E-Mail Questions and Comments, RelSt 535 (Gnosticism), Spring 2005

[added to the file in reverse order, most recent first; simple notices of minutes posted are not included]



Date:         Tue, 19 Apr 2005 21:09:15 -0400
Subject: WrapUp time

I've added the four book reviews that were sent to me in electronic form to the course page (with links from the minutes), and still need the remainder, if you want to be published (Doug, Liza, William, Caroline). If you are absolutely POSITIVE that your machine is not infected, you can send your formatted review as an attachment (or drop off a disk). That saves me some work, while also raising my anxiety level!

In updating the course home page and adding a link to reviews, I noticed that I largely ignored the course outline as presented there, as things went along. If you haven't yet looked at the week-by-week qustions and suggestions, it might be a useful way to do some reviewing, in addition to going back through the minutes. I'd hate to waste a good course outline!!

Now I'll need to create a site for your papers, which I look forward to reading. It has been a most enjoyable course for me, so keep up the momentum!



Date:         Wed, 13 Apr 2005 12:30:36 -0400
Subject: Latest Formal Due Date

Some of you have asked about "due dates" for your papers, etc.

If you need to have everything wrapped up in time for graduation, I'll need to have all grading information in hand by the end of the exam period, 6 May (Friday). That means: research paper in by Tuesday, 3 May, giving  time for an exit interview by the end of Friday the 6th, or (in extreme cases) Monday the 9th (when I'm supposed to hand in grades).

If you are not graduating and need more flexibility, I'll hand in an "Incomplete" on the grade sheet, which gives you an extension for a few weeks at least. I'll be taking an Incomplete on my taxes, too.



Date:         Wed, 13 Apr 2005 10:36:15 -0400
Subject: Pearson and Goodspeed/Grant

Thanks to Deb, here is some pertinent information about library copies of two books we discussed in class yesterday:

Forwarded message:
> Date: Wed, 13 Apr 2005 10:12:01 -0400
> From: "Debra J. Bucher" <dbucher@pobox.upenn.edu>
> Subject: Pearson and Goodspeed/Grant
> FYI--Here's the Franklin record for the Pearson book reviewed yesterday in
> class.  The Goodspeed/Grant record is below that.
> Deb
> >
> > Author:            Pearson, Birger Albert.
> > Title:             Gnosticism and Christianity in Roman and Coptic Egypt /
> >                       Birger A. Pearson.
> > Publisher:         New York : T & T Clark International, c2004.
> > Description:       Book
> >                    xv, 302 p. : ill., 1 map ; 23 cm.
> > LC Subject(s):     Church history Primitive and early church, ca. 30-600.
> >                    Gnosticism.
> >                    Egypt Church history.
> > Notes:             Includes bibliographical references and indexes.
> > Series:            Studies in antiquity and Christianity.
> > Other Series Title:
> >                    Studies in antiquity & Christianity
> > ISBN:              0567026108 (pbk.)
> > URL:               http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/ecip049/2003022196.html
> > Web Link:          Table of contents
> >                    http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/ecip049/2003022196.html
> >                          ______________________________
> > Location:          Van Pelt Library
> > Call Number:       BR190 .P43 2004
> > Status:            Available, check location
> >
> >---
> Author:            Goodspeed, Edgar Johnson, 1871-1962.
> Title:             A history of early Christian literature. Rev. and enl.
>                        by Robert M. Grant.
> Publisher:         [Chicago] University of Chicago Press [1966]
> Description:       Book
>                    ix, 214 p. 22 cm.
> LC Subject(s):     Christian literature, Early--History and criticism.
> Notes:             Bibliography: p. 203-210.
> Other Contributors:
>                    Grant, Robert McQueen, 1917-
> Location:          Van Pelt Library
> Call Number:       BR67 .G58 1966
> Status:            Available, check location
>                          ______________________________
> Location:          Van Pelt Library
> Call Number:       BR67 .G58 1966
> Status:             Checked Out. Due 05-17-05  (Use BorrowDirect+ or Place
>                       Request to Recall).


Date:         Tue, 12 Apr 2005 21:56:22 -0400
Subject: Last Week's Minutes are up

My version of Liza's minutes from last week is now available, with expanded coverage of the great punctuation/quotation marks debate! Buy American? -- or perhaps "Why American?"

There is also an excellent sympathetic review of Eisenman's theories about the naming of "apostles" and especially about Jacob/James, brother of Jesus, which ought to be of value for our discussions. I've added this link to it, for your enlightenment (and for others who may consult the minutes) --




Date:         Fri, 8 Apr 2005 00:38:49 -0400
Subject: Minutes, Reviews, Indices

As we approach crunch time for your research papers, I'm fulfilling a promise made earlier in the term. The Index from NHL (first edition) has now been scanned and is available, warts and all (lots of formatting inconsistencies) at


Hopefully it will be useful to some of you, and we can all contribute ways to make it better (I've already added a few entries, and will do more as time permits).

I've also started to upload your book reviews -- Tom's first -- at

http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/rs/rak/courses/535/reviews/ (not yet in html)

If you haven't given me yours yet in electronic form, and if you are willing for it to be published in this manner, please get it to me.

Finally, the most recent minutes and assignments for the remainder of the course are available in the usual web slot. (The minutes from this week's class are still in process.)

Happy spring. Have a good weekend.



Date:         Mon, 28 Mar 2005 21:22:58 -0500
Subject: Class Preparation

If you have time, please notice that the Kraft-Timbie review from which we have been working includes two supplementary appendices concerning references in the NHL to the death, and the incarnation, of the Savior. The second appendix was just added, thanks to a note from Virginia Wayland, and I've fleshed out the first appendix as well, which was only a list of locations before.

In class we will resume the discussion of how the "historical" claims about Jesus are handled in  the NHL, and then move on to the comments in the review about other "NT" type of connections (Acts, Letters, Apocalypses).


--[13 a-b]--

Date:         Thu, 24 Mar 2005 06:15:26 +0000
From: Lynn Smith <lynnjsmith@ATT.NET>
Subject: Re: obscurity and beyond, with assignments

Since this has been forwarded to all in class, I cannot let it rest. So, been thinking about my grammatical explanation, and decided that obscurius following preposition  per, is actually accusative case as required after prep per, though obscurum is nominative. Maybe most people won't really care since it is not the subject we are actually studying, but I cannot let the incorrect stand. Mea culpa.


Date:         Tue, 22 Mar 2005 22:22:35 -0500
Subject: obscurity and beyond, with assignments

Thanks, Lynn, for straightening out this obscurity! And for next week, please lets plan on continuing to work through the next sections of the review, especially the materials on creation. We'll also look further at the ways in which Jesus and his earliest followers are depicted, with an eye also to non-NHL perspectives.


Forwarded message:
> Date: Wed, 23 Mar 2005 01:09:11 +0000
> Subject: obscurity and beyond

> At least I always know where to find answers to Latin--Now if I could only have the same luck setting up my new Dell laptop!

> Disappointed I am to find that there was no gerund in the phrase which you quoted perfectly (but of course you already knew that!) so here is the grammatical analysis anyway, just to prove I am a bona fide former Latin adj prof.

> obscurum per obscurius

> neuter singular nominative ("the obscure thing")
> preposition ("through")
> neuter singular comparative nominative ("more obscure thing")

[Thus, explaining what is obscure by means of what is more obscure.]

> Thanks again for another challenging and fun class.

> Lynn


Date:         Wed, 16 Mar 2005 20:42:04 -0500
Subject: Re: Norea/Noraia (more)

Thanks to William for his contribution. Also, in patching some of this material into the M.R.James update, I came across this relevant passage from the original book by James (pp.12f):

Epiphanius (Heresy, 26) has a good deal to say about a Book of Noria, the wife of Noah, which was used by the Borborite Gnostics. He abuses them for calling her Noria instead of Bath Enos (which in Jubilees, 4.28 is the name of Noah's mother), and relates (presumably on the authority of the Book) that, as they say, "she [13] often tried to be with Noe in the ark" (when it was being built, I understand), "and was not permitted, for the Archon who created the world wished to destroy her with all the rest in the flood; and she, they say, seated herself on the ark and set fire to it, not once or twice, but often, even a first, second, and third time. Hence the making of Noe's ark dragged on for many years, because it was so often burnt by her. For, say they, Noe was obedient to the Archon, but Noria revealed (proclaimed) the Upper Powers and Barbelo, who is of the Powers, and opposed to the Archon, like the other Powers, and taught that the elements that had been stolen from the Mother above by the Archon who made this world and the other gods, angels, and demons who were with him, should be collected from the Power that resides in bodies."

The matter about Barbelo and the Archon is, of course, Gnostic from the beginning; but it is curious to notice that in later legend Noah's wife is often referred to as trying to thwart him. A story is current in two widely separate tongues, Slavonic and English, which shows this. [He then tells those stories, where Norea tries to keep Noah from succeeding by other means.]

RAK note: Norea's attempt(s) to destroy the ark may have been understood as aiming at the purging of material humanity, while Noah is supported by the creator archon who wants to get rid of Norea and preserve the human race over which he/she presides. But the creator archon wins this battle. Strange?


Forwarded message:

> I tried to dig up some more about "Or" (light, fire) --

In Jastrow's dictionary I find NURA or NUR (nun vav resh) with the meaning of "fire" -- perhaps connected to the verb NHR (nun hay resh) "to shine" (and thus in Hifil "to enlighten"! also "to remember"); the same consonants with slightly different vocalization can mean "a river." If you prefer the root AUR (ayin vav resh) and its deritives, you have the idea of stirring, waking up, becoming active. Then there is the better known AOR (as in the creation story, let there be "light"), as you note below, with meanings that include "fire" and "breaking forth" (as dawn). Great fun, these dictionaries. If I were a semitic speaker looking for meaning in Norea's name and activities, I'd find plenty of stimulating connections! (The ancients collected this sort of information -- Philo has lots of such etymologies, and the "Onomastica" of Eusebius and Jerome are well known, and hardly original; we even have some papyri fragments of older versions.)

> Aleph-Vav-Resh is the Hebrew root that connotes both light and, in the verbal
> form, making light when it appears in the hiphil or causitive binyamin. This is
> a relevant passage from the "right side" of the Ginza Rba, the foremost Mandaean
> canonical text:

> When twenty-five ages (generations) pass, the world will be destroyed by water.
> Mankind will be separated from their bodies through a separation caused by
> water. For it has been written down for that the bodies have to die by water
> and the souls ascend to the light, except Nu (Noah), the man, and Nuraita, his
> wife, and Sum (Shem), lam (Ham?), lapit (Japheth), the sons of Nu, who will be
> saved from death by by water From them the world again has to be reawakened.

> (see

> Here, the production of light seems to assume more than a material valence, for
> light in this case seems to be the aether or kavod that permeates the Divine
> Realm, and also symbolizes perfect knowledge. The posession of a luminous halo
> or the production of light is associated, at least in Ancient Near Eastern
> tradition according to Prof. Eichler, with Gods (Dingir in Akkadian) and kings
> who enjoy the mandate of Heaven (such a Hamurapi and Ashurbanipal). Here, in
> Mandaean literature, Norea/Nuraita is held to be the wife of Noah, which we
> noted in class was a possiblity for this character. One wonders if there is any
> particular theological "payoff" for one of the other tradition. Certainly, that
> Norea's presence helps to resolve the difficulties of the Genesis narrative in
> relation to the marriages of the first humans. What I find interesting about
> this particular passage is its departure from the Bible, where God promises to
> never again destroy the world by water. Ancient near eastern tradition also
> leaves the question open as to the return of the flood waters (perhaps
> Zoroastrian tradition as well, I can't remember the details of the story of
> Gayomart (the Adam of the Zoroastrians) that well, go to a site called
> sacred-texts and look at a work called the "Zend-Avesta" and you should find an
> old but serviceable translation there).
> Sincerely,
> William Babcock


Date:         Wed, 16 Mar 2005 14:41:30 -0500
Subject: Re: Norea/Noraia

Thanks, Virginia. This is useful information, for incorporation in some form into the "New James" project. It is especially relevant in that there appears to have been a book or books associated with her name (thus "lost apocrypha," to use the terminology of M. R. James), as well as the brief tractate that you mention (2 pages or less!) in NHL 9.2, "The Thought of Norea" -- although it does not seem to have a separate title (at least not at the end).

> In the Hypostasis of the Archons (translated by Bentley Layton)
> 91.31-92.18, Adam knew Eve and she bore Seth, then Eve bears Norea.  Eve
> says 'He has begotten on [me a] virgin as an assistance [for] many
> generations of mankind'.  She (Norea) is the virgin whom the Forces did
> not defile.

Anyone need a research paper theme? The defiling activity of "the forces" (and its relationship to the traditions summarized in Genesis 6.1-4) would be a possibility -- the role of female figures in gnostic cosmogenies, or the like, if you need something broader.

> The birth of Seth follows Gen 4.25 (sort of, at least in English).
> In 92.14, Orea (=Norea?) comes to Noah wanting to board the ark, but
> he refuses, and she blows on the ark causing it to be consumed by fire.

I wonder whether the "Or" ("light") part of her name gives this association with fire production? Any comments from our semiticist William?

> In 92.19-93.2 the chief ruler tries to rape Norea, but she cries out to
> the Holy One, the God of the Entirety for rescue.

> 93.3-97.20 is a revelation dialogue between Eleleth and Norea. [This
> last part is different in form than what precedes???]

> Norea is not in On the Origin of the World, but 102.10 says 'But the
> feminine names are in the First Book of Noraia'.  The feminine names
> refer to the seven who appeared in Chaos as androgynous beings.

For the male powers, there is "the Archangelikh of Moses the Prophet," and for the female, "the First Book of Noraia" -- which probably is the same as "the First Logos/Discourse of Noraia" mentioned a few lines later. Is the implication that there were other Noreia books/discourses as well?

> The Thought of Norea does not say anything about her birth (or even
> necessarily that she is a person).

> Stroumsa discusses this in connection with the theme of intercourse
> between the sons of God and the daughters of men.  He connects this
> story about Norea with traditions about Noah's wife.

This strange tradition reflected in Genesis 6.1-4 is widely attested in the ancient sources, variously interpreted. Very strange and interesting!

> I continue to be somewhat bewildered by the Gnostic tendency to fill a
> proliferation of heavens with a greater proliferation of aeons, powers,
> and authorities.

> The view that the one who said 'It is I who am God; there is none other'
> is blind and arrogant (Hyp. Arch. 86.30-31; Apocr. Jn. 13.8-9; allusion
> in On Origin of World 100.30-32) seems to me to be essentially the
> objection of a polytheist to monotheism.  It seems rooted in the
> inability to deny the reality of the many gods (however they might be
> called).  This collision does not have to be Christian, or belong to the
> Christian era - although it seems to me to belong to the attempt to
> convert Gentiles to either Judaism or Christianity (as opposed to Jewish
> syncretism with surrounding polytheistic religions).  This direction of
> conversion or influence seems maybe more accessible in the texts
> themselves than 'earlier' or 'later' since there is very little 
> historical information in the texts to hang anything on?

Hummm. Extracting some sort of "theological" motivation from this material is difficult, but also fun. In the long run, our theoretical gnostics are all monotheistic -- or should I say "monadistic"? Their fight is with the idea that the created material world could be sanctioned by the ultimate deity, which for them is an effervescing (emanating)  unknowable monad to whom/which all must ultimately return (salvation as annihilation?).

But in the short run, it is easy to conjecture that the presence of "many gods" in a largely polytheistic world could be a factor in the gnostic mythologies that develop as alternative explanations in contrast to the idea that the one god created it all. It might well have been more attractive to mythologically oriented religionists in the Greco-Roman (and Parthio-Persian) worlds to have all these divinized forces and names than to reduce everything to a creator god and angelic forces.  But whether an identifiable polemic against monotheism stands behind it all seems to me unlikely, except perhaps as part of a larger, more complex picture ("culture-clash"). The anti-gnostic spokespersons seem much more uptight about challenges to their monotheism than vice versa. But maybe that is just how things came to be expressed. Turning Auseinandersetzungsgeschichte (confrontational episodes) into Geschichte (historical synthesis) is a major challenge!



Date:         Tue, 1 Mar 2005 23:16:59 -0500
Subject: After Spring Break

Check the "Minutes" file for the assignments for next class, and the schedule of in-class reviews (no more than 15 minutes each!), which is still under development. Please send me any corrections or updates!

Why wasn't Tom getting the emails? I had him as TICURLEY rather than TJCURLEY (a textcritical error caused by lower case handwriting and inattention). Hopefully he will get this and rejoice. And I need to update the class email file (did you notice that there was one?!) so he/you can catch up.

Have a productive and/or restful break!



Date:         Tue, 1 Mar 2005 11:00:44 -0500
Subject: Eugnostos/Calendars

Thanks, again, Virginia. This is significantly similar to the calendar attested in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, except as far as we know, the DSS people only added 4 days to their 360 day (12 times 30) base, and thus got out of sync more quickly. Since their calendar was also tied to agricultural cycles, it is not clear how they brought it back into syncronization when necessary.

For more on that situation, see



> While I was researching the date of Easter last semester, I abstracted
> the following Egyptian/Alexandrian calendar from Bede's Reckoning of
> Time.  I thought I would send it to you because it may help to give some
> context for the 12 to 72 to 360 progression in Eugnostos - particularly
> the connection to time in 83.22-84.11.
> The Egyptians had 12 months of 30 days each, and the 5 remaining days of
> the year were called epagomena (a sixth day was added every 4 years to
> account for the 'leap year'.  These occurred in late August (Aug
> 24-29/30).  The year began with Thoth (Aug 29 to Sept. 27) followed by
> Phaophi (Sept 28), Hathyr (Oct 29), Choiac (Nov 27), Tybi (Dec 27),
> Mecheir (Jan 26), Phamenoth (Feb 25), Pharmouthi (Mar 27), Pachons (Apr
> 26), Payni (May 26), Epieph (June 25), and Mesore (July 25).
> To the extent that the progression from Immortal Man to Son of Man to
> son of Son of Man, then to six androgynous pairs (12 powers) who have
> six androgynous pairs (72 powers not 144!) who reveal 5 spiritual powers
> (now 360 powers) (83.2-20), reflects the subdivision of the year into
> months and months into days, the insistance on 72 in the intermediate
> stage might represent a deconstruction of the 'normal' view of time.
> The connection between time, the motions of sun, moon and stars, and
> pagan religion that we call astrology is far beyond what I am competent
> to explain.  However, the following (questionable) explanation of hours
> gives a sort of indication:
> The priests who regulated the calendars were given the title
> "Overseers of the Hours". In the first dynasties as writing spread
> through the country, the lunar religious calendar was simplified to
> twelve months of thirty days with five days added to the beginning
> because the religious calendar was too cumbersome to use for commercial
> transactions. This new calendar is called the civil calendar and is the
> earliest form of our modern western counterpart. Because the year is
> actually about a quarter of a day longer than this averaged civil year
> it gradually goes out of synchron-ization with the observable festival
> year and so both the lunar and religious calendars were used side by
> side throughout Egyptian history. The development of the hour also grew
> out of the need to provide for religious rites to occur at their proper
> time (at actual sunrise on any given day, for example). The sungod Re
> traverses the netherworld where he is confronted by demons and demigods
> who attempt to impede his progress to be reborn at sunrise. Spells found
> in the Valley of the Kings (the Book of Gates, for example) help Re pass
> through twelve portals or hours of the night. Re had to recite the names
> of each Gate, Gate Keeper, and his assistant demigods in order to pass
> safely to the next one. Dr. Wells pointed out that the Book of Gates was
> simply a mnemonic device ensuring that the proper sequence of
> constellations which came out of the Underworld would be remembered
> correctly (i.e., the recitations at each Gate). It would work to measure
> hours in the following manner.

> Observations of a single star show that it rises four minutes later each
> day so that in the ideal case observations of twenty-four stars equally
> spaced across the sky would be needed to make accurate predictions of
> sunrise throughout the year in which a given star would be used to mark
> the hour before sunrise. That star could serve as a "Herald" for
> only 15 days before it rose 2 hours before sunrise and thus had to be
> replaced by the next star in the series. Since it would be difficult to
> recognize which bright stars were which rising near the same place on
> the horizon, star groups or patterns of stars surrounding the brighter
> star would be needed to aid recognition. The brightest star of a
> particular group represents the Gate Keeper. The other fainter stars in
> the pattern, or constellation, are the attendants or demigods. The place
> on the horizon where they rose would be the Gate itself. Writing down
> the names of all these deities and the stories associated with them thus
> became the Book of Gates. The usual number is 12 gates, corresponding to
> the 12 hours of night, but variants with eight or ten gates also are
> known to exist. These would simply represent star clocks with 8 or 10
> constellations used to predict sunrise. From: 
> http://home.comcast.net/~hebsed/wells.htm
> The Origins of Egyptian Calendars and Their Modern Legacy
> It is interesting to note that this section is one of those that is
> markedly different in Sophia of Jesus Christ.
> Virginia


Date:         Wed, 23 Feb 2005 00:57:01 -0500
Subject: Assignment review

Since we won't be getting the minutes from today's class in time for next week, I've added a paragraph with the assignments for next week on the "minutes" page, and appropriate links. Here is the plan/hope:

Assignment: familiarize yourselves with codex 3 materials; we will also take a closer look at the Gospel of Thomas. For some "variety" outside the NHL texts, become more familiar with the "Secret Gospel of Mark," and the Odes of Solomon (some of which are quoted in Pistis Sofia; see also Mead's introduction to the latter).

You will note that codex 3 contains another "Sofia" text, not to be confused with the "Pistis Sofia," known and studied before the NHL was discovered. You may spell it "Sophia" if you like (that's become traditional), but the "ph" is a single Greek letter, so you can rebel with me if you like.



Date:         Thu, 17 Feb 2005 01:11:04 -0500
Subject: Who's Who in Tripartite Tractate?

Well, William won the Latin prize for speed of response (you all knew it was Latin, right?), although that shouldn't stop anyone else from replying with more nuanced idiom, or even humorous renderings.

Now back to Virginia's incisive contributions. This is probably the longest, so I'll rearrange it a bit. After describing what she finds in the Tractate about the main cosmic and sub-cosmic agents (see below), she asks

> Have I got the characters/realms in reasonable disorder?
Readers must judge for themselves -- I'll append her descriptions -- but on the whole I think the answer is yes. This is a very difficult text, not only for what it seems to say, but for how it relates to other "gnostic" positions, Valentinian or not. The brief introduction in the NHL volume by Elaine Pagels and Harry Attridge is worth a close (re)reading in this regard. Note, for example, their claim that "the author of the Tripartite Tractate interprets the divine being (here called the pleroma, literally the "fullness") in terms of only three primary members -- Father, Son, and Church -- a theological innovation that Tertullian attributes to the western Valentinian teacher Heracleon" (54).

Of course, that is too simple, and can't address the confusing details in the descriptions and derivations found in the Tripartite Tractate. My own reading of this material is colored by acquaintance with Platonic and Aristotleian thought, which I see behind such distinctions as "image" (basically positive, produced by right thought) and "likeness" (basically negative, imitative, inauthentic) at the level of the Archon of the cosmos (see 100.19ff; is there an interpretation of Genesis 1.26 somewhere in the background?). Basic to all existence is the self-existing unknowable "Father" like Aristotle's Unmoved Mover, or perhaps better, Unfound Sought-one (see 71.8ff). The Monogenes Father/Son is the point of possible knowledge of existence, from whom emanate all sorts of Archons and existences -- the Pleroma and Totatality. A rupture takes place somewhat mysteriously, which involves a fallen Logos who finds his way back as a Redeemed Redeemer, and ultimately is responsible for permitting the "organization" under the cosmic Archon in which we live -- subject to various laws and constraints as well as capable of connecting to the Pleromic (etc.) realms. "Church" plays almost no role in part one of the Tractate, where all this is laid out. (Thus contributing, perhaps, to Virginia's question about different authors for the different parts.)

Enough on that situation, for now. Virginia raises a telling second issue about all this:

This cosmology seems to be different from the Valentinian Exposition in that this text is unrelentingly homosexual - there is no male-female duality at all. The first man manages to fall with no help from Eve.  The defective Logos brings himself forth "weak as a female nature which has abandoned its virility" (78.8-13) and the ones who take form according to the image of the Pleroma, "having fathers who are the ones who gave them life, each one being a copy of each one of the faces, which are forms of maleness, since they are not from the illness which is femaleness" (94.15-20).  'Female' in these two sole instances seems to indicate a defective male, not a separate sex.  Even 'begetting' in this text has the (asexual) sense of thought begetting thought in a stream of consciousness, or a plant growing up from the root.  Am I overreacting?  This does not seem consistent with the idea that women had a greater role in gnostic circles, but rather that the role of women varied among different gnostic groups as much as (and maybe more than) anywhere else.

Right on! There are circles, and there are circles. Perhaps this Treatise comes from a highly ascetic male (monastic?) version of gnosis, for whom the involvement of femaleness even at the level of pleromic syzygies is unpalatable. Sometimes it is fun (maybe even instructive) to try to turn such evidence into sociological realities, and this text encourages that. See also Attridge/Pagels in their NHL introduction: "this author, unlike Valentinus, declares that the Father is 'alone, without any companion,' encompassing within himself all the qualities that other Valentinian sources attribute to feminine elements of the divine being (that is, the Mother, Silence, Grace)."

Finally, for now, another observation from Virginia:

> When I look beyond the wierd cosmology, the problem that the author seems to
> be trying to explain is the existence of conflict/war/fighting in contrast to
> the harmony/unity/brotherly love that he thinks is ideal. [see further below]

Perhaps not trying to explain it as much as to present a message about how it can be overcome, while accepting it as a reality. Has our ascetic (monastic?) gnostic experienced such disharmony from which he has fled, perhaps even connecting it in part to female influences -- or at least been conditioned to see the world in these terms? There are some interesting parallels elsewhere in the ancient world(s).

> [VW continues] When man comes along his nature partakes of all of these (at
> least if he is spiritual) and so he is at war within himself but salvation
> enables him to become a seed/offshoot of the Church aeon (compare the Spirit
> at war with the Flesh in 1Cor 2.6-3.3; and the rulers in Eph 2.1-10; and the
> church in Eph 4.-5.3.  This author understands it differently than Paul, but I
> think they are addressing the same issue.)  Can you think of a better passage?

The Pauline corpus is full of such battles, whether at an internalized individual level (e.g. Romans 7) or in the community (spirit/flesh in Gal 5-6 as well as 1 Cor) or in the world at large (your Eph passages, or also Col on the "powers"). Harmony and community are themes elsewhere as well (Acts, Hebrews, Barnabas, etc.), but the detailed language in our Tractate is indeed striking. I imagine that I hear apocalyptic rumblings in the background ("gnosis is frustrated apocalyptic," R. M. Grant, more or less).

> [VW] The emphasis on the brotherly love/unity/community aspect of
> salvation/godliness seems to reflect a different orientation than the emphasis
> on Truth/knowledge in the Gospel of Truth and also contrasts with the
> pointedly private revelation in the Apocryphon of James.  But
> someone/somepeople collected them into the same codex, do you know if they
> were all copied by the same hand? Does the observation that they are all
> collected in the same codex imply that they were considered complementary
> in some way?  The codex does not seem to have a polemical orientation (such
> as Tertullian preserving some of Marcion's arguments, or Justin preserving
> Trypho's arguments).  This would be a good time for you to tell me about
> codex technology and inspiration or lack thereof.

I don't know whether codex 1 is all in the same hand (probably not). There is little reason to think that there were clear and discoverable organizational principles behind such collections in this period (all sorts of mixtures exist), although one might engage in the potentially circular argument that the fact of making such a collection implies some sort of similar attitudes of authority to the works gathered. I'm skeptical, although there is no way to rule that possibility out at this point. Some of the Nag Hammadi codex covers were carefully made, and even match each other, so the idea of a conscious collection may be even broader than each single codex. How wide? Why? Who knows??

Finally, VW asks about possible Auseinandersetzungsgeschichte (conflict history) considerations behind this text:

> In another direction, this text was copied at about the time that the church
> in Alexandria was divided between Bishop Meletius of Lycopolis and Bishop
> Peter of Alexandria over the question of whether those who lapsed during the
> persecution in 301 could be reinstated.  That conflict could provide a context
> for understanding why the issue of brotherly love/unity and the church was
> important to the person who copied the text.  Do you have any insight into the
> relationship between text transmission and sitz im leben?  This also arises in
> connection with Rufinus' translation of the Pseudo-Clementines into Latin.

Locating these texts in history with any precision is problematic. You rightly ask about when it was copied -- that is less impossible to determine, judging from the form of writing (paleography), the format of the codex (codicology), the linguistic features employed, etc., than when the basic original text was generated. If this was originally a Greek text (or texts), when was it translated into Coptic? Did the translator make modifications (this sometimes happens)? Did previous or later copyists make modifications (as also happens)? When we have but a single manuscript, as here, everything along those lines is basically guesswork. My intuition is that this material is older than the early 4th century, and that its conflict language is not so unusual that I couldn't feel comfortable placing it in a setting familiar with apocalyptic themes combined with ethical and social concerns. But I couldn't feel comfortable manufacturing an exact socio-historical setting from these clues. I could write a historical novel, perhaps, and make it all fit (like Keith Hopkins, A World of Gods), but I woudn't want to pretend it was responsible history.

You've all been patient, if you've come this far. Still, I promised to append the detailed disquisitions that led to such questions, so here they are (with some repetitions for the sake of continuity):

Second, there seem to be three levels of creation (as well as the 'Valentinian' idea of three kinds of men).  If I am reading the text correctly, at the end of the first section (108.12 [sic!]) there are angelic orders (some of the angels are fallen), but still no creation in the physical sense.

Third, (and this is where I am confused) when the Logos begets himself as a perfect unity (77-78), he fractures and begets the likenesses and the one who runs on high.  After this there is a defective Logos, the aeon Logos, and the two orders of the likenesses and those of the thought which have been begotten by the two Logoses(?) Logoi?.  The Logos of the Aeons repents and the Totality brings forth the fruit that is the Son (is this Jesus? is this the Savior?) who reveals himself to all of the aeons (gently) and the defective Logos and the likenesses and thoughts (like lightening) (87-90).  When the fruit/Son appears, the Pleroma of the Logos becomes real (the likenesses and the thoughts seem to become angels in some sense, and now there are two distinct realms).  This realm is set in order by the Logos (the aeon one?, the defective one?) and culminates with the establishment of an Archon who seems to be the demiurge and also the thought of the Logos concerning the Father.

At the end of this I think we have: the Totality with Father, preexistent Son, and aeons (contained in the Father) and the Pleroma of the Logos with Demiurge, those of the likenesses, and those of the thought (contained in the fruit/Son); and also an aeon-Logos and a defective Logos.

In Part 2, the Logos (which one?) creates the spiritual souls of men, the Demiurge creates the psychic souls, and the beings of the likeness create the hylic souls.  Everyone helps to create the first man.  The Demiurge (aided or opposed? - the text is confused here) by the serpent engineers the expulsion of man from paradise and death = ignorance rules.

Part 3 deals with salvation and seems more like the other texts (less confusing).
When I look beyond the wierd cosmology, the problem that the author seems to be trying to explain is the existence of conflict/war/fighting in contrast to the harmony/unity/brotherly love that he thinks is ideal.  The ideal is reflected in the unity of the aeons in the Totality which is contained in and glorifies the Father (who they come to know by glorifying him). (72-74) The defect comes from the separation of the Logos from the unity (which the text blames on free will (75.35-38) and begets those of the likenesses who are fighters, warriors, troublemakers, apostates, lovers of power, etc (80.4-24).  Those of the thought are in harmony with each other, because of the thought/prayer of Logos toward the aeons (his brothers)and through them, the Father (81.31-82.24; 83.26-33) but at war with those of the likeness who were brought forth by the arrogant thought (84.6-24).  They are also in some sense at war with the limit that preserves the peace of the realm of the aeons.  The fruit/Son that comes into being by the Father's response to the prayer of the aeons for their brother enables the (defective Logos) to bring order to the confusion of the warring likenesses and thoughts (98-104).

    When man comes along his nature partakes of all of these (at least if he is spiritual) and so he is at war within himself but salvation enables him to become an seed/offshoot of the Church aeon  (compare the Spirit at war with the Flesh in 1Cor 2.6-3.3; and the rulers in Eph 2.1-10; and the church in Eph 4.-5.3.  This author understands it differently than Paul, but I think they are addressing the same issue.)  Can you think of a better passage?

    The Church exists at all three levels in this text and seems to be characterized by unity and glorifying the Father/Son.  (I am still sorting this out.)  It seems to me that this image of the Church in the Totality and the spiritual ones in the Church is a very different image for the same reality?? that is represented in Rev. 7.9-17.  (That might be stretching it, the understanding of heaven in Revelations [sic!] and in the Tripartite Tractate is fundamentally different.)


Date:         Wed, 16 Feb 2005 19:12:37 -0500
Subject: Tripartite Tractate format

Virginia writes:

> I am having trouble with the Tripartite Tractate - first of all, it seems to
> be 'tripartite' in every direction.  In the most obvious, the text is divided
> into three sections.  In the Nag Hammadi Library version, these sections are
> separated by rows of asterisks, but the line numbers are continuous.  (There
> are no skipped lines between sections.  The end lines of the section seem to
> stop in the middle of the line, maybe.)  Could these be separate texts by the
> same author?  Are there any clear references to this text?

To my knowledge, there are no references to this text in earlier writers. Yes, they could be separate texts (by the same or different authors) that were juxtaposed by someone (already in Greek? or only in Coptic?) and then copied into the codex that has survived. I think that they are written in the same Coptic hand, although I'm arguing from silence (none of the sources I've consulted comment on different copyists being involved).

I can't find a reproduction of the original pages, so this is guesswork, but I suspect that there is a visible break (either a blank space or a "decorative" line such as can be seen at the ends of some other texts -- check


for example, the end of the Apocryphon of John, but with no indication of the decorative line in the NHL edition. Incidentally, I was wrong about "titles" when I said they usually came at the start and at the finish of a work; they are usually only at the finish, as on that page, which shows the start of the Gospel of Thomas). I thought this might also be evidenced by counting the lines in the surrounding pages, but it seems that there is too much variation (34-39 lines) to be sure. Since I did the work, here are the figures:

page 99 has 36 lines,
100 has 39,
101 has 35,
102 has 34,
103 has 39,
104 (where the new section starts) has 35,
105 has 38,
106 has 37,
107 has 37,
108 (start of the third section) has 37,
109 has 37.

So you'd need to see the pages to be sure, or look at a major study of the work that ought to comment on such matters.

I was wrong in an earlier posting that mentioned the French/Laval series. There is a similar English series, called "Nag Hammadi Studies" (NHS) and the pertinent volumes in it for codex 1 are NHS 22-23:

     Attridge, H., ed.  Nag Hammadi Codex I (The Jung Codex): Introductions, Texts, Translations, Indices.  NHS, eds.  M. Krause et al. XXII.  (The Coptic Gnostic Library, ed.  J.M. Robinson).  Leiden: Brill, 1985.

       Attridge. H., ed.  Nag Hammadi Codex I (The Jung Codex): Notes.  NHS, eds.  M. Krause et al.  XXIII.  (The Coptic Gnostic Library, ed.  J.M. Robinson).  Leiden: Brill, 1985.

See the relevant web page

Mea magna culpa! Nemo sine crimine? (Figure it out! Extra credit?)


William Babcock responded
Date: Wed, 16 Feb 2005 21:39:35 -0500 (EST)

> My great crime! is no one without sin? (I had six years of latin of varying
> degrees of quality in my youth which I've promptly forgotten in favor of
> studying semitic languages (which I've fallen in love with) but that's what
> whatever refuse of latin remains in my head tells me).

Close. I think in this idiom, culpa is closer to error/mistake than to crime; and crimine isn't quite "sin," but more like "fault" (something one might be accused of -- thus crime and criminal?). But if any extra credit is actually attached, you are the winner!



Date:         Wed, 16 Feb 2005 17:54:03 -0500
Subject: Archaeology of Nag Hammadi?

Virginia asks: "Is there a good book about the archaeology of Nag Hammadi?"

I don't know. A google search draws me to the home page of Gary Lease, who wrote "Nag Hammadi: Archaeology." In The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman, Gary Herion, et al., vol. 4, 982-84. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

and also "The Fourth Season of the Nag Hammadi Excavation, 21 December - 15 January 1980." Goettinger Miszellen 41 (1980): 75-85.

So this seems like a good place to start!


Searching for "Nag Hammadi Excavation" will get you a few other items, including Bastian Van Eldern's article in Biblical Archaeologist 42 (1979), pp. 225-31, and if you put an "s" on "Excavation," you will find a nice web page devoted to bibliography on the subject --


What would we do (quickly) without google et sim.? Dig into it (if you dig it)?



Date:         Wed, 16 Feb 2005 17:39:56 -0500
Subject: Commentaries on Nag Hammadi Materials

Virginia also had asked about commentaries on the Apocryphon of John, and by extension on the rest of the Nag Hammadi writings. She notes:

> I found a commentary on the Apocryphon of James by Marvin Meyer, which helps
> with the parable references.  Other opinions still wanted.

If you can do French, check out the BCNH project (Bibliothe`que copte de Nag Hammadi) at Laval University in Canada --

http://www.ftsr.ulaval.ca/bcnh/accueil.asp?lng=ang_ [English version]

Thus far about 30 volumes of text, translation (French), introduction, commentary, notes, and indices have appeared.

I don't know of a similarly ambitious and coordinated project in English, although there are commentaries for several of the works, and multiple studies for some like Gospel of Thomas or Gospel of Truth. If you can do German ....



Date:         Wed, 16 Feb 2005 15:31:00 -0500
Subject: GPhilip, God as "man-eater"

I have a series of questions from Virginia, none of them about Santa Claus. Rather than trying to stuff them all into one response, I'll try to divide and conquer. Easy stuff first!

> In the Gospel of Philip, when it says "God is a man-eater" (63.1)...  Is it
> possible that this is connected to the growth of the martyr tradition in some
> way?

Many things are possible, and traditions about martyrs in the Jesus movements go back to Stephen (Acts 7) if not John Baptist and Joshua/Jesus himself. After Christianity is able to have a more public face with the support of Constantine (and the intrests of his mother, Helene!), martyr traditions and sites seem to have multiplied. Not that there weren't plenty of earlier martyrs and local sites, with traditions focusing especially on the Neronic persecution (after the fire in 64), Ignatius (before 116), Marcus Aurelius (165, who helped Justin obtain his second name), Decius (252 -- note the Donatist crisis in North Africa), and Diocletian (303). So something written in the 2nd or 3rd centuries could well reflect such issues. If other similarly "gnostic (Valentinian)" texts support such an interpretation, that strengthens the case.

For myself, until I see such evidence of concern about martyrdom in those circles, I'll be less inclined to interpret the text that way. Indeed, if the tradition behind this passage puts little value on material, historical, physical life, it might just mean that life in this world is "sacrificed" in the process of obtaining redemption (reunification). On the other hand, if the "God" of this passage is the lesser creator God, it could be a negative commentary on the operations of that God, or of humans in relation to that God.

Or something else.


Subject: PS on G.Phil 63.1

Layton (Gnostic Scriptures) cross references this verse with G.Philip 54.31 and following, which also talks about human and animal sacrifices and ends with the statement "man/humanity was offered up dead to god; and became alive."

For those of you who like puzzles, fill in the blanks in this section. Here are my suggestions (I've tried to preserve the physical line structures):

Raw text/translation:

... There exist forces/powers
that [       ] man/humanity, not wanting
him/it to [       ] so that they might
[        ] For if man/humanity
[         ] be any sacrifices
[       ] and animals will not be offered up
[55] to the forces/powers. Indeed, [  ] the animals are those
who sacrifice to them. They were indeed offering
them up alive, but when they
offered them up they died. As for man, they offered
him up to God dead, and he lived.

Layton's reconstruction (slightly adjusted):

... There exist forces
that [       ] human beings, not wanting
them to [attain salvation] so that they might become
[        ] For if human beings attain salvation,
[there will not] be any sacrifices
[       ] and animals will not be offered up
[55] to the forces. Indeed, the ones to whom offerings used to be made
were animals. They were indeed offered
up alive, but when they had been
offered up, they died. Human beings were offered
him up to god dead, and they became alive.

RAK's guesses (without reference to the Coptic!):

... There exist forces/powers
that [exercise control over] man/humanity, not wanting
him/it to [attain salvation] so that they might
[remain in control.] For if man/humanity
[attains salvation, there will not] be any sacrifices
[needed to be offered] and animals will not be offered up
[55] to the forces/powers. Indeed, [they are] the animals who were
sacrificed to them. They were indeed offering them
up alive, but when they
offered them up they died. As for man, they offered
him up to God/god dead, and he lived.

I do not pretend to know who is the "he/it" or the "they" in most of this, especially at the end. Ambiguity is the mother of gnosis (you heard it here!). Nor do I think martyrdom is a prime concern here, although it could lurk in the background if it was on the author's or readers' horizon.



Date:         Wed, 19 Jan 2005 22:51:03 -0500
Subject: Minutes #02 !

Doug has set a very high standard for promptness as well as accuracy. The second set of minutes are available on the web site, with some interesting links (that I've added) as well.

Check out all the pictures of Harnack, at various stages in his illustrious career. And if you read the bio-sketches for him (there are three in the same file), the second and third are more to the point than the first, which concerns itself less with his scholarly efforts than with how some of his statements could be taken as playing into Nazi ideology (Harnack died in 1930, I hasten to add, on the eve of the Nazi rise to power). O tempores O mores.

I couldn't find a picture of Zahn.



Date:         Tue, 18 Jan 2005 22:23:01 -0500
From: Robert Kraft <kraft@ccat.sas.upenn.edu>
Subject: Gnosticism and Apocalyptic

After class, Virginia raised the following questions that will be of general interest:

> The question I was trying to think of had to do with the relationship
> between gnosticism and apocalyptic in early Christianity.  The two seem
> to share some important features:
> 1.  the present world is viewed as utterly corrupt;
> 2.  God is removed from this present reality;
> 3.  salvation must come about by an act of God;
> 4.  only the elect will be saved;
> 5.  there is some kind of special revelation made to a particular person
> concerning the salvation of the elect.

> There also seem to be some important differences:
> 1.  The present world is corrupt in its essence/being for Gnostics; the
> world is corrupted by wicked men for apocalyptic.
> 2.  The elect are saved by sharing in the divine nature and becoming
> removed from this world for Gnostics; while the elect are saved by the
> judgement of God in apocalyptic.
> 3.  Salvation is a change in the nature of the elect (soul to spirit, or
> ignorant to knowing) for the Gnostics.  That is, salvation is
> individual.  Salvation involves a purification of the world in
> apocalyptic, and therefore applies to the community of the righteous.
> 4.  For Gnostics, salvation is spatial/dimensional, they are removed
> from the physical world into a spiritual one.  In apocalyptic, salvation
> is temporal, and will occur in some (end of historical) future.

Robert M. Grant is credited with the theory that Gnosticism is a development from frustration with apocalyptic hopes. A quick google search led to Michael Kaler's review of Bart Ehrman's Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (2003), with the following comments on this subject:


Furthermore, the hypothesis that Gnosticism arose from a failed Jewish apocalypticism, which Ehrman presents, is by no means certain. The two literary genres certainly have a great deal in common, and as far as we know apocalypticism does predate Gnosticism, and gnostic works (particularly Sethian) use a great many apocalyptic motifs. However, is this a case of Gnosticism being created by frustrated apocalypticists to explain why the eschaton did not come as planned or a case of literary borrowings between two groups with similar concerns? The latter idea is at least as possible as the former. There is at present no convincing consensus on the origins of Gnosticism: the apocalyptic derivation is one possibility among many and should have been signaled as such.

[and his footnote 3: For a good summation of the similarities, and also for a critique of the well-known theory of R. M. Grant that Gnosticism developed out of frustrated apocalyptic hopes in the aftermath of the first Jewish Revolt, see Keller, "Das Problem des Bo"sen in Apokalyptik und Gnostik," in Gnosis and Gnosticism: Papers Read at the Seventh International Conference on Patristic Studies (Oxford, September 8thoe13th 1975) (ed. M. Krause; NHS 8; Leiden: Brill, 1977), 70-90.]

[back to RAK] My recollection is that Grant abandoned that explanation -- Jean Danielou is said to have agreed with "the early Grant" idea, in a presentation at the Messina congress, I think (anecdotal evidence!). My own take on it is that (1) it sounds like a stretch, and (2) what sort of evidence could be offered for such a development among the actual participants? Perhaps Mani comes close, with his interest in apocalyptic texts and his radical dualism. And it needs to be said that there are so many varieties of "apocalyptic" attested in the surviving materials that it would not be an impossible development to expect cosmic eradication to take place enroute to the reunification of the scattered sparks of deity (and perhaps for later adherents to drop the apocalyptic aspects?). To put it another way, certain types of apocalypticism do not seem incompatible with certain types of gnosticism, although actually showing historical (not just conceptual) derivation of the latter from the former would seem difficult. Let's look for possible evidence as we read the texts. (I suppose I'll have to return to this in the "Early Christian Apocalypticism" course next fall!)

> Also, the time at which the Nag Hammadi codices were written and then
> buried makes one think of Arius and the rise of Arianism at least as
> much as Gnosticism.  (This is a puzzled comment, I don't know what to do
> with it other than to keep in mind that maybe all these heresies do not
> fit into neat little compartments.)

Forget the neat compartments. Arianism does seem to have shared certain "Platonic" approaches also found in some gnostic groups (perhaps Jesus Christ as creative "demiurge" would be close to Arius' position), but I don't think that the Arians embraced the more radical forms of dualism that tend to typify "gnosticisms." On the other hand, I'm not sure what constituted "salvation" for Arius and his followers -- that is, did it take place on the level of the created world? Was the created world to be "redeemed" as such?

> Will we be able to focus on some of the cosmogenic texts later on in the
> semester?

Absolutely. Promise!

> Thanks,
> Virginia

My privilege. Let the floods (of email questions) begin! -- and remember that if you hit the reply button to class messages, your reply will go to everyone on the list, not just to me.