Pistis Sophia – G. R. S. Mead
In these days of the ” higher criticism,” with its merciless analysis of original Scripture, much light would doubtless be thrown on the New Testament by an unprejudiced study of Gnosticism. This philosophy, which reached a flourishing maturity in the second century of the Christian era, but became virtually extinct in the sixth, taught that all natures — intellectual, moral, spiritual, and material—are successive emanations from Deity. Its professors claimed to have an esoteric and philosophic knowledge of Christian doctrines, and some modern scholars assert that the Gospels are replete with allusions to the Gnostic teaching. Although it is now fashionable to dismiss the Syrian and Egyptian schools as a fantastic combination of Oriental mysticism, Greek philosophy, and Christian theology, yet it is probable that a profound interest will be awakened among reasoning Christians by ” Pistis Sophia.”
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The Structure of the Pistis Sophia (from wikipedia.com)
The work as a whole shows clear signs of having been compiled from multiple sources, with only the first two books following directly on each other. Even within a single book, occasionally multiple, differing accounts of a single event or cosmological outline appear, suggesting the use and preservation of several sources. Changes in terminology and cosmological description between books also shows that it is a compilation of texts that may have been written over a period of some time.
The bulk of the text (Books 1-3) is in the form of a dialogue between Jesus and the disciples, both male and female. Mary Magdalene is the most featured disciple, who provides many questions and scriptural interpretations; John “the Virgin” is the second most prominent. Other figures named as followers include Andrew, Bartholomew, James, John, Mary the mother of Jesus, Martha, Matthew, Peter, Philip, Salome, Simon the Canaanite, and Thomas.
The first book (Chapters 1-62) establishes that Jesus remained with the disciples for 11 years after the resurrection, teaching them only the lowest of the mysteries. At a certain point, he ascends and traverses the aeons, defeating the wicked archons, before returning to speak with the disciples further. It connects Jesus’ actions to the effectiveness of astrologers in the world – it suggests he has reduced, but not eliminated, the effectiveness of astrological magic. This leads into the introduction of the myth of Pistis Sophia’s fall and restoration, which takes up the bulk of both the first and second book. Pistis Sophia recites several prayers/repentances, and after each one a disciple interprets the repentance in light of one of the Psalms or Odes of Solomon.
Unlike other versions of the Gnostic myth, such as the Apocryphon of John, here Pistis Sophia is a being of the lower, material aeons. She is not a high, divine being, and her restoration is not to the realms of light, but only back to her place in the thirteenth aeon. This is significant in distinguishing the theology of this book from other Gnostic systems – it prioritizes its own, distinct cosmology and mythology above the Sophia myth, which to this author represents inferior, material struggles.
This book makes up Chapters 63-101. After the conclusion of the story of Pistis Sophia, the text turns to lengthy explanations of cosmology and the knowledge offered by the mysteries of this author’s system. The end of the book also suggests the close connection of this work with the Books of Jeu found in the Bruce Codex (Chapter 99).
The third book (Chapters 102-135) is mostly concerned with presenting an ethical or lifestyle code for adherents of the text. It outlines what is needed for right thought and right action, as well as actions that are not acceptable and their punishments. It also discusses at length the dissemination of the mysteries, repentance, and when it is or is not permissible to grant the mysteries to others. Finally, it discusses the formation of the human being, its components, and how they are connected. Again the Books of Jeu are referenced (Chapter 134), with the stipulation that they contain mysteries that are necessary for all, including the righteous.
Part one of this book (Chapters 136-143) deals with cosmological and astrological speculation, and ritual development. It presents a myth of fallen archons of the aeons being imprisoned within the zodiacal sphere; outlines five realms of punishment (the Midst, mhte) and the types of sinners each holds; and gives specific configurations of the planets in the zodiac that allow souls to be released from each region. Jesus also interprets the elements of his incarnation and their role in the world, and administers the “baptism of the first offering” to his disciples.
The second part of what is commonly thought of as the fourth book (chapters 144-148) appears after a lacuna in the text, and is probably part of a separate book. Its cosmology is different to the preceding text, and it focuses entirely on the destiny of various types of souls and the punishments of sinners. Some of the sins listed are duplicates from part one of book four, but list different punishments.
(The text of the last section was taken from a Wikipedia entry and is available under the the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)
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