Tree of Life

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?

flood-of-noahs-day2

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.

Ialdaboath

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.

Forbidden Fruit in the Midst of the Garden (Part 3)

Serpent of Wisdom

In Part 2, I discussed how the Serpent was used as a symbol for not only initiation into the mysteries and immortality but also a symbol for sexuality, generation, death and rebirth due to the creature’s ability to shed its skin of the old to reveal a shiny new skin underneath. The mythologized Serpent, of course, does appear in almost every culture around the world over. Genesis 3 relays how the Serpent offers knowledge in the form of a fruit grown from the Tree of Knowledge (the “Good ” and “Evil” part may have have been added later as a gloss.) Like the Serpent, the Tree of Knowledge is sometimes considered to be a phallic symbol. This Fruit along with the Tree also were used to signify the result or effect of some cause, having both a positive and a negative effect and origin.

The Two Trees.

The Tree of Knowledge and digesting the forbidden fruit in Genesis according to Jewish tradition represented the primeval mixture or intermingling of good and evil, light and darkness in an almost Manichean fashion. Eating the fruit forbidden set off a chain reaction where humanity developed a “yeitzer hara” or “evil inclination.” Unlike the earlier Hebrews, who blamed themselves for their woes, the Jewish Rabbis believed God had implanted in the ‘heart’, the Hebrew place of the unconscious of each individual, at his birth or conception. The yezer was not hereditary. It was intrinsically good and the source of creative energy, but had a strong potential for evil through appetite or greed. Only strict observance of the Law could keep the strong, irrational passions it engendered under control. To the commentators in the five centuries before Christ, Adam’s death was due to his own “sinful actions”, and not to the Augustine-authored “original sin nature” or “ancestral sin” inherent in the DNA in the race of man because of the disobedience of the primal parents. The Zohar claims that Adam and Eve lost their immortality by ingesting the fruit which is ironically enough compared to the occult:

Hear what saith scripture when Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree by which death entered into their souls or lower nature, ‘And when they heard the voice of the Lord of the Alhim walking in the garden’ (Gen. iii-8), or, as it ought to be rendered, had walked (mithhalech). Note further that whilst Adam had not fallen, he was a recipient of divine wisdom (hochma) and heavenly light and derived his continuous existence from the Tree of Life to which he had free access, but as soon as he allowed himself to be seduced and deluded with the desire of occult knowledge, he lost everything, heavenly light and life through the disjunction of his higher and lower self, and, the loss of that harmony that should always exist between them, in short, he then first knew what evil was and what it entailed, and, therefore, it is written, ‘Thou art not a God that approveth wickedness, neither shall evil dwell with thee’ (Is. v-5); or, in other words, he who implicitly and blindly follows the dictates of his lower nature or self shall not come near the Tree of Life.

According to the Babylonian Talmud, Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden for just twelve hours before being unceremoniously thrown out. This is half a day in Paradise. That snake sure was a fast worker! Yahweh gave Adam and Eve the tour round Eden, told them what they could or couldn’t do and had no sooner turned his back than they were disobeying him and he had to expel them and sentence them, and the whole human race to come, to hell-fire for all eternity. Is that not the biggest (pardon this author’s french) fuck up of all time? It takes a spectacular degree of incompetence to screw things up that badly, so quickly. And yet the source who engineered this monumental disaster is supposed to be the Creator of the Universe, all-knowing and all-powerful, incapable of error! It is any wonder why the Gnostics called the creator god of Genesis as a dark and brutal god who was also given names such as: Samael (Blind One) and Saklas (idiot-retard)?

The Catholic Church Father Irenaeus mentions in Adv. Hear. 1, 29, 3, that the Barbelognostics revered the classic Qabalistic symbol of the “Tree, which itself they call Knowledge (gnosis).” This Tree is generated by two more primordial entities or “Aeons” called “Man” and “Knowledge.” It is hard to know just what his source for this passage may have been, for the kabbalistic symbol of the Tree does not figure in any of the surviving versions of the Apocryphon of John. There is, however, a passage in the Church Father Origen’s description in Contra Celsum of the diagrams of the cosmos envisaged by the Ophites:

And everywhere there, the Tree of Life, and the resurrection of flesh from the Tree …

This passage suggests that the form of the Tree had been imposed on the whole diagram. The Church Father Origen also gives a number of  “ten circles”, the traditional number of the emanations or “sefiroth” associated with the cosmic spheres in the Kabbalistic Tree of Life – though roughly only seven of them can have planetary names. This image of the spiritual powers circling in the heavenly spheres, which the Jewish scholar, Gershom Scholem has suggested entered Jewish esoteric teaching from Hellenistic-Egyptian traditions in the centuries before Christianity (or at least Christian gnosticism) arose bears also upon the enigma of the seven-headed form of Iao in the fourth sphere (as discussed in the Apocryphon of John), that of the Sun.

This idea of the Archons situated upon the astral “aerial toll houses” of Eastern Orthodoxy (and of course Gnosticism, especially in the First Apocalypse of James) does indeed seem to originate in ancient Egypt where the the Book of the Dead lists protective spells learned by initiates to guard against the dangerous “judges” during the post-mortem journey of the soul. Speculation in Christian and in Gnostic circles concerning the order of the celestial hierarchy hinged upon a few passages in the Pauline literature, which seem to imply, however, different sequences as Colassians 1:16 states:

For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.

The names of the authorities are as follows, featured and listed in the Ophite doctrine, refuted by Celsus in Contra Celsum:

Michael – lion, Souriel – bull, Raphael – serpent, Gabriel – eagle, Thauthabaoth – bear, Erathaoth – dog, Taphabaoth/Onoel – ass.

The sequence was composed using the figures of four biblical Cherubim, to whom three new personages were added. The animal forms are derived from the biblical story of the famous vision of Ezekiel as is the iconography of the four evangelists. Ezekiel had seen four monstrous beings in the shape of winged men with four faces: of a man, a lion, a bull and an eagle, on each of the four sides. Jerome connects this tetramorph with the Four Evangelists, being Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

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In the Trimorphic Protennoia, the Archons claim that they also were derived from a tree:

For as for our tree from which we grew, a fruit of ignorance is what it has; and also its leaves, it is death that dwells in them, and darkness dwells under the shadow of its boughs. And it was in deceit and lust that we harvested it, this (tree) through which ignorant Chaos became for us a dwelling place.

As mentioned in Part 1, the Gospel of John 15, 1-2 equates Christ with the vines and fruit of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, which also sounds vaguely Dionysian. Dionysus was also called the surname Dendritês, the god of the tree, which has the same import as Dasyllius, the giver of foliage.

The Gospel of Truth also equates the cross to the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden:

He was nailed to a tree (and) he became fruit of the knowledge of the Father. It did not, however, cause destruction because it was eaten, but to those who ate it, it (cause) to become glad in the discovery, and he discovered them in himself, and they discovered him in themselves.

The Gospel of Philip also makes the connection between the Tree of Life, the resurrection via the chrism (anointing) and Jesus Christ, explicit:

Philip the apostle said, “Joseph the carpenter planted a garden because he needed wood for his trade. It was he who made the cross from the trees which he planted. His own offspring hung on that which he planted. His offspring was Jesus, and the planting was the cross.” But the Tree of Life is in the middle of the Garden. However, it is from the olive tree that we got the chrism, and from the chrism, the resurrection.

Elsewhere in the Gospel of Philip, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is identified with the flesh and the Law (the lower natures as opposed to the pnuematic one). Using a riff from the Epistle to the Romans 7:7-11, the author says:

“It has the power to give knowledge of good and evil. It neither removed him from evil, nor did it set him in the good. Instead it created death for those who ate of it. For when it said, ‘Eat this. Do not eat that.’ it became the beginning of death.”

The pseudepigraphic Jewish-apocalypse Book of Enoch 31:4, describes this tree of knowledge in the midst of the “Garden of Righteousness”:

It was like a species of the Tamarind tree, bearing fruit which resembled grapes extremely fine; and its fragrance extended to a considerable distance. I exclaimed, How beautiful is this tree, and how delightful is its appearance!

Irenaeus’ pupil, Hippolytus would write in Against All Heresies (VI, 27) on how the Valentinians compared the Logos to the fruit of the Tree of Life:

This (one) is styled among them Joint Fruit of the Pleroma. These (matters), then, took place within the Pleroma in this way. And the Joint Fruit of the Pleroma was projected, (that is,) Jesus,— for this is his name—the great High Priest. Sophia, however, who was outside the Pleroma in search of Christ, who had given her form, and of the Holy Spirit, became involved in great terror that she would perish, if he should separate from her, who had given her form and consistency.

He also writes that the Father projected a warrior Aeon as a defense mechanism to protect the Aeonic realm of the Pleroma from the shapeless void created by the fallen Sophia, who is often shaped in a Cross:

Now this (Aeon) is styled Horos, because he separates from the Pleroma the Hysterema that is outside. And (he is called) Metocheus, because he shares also in the Hysterema. And (he is denominated) Staurus, because he is fixed inflexibly and inexorably, so that nothing of the Hysterema can come near the Aeons who are within the Pleroma.

This description also matches with Irenaeus’ account (Against Heresies 1.3.5) on how the Valentinian Christians viewed the hidden, metaphysical meaning and nature of the Cross:

“They show, further, that that Horos of theirs, whom they call by a variety  of names, has two faculties,-the one of supporting, and the other of separating;  and in so far as he supports and sustains, he is Stauros, while in so far as he  divides and separates, he is Horos. They then represent the Saviour as having  indicated this twofold faculty: first, the sustaining power, when He said,  “Whosoever doth not bear his cross (Stauros), and follow after me, cannot be my  disciple; ” and again, “Taking up the cross follow me; ” but the separating power when He said, “I came not to send peace, but a  word.” They also maintain that John indicated the same thing when he said, “The fan is  in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge the floor, and will gather the wheat  into His garner; but the chaff He will burn with fire unquenchable.” By this declaration He set forth the faculty of Horos. For that fan they explain  to be the cross (Stauros), which consumes, no doubt, all material objects, as fire does chaff, but it purifies all them that are saved, as a fan does wheat. Moreover, they affirm that the Apostle Paul himself made mention of this cross in the following words: “The doctrine of the cross is to them that  perish foolishness, but to us who are saved it is the power of God.” And again: “God forbid that I should glory in anything save in the cross of Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I unto the world.”

In the above paragraph, Horos or Stauros (the cross of John) is the limit (X) of Plato’s Timaeus. Simon Magus taught this same exact thing as we will see below. The cross symbolizes the separation of powers and realms. It represents the apokatastasis, the Stoic conflagration, the baptism by fire. Paul the Apostle speaks of this fire that purifies and tries men’s works in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. To be crucified to the world is to bear the symbol of the cross which is a flat-out denial of YHWH and the Elohim archons’ creation. It is to spit in the face of the Greek gods of fate like Socrates. It is hemlock to the flesh and to the spirit it is immortality.

It is the Cross of Christ, which in the Gnostic interpretation separates God from the manifest world, the uncreated, transcendent World of Forms from the Creator and the created realm, constituting a Separate and Hidden God. This limit in essence separates the “wheat from the tares”. At the same time, it also serves as a bridge between the saved sparks of light into the realm above. The extremely esoteric Sethian text, Allogenes, mentions a power or aeon by the name of “Kalyptos”, which can mean either “hidden” or “that which covers,” which may derive from the conception of the veil parting the higher from the lower realm. This power derives from the Aeon of Barbelo, which is also a state of being in which a spiritual power descends into matter. The position of Kalyptos comes very close to that of the Valentinian Horos, Stauros or Limit that separates the highest deity Bythos (Depth or Abyss) from the other Aeons that derive from him. This limit also functions though a second barrier between the “hysterema” of the material cosmos and the realm of the Aeons. Sophia also functions as a veil in On the Origin of the World.

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All of these concepts are also reflected in Origen’s Contra Celsum (6, 33) in which he states that that on the diameter of one of the circles a sword of fire was depicted, the same one that had driven Adam and Eve from the earthly Paradise. This flaming sword guarded the Tree of knowledge (gnosis) and of life (zoe). If the sword was above the black line of Tartarus, then the tree of knowledge and of life has to be the series of circles starting from Gnosis and Sophia and leading through the circle of Life to the Father. This could be similar to the Kabbalistic number of 777 being the sum the paths that the Lightening Path of Creation travels down through the Tree of Life. It is through this channel that the Luciferian motif of bringing the light of heaven to the World of Action becomes apparent.

In Contra Celsum, Origen reports Celsus’ comments on the Christians (the Ophite-Sethian Gnostics in reality), who called their baptismal rite “seal” (recalling the Five Seals of the Sethians); the person who placed the seal was called “father”; the one who received it was called “son” and “young man”, answering: “I am anointed with the white chrism of the tree of life”. Celsus further down describes the Christian belief of “tree of life” being both synonymous with Christ and the resurrection in 6:34:

And in all their writings (is mention made) of the ‘tree of life’ (τό της ζωης ξύλον), and a resurrection of the flesh by means of the ‘tree’ (από ξύλου), because, I imagine, their teacher was nailed to a cross (σταυρω ένηλώθη), and was a carpenter by craft (τέκτων τήν τεχνην)…

Celsus connects a so-called “tree of life,” and a resurrection by means of the “tree,” to Jesus’ execution: that he was nailed to an execution pole and his trade being carpenter, joiner. The relevant point Celsus is making here is that Jesus was suspended on some kind of pole, and secured to it with nails. Clearly, the parallels between the Ophite diagram and the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, with the circles shown to have numerical values, are there.

The Trimorphic Protennoia and the hermetic Discourse on Eighth and Ninth in the Nag Hammadi library pre-suppose numerical values for the manifestations of God, as does the system of Valentinus as described by his enemy, Irenaeus, which envisioned the theoretical attainment of 10 divine Aeons. He also develops a system consisting of about thirty Aeons, which would suggest that he had taken the simpler Ophite system and expanded it until it was almost uncontrollable. Even more interesting is in the Sethian text, Melchizedek,  it portrays Adam and Eve defeating the guardians of the Tree of Life with their own weapon!

For when they ate of the tree of knowledge, they trampled the Cherubim and the Seraphim with the flaming sword.

Fludd Sephirothic Tree web

The Sephirothic Tree by Robert Fludd

The Qabalah or Kabbalah itself has many similarities with Gnosticism in their closely related teachings of the hidden God and hypostatization of God’s attributes. The Sephirot (or Enumerations, which also means “book” in Hebrew) are the ten emanations of God (or infinite light: Ein Sof Aur) into the universe. These emanations manifest not only in the physical part of the universe, but also in the metaphysical one. Kabbalah distinguish four different worlds or planes: Atziluth, or World of Emanations, where the Divine Archetypes live; Beri’ah or World of Creations, where Highest Ranking Angels are; Yetzirah or World of Formations is the astral world; and Asiyah or World of Actions, is the physical plane and “low astral” plane. Each of these worlds are progressively grosser and denser (one can see the strong Kabbalistic influence on Neo-Platonic thought here as well), but the ten Sephiroth manifest in all of them.

The Kabbalah is rooted in the Merkavah and Assyrian traditions, and the Kabbalah defines Sefirot is also based on the great visions described by Ezekiel. The Sephiroth constitutes the “Tree of Life”, and is aligned in three columns, each headed by a Supernal. The names of the Sephirot are: Kether (Crown), Chochman (Wisdom), Binah (Understanding), Chesed (Mercy), Gevurah (Severity), Tiphareth (Redeemer), Netzach (Victory), Hod (Majesty), Yesod (Foundation), Malkhuth (Kingdom). Some clear Christian and Gnostic associations on the Tree of Life is down the middle path, with Keter relating to the Father, which emanates into Tipharet relating to the Holy Ghost, and Christ as the Solar Logos and Savior, which emanates to Yesod, relating to the Son. This being the path by which God emanates into Malkut, the physical world

The Manichean Psalm CCXX illustrates the theme of matter receiving the spiritual Light rather well by using Tree imagery:

They rose, that they belong to Matter, the children of Error, desiring to uproot thy unshakable tree and plant it in their land. Matter and her sons divided me up amongst them, they burnt me in their fire, they gave me a bitter likeness.” … “I am the sweet water that is beneath the sons of Matter.

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Alchemical image of the Divine Sophia as a Tree of Learning and source of the Elixir of Life.

In Jewish Wisdom literature, it was Khokhmah who personified the female Divine. She is understood as an emanation of God, yet she resonates with the Hebrew Goddess who is otherwise assailed in the Old Testament, by Jehovah especially Asherah, the Queen of Heaven. Proverbs 3:18 calls up an image of Khokhmah that originates in the oldest core of Jewish culture: “She is a Tree of Life to all who lay hold of her.” In the same book, Khokhmah sings, “The one who finds me, finds life.” A similar aretalogy can be found in the Sethian text, Thunder-Perfect Mind. The creation story of the 2nd, Century Gnostic, Valentinus of Alexandria, the greatest of Sophia’s devotees, describes the origin and essence of the matter composing this world as emotionally and psychically consubstantial with Sophia as indicated by Irenaeus in Against Heresies, 5, 4:

This mother they also call OgdoadSophiaTerra (Gaia), Jerusalem (cf. Gal. 4:26), Holy Spirit, and, with a masculine reference, Lord. Their mother dwells in that place which is above the heavens, that is, in the intermediate abode; the Demiurge in the heavenly place, that is, in the hebdomad; but the Cosmocrator in this our world. The corporeal elements of the world, again, sprang, as we before remarked, from bewilderment and perplexity, as from a more ignoble source. Thus the earth arose from her state of stupor; water from the agitation caused by her fear; air from the consolidation of her grief; while fire, producing death and corruption, was inherent in all these elements, even as they teach that ignorance also lay concealed in these three passions.

Furthermore, she knows:

the beginning and end and middle of times, the alternations of the solstices and the changes of the seasons, the cycles of the year and the constellations of the stars, the nature of animals and the tempers of wild animals, the powers of spirits and the thoughts of human beings, the varieties of plants and the virtues of roots… (Wisdom 7:15-22)

The imagery of the tree is also included in Simon Magus’s cosmology, as reported by Hippolytus of Rome, is a powerful model that describing some rare concepts that Simononians in the early third century work described in the Philosophumena, as the “Great Declaration” or “Great Announcement”. Simon very much describes a tree of fire that consumes itself. This is a third century Simonian document, positing that the root of all existence is infinite, and abides in man, who serves as its dwelling-house. The Logos or the Word is projected down by the luciferian Lightening Flash through the Aeons and into the manifest world and man. From the original root, the hidden principle, spring three pairs of manifestations of: Mind and Thought, Voice and Name, Reasoning and Reflection.

The Father is, moreover, “He that hath stood” in relation to premundane existence; “He that standeth” in relation to present being; and “He that shall stand” in relation to the final consummation. Man is simply the realization of “boundless power,” the ultimate end of the cosmic process in which the godhead attains self-consciousness. This infinite power works in all of the aeons as a compound name: He who stands, has stood, and will stand; a term alluded to in the Clementine Homilies and Recognition’s which say, that Simon Magus considered himself as the “Standing One” along with the “that power of God which is called Great”.

The Simonian author employs very Stoic language in describing what is hidden and revealed in the divine Fire, the original Boundless Power that is the stuff that the original Ineffable God is made of—the equivalent of the Qabalistic Ein Sof or Kether—the Crown. In this above entry (linked above) by Hippolytus, he refers to Simon’s theology of the “fruit from the Tree” as being the quintessential product of the human incarnation.  The tripartite division of spirit, psyche and matter are simply manifest expressions of the original Stoic-like Divine Fire. This concealed fruit or “Hidden Power” which is another term that he used, requires a key in the conscious process of imagining or beholding a power to form mental images.

The Simonian author interestingly uses the term “imagining” as a reference of becoming divinized or be initiated into the mysteries. But this can only be manifested “if its imagining has been perfected and it takes the shape of itself.” Later, the text mentions a “storehouse” which is a room, located adjacent to a royal chamber within a palace where the gold, jewels and other wealth are stored.  Here, the Simonian author is referring to the treasure-house and the storehouse, both concepts that are found within the Pistis Sophia that refer to a location within the “House of Many Mansions” of John 14:2.

Simon Magus also appealed to Matthew 12:33, as Hippolytus writes in Refutations of All Heresies VI, 11:

If, however, a tree continues alone, not producing fruit fully formed, it is utterly destroyed. For somewhere near, he says, is the axe (which is laid) at the roots of the tree. Every tree, he says, which does not produce good fruit, is hewn down and cast into fire.

This, of course, was also Marcion’s (and much later in Mani’s theological two principle system) main scriptural justification for his radical dualism in Christ’s maxim that a good tree does not bear evil fruit, nor does an evil tree bear bad fruit. So if we also interpret that in terms of origins, then the evil god could not possibly have originated from the good god, because good things do not produce evil things, and vice versa. The Gospel of Thomas says something very similar:

(45) Jesus said, “Grapes are not harvested from thorns, nor are figs gathered from thistles, for they do not produce fruit. A good man brings forth good from his storehouse; an evil man brings forth evil things from his evil storehouse, which is in his heart, and says evil things. For out of the abundance of the heart he brings forth evil things.”

The fact is Simon had a similar doctrine that condemned false religion and predicted a final dissolution of the cosmos, presumably dissolved in fire, so that Simon’s elect can be redeemed, viz. the Great Announcement; Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, 6:14; Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.23.3.

These words from Simon and John resonate with a key saying of Jesus in Matthew 7:17-20,

Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

This was a key saying used by the Gnostics and Marcionites. Could it be that this metaphor originated from John the Baptist, from whom Simon also learned this same metaphor?

Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, that you have Abraham for your father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” (Cf. John 8:39, 44; 1:17-18)

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In the text On the Origin of the World, it states that the tree of life and the tree of gnosis are situated “to the north of Paradise” and is identified as Epinoia. The Greek name Epinoia carries the meaning of “understanding” or “thought” or “purpose”. She is sent to dwell within Adam, her role being to give him consciousness of his divine origins and the way to return to the Pleroma. The author of On the Origin of the World makes a positive evaluation of the Garden of Eden:

And the tree of eternal life is as it appeared by God’s will, to the north of Paradise, so that it might make eternal the souls of the pure, who shall come forth from the modelled forms of poverty at the consummation of the age. Now the color of the tree of life is like the sun. And its branches are beautiful. Its leaves are like those of the cypress. Its fruit is like a bunch of grapes when it is white. Its height goes as far as heaven. And next to it (is) the tree of knowledge (gnosis), having the strength of God. Its glory is like the moon when fully radiant. And its branches are beautiful. Its leaves are like fig leaves. Its fruit is like a good appetizing date. And this tree is to the north of Paradise, so that it might arouse the souls from the torpor of the demons, in order that they might approach the tree of life and eat of its fruit, and so condemn the authorities and their angels.

This depiction is in stark contrast with how the the Apocryphon of John depicts Eden as more of a zoo-like prison of the authorities:

And the archons took him and placed him in paradise. And they said to him, ‘Eat, that is at leisure,’ for their luxury is bitter and their beauty is depraved. And their luxury is deception and their trees are godlessness and their fruit is deadly poison and their promise is death. And the tree of their life they had placed in the midst of paradise.

The Apocalypse of Moses is primarily an account about Adam’s death, its cause and cure. Seth is procured along with Adam’s many other children which leads Adam to recount briefly the story of the temptation, the fall, and the the first parents’ punishment in chapters 7-8. Adam’s narrative explains the reason for his present plight. Adam then subsequently sends his wife Eve and son Seth to paradise in search of the oil of mercy that will bring him relief. (9:3) On the way to the garden, Seth is attacked by a beast (in chapters 10-12) which seems to be evidence that God’s curse in Genesis 3:15 is in effect. Adam’s request to be saved is subsequently denied.

(The oil of Mercy) will not be yours now, but at the ends of the times. Then will arise all flesh from Adam to the great day …. , and then all the joy of paradise will be given to them. … (13:2-4)

Adam knows he is going to die and later on in Chapters 22-29, God appears in paradise on his chariot while accompanied by his angels. His throne is fixed, and he indicts and sentences his creatures from the consequences of the fall being spelled out in detail in chapters 24-26. Adam seeks the oil of mercy but God commands the angels to get on with the expulsion (27:4-28:1). Again Adam pleads, this time for access to the Tree of Life (28:2). God’s response to Adam’s plea is met with a reproof:

You shall not take from it now … if you keep yourself from all evil, as one about to die, when again the resurrection comes to pass, I shall raise you up. And then there shall be given to you from the tree of life. (28:3-4)

Another time, Adam pleads with God for herbs from Eden to offer incense and seeds to grow food. God is kind enough to grant this request before Adam and Eve are kicked out from the garden in Chapter 29. The text concludes on a solemn yet promising note which expands on Genesis 3:19:

I told you that you are dust, and to dust you will return. Again I promise you the resurrection. I shall raise you up to the last day, in the resurrection, with every man who is of your seed. (41:2-3)

In the concluding portion of the book, it describes Eve’s death and her burial by Seth, who is commanded to bury in this fashion everyone who dies until the day of the resurrection. These ideas are also reflected in the apocryphal the Book of the Cave of Treasures, where the dying Adam assembles his sons, including Seth for a request to embalm him with myrrh, cassia and balsam and to leave his body in the Cave of Treasures, situated at a side of a high mountain but below paradise.

Seth himself was also considered to be the archetypal father and savior of the Gnostics, resulting from the Jewish exegesis and combination of various biblical themes: (1) that of “the sons of God” in Gen 6:4 (LXX), (2) that of Seth as “another seed” appointed by God in place of the slain Abel in Gen 4:25, who (3) was fathered by Adam as a son in his own likeness and image according to Gen 5:3.

These themes, in combination with Gen 1:26, concerning the god “Man” created in the image and likeness of God, implied the divine nature of Seth, the “planter” of the heavenly seed (Gen 4:25). Seth would recover from “the great aeons” the glory that had left Adam and Eve at their Fall, caused by the Ialdabaoth. Seth would preserve his seed against the repeated attempts of Ialdabaoth to steal it by keeping it separate from the lustful seed of Cain which came from the Archons. At the end of time, Seth (or Sophia in On the Origin of the World) would destroy Ialdabaoth and his followers in a Revelations-styled apocalypse and reinstate his seed, the part of mankind untainted by lust, into its original glory. The strongest instant that we see Seth as a Gnostic Savior is in the Apocalypse of Adam, where Adam tells his son Seth:

And the glory in our hearts left us, me and your mother Eve, along with the first knowledge that breathed within us.

Later, Adam called his son “by the name of that man who is the seed of the great generation  as a planter of the righteous seed”, recalling 1 Corinthians 15: 35-49 by Paul the Apostle, who compared the resurrection to a seed. Paul states that when a plant sprouts forth from the seed, and the remnants of the seed whither away. The plant came from the seed, but the plant isn’t the seed, and the seed isn’t the plant. They’re two distinct things, and the plant doesn’t come to life until the seed dies. So what Paul is saying is that spirit is deposited as a seed in the body, and it remains a seed until the body dies and decomposes. Then the spirit sprouts forth from the body, and the body is transmuted into a spiritual body, which also recalls the Parable of the Sower in Matthew, Mark and Thomas. It isn’t reanimation of a corpse at all as Catholic Church Fathers such as Irenaeus and especially Tertullian, have maintained (Against Heresies, 5.12.1, De Resurrectione Carnis). Paul’s theology concerning the spiritual resurrection isn’t so far removed from the ideas expressed in the Great Announcement:

…the manifested side corresponds to the trunk, limbs, leaves, and encasing bark. All these members of the tree are set ablaze from the all-consuming flame of the fire and destroyed. But as for the fruit of the tree, if it’s for is perfect and it assumes the true shape, it is gathered into the storehouse, not thrown into the fire.

Here, the vegetation and tree motifs are evident. Returning to the Gnostics—is it from Seth’s descendants who would possess the Gnosis. The Apocryphon of John suggests that Sophia prepared a place for the souls in heaven, where Jesus, the incarnation of the aeon Christ would disclose the true knowledge of how to return to their true home in with the Spirit (in Pleroma), where they would ascend past the rulers (archons) and their astral spheres and be healed of all deficiency and become holy and faultless. To gain these higher realms, one must ascend above the Seven Heavens of Chaos into the Aeons as stated in the Gospel of the Egyptians:

Then there came forth from the great aeons four hundred ethereal angels, accompanied by the great Aerosiel and the great Selmechel, to guard the great, incorruptible race, its fruit, and the great men of the great Seth, from the time and the moment of Truth and Justice, until the consummation of the aeon and its archons, those whom the great judges have condemned to death.

The Apocryphon of John spells it out in a more concise manner:

And he placed seven kings – each corresponding to the firmaments of heaven – over the seven heavens, and five over the depth of the abyss, that they may reign. And he shared his fire with them, but he did not send forth from the power of the light which he had taken from his mother, for he is ignorant darkness.

Origen, despite being one of the Church Fathers (and theological enemies of the Gnostics), he actually had a doctrine very much influenced by Platonism (but stood firmly against groups like the Valentinians and Marcionites). Origen also did not accept the historicity of the Bible nor did he interpret it literally. One example of this can be taken from De Prinicipiis, 4.1.16, where he discusses the Genesis creation myth more as an allegory:

No one, I think, can doubt that the statement that God walked in the afternoon in paradise, and that Adam lay hid under a tree is related figuratively in Scripture, that some mystical meaning may be indicated by it.” And “those who are not altogether blind can collect countless instances of a similar kind recorded as having occurred, but which did not literally take place? Nay, the Gospels themselves are filled with the same kind of narratives; for example, the devil leading Jesus up into a high mountain, in order to show him from thence the kingdoms of the whole world, and the glory of them.

Likewise, the Valentinians viewed scripture as allegorical on three different levels that corresponded to the three natures. The earlier Gnostics viewed the Old Testament as a symbolic record of the struggle between Yaldabaoth-Jehovah and Sophia as testified in Irenaeus’ account in Against Heresies, VII, 3:

They maintain, moreover, that those souls which possess the seed of Achamoth are superior to the rest, and are more dearly loved by the Demiurge than others, while he knows not the true cause thereof, but imagines that they are what they are through his favour towards them. Wherefore, also, they say he distributed them to prophets, priests, and kings; and they declare that many things were spoken (7) by this seed through the prophets, inasmuch as it was endowed with a transcendently lofty nature. Themother also, they say, spake much about things above, and that both through him and through the souls which were formed by him. Then, again, they divide the prophecies [into different classes], maintaining that one portion was uttered by the mother, a second by her seed, and a third by the Demiurge. In like manner, they hold that Jesus uttered some things under the influence of the Saviour, others under that of the mother, and others still under that of the Demiurge, as we shall show further on in our work.

As we can see, the Tree was an important universal symbol for not only the Gnostics, Simonians, Valentinians, etc, but to groups like the Jewish-Kabbalists, alchemists and many occult groups throughout the ages. The Tree is highly associative with the idea of the descent and crucifixion (and eventual ascent and resurrection) of spirit into and from matter as seen in Sophia-Achamoth’s fall from the celestial world and into the prima materia which parallels the Genesis account of the fall of Eve, the “mother of the living”. In Plato’s Timaeus, do we find the account of the Fall of Atlantis, (as strange as it might sound) which could be read as symbolic of the Divine tragedy and catastrophe so predominant in Gnostic cosmology and theology.

In Part 4, we will investigate a possible Gnostic exegesis of the Atlantis myth and other Greek tales, the Gnostic science of human physiology and the mind relating to Genesis, where and how exactly Orthodox theology developed from and ultimately became victorious as a common religious Christian doctrine, along with some concluding final thoughts on this series.

Forbidden Fruit in the Midst of the Garden (Part 1)

It is you who are the tree of knowledge, which is in Paradise, from which the first man ate and which opened his mind; and he loved his female counterpart and condemned the other, alien likenesses and loathed them. – On the Origin of the World.

At the very beginning of the Bible and the Torah, we are presented with the idea of the origins of mankind in the Primordial Garden of Eden that we first see in Genesis. The traditional Orthodox reading of this story, of course, presents the age-old legend as literal evidence for the claim of mankind’s original sin and subsequent fall from primordial perfection and divine grace, as if God was still holding an eternal grudge against mankind for eating a fruit that he created in the first place, and still cursing mankind and the world for a multitude of generations after the fact. From this disobedience to God, alienation was given rise from the creator and humanity was once again condemned under the Law that God later gave to Moses at Mt. Sinai. In this reading, humanity is specifically condemned because of their inherently wickedness due to their rebellion and disobedience. And so the story goes, God had to send his innocent Son to die a cruel death to shed his blood to atone for the transgressions of a sinful and destitute humanity. Yet, beneath this callous, misanthropic reading lies a deeper layer of spiritual truth.

Another feature of the Garden of Eden episode which is often taken for granted, but does not exist in the text, is the idea that the serpent being synonymous with the Devil, the same serpent tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, thereby precipitating the expulsion of the primal heavenly couple from Paradise. This interpretation actually only comes much later with the Book is Wisdom (2:23-24) reveling in this version:

For God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of his own eternity. Nevertheless through envy of the devil came death into the world: and they that do hold of his side do find it.

Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons, writes in Against Heresies 5.23, which started the ball rolling for the Orthodox exegetic interpretation:

But that God was true, and the serpent a liar, was proved by the result, death having passed upon them who had eaten. For along with the fruit they did also fall under the power of death, because they did eat in disobedience; and disobedience to God entails death. Wherefore, as they became forfeit to death, from that [moment] they were handed over to it.  

In the Revelation of John 12:9, the serpent is equated with the Devil or Satan:

The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

In the same text (which can be dated to be written after 96 A.D. according to Eusebius’ quotation of Irenaeus’ testimony), it interestingly equates Jesus Christ with Lucifer, the Latin word for “light-bearer” which stems from the “Latin Vulgate” Bible, produced by Jerome, commissioned by Pope Damascus in 382 A.D. In Revelation 22:16, “Jesus” proclaims that: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

Of course, the Latin “Lucifer” (“Lux Ferre”) was associated with the planet Venus, which is called “Phosphoros”, the “morning star” or “dawn-bringer”, who was both a minor god in Greece and Rome, who according to the Greek Historian Diodorus Siculus, was a:

…son of Atlas, who was fond of astronomy, and once, after having ascended Mount Atlas to observe the stars, he disappeared. He was worshipped with divine honours, and regarded as the fairest star in the heavens. (Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.)

Lucifer was also known by the Greeks as the Titan Prometheus, the son of Iapetus. (As a side-note compare this description of Phosphoros with Isaiah 14: 13-14: “For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most high”).

It is also interesting to note that the word “Heylel” a Hebrew word with both positive and negative connotations, but in context of the Isaiah quote as the adjective “boaster” for Satan which became strangely mistranslated by Jerome as “Lucifer”.  Jehovah also boasts in Isaiah 45:7 as crediting himself as being the creator of both light and darkness.

According to Eusebius’ Church History (Chapter XXV), the historian points out that many early Catholics and Christians had rejected the Revelation of John:

Some before us have set aside and rejected the book altogether, criticizing it chapter by chapter, and pronouncing it without sense or argument, and maintaining that the title is fraudulent. For they say that it is not the work of John, nor is it a revelation, because it is covered thickly and densely by a veil of obscurity.

It was the Catholic Fathers Irenaeus and Tertullian who made the text acceptable by quoting it. But outside of the Catholic Church this text was not popular among other sects and mystics. In fact, it is almost with certainty that groups such as the Gnostics had also rejected this text and the traditional reading of such concepts as the Serpent being synonymous with the Devil, and Jesus Christ being associated with a luminous and bright planet in the sky. Christ being associated with the light bearer, of course, isn’t too far from the Gnostic understanding of the Logos (“My mission was to illuminate the world so that everyone who believes in me may not remain in darkness.” – John 12:44-50)

But, the term “Lucifer” being Latin, wasn’t ever a typical word that was employed in the many streams of Gnostic Christian thought. It goes without saying that traditionally, Christians have often used “Lucifer” or “Satanically” inspired as a puppet to scapegoat anything that doesn’t line up with the traditional narrative. Even doctrines such as omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence are typically used by the Orthodox narrative to scare one into believing that there’s no alternative to their god.

One very provocative Gnostic text which survived through the Nag Hammadi Codices and reflects the kind of innovative thinking those such as the Gnostics were willing to interpret the Genesis account, is The Testimony of Truth. In fact, with a careful reading, there really isn’t any need for “re-interpretation” or “inversion” as the adherents of Gnosis (Greek for “knowledge” and “science”) are often accused of doing. First, let’s read what the original Genesis account tells us about the episode of the Serpent in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3:3:

 But God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.” But the serpent said to the woman, “you will not die, For God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like god, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sowed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.

Over at Enemies, the author succinctly observes:

If “God” is all-powerful, then why did He need to test Adam and Eve at all? Wouldn’t a real supreme being already know what was going to happen? Why did the serpent seem like the only one who really understood what was going on? And who was God talking to when he fretted that Adam had become “like one of us“? (Genesis 3:22)

The author of the Testimony of Truth brings up very similar points as an exegesis of Genesis myth:

But God came at the time of evening, walking in the midst of Paradise. When Adam saw him, he hid himself. And he said, “Adam, where are you?” He answered (and) said, “I have come under the fig tree.” And at that very moment, God knew that he had eaten from the tree of which he had commanded him, “Do not eat of it.” And he said to him, “Who is it who has instructed you?” And Adam answered, “The woman whom you have given me.” And the woman said, “It is the serpent who instructed me.” And he (God) cursed the serpent, and called him “devil.” And he said, “Behold, Adam has become like one of us, knowing evil and good.” Then he said, “Let us cast him out of paradise, lest he take from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.”

But what sort is this God? First he maliciously refused Adam from eating of the tree of knowledge, and, secondly, he said “Adam, where are you?” God does not have foreknowledge? Would he not know from the beginning? And afterwards, he said, “Let us cast him out of this place, lest he eat of the tree of life and live forever.” Surely, he has shown himself to be a malicious grudger! And what kind of God is this? For great is the blindness of those who read, and they did not know him. And he said, “I am the jealous God; I will bring the sins of the fathers upon the children until three (and) four generations.” And he said, “I will make their heart thick, and I will cause their mind to become blind, that they might not know nor comprehend the things that are said.” But these things he has said to those who believe in him and serve him!

The author of the Testimony of Truth clearly designates the serpent as a positive figure, telling the story from the view of the serpent. The text also distinguishes Christ as the “Son” or messenger of the “unknown Father” which is distinct from the “Lord God” of Genesis or the Lawgiver which was equated by many Gnostic groups such as the Sethians, Naasenes and the Valentinians with the Demiurge or the “Craftsman” who fashioned the cosmos from a chaotic pre-existent “prima materia”. The Marcionites held a similar position, but lacked the speculative and imaginative cosmologies that were a staple in later Gnostic mythology, but held both the creator god as a lesser god and the Good, Supreme God as distinct, but co-eternal beings in a constant state of antagonism (we see this idea carried into the later doctrines of the Manichaeans and the Cathars). The Demiurge did not derive from the Supreme God by emanation or by a fall of another aeon.

Marcion, much like his Gnostic predecessors denied that the God of goodness could have created the cosmos of corruption and entropy. Therefore, in his place, the creator god was assigned as author of the physical universe, while treated as an inferior being, not good, but only just. He is also the author of evil (as Isaiah 45:7 boldly asserts), as he is as much a lover of war (Exodus 15:3), erratic blood-lust in his constant demand for animal and human sacrifice, rejoicing in death (Deuteronomy 28:63), condoning slavery including sexual (Exodus 21:1-11), commanding the Israelites to rape, pillage and destroy at a moment’s whim (1 Chronicles 21, Deuteronomy 3, Joshua 6) all the while contradicting his own commandment of “Thou shalt not kill”. At his express command, the world is turned into a place of pain and “thorns” (Genesis 3:18)

He only executes the law without mercy or compassion when it is convenient for him at the slightest infraction, as he is always punishing the nation of Israel for being wayward and folly against his word. His king-like jealousy and pride, and his great appetite for praise and sacrifices is what motivated many early Christians to interpret “the Lord God” as either an ignorant but just creator or at worst, a malicious and belligerent demon called “Ialdaboath”.

Jesus mentions this adversary as a “father of lies”, confirming the Testimony of Truth in John 8:44:

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murder from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

Jesus’ reference to the “father of lies” as Yahweh/Jehovah can be made, even though orthodox exegetes interpret it as the snake, because it was Yahweh who said that they would die if they ate from the Tree of Knowledge, whereas the snake said that they wouldn’t—and of course, as we know, they didn’t. All that they Serpent said is that they would become as gods, which Yahweh confirms when he says, “Look, they have become as gods. Now we must remove them from the garden, lest they eat of the tree of life and live forever.” The night preceding his crucifixion, the Johannine Jesus says in John 12:31-33:

Now is the judgment of this world. Now the prince (archon) of this world will be cast out.

The prince or “archon” is a direct reference to the Demiurge, the “god of this aion” as Paul calls him 2 Corinthians 4:4. Before, the creator God said to both Adam and Eve “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” On the other hand, the Serpent said pointedly: “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

The author of Genesis does not say that “they both died”. The text simply states as a matter of fact that: “the eyes of both of them were opened”, like the Serpent had said. Later, the creator complained to his mysterious companions: “And now man has become as one of us, to know good and evil.” The creator god was the one who had lied. He said that Adam and Eve would die if he ate the fruit, but neither died. Instead, the Serpent was telling the truth. As a matter of fact, the creator himself ended up agreeing that the Serpent was right! The creator Lord God had proved himself to be a chronic liar as well as plagiarizer. To the Gnostics, the entire stratum of material creation was a failed and botched attempt to imitate an unknowable world of light. Likewise, the “Good Book” or “Word of God”, which being the Bible itself is based principally on pre-Biblical Babylonian and Egyptian texts. (More on this later in the series.)

The Naaseenes (their group name was transliterated and derived from the Hebrew word for “serpent” nachash: הנחש) or “Ophites” in particular where known for revering the serpent as a chief symbol of the Savior. The Catholic Father Hippolytus reported at length on the Naassenes in his treatise The Refutation of All Heresies, 5:1-5. In it, Hippolytus had focused more attention on another sect called the Peratea, which also revered the serpent. Their doctrine of the serpent was based on John 3:14: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.” Thanks to this quote, groups like the Peratea equated Christ with the Serpent as Hippolytus reports:

No one, then, he says, can be saved or return (into heaven) without the Son, and the Son is the Serpent. For as he brought down from above the paternal marks, so again he carries up from thence those marks roused from a dormant condition and rendered paternal characteristics, substantial ones from the unsubstantial Being, transferring them hither from thence.

Hippolytus also confirms the Gnostic take on Jesus’ remarks in John 8:44 of:

“Your father is a murderer from the beginning,” he alludes to the Ruler and Demiurge of matter, who, appropriating the marks delivered from the Son, generated him here who from the beginning was a murder, for his work causes corruption and death.

St. Augustine of Hippo in Adversus Haeresis, 46, 147-153, claimed that the Manichaeans had also taught that “Jesus the Splendor” or the “Third Messenger” was the Serpent that illuminated the minds of both Adam and Eve of their predicament and their divine origins. Before the arrival of the Serpent in the Garden, man was in a state of ignorance and was blinded to his true position—as automatons in blind servitude to their creators. This is confirmed by an unnamed Manichean text in which the 8th century historian, Theodor Bar Konai quotes:

Jesus the Splendour approached sinless Adam and awoke him from the sleep of death, that he might be delivered of innumerable demons… Then Adam examined himself and realized, who he was.

This knowledge would make man aware that Eden wasn’t paradise at all, but just the opposite—a place of captivity. The true Eden was somewhere else entirely. (“They said, Eat, meaning, do so in a leisurely manner. But in fact their pleasure is bitter and their beauty is perverse. Their pleasure is a trap, their trees are a sacrilege, their fruit is deadly poison, their promise is death,” – Secret Book of John). Adam was distinctly rendered as a hapless and lifeless creature of dirt, incapable of rising. The Demiurge breathes in an animated, worldly soul which does little to stir him up, up until the Serpent opens Adam’s eyes and feed him through Eve’s instruction (take that Tertullian’s misogyny!), the fruit of gnosis (knowledge), in which the scales were dropped from their eyes and suddenly remembered their divine origins.

The images of the Serpent, Fruit and Tree of Life (the Qabalah in all its many variations are based on this symbol) and Knowledge became symbols of initiation, higher knowledge and immortality. To secure salvation, mankind was encouraged to break through the realm of the flesh and rise by a sort of ecstatic and immediate Divine Vision. In Gnosis, God was the ultimate, nameless and unknowable being and realm, perfect in fullness or Pleroma. This God is similar to the God posited in Aristotle’s Metaphysics which held him as an “Unmoved Mover” in pure potentiality without form—infinitely removed from the finite and beyond reproach in its ineffable perfection. He was only able to flow out in emanations or aeons having the highest approximately to the divine nature—the Logos being one of them. In the poetic Psalm, Summer Harvest, which is authored by possibly a student of Valentinus, these “aeons” are mentioned: “Fruits manifest themselves out of the Depth.”

The Secret Book of John goes into great detail on how mankind was created by the “rulers”, since its author(s) seem to link material creation and the fall as the same event:

The human being Adam was revealed through the bright shadow within. And Adam’s ability to think was greater than that of all the creators. When they looked up, they saw that Adam’s ability to think was greater, and they devised a plan with the whole throng of rulers and angels. They took fire, earth, and water, and combined them with the four fiery winds. They wrought them together and made a great commotion. The rulers brought Adam into the shadow of death so that they might produce a figure again, from earth, water, fire, and the spirit that comes from matter, that is, from the ignorance of darkness, and desire, and their own false spirit. This is the cave for remodeling the body that these criminals put on the human, the fetter of forgetfulness. Adam became a mortal being, the first to descend and the first to become estranged.

In the Valentinian Fragment 1: Adam’s Faculty of Speech, the theme of the creation becoming superior to its creators also becomes apparent:

 Something like fear overcame the angels in the presence of that modeled form (i.e. Adam) because he uttered things that were superior to what his origins justified, owing to the agent who had invisibly deposited a seed of higher essence and who spoke freely. So too in the races of worldly people, human artifacts become objects of fear for their creators – for example statues and images and everything that is made by human hands as representing a god. For Adam, modeled as representing humanity, made them stand in fear of the preexistant Humanity; for precisely the latter stood in him. And they were stricken with terror and quickly concealed the work.

The theme of the creation surpassing its creator becomes apparent in many Gnostic texts. Even in the Manichaean text, the Kephalaion 64, it characterizes the human body, as a microcosmic mirror of the universe at large, as a key to the secrets of the cosmos. Despite the fact that the angelic rulers modeled Adam after the divine beings, being the Messenger and the Virgin of the “Father of Greatness” in the primal watery abyss—in essence, the creators of the physical body, they still act in ignorance without knowing what they are making. In fact, the physical body does not operate in the way it was meant to function—as a servant and prison for light. Instead, the body becomes a battleground of both the light and darkness, making the body even more apt to liberation as it is subject to continued imprisonment.

It should be noted that not all Gnostic texts had a consensus of the serpent being divine or good. In fact, the Secret Book of John holds the Serpent and the “First Ruler” being the Demiurge as part of the same order, unlike other texts (such as On the Origin of the World, Hypostasis of the Archons, etc). After all, Ialdaboath is often depicted as a malformed lion-headed serpent with glowing eyes flashing with fire.

The savior laughed and said, “The snake instructed them to eat of the wickedness of sexual desire and destruction so that Adam might be of use to the snake. This is the one who knew Adam was disobedient because of the enlightened afterthought within Adam, which made Adam stronger of mind than the first ruler. The first ruler wanted to recover the power that he himself had passed on to Adam. So he brought deep sleep upon Adam.”

Despite the condemnation of the Serpent in the Secret Book of John, the author makes a curious link to sexual desire and knowledge. In Genesis, it states, “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” Interestingly, in the Gospel of Philip, being naked wasn’t a reference of being in pure spirit form, but rather (ironically) being clothed in material flesh:

Some are afraid lest they rise naked. Because of this they wish to rise in the flesh, and they do not know that it is those who wear the flesh who are naked.

It seems as though the knowledge the author of the Secret Book of John is referring to is one of carnal, sexual knowledge. This would make sense since the Hebrew word “yada” meaning “to know” is also used as a term “to have sex with” and it is something the author of the Secret Book of John specifically condemns for a very important (but not so obvious) reason. This reoccurring theme of sexuality, knowledge and the Serpent will be covered more in-depth in Part 2.

(“Christ On the Tree of Life.” by Giovanni da Modena)

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. – John 15, 1-2.

The early Christians, including the Gnostics were trying to get across the idea that Christ was the “true” serpent that came down from the Pleroma in a Promethean-like fashion to give mankind true, eternal life (from the fruit taken from the “Tree of Life” a symbol also associated with Christ as pictured above) so that they not taste death and to undo the deception of the adversary, the Demiurge/Jehovah/Zeus. The Demiurge wishes that man remain ignorant of his origins or his great destiny, forbidding all contact with the higher world. Ultimately, the aim of the creator god is to align mankind as the reflection of the creator rather than something far grander.

To liberate the spirit (nous) from the human condition, prisoner of matter, the Unknowable God had sent down the Logos, Jesus Christ as an injected tiny particle that first took on the form of a snake in the Garden and then later on during the Passion, the nature of a slave or a man in a docetic fashion (“being made in human likeness” – Philippians 2:7), infiltrating the hellish kingdom of created matter (or darkness) while teaching the Fullness of the Gospel, the Good News of the Stranger God in that all of mankind awaken to their divine origins as sparks of His Divine Light.  As it follows, the liberation of every soul is really a liberation of God. Every experience on earth is His experience, for He is All. The Logos is the message of Salvation embodied, and taught it through his parables throughout the Gospels. It is the fruit of knowledge that allows the Gnostic to divest them from the condition of slavery to the light of freedom. The Gospel of Truth makes a similar statement:

In schools he appeared, (and) he spoke the word as a teacher. There came the men wise in their own estimation, putting him to the test. But he confounded them, because they were foolish. They hated him, because they were not really wise.

Later on in the Old Testament we find the reference of the serpent in a positive role, confirming the idea that the Serpent was a beneficiary rather than being demonized as a bringer of sin and death as the Orthodox traditionally interpret.

“The Crucified Serpent” by Nicholas Flamel.

“Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.” – Numbers 21:8

A biblical story of the Old Testament found in Numbers, accounts for the symbolism in this drawing. The story regards a journey of the Israelites from Mount Hur to the land of Edom, led by Moses. After a significant time goes by the Israelites become discouraged and begin to openly doubt and blaspheme Moses and their God. Doing what he does best, Jehovah inflicts great suffering on his “chosen people”, sending a plague of serpents to the Israelites, which in turn poisons and kills a great many of them.

When the Israelites realize that they have brought divine wrath upon themselves and blasphemed against God, they ask Moses to pray for mercy and to pray for the disappearance of the serpents. Moses does this, and God in turn tells Moses to “Make thee a fiery serpent and set it upon a pole”. If they do this, God assures Moses that “every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live”.

“Moses and the Brazen Serpent.” by William Blake

Naturally, the symbol of the crucified serpent became popular with the Gnostics and later with alchemists and occultists alike to relay secret and esoteric concepts. The Serpent, being the wisest of all creatures was not only a symbol of Christ but also a symbol of Sophia (Wisdom), the lowest rung aeon of the Pleroma. The parallel between the healing power of Christ and the Cross and the healing power of the Israelite’s brazen serpent became inexorably linked. By taking a creature potentially known for its venomous bite, and turning it into a symbol of healing and knowledge as seen ranging from the staff of Asclepius or Hermes’ caduceus to the logo of the medical profession (a reference for the Logos being a “healer”), the Gnostics also saw in it the depiction of mankind’s ability to transform itself, shedding off its old skin and former base, destitute nature to become vessels of divinity and purity, worthy to be called “Children of Light”.

Evolutionary forces alone are insufficient to bring about spiritual freedom. Physical existence combined with ignorance of their true origins, their essential nature and ultimate destiny become the stumbling block. The Messengers of Light break through the barrier of truth and imperishable and into the perishable and corruptible to assist humanity in their quest for the multifaceted and primordial current of Gnosis. Although no-one likes dualism, it, however, ripples throughout many Gnostic systems of thought, splitting the person of man, the effect of a double creation of being divinity and dust, divided between good and evil, light and darkness, knowledge and ignorance. The crucified serpent is a Gnostic symbol for change being the liberation from the flesh and the attainment of knowledge.

Catholic Fathers such as Irenaeus compared Gnostic systems, and gnosis, with the Serpent and the Tree of Knowledge in Eden in a critical manner, going so far as to suggest that ignorance be preferable over knowledge (under the pretense of “charity”), which is, of course, the underlying message of the Demiurge and his fellow authorities:

It is better and healthier then, to be simple and ignorant and to come close to God through charity, rather than to think to know many things and after many adventures of thought to be blasphemous against God. (Against Heresies. 2, 26, 1.)

Jesus Christ, however, held a different opinion on the matter if you read Matthew 10:16. Here, Christ invites Christians to be like serpents, which would in essence be “Christ-like”:

Behold, I am sending you as lambs among wolves; be therefore crafty as snakes and innocent as doves.

Part 2 forthcoming…