We will now step into an investigation of the Deep Christ, a mystery thriller with twists and turns, with astounding, sometimes stomach churning discoveries. In this series on the Deep Christ, we will step back from the familiar Jesus of the New Testament and look at how he appears in the gnostic tradition. Here our mystery theater is filled with stage fog that makes it difficult to know what is true history, what is mythological spin and what are valuable archetypal motifs that transcend the limits of history.
Friends and associates of mine often ask, why go into all of this and spend so much time on some long forgotten story of Sophia? Why bring even more pages to the forests of books about Jesus? These are good questions I ask myself often. But as I continue to dig deeper into the layers of fog in this whole theater of early Christianity, with each misleading story, each name change, each story line diversion, there is a clue that keeps me on the trail of a treasure, a pearl, that I know is out there, or maybe more precisely, within.
Indeed, a classic interpretation of Jesus focuses on his sacrifice that enables our salvation. What is found in the mystery of the deep Christ, however, are the teachings on the “mysteries of Sophia”, and that most elusive spark of human potential that has been sacrificed in order to promote a Jesus whose teachings went no further than the parables. The very foundations of Christianity and I believe Judaism as well, are shaken to a deeper foundation of a mystery stream of wisdom that, in this time of humanity’s great peril, is what is needed, now more than ever.
Before we step into this investigation of this gnostic Jesus who is intimately connected to the story of Sophia, I urge the reader to not get lost in this complex cast of characters. Indeed, we humans are, in what could be the final scenes of this Sophianic mystery play, the most important characters on the stage. It is us who both Jesus and Sophia are pointing to when it comes to the true mystery. We humans are key players in this cosmic drama, where the spark of Christ Sophia lies hidden, holding on, staying out of harm’s way perhaps, but ready to fully ignite as we work to fine tune our imaginations to just the right frequency for the cosmic winds to blow on these buried embers.
The Deep Christ: Via Positiva
First let us look at how this Christ figure is portrayed in the odd assortment of gnostic texts that were more recently recovered from the purge by the Roman Church, where roughly from the 6th century to 1769, ALL texts from this gnostic tradition were successfully eliminated from public view, from what I understand.
In the first part of this investigation into the mysterious Deep Jesus, we will drop into the home base of the Via Positiva, where he is associated with the most glorious emanation of original creation. There are five primary texts that I will be using to sketch this out; the Apochrypon (Secret Book) of John, Pistis Sophia, The Second Treatise of the Great Seth, Eugnostos The Blessed, Sophia of Jesus Christ, and First Thought in Three Forms (Trimpophic Protennonia).
In the gnostic texts, the Pistis Sophia, there is a long description of the disciples witnessing Jesus first ascending to heaven and then, shortly thereafter, he returns and promises to teach them the “mysteries”. This is an astounding story that raises eyebrows to anyone who wishes to consider the significance of such a story.
This text, as with others in the Nag Hammadi collection, are mostly dated to the mid 4th century. However, some of these texts may have been later editions of earlier and more original texts dating back to the 2nd century, during a time when this story of Sophia, for example, clearly sprang from roots wholly separate from the Roman orthodox tradition, according to Nag Hammadi scholars. (1) (2)
Here is a synopsis of this story of Jesus as presented in the first book of the Pistis Sophia.
Jesus’ Ascension and Return
For 11 years after the crucifixion, Jesus talked with his followers about the origins of creation. (3) He had shared with them about the great emanation of the feminine Thought, Ennoia, that erupted out of the ineffable Godhead, “in the form of a dove.” (PS1 1:1-2).
It was around this time, that Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives apart from his students when suddenly, a most incredible light energy came down and surrounded him entirely and “shone most exceedingly, and there was no measure for the light which was on him.” (PS1 2:5). And then, in this radiant light, he lifted up until he was completely gone. And his students were incredibly shaken.
About a day and a half later, he returned the same way he left but now he was shrouded in a Light that was far more incredible than when he ascended. Attempting to appease their fear, he said to his students, “Take courage. It is I, be not afraid.” (PS1 5:1). Jesus said that he will now be able to teach them about this great cosmos of origins, including the mysteries of Sophia. What is more, he said that he had come from the region from hence he came, the First Mystery, where he received what he calls his Vesture. (4) “From today onwards now I will speak with you openly from the beginning of the truth until its completion. And I will speak with you face to face, without parable. I will not conceal from you, from this hour onwards, anything of the things of the height and of the place of the truth . For I have been given authority , through the Ineffable and through the First Mystery of all the mysteries, that I should speak with you from the beginning until the pleroma, and from within outwards, and from without inwards. Hear now, so that I tell you all things.” (PS)
Significance of this Story
The key take aways from this story are that, 11 years after the “crucifixion” Jesus goes through this dramatic ascension experience where he receives his Robe of Glory and then comes back and promises to tell his students the details of the complex nature of divine reality, no longer speaking just in parables.
This is a most astounding story that is in stark contrast to the New Testament version of the story. “And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” (Luke 24:51) In this gospel reading, like in the Pistis Sophia, the disciples see him ascend from his perch on the Mount of Olives outside the walls of old Jerusalem. In Luke however, he doesn’t return. That is the end. There are no mystery teachings of complex cosmology and no mention of Sophia. (5)
As well, there is no mention of the ascension in the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke, except a brief add on in a later addition of Mark). There are three very general references to this ascension in Gospel of John such as this. “No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the son of man.” (John 3:13). My read on this is that it is a spin on far more elaborate descriptions of the ascent and descent motif that was highly prominent in the early (Sethian) gnostic texts (6). Later in this series, I will dig deeper into some of the most valuable clues as to how the designers of the Roman orthodoxy systematically erased the Deep Christ and replaced him, such as in the Gospel of John, with a more simple Jesus, who is championed by the non-mystical Peter.
A text of the Pistis Sophia may have surfaced in 12th century France where, I have proposed, this ascension and descension scene was carved into one of the three main central portal sculptures at Chartres. If this is indeed true, it would suggest that the original designers of this Chartres gothic cathedral were tapped into the deeper versions of Christ, as is also indicated by the absence of crucifixion images on this 12th century design.
This ascension scene from the Pistis Sophia also has much in common with Hymn of the Pearl as told possibly by Christ’s close associate, St. Thomas, where the prince ascends to the kingdom of his father to receive his Robe of Glory.
Let us go deeper into this excavating of core gnostic texts that describe a phenomenal, sometimes otherworldly depiction of Jesus. We can only take a small look at how this savior figure appears in these texts, as there is so much to be excavated from them.
Even without the later additions of this text, (ref to the different versions) where Jesus meets with John, the text gives a very extensive overview of the teachings about the creation story of Sophia that correspond to other cosmological teachings from Christ. What is missing in this story is Jesus’ own part that he plays in that creation story. It is this text that is one of the primary sources from which a good overview of the creation story of Sophia can be found, especially the information about her descent and the phenomenon of the archons.
The Gnostic Jesus speaks to John, (as reconstructed from the broken pages of this papyrus). “The Monad [is a] monarchy with nothing above it. [It is he who exists] as [God] and Father of everything, [the invisible] One who is above [everything who exists as] incorruption, which is [in the] pure light into which no [eye] can look. He [is the] invisible [Spirit] of whom it is not right [to think] of him as a god, or something similar. For he is more than a god, since there is nothing above him, for no one Lords it over him.” (Apoch of John)
Here is this description of the Ineffable-Ein Soph as presented in the first part of the Creation Story of Sophia. This is the first thing that Jesus reports to John, a place of origin of All That Is. This is source, singularity, monad, a most ineffable phenomenon in our story of origins.
“And Its thinking become a thing. She appeared. She stood in Its presence in the brilliance of the light; she is the power which is before the All. It is she who appeared, she who is the perfect Pronoia of the All, the light, the likeness of the light, the image of the Invisible, she who is the perfect power, Barbelo, the perfect aeon of the glory.” (Apoch of John)
Here is this tremendous description of what I call the Great Emanation. This is like an explosion of divine Light, called Thought, that breaks out of the Ineffable’s own self contained radiance (the Ein Soph Or) and pours out into what is now a new creation. This Light has a threefold nature which is described most beautifully in the text First Thought in Three Forms. This Light, this Thought, is the higher aspect of Sophia. In a similar way as Christ/Logos is the higher aspect of Jesus.
“Now these things I have presented to you – I am Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, who is exalted above the heavens…” reads this odd text. Of course any document can claim to be signed by any name and scholars have not been inclined to attribute this text to the pen of Jesus. However, I believe that this text offers an amazing clue that points us in the direction of the Deep Christ.
This text has clearly gone through different editions, where it has become more “Christianized”, in the words of the gnostic scholars, where the very identification of Jesus is part of this trend. “For those who were in the world had been prepared by the will of our sister Sophia – she who is a whore – because of the innocence which has not been uttered.” Whether this derogatory label “she who is a whore” was put in there by some frustrated scribe, or if indeed, as the Sophia of Simon Magus had some bleedthrough here is a question which is unclear, but which might points us in the direction of this so called Wisdom New Dispensation.
“I visited a bodily dwelling. I cast out the one who was in it first, and I went in.” This is a clear reference to the concept of a “walk-in” where there another soul steps into a body upon the exit of that person’s own soul. “For he was an earthly man, but I, I am from above the heavens.” Strange as this may be, the gospel story of Jesus’ baptism might be a version of this. This mention that he “visited a bodily dwelling” adds some good fuel to the long standing debate about whether Jesus was divine or human. (7)
“I have an Ennoia of a single emanation from the eternal ones and the undefiled and immeasurable incomprehensibilities. I placed the small Ennoia in the world, having disturbed (the archons) and frightened the whole multitude of the angels and their ruler.” Here is a clue to Christ’s role in the planting the divine spark, the Ennoia, the feminine Shekinah indwelling presence, into the world as part of his mission.
This is one of my favorite texts as it offers powerful descriptions of the unfolding of divine reality and does not include the very difficult material on the archons. The text is being presented in first person by this unknown figure known as Eugnostos. I think it is because it has this name, it has been shielded from further speculation about who this Eugnostos might have been.
He is giving first had knowledge of great detail about the origins of creation in much the same way as Jesus does in Apochrypon of John, Trimorphic Protennoia, Second Treatise of Great Seth, Books of Jeu, and Pistis Sophia. What is more, there is a text that is a later version of this text known as the Sophia of Jesus Christ. In the 1978 Robinson edition of the Nag Hammadi Library (8) these two texts are laid out side by side on the page to show what parts of the original text were included in this later text and what was both added and edited out. The Eugonostos text clearly identifies the speaker as Jesus who is speaking to his disciples, a teaching device that was added in later versions of texts, in their trend towards becoming more “Christianized.” The Greek “eu” is a prefix for good or true. This “eu” is combined with a variation of gnosis, a word that is a key signature of the teachings of the gnostic Christ, a word that Christ himself uses in the Trimorphic Protennoia, “It is through me that Gnosis comes forth”. Might “Eugnostos” be a name or title of endearment given to Jesus?
This text goes into great detail about the earliest emanation from the Ineffable-Ein Soph, “He-Who-Is.”
The feminine aspect of the divine emanation, associated with Thought is not included, as the text is heavy on the “father” references. However, Sophia is identified as an equal to the Christ, he calls, “Immortal Androgynous Man.” “His male name is ‘Begotten, Perfect Mind’. And his female name is ‘All-wise Begettress Sophia’. It is also said that she resembles her brother and her consort.” Here is a rare reference to how this Sophia equates to a feminine aspect of the Christ, and how, within the structure of this divine realm called the pleroma, Christ and Sophia are paired in the double aeons. It is from there that the drama of Sophia unfolds, from her “fall” to the problem of the archons, her rescue and the planting of the divine spark into humanity.
Trimorphic Protennoia (First Thought in Three Forms)
This text is one of the great gems of the Nag Hammadi Library, being the only copy in existence. As part of the Codex XIII of this library, this text was most thankfully spared from the Egyptian mother who used the leaves of this discovered stash to kindle her cooking fire.
This is three voices of the Divine Mother and is spoken as a mystery which was generally not shared widely, but rather made available to those who were oriented to these teachings. These may be visions from three separate baptismal rituals, as part of the gnostic initiations. (9)
This is the voice of the higher Sophia who is talking about how she made three descents into the underworld, the region of the archons to rescue humanity from their imprisonment. In the final descent, she is the Logos who “put Jesus on.” This is the divine spirit who Jesus, as the Word, is giving voice to.
“I am Protennoia, the Thought that dwells in the Light. I am the movement that dwells in the All, she in whom the All takes its stand, the first-born among those who came to be, she who exists before the All.” begins the text. This is referring to the Great Emanation of the divine Holy Spirit, also referred to as Barbelo, the higher Sophia.
“I move in every creature.” This is the essense of her divine light that dwells in all beings, the divine spark that lies within, waiting for us to be aware of her.
“It is he alone who came to be, that is, the Christ. And, as for me, I anointed him as the glory of the Invisible Spirit, with goodness.”
There is of course some overlap between the Jesus in the gospels and the gnostic texts, such as the idea that Jesus was divine. However, the detail that the gnostic texts go into is far more elaborate than in the gospels. Unlike in the gospels where there is a fleeting single reference to the trinity, “Father the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19), for example, in the gnostic texts there are pages and pages of descriptions. This is a classic signature of a new dispensation, where the original and earlier teachings are more complex and later versions are more reduced, as opposed to what we might anticipate, where teachings develop in complexity over time.
In these texts, we are looking towards a more complex Christ, a deep Christ who seems to have his finger on the pulse of a vast sweep of a creation drama where his beloved Sophia plays such a key role.
Many gnostic scholars believe that this gnostic “story of origins” developed over time and gradually took shape over a few centuries BCE and CE. However, this is such an unusual story, and one which there are many variations of it as these gnostic texts appeared in the first few centuries CE with few clues to its gradual origins. Might it be that it came from a specific source that then dispersed into its variations (a new dispensation)? It is in the above mentioned texts that suggest that this source was Jesus, or what more easily termed, the deep Christ.
- Robinson, James, M. General Editor. The Nag Hammadi Library: Revised edition. the definitive new translation fo the gnostic scriptures complete in one volume. Harper and Row: San Francisco. 1978. p. 8. “In none of these Sethian instances can one derive the texts or their mythology primarily from Christian tradition…”
- To understand the Pistis Sophia, we have to see it in the context of the spectrum from more original Gnostic to the trend of gnostic texts becoming more Christianized over time. In this Pistis Sophia, we have some of the most dense Sethian-esque gnostic material that includes extensive depictions of the story of Sophia. And yet, this text is arguably a later version, written possibly in the mid 4th century, and includes tell tale features of it being steered towards a more Christianized version. The extensive referencing of the disciples, in an almost prescriptive manner is one of the features of this trend. However, like with the later more Christianized Sophia of Jesus Christ, the Pistis Sophia is likely coming from an earlier version which, like Eugnostos the Blessed, may well have had less focus on the disciples. To what degree have these texts been mythologized, and to what extent are they reflecting some sort of historical origination? Though I will explore this more in the Deep Christ Part II, it helps to keep soft eyes on the whole array of how Jesus is depicted, both in the gnostic texts and in the New Testament.
- This equates with “He Who Is is Ineffable” of the Eugnostos text and also in the language of Kabbalah, Ein Soph.
- See the Robe of Glory theme in both the Mandean Book of John, and the Hymn of the Pearl. This might also equate to Paul’s reference to “putting on the whole armor of God.” Ephesians 6:10–18
- The Pistis Sophia could have been written as an elaboration of an earlier writing from Luke, however, if we look at the strategies employed by the gospels as outline exhaustively by Eisenman, this thesis of a later, more reduced version is believable.
- Turner, John D. Sethian Gnosticism and the Platonic Tradition. Les Presses de Universite laval: Quebec. 2001. p. 80-84.
- This debate in Christianity was settled in part by the Anthanasian creed that concluded that Jesus was one, both but divine and human, called the hypostatic union.
- Robinson, James, M. General Editor. The Nag Hammadi Library: Revised edition. the definitive new translation fo the gnostic scriptures complete in one volume. Harper and Row: San Francisco. 1978.
- Rasimus, Tuomas. The Three Descents of Barbelo and Sethian Initiation in the Trimorphic Protennoia. © 2014–2016