In 1945, a cache of apocrypha (non-canonical religious texts) written by gnostic Christians was discovered near Nag Hammadi in southern Egypt. Among them was a gnostic retelling of the first 6 chapters of the book of Genesis: The Hypostasis of the Archons. Here’s my own edition of the book, adapted from the original using my knowledge of gnostic Christianity. For chapter by chapter commentary, you can read my series of blog posts on them.
Chapter 1: Samael’s Sin
Inspired by the holy spirit, Paul, the great messenger, referring to the rulers of the darkness, told us that “our battle is not against flesh and blood, but rather the authorities of the universe and the spirits of wickedness.”
The firstborn of the Archons is blind. Because of his power, his ignorance, and his arrogance, he declared “I am God; there is no other but me.”
When he said this, he sinned against everything. His words rose up to heaven. Then a voice spoke from heaven, saying, “You are wrong, Samael.”
Samael means god of the blind, and his thoughts became blind. Having expelled his own power in the blasphemy he had spoken, he pursued it down into chaos and the abyss that had spawned him at the instigation of the heavenly mother, Pistis Sophia. She then established each of his offspring in accordance with its power, following the pattern of the realms above, for the visible world was created by starting from the invisible world.
As Sophia looked down into the region of the waters, her image appeared upon the waters, and the rulers of the darkness lusted after her. But they could not take hold of the image that had appeared to them in the waters, because of their weakness, since beings that merely have souls cannot take hold of those that have spirit. For they were from below, while she was from above. Sophia looked down into the region so that, by God’s will, she might bring all into union with the light.
Chapter 2: The Creation of Man
“Come,” said Samael, “let us create a human from the soil of the earth.”
The Archons made their creature wholly of the earth. Their own bodies were both female and male [i.e. hermaphroditic] and their faces the faces of beasts. They took soil from the earth and modeled man after their own bodies and after the image of Sophia that had appeared to them in the waters.
“Let us entrap her using the form that we have molded,” said Samael, “For she will be lured here when she sees her male partner, and we will be able to take hold of her.”
The Archons did not understand the partner of god, because of their powerlessness. Samael breathed into the man’s face, and the man came to have a soul, but remained on the ground many days. They could not make him rise because of their powerlessness. Like storm winds they persisted in blowing, for they dearly wanted to capture the goddess whose image which had appeared to them in the waters, and they did not know the identity of her power.
All these events came to pass by the will of God. The holy spirit saw the man of soul on the ground. It came forth from the adamantine land. It descended and came to dwell in him, and the man became a living soul. The spirit gave him the name Adam, since he was found moving upon the ground.
The Archons gathered together all the animals of the earth and all the birds of heaven and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them, allowing him to give a name to each of the birds and all the beasts. The the took Adam and put him in a garden, so that he would cultivate it and keep watch over it.
“You may eat from every tree in the garden,” said Samael, “except for the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Do not eat its fruit, nor even touch it. For the day you eat from it you will surely die.”
By God’s will, Samael said this in such a way that Adam might in fact eat, for Adam did not regard the Archons as a man of an exclusively material nature would.
“Come,” said Samael, “let us cause a deep sleep to fall on Adam.”
Adam slept. The deep sleep that they caused to fall on him was the sleep of ignorance. They opened his side, and removed the part of him which was a living woman. They built up his side with flesh in place of her, and Adam no longer had spirit, but only a soul. Then, the woman of spirit they had removed came to him and spoke with him.
“Rise, Adam,” she said.
“You have given me life,” said Adam when he saw her, “You will be called ‘mother of the living.’ For you are my mother. You are the physician, and the woman, and you have given birth.”
Chapter 3: The Tree of Knowledge
The Archons came upon Adam. When they saw Eve speaking with him, they were enamored by her and became very excited. They pursued her, wanting to rape her. She laughed at them for their foolishness and blindness. Escaping their clutches, she became a tree and left for them her shadowy reflection, which resembled her, and they defiled it foully. They defiled it orally, so that by the form they had modeled in their own image, they damned themselves.
Then the holy spirit, the instructor, came to Adam and Eve in the form of a snake and she taught them.
“What did he say to you?” asked the snake. “Was it, ‘Eat from every tree in the garden except for the tree of recognition of evil and good’?”
“Not only did he say ‘Don’t eat from it,’” replied Eve, “but also ‘Don’t touch it. For the day you eat from it, you will surely die.’”
“It is not the case that you will surely die,” the snake, the instructor, said, “for he said this to you out of jealousy. Rather, your eyes will open and you will be like the Archons, recognizing evil and good.”
The instructing power of the holy spirit was taken away from the snake, and she left it behind, merely a thing of the earth once more. Eve took fruit from the tree and ate, and she gave some to her husband as well, and those beings, who possessed only a soul, ate. Their imperfection became apparent to them. They recognized that they were naked of the spiritual, so they took fig leaves and bound them around themselves and hid themselves.
“Adam, where are you?” said Samael, the chief archon, when he came, for he did not know what had happened.
“I heard your voice and was afraid because I was naked, and I hid,” said Adam.
“Why would you hide, unless it is because you have eaten from the tree from which alone I commanded you not to eat?” said Samael. “You have eaten!”
“The woman you created for me gave me fruit and I ate,” said Adam.
The arrogant ruler cursed Eve.
“The snake led me astray and I ate,” said Eve.
Samael turned to the snake and cursed its shadowy reflection, so that it was powerless, and did not realize that it was a form he himself had created. From that day, the snake came to be under the curse of the archons. Until the perfect human [Jesus] was to come, the curse fell on the snake.
Samael turned to his Adam, took him and expelled him from the garden along with his wife. They were given no blessing, since they too were under the curse. Moreover, the Archons threw human beings into a life of great distraction and toil, so that human beings might be occupied by worldly affairs and not have the opportunity to be devoted to the holy spirit.
Chapter 4: Eve’s Children
After Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden, she bore Cain, their son, and Cain cultivated the land. Again becoming pregnant, she bore Abel, and Abel became a shepherd. Cain brought an offering from the crops of his field, but Abel brought an offering from among his lambs. Samael looked favorably on the votive offerings of Abel, but he did not accept the votive offerings of Cain. Afterward, Cain pursued and killed his brother Abel.
“Where is Abel your brother?” Samael asked Cain.
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain answered.
“Listen!” Samael said to Cain. “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me. You have sinned by lying to me. Your sin will return to you. Anyone who kills you will let unleash seven vengeances upon himself, and you will exist forever, groaning and trembling upon the earth.”
Adam slept with his partner Eve, and she became pregnant and bore Seth to Adam.
“I have borne another man through god, in place of Abel,” she said.
Again Eve became pregnant, and she bore Norea.
“He has produced for me a virgin who will help many generations of human beings,” she said.
She is the virgin whom the forces of darkness did not defile. Then humankind began to multiply and improve.
Chapter 5: The Flood
The Archons took counsel with one another.
“Let us cause a flood with our hands and obliterate all that lives, from man to beast,” they said.
When Sabaoth, the ruler of the archons, came to know of their decision, he went to Noah.
“Upon Mount Sir, build yourself an ark from wood that does not rot and hide in it with your children and the beasts and the birds of heaven from small to large.”
Norea came to Noah, wanting to board the ark. When he would not let her, she blew upon the ark and caused it to be consumed by fire. Noah rebuilt the ark for a second time.
Chapter 6: Norea and Samael
The Archons came to meet Norea, intending to lead her astray.
“Your mother Eve came to us,” said Samael.
“You are the rulers of the darkness; you are accursed,” Norea said to them. “You did not defile my mother. Instead it was your own female element that you defiled. I am not your descendant. Rather, I come from the world above.”
Samael turned on her with all his might, and his countenance was like a blazing fire.
“You must service us, as did your mother Eve,” he said to her presumptuously.
But Norea turned with power of her own, and, in a loud voice, she cried out to the holy one, the god of all.
“Rescue me from the rulers of unrighteousness and save me from their clutches at once!” she cried.
A great angel came down from the heavens, and the Archons withdrew.
“Why are you crying out to god? Why do you act so boldly toward the holy spirit?” the angel asked her.
“Who are you?” Norea asked.
“I am Eleleth, sagacity, the great angel who stands in the presence of the holy spirit,” he said. “I have been sent to speak with you and save you from the grasp of the lawless. And I shall teach you about the source of your being.”
Chapter 7: Eleleth’s Revelation
I cannot speak of the power of the angel Elelith. His skin was like fine gold and his clothing as white as snow. But truly, my mouth cannot bear to speak of his power and the appearance of his face. Eleleth, the great angel, spoke to Norea.
“I am understanding,” he said. “I am one of the four luminaries who stand in the presence of the great invisible spirit. Do you think the archons have any power over you? None of them can prevail against the source of truth, for on its account one will appear in the final ages, and the Archons will be restrained. They cannot defile you and your race, for your home is in incorruptibility, where the virgin spirit lives, who is superior to the lords of chaos and to their universe.”
“Sir,” said Norea, “teach me about the Archons. How did they come into being? By what genesis, and out of what material, and who created them and their power?”
The great angel Eleleth spoke:
Incorruptibility inhabits limitless realms. Sophia, who is called Pistis, wanted to create something, alone, without her partner, and what she created was celestial. A veil exists between the world above and the realms below, and shadow came into being beneath the veil. That shadow became matter, and the shadow was blasted apart. And what she had created came to be in matter, like an aborted fetus. He assumed a shape molded out of shadow, and became an arrogant beast resembling a lion. He was androgynous, because he was derived from matter. Opening his eyes, he saw a vast quantity of endless matter, and he became arrogant.
“I am god, and there is no one but me,” he said.
When he said this, he sinned against everything. A voice came from above the realm of absolute power.
“You are wrong, Samael,” it said, naming him ‘god of the blind’.
“If any thing existed before me, let it become visible to me!” he said.
Immediately Sophia pointed her finger and introduced light into matter, and she pursued it down to the region of chaos. Then she returned up to her light, and once again darkness returned to matter.
Samael made himself a vast realm, an endless precinct. He contemplated creating offspring for himself, and created seven, androgynous like their parent.
“I am the god of all,” he said to his offspring.
“You are wrong, Sakla”, shouted Zoe, the daughter of Pistis Sophia.
She breathed into the face of Samael (whose other name is Yaldabaoth), and her breath became a fiery angel. That angel bound Samael and cast him down into Tartaros, at the bottom of the abyss. Now, when Samael’s child Sabaoth saw the strength of that angel, he repented and condemned his father and his mother, matter.
He loathed Sophia, but he sang songs of praise up to her and her daughter Zoe. Sophia and Zoe found him and put him in charge of the seventh heaven, below the veil that lies between above and below. Sabaoth is called ‘god of the forces’ since he is above the forces of chaos, for Sophia placed him there.
Saboath made himself a huge four sided chariot of cherubim, and harps, and lyres, and an infinity of angels to act as his ministers. Sophia had her daughter Zoe sit on his right to teach him about the things that exist in the eighth heaven, and she placed the angel of wrath at his left. Since that day, his right hand has been called life, and the left has signified the righteousness of the realm of absolute power above.
When Samael saw Saboath in this great splendor and at this height, he envied him, and the envy became something androgynous; this was the origin of envy. Envy engendered death, and death engendered his offspring, and gave each of them charge of its own heaven. All the heavens of chaos became full of their multitudes.
But it was by the will of the Father of everything that they all came into being, after the pattern of all the things above, so that the sum of chaos might be attained. And now I have taught you about the form of the Archons and the matter in which it was made visible, along with their creator and their universe.
Chapter 8: Eleleth’s Prophecy
“Sir, am I made from the same matter as the Archons?” asked Norea.
“You and your offspring come from the primeval father,” replied Eleleth. “Your souls come from above, out of the incorruptible light. Therefore, the Archons cannot approach them, since the spirit of truth resides in them, and all who know this exist deathless in the midst of dying people. Still, the children will not be revealed now. Instead, after three ages, the truth will be revealed and free them from the bondage of the Archons’ error.”
“Sir, how much longer will that be?” asked Norea.
“Until the moment when a true human, with a modeled form, reveals the existence of the spirit of truth that the father has sent,” he said. “He will teach them everything, and anoint them with the unction of eternal life, given to him by the generation without a king. Then they will be free of blind thought, and they will trample on death, which comes from the Archons. They will ascend into the limitless light where they belong. The Archons will relinquish their lives, and their angels will weep over their destruction, and their demons will lament their death. All the children of the light will know the truth and their source, and the father of all, and the holy spirit. They will all say with a single voice, ‘The father’s truth is just, and the son presides over all.’ And everyone, through the ages of ages, will say ‘Holy, holy, holy! Amen!’”