associated
with a ritual of water baptism in which there were cultic officiants, and
in which the initiate was immersed perhaps five times, each time in the
name of various Sethian divine figures. The names of the various baptizers
and receivers were invoked during the actual baptism. In addition to a
ritual invocation (epiklêsis) and formal renunciation (apotaxis,
apotagê) of fleshly associations, which are mentioned in Gos.
there may have been additional rituals of investiture and enthronement,
perhaps also of anointing, as symbols of the recipients' status as members
of the sovereign and autonomous--"kingless"--race or seed of Seth.
As to the existence of an actual rite, Sevrin makes
the following points: 1) If there was a rite behind the baptismal mythologumena,
one would expect it to be referred to in spiritual rather than material
terms. 2) While the rite does seem to be a literary fiction in one or two
Sethian treatises, the majority do appear to reflect an actual water rite,
especially Trim. Prot., Zost., Marsanes, and
the conclusion of Gos. Egypt. and Apoc. Adam.
3) The baptismal language gives the impression of concreteness and verisimilitude
with a series of actions that could be performed by actual human beings
in sequence, such as: invocation of names, stripping, immersion in or pouring
upon of water, sealing, investiture, coronation and enthronement. 4) The
presence of somewhat stereotypical phrases, liturgical hymns, doxologies,
invocations and glossalalia, some with strophes and refrains, suggests
that the baptismal language is not merely a literary fiction. 5) The presence
of polemic against impure forms of baptism or polluted baptismal waters
suggests an actual rite similar to those practiced by others or which others
could corrupt, rather than a purely interior, spiritual exercise enjoyed
only by these Gnostics.
Basing his analysis mainly upon Gos. Egypt.
(III,3: 63,4-65,26), Sevrin reconstructs the essential parts of
the rite as including: 1) a pre-baptismal profession of the names of various
beings connected with the proper execution of the rite; 2) an invocation
(epiklêsis) of the principal spiritual powers active during
the baptism, and a purificatory renunciation (apotaxis) of the corrupting
influence of the world;
3) baptism by immersion of the candidate in actual water, understood to
symbolize the "living water" of gnosis;
4) a raising up of the candidate, understood primarily in spiritual terms;
5) the utterance of a post-baptismal hymn of thanksgiving; 6) perhaps other
less well-attested rites, such as a ritual handshake, or the extension
of one's arms in the form of a circle, to which one might also add an investiture,
enthronement and coronation.
It seems that the act of baptism involved a regulated procedure and the
participation of persons other than the one being baptized. Rather than
being self-administered, it was probably administered by a mystagogue,
since this baptism is almost invariably said to be received or brought
Beyond these hints, no information about such other participants is forthcoming.
Instead, the named participants in the other Sethian treatises all seem
to be divine beings, various "baptizers," "receivers," "purifiers," and
figures who "preside" over things like "waters," "the mountain" and the
"name" of the one who will administer the baptism (cf. Gos. Egypt.
III,2: 64,9-65,26). In Apoc. Adam (V,5: 84,17-23),
it is the celestial baptizers Micheus, Michar and Mnesinous who preside
over the baptism and the living water. Elsewhere, it is generally Barbelo,
the divine First Thought, who appears in one of her various modalities
and actually confers the baptism of the Five Seals, while the other figures
play a definitely subservient role.
Sevrin conjectures that such a baptismal rite was
not original to Sethianism, since it is only Gos. Egypt.
that connects Seth firmly with the institution of the rite. The rite was
instead originally at home in the movement that developed the mythology
surrounding the figure of the Mother Barbelo, who flowed or emanated from
the living water that symbolized the self-reflection of the First member
of the Father-Mother-Son triad.
The baptismal rite, with its fivefold immersion and total absence of an
anointing, cannot have originated within Christianity, and whatever Christian
features are present, such as the formulaic phrases "Yesseus Mazareus Yessedekeus"
and "baptized in the name of," as well as Seth's putting on Jesus, are
all secondary. The rite must rather have originated in a heterodox Jewish
baptismal sect, perhaps that of the Elchasaites: they placed extreme value
on water as the divine source of life, were baptized in the names of various
divine and natural powers, and made use of a ritual formula.
Although the Christian contribution seems more complex
than he would allow, and although the unrepeatable, once-for-all and exclusively
initiatory character of the rite is far from clear, Sevrin's analysis of
the nature and origin of Sethian baptism seems to be most plausible, and
makes a great contribution towards understanding the origins of the Sethian
movement, as well as to the general understanding of Sethian doctrine.
IV. The Relationship of Sethian Baptism to Christian
If the Sethian Gnostic treatises do reflect a group who practiced an actual
baptismal rite, there arises the problem of the identity of this group.
Many of the treatises envision a group whose members understood themselves
as the distant offspring of Seth, their primordially enlightened ancestor,
who had fathered a pure seed apart from the depraved race of Cain, contact
with which must at all costs be avoided; several of the treatises purport
to be records of certain revelations granted to Seth or to a Seth-like
figure which were preserved from the ancient destructions of the world
by flood and fire. To be sure, baptismal language occurs in treatises that
present this myth of Seth and his race, but the association of Seth's story
with baptismal activity seems clear at only one point: Seth has now come
to reveal his and his race's story not only in the form of certain books,
tablets and verbal revelations, but also in the form of a sacred baptism
which he conveys by means of a "logos-begotten body" which has the appearance
The explicit connection between the final manifestation
of Seth and his conferral of the saving baptism known as the Five Seals
occurs only in Gos. Egypt. (III,2: 63,4-65,26), a
treatise which, though rich in baptismal imagery, is nevertheless strongly
Christianized, especially in having Seth finally manifest himself in the
form of Jesus. Trim. Prot. and the longer ending of the Ap.
likewise envision the final manifestation of the savior as involving the
conferral of a saving baptism called the Five Seals. However, this savior,
said to be the third manifestation of the divine First Thought in the form
of Christ (appropriately, according to Ap. John.), or of
the Logos (mistakenly taken by the Archons for their Christ, according
to Trim. Prot.) who rescues Jesus from the cross, is not
explicitly identified with Seth. In these treatises, a transcendental feminine
being, rather reminiscent of Lady Wisdom as presented in Jewish wisdom
literature, descends to earth in order to confer a baptism whose purpose
is to raise the recipient back into the world of light. The latter two
treatises identify the third manifestation of the divine First Thought
with Christ: Ap. John. by designating Christ as the first
person narrator of Pronoia's triple descent, and Trim. Prot.
by attributing the identification of the Logos with Christ to a misconception
on the part of the Archons, who here seem to symbolize the leaders of a
non-Sethian community. It therefore seems that Gos. Egypt.'s
equation of the third manifestation of the First Thought with the Seth
who puts on Jesus may depend on a historically earlier equation of the
First Thought with Christ, suggesting that the "Sethianizing" of the agent
of the Five Seals was subsequent to her "Christification."
Despite the fact that Ap. John and
Prot. are more or less strongly Christianized, the portions of these
treatises that portray the receipt of the Five Seals betray no fundamental
Christian features beyond a few interpretive glosses. This phenomenon causes
one to wonder whether the connection between Seth and baptism was an original
feature of the Sethian story, or arose only when the story of Seth had
become Christianized, either by using it as a way of explaining the pre-existent
activity of Jesus and his subsequent manifestation in the world, or by
using the story of Jesus to explain the significance of Seth.
To judge from the Sethian baptismal mythologumena, the Sethians, wherever
they derived their baptismal terminology, must have developed it in close
rapprochement with Christianity. Within the Sethian literature, the few
passages that associate Seth with baptism usually mention the figure or
name of Jesus also. Outside the Gnostic Sethian literature, Seth does not
seem to be associated directly with baptism. On one occasion (Post.
125-6; cf. ibid. 10; 170), Philo allegorizes upon Seth as the "watering"
(Gk. postimos, a play on Heb. [sinvcircumflex]êt, "Seth,"
and a derivative of [sinvcircumflex]atah, "drink") of the soul by
the sweet stream of wisdom (sophia). Although no baptismal or other
ritual reference is here detectable, this reference may point to a tradition
in which Seth was identified as the bearer of a divine wisdom portrayed
with aquatic metaphors.
Given the lack of non-Christian evidence for a connection
between Seth and a baptismal rite, one may surmise that some form of Christianity
may have exerted an influence on the rise of this association, and may
even have been the catalyst that prompted it. Certainly several of the
Sethian treatises have been secondarily Christianized or were originally
products of Christian Sethianism. With the exception of Melch.,
it is more likely that these treatises should be considered as Sethian
compositions with an admixture of Christian motifs than vice versa,
since the Christian content is dominated by Sethian content. It seems that
the purpose of this admixture is more likely to claim Christ for Sethianism
than to claim Seth for Christianity, given the tendency to present Christ
as an avatar or earthly manifestation of Seth, or even as the object of
redemption rather than as the redeemer per se. Again, the
fact that the Sethian treatises generally associate the advent of Christ
with the revelation or administration of the "Five Seals" suggests that
baptismal practice or speculation formed the principal point of contact
between Christianity and Sethianism.
In Gos. Egypt. (III,2: 63,4-64,9),
baptism is inaugurated by Seth, but only by virtue of his donning "a logos-begotten
body which the great Seth prepared for himself secretly through the Virgin,"
subsequently identified as "Jesus the living one, even he whom the great
Seth has put on, ... through whom he nailed the powers of the thirteen
aeons." Thus, in his final manifestation, Seth engineers Jesus' virgin
birth, judges the archontic powers through Jesus' crucifixion, and makes
available the holy baptism, itself established by the Father's Pronoia
(i.e. Barbelo), through Jesus' logos-begotten body. The connection between
Seth and the institution of baptism certainly seems to be mediated by a
prior identification of the bringer of baptism with the Logos in the form
of Jesus. Such a prior identification must have been suggested to gnostic
Sethianism by a form of Christianity that attributed the origin of saving
baptism to Jesus. One thinks of baptism as a metaphor for Jesus' death,
as in Mark 10:38, or of the Pauline formula of baptism as a dying and rising
with Christ (Rom 6:3-4; Col 2:12), or perhaps especially of the Johannine
portrayal of Jesus as a baptist in competition for disciples with John
the Baptist (John 4:1). Trim. Prot. and Gos. Egypt.
(NHC III,2: 63,21-24) both agree that the baptism of the Five Seals
was ultimately established by the divine First Thought, and associate its
introduction with an appearance of the divine Logos (Trim. Prot.
NHC XIII,1: 48,13-35; in Gos. Egypt., Seth's "logos-begotten
body"). Although there is no evidence that it mentioned the Logos, the
same must also have held true for the hymnic Pronoia monologue before its
insertion into Ap. John. Perhaps under the influence of a
Christian Logos-Christology, an original association between a salvific
descent of the divine First Thought and a manifestation of the divine Logos--an
association that need not have been influenced by Christian thought--suggested
a further association with Christ, which was subsequently followed by the
association with Seth.
Again, the baptismal "Living Water," itself a conception
found also in Johannine Christianity (John 4:7-15) and identified with
the Holy Spirit (John 7:38-39), is called by the Sethians "Yesseus Mazareus
Yessedekeus" (Gos. Egypt. III 2: 64,10-11; 66:10;
Adam V,5: 85,30-31; Zost. VIII 1: 47,5-6; 62,12);
this seems to be a barbarized 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. After all, this
name appears in Apoc. Adam, in the context of a Sethian polemic
against some form of water baptism practiced by lawless people who pollute
the Living Water, which is (perhaps redactionally) identified with "Yesseus
Those who held such unenlightened views of baptism would be regarded as
outside the Sethian camp, but it is not clear whether they were Christians
There is, however, one feature that may be useful
in deciding the question of a Christian provenance for the baptismal imagery.
In certain of the treatises, such as Ap. John, Trim.
and Gos. Egypt., baptism is portrayed as a redemptive ritual
brought below by Seth or Christ or some other manifestation of the divine
First Thought appearing in the world as the Logos bearing the gift of the
Five Seals. On the other hand, in Zost. and perhaps in Marsanes,
baptismal language occurs mainly in descriptions of contemplative visionary
ascent which have nothing to do with any descending revealer figure. This
suggests either of two scenarios: 1) The latter two treatises are the product
of a re-interpretation of the baptismal imagery found in the former three
treatises, whereby the descent pattern is replaced by the visionary ascent
pattern. Or 2) the treatises featuring the ascent pattern represent an
independent adoption of baptismal imagery from a source that originally
associated baptism with a form of transcendental visionary practice rather
than with the earthly advent of a descending figure, be it the Logos or
Seth or Jesus.
The posing of such alternatives prompts one to consider
also other possible sources for the transcendentalizing baptismal imagery.
Both alternatives yield a pattern in which there is no place for a descending
revealer or redeemer, and thus seem to be non-Christian or extra-Christian
developments. The first alternative suggests a deliberate removal of Christian
motifs from a previously established Christian baptismal tradition, while
the second--and in my opinion more likely--alternative raises the possibility
of a baptismal tradition that originated quite apart from Christian influence.
While pagan tradition does not seem to be a likely candidate, one may suggest
pre- or extra-Christian Hellenistic Judaism, especially in quarters where
visionary experiences were of great significance, such as in apocalyptic
or wisdom circles.
V. Sethian Gnosticism as a Fusion of Two Movements
I conclude that the Sethianism of the Nag Hammadi treatises is a product
of two distinct but not entirely unrelated speculative movements within
or on the fringe of Hellenistic Judaism: 1) the wing of the wisdom tradition
that was in conversation with contemporary Platonism, which I take to be
the originating milieu of the "Barbeloite" speculation on the divine Wisdom
and Name, and 2) the rather more apocalyptically oriented tradition of
speculation on the traditions about the primordial figures of Adam and
Seth which gave rise to the sacred history of the Sethians. The first movement,
which I will call "Barbeloites," conceived the receipt of revelation as
a kind of baptism in wisdom, conceived as a light or knowledge, and conferred
by the Logos or Voice or First Thought of the high deity. The second group,
which I will call "Sethites" (in distinction from Gnostic Sethians), conceived
of revelation as deriving from certain ancient records containing the sacred
history of the enlightenment of their primordial ancestors, records that
had been brought to light by a recent reappearance of Seth, the chief recipient
and beneficiary of this revelation. The name "Barbeloite" is inspired by
the group to whom Epiphanius ascribed the theogony and cosmogony summarized
in Irenaeus' Haer. I.29, which is recognized by contemporary scholars
as being nearly identical with the theogony and cosmogony found in the
four versions of Ap. John. Common to these accounts is the
doctrine of a divine Father-Mother-Son triad consisting of the Invisible
Spirit, Barbelo (Protennoia, Pronoia, Ennoia, etc.) and the divine Autogenes
(Triple Male Child, later variously Geradamas, the Great Seth, the Great
Christ), and the story of Sophia's mistaken generation of her son the Protarchon.
To this common material, Ap. John adds the story of the Protarchon's
creation of the lower world, his entrapment of the divine substance in
the protoplastic human beings, and the Mother's threefold descent, culminating
in a saving baptism, to rescue the spirit entrapped in the world through
Sophia's misdeed. Although Irenaeus' summary of Barbeloite teaching makes
no mention of the baptismal rite of the Five Seals, it is likely that the
baptismal rite entered the complex of Gnostic Sethianism through this group,
rather than through the Sethites, since there is no evidence for any baptismal
practices connected with speculation on the figure of Seth that can be
dated with any reliability prior to that found in the Gnostic Sethian texts
themselves. On the other hand, among Sethian Gnostic treatises that do
not mention the figure of Seth at all, such as Trim. Prot.,
it is the figure of Barbelo who confers the saving baptism, and even in
those treatises where Seth is said to confer this baptism, it is clear
that he is acting as an emissary for Barbelo.
These two movements coalesced to yield the Sethianism
of the Gnostic treatises essentially by shifting the identity of the revealer
and central conferer of baptism from a personified attribute of the deity,
such as the figure of the divine Thought (Ennoia, Pro[ten]noia) or Wisdom
(Sophia) or Name (Barbelo, Youel) to that of Seth in his final appearance,
or to the figure of Christ in his earthly manifestation. It may be that
this coalescence was originally an inner-Jewish phenomenon, but the abundant
evidence of Christianization in the Sethian treatises suggests that Christianity
was a basic factor. After all, it was a baptizing movement that considered
its pre-existent savior to be a recent manifestation or representative
of the divine wisdom and Logos--a manifestation perhaps understood to have
begun at his baptism by John--and who may have been a baptizer himself.
Since the connection between Christ and the divine Wisdom seems better
attested and perhaps earlier than that between Seth and the divine Wisdom,
I hypothesize that such Christian influence impinged on a proto-Gnostic
Sethian movement, the "Sethites," through the medium of a previously Christianized
Barbeloite baptismal sect.
The point of contact between the two movements lay in the parallel between
Seth and Jesus as recent manifestations of a pre-existent divine being
who represents the true image of God.
The present Sethian system results from the designation
of the self-begotten son (Autogenes) of Barbelo as the establisher of the
four Sethian Luminaries and the gradual transference of the role of conferring
the Five Seals from the figure of Barbelo to that of the divine Logos,
regarded as one of her modal manifestations or as her emissary. Under the
influence of the Christian identification of Christ with the Logos, the
figure bearing the Five Seals becomes conceived in the form of Christ,
and by the analogy between Christ and Seth as manifestations of the divine
image, this figure becomes naturally conceived also in the form of Seth
himself or of Seth in the guise of Christ. This mythology and the rite
interpreted by it were only gradually connected with the figure of Seth
and the sacred history relating to him. This history centered on the primordial
figures of Adamas, Seth and the seven generations sprung from him, and
their contemporary descendants, all conceived as spiritually resident within
the Four Luminaries Harmozel, Oroiael, Daveithai and Eleleth, and as having
escaped sexual mixture with the polluted race of the descendants of Cain.
VI. The Connection between Wisdom, Barbelo, Vision
In summary, the Sethianism of the Nag Hammadi treatises seems to be a product
of two distinct speculative movements within or on the fringe of Hellenistic
Judaism: 1) that segment of the wisdom tradition that was in conversation
with contemporary Platonism, which I take to be the originating milieu
of the "Barbeloite" speculation on the divine Wisdom and Name, and 2) the
rather more apocalyptically oriented tradition of speculation on the traditions
concerning the primordial figures of Adam and Seth which gave rise to the
sacred history of the Sethians. Thus the figure of Barbelo and whatever
group it was who honored her as the conferer of this baptism, merits further
1. The Pursuit of Wisdom
To begin with, whatever the significance of her name, Barbelo is a wisdom
figure, whom one might picture as a higher double of Sophia, the divine
Wisdom, whom these texts hold responsible for the production of the physical
cosmos. It is therefore natural to seek the background of the figure of
Barbelo within the kind of speculation at home in the Hellenistic Jewish
Wisdom schools responsible for the personification of the figure of the
divine wisdom and the development of the myth concerning her role in the
creation of the world and in the subsequent enlightenment of mankind as
it is found particularly in Proverbs (esp. 8 & 16-18), Sirach (esp.
1 & 24), Wisdom (esp. 7-10), 4 Ezra, 1 Enoch 42, and in Philo.
In this setting, Sophia was identified with the
divine name, glory and presence, and with the revelation of the divine
will in the form of the Torah. Sophia was conceived as a radiant light,
the effulgence of the most high, who provided enlightenment for all who
would seek her instruction. She was the first-born of all creation, who
established the world. She was the overflowing source of light and life,
making those who partook of her like a canal of water flowing into a river
emptying into a sea, and making her instruction shine forth like the dawn.
She made her throne in a pillar of cloud, and she covered the earth like
a mist, and those who thirsted for her could drink of her. Aquatic images
appear also in the early chapters of Genesis, where it speaks of the Spirit
hovering over the face of the Tehom, or a mist covering the earth in the
garden of Eden. Having been God's instrument in the creation of the All,
she was tirelessly active in the attempt to enlighten its human denizens
and save them from peril.
It is significant that Wisdom 10:1-6 historicizes
Wisdom's salvific activity in the following sequence of visitations: she
protected the first-formed father of the world, saved the earth from the
flood through Noah and the ark, recognized the righteousness of Abraham
amidst the confusion of Babel, and rescued Lot from the fire that descended
on Sodom and Gomorrah. Eventually, Sophia desired to seek a place where
she might dwell and set up her tent. For the author of Sirach 24, Wisdom
was commanded to make her dwelling among the children of Israel in the
temple on Zion, even in the form of the Mosaic Torah, where she became
accessible to all who would seek instruction from her. On the other hand,
in 1 Enoch 42, the divine Wisdom who, according to Proverbs 9, had built
an accessible house to which she invited "from the highest places in town"
the attendance of all peoples, could not in fact find such an earthly dwelling;
just as in the case of Ezekiel's vision of the departure of the divine
glory from the temple, she had retreated to heaven. But instead of the
temporary departure envisioned by Ezekiel, Wisdom's search for an earthly
abode is unsuccessful, and she twice reascends to heaven among the angels
(cf. 4 Ezra 5:9), while it was only Iniquity who finally left her
abode to dwell like a rain or dew among those whom she did not expect to
meet. Here, Wisdom's departure is here thought to be permanent; since she
had settled permanently "among the angels," she could be sought only in
an act of supramundane vision.
Thus within the Wisdom tradition, there are two
points of view regarding Wisdom's accessibility: she is either near or
far away. If however, she is far, it is necessary either that Wisdom leave
her dwelling to come to us, or that we find some means to ascend to her.
Such seems to be the origins of the two basic salvific patterns in the
Sethian texts: the descent of Wisdom versus the visionary ascent of the
It is within the realm of such speculation as this that certain persons,
whom I have called Barbeloites, seem to have adopted the name Barbelo as
a designation for the exalted figure of the divine wisdom.
The basic (and perhaps oldest) texts containing such Barbeloite speculation
on Sophia, that is, Irenaeus, Haer. I.29, the Pronoia hymn at the
end of the longer versions of Ap. John., and Trim.
are clearly structured around the attempts of the divine wisdom to enter
the daily life of a humankind who had become oblivious to her, and to reveal
herself and her ultimate source in the higher world. As the Johannine prologue
suggests, only a few respond to her call for enlightenment. It almost seems
as if something like the myth of Sophia's two unsuccessful descents in
1 Enoch 42 and her successful one in Sirach 24 were combined into a total
of three descents into the lower world, two unsuccessful, and the third,
successful, resulting in the final awakening and salvation of those who
received her. A similar pattern is ascribed to the Logos in the Johannine
prologue, but without a clear enumeration of descents. Ap. John.
and Trim. Prot. have Barbelo conferring this salvation in
the form of the baptismal rite of the Five Seals. It seems that the rather
consistent aquatic imagery applied to Sophia in the wisdom texts, especially
Sirach and Philo, has been interpreted so as to apply a baptism in living
water which leads to enlightenment.
Of course not all the aquatic imagery in the Sethian
texts is positive, symbolic of illumination and enlightenment. Apoc.
envisions a pollution of the waters of life, and may indeed understand
the waters to which the Illuminator descends in the similes of the thirteen
kingdoms to represent materiality. In contrast to the transcendent, luminous
living water in which Barbelo first emerges as a faithful reflection of
the Invisible Spirit's thought (cf. Ap. John, NHC II,1:
4,18-28), Sethian treatises also portray dark and chaotic waters at the
lowest level of the cosmos which are said to have been produced by a shadow
deriving from the downward inclination of Sophia, and out of which the
demiurge produces the physical cosmos as merely a pale and inauthentic
reflection of the divine aeons.
Such negative valorizations of water might arise from a negative estimation
of otherwise quite neutral aquatic imagery found in the biblical tradition.
Thus Sophia's identification with a kind of mist that covers the earth,
as in Sir 24, might be interpreted negatively, as an obscuring cloud, or
perhaps as having something to do with the primeval waters of chaos, or
the Tehom, over which the Spirit of God hovered at the creation. In this
connection, Sophia might be regarded as a lower being, perhaps even a fallen
being. On the other hand, her characterization as a life-giving kind of
water would lead to a higher estimation of Sophia as the source of enlightenment,
indeed an enlightenment that could be received during baptism. As a pre-existent
cosmogonic agent, one would expect Sophia to have contact with both the
heights and the depths of the cosmos, to have dwelt in high places, to
"have made the circuit of the vault of heaven and have walked in the depths
of the abyss, in the waves of the sea, in the whole earth" (Sir 24:3-6).
Both Trim. Prot. and the Pronoia hymn
of Ap. John portray the divine First Thought as thrice descending
to chaos to rescue her fallen members. In the context of Barbeloite baptism,
the movements of descending and ascending in the course of the rite would
lend themselves to a spiritual interpretation in which the descent into
the water could be conceived as a participation in Barbelo's descent into
the chaotic materiality of the earth or of the bodily prison or of "the
psychic and somatic thought" of unenlightened persons, whose souls themselves
had made this descent at birth (Ap. John, NHC II,1:
30,32-31,22; Trim. Prot., NHC XIII,1: 48,6-14). Likewise,
ascent from the water could be conceived as a participation in Wisdom's
return to her heavenly dwelling.
In wisdom texts, one can point to many aquatic metaphors
for wisdom as well as aquatic metaphors for the acquisition of wisdom:
drinking wisdom, being washed in wisdom, and so on, but one wonders what
factors might have given such metaphors a ritual instantiation such as
baptism. Nothing in the Jewish wisdom literature seems to suggest such
a connection, and we know almost nothing about the activities and organization
of the shadowy wisdom teachers and the "wisdom schools" or "wisdom movement"
hypothesized to lie behind this literature. Where does one look for a such
a ritual background?
2. Priestly Lustrational Practices and the Pursuit
At the outset, I proposed another venue for a conceptual connection between
baptism, water and visionary experience, namely in the post-exilic notion
of a heavenly temple and the traditional lustrational practices of the
Jerusalem priesthood, particularly in situations where the status of the
physical temple was in question during the times of its destruction or
suspected defilement. If ritual cleansings and immersions were required
for service at the Jerusalem temple when it existed, how much the more
would such lustrations be required for service in the heavenly (whether
archetypal or eschatological) temple that replaced the earthly one during
the periods of its destruction or corruption?
In Jewish priestly lore there are numerous instances
where a complete bath in water was the means of achieving ceremonial and
ritual purity, after childbirth, menstruation, various diseases especially
leprosy, and contact with the dead. Of particular interest are the complete
washings required of priests and Levites prior to their consecration, before
entering the sanctuary, and of the high priest on the Day of Atonement.
The holiness maintained by such washings has a self-evident place in the
sacrificial cult of the Jerusalem temple, and perhaps in that of the other
Jewish temples known to exist. But then how might these regulations be
fulfilled in instances where no temple was available, either because of
distance, destruction, disrepair, or co-option by a priesthood regarded
as illegitimate or unclean?
One thinks particularly of the needs of a priestly community such as that
of the Essenes, of which one instance is probably to be found in Graeco-Roman
times at Qumran. Entrance into the Qumran community itself involved some
kind of purificatory washing: the statement that the wicked shall not enter
or be cleansed by the water evidently presupposes a lustration required
of the righteous who do enter the covenant community.
At Qumran, there was also a distinction between ordinary and eschatological
lustration. According to 1QS 3.6-9, during the present age, which is characterized
by the conflict between the spirit of darkness and perversity and the spirit
of light and truth, one receives physical washing with the waters of purification
only after the soul has been humbled by repentance and the spirit has atoned
for one's sins. According to 1QS 4.18-22, in the age to come, at the time
of the Visitation, there will be an end to evil and fleshly defilement,
at which point fleshly and spiritual lustration are no longer separate,
and the elect will be sprinkled with the spirit of truth as a purifying
water, and the upright will understand the knowledge of God and angelic
wisdom. At that time, spirit and water will become one, just as will flesh
and spirit, and the heavenly and earthly temple and priesthood will become
one. The similarity to Sethian baptism is close, except that Sethian baptism
is effective in the here and now, and strips away the fleshly element rather
than unifying it with the spirit.
In addition to the notion of an eschatological washing,
some of the texts speak of transcendental waters related to some kind of
heavenly temple. Certain Qumran texts refer to the garden of Paradise,
the water of life, trees planted by the water of life with their roots
in the primeval waters, all bearing some connection with the holy rock
of the temple.
In 1 Enoch 24-26 there is a constellation of images including such things
as: the tree of life planted in the holy place, the divine throne, and
the temple and the holy mountain from which the streams of life are to
flow. Similar images are found in the prophets, especially in Ezekiel's
priestly vision of the new temple whose waters will make Judah into a new
Paradise, and in Canaanite (Ugaritic) literature as well, where water flowing
from the temple at the mountain of El symbolizes the victory of the divine
warrior Baal over Yamm / Mot.
4. A Relation between Vision and Water
In addition to ritual and eschatological lustrations, and allusions to
various kinds of waters--whether earthly or eschatological or primeval--associated
with the temple--whether earthly or supramundane--one finds instances in
which water is associated with the visionary act itself. There are several
instances in which visions of heavenly reality are received by seers on
the banks of rivers or other bodies of water. In Ezekiel 1, Ezekiel is
sitting with the exiles by the river Chebar, the heavens open, and he sees
visions of God coming out of the North.
In Daniel 10, Daniel is standing by the great river in Babylon and receives
a vision of a celestial being, perhaps Gabriel, who is clothed in the same
kind of linen garment as is the high priest on the day of atonement (Lev
16:4; cf. also the angels in Ezekiel's visions, Ez 9:3-11; 10:2). In 1
13:7-9, Enoch sits beside the river Dan reading out the Watchers' petition
for divine forgiveness, falls asleep, and receives a dream-vision of the
divine, whereupon he ascends to heaven. The heaven through which he ascends
to the divine throne is clearly a temple with vestibule, sanctuary and
holy of holies, through which he passes as though he were an authorized
high priest (cf. Jub 4:45); the angels for which he intercedes seem
to symbolize the Jerusalem priests as having polluted the temple through
their sins. This way of criticizing the earthly temple and priesthood by
comparison with the heavenly goes back to Ezekiel's vision of the departure
and return of the divine glory in chs. 40-48. In fact almost all the ascent
understand the celestial realm as a temple; the visionary achieves his
place among the angels through investiture with a special garment and joining
the angelic praise of the deity, just as priests and Levites respectively
act in the earthly temple. In 2 Enoch, the archangel Michael strips Enoch
of his earthly garments, anoints him with oil and invests him with glorious
garments in the manner of a priest, and he becomes a glorious being.
Within Christian literature, the connection between
vision and water occurs not so much in the context of heavenly ascensions,
but rather of baptismal visions. In Mark 1 parr. Jesus is baptized in the
Jordan by John, and coming out of the water, he sees the heavens opened,
the spirit of God descending on him and hears the heavenly voice elect
him as Son. In John 3:3-5, rebirth as a condition of seeing the kingdom
is equated with being born of water and spirit. To be compared is the baptismal
vision of king Gundaphorus in the Syriac Acts of Thomas
20, where at the initial anointing, the voice of Jesus was heard, and after
the invocation and baptism proper, a luminous man carrying a blazing torch
appeared as the participants were emerging from the water.
Michael Stone wonders whether the connection between heavenly visions
and bodies of water may be related to certain Graeco-Roman magico-meditative
techniques involving contemplation of a body of water until visions were
seen in it.
Such examples of hydromancy go as far back as the ancient Sumerian list
of antediluvian kings: the seventh, Enmeduranki, was honored by Shamash
and Adad with the mystery of Anu, Enlil and Ea, namely, how to observe
oil on water. 
5. The Figure of Levi
The connection between baptism, the priesthood, visionary experience and
the heavenly temple becomes particularly evident in later literature associated
with the figure of Levi, whose heavenly ascent culminates in his appointment
as priest. 
In the Aramaic Vorlage of Test. Levi 2.3 (Mt. Athos MS e
|| 4QTestLevi cols. I & II), Levi washes his entire body in water,
prays and receives a vision in which he ascends to the highest heaven.
In 8,1-5 Levi is portrayed as both priest and prophet, anointed with oil,
washed in pure water, clothed in a glorious robe, the breastplate of understanding,
the garment of truth, a turban (crown) of sign-giving, and the ephod of
In 18,1-9, apparently the figure of Jesus Christ has been substituted for
that of Levi as a new anointed priest replacing the Levitical order. He
will be a new star radiating the light of knowledge, receiving holiness
from the heavenly temple by means of a paternal voice, with the spirit
of understanding and sanctification resting on him "in the water," a clear
allusion to Jesus' baptism (but cf. 2,3 without the phrase "in the water").
Perhaps this heavily Christianized passage has replaced an earlier account
of Levi's heavenly vision, concluded by series of instructions on Levi's
6. The Priesthood and the Heavenly Temple
Many of these instances of association between water and the visionary
experience of prophets and seers are connected in one way or another with
the Israelite priesthood, particularly in post-exilic situations where
the normal discharge of this function was prevented by either the demise
of or a perceived corruption of the earthly temple. Although the link is
largely circumstantial in nature, it seems that the ultimate antecedents
of the transcendental baptism known to the Sethian Gnostics lie in the
visionary experience of certain Jewish priestly groups. It was they who
presided over the temple, the place where one would most expect to receive
a vision of God, as did Isaiah in his inaugural call (Isaiah 6), the place
where wisdom settled in her quest for a home, and ministered just as the
priests (Sir 24:8-12). Those who would seek the face of God and behold
his beauty serving in his house all the days of their lives must have clean
hands and a pure heart (Pss 24, 27). Among those seeking such a vision,
it would be priests above all else who would have had a strong interest
in lustration and in the degree of purity possessed by and enabled by various
waters. The priesthood and their Levitical assistants who chanted hymns
and gave instruction seem ideal candidates for the authorship of much of
the speculative wisdom found in apocalyptic and other literature concerning
various calendrical schemes, the structure of the upper world with its
heavenly temple, and the creation of the universe (e.g., the Priestly account
of the creation in Genesis 1). Immersion in study and speculation concerning
such matters amounted to immersion in the divine wisdom, just as much as
immersion in the study of the Torah. Perhaps it is not going too far to
suggest that ritual immersion in water was viewed as one means to strip
away the perceived corruption of the world from the mind of one who would
have these secrets revealed to him. Such wisdom was available only to the
pure, whether it might be revealed from above to below by such a means
as Torah study, or whether by a visionary ascent of the soul to the heavenly
temple and the divine throne. Either way involves an act of vision, and
to be washed in purifying water would be tantamount to being bathed in
the divine spirit and wisdom, to being immersed in the intense light surrounding
the divine throne. In God's house, next to the divine throne in the shadow
of the cherubimic wings, one drinks from the divine river, the fountain
of life, by whose light the visionary sees light (Ps 36:7-9). One can scarcely
think of a more apt Jewish equivalent to Plato's description of the intense
light of ultimate Goodness and Beauty awaiting anyone who would risk the
ascent out of the cave of illusion.
7. Sage and Priest
One therefore is lead to imagine the closest relationship between the search
for the divine wisdom portrayed in the Jewish wisdom books and the priestly
experience of seeking and serving in the place of the divine presence,
whether that be found in the mundane or the heavenly temple. The pursuit
of the divine presence and wisdom on the part of sage and priest alike
seems to have involved acts of transcendental vision. This form of spiritual
quest seems common not only to priest and sage, but also to the apocalyptic
seer as well as the gnostic visionary. Although the relationship of the
authors of the wisdom books to the temple cult is not clearly delineated,
at least some of them were likely priests or Levites who objected to perceived
improprieties in the temple cult in Jerusalem during the second and first
centuries BCE. 
In this period of socio-political instability and factionalism, both wisdom
and the priests whose sense of cultic legitimacy as those instructed in
the true wisdom were felt to be displaced from social reality. Thus marginalized,
they were conceived as ideal figures, who, though absent from its actual
leadership, were nevertheless available to those who could see.
In the case of the priesthood, it seems possible to hypothesize a connection
between the experience of vision and water, whether that water be a feature
of the heavenly temple or the ordinary water associated with purificatory
lustrations. Such a connection would have been known to the authors of
the wisdom books as well, especially if their places of instruction or
the scriptoria within which they produced their books were part of the
temple complex, and were themselves priests or traced their ancestry through
priestly or Levitical families.
VII. Conclusion: The Barbeloites, Vision, and Baptism
The antecedents of Barbeloite baptism as I have described it seem to lie
in such a sacerdotal and sapiential environment. The Sethian texts provide
strong evidence for the existence of a baptismal rite which at some point
involved immersion in ordinary water, for which I can think of no more
likely origin than the priestly lustrations connected with service in the
temple. The Barbeloite rite was also the occasion for a vision of the heavenly
realm and immersion in the heavenly light or living water that radiated
from the supreme deity, in much the same way as apocalyptic visionaries
saw the intense light radiating from the divine throne and chariot and
streams of living water flowing from the heavenly temple.
Within the Barbeloite school of speculation, this
trend towards contemplative vision seems to lead in two directions. One
direction leads to the pattern of baptism as a rite conferred upon the
Gnostic resulting from the descent of the divine First Thought or Wisdom
in the form of the Logos or of Christ or of Seth. Participation in the
rite involved visionary illumination, enlightenment, and complete salvation.
Along this trajectory, it seems that a lustrational practice, developed
within sapiential and priestly circles, was associated with speculation
on the relationship between God and his hypostatized Thought or Wisdom,
viewed as the respective mother and father of the divine Logos, the instrument
of creation and enlightenment such as we find described by Philo.
Such a complex of practice and speculation was developed into the Barbeloite
myth of the triple descent of Barbelo, whose final appearance in the form
of the Logos culminated in conferring the baptismal rite of the Five Seals.
Under Christian influence, this Logos figure became associated with an
earthly appearance in the person of Jesus; it was inaugurated in the context
of his own baptism consisting of a heavenly vision and his commissioning
as God's Son who would himself offer a baptism in Living Water or the divine
Spirit. The specifically Sethian gnostic portrayal of the rite resulted
from an equation between the idea of a contemporary appearance of the primordial
Seth to rescue his seed and the similar appearance of the pre-existent
Christ in the person of Jesus, such that the two figures were identified.
The other direction taken by this Barbeloite speculation
and practice of contemplative vision either led away from the baptismal
rite or developed completely apart from concern with it. This would be
the branch whose interest in wisdom speculation led to a fusion with a
religious Platonism such as is found in the Chaldean Oracles,
and in other Neopythagorean and Middle- and Neoplatonic sources, resulting
in the production of the Neoplatonizing Sethian treatises such as Zost.,
Steles Seth, and Marsanes. Here, Barbelo does not descend
to confer wisdom through a baptism; instead, the soul of the visionary
ascends through a sequence of self-performable acts of mental contemplation,
each of which could be symbolized as a baptism or sealing, up to and even
beyond the level of the divine First Thought. This distinction seems to
be a natural result of the dichotomy between the accessible immanence and
inaccessible transcendence of wisdom found already in Jewish wisdom literature.
Given the conclusion that Wisdom is no longer accessible on the earthly
plane, one has only two possibilities: either that she descend to us, or
that we ascend to her. Either possibility involves some act of vision,
either by way of response to and recognition of the divine initiative and
call, or by the more rigorous way of a self-performable act typical of
Platonism. In both cases, to undergo Barbeloite baptism entails visionary
experience; baptism is not preparatory to, but is equivalent to vision.
I have suggested that the Barbeloite precursors
of the Gnostic Sethians sustained their initial encounter with Christianity
as fellow practitioners of an initiatory baptism, wherein the initiate
acquired a new identity. The baptismal rite provided a natural point of
contact between these Barbeloites and Christians who likewise viewed their
own baptism as a rebirth into a higher mode of existence, and saw the baptism
of Jesus as the liminal occasion through which the pre-existent savior
had inaugurated his revelatory mission in the world, if not the point at
which the divine Spirit or Sonship appeared in the world and entered into
him. Such an encounter seems to have encouraged the Barbeloites to identify
the third member of their Father-Mother-Son triad with the pre-existent
Christ and to identify the Mother's third appearance in the world with
the descent of the Logos in the form of the Christ who raised Jesus from
the cross. Given this identification, a further encounter between such
Christianized Barbeloites and Sethite groups who claimed to be the beneficiaries
of revelations received through a recent manifestation of the primordial
Seth, might have suggested for these Sethites an identification between
Seth and the Christ who had descended upon Jesus at his baptism. Seth came
bearing a higher form of baptism with the Five Seals just as Christ came
bearing a higher form of baptism in the Spirit or in a Living Water that
could lead to rebirth and eternal life. The Christologies developed in
the process are mostly developments that depend on Hellenistic Jewish wisdom
speculation, which was rather rich in an aquatic symbolism for the process
of enlightenment. Although it was developed in the relative isolation of
esoteric wisdom and priestly schools, it may indeed have achieved part
of its later popularity precisely through a natural affinity with a highly
symbolic ritual practice like baptism. Certainly the symbols for the divine
Wisdom would have been highly attractive vehicles for articulating the
significance of the central rite practiced by whatever baptizing sects
may have populated the Jordan valley in the first century.
] The main passages are: Gos. Egypt. (the series of prayers
in III, 2: 65,26-68,1 and the doxologies in IV, 2:59,13-29;
III, 2:49,22-50,17; 53, 12-54,11; 55,16-56,3; 61,23-62,13); Apoc.
(the visions of the thirteen kingdoms, V,5: 77,27- 82,19, and the
concluding sections in 82,19-85,31); Melch. (the aretalogies of
Gamaliel and Melchizedek in IX, 1: 5,17-6,10 and 14,16-18,7 respectively);
(esp. NHC VIII, 1: 5,11-7,22; 15,1-21; 47,1-63,9); the Pronoia hymn
of Ap. John (II, 1: 30,11-31,25);
(sporadically throughout the aretalogical passages and especially in the
recitation of XIII, 1: 48,15-35 and in other, more expository passages,
e.g. 36,5b-7a; 37,1b-3a; 37,35; 41,21b-24a; 45,12b- 20; 46,16-19a and 48,top-48,12a).
The term "the Five Seals," mostly referring to some kind of baptism, occurs
in Ap. John II, 1:31,24; IV, 1:49,4; Gos.
Egypt. IV, 2:56,25; 58,6; 58,27-28; 59,27-28; 66,25-26; 74,16;
78,4-5; III, 2:55, 12; 63,3; 66,3; the Bruce untitled treatise 32,10
[Schmidt-MacDermot]; and Trim.
Prot. XIII, 1:48,31;
49,27-28; 47,29; 50,9-10).
]Clearly such stripping, disrobing and attendant nakedness is a ritual
metaphor for entering the liminal state, just as the "primary revelation"
and "non-knowing knowledge" presented in Allogenes constitute cognitive
metaphors for the same process. At this point, the initiate or the visionary
is "neither this nor that, and yet is both" (V. W. Turner, "Betwixt and
Between: The Liminal Period in Rites of Passage" in Forest of Symbols
[Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967], 98), neither enlightened nor
unenlightened, but inhabiting the liminal state of literal or figurative
nakedness, humility, utter passivity, and abandonment of any claim to status
or possession of knowledge. The same applies also to the incognito descent
and unrecognizability of the Savior during the period of his descent from
and return to the world of light (cf. Trim. Prot. NHC XIII, 1: 47,13-50,12
and Allogenes NHC XI, 3: 58,7-61:31). The third phase of the initiatory
"rite of passage," aggregation, means incorporation not only into a new
state of awareness and into the elect group which inhabits this state,
but also the advent of a new cosmic situation, such as the defeat of the
hostile cosmic powers and the dissolution of chaos. In the Sethian treatises,
typical metaphors for aggregation are Pronoia's gathering of all her members,
or instances of contemplative assimilation with increasingly higher levels
of reality. As Plotinus observed, such transformed persons thought themselves
superior in rank to the very stars, even to the gods themselves (Ennead
188.8.131.52-60). These characteristics, typical of initiatory rites, seem
also apt characterizations of the Sethian rite, which may or may nor have
been initiatory, may have involved the concept of purification, and may
have been administered repeatedly.
]I am indebted for the following observation on the connection between
baptism and apocalyptic thought to my student Gordon Watley, "The Baptismal
Practices of Jewish Apocalyptic Movements," MA Thesis in Classics, University
of Nebraska-Lincoln, August, 1990.
]First noted by G. W. MacRae, "Sleep and Wakening in Gnostic Texts,"
in Le Origini dello Gnosticismo: Colloquio di Messina, 13-18Aprile
1966 (ed. U. Bianchi; Supplements to Numen 12; Leiden: E.J. Brill,
]Elsewhere, I have argued not only that there is a common motif of
the triple descent of the divine First Thought shared between Trim.
and Ap. John, but also that Trim. Prot. probably
first emerged as an expansion of the shorter hymn concluding Ap.
embellished by the addition of more aretalogical self-predications of the
divine First Thought, certain other materials that parallel the cosmogony
of Ap. John, a number of baptismal traditions, and a concluding
section which uses Johannine language to develop a docetic interpretation
of the relationship between Jesus and the Logos. See J.D. Turner, "The
Gnostic Threefold Path to Enlightenment: The Ascent of Mind and the Descent
of Wisdom," Novum Testamentum 22 (1980), 324-51, and "Sethian Gnosticism:
A Literary History," in Nag Hammadi,
Gnosticism and Early
Christianity (ed. C. W. Hedrick and R. Hodgson; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson
Publishers, 1986), 55-86 (hereafter cited as "Threefold Path" and "Sethian
]Cf. the Naasene psalm in Hippolytus, Ref. 6.10.1, in which
Jesus says: "Therefore send me, Father; bearing seals I will descend, I
will pass through all the Aeons, I will disclose all mysteries, I will
show the form of the Gods; and the secrets of the holy way that awaken
Gnosis I will impart."
]In an unpublished paper, "The Virgin that Became Male: The Feminine
Principle in Platonic and Gnostic Metaphysics," I have tried to show that
the Father-Mother-Son nomenclature (which appears also in Ap. John
and Gos. Egypt.) is likely to be an adaptation of the Father,
Mother, Child triad developed by Plato in Timaeus 48-52, representing
respectively the transcendent Forms as father, the receptacle and nurse
of becoming as mother, and the images comprising the phenomenal world as
child or offspring.
]According to it, the exalted Sophia is the fountain or spring (cf.
Sirach 15:3; 24:30; Philo, Fuga 195) from which flows the Word like
a river (Philo, Somn. 2.242; cf. Fuga 97). She is also equated
with the living water of which God is the source (cf. Prov 16:22; 14:27;
Cant 4:15 and Bar 3:12 with Jer 2:13; 17:13 [LXX], Jn 4:10; 7:38 and Odes
of Solomon 11:5-9; 30:1-6). She is the Mother of the Word through whom
the universe came to be (Philo, Fuga 109); indeed mother of all
creatures (Philo, Det. 115-116). To be baptized in her water is
to receive true Gnosis. Her Voice is the revelation of the truth. The same
sort of myth of descent applied to Barbelo or the First Thought in the
Sethian treatises figures also in the story of Sophia in 1 Enoch 42 and
other sources--such as the Johannine prologue--where Wisdom (or the Logos)
descends to find a place to dwell among men, but meeting with initial failure,
reascends or tries again.
]Gnosis, or perhaps the seed of Seth; cf. Gos. Egypt.
III,2: 56,4-13. Cf. the radiant light with which the Invisible Spirit
is surrounded in Ap. John II, 1: 4,18-26, as well
as the important place given to the Four Lights.
]According to the survey of J. Ysebaert, Greek Baptismal Terminology:
Its Origins and Early Development (Graecitus Christianorom Primeva
1, Nijmegen: Dekker & Van de Vegt, 1962), by mid-second century, the
Christian baptismal ritual comprised (with regional variations) approximately
the following sequence of acts (in certain regions preceded by a two-day
fast and an all-night vigil culminating with the rite performed in darkness):
1) renunciation of sin and Satan (later spoken with outstretched arms and
facing westwards), sometimes coupled with removal of the outer garments,
standing in penance on sackcloth or goatskin, and a pre-baptismal anointing
with oil and cruciform signation on the forehead, (either as a kind of
exorcism or as an epiklêsis of the Holy Spirit); 2) stripping
naked (reminding the postulant of the primal nudity of Adam and Eve in
the Garden); 3) an optional complete pre-baptismal anointing with oil;
4) water baptism by immersion accompanied by invocation of "the Names"
(usually threefold and including affirmations of creedal interrogations,
later spoken eastward); 5) emergence from the water (in which the baptizand
is to imagine himself as clothed in a radiant garment); 6) an optional
post-baptismal anointing with oil or myrrh (absent in the Syrian rite,
and thus likely a secondary addition); 7) investiture (usually in white
clothing, signifying receipt of the light of immortality, supplemented
in Egypt much later with a crowning); 8) a post-baptismal anointing of
the head by the priest or bishop with oil or myrrh; and 9) an imposition
of hands, usually by the bishop, which may include a further anointing
and "sealing" on the forehead. Any one of these acts, the anointings (frequently
conceived as apotropaic), the imposition of hands or the baptism itself
might be called a "seal." To judge from the Acts of Thomas 26-27,
the ascent from the water (Syriac version) or the anointing with oil (Greek
version) may also involve luminous appearances of the Savior, and Justin
Martyr (Apol. 1.61.11-12) characterizes the baptismal washing as
"enlightenment" (phôtismos). See the convenient collection
of texts in E. C. Whitaker, Documents of the Baptismal Liturgy.
London: SPCK, 1970). While for non-Sethian Christians this ceremony would
be followed by a kiss of peace and the Eucharist, the Sethian ritual appears
to have been complete in itself, and effective of salvation. The Sethian
rite of the Five Seals (investiture, baptism in the Living Water, enthronement,
glorification and enlightenment in Trim. Prot. 48,15-35;
45,12-20), includes acts similar to those in 2 Enoch 22 (stripping of earthly
garments, anointing, investing, enlightening) and in The Testament of Levi
8,2-10 (investing as priest and king, anointing, washing, feeding, drinking,
further investing and crowning). In Test. Levi 18,6-7 at the advent of
the eschatological priest, a star arises, emitting the light of knowledge,
the Father's Voice issues from the heavenly temple, and the spirit of understanding
rests upon him in the water. The similarity of these motifs to those of
the synoptic accounts of Jesus' baptism is obvious. Similar baptismal motifs
occur in the Odes of Solomon (11,7-16: drinking Living Water, stripping
away of folly, investing with radiance and enlightenment; 24,1-5: the Voice
of the dove above the Messiah and the opening of the abysses). The sequence
of acts in the Sethian Five Seals is also nearly duplicated in the Mandaean
Masbuta as summarized by Kurt Rudolph, Die Mandäer: II.
Kult (Forschungen zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testaments,
N.F. 57; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1961), 88-89: investiture,
entrance into the "jordan," triple self-immersion, triple immersion by
the priest, triple signation with water, triple drink, crowning or wreathing,
invocation of divine names, ritual handshake, and ascent from the "jordan."
Like many of these baptismal materials, the Sethian baptismal materials
seem consistently to link the descent of the savior (Seth or Christ as
the Logos) into the world with the descent of the baptizand into the water
or world of chaos, and the visionary ascent of the baptizand out of the
water or world into the light with a sort of royal enthronement of the
baptizand. The similar pattern of various of the NT Christological hymns
may also be seen against such a baptismal environment (Phil 2:6-11; Col
2:9- 15, etc.).
]NHC XIII, 1: 49:29-30: titie nsfragis nte neeiran ete nai
ne. The use of the Coptic relative clause ete nai ne in the
absolute seems odd; perhaps it once had a predicate, now lost, providing
a more specific gloss on the Five Seals. As it stands, its antecedent is
"these names," presumably the names of the beings named in 48:15-35. The
effect of this phrase is to identify the Five Seals with a (ritual) invocation
of the names of these spiritual beings, the baptizers, guardians, investitors,
rapturers, glorifiers, enthroners and others associated with the baptismal
]Schenke ("Gnostic Sethianism" in The Rediscovery of Gnosticism:
of the International Conference on Gnosticism at Yale,
1978, ed. B. Layton, Supplements to Numen 41; Leiden: E.J. Brill,
1980-1981 (hereafter cited as Rediscovery), 2.602-607), distinguishes
between two Sethian rites or mysteries: baptism, and a higher one, cultic
ascension. He calls attention to the interpretation of baptism as the stripping
off of the flesh found already in Col 2:11-15, suggesting that earthly
and celestial Sethian baptism are likewise cultically identical. Schenke's
observations lead him to suppose the ultimate origin of gnostic Sethianism
was in the baptist circles of Palestine, a supposition with which I agree,
although this raises the question of the actual existence of these sects,
many of which seem to have been invented for nefarious purposes by the
]Cf. the phrase "[the waters] which are above" (NHC IX,1: 8,1)
in the speech of Gamaliel. In the case of Melchizedek's speech, he says
that he will pronounce his "name" as he "receives baptism," signifying
the entrance of the baptizand into a special social or ontological class,
and implying, though not necessarily entailing, that baptism is not self-administered
(although no officiant is mentioned or alluded to).
]Cf. B. A. Pearson, transl. with S. Giverson, "Melchizedek," in B.
A. Pearson ed., Nag Hammadi Codices IX and X (Nag Hammadi Studies
15; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1981), esp. 229-250.
]Most importantly, Marsanes refers to each of thirteen levels
of being, from the sense-perceptible world through the Aeon of Barbelo
on up to the levels of the Invisible Spirit and the unknown Silent One
beyond him, as an ascending sequence of thirteen "seals," the upper eight
of which are identified by names also used by Zost. to designate
the supracelestial realms.
]See below on Zost; the fifth seal designates the Repentance;
the sixth, the self-begotten ones; the seventh, Autogenes; the eighth,
Protophanes; the ninth, probably Kalyptos; the tenth, Barbelo; the eleventh
and twelfth, the Invisible Spirit and his Triple Powered One; the thirteenth
is the unknown Silent One.
]"Gnostic Sethianism" in Rediscovery, 2.600.
]Coptic hôtb, IV, 2: 75,3-4; III, 2: 63,3-12
has hôtp, "reconciliation."
]I.e. the world-creator Sakla. Presumably the thirteen aeons, "nailed"
by Seth as he makes his third appearance in the form of Jesus' "Logos-begotten"
body (III,2: 64,1-9), refer to the realms below the level of the
Four Lights; cf. Zost.. VIII,1: 4,25-27: "I was rescued from
the whole world and the thirteen aeons in it, and their angelic beings."
The number thirteen seems to have nothing to do with the thirteen seals
of Marsanes or the (total of) thirteen kingdoms in Apoc.
]Yesseus Mazareus Yessedekeus the living water, Micheus, Michar and
Mnesinous, who preside over the spring of truth or the gate of the waters,
Seldao and Elainos who preside over the mountain, the Four Lights Harmozel,
Oroiael, Davithe and Eleleth along with their "ministers" Gamaliel, Gabriel,
Samblo and Abrasax, and finally Yoel, who presides over the divine name
with which one is baptized. Perhaps the mountain is the same as the mountain
in which Gos. Egypt.. is said to have been placed by Seth:
Charaxiô (III,2: 68,13), which might mean something like "mountain
[Heb. har] of the worthy [Gk. axios i.e. "those who are worthy,"
namely the Sethians]," where Seth put the treatise, and upon which the
sun cannot rise (i.e. in the southern hemisphere; cf. Virgil, Aeneid
1.243-251; Cicero, Luc. 123; Tusc. 1.68). A Charaxio is also
mentioned by Ovid at Metam. 12.272 as a Lapith and at Heroides
15.117 as a brother of Sappho. In Gos. Egypt.. III, 2:
52,3-53,9 the ministers of the Four Lights, Gamaliel, Gabriel, Samblo and
Abrasax are ranked in the same order as members of the aeons of the Four
Lights Harmozel, Oroiael, Daveithai and Eleleth. These "ministers" are
joined respectively by two series of hypostatized virtues: 1) Charis, Thelesis,
Synesis, and Phronesis (derived from the systems of Ap. John
and Irenaeus. Haer. I. 29), who are regarded as feminine consorts
of the Four Lights, and 2) Mneme, Agape, Eirene and (Aionia) Zoe (from
John, NHC II, where Aionia Zoe may be a corruption of ennoia
and zôê, who are regarded in Gos. Egypt. as feminine
consorts for the four ministers. Gos. Egypt. also portrays
these Lights as the respective dwellings of Autogenes and Adamas, the great
Seth and Jesus, the "sons of the great Seth," and "the souls of the sons,"
the same arrangement as in Ap. John. (II,1: 8,28-9,24).
In Trim. Prot. (XIII, 1: 48,26-31; Abrasax is missing)
these "ministers" of the Four Lights preside over an immediately post-baptismal
rapture of the baptizand into the Light-place of the Fatherhood.
]As in the case of Ap. John, the first part of Gos. Egypt.
consists of an elaborate theogony narrating the generation of the five
principal transcendent beings who comprise the highest aeon of the divine
world, called the Doxomedon aeon. Its members are: the great Invisible
Spirit and the male virgin Barbelo familiar from Ap. John; the thrice-male
Child; the male virgin Youel, who seems to be a double of Barbelo; and
Esephech the Child of the Child, who seems to be a lower double of the
thrice-male Child. In this enumeration, the third member of the Father-Mother-Son
triad, usually identified as the Autogenes Logos, now consists of no less
than three beings, the thrice-male Child, Youel and Esephech (the first
two mentioned in Allogenes and all three in Zost.), with
the result that the Autogenes Logos of Gos. Egypt.. is demoted
to a lower level, subordinate to the Doxomedon Aeon. The basic outline
of this theogony seems be an elaboration upon a traditional list of five
principal transcendent beings who are the objects of five repeated doxologies
or presentations of praise which punctuate the major episodes of the theogony
(IV, 2: 59,13-29; III, 2: 49,22-50,17; 53,12-54,11; 55,16-56,3;
61,23-62,13). Gos. Egypt. understands the beings contained
in the Doxomedon aeon to constitute a divine pentad, which it identifies
with the Five Seals of the Sethian gnostic baptismal rite.
]J.D. Turner, "Threefold Path", 324-51, and "Sethian Gnosticism," 55-86.
]Hippolytus (Ref. 5.27.2-3) reports that in Justin's Baruch
one swears to be silent about the mysteries as one "drinks from the living
water, which is for them a baptism (loutron), a source of living
water springing up. For there is a distinction, he says, between water
and water: below the firmament there is a water of the evil creation in
which material and psychic men wash themselves, and above the firmament
there is the living water of the Good in which the spiritual, living men
bathe, and in which Elohim bathed without repenting of it." In the Sethian
theogony and cosmogony, a similar distinction is maintained between the
transcendent luminous living water in which Barbelo emerges as a faithful
reflection of the Invisible Spirit's thought (cf. Ap. John
NHC II, 1: 4,18-28) and the dark and chaotic waters below produced
by the downward inclination of Sophia, from which the demiurge produces
the physical cosmos as merely a pale and inauthentic reflection of the
divine aeons (e.g. Zost. NHC VIII, 1: 9,16-10,18; Hyp.
NHC II, 4: 87,11-20 and parallels). Cf. the report on the Sethians
(Ref. 5.19.21) according to which the savior, having entered the
world through a virgin womb "washed himself and drank the cup of living,
springing water, which anyone wishing to put off the form of a servant
and don the heavenly garment must drink."
]"On the Gattung of Mark (and John)," in Jesus and Man's
Hope (175th Anniversary Festival on the Gospels at Pittsburgh Theological
Seminary) Perspective 11, 2(1970), 99-129, especially 119-129.
]In Apoc. Adam, the descent of the Illuminator to the
water involves the receiving of his name by the seed of Seth (V, 5:
83,4-8). This interpretation is followed by a polemic against those who
pollute the Water of Life by placing it under the will of the powers and
writing down the revelation (V, 5: 84,4-85,18). Instead, one is
to receive a higher baptism of gnosis through the logos-begotten ones and
the imperishable illuminators Yesseus Mazareus Yessedekeus, the Living
Water (V,5: 85,22-31). This contrast between two orders of baptism,
one inferior and the other superior, also underlies the NT distinction
between Jesus' baptism by John in ordinary water--a baptism of repentance
for the forgiveness of sins--and the superior baptism with the Holy Spirit
(and with fire) to be conferred by Jesus. Indeed, Robinson thinks that
in the NT the underlying myth originally referred to baptism, since it
"attached itself to Christian tradition at the point where the Christian
story originally opened, i.e. at the baptism, especially when there was
no infancy narrative in a given situation to provide another alternative."
It may be that this myth intersected biblical tradition in the context
of post-exilic wisdom speculation, perhaps in terms of Ezekiel's vision
of the divine glory departing from Judea and its doomed temple, the exile
of God's bride Israel and her children in a foreign land, and the eventual
restoration after Cyrus' defeat of the Neo-babylonians. One finds the imagery
of barrenness, wilderness, forsakenness, and widowhood contrasted with
the primordial creative power of the divine spirit and word, and the restorational
motifs of nourishment, marriage, birth and light in Is 40:1-5, 12-17; 41:17-20,25;
44:1-5; 45:1-13; 48:12-16; 49:6, 19-21; 54:1-3; 55:6-11; 60:1-3; 61:1-4;
62:1-5; 65:17-25, and especially 66:6-14. This very basic myth concerning
a divine child who together with his divine mother is threatened by an
evil power, yet is rescued and finds safety in the wilderness until the
evil power is destroyed, could be made to apply to many stories of the
origin of heroes: 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 as well as the stories of Zeus and Rheia, Perseus
and Danaae, and Jason and Diomede. Such a myth concerning the advent of
a savior into a world ruled by hostile powers is repeatedly applied to
baptism not only in Mark, the Gospel of the Hebrews, and in Apoc.
but also in many NT and Sethian gnostic sources. In those cases where the
means of the savior's advent occurs through childbirth, the mother ends
up being threatened by and rescued from hostile powers; in those cases
where the occasion of the savior's advent is his baptism, the mother remains
secure in the background, or perhaps appears in the world in the form of
a Spirit or Voice which descends upon the savior at the time of his baptism.
In Mark, which has no birth story, 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 to be the Son of God. The parallel
in Matthew, which follows a birth narrative, agrees, but has reservations
about the baptism in water by John. Finally, the Fourth Gospel, which has
no birth narrative, suppresses Jesus' explicit baptism by John in mere
water, and demotes John to a mere Voice of one crying in the wilderness,
whose only subsequent function is to bear witness to the descent of the
Spirit upon Jesus. Instead, the Fourth Gospel (Jn 4:7-15) understands Jesus
as the source of Living Water, which to drink means eternal life; although
he has baptized Judaean people in water (3:22; 4:1), there will be a time
when he will baptize with the Holy Spirit, which the author identifies
with the Living Water (Jn 7:37-39). Here both birth and baptism seem to
be interpreted in terms of rebirth, or being "born from above," through
"water and the Spirit." One thus reborn has lost earthly origins and connections,
and is uniquely empowered to "see" and "enter" the Kingdom. While the obvious
reference seems to be to Johannine Christians, the absence of explicit
accounts of Jesus' birth and baptism on the earthly plane combine with
this conception of being born from above as an additional reference to
the untraceable--and thus divine--origin of the Savior who brings light
into the world. The parallel with the explanation of the origins of the
Illuminator in Apoc. Adam is obvious. Again, like the Fourth
Gospel's conception of Jesus as the one who will provide living water,
Trim. Prot. regards the Logos who descends with the Five
Seals as the one who 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. Perhaps it would not be going too
far to suppose that Johannine and Sethian conceptions of baptism had a
]See J. H. Sieber, "An Introduction to the Tractate Zostrianos
from Nag Hammadi," Novum Testamentum 15 (1973), 238; idem,
"The Barbelo Aeon as Sophia in Zostrianos and Related Tractates,"
in Rediscovery, 2.788-795 and his Introduction to Zost .
in J. H. Sieber, ed., Nag Hammadi Codex VIII (Nag Hammadi Studies
31; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1991). On this triad, see generally my "Threefold
Path" and "Sethian Gnosticism".
]According to pages 5-7, after an initial revelation from an angel
of Light, Zostrianos ascends in a cloud of light above the darkness of
the thirteen aeons up to the airy earth and is baptized. He then passes
through each of the seven copies of the aeons, being "washed" at each one
in Living Water. At the level of the Transmigration he is baptized once,
and at the level of the Repentance he is baptized four times. As he traverses
the sixth aeon, which, to judge from the enumeration in Marsanes,
is that of the self-begotten ones, Zostrianos is baptized four times in
the name of the divine Autogenes. At each of these baptisms, Zostrianos
becomes a different kind of angel and is said to stand in each of the four
aeons, presumably the Illuminators Eleleth, Daveithai, Oroiael and Harmozel.
At this point , Zost. (VIII, 1: 6,7-32) introduces a block
of Sethian baptismal material whose closest parallels occur in Gos.
(especially III, 2: 64,9-65,26; cf. IV, 2: 75,24-77,20).
Here Zostrianos is baptized in the name of the divine Autogenes by the
powers presiding over the living waters, Michar and Micheus, purified by
Barpharanges (compare Gos. Egypt. Sesengen[bar]pharanges),
and sealed by Michar, Micheus, Seldao, Elenos and Zogenethlos, of whom
all but the last occur in the Gos. Egypt. parallel. Then
Zostrianos blesses the divine Autogenes, Geradamas, his son Seth Emmacha
Seth, the Four Lights Armozel, Oroiael, Daveithai and Eleleth, Meirothea
the mother (of Adam, cf. Gos. Egypt. III, 2: 49,1-16
cf. IV, 2: 60,30-61,18), Prophania the mother of the Lights (III,
51,14-21), and some others. On pages 47-53 Ephesech takes up with traditional
Sethian materials again. In particular, the remaining Sethian baptismal
personalia not mentioned on page 6 recur, but with such great variation
in order and grouping that one wonders if the author of
longer understood their traditional significance. It appears that the baptismal
personalia listed in Gos. Egypt. (III,2: 64,9-65,26)
have been distributed by the author of Zost. in two separate contexts
(page 6 during Zostrianos' baptism and pages 47-53 in Ephesech's revelation).
At the conclusion of Ephesech's revelation (53,15-19), Zostrianos is baptized
a fifth time in the Autogenes and becomes divine. He is baptized five times
and sees Youel, the Four Lights, Protophanes and a number of other beings
peculiar to Zost. Perhaps these fivefold baptisms have something
to do with the rite of the Five Seals. On pages 56-57 the four aeons worship
beings enumerated in much the same fashion as in five formulaic presentations
of praise in Gos. Egypt. (IV,2: 59,13-29; III, 2:
49,22-50,17; 53,12-54,11; 55,16-56,3; 61, 23-62,13). At this point begins
the revelation of Yoel. She explains certain crowns (cf. Esephech, "the
crown of his glory" in the passages of Gos. Egypt. just cited),
which bear seals having to do with the three races belonging to Autogenes,
Protophanes and Kalyptos, and which seem to correspond respectively to
the "perfect individuals," "those who exist together," and those who "truly
exist," just as in Allogenes. Then Zostrianos is apparently baptized
twice more (60,23; 61,22-23), the last baptism taking place in the aeon
of the Triple Male Child whom he sees. At this point the series of baptisms
in Zost. is completed (62,11-14), and Zostrianos has become perfect.
At the level of Protophanes, he is anointed and handed over to the guidance
of Salamex, Selmen, and Armê, who, just as in Allogenes (XI,
3: 56,24-27), are equated with the Luminaries of the Aeon of Barbelo
who will guide Zostrianos into the vision of the totality of the Aeon of
Barbelo and of the ultimate Invisible Spirit and his Triple Powered One.
]Le dossier baptismal Sethien: Études sur la sacramentaire
gnostique (Bibliothèque Copte de Nag Hammadi, Etudes 5; Quebec:
Presses de l' Université Laval, 1986).
]The phrase in III,3: 66,2-3 netmp[sinvcircumflex]a nepiklêsis
napotaxis nte tite nsfragis hm pibaptisma mpêgê suggests,
not two separate acts of invocation and renunciation, but a renunciatory
invocation, while that of IV,2: 78,4-7 nê etnp[sinvcircumflex]a
nnijokm [nt]e tiapotagê m, nisfra[gis n]nat[sinvcircumflex]aje
mmo[o]u nte peujôkm mentions only the renunciation
but not the invocation.
]Sevrin thinks the term "Five Seals" suggests a quintuple baptismal
immersion. Strictly speaking, however, it is unnecessary to make a hypothetical
correlation between each of the Five Seals and an immersion; ample post-biblical
literature shows that the term "seal" can be applied to any one of the
various acts comprising the baptismal ritual, including immersions, but
also anointings, imposition of hands, and other ritual gestures and verbal
performances. The phrase the "invocation, the renunciations of the Five
Seals" in III,2: 66,3-4 suggests that ritual acts other than immersion
could be included in the Five Seals. The number "Five" must have had some
ritual significance, as is suggested by the five doxologies in Gos.
(NHC IV, 2: 59,13-29; III, 2: 49,22-50,17; 53, 12-54,11;
55,16-56,3; 61,23-62,13), as do the fivefold structure of the post-baptismal
prayer in Gos. Egypt. (III,2: 66,8-22), the five triads of
names in Trim. Prot. (XIII,1: 48,15-35), and the fivefold
baptism of Zostrianos in the name of the divine Autogenes (VIII,1:
6,7-7,22; 53,15-55,25: one each for Harmozel, Oroiael, Daveithai and Eleleth,
and a final one for Autogenes, or, in Gos.
65,23-26, for Yoel). Rather than positing a fivefold immersion, I should
prefer to associate such a fivefoldness with the general structure of the
entire rite, including all its components.
]Investiture and enthronement: Trim. Prot. XIII,1:
45,13-20; 48,15-35; coronation: Zost. VIII,1: 57-58; 129,15-16.
The rite thus includes all the phases of a rite of passage as outlined
above in note 2. Profession, invocation and purificatory renunciation belong
to the phase of separation, whereupon one enters the liminal phase of immersion,
probably naked and in a state of symbolic death, and finally into the phase
of aggregation, as raised up and welcomed into the wider circle of initiates.
]These aspects of an actual enacted rite are especially prominent in
(IX, 1: 16,11-13): "And <according to> the [perfect] laws I shall
pronounce my name as I receive baptism [now] ..." which employs the passive
expression "receive baptism" and invokes the authority of the "perfect
laws." The passive "receive baptism" is used repeatedly in Zost.
]Ap. John. II,1: 4,19-5,11.
]It also seems to be connected with the speculations on the thirteen
kingdoms and the origin of the illuminator in the second part of the treatise.
Significantly, each of these speculations concludes with the statement
that the illuminator "came to the water," which seems to refer to some
kind of baptism. The "true" story of the illuminator's origin, which immediately
follows, has the illuminator coming, not to the water, but for the illumination
of the kingless generation, which amounts to equating (or even substituting)
baptism with the advent of illumination. These factors suggest that the
target audience of the polemic fails to recognize the aeonic origin and
enlightening mission of the illuminator, being satisfied instead with his
sub-aeonic origins and baptism in mere water; they do not see that he is
the aeonic Living Water itself.
]If the association of Seth with baptism was a result of Christianization,
that raises the further question about the association of Jesus' activity
with the nature of baptism within Christian tradition itself: Jesus was
baptized by John the Baptist; Christians were baptized in the name of Jesus--indeed
for Paul they are baptized into his death and resurrection--and in the
Fourth Gospel, Jesus baptizes in competition with the inferior baptism
of John the Baptist, making available to recipients a "living water" which
leads to being born from above and securing eternal life. Here, baptism
is considered to be a metaphor for spiritual enlightenment, an initiation
or rite of passage from a condition of ignorance and death to one of enlightenment
and life. Such applications of baptismal imagery to the Christian salvational
experience show that parts of the baptismal rite were spiritualized by
Christians already in the mid-first century, to judge from the complex
of ideas in Colossians 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. Similar motifs appear also in Sethian treatises in which baptismal
motifs are prominent: the divestiture motif is found in Trim. Prot.
(XIII, 1: 48,6-14) and the disarming motif is found in Gos.
(III, 2: 64,3-9).
]It is also quite possible that the direction of influence might have
been the reverse, i.e. that an identification of Seth as a manifestation
of the divine wisdom might have been a prior and catalytic cause of the
similar Christian identification of Christ. Yet such a prior identification
for Seth leaves no trace in the earliest Christian literature, whereas
the independent identification of Christ with wisdom has left many traces
in the earliest Sethian literature. Of course, such an argument may merely
reflect the absence of Sethian documents demonstrably coeval with the earliest
Christian ones and could be interpreted as a naive western cultural myopia
biased toward Christian priority. Yet it is easier to see how a wandering
sage like Jesus might invite an identification with divine wisdom than
it is to see that identification as original with Seth. The coalescence
of Christianized Barbeloite mythology with the largely apocalyptic traditions
about Seth availed the resulting brand of Sethianism of a powerful set
of institutional and mythological symbols for demonstrating the reality
of Seth's expected manifestation in contemporary times, and thus a confirmation
of their own sacred history. Yet this new association with Christianity
may have proved eventually to be an uncomfortable one, as the emerging
apostolic orthodoxy gradually became critical of the Sethian interpretation
of these symbols. To judge from production of the heavily Platonizing and
distinctly non-Christian treatises such as Allogenes, Zost.,
Three Steles of Seth and Marsanes, one may surmise that the
Sethian movement, perhaps in search of a more compatible ideological coexistence,
seems to have entered into an alliance with second-century pagan Platonism.
The ironic result seems to have been a gradual shift of attention away
from its sacred history toward a very much more atemporal and metaphysically
articulated ritual of contemplation.
]Perhaps a periphrasis for the Tetragrammaton YHWH: ba'arba
' elo`a, "in four [letters] is God." Several other derivations have
been suggested, some Semitic (abar ba`al = "companion of the Lord"
[Quispel]; bar bal'a = "resplendent heart" [Tardieu]; barat belô
= "daughter of God"; balbel = "confusion" [Hort]; b-Arbela = "in
Arbela" [Gressman] ) and some Egyptian (brbr-o = "great emission"
[Layton]; ba-rê-eloh = "divine manifestation of Re in Eloh"
[Parrott]; Coptic blbile = "seed" [Burkitt]). See especially M.
Scopello, "Youel et Barbelo dans le traité de l'Allogène,"
in Colloque internationale sur les textes de Nag Hammadi (Quebec,
22-25 août 1978; ed. B. Barc; Bibliothèque copte de Nag Hammadi,
Etudes 1; Quebec/Louvain: Université Laval / Peeters, 1981), 374-382.
Starting from an apparent equation of Youel and Barbelo in Gos.
(IV, 2: 56,21), she traces the origin of Barbelo to the figure of
Yaoel in Apocalypse of Abraham X, who is said to contain the ineffable
name of God, a name which Metatron in III Enoch 48d also contains. She
also points to an analogy between Authrounios in Zost. and Metatron,
probably assuming both refer to the concept of the divine "throne." This
female being could be viewed alternatively as the Wisdom of God, as was
almost certainly the case with the Egyptian Isis, speculations concerning
whom have influenced the Jewish wisdom tradition.
]E.g. Zost. NHC VIII, 1: 9,16-10,18; Hyp. Arch.
NHC II, 4: 87,11-20 and parallels.
]An excellent example of the kind of ambiguity that might arise from
Sophia's contact with such extremes is offered by the The Thunder:
Mind (NHC VI,2), which may have Sethian affinities.
]Cf. the various bathing regulations in Leviticus 12-16 (especially
Lev 16 concerning the priest on the day of atonement) and the later concerns
of the Pharisees (as expressed in the Mishnaic tractate Mikwaoth) and the
Essenes at Qumran (Josephus, de Bell. Jud. 2.129-132 [before
meals]; CD x.12-13).
]Cf. 1QS 2.25-3.12; 5.7-20.
]1QS xi.3-8; 1QH vi.14-19; viii.14-6; xviii.10-13; cf. Ps 36:8-10;
46:5; 65:10-14). In 1QH viii.4-36, similar imagery is applied by the Teacher
of Righteousness to himself, rather like ben Sira's self-characterization
in Sir 24:30-34; here the springs and waters seem to refer to wisdom.
]Ez 47:1-12; cf. Joel 3:18; Zech 14:8; Rev 22. In certain ways the
visions of Enoch in 1 Enoch 1-36 (the Book of the Watchers) resemble those
of Ez 40-48; they seem related to the idea, probably developed in priestly
circles, of the heavenly archetype of the Temple already present in Exodus
(25:9,40; 26:30; 27:8) and 2 Chronicles. Here one must bear in mind the
possible Ancient Near Eastern origins of this kind of aquatic symbolism
as it may have occurred in royal enthronement ceremonies. It appears that
there may have been ancient Mesopotamian enthronement rituals, in which
the king, stripped of his regalia, perhaps undergoes a symbolic struggle
with the dark waters of chaos, confesses his righteousness, is raised up,
nourished by water and food, absolved and strengthened by a divine oracle,
and is re-invested with his regalia, acquiring a radiance and authority
suggestive of enthronement and royal acclamation ("I will praise the Lord
of Wisdom," tablets 3 & 4, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to
the Old Testament (ed. J. Pritchard; Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 31969), 434- 436; "Temple Program for the New Year's
Festivals at Babylon," lines 413-453, ibid. 334; cf. Psalms 18,
30, 69, 80, 89, & 146; 1 Kings 1:38-47). As applied to baptism, the
one baptized descends into the water, which in the negative sense represents
death and chaos, and then rises from the waters victorious, reborn and
enlightened, a ritual representation of a struggle with the watery powers
of chaos ending in enthronement. Such an ambivalent valorization of water
appears clearly in the Apoc. Adam with its distinction between
the holy baptism in the living water and the defiled baptism of the powers.
It seems as if an older symbol of victory over the chaotic forces of nature
has been interiorized or spiritualized to apply to the enlightenment of
the soul and its emancipation from the dark powers of the body and psychic
]Cf. S. A. Werthheimer, ed. Bathe Midrashoth, (Jerusalem, 21954),
2.129: "Thus Ezekiel stood by the river Chebar and was looking at the water,
and the seven heavens were opened to him, and he beheld the ho[ly] Glory."
]2 Enoch, Similitudes of Enoch, Apocalypse of Abraham, Ascension of
Isaiah, Apocalypse of Zephaniah, 3 Baruch and the Testament of Levi.
]Erik Peterson, "Einige Bemerkungen zum Hamburger Papyrus ...," in
Judentum und Gnosis [Rome, Freiburg, Vienna: Herder, 1959], pp.
194-96, collects numerous texts in which an epiphany of Jesus at baptism
in the form of a paidion, neaniskos, or the like is recounted.
]M. E. Stone, Scriptures, Sects and Visions: A
Profile of Judaism from Ezra to the Jewish Revolts. Philadelphia: Fortress
Press, 1980, 85.
]For other instances, see Varro, apud Augustine, De civ.
7.35; Strabo 16.2.39; Pausanius, 7.21.12; Pliny, Nat. Hist.
37.192; Apuleius, Apol. 42-43; Iamblichus, De myster. 2.10;
3.11; Porphyry, De antro, passim; Damascius apud Photius,
Vita Isidori cod. 242 191.1-4; 203.1-31; P.G.M
IV 165; 225.
]Greek Test. Levi 2.3-6; 5.1-2; 8.2-10; 18.1-9; 1QTestLevi frg. 4 (=
Bodleian a); 4QTestLevi (= Bodleian e).
]Cf. Ex 29:4; 40:12; Lev 8:6; Num 5:17; Ez 36:25 and Philo, Vita
Mosis 2.143: "first he washed them in the purest and most vital (zôikôtatos)
spring-water and set on them the priestly garments."
]A vision preserved in the Bodleian Aramaic fragments a-d
from the Cairo Genizah, corresponding to fragments 3 & 4 of 4QTestLevi.
In the original composition, Levi may have been thought to be an eschatological
priest, perhaps serving alongside a royal messiah from the line of Judah.
The concept of two anointed ones, a priestly one of Aaron and a royal one
of Israel, found at Qumran, goes back at least to the fifth century BCE,
e.g. in Zechariah's (ch. 4) vision of the two olive branches representing
the high priest Joshua and the Davidide Zerubabel at the time of the Restoration.
]From ancient times there must have been scribal schools associated
with the temple for the instruction of the Levites and priests who in turn
instructed the people in the law on the great feast days. Josephus mentions
"scribes of the temple" in reference to an edict of Antiochus III (Ant.
12.142). II Chron 34:13 appears to depict the scribal office as a prerogative
of the Levites, as also Sir 45:17 seems to characterize the descendants
of Aaron. By the time of Ben Sira (ca. 180 BCE; cf. Sir 51:23,29) one sees
references to the "Jewish house of learning" and the seat (yeshiva)
of the teacher which were no longer directly associated with the temple.
Many Essenes still held that teaching was a prerogative for the priests,
especially the Zadokites (Josephus, Bell. Jud. 3.352; Vita
8-9; cf. Test. Levi 13:2-6), yet at Qumran it is clear that the receipt
of wisdom is no longer specifically linked to the temple; it comes to those
'who are far from its gates, who are driven from its entrances" (11QPsa
]Wisdom is the mother of the Word through whom the universe came to
be in Fuga 109 and mother of all creatures in Det. 115-116.