THE PISTIS SOPHIA
The primary interest in this Gnostic Bible is that it portrays women as equals with men , unlike the Roman Catholic Bible which portrays woman as lesser than, subservient and unequal to men.
The Pistis Sophia (meaning: “Faith [or holy] wisdom”) is a translation and commentary of a special collection of 2,000 year old Coptic manuscripts in a Gnostic text possibly written before 325 C.E. and discovered in 1773 hidden in an underground void under the floor of a Coptic Christian Church in Egypt that was undergoing renovation. The manuscript consists of 346 pages, written on both sides of vellum in two columns, and is bound much like a modern book. The pages are numbered in Coptic characters, establishing the fact that only four leaves—eight pages—are missing since the manuscript was bound. It contains parts of five “books,” none of which are complete. The original text is believed to have been written in Greek around 150-300 C.E. However, it has been lost.
The earliest version we have is the translation of that ancient Greek text into the aforesaid Coptic, the ancient Egyptian language. It was the most extensive Gnostic scripture available until the discovery of the Nag Hammadi texts, a collection of Christian and Gnostic texts discovered in that Upper Egyptian town of in 1945. There were many Greeks in Egypt at the time the Pistis Sophia is believed to have been written, as General Ptolemy of Alexander the Great of Mesopotamia’s Army, and his descendants , had become the Rulers and Pharaohs of Egypt.
The Pistis Sophia is a mesmerizing blend of primitive Christianity and Hellenic Paganism mixed with other elements such as reincarnation, Astrology, ancient Egyptian mystery religions and Hermetic magic. The Devine Feminine of God (the Goddess) makes an appearance in the guise of Sophia, a fallen angel of the Enoch story. This teaching was given to the Disciples of Christ (including Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Martha) by Jesus during the 11 years after his resurrection, but before his final Ascension.
The text is divided into three major parts. In the first, Jesus is with his disciples for eleven symbolic years (perhaps eleven months) after his return from the dead, at the Mount of Olives. According to this and other Gnostic texts, the resurrected Jesus spent some time instructing his disciples before making his final ascension to heaven.
Suddenly, in the midst of thunder and lightning, Jesus is elevated to the heights of Heaven in the midst of an intense, blinding light. After thirty hours, Jesus returns, surrounded by three orbs of light, with a brighter glow than when he had ascended. Henceforth, he starts to instruct his disciples about his experiences during that death and Ascension and with information of other occult matters.
The other two components of the text are the narrative of the story of Pistis Sophia and additional instructions to the disciples in the form of a dialogue. This article will endeavor to provide the main features of the Sophia myth, which, like the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke's Gospel and the Hymn of the Pearl in the Gnostic Acts of Thomas, is a profound revelation of the pilgrimage of the soul.
The Pistis Sophia appears to have been written during the period before the early Roman Christian Church became established as the "official religion" of the Roman Empire in 325 C.E. At which time the Pistis Sophia literature was withdrawn from all Christian teaching, after the Gnostics had been persecuted and eliminated by the early Christian Church. It was during those times that the Pistis Sophia was hidden away in a secret void in the floor of a Coptic Christian Church in Egypt.
The “Pistis Sophia" is a sophisticated and deeply mystical teaching given by Jesus Christ to his Apostles about the suffering of Sophia (the Devine Feminine) as she attempted to ascend to the highest spiritual truth. This scripture is remarkable for its profound mysticism, its rebuke of unethical behavior and its perspective on the spiritual role of women. It becomes very clear why the established religious powers of that day attempted to obliterate the Gnostics and any knowledge of the Pistis Sophia.
The Pistis Sophia still remains an inner teaching of the Coptic and the Northern African Christian communities today. It is written in Coptic (translated from Greek), the language of the Ancient Egyptians, rather than Latin, the language of the ancient Romans. Similar to the way the Ethiopian Catholic Church use than language of Ge’ez, rather than Latin.
Over the years numerous scholars have expressed their frustration at its impenetrable language and sometimes have just advanced a broader descriptions of the text, without venturing analytical or hermeneutic comments. Here we are not going to go into the deep meaning of the text, but instead will generalize as to what the Book is and what it is about.
Basic Differences in Concepts
One of the important differences between the Pistis Sophia and the Christian Bible is that is the Gnostic Bible women are considered to be virtually equal to men , where in the Roman Bible women are considered lesser than, subservient to and unequal to men.
The Gnostics saw the material World as having been created through an intermediary being (the “Demiurge”) rather than directly by God, as in the Roman Bible. This Demiurge was generally seen as imperfect, and sometimes even as evil. That being the reason there exist evil and imperfection in the World.
The Gnostics believed that Man could have a direct relationship with God and there was no need for a middleman or mediator (i.e., the Church or Clerics) between God and Man and that Gnosis (through esoteric or intuitive knowledge) could find the way to eternal salvation of the soul. Both factors which, undoubtedly, led to a conflict between the Gnostics and the leaders of the early Roman Christian Church. Basically, the Gnostics saw no need for a formal organized Religion, nor the need for certain “Holy Men” within that Religion or Church to show other Men the way to God.
Part of the teachings found within the Pistis Sophia is that Jesus of Nazareth met Sofia, the Devine Feminine, in the underworld after his death by Crucifixion on a cross. She was being held by the Archons, or evil ones in the lower level of existence in the afterlife.
The idea is that in order to fully develop their soul’s humans must have an equal balance within their souls of the masculine and feminine. The Archons, or dark beings of the underworld, sought to keep Sophia from helping humans to develop their famine nature. In so doing Humans were then prevented from becoming a part of the Society of the older civilizations of the Universe and were doomed to be isolated to themselves on Earth.
Upon being released from the Archons by Jesus, Sophia (the daughter of God or Goddess) could sit at the Left hand of God as the Holy Spirit, while Jesus (the Son of God) could sit at the Right hand of God.
Sophia (Wisdom) herself was regarded by the early Coptic Christians as a female presence who undergoes the experience of transgression and redemption in her path to full participation in the many Universes (many Houses of God), in conjunction with the Christ.
The Pistis Sophia is devoted entirely to the esoteric teachings of Jesus to his Disciples during the eleven years after his Resurrection. This ancient text presents deeper aspects of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and his detailed deciphering of the mysteries of the Universe. These teachings give a new perspective and meaning to the Gospels of the Disciples in the New Testament and the Old Testament Book of Psalms.
The Pistis Sophia not only represents the Wisdom of the Divine Father and the teachings of the Divine Son, but also the Divine quality of the Goddess, Sophia, as the Holy Spirit being exemplified in the female form of the Divine or Celestial Mother (the Virgin of Virgins) including Jesus’s Mother, Mary, and Mary Magdalene.
In the five Gnostic Coptic scrolls brought together in Pistis Sophia something far greater than a simplistic three-story Universe was revealed. It speaks of more than the simple Haven, Earth, and Underworld of the Roman Catholic Church. The Pistis Sophia describes the realm of God as a very complex structure divided into the first space of the Ineffable, the second space of the Ineffable, and the third space of the Ineffable. Other realms are described as Treasury of Light and the regions of the "Right" and the "Left" and so on. There we encounter more than just mere Angels, but the various Orders of Light and Beings which inhabit those special realms.
The Roman Bible of the Catholic Church generally reflected the belief of the afterlife as taught in the religion of the Roman Gods. It was fairly straightforward and simple consisting of a Heaven, Purgatory and Hell. Whereas, the Gnostic Coptic Bible of Egypt, the Pistis Sophia, taught that the afterlife was a very complex place, with many different levels and Beings and that various incantations and rituals had to be performed and riddles solved in order to move to a higher level. Similar to the way the afterlife was perceived and taught in the religions of the ancient Egyptian gods and in the way many modern video games are arranged today.
KEY FIGURES IN THE TEXT
Aeons- in Gnosticism, any of a number of world-governing powers that were created with the material world by a subordinate deity called the Demiurge (Creator); one of the orders of spirits, or spheres of being, that emanated from the Godhead and were attributes of the nature of the absolute; an important element in the cosmology that developed around the central concept of Gnostic dualism—the conflict between matter and spirit. Aeons increased in number in proportion to their remoteness from the divinity and that lower Aeons shared proportionately less in divine energy. At a certain level of remoteness, the possibility of error was said to invade the activity of Aeons; in most systems, such error was responsible for the creation of the material universe. For many, Christ was the most perfect Aeon, whose specific function was to redeem the error embodied in the material universe; the Holy Spirit was usually a subordinate Aeon .In certain systems, Aeons were regarded positively as embodiments of the divine; in others, they were viewed negatively as vast media of time, space, and experience through which the human soul must painfully pass to reach its divine origin.
Archons- In Gnostic cosmology, are a species of inorganic beings that emerged in the solar system prior to the formation of the Earth. They are cyborgs inhabiting the planetary system (exclusive of the earth, sun and moon), which is described as a virtual world they construct by imitating the geometric forms emanated from the Pleroma, the realm of the Generators, the Cosmic Gods. The Archons are a genuine species with their own proper habitat, and may even be considered to be god-like, but they lack intentionality, and they have a nasty tendency to stray from their boundaries and intrude on the human realm. Archons are said to feel intense envy toward humanity because we possess the intentionality they lack.
They are said to feed off of negative Human emotions. Arc-Angles are not a form of Archon, but Archons are more closely related to Demons and Devils.
Authades- is the equivalent of Ialdabaoth/the demiurge in versions of the Sophia myth such as that found in the Apocryphon of John. Unlike Ialdabaoth, he is not created by the Sophia figure, and in fact he holds a slightly higher hierarchical position than Pistis Sophia. His sin is wishing to rule all the material Aeons, and he grows jealous when Pistis Sophia chooses to worship the light rather than continuing the ways of the Aeons. Authades appears only in the chapters dealing with the Sophia myth; elsewhere Sabaoth the Adamas is the representative of evil .
Jesus- serves as a teacher or instructor, teaching his disciples information about the divine world they will need to progress to a higher state of being, as well as knowledge of the cosmic realms, their inhabitants, and their functions. He teaches the disciples baptismal rites, and instructs them to give these rites to all who show themselves worthy. He is closely tied to the highest divine being. However, little significance is given to his earthly incarnation – the ritual bread and wine in the baptism is not associated with the Christian Eucharist, and the crucifixion and resurrection play little role. Here, he only gains his true garment and teaches the disciples the higher mysteries eleven years after his resurrection – downplaying versions of Christianity claiming his earlier teachings as ultimate truth.
Jeu- is the demiurge of these texts. Jeu dwells in the Treasury of Light and organizes the cosmos. He places the Archons and the Aeons in their proper places, and assigns powers to the planets, effectively offering a divine origin for astrology. This is particularly noteworthy given the anti-cosmic nature of some other Gnostic groups. He is sometimes referred to as the “Father of Jesus’ Father.” Jeu is considered the father of the Great Sabaoth, the Good, who provides the soul to Jesus’ earthly incarnation – thus Jeu is the father of Jesus’ earthly father. The divine Jesus’ true father remains the highest, ineffable God.
Zorokothora Melchisedek-Often referred to simply as Melchisedek, this figure also dwells in the Treasury of Light or Place of the Right. His primary role is overseeing transport of light from the lower realms to the higher light realms as it becomes purified. His subordinates also deliver certain souls out of the punishment regions when believers on Earth pray for them.
The Great Sabaoth the Good -As mentioned above, this figure provides a power or soul for Jesus’ earthly incarnation, making him effectively Jesus’ earthly father. This role is most widely discussed through extensive interpretations of Psalm 85:10-11 in Chapters 62-63.
Sabaoth, the Adamas -This is the primary representative of evil or wickedness in the majority of the Pistis Sophia. He is accused of inappropriate sexual conduct, begetting archons and other beings, and as a result he is imprisoned in the bounds of the zodiac, or the material universe. For those human souls who did not receive the mysteries before death and are thus bound to be reincarnated in the world, he is also responsible for giving the “cup of forgetfulness,” denying them the knowledge they had acquired from previous lives and punishments.
A Brief Summary of the Sophia Myth
Upon his return from his ascent, Jesus describes to the disciples the hierarchies of the various planes that he has passed through on his way up. This long enumeration of entities is at first quite confusing, since nowhere in the text is there any explanation of this terminology or of the cosmological system into which those entities fit.
Jesus then recounts his entire journey, from region to region, starting from the moment that he saw Mary, his mother "according to the material body" and then going through the Firmament, the Sphere, the Providence, and the Twelve Aeons. He narrates that all the archons and the powers therein were agitated and afraid because of his exceeding light. And he went on bringing order into their regions until he came to the Thirteenth Aeon. At that point he finds Pistis Sophia alone, below her place of origin, without her brothers. And he describes how the Pistis Sophia worked her way out of chaos with his help. The narrative is, of course, timeless and atemporal. Present, past, and future unfold as the eternal now in which Jesus tells his story.
While this story looks like a myth, Jesus actually seems to be recounting one aspect of his experience at the Great Initiation, which probably took place during the thirty hours that he remained at the height. His recollection of the incidents on his way up has a surprising parallel with the life review that takes place in the dying process of every human being. We learn that this rapid but thorough process at the end of each incarnation teaches us the implications of our actions in this world.
If we recall that the law of correspondence tells us, "What is above is like that which is below and that which is below is like what is above," we can infer that the Pistis Sophia tale seems like a monumental review of the actions of the soul throughout its long journey in this world. This process is mentioned in the Mahatma Letters: "The full remembrance of our lives will return back at the end of all the seven Rounds”. But it seems also to take place when the evolutionary process is speeded up, as in the case of adepts that reach the Fifth Initiation in advance of the majority of the race.
After several incidents with the entities of the lower planes, Jesus finds Pistis Sophia below the Thirteenth Aeon, her original home. (Aeons, from the Greek aion or "age," are, in this text, entities governing zones of existence, or planes of consciousness, between heaven and earth.) She was alone, without her consort or her brothers, sorrowful and grieving on account of the torments that an entity known as the Authades, the Self-Centered One, had inflicted on her with the help of his emanations and the Twelve Aeons.
It happened that while in the Thirteenth Aeon, Pistis Sophia saw the Light of the Height on the veil of the Treasury of the Light, and started singing praises to that Light. From then on the Self-Centered One started to hate her, as did the Twelve Aeons below him. The Self-Centered One conceived a ruse to trick her. Pistis Sophia was led to look below and there she saw the light of another entity called the Lion-Faced Power.
Not knowing that it was an emanation of the Self-Centered One, Sophia decided to go after it, without her consort, to take its light, thinking that it would enable her to go to the Light of the Height. Once she descended from her place of origin, she was dragged further and further down into chaos, with the emanations of the Self-Centered One and the Twelve Aeons constantly chasing after her, trying to take her light away. When she finally saw Jesus surrounded by light, she cried to the Light of Lights and uttered a series of metanoias, often translated as "repentances."
Internal Organization of the Book
Only the first two Books follow each other directly. Changes in terminology and cosmological description between Books show that a compilation of texts which may have been written over a period of some long time were used to create the Pistis Sophia. The bulk of the text, found in Books 1-3, is in the form of a dialogue between Jesus and the disciples, both male and female.
The first book (Chapters 1-62) establishes that Jesus remained with the disciples for 11 years after the resurrection, teaching them only the lowest of the mysteries. At a certain point, he ascends and traverses the Aeons, defeating the wicked Archons, before returning to speak with the Disciples further.
The story of Pistis Sophia’s fall and restoration (chapters 29-82) dominates much of Books 1 & 2. She dwells in the Thirteenth Aeon, is tricked into leaving her Aeon and descending into Chaos, has her light-power stolen, and is not allowed to return to her place until Jesus ascends through the Aeons. She recites many repentances and prayers, and is repeatedly persecuted by wicked Archon beings before being allowed to wait just outside of the Thirteenth Aeon for restoration.
It connects Jesus’ actions to the effectiveness of astrologers in the world – it suggests he has reduced, but not eliminated, the effectiveness of astrological magic. Pistis Sophia recites several prayers/repentances, and after each one a disciple interprets the repentance in light of one of the Psalms or Odes of Solomon.
This book makes up Chapters 63-101. After the conclusion of the story of Pistis Sophia, the text turns to lengthy explanations of cosmology and the knowledge offered by the mysteries of this author’s system. The end of the book also suggests the close connection of this work with the Books of Jeu found in the Bruce Codex (Chapter 99).
The third book (Chapters 102-135) is mostly concerned with presenting an ethical or lifestyle code for adherents of the text. It outlines what is needed for right thought and right action, as well as actions that are not acceptable and their punishments. It also discusses at length the dissemination of the mysteries, repentance, and when it is or is not permissible to grant the mysteries to others. Finally, it discusses the formation of the human being, its components, and how they are connected. Again the Books of Jeu are referenced (Chapter 134), with the stipulation that they contain mysteries that are necessary for all, including the righteous.
Part one of this book (Chapters 136-143) deals with cosmological and astrological speculation, and ritual development. It presents a myth of fallen Archons of the Aeons being imprisoned within the Zodiacal sphere; outlines five realms of punishment (the Midst) and the types of sinners each holds; and gives specific configurations of the planets in the Zodiac that allow souls to be released from each region. Jesus also interprets the elements of his incarnation and their role in the World, and administers the “baptism of the first offering” to his disciples.
The second part of what is commonly thought of as the fourth book (chapters 144-148) appears after a gap in the text, and is likely part of a separate book. Its cosmology is different to the preceding text, and it focuses entirely on the destiny of various types of souls and the punishments of sinners. Some of the sins listed are duplicates from part one of Book Four, but list different punishments.
In Theosophical terms, Pistis Sophia represents the soul, or more specifically, the part of the soul that incarnates; namely, the monad of consciousness in the concrete mind. Her name is a key to her role: Pistis is the Greek word for "faith." Not blind faith, but faith arising from total conviction of inner knowledge. Sophia is Greek for "wisdom." Thus her compound name indicates the fundamental principle (faith in the Light as an aspect of God) that enables her to undertake her mission, namely, the development of wisdom in both worlds.
Her consort is Jesus, the aspect of the soul that unfolds the triple-natured higher Self in line with Pistis Sophia's progress in the material world. Jesus remained behind in the higher planes when she descended into chaos. This separation expresses the split in consciousness between the higher and lower nature of man. Although man is really one with his divine Self, the usual level of his consciousness cannot reach the spiritual planes; thus in the myth Pistis Sophia and Jesus are presented as separate entities.
The villain of the story is the Self-Centered One, Authades, standing for the ego, an appropriate name for the vain and egotistic "I," which always demands to be the center of attention and strives for the gratification of the senses, thus causing great affliction for the soul. The regents or archons of the Aeons are the main allies of the Self-Centered One, and they stand for the emotions and passions of man. Leading them is the Lion-Faced Power, an emanation of the Self-Centered One, standing for egotism, the strongest force driving man away from God and into chaos.
After her sixteenth invocation, pleading for the help that had been promised, Sophia is saved once again by the stream of Light, with the help of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. Jesus also goes down into chaos to help Pistis Sophia. He enables her to step over the principal evil emanation of the Self-Centered One, a serpent with seven heads. This symbolizes the killing of the seeds of evil within man, namely the illusion of separateness.
These evil and dark powers are not so much outer demons as they are inner aspects of man. Their role is to seize and fix the consciousness onto the strong, heavy vibrations of emotions, passions, and fantasies associated with sense gratification and mental delusions such as attachment, pride, and ambition. Thus they are described as actively engaged in trying to pull man down, or in the language of the text, in taking away Pistis Sophia's light. This goes on unremittingly until Pistis Sophia's final liberation from chaos.
The Pistis Sophia has been described as a Love Letter from Christ to all of Humanity pointing out that we can all be Christ like if we can find the Devine Feminine within us. It also teaches that if we develop or masculine and feminine sides of our souls we cannot be tormented by any God, nor any system of belief.
The text singles out Matthew, Philip, and Thomas as those charged to record Jesus words and deeds, suggesting the group had their own threefold gospel. Paul is mentioned only once. Given the significant influence from other Gnostic texts in the manuscript, it is probable that the scriptures referenced were obtained from a Christian Gnostic group, rather than from an orthodox Roman Christian community.
Nowhere in the Pistis Sophia do we see Jesus preaching any moral code of behavior. What is made clear is that man must renounce the world and transform his mind if he hopes to receive the mysteries that will open for him the inheritance of the Light.
We could conclude that the Pistis Sophia, like all sacred scriptures, is an encoded map to a precious treasure hoard. If we are able to interpret its symbols, we will be able to tread the Path and find the precious pearl of gnosis, the key that admits us to the kingdom of heaven.
August 7, 2018
See also: H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, Volume 13 Pag 1
INTRODUCTORY NOTES TO H.P.B.’s COMMENTARY ON THE PISTIS SOPHIA.*