Previous Chapter: Adam’s Awakening
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 tenth chapter, God’s messenger tells John how Yaldabaoth created Zoe (the gnostic Eve) from some of the light of Sophia that he had inadvertently given to Adam:
The Archons took Adam and placed him in paradise.
“Eat freely,” they said to him.
The Archons delight in deception and their trees were unholy. Their delight was bitter and their beauty licentious. Their fruit was an incurable poison and their promise only death. And in the midst of paradise, the Archons planted the tree of life.
“But I will teach you what the mystery of their life is, the plan they made with each other, and what their spirits are like,” said the Angel of the Lord to John.
The root of the Archon’s tree was bitter and its branches were death. Its shade was hate and deception dwelt in its leaves. Its blossom was the anointment of evil. Its fruit was death, and desire was its seed, and it blossoms grew from the darkness. The dwelling place of those who taste it is Hades, and darkness is their resting place.
But the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was created by the light that emanated from the Creator. The Archons stood in front of it so that Adam wouldn’t look upon its fullness and learn the shamefulness of his nakedness.
“As for me, I set them right so that they would eat from it,” said the angel.
“Lord,” asked John, “wasn’t it the snake who taught Adam to eat?”
The angel laughed.
“The snake taught them to eat from a wicked desire to sow their destruction, in order that Adam would become useful to it. It knew that Adam would disobey the Archons because the light of creation dwelt in him, making him more correct in his thinking than the Chief Ruler,” replied the Angel.
Yaldabaoth wanted to remove the power which he had given to Adam. He cast a trance upon Adam.
“What was the trance?” John asked the angel.
“It was not as was written in the book of Genesis, for that book says that he laid down to sleep, but rather, the trance concerned his sensibility,” replied the angel. “It was as it was said by the prophet: ‘I will make their hearts heavy so that they neither pay heed nor see.'”
Then the light of creation hid in Adam. Yaldabaoth wanted to bring it forth, but he could not grasp it. Although his darkness pursued it, Yaldabaoth could not lay hold of all of it. He brought forth a part of his power from Adam. With it, he created another form, molded in the shape of a woman, in the image of Sophia who had appeared to him. And into the form of womanhood, he put the part of his power which he had taken from Adam — not ‘his rib’ as Genesis says.
Adam saw the woman beside him. Immediately, the light of creation was revealed, for she had lifted the veil which had clouded his understanding. He became sober, shaking off the drunkenness of the darkness and he recognized his likeness.
“You are bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh,” said Adam. “Because of this, man will leave his father and his mother and he will cling to his wife and they will no longer be two but a single flesh. For his partner will be sent to him and he will leave his father and his mother.”
She was our sister Sophia who came down in innocence in order to correct her deficiency. Because of this she was called Zoe (Life), the mother of the living, by the nurturing authority of heaven. And through her, Adam tasted the perfect knowledge.
In the form of an eagle, I appeared on the tree of knowledge, which is the light emanating from the pure, luminous knowledge of heaven, so that I might teach them and awaken them from the depth of the sleep. For they were both in a fallen state and they recognized their nakedness. Insight appeared to them as light, awakening their thought.
As usual, the cosmology is twisted in interesting directions. Eden is a poisonous trap, the tree of life is rather a tree of death, but the tree of knowledge is a creation of heaven, made to thwart the Archons. The angel who is speaking to John reveals that he himself uses the serpent to give Adam and Zoe self knowledge, which is said to be the “luminous knowledge of heaven”.
Note the interjections by John and the angel’s answers, covering the deviations from the story in Genesis. In this chapter, for the first time, John addresses the angel as “the Saviour”, implying he is Christ. Note that Stephen Davies believes the dialog, which is found only in the longer versions of the book, “to have been added by a Christian editor who sought to present the text as a long dialogue between Jesus and John son of Zebedee.”
Next Chapter: Cain, Abel, and Seth