The Discovery of Gospel Texts
Codices written in Coptic script and bound into book form were discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945. This collection of texts included evidence that these were transcriptions of more ancient Greek and Aramaic manuscripts, and that these copies were produced in the early Fourth Century at nearby desert monasteries located north of Luxor during the late Roman colonial period circa AD 315, under the leadership of (Saint) Pachomius, a disciple of the aged hermit of the wilderness Palemon. The famous (Saint) Anthony (AD 251-356), "the father of the monastics", was also one of the monks of this monastery.
The mystical tenets and underlying background of myth which in Roman times, by the Second Century, had come to be called the "Gnostic Religion", (from the Greek "gnosis", knowledge, insight), belonged to a diverse tradition of mystical thinking which can be traced from sources in Mesopotamian cosmology, Chaldean magic and alchemy, the speculations of Hebrew Midrashim and Gematria numerology, Egyptian Tarot and Hermetic mysticism, as well as Hellenic mythology and the Pythagorean and Platonic philosophies.
In Syria and Egypt at the time of the Judean revolt in 73 C.E., the the Nazarean movement was already widespread and the stories of Christ were appropriated into the system because they seemed pertinent to many of the issues of historical prophecy.
The texts produced during the previous millennium provided the worship scriptures to a vast factionalization of non-Judaic and non-pagan religious practices: those adhering to the ascetic monastic tradition, or to the celibacy, both in and out of wedlock, advocated by Paul and the woman leader Thecla, and as well to those practicing the libertine orgiastics that descended from the mystery cults of Bacchus and Isis.
The collection of texts, also referred to as The Nag Hammadi Library or the Coptic Gnostic Library, contained fifty-two separate tractates, six of which are duplicates, in twelve codices, and the eight leaves of a thirteenth. Previously unknown works, such as writings attributed to Seth (the third son of Adam and Eve), as well as gospels of apocrypha, such as The Gospel of Truth, The Gospel of Thomas, and The Gospel of Mary Magdalene formerly considered lost, were discovered.
As the Roman Empire had undergone its division into East and West in 293 under the reign of Diocletian (284-305). With the removal of the capital to Byzantium under the rule of Constantine the Great (306-337), the Christian leadership left in Rome soon became a virtual government in situ. While Christianity had been made a "permitted religion" in 260 C.E., under Valerian. Beginning in the month of March in the nineteenth year of his reign, 303, Diocletian had issued four edicts renewing the persecution of Christians everywhere in the empire : The first decree called for the destruction of all churches, the surrender of scriptures, and the deprivation of patricians practicing Christianity of their civil rights. The second decree called for the imprisonment of all clergy ; the third decree for their torture and summary execution. The fourth edict invoked a merciless campaign of trials and wholesale slaughter upon all those refusing to sacrifice to the gods (i.e. to touch the rotting Mithraic pagan sacrifice of the bull placed in each town square). As witnessed by the historian Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, the reign of terror extended well into Egypt, with the mass executions of willing martyrs (Greek: "witness" of faith) at Alexandria in 303, including the Bishop of Thumis, and even resistant provincial Roman magistrates.
A year following the abdication of Dioceltian in 305, Constantine was declared Emperor by his army at York, by virtue of descendence from his father the Emperor Constantinus, but he was prevented from assuming power at Rome by the military strength there of Maxentius, (the son of Maximian, Diocletian's Augustus in the West of the divided Empire), Maxentinus again invoked another persecution of the Christians in 311, until Constantine and his legions marched in from the Eastern capital to personally remove him, in 312, defeating him at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge near Rome.
At this time Constantine openly declared himself as Christian, and instituted Christianity as the state religion. With the seat of imperial power shifted to the East, the formerly persecuted leadership was invested with favor and civil office, and was now regarded as the rear guard of an alliance of faith. Meanwhile in Syria and Egypt the practices of Christianity had developed in a blend of regional theologies and customs.
By the time of the Council of Nicaea, in northern Anatolia, in 325, and the codification of the "Nicene Creed" as the official tenet of dogma, the list of Synoptic Gospels had been selected from many diverse texts. In an effort to spread Christianity into northern Europe, anathematic and non-"synoptic" texts not adhering to clear statements on the principles of Trinity, Virgin Birth, and apostolic succession were suppressed by orthodox followers, especially during the next fifty years.
During this period of transition from Mithraic pagan rule to Christian influence, there were thus several critical moments when anxiety in Coptic quarters of a total suppression of unsanctioned literature would have logically compelled the reproduction of volumes for secret storage. That the cache of texts were finally hidden at Nag Hammadi in fear of militant orthodox Christians might be interpreted from the fact that the find also contained a copy of The Republic of Plato, previously considered an acceptable work of political theory.
The only extant works of Gnostic writing until 1945 were in the hands of the British Museum since the late 18th Century: Two copies of the Book of Pistis-Sophia, in Coptic, had been acquired in 1785. Also, two copies in Coptic of Book of Jeu [Book of J], a later treatise of derivative quality, had also been obtained near the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes in 1769. The significance of this purchase was not recognized until late 1800's.
Also known for centuries in Persia, the Mandean text The Acts of Thomas was said to contain Gnostic passages. A codex of three Gnostic documents -- The Gospel of Marcion (Syria), The Poimandres of Hermes Trismegistus (Alexandria), and The Valentinian Speculation (2nd Century, Rome), -- was purchased in Cairo in 1896 for the British Museum, but only became available for general study in 1950.
In 1930, a library of Manichaean papyri was discovered in Egypt with about 3500 badly preserved pages dating back to the 4th Century. This collection contained one of Mani's own books, The Kephalaia ["Chapters"], formerly believed irretrievably lost. In the decades following the successful suppression of the Gnostics, the deeply dualistic philosophy of the Manichaean religion, widespread throughout Persia and Syria, became the cause of Christian Church fathers greatest alarm as they witnessed its spread into Central and Western Europe.
In the fall of 1945, a earthen jar was found by a 31 year old camel driver named Mohammed Ali El-Samman while digging for sebakh, a sedimentary topsoil enriched by the annual flooding of the Nile. The jar was unearthed at the base of a talus, a sloping pile of sand and rocks at the base of a cliff, at Gebel et Tarif. El-Samman was at the time involved at the time in a violent interfamily feud and was trying to avoid the authorities. He subsequently left the jar in his home, in the care of his mother, who opened it sometime later, and possibly used several of the leaves for kindling, despite the fear her son had expressed that the jar might contain a dangerous jinn....
1. DUALISM IN THE ANCIENT WORLD
The Mesopotamian Sumerian Creation epic : "The Enuma Elish."
This earliest Western text contains the so-called "panic of the gods.," depicting the battle of the primordial beast Tiamat and her husband Abu-Abyss, against their clamorous progeny led by Marduk and Ea.
The rich agricultural delta region at the convergence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers was first entered by peoples arriving from the northern mountains of the Causasus as early as the Ninth Millenium BCE., then joined by Semitic nomadic tribes native to the mountains and desert of the Saudi peninsula. Thirdly, an influx of seafaring peoples arriving from the Persian Gulf around 3000 BCE, the Sumerians, introduced writing and mathematics.
2. In the city Babylon (later)
-- Heaven is a solid vault, the foundation of which rests on the vast
ocean (Tiamat) which also supported the earth.
is divided into four major domains:
3. The Waters = Ea - (closely associated with Apsu) - also god of magic and wisdom. In the Enuma Elish, Ea is the creator of man.
4. The Underworld = Nergal
("Ne-iri-gal" - "powers of the great abode") also
assumed functions of Erra, originally the God of Pestilence.
In Babylonian mythology, Nergal descended into the underworld and took
control of it by force from Erishkegal, Queen of the Lower Regions.
The cult of Nergal is centered at Kutha.
Marduk and The Panic of the Gods
Marduk was the eldest of the great-great grandchildren of Tiamat and Apsu. The dragons had grown weary of the ceaseless din of their progeny. The rumour began to circulate among the lesser gods that Tiamat was about to destroy them all for the sake of quietude, and they were terror stricken:
Ea, god/godess of dawn, by an incantation, puts Apsu, the male dragon, to sleep in a cave, and then kills him. Tiamat, now ready to avenge her husband's death, creates a host of monsters to destroy her children the gods:
They cursed the daylight
and went forth at the side of Taimat.
The Legends of Seth, 3rd son of Adam and Eve
When Adam first saw Eve, he recognized in her not a mere marital partner, but a spiritual power: 'And when he saw her, he said, "It is you who have given me life, you shall be called the Mother of the Living [Eve]; for it is she who is my Mother. It is she who is the Physician, and the woman, and She Who has Given Birth."'
Apocacalypse of Adam (Nag Hammadi text):
"Gnostic Seed of Seth":
Noah and his wife Norea - "virgin daughter of Eve" (in Archons) (cf. Talmud : Naamah - a descendant of Cain) Norea, banned from entering the ark, burned it four times.
of the Canaanite storm gods :
The Book of the Angel Raziel -
In the Book of Genesis, the legends are referred according to worlds created by God, ours being the last and the only attempt which pleased Him, because he created it according to strict Justice. He then saw that Justice alone would undermine this creation, so he affected it with Mercy, and made them to rule jointly, and thus prevailed Divine Goodness.
And so in every Nisan, at the time of the Spring Equinox, the Seraphim would approach the world and intimidate the myraids of evil spirits at large, so that they fear to do harm to men. In Tammuz, at the time of the Summer Solstice, the tame animals are given protection from the wild ones, when the strength of the Behemot is at its height, he roars so loud that all the animals hear it and are affrighted and made timid for one whole year. In Tishri, at the time of the Autumnal Equinox, the great bird Ziz flaps its huge wings and utters its cry, so that the birds of prey, the eagles and vultures, blench, and they fear to swoop down upon the others and annihiliate them in their greed. At the time of the Winter Solstice, in the month of Tebet, the great Leviathan spouts up water from the deep, and the fish become uneasy, and restrain their appetites, and the little ones escape their rapacity.
That the goodness of God may rule upon the Earth as in heaven, the Angels of Destruction are assigned a place at the far end of heaven, from which they may never stir, while the Angels of Mercy encircle the Throne of God, at His behest.
The Hittites & the later Anatolian kingdoms in the Histories of Herodotus.
The Bronze Age and the development of metallurgy.
origin of the Aeons :
of the Archons
Classes of Angels
Sophia is the Aeon of Wisdom, who is anguished with her subordinated and isolated position in the heavens. Wishing to create a perfect universe but being unable to find a partner in the Pleroma, the upper "fullness," she unlawfully seeks one from the lower regions, the Kenoma, the chaotic abyss or void beneath. She tries to procreate with her own personified Anguish from within the Void, but produces only abortive matter -- the abominable birth of Yldaboath -- the dark Demiurgos of the physical world...[The Tree of Gnosis, Ioan P. Couliano, pp. 70-88; Harper San Francisco, 1992]
The 13th Aeon or archon, Sof ia is found by the Savior Archon Christos, seated below the others, weeping : Having once caught a glimpse of the Supreme Light, normally obstructed from her view by the positions of the first twelve archons, Sophia is seized by the desire to fly up to it. But Adamas, ruler-Archon of her proper place, becomes enraged at her act of rebellion against himself and causes a false light -- ignis fatuus -- to shine upon the waters of the subjacent Chaos; she is lured down into the Abyss and beset by spirits eager to deprive her of her native light. By the Savior Archon Christos aid, she ascends through the positions of all twelve Aeons and sings a confession at each stage of her deliverance out of chaos. [Gnostics & Their Remains, C.W. King; G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1887]
In the parallel narrative,
Jesus is speaking. Each confession is proposed by Jesus to one
apostle at a time for explanation. Mary Magdalene mainly
answers the propositions, as though possessing foreknowledge, and only
Peter rebukes her for not allowing the men to speak as Pistis-Sophia
regains her lost position.
and Salvation according to Mani (C.E. 216-275):
2. Hieroglyphics & Hermetics
of the Nile Valley:
The scientific traditions of Geometry, Astronomy, Medicine, Chemistry, and Architecture in the temple schools.
The Keraomos & Creation (Greek: the chaotic commixture of Light and matter.)
Eurynome - In the Pelasgian
Cosmology of Hellas:
Eurynome and Ophion made their home upon Mount Olympus, where her vexed her by claiming to be the author of the Universe. She thus bruised his head, kicked out his teeth, and banished Ophion to the dark caves below the earth.
The Greek sciences and technology:
Geometry, Harmony, ship building,
engineering, medicine, and atomic theory.
4. GNOSIS in the HOLY LAND
Torah, Midrash, Mitzvot, Pseudigraphia, and the roots of Kabbalah in the Book of Enoch.
Testimony of Truth - Midrash
A commentary on "Creator's" deficiency in the matter of the forbidden fruit: "Adam, where are you?" indicated he didn't know where he was despite His omniscience. This passage is also interpreted by other sources as being actually a reproach or lament.
Halakhah - The laws of ritual handed down into the great tomes studied for the literal observance of the 613 Laws of Hebrew ritual, of calendar, and the dietary kashrut, and of virtue and mitzvoh (good deeds).
Haggadah - The non-legal miscellany of ancient tales and knowledge handed down from oral tradition into literature. The symbolic/ poetic interpolation and of Halakhah.
Kabbalah - the "Hidden Wisdom" underlying Mosaic Law.
The Tetragrammaton is the secret Name of Power, composed of the four characters in the Hebrew alphabet (translated in Roman script as YHVH. The true pronunciation is reserved unto the highest priest of the ark, due to its tremendous awesome power.
As with the label "Gnosticism", the name "Kabbalah" was also a later appellation given to the Judaic texts which were concerned with mystical experience and its relation to the observance of the covenants with Hashem (Yaweh) : circumcision, kashrut, meditation on the Torah, and Shabbes (the Sabbath).
Sefira - a
divine emanation through which God manifested His existence in the creation
of the universe. In the Kabbalah, there are 10 holy ones issuing from
His right side:
Also, 10 unholy ones issue
from His left side:
Gemmatria - numerology system
of the Hebrew alphabet, (from the vision of the tablets at Mount Sinai
- based on the value in repeating series of 1 through 9 of the
The Bahir Illumination (12th Century)
First published around 1176 by the Providence School of Kabbalists, circulated to a limited readership in manuscript form. The first printing at Amsterdam, 1651. The text can be roughly divided into five parts:
1. The first verses of
A Chronology of the Israelites --
c. 2000 BCE. - Abraham arrives
into Palestine from Mesopotamia.
c. 1425 - The events of the rebellion of the Israelites enslaved to the building of the pyramids, the Pasover, and the flight out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses.
Pentateuch written by
Fifteenth to Eleventh Centuries B.C.E. - Conquest and settlement of Palestine, including the defeat of the Phillestine invaders in control of the coastal plain until the 11th century.
454 - The building of
the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
63 BCE - Roman Pompey's Syrian Campaign, conquest, and colonization. Sadducees, keepers of the Temple sacrificial activities rose to prominence following Roman colonization.
70 CE (Common Era) - destruction of Second Temple by Romans --> rise to prominence of more liberal Pharisees, advocates of household ritual, kashrut, leading to decentralized and scholarly rabbinic Judaism.
College of the Essenes
- dedicated to Diana (Greek) & Megabyzae (magian)
"curious arts". Following the final prohibition of Jews from
Palestine (CE 132), a collection of texts in scrolls of the Essene group
was hidden in a cave overlooking the shores of the Dead Sea in Galilee.
Mani (Persia, C.E. 216-275) Mandeanism -- a belief in the parity of Darkness and Light in the Universe, practiced throughout medieval Europe until banned and persecuted as heresy, also practiced in present day Iraq & southwest Iran.
The Book of Zohar
- "the Splendid Lights" (13th Century)
testament of Jesus Christ and the 13 Apostles.
Gospel According to Mary Magdalene.
The second section begins with a description by Mary of a revelation given to her by the Savior not before disclosed to them: the answer to her question of how one sees a vision. The Savior explains that the soul sees through the mind which is between the soul and the spirit.
Great Questions of Mary (never found)
The Roman "Pneumatics"
- Five Books Against the Heresies, (born in Gaul) - disciple
of Polycarp (disciple of St. John), elected Bishop of Lyon AD 174.
The Council of Nicea, reduced the formation of the "New Testament" to the "synoptic gospels" of Luke, Matthew, Mark, John, and Paul.
6. GNOSIS in the RENAISSANCE.
Dante and Giotto : the preservation of Classical philosophy, and the Christian geo/cthono-centric visual cosmology.
The Hermetic work of the medieval alchemists and Western Esoteric tradition.
The reemergence of Gnosis in Ficinos natural magic, Pico della Mirandolas Cabalism, and Giordano Brunos cosmology.
Hermetic mysteries and the Greek Pantheon revealed in Italian and Northern Renaissance painting.
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