The Asclepius, together with its sister book, the Corpus Her- meticum, contains the philosophic wisdom ascribed in ancient times to the Egyptian god Thoth (or Tehuti), who was said by St Augustine (354-430 AD) to have lived on earth at the same time as Moses. The Greek original (now lost) of the Latin text from which this book was translated, was probably composed between 100 and 300 AD in Alexandria. The earliest record of our Latin version is the use of it by St Augustine for quotation. The original title of Asclepius was Logos teleios, ‘the perfect discourse’. Why that title? The author said that it had ‘more divine power than any I have previously spoken’. It seems to express his deepest thoughts on the Oneness of the universe and the true, divine nature of Man. ‘Hermes’ influenced early Christianity and has inspired some of the greatest thinkers in the West from Dionysius, through Isaac Newton (who translated the Hermetic Emerald Tablet), to Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Good and Evil in Faust
The above theme is dealt with in a uniquely Goethean manner, which is in many aspects different from the Christian theological perspective on good and evil. Goethe’s acute insights derive from a living, existential encounter with the theme, as is indicated in a comment he made in a letter to Lavater, “In mir reinigt sich’s unendlich, und doch gestehe ich gerne, Gott und Satan, Höll’ und Himmel ist in mir Einem”.1 (In me there is a never-ending purifying, and yet I gladly admit, in me, God and Satan, Hell and Heaven are one.) This essay explores the portrayal of the relationship of evil to good, and to Faust as the striving human being.
On the Origin of the World
On the Origin of the World is a Gnostic work dealing with creation and the end time. It was found among the texts in what is known as the Nag Hammadi library, in Codex II and Codex XIII, immediately following the Reality of the Rulers. There are many parallels between the two texts. The manuscript does not have a title, but scholars have dubbed it “On the Origin of the World,” because of what it describes. It is estimated to have been written sometime near the end of the third century. While the author is not mentioned, he or she seems to have been interested in expressing a Gnostic understanding of the world’s conception. In particular, it rethinks the entire story of Genesis, and positions Yaldabaoth (the Demiurge) as the creator of the world, fulfilling the role of God in Genesis. Furthermore, the Serpent in the Garden of Eden is depicted as a hero sent by Sophia, the figure of wisdom, to guide mankind towards enlightenment. It expresses one approach to the creation and end of the world. Other myths found within the Nag Hammadi collection have varying explanations and details.
Poimandres (Greek: Ποιμάνδρης; also known as Poemandres, Poemander or Pimander) is the first tractate in the Corpus Hermeticum. Originally written in Greek, the title was formerly understood to mean “Man-Shepherd” from the words ποιμήν and ἀνήρ, but recent studies on its etymology allege that it is actually derived from the Egyptian phrase Peime-nte-rê meaning “Knowledge of Re” or “Understanding of Re”.
Ptolemy's Letter to Flora
Until the discovery of Gnostic works among the hidden cache at Nag Hammadi, few authentic Gnostic works survived. One has been the “Letter to Flora” from a Valentinian teacher, Ptolemy— who is also known from the writings of Irenaeus— to a woman named Flora. The letter itself is only known by its full inclusion in Epiphanius’ Panarion, an unsympathetic context.
The Letter to Flora relates the Gnostic view of the Law of Moses, a rational explication of the proposition that “the whole Law is divided into three parts; we find in it the legislation of Moses, of the elders, and of God himself”.
“The entire Law contained in the Pentateuch of Moses was not ordained by one legislator – I mean, not by God alone: some commandments are Moses’, and some were given by other men…. The first part must be attributed to God alone, and his legislation; the second to Moses – not in the sense that God legislates through him, but in the sense that Moses gave some legislation under the influence of his own ideas; and the third to the elders of the people, who seem to have ordained some commandments of their own at the beginning.”
The author of the Letter assumes that the Christian Savior was sent, not to destroy the Law, but to complete it. He divides the Law among three types: the pure legislation of God embodied in the Decalogue, the mixed legislation “laid down for vengeance” affected by the world-situation of its first hearers (the world being inherently evil to a Gnostic), and “finally, there is the allegorical (exemplary) part, ordained in the image of the spiritual and transcendent matters, I mean the part dealing with offerings and circumcision and the sabbath and fasting and Passover and unleavened bread and other similar matters.”
Everybody in Christendom has heard of Simon, the magician, and how Peter, the apostle, rebuked him, as told in the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles. Many also have heard the legend of how at Rome this wicked sorcerer endeavoured to fly by aid of the demons, and how Peter caused him to fall headlong and thus miserably perish. And so most think that there is an end of the matter, and either cast their mite of pity or contempt at the memory of Simon, or laugh at the whole matter as the invention of superstition or the imagination of religious fanaticism, according as their respective beliefs may be in orthodoxy or materialism. This for the general. Students of theology and church history, on the other hand, have had a more difficult task set them in comparing and arranging the materials they have at their disposal, as found in the patristic writings and legendary records; and various theories have been put forward, not the least astonishing being the supposition that Simon was an alias for Paul, and that the Simon and Peter in the accounts of the fathers and in the narrative of the legends were simply concrete symbols to represent the two sides of the Pauline and Petrine controversies.
The Acts of Thomas
The early 3rd-century text called Acts of Thomas is one of the New Testament apocrypha. References to the work by Epiphanius of Salamis show that it was in circulation in the 4th century. The complete versions that survive are Syriac and Greek. There are many surviving fragments of the text. Scholars detect from the Greek that its original was written in Syriac, which places the Acts of Thomas in Edessa. The surviving Syriac manuscripts, however, have been edited to purge them of the most unorthodox overtly Encratite passages, so that the Greek versions reflect the earlier tradition.
Acts of Thomas is a series of episodic Acts (Latin passio) that occurred during the evangelistic mission of Judas Thomas (“Judas the Twin”) to India. It ends with his martyrdom: he dies pierced with spears, having earned the ire of the monarch Misdaeus because of his conversion of Misdaeus’ wives and a relative, Charisius. He was imprisoned while converting Indian followers won through the performing of miracles.
The Acts of Thomas connects Thomas, the apostle’s Indian ministry with two kings, According to one of the legends in the Acts, Thomas was at first reluctant to accept this mission, but the Lord appeared to him in a night vision and said, “Fear not, Thomas. Go away to India and proclaim the Word, for my grace shall be with you.” But the Apostle still demurred, so the Lord overruled the stubborn disciple by ordering circumstances so compelling that he was forced to accompany an Indian merchant, Abbanes, to his native place in north-west India, where he found himself in the service of the Indo-Parthian king Gondophares. The apostle’s ministry resulted in many conversions throughout the kingdom, including the king and his brother.
The Apocalypse of Adam
The Apocalypse of Adam, discovered at Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt in 1945, is a Sethian tractate of Apocalyptic literature dating to the first-to-second centuries AD. This tractate is one of five contained within Codex V of the Nag Hammadi library.
Adam in his 700th year tells Seth how he learned a word of knowledge of the eternal God from Eve and that he and Eve were indeed more powerful than their supposed creator. But that knowledge was lost in the fall when the subcreator – the demiurge – separated Adam and Eve. Adam relates how three mysterious strangers brought about Seth’s begetting and so a preservation of this knowledge. Adam then prophesizes at length attempts of the subcreator god to destroy mankind, including the prophecy of the great Deluge and of attempted destruction by fire but an Illuminator will come in the end. When the Illuminator comes, thirteen kingdoms proclaim thirteen different standard but conflicting birth legends about the Illuminator; only the “generation without a king,” however, proclaims the truth.
The Apocryphon of James
The Apocryphon of James, also known by the translation of its title – the Secret Book of James, is a pseudonymous text amongst the New Testament apocrypha. It describes the secret teachings of Jesus to Peter and James, given after the Resurrection but before the Ascension.
The text is framed as an epistle (i.e. a letter) from James to someone else whose name is obscured by the damage to the text. The author describes Jesus expanding on various sayings and answering questions 550 days after the Resurrection, but before the Ascension. Both James and Peter are given secret instruction, but at the end only James appears to understand what has happened. (As with the Gospel of John 1–20 and the Gospel of Mary, in this book Peter has implicitly failed the Christian movement).
Jesus gives teachings in unusual and seemingly contradictory phrases, and also offers brief parables. He invites Peter and James into the Kingdom of Heaven with him, but they are distracted by the other apostles’ questions and miss their chance. Afterwards, James is described as sending out the 12 apostles, indicating (as in other apocryphal documents) that James initially succeeded Jesus as the leader of the movement.
The Apocryphon of John
The Secret Book of John, also called the Apocryphon of John or the Secret Revelation of John, is a 2nd-century Sethian Gnostic Christian text of secret teachings. Since it was known to Irenaeus, a Church Father, it must have been written before around 180 CE. It describes Jesus appearing and giving secret knowledge (gnosis) to John the Apostle. The writer defines it having appeared after Jesus “has gone back to the place from which he came”. The book is reputed to bear that revelation.
The opening words of the Secret Book of John are, “The teaching of the saviour, and the revelation of the mysteries and the things hidden in silence, even these things which he taught John, his disciple.” The author John is immediately specified as “John, the brother of James—who are the sons of Zebedee.” The remainder of the book is a vision of sacred realms and of the preceding history of divine humanity.
There are four separate surviving manuscripts of “The Secret Book of John”. One was purchased in Egypt in 1896 (the Berlin Codex); three were found in the Nag Hammadi codices in 1945. All four versions date to the 4th century. Three of these occur to be independently produced, Coptic translations of an authentic Greek text. Two of the four are comparable enough that they probably represent copies of a single source.
The Book of Thomas the Contender
The Book of Thomas the Contender, also known more simply as the Book of Thomas (not to be confused with the Gospel of Thomas), is one of the works of the New Testament Apocrypha discovered in the Nag Hammadi library, a cache of mostly gnostic literature buried in the Egyptian desert until the mid-twentieth century. The title derives from the book’s first line, “The secret words that the savior spoke to Judas Thomas,” combined with a line appended to the end of the text which identifies the author as “the Contender writing to the Perfect.”
The book opens by identifying its writer as Mathaias, who transcribed the following dialog between Jesus and Thomas. Jesus acknowledges Thomas’ reputation as his “twin and true companion” and encourages him to learn his true identity, which cannot be known as long as he remains in ignorance. Jesus identifies himself as “the knowledge (Greek: gnosis) of the truth,” and predicts that in the future, Thomas will be called “the one who knows himself.”
The Diagram of the Ophites
The Ophite Diagrams are ritual and esoteric diagrams used by the Ophite sect of Gnosticism, who revered the serpent from the Garden of Eden as a symbol of wisdom, which the malevolent Demiurge tried to hide from Adam and Eve.
Celsus and his opponent Origen (Contra Celsum, vi. §§ 24-38) both describe the diagrams, though not in the same way. Celsus describes them as ten separate circles, circumscribed by one circle, the world-soul, Leviathan, divided by a thick black line, Tartarus, together with a square, with words said at the gates of Paradise. Further to this, the Ophites are said by Celsus to add the sayings of prophets, and circles upon circles, with some things written within the two great cosmological circles representing God the Father, and God the Son.
The Gospel of Philip
The Gospel of Philip is one of the Gnostic Gospels, a text of New Testament apocrypha, dated to around the 3rd century but lost in medieval times until rediscovered by accident, buried with other texts near Nag Hammadi in Egypt, in 1945.
Much of the Gospel of Philip is concerned with Gnostic views of the origin and nature of mankind and the sacraments it refers to as baptism, unction and marriage. It is not always clear whether these are the same literal rituals known in other parts of the early Christian movement and since, or ideal and heavenly realities. The Gospel emphasizes the sacramental nature of the embrace between man and woman (or ideas represented by these as types) in the “nuptial chamber,” which is an archetype of spiritual unity. Many of the sayings are identifiably related to other texts referred to by scholars as Gnostic, and often appear quite mysterious and enigmatic.
The Gospel of Thomas
The Gospel of Thomas (also known as the Coptic Gospel of Thomas) is a non-canonical sayings gospel. It was discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in December 1945 among a group of books known as the Nag Hammadi library. Scholars speculate that the works were buried in response to a letter from Bishop Athanasius declaring a strict canon of Christian scripture. Scholars have proposed dates of composition as early as AD 60 and as late as AD 140.
The introduction states: “These are the hidden words that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas wrote them down.” Didymus (Greek) and Thomas (Aramaic) both mean “twin”. The text’s authorship by Thomas the Apostle is rejected by modern scholars.
The Gospel of Thomas is very different in tone and structure from other New Testament apocrypha and the four Canonical Gospels. Unlike the canonical Gospels, it is not a narrative account of the life of Jesus; instead, it consists of logia (sayings) attributed to Jesus, sometimes stand-alone, sometimes embedded in short dialogues or parables; 13 of its 16 parables are also found in the Synoptic Gospels. The text contains a possible allusion to the death of Jesus in logion 65 (Parable of the Wicked Tenants, paralleled in the Synoptic Gospels), but does not mention his crucifixion, his resurrection, or the final judgement; nor does it mention a messianic understanding of Jesus.
The Hymn of the Pearl
The Hymn of the Pearl (also Hymn of the Soul, Hymn of the Robe of Glory or Hymn of Judas Thomas the Apostle) is a passage of the apocryphal Acts of Thomas. In that work, originally written in Syriac, the Apostle Thomas sings the hymn while praying for himself and fellow prisoners. Some scholars believe the hymn predates the Acts, as it only appears in one Syriac manuscript and one Greek manuscript of the Acts of Thomas. The author of the Hymn is unknown, though there is a belief that it was composed by the Syriac gnostic Bardaisan from Edessa due to some parallels between his life and that of the hymn. It is believed to have been written in the 2nd century or even possibly the 1st century, and shows influences from heroic folk epics from the region.
The hymn tells the story of a boy, “the son of the king of kings”, who is sent to Egypt to retrieve a pearl from a serpent. During the quest, he is seduced by Egyptians and forgets his origin and his family. However, a letter is sent from the king of kings to remind him of his past. When the boy receives the letter, he remembers his mission, retrieves the pearl and returns. That the boy is implicitly Thomas rather than Jesus is indicated by the eventual assertion that he is next in line to his elder brother, this unnamed brother not otherwise mentioned in the text.
The Hypostasis of the Archons
The text was found among those included in The Nag Hammadi Library, in CG II, in 1945. It is tentatively dated in the third century CE and is thought to originate from a transitional period in Gnosticism when it was converting from a purely mythological state into a philosophical phase. The beginning and conclusion to the document are Christian Gnostic, but the rest of the material is a mythological narrative regarding the origin and nature of the archontic powers peopling the heavens between Earth and the Ogdoad, and how the destiny of man is affected by these primeval happenings.
The work is presented as a learned treatise in which a teacher addresses a topic suggested by the dedicatee of the work. The treatise begins with a fragment of cosmogony, which leads to what is framed as a “true history” of the events in the Genesis creation story, reflecting Gnostic distrust of the material world and the demiurge that created it. Within this narrative there is an “angelic revelation dialogue” where an angel repeats and elaborates the author’s fragment of cosmogonic myth in much broader scope, concluding with historical prediction of the coming of the savior and the end of days.
The Origin of the World
The scope of this work is in the main identical with that of “Archaia,” published in 1860; but in attempting to prepare a new edition brought up to the present condition of the subject, it was found that so much required to be rewritten as to make it essentially a new book, and it was therefore decided to give it a new name, more clearly indicating its character and purpose.
The intention of this new publication is to throw as much light as possible on the present condition of the much-agitated questions respecting the origin of the world and its inhabitants. To students of the Bible it will afford the means of determining the precise import of the biblical references to creation, and of their relation to what is known from other sources. To geologists and biologists it is intended to give some intelligible explanation of the connection of the doctrines of revealed religion with the results of their respective sciences.
The Second Treatise of the Great Seth
Second Treatise of the Great Seth is an apocryphal Gnostic writing discovered in the Codex VII of the Nag Hammadi codices and dates to around the third century. The author is unknown, and the Seth referenced in the title appears nowhere in the text. Instead Seth is thought to reference the third son of Adam and Eve to whom gnosis was first revealed, according to some gnostics. The author appears to belong to a group of gnostics who maintain that Jesus Christ was not crucified on the cross. Instead the text says that Simon of Cyrene was mistaken for Jesus and crucified in his place. Jesus is described as standing by and “laughing at their ignorance.”
Those who believe Jesus to have died on the cross are said to believe in “a doctrine of a dead man.” All those without gnosis – including those who had what would become orthodox beliefs, as well as the figures of Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, the prophets, and Moses – are all referred to as a “laughingstock.” The text shows the derision which the gnostics felt towards those who did not realize their claimed truth; that the biblical text was false (in at least certain important respects) and that the God of the Jews was not the true God.
The Treatise of the Great Seth is written from the first-person perspective of Jesus.
The Six Enneads
The Enneads (Greek: Ἐννεάδες), fully The Six Enneads, is the collection of writings of Plotinus, edited and compiled by his student Porphyry (c. AD 270). Plotinus was a student of Ammonius Saccas and they were founders of Neoplatonism. His work, through Augustine of Hippo, the Cappadocian Fathers, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and several subsequent Christian and Muslim thinkers, has greatly influenced Western and Near-Eastern thought.
The Thunder, Perfect Mind
The Thunder, Perfect Mind is an exhortatory poem discovered among the Gnostic manuscripts in the Nag Hammadi library in 1945.
The Thunder, Perfect Mind (the title may alternately be translated The Thunder, Perfect Intellect) takes the form of an extended, riddling monologue, in which an immanent divine saviour speaks a series of paradoxical statements alternating between first-person assertions of identity and direct address to the audience. These paradoxical utterances echo Greek identity riddles, a common poetic form in the Mediterranean. Moreover, it is a non-epistolic, non-narrative unmediated divine speech. There are some translations to the right from the same section of the poem. Line numbering is different in different translations.
The Trimorphic Protennoia is a Sethian Gnostic text from the New Testament apocrypha. The only surviving copy comes from the Nag Hammadi library (Codex XIII).
I [am] the Thought of the Father, Protennoia, that is, Barbelo, the perfect Glory, and the immeasurable Invisible One who is hidden. I am the Image of the Invisible Spirit, and it is through me that the All took shape, and (I am) the Mother (as well as) the Light which she appointed as Virgin, she who is called ‘Meirothea’, the incomprehensible Womb, the unrestrainable and immeasurable Voice.
The name of the text means The First Thought which is in Three Forms (or The Three Forms of the First Thought), and appears to have been rewritten at some point to incorporate Sethian beliefs, when originally it was a treatise from another Gnostic sect. Unusually, the text is in the form of an explanation of the nature of cosmology, creation, and a docetic view of Jesus, in the first person. That is, the text is written as if the writer is God, the three-fold first thought. Like most Gnostic writing, the text is extremely mystical, more so for being in the first person.