Previous Chapter: Creation of the Material World
Among the ancient Gnostic manuscripts rediscovered in modern times, the Secret Book of John is one of the most important. It a sacred reservoir of Gnostic myth and revelation. It breathes with the life of vision that vitalized early Christianity, a life suppressed and then largely forgotten in later ages. A modern reading grants fundamental insights into the lost foundations of Christian tradition.
In the seventh chapter, God’s messenger tells John how Yaldabaoth created the seraphim:
Through Yaldabaoth’s thought and speech, the seven Archons had come into being. He divided his fire among them, but he did not give them any of the power of the light that he had received from his mother Sophia. He was ignorant, a being of darkness. When the her light had mixed with the darkness, it had caused the darkness to shine, but when the darkness mixed with the light, it dimmed it so that it became neither light nor dark, but was weak.
The shadow lord had three names. The first was Yaldabaoth, the second Saklas, and the third Samael. He was impious due to the madness that dwelt in him, and because he was ignorant of the place from which his strength had come.
“I am God,” he said, “and no other god exists except me.”
He mixed with the Archons who dwelt with him. The first Archon, Athoth, had the face of a sheep. The second, Eloaiou, had a donkey’s face. The third, Astaphaios, had a hyena’s face. The fourth, Yao, had seven heads with the faces of snakes. The fifth, Sabaoth, had the face of a dragon. The sixth, Adonin, had a monkey’s face. The seventh, Sabbede, had a face that shone with fire. Together, they formed the seven days of the week.
Next, they each created seven Exousai (powers) to serve themselves. The Exousai in turn each created six Malakim (angels), continuing until they had produced 365 angels. Yaldabaoth shared portions of his fire with the angels. Because of the power and the glory that dwelt in him from due to the light of Sophia, he became lord over them. Because of this, he called himself God, and refused to respect the place he had come from. Yaldabaoth possessed a multitude of faces, adding up to more than all of the seraphim, so that when he was in the midst of the them, he could masquerade at will.
Yaldabaoth ordered everything in the likeness of the first Aeons who had come into being, trying to create the Archons in the same indestructible pattern. The was not because he had seen the indestructible ones, but because of the power in him that came from Sophia, by which he bore in himself the likeness of the world. Each of the Archons had a heavenly sphere, and each corresponded to an Aeon in the perfect realm.
He named the Archons he had created, beginning with the highest, as follows: Goodness was the name he gave to first Archon, Athoth. Pronoia was the name he gave to Eloaio. Divinity was the name he gave Astraphaio. Lordship was the name he gave Yao. Kingship the name of Sabaoth. Envy the name of Adonein. Understanding, the name of Sabbateon. The names which they were given by Yaldabaoth had power in them, but the names which were given to them by the glory of those who dwelt in heaven will bring them destruction and powerlessness in the end. And this is why they each have two names.
The author of the secret book seems to have taken two different traditions, one in the previous chapter and one in this chapter, and simply mashed them together without really attempting to synchronize them. In the previous chapter, Yaldabaoth created 12 authorities (Exousai), and set seven of them over the heavenly spheres. In this chapter, the seven rulers (Archons) are presumably identical with the seven Exousai set to rule over the heavens. The second time the true names of the Archons are given, some of them are spelled differently. Finally, Yaldabaoth give the Archons his own names. Here are all three sets of names:
|Exousai (previous chapter)||Archons (true names)||Yaldabaoth’s Names|
|Athoth (the reaper)||Athoth||Goodness|
|Cain (the sun)||Adonin/Adonein||Envy|
|Belias (lord of Hades)|
The first list of names has two in common with the second, Athoth and Sabaoth. One of the lords of hell (Melchier-Adonein) may be related to Adonin/Adonein in the second list. Adonai (Greek for “lord”) is a title given to Sabaoth in the first list. The name Sabbede/Sabbateon may be related to the word sabbath, since the seven Archons are said to embody the days of the week.
Other interesting features of this chapter:
- The angelic beings (Seraphim) of all three angelic orders (Archons, or rulers, Exousai, or powers, and Malakim, the messenger angels, are created by Yaldabaoth.
- The Malakim number 365, one for each day of the year.
- The Archons are said to have the heads of animals.
- The Archons’s true names are said to be the ones that the true God will use in future to make them powerless.
Next Chapter: Sophia’s Repentence