EUGNOSTOS THE BLESSED and THE SOPHIA OF JESUS CHRIST
Interrelated Gnostic tractates. They are both found in Coptic versions in the NAG HAMMADI LIBRARY, where there are two copies of Eugnostos (Eug) (III.3 [70:1-90:13] and V,1 [1:1-17:18]) and one of Sophia of Jesus Christ (SJC) (III.4 [90:14-119:18]). In addition, a copy of SJC (also in Coptic) is contained in Papyrus Berolinensis 8502 (77:8-127:12). A fragment of SJC in Greek (the language of composition) was discovered at Oxyrhynchus (Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1081). It parallels the Nag Hammadi Codex III (97:16-99:12) and Papyrus Berolinensis (8502.88:18-91:15).
Eugnostos is a religio-philosophical controversy discourse in the form of an epistle written by Eugnostos, who is otherwise unknown. The scribe of the colophon of the Gospel of the Egyptians, also called Eugnostos, is almost certainly not the same person. It is directed to “those who are his” (III.3 only; in V.1 the section is mostly in lacuna). “His” may refer to Eugnostos or to a deity. In Eug III, Eugnostos is given the honorific title “the Blessed,” perhaps indicating that he was deceased.
The discourse of Eug is divided into two parts. Part I (III.70:3-85:9 and Eug V par.) consists of a description of the “true” nature of the supercelestial segment of the cosmos. The description is based on the theory of types, that is, that the observable world has been patterned on the “realities” in the invisible world. Those realities, it was believed, could be known by examining the visible world, which reflects the realities only imperfectly, with the help of a divine principle called Thought (Greek, ennoia) (III.74:13-19 and Eug V par.).
The invisible world is understood to have originated with a being who simply is, called “Unbegotten.” He is the source of all mental powers. Subsequent realities come into being through self- objectification (Self-Begetter [Autogenes] and Immortal Man), spiritual engendering by androgynous pairs (Son of Man, Son of Son of Man, etc.) and direct creation (aeons, firmaments, etc.). These realities provide the types for the temporal aspects of “our aeon.” It should also be noted that, in addition, Self-Begetter is the originator of a special group of people—presumably the Gnostics—and Immortal Man is the source of basic differentiations.
Part II (III.85:9-90:3 and Eug V par.) is a description of the highest level of the visible portion of the cosmos, which is called “chaos.” Although three aeons are spoken of initially, attention is focused on the third, named “assembly.” It is the source of divine beings and structures, and of the types for the rest of the visible cosmos.
Eug concludes with a prediction of the coming of one who will interpret or simply repeat the words of Eug.
There is no significant evidence of Christian influence in the composition of Eug, although there is evidence of Christian influence in its later editing (e.g., the modification of the concluding prophecy in Eug III). There is also much evidence of Jewish speculation on Genesis 1-5 in both parts of Eug. Moreover, the first part is strongly influenced by Neopythagorean number speculation.
These observations point to an early date for Eug—probably in the first century A.D. Eug thus should likely be thought of as an example of the kind of speculative activity that was involved in the origins of gnosticism.
The provenance of Eug in all likelihood was Egypt. This is suggested by the reference in the text to “the 360 days of the year.”
Only in Egypt in late antiquity was the year thought to be of that length.
It is now generally accepted that the writer of SJC used Eug as a source. Most of the didactic material from Eug, along with that from other sources, was placed on the lips of Christ, who is pictured in SJC as appearing in angelic guise to his disciples and seven women after his resurrection, in order to answer their queries about the nature and purpose of existence. It seems likely that, by having Christ speak the words of Eugnostos, the writer wanted him to be seen as fulfilling the concluding prophecy of Eug. Emphasis on Christ is also seen in the non-Eug material, where the major point has to do with Christ’s roles: one as revealer and one who set the pattern for triumphing over the wicked powers that desire to imprison the divine elements in matter. The connection with Eug and the focus on Christ in the non-Eug material suggest that the reason for writing SJC may have been to convince non-Christian Gnostics, who may have revered Eug, that they should become adherents of Christian gnosticism.
The non-Eug material also has references (albeit incomplete) to such typical Gnostic themes as the fall of Sophia, the malevolent creator god Yaldabaoth, the evil of sexuality, and the qualitative difference between those whose knowledge is “pure” and those whose knowledge is “defective.” All these themes can be seen as elements in a mythological worldview focusing on soteriology.
An early-second-century date for SJC is suggested by the reason just discussed for its composition, by the lack in its frame material of allusions to the controversy with orthodoxy (as one finds, for example, in the APOCRYPHON OF JOHN), and by the lack of influence from the Gnostic systems of the mid-second century A.D. Earlier attempts to date SJC in the late second or third centuries did not consider these points.
SJC, then, is probably to be seen as an early example within gnosticism—if not the first—of the combining of a highly speculative cosmological system and soteriologically oriented mythology.
Although references to either Eug or SJC are lacking in the church fathers, they both appear to have enjoyed considerable popularity among the Gnostics, if one may judge from the number of copies that survive and the fact that the two copies of Eug appear to have had quite different textual histories.
- Foerster, W., ed. Gnosis: A Selection of Gnostic Texts 2: Coptic and Mandean Sources. Trans. from 1971 German ed. by R. McL. Wilson. Oxford, 1974. Volume includes translations by M. Krause of Eug III and SJC III, employing material from the other copies to fill in missing pages.
- Robinson, J. M., ed. The Nag Hammadi Library in English. New York, 1977. Includes preliminary translations by D. M. Parrott of Eug III and SJC III, using parallel passages from the other copies to fill in missing pages. The presentation is in parallel columns.
- Till, W. C., and H. M. Schenke, eds. Die gnostischen Schriften des koptischen Papyrus Berolinensis 8502. Texte and Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der alterchristlichen Literatur 60, 2nd ed. Berlin, 1972.
DOUGLAS M. PARROTT