Forbidden Fruit in the Midst of the Garden (Part 4)

In Part 3we discovered that the two trees being the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge were seen as living symbols for the Gnostics’ cosmology being the Aeons in the Pleroma and the veil or Platonic (X) or limit that separates it from the deficiency or hysterema of the material world, marked of illusion and imperfection, time and flux. It is therefore useless to identify with the physical symbol of a cross as it is more of an archetype.

The Stauros (Cross), which means to “stand” or “straighten up” (e.g. the “Standing One” per Simon Magus?) in its true self is a living idea, a reality or root-principle of separation and limit, dividing entity from non-entity, being from non-being, perfection from imperfection, fullness and emptiness, Light from Darkness. The Stauros or Horos was also seen as synonymous with the Logos and was also seen as the sign of victory as per the doctrine of Christus Victor atonement i.e, that Christ defeated the powers by duping them into crucifying him.

Guarding this Horos was the Limit-Setter, the Across-Taker, the Emancipator, the Guide or Leader that guides the initiated soul from its astral journey from the underworld, to the zodiacal cosmos, to the eighth heaven or “ogdoad” where Sophia is said to dwell, near the gates and finally to the Heavenly Cross, functioning like a portal or gateway into the realm of the Father or the Pleroma. The Logos himself is designated as a “door” or a “gate” into eternal life symbolized as pasture, for the saved sheep (or souls) (John 10:9).

This region was also called the “suburbs”, a frontier or the barrier, demarcating the boundary between the worlds. The term “suburbs” is also used in a Peratic text that the Church Father Hippolytus quotes at length called The Suburbs up to the Aither in the Philosophumena or the Refutation of All Heresies, which I will briefly touch on later on. In Plato’s Timaeus, he refers to the soul-stuff of the universe in terms of two circular strips joined together like the Greek letter chi (X). Similarly, tau, the last letter of the Phoenician and Old Hebrew alphabets, is shaped like a cross, and was popularly held to be a protective emblem of supernatural power. Crosses were also said to be used by Roman General Marcius Turbo’s forces in the first century to carry their food and clothing.

In Plato’s radical dualism, he thought that matter and the Demiurge were uncreated and co-existed eternally with the world of forms or the eternal archetypes. And he believed that matter and the forms were eternally separated by what he called the “divided line.” In Ephesians 2:19, the invisible cross is represented as bestriding the cosmos in terms of “the breadth, and length, and depth, and height” of the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge.

Only through the stauros can souls enter into life eternal.  Without it, humanity are held in thrall by time, subject to Satan, to fate and to reincarnation. The stauros is the axis of the mighty spiral that reverses the order of the cosmos, and takes man from the emptiness (kenoma) of the illusory lower world, to the fullness of the upper world of Reality. It is this reality which Luke 13:19 describes as:

It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.

The fruit of this aeonic Tree were manifested as the Cosmic Christ or Logos and his otherworldly redemptive mission when evil came into existence. His work on earth and even the universe at large was to touch every region on our side of the Stauros, to fulfill a specific mission for every form of creation: from the fallen angels, archons, fallen aeons, for man and so forth and so on down to the Chain of Being. It is his presence on earth that was hotly debated and gave birth to a religious movement that ultimately become the very thing it once strove to liberate itself from. Christ would be reduced to a rotting corpse on a cross, in which the Orthodox “cleave to the name of a dead man, thinking that they will become pure” as the Apocalypse of Peter would say.

Yet, the very reason for the existence of the Logos is explained in a “fall of man” scenario which occurs in not just in Jewish and Christian literature but also in Hermetic and Indian literature. We will examine the events that unfold right after the fall of man that eventually precipitates into events surrounding the Flood and how they relate to all these concepts associated with the Garden. Is there a possible deeper message to the Flood myth?


The Flood of Darkness

In Josephus, Antiquitates I 69-71 and Vita Adae et Evae XLIX 3-L2, he discusses the coming destruction by fire and water. The Apocalypse of Adam and the Gospel of the Egyptians also mentions destruction by water which was identified with the biblical flood, and by fire. Plato’s Timaeus 21E-22E also relates a similar idea for periodical destruction of the earth by water and fire. Its influence on the idea of a periodical disaster was widely known in Jewish and Christian literature. In the Latin Life of Adam and Eve, after the funerals of Adam and Abel, Eve tells her children of a coming divine judgement, “first by water and then by fire,” and gives them the recommendation to preserve the account of their parents’ lives by writing it down in two sets of tablets, one made of stone and the other of clay (49–50).

By the fourth century BC, Greek philosophers and geographers eventually opined that the earth was not a flat disk consisting of a single land mass and swirling waters, like Homeric geography posited, but rather a sphere with multiple continents and seas. Plato, for example, would often use myth and story to service his philosophical endeavors. In the Phaedo 110b, Plato’s Socrates describes the earth as viewed from above as “one of these balls made of twelve pieces of skin, variegated and marked out in different colors”. Plato would engage the Ocean even more directly in his myth or story of Atlantis in Timaeus 25a, which tells us:

The island (Atlantis) was larger than Libya and Asia put together, and was the way to other islands, and from these you might pass to the whole of the opposite continent which surrounded the true ocean, for this sea which is within the Straights of Heracles is only a harbor, having a narrow entrance, but that other is a real sea, and the land surrounding it on every side may be truly called a boundless continent.

Plato would go on about the greatness, hubris, and demise of Atlantis in the Critias, although the account was not completed because Critias was never finished. He made another reference to its destruction in Timaeus. Plato’s myth-making or speculation was a self-admitted speculation in the service of philosophy. He signaled this by having Socrates say in Phaedo 114d, “Of course, no reasonable man ought to insist that the facts are exactly as I have described them.” Plato’s “invention” of Atlantis was explicit, and he was, in the end, uninterested in the truth value of his own world created out of a pastiche of myth, philosophy and geography. What mattered for Plato was that the myth was served his real purpose, to support his ideas about the immortality of the soul and the proper governance of humankind through the administration of the Philosopher Kings.

From a careful consideration of Plato’s description of Atlantis it is evident that the story should not be regarded as wholly literal or historical but rather as both symbolic of Plato’s Utopian ideal with possible roots in actual history. Theologians and philosophers in late antiquity such as Origen, Porphyry, Proclus, Iamblichus, and Syrianus realized that the story concealed a profound philosophical mystery, but they disagreed as to the actual interpretation. Classical Alexandria was a hotbed of allegorization as the Alexandrine Jewish philosopher Philo and the early Church Fathers also rejoiced in ascribing symbolic meanings to their sacred writings as well.

There are, of course, many parallels with Plato’s mysterious Atlantis with Noah’s Deluge and even the Garden of Eden. For one, the Hebrew word used for the Garden of Eden was called gannah, which also means a covered or hidden place. Gardens in ancient times were usually protected by walled enclosures, which lends to the concept of Adam and Eve being “expelled” and unable to return. Ancient Atlantis was also considered to be “walled off” from outsiders. The famous passage of Genesis 6:4 presents the idea that the flood was sent by God to punish the crimes committed by the giant children of the Angels or Watchers who committed intercourse with human women, being the Nephilim. Of course, in Gnostic literature, intercourse between supernatural powers and human women are continuous since the beginning of creation itself, starting with Cain and Abel as the spawn between Eve and the lion-faced demonic ruler, Ialdabaoth as featured in Apocryphon of John.

This Jewish story of the Watcher Angels being imprisoned in the valleys of the earth after sleeping with the daughters of men is clearly drawn from Greek myths- this was the fate of the Titans after Zeus defeated them, and it recalls the imprisonment of the children of Ouranos in valleys as punishment. Both Enochic and Gnostic literature go out of their way to claim that these same Angels taught humankind various occult secrets and teachings, being astronomy, magic and the usage of natural elements. This was not the only view concerning the origins of astrology as the earliest Hellenistic Jewish Historian Eupolemus claimed that astrology was actually discovered by Enoch (identified with Atlas) and then handed on by him to the Babylonians. Zosimos of Panopolis, the Hermetic-Gnostic alchemist also placed much emphasis on the Book of Enoch and the Angels being the source of the majority of occult and alchemical teachings.

Flavius Josepheus in Antiquities 1.154-168, also referred to Abraham (although not mentioning his name explicitly) as a great and righteous man, “versed in the heavens” as did many other writers throughout history. Eupolemus also claimed that Abraham was a Chaldean. Seth, being Adam’s son, is also singled out as the originator of astrology by Flavius Josephus as well as being the founder of the Gnostic religion in the Three Steles of Seth.

Josephus in Antiquities 1 68-71 also claimed that the progeny or “seed” of Seth were just, peace-loving men, who understood the secrets of the stars, and had knowledge of the Flood and other disasters, inscribing her doctrine on two steles. Other texts such as On the Origin of the World, claimed that the Angels or Archons taught women idolatry, which would naturally fit with the idea of the “god of this world” being a blinding idol or icon as per 2 Corinthians 4:4. Justin Martyr in the Second Apology, Chapter V, would say something very similar to Orig. World:

But the angels transgressed this appointment, and were captivated by love of women, and begat children who are those that are called demons; and besides, they afterwards subdued the human race to themselves, partly by magical writings, and partly by fears and the punishments they occasioned, and partly by teaching them to offer sacrifices, and incense, and libations, of which things they stood in need after they were enslaved by lustful passions; and among men they sowed murders, wars, adulteries, intemperate deeds, and all wickedness.

That is not to say that the science of astrology and magical workings were rejected by the Gnostics—quite the opposite, as they had a deep respect for the knowledge revealed by the angels. In fact, one can go as far as to say the Watchers or fallen angels themselves were literary representations of the Gnostics because of their deep knowledge of the stars, planets, plants, medicine, writing, etc. The Valentinian Theodutus claimed that Christ came into the world to free all people who believe in him from astral fate. Astrology is not a wholly fictional science or an error as it can tell the truth concerning the destiny of those who are not in Christ. But once one is baptized, the astrologists “no longer tell the truth” concerning the person’s destiny. Jewish texts such as Sepher ha Razim, glorify the science of the stars and the cosmos revealed by the Watchers:

And seven thrones are prepared there, and upon them are seated overseers, and around them on all sides encampments of angels are stationed and are obedient to men at the time when they practice magic; to everyone who has learned to stand and pour libations to their names and cite them by their signs at the period when prayer is heard so as to make a magical rite succeed. Over all these encampments of angels, these seven overseers rule, to dispatch them for every sort of business, so that they will hasten and bring success.

1 Enoch, the books of Daniel and the book of Jubilees either condemn Babylonian astrology as a diabolical science, or stress its inferiority to wisdom directly revealed by God. The Jewish form of astrology tends to distinguish itself from the astrology of the Babylonian Chaldeans. The Gnostics continued on the same path of Jewish astrology, who posits Seth, Jesus and Mary to reveal the truth about the planetary fate, the stars and the deities who rule them. It is of course, the Savior that “disturbs” the other stars as he descends into the world of matter.

Still, the problem of the Giants were no laughing matter. The offspring of the Watchers (including the angels Shemyaza, Azazel and all the rest of the angels listed in 1 Enoch) and human women resulted in gigantic beings being the Nephilim, also referred to as “GiBoR” which is Hebrew for “hero” or a great man, strangely enough. They are also known as the “giants born of, or descendants of the Aion”. There are certain magical gems of the famous Chnoubis (lion-headed snake) that contain the inscription of being a conqueror of giants! This seems to indicate that the lion-headed serpent wasn’t always held in a negative light by Gnostics. The myth of the giants and their destruction by God through the flood is preserved in many different writings that flourished in the late Hellenistic-Judiac apocryphal literature as well as Gnostic mythology featured in different texts such as the Apocryphon of John, On the Origin of the World, the Valentinian Exposition and of course, in many Manichaean writings, including the Book of Giants.


Even these Giants of the Jewish apocrypha and Gnostic literature can be seen as synonymous with the immortal giant Titans per Greek myth, with Kronos, Zeus’ “Forgotten Father” or “Hidden One” being the Atlantean king of these Titans. Kronos would eventually become imprisoned within the underworld, as a “Dark Lord”. This is much like how Ialdabaoth in On the Origin of the World is imprisoned in Tartarus by Pistis Sophia, the deep abyss or the “Foundations of the Great Deep” per Genesis 7:11, underneath hell, where the Titans are thrown and placed there by the Olympian gods. The Middle Platonist and Greek Historian, Plutarch in On the Cessation of Oracles, would claim that Kronos or Saturn’s imprison was imposed by a death-like sleep, where his dreams and illusions acted like shackles, symbolic of the nature of material reality:

In that region also, they said, Saturn was confined in one of the islands by Briareus, and lay asleep; for that his slumber had been artfully produced in order to chain him, and round about him were many dæmons for his guards and servants.

Hippolytus in Refutatio, Book V, chapter 11 in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V, wrote of the beliefs of a member of the Gnostic Peratae (meaning “traversers”) sect:

But water, he says, is destruction; nor did the world, he says, perish by any other thing quicker than by water. Water, however . . . they assert (it to be) Cronus.

Statues of Bacchus and the Seven Planets

Even more relevant, the ancient Chaldaeans warned that a universal flood would come down from above: “Kronos announced to Sisithros that a flood would pour from above.” Tacitus in Histories V.4 alleged that the Jews were worshipers of Saturn, indirectly claiming Jehovah was Kronos. It is safe to assume that Kronos was considered a synonymous figure with the Demiurge as maintained by the Peratics. According to the Orthodox Syrian Bishop, Theodoretus of Cyrrhus, the heretics, especially the Marcionites, detested water because it was produced by the creator. The Bible frequently mentions Yahweh’s rule over the waters, particularly the Red Sea and the Nile. The notion that water was an element of the Demiurge, who was equated with Kronos as the “lord of generation” and positioned in the center of the universe by the Peratic-Ophites per Hippolytus in Refutation 5.15.4, was characteristic of the Gnostic contempt for the creator’s work and the creator himself.

Accordingly, many Gnostics would deliberately disobey the Creator’s precepts and praise vilified Biblical characters like the serpent in Eden or other times, Cain and even the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah! Theodoretus of Cyrrhus has this to say about the Marcionites:

They dare to say that the serpent is better than the Creator. in fact the Creator forbade men to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, while the serpent exhorted them to eat it. But these sinners do not know that the serpent’s advice generated death. And so some of them worship the serpent. And I myself found that they had a bronze serpent, kept in a box together with their nefarious mysteries.

Theodoretus also claimed that the Marcionites not only insulted the Creator god, but also the biblical patriarchs and prophets because they were the Creator’s agents, while they believed that the Old Testament villains such as Cain and the Sodomites had followed Jesus out of Tartarus when he descended into Hell. The doctrine of the Ophites were also attributed to the Marcionites by Theodoretus. Whenever Jehovah would unconditionally condemn magic and divination as worship of foreign gods in Deuteronomy 18.9-11, 27, 35, Exodus 22, 17 and Leviticus 20,27, the Gnostics would value the knowledge of astrology because it was expressly forbidden by the creator god much like the knowledge fruit forbidden in Eden. This is explicitly mentioned by the Latin Church Father, Tertullian who would say, “the Marcionites very frequently are astrologers, and are not ashamed to live by the Creator’s stars” (Contra Marcion, I 18 1). Naturally, astrology was associated with heresy (or false teachings) according to the Orthodox Heresiologists. For example, Irenaeus in Against Heresies 1.15.6, says of a certain Marcus the Valentinian:

Marcus, you former of idol, inspector of portents, skill’d in consulting the stars, and deep in the black arts of magic, ever by tricks such as these confirming the doctrines of error, furnishing signs unto those involved by you in deception, wonders of power that is utterly severed from God and apostate, which Satan, your true father, enables you still to accomplish, by means of Azazel, that fallen and yet mighty angel—thus making you the precursor of his own impious actions.

Irenaeus’ pupil Hippolytus also asserted that:

…the teachings of the heretics have their source in the wisdom of the Greeks, the opinions of those who engage in philosophy, those who undertake mysteries and roaming astrologers.

Hippolytus devoted the whole of Book IV of his Refutatio to the Chaldeans, magi and astrologers, as one of the sources of inspiration to the Gnostics. Chapter V was mostly concerned with the Peratics, who may have considered themselves the “true Hebrews” considering that Hebrew means “passerbyer”. The confidence of the Peratae or the Peratics, that they were able to find salvation from the oppression of the astral powers of fate through gnosis:

For if any one, he says, of those (beings) which are here will have strength to perceive that he is a paternal mark transferred hither from above, (and that he is) incarnate— just as by the conception resulting from the rod a something white is produced—he is of the same substance altogether with the Father in heaven, and returns there. If, however, he may not happen upon this doctrine, neither will he understand the necessity of generation, just as an abortion born at night will perish at night.

This attitude towards magic wasn’t shared by all Gnostic groups as sects such as the Manichaeans considered witchcraft as inspired by the primeval Darkness and Satan, despite the fact that their practices such as exorcisms and prayers to the four guardian angels (Michael, Uriel, Gabriel, Raphael) were also considered “magical”.

Returning to the Flood story, the Gnostics would interpret this episode in Genesis as proof that the creator god was indeed fallible because the Lord repented of his own creation (Genesis 6:6) and was willing to save only a few chosen ones (being Noah, his family and various animals) and start creation anew. The Apocryphon of John makes full use of this idea by stating:

And he (the chief archon) repented for everything which had come into being through him. This time he planned to bring a flood upon the work of man.

Ialdaboath initiates this destructive plan because the chief ruler fails to enslave the human race through the creation of “fate” and “destiny”. This destiny, while successful in fostering “sins” and “forgetfulness” of the ultimate deity and constraining choices, was insufficient to “arrest” human “pondering” entirely. As it follows, a new plan of wiping out life on earth completely is started and not just as an attack on Gnostic humanity.

In any event, for the Gnostics, the cause of the flood was by the maliciousness of Ialdabaoth and his angels but ultimately fails to completely destroy mankind, including the Gnostic race, revealing the ultimate ineptitude of the authorities. To remedy this situation, the Archons decide to produce a “counterfeit spirit” in the image of the divine “spirit of life”, which enables them to change their shapes and further seduce humanity with wealth, and many other vices which goes a long way to their achieving their desired union with human women, according to the Apoc. John. The result is ignorance of spiritual reality plaguing humanity even “down through the present time” and also attempts to explain the origins of evil in the human species.

The reason for Ialdaboath causing the flood should be obvious. Humanity’s growing insight and superiority over spiritual matters concerns the creator god and his angels, rather than moral depravity or humanity’s sins as stated in Genesis 6: 3, 13, 17. In Enochian apocalyptic literature, the deluge is sent by God’s judgement to wipe out the giants from the face of the earth. Hypostasis of the Archons would say that humankind “began to multiply and improve”. Irenaeus would say that humankind would “not honor” Ialdabaoth as “parent and god” in Haer. 1.30.10. This is, of course, a wholesale rejection of the God of Israel’s divine status, in part of the Gnostics. However, in some cases the God of Israel is identified with the repentant archon, Sabaoth which is depicted in Gnostic writings in an often positive light, with his intimate association with Sophia. They also point to his amorous fallen angels, who were originally “ministers of flaming fire” (Psalms 104:4) being a part of a archontic conspiracy to further confuse the human race in vice and blood-shed.

Much later, the Church Father Epiphanius would tell us a different account of the Sethian version of the flood. In the Panarion 39.3.1, Wisdom caused the flood because “the frequent intercourse and confused impulse on the part of the angels and the human beings, so the two tended toward mixture…” It is clear that Sophia is depicted in struggling against the Archangels, Archons and Watchers which is typical in Gnostic and Simonian literature. So, for the Gnostics, it is also clear that the Flood and the intercourse between Angels and human women were attempts to disrupt human progress because of their strengthening link to the spiritual world outside of material creation.

When it comes to the issue of Noah, the Gnostic evaluation of the character shows no unanimity in any of Gnostic writings, and one can find examples of both positive and negative attitudes toward him. The Apocryphon of John tells us that Noah was a chosen patron of the spiritual race:

And he repented for all that had happened through him. He plotted to produce a flood [κατακλυσμός] over all the offspring of man. But the greatness of Providence [πρόνοια], which is the reflection [ἐπίνοια] of the light, instructed Noah and he preached to men. But they did not believe him. It is not as Moses said, “He hid himself in an ark [κιβωτός],” but she sheltered him in a place, not Noah alone but men from the immovable race. They went into a place and sheltered themselves with a luminous cloud. And he (Noah) recognized his lordship and those who were with him in the light which shone upon them, because darkness was falling over everything upon earth.

The reference to the waters seems to be a metaphor for the “darkness”, as the understanding of the biblical flood was understood as more a of a spiritual event, much like the first fall, which was the descent of spirit into the abyss and inferno of matter. The “Abyss” or the “void”, which also relates to the Kabbalistic Qliphoth (Tree of Death), was also symbolic of the vacant place that was left when God retracted his presence from that area. The process of emptying left a vacant place for what was to become the natural universe we know. In Gnostic writings, the cognate word, Kenoma, signifying “emptiness”, describes the illusive, phenomenal world of space and time in which all sentient life lives in. In essence, God obscured himself by creating the place of the Deficiency, but he is not that place.

The Apocryphon of John also goes on in a lengthy dialogue concerned with the ultimate destiny of the two kinds of spirits: “the spirit of life” from the Pleroma and the “counterfeit spirit” generated by the rulers and authorities of fate. The flood story and biblical imagery are used to convey this dialogue in the text. The late 3rd century Simonian text The Concept of Our Great Power tells us something very similar, by saying that the water, which represents the Demiurge, coexists with spirit eternally, i.e., radical dualism.

Discern what size the water is, that it is immeasurable (and) incomprehensible, both its beginning and its end. It supports the earth; it blows in the air where the gods and the angels are. But in him who is exalted above all these there is the fear and the light, and in him are my writings revealed.

The same text also goes into similar details regarding the fall of the angels, the flood myth, Noah, etc. Another text in the Nag Hammadi Library, the Hermetic tractate, Asclepius also discusses the Flood myth. In this treatise, the Demiurge is presented as a benevolent figure and his actions in a very Stoic context, with themes of recurring cosmic catastrophes and restoration:

And when these things had happened, O Asclepius, then the Lord, the Father and god from the only first (God), god the creator [δημιουργόϛ], when he looked upon the things that happened, established his design, which is good, against the disorder. He took away error and cut off evil. Sometimes he submerged it in a great flood, at other times he burned it in a searing fire.

Fire Woman

Speaking of fire, the Gnostic prophetess, Norea is also featured in a few writings including Hypostasis of the Archons, Thought of Norea, and by the Church Father Epiphanius. Her role is that of a Gnostic heroine, and that is somewhat of a rare (if not non-existent) feat in any religious writing but is boldly featured in a Gnostic holy writ. The scholar Birger Pearson connects Norea with Noah’s wife Namaah. In Enoch, Namaah was said to have overwhelmed the Angel Azazel with her beauty, as she is also identified as the sister of Tubal-Can. In later Jewish legends, Namaah is also identified as the sister or daughter of Lilith. The Hypostasis of the Archons tells us that Norea is essentially the revealer and spiritual mother of the Gnostic race, through Eve:

Again Eve became pregnant, and she bore Norea. And she said, “He has begotten on me a virgin as an assistance for many generations of mankind.” She is the virgin whom the forces did not defile.

It is through Norea’s intervention on human kind that they progress and improve, which spurs the authorities to come together and wipe out all life on earth:

The rulers took counsel with one another and said, “Come, let us cause a deluge with our hands and obliterate all flesh, from man to beast.”

Norea reveals herself to be one of a spit-fire type when she blows Noah’s Ark down! Perhaps this is symbolic of emphasizing true salvation being “spiritual” rather than trusting the works of the flesh.

Then Orea came to him wanting to board the ark. And when he would not let her, she blew upon the ark and caused it to be consumed by fire. Again he made the ark, for a second time.

Later, Ialdaboath and his angels confront Norea with the intend to bully her, saying: “You must render service to us, as did also your mother Eve…” Norea tells them off by saying:

“It is you who are the rulers of the darkness; you are accursed. And you did not know my mother; instead it was your female counterpart that you knew. For I am not your descendant; rather it is from the world above that I am come.”

She later appeals to the ultimate God for help and a holy angel, Eleleth, thus saves her from the authorities’ clutches and reveals the divine mysteries of Pistis Sophia. Norea is ultimately revealed to be the female parent of all Gnostics, as Seth is the male parent:

“You, together with your offspring, are from the primeval father; from above, out of the imperishable light, their souls are come. Thus the authorities cannot approach them, because of the spirit of truth present within them; and all who have become acquainted with this way exist deathless in the midst of dying mankind. Still, that sown element will not become known now. Instead, after three generations it will come to be known, and it has freed them from the bondage of the authorities’ error.”

As it is usually the case, the Gnostic interpretation of scripture was far from literal in favor for unearthing spiritual and allegorical meanings and this approach is highlighted in Apelle’s (a disciple of Marcion) critical take on Noah’s Flood story:

In no way could it have been accomplished that in so short a time so many kinds of animals and their foods, which were to last for a whole year, should be taken abroad. For when two by two the unclean animals, that is, two male and two female of each—this is what the repeated word means—led into the ark, how could the space described be made big enough to take even four elephants alone? It is clear that the story is false; but if this is so, it is clear that this writing is not from God.

Through the Flood story, the Gnostic writers were able reflect on the types of human beings that exist in the world and on the question of how ignorance is able to persist throughout history. Noah’s Ark would become a symbol for the gracious divine care to rescue the “immovable race” of the Gnostics. The Manichaeans would also interpret Noah’s Ark to be a symbol for their church as a “Ship of Light” in their Coptic Manichaean Psalms:

Lo, the ship has put in for you, Noah is aboard, he steers.
The ship is the commandment [ἐντολή], Noah is the Mind [νοῦς] of Light.
Embark your merchandise, sail with the dew of the wind.
The] Commandment [ἐντολή] was knowledge, the Commandment was a Church. …
It was a tree, it was a ship, it [was] …
It was a tree in the desert, it was an ark [? κιβωτός] in the flood [κατακλυσμός].

Hippolytus, Callistus of Rome and Cyprian of Carthage used the survivors of the flood as ciphers for the purity and discipline of the church as did the Gnostics who saw these primeval characters as symbolic of themselves and their situation among the growing influence of Orthodoxy.

Tree of Death

The Two Trees Revisited (A Small Note)

According to the Babylonian Prophet Mani, there exists two irreconcilable roots (Do Bun in Persian): Light and Darkness. The Tree of Life and the Tree of Death. The Pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles also taught that the universe is composed of the forces of Neikos: Strife/Discord and Philia: Love/Friendship. Besides Zoroastrian dualism, Empedocles could very well be another source for the Manichean Two Roots.

The Monophysite patriarch Severus of Antioch informs us that he is quoting from an unknown Manichaean scripture within a sixth-century Cathedral Homilies. In these citations, the expression “Tree of Life” functions as an alternate designation for the summum bonum of Manichaean cosmology: the Realm of Light. A symmetrical parallel to this usage is the expression “Tree of Death,” which Mani or one of his disciples employed to designate the evil Realm of Darkness. Therein we read:

They say: That which is Good, also named Light and the Tree of Life, possesses those regions which lie to the east, west, and north; for those (regions) which lie to the south and to the meridian belong to the Tree of Death …’,”Likewise does the Tree of Life exist, which is there adorned with every sort of pleasing and lovely, beautiful thing. It is filled and covered with all sorts of good things… its fruits cover it, and majesty belongs to it.”‘

In the Realm of Light there is no burning fire which could be discharged against that which is evil. There is neither an iron (weapon) for cutting, nor overwhelming waters, nor any other evil substance like those. Instead, all is Light and (every) place is noble.’, The Tree of Death is divided into many (parts); war and bitterness characterize them … good fruits are never upon them … all of them form rottenness for the corruption of their place.’, [The members of the Realm of Darkness provoked and stirred each other up until they came unto the boundaries marvelous and surpassingly beautiful sight, they gathered together … and plotted against the Light regarding how they could mix themselves with it. Due to (their) frenzy, they were unaware that the powerful and mighty God dwelt in it …

The description of the realm of Darkness does not sound too far from that of the Kabbalistic Qliphoth. The Tree of Death is also said to contain the inverted or reversed “serifots” of the Tree of Life. What this means is basically that the ten “serifots” on the Tree of Life, that represents different aspects of the Godhead are reversed. For example, Kether (Crown) is said to be highest point on the Tree, which represents the purest emanation, the first movement towards manifestation from the Infinite. It’s opposite is called Thaumiel, which to some might refer to “contending forces” (e.g. division or radical dualism), which stands opposed to the idea that everything is unified in Kether as divided and cleaved at Thaumiel’s essence. The rest of the serifots also have reversed, mirrored opposites in the Tree of Death.

The physical world, say the Gnostics, lies on the edge of nether regions, and since we live in the environs of hell, we are in a state of perilously bordering on eternal perdition. Hell or Hyle (matter), for the Manichaeans was separate, uncreated, active principle or nature, complete with its own realm of division, warfare and pure chaos and not as simply an absence or deficiency of the Good or Light as the Neoplatonists like Plotinus maintained. Evil was conceived as Non-Being for the Neoplatonists and the Orthodox. This specific argument was used by the ex-Manichaean turned Roman Catholic theologian, St. Augustine in his anti-heretical works against his former associates.

Stranger still, the Darkness or hell was not only considered a macrocosmic reality but also reflected in the microcosm, i.e. the human body (the lower part) as all the secrets of the universe, as the Manichaeans, the Ophites, the Peratics and the Simonians, all maintained were hidden in every cell of human flesh, skin, hair blood, tissue and bone, despite it being a tomb for the spiritual man. In Theodore bar Konai’s Liber Scholiorum, he goes on to speak ill against Mani and say all kinds of slanderous accusations and explain the various cosmological Manichaean doctrines. He ends it with the idea that Adam was roused from his sleep by Jesus, the Splendor in serpent form and make him aware of his sticky predicament:

Then Adam examined himself and recognized who he was, and (Jesus) showed him the Fathers on high, and (revealed to him) regarding his own self (i.e., Jesus’s) all that into which he (i.e., Jesus) had been cast—into the teeth of leopard(s) and the teeth of elephant(s), swallowed by voracious ones and absorbed by gulping ones, consumed by dogs, mixed and imprisoned in all that exists, and bound in the stench of Darkness.  He (Mani) says that he (Jesus) raised him (Adam) up and made him taste of the Tree of Life.  Then Adam saw and wept, and raised his voice loudly like a lion that roars and tears (prey).  He cast (himself down), beat (his breast), and said: ‘Woe, woe to the one who formed my body, and to the one who bound my soul, and to the rebels who have enslaved me.’

In Part 5, we’ll continue in the dark, dangerous territory of Tree of Life and its opposite being the Qliphothic Tree of Death, the origins of the doctrines of Original Sin and Total Depravity, and some concluding thoughts on the series.


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