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Valentinian Exposition - Coptic Wiki


A Valentinian Exposition (Codex XV, tractate 2, of the NAG HAMMADI LIBRARY) presents itself as a document of revelation intended for a restricted elite: “I will speak my mystery to those who are mine and to those who will be mine.” This revelation concerns first of all the Father, then the Son, the tetrad, the pleroma, Sophia, the demiurge, and the heavenly syzygies. By its presentation this treatise takes its place alongside other revelation documents from the Nag Hammadi Library, the hermetic writings of ALLOGENES and ZOSTRIANUS, with which, moreover, it has certain traits in common.

The first lines of the Exposition are devoted to the Father, who is described according to the canons of the negative theology current among the Gnostics as in the philosophical schools of Middle Platonism in the first centuries A.D. (Festugière, 1942-1953). The Father is called “the Ineffable One who dwells in the Monad. He dwells alone in silence, and silence is tranquillity since, after all, he was a Monad and no one was before him; he dwells in the Dyad and in the and his Pair is Silence. And he possesses the all dwelling within him” (22.20-28).

This section on the Father should be compared with those, much more complete, in Allogenes (NHC XI, 3) and the THREE STELES OF SETH (NHC VII, 5). The Father is there described as the Ineffable (All. 47.18; 61.15), the first to exist (Stel. Seth 119.18), associated with silence and with rest (All. 61.21; 62.25). But the text most nearly akin to the Valentinian Exposition is that which Irenaeus devotes to the Valentinians (Adversus omnes haereses 1.1-8.4). The Father is described as being pre-existent, living in rest and solitude. His partner is called Grace and Silence.

After the figure of the Father, A Valentinian Exposition turns to that of the Son. He is called “the Mind of the All, coming from the Root of All, a spring which exists in Silence and speaks only with himself” (22.31-23.23). Above all, “he is the projector of the All and the very hypostasis of the Father” (24.22-23).

In what follows, A Valentinian Exposition enumerates a number of hypostases, among whom Horos plays a role of the first order, being “the Mind of the Son” and having the function of separating Bythos from the aeons (27.35-37).

is described as “not manifest but invisible while he remains within limit,” and he “possesses four powers, a separator, a confirmer, a form-provider and a substance-provider” (26.29-34). Then follows the description of a tetrad formed by Word, Life, Man, and Church. Let us recall here the composition of the second tetrad in the account of Irenaeus of the Valentinians: Word, Life, Man, and Church (1.8.6 and 1.1.1). This created tetrad resembles and reproduces, the author of the Exposition tells us, the superior uncreated tetrad. All these elements make up the pleroma (31.25-29), which is formed by 360 hypostases, equivalent to the 360 days of the year of the Lord (30.30-39, cf. Eugnostos III 3.83.15-20, where the powers of the heavens are 360 in number). We are here faced with speculations based on the lunar year (for the 360 hypostases, cf. Agapius, Kitab al-Unvan, histoire du Maudit Ibn- Daican (Bardesanes), fol. 29 in Patrologia Orientalis 7, ed. A. Scher, 1909, p. 520; and Chronique de Michel le Syrien, Patrologia Orientalis 1, 1899, ed. B. Chabot, para. 110, p. 184).

Beginning with page 33 of the Exposition, in a text full of lacunae, we meet with the story of Sophia, marked once more by Valentinian features. Through brief allusions the author of the Exposition evokes the sufferings of Sophia (33.36-38), her repentance, her invocation of the Father, her pangs of conscience (cf. Irenaeus 1.2.3): “Granted that I have left my consort. Therefore I am beyond confirmation as well. I deserve the passions I suffer.” Sophia recalls the existence she led in heaven: “I used to dwell in the pleroma putting forth the Aeons and bearing fruit with my consort.” She knows what she was and what she has become (34.31-32; cf. Excerpta ex Theodoto 78). The children of Sophia are abortions, “incomplete and formless” (35.12-14; cf. Irenaeus 1.2.3).

The author specifies that these things take place without the will of the Father, for “this is the will of the Father: not to allow anything to happen in the pleroma apart from a syzygy. Again the will of the Father is: always produce and bear fruit. That she should suffer, then, was not the will of the Father, for she dwells in herself alone without her consort” (36.29-38). The story of Sophia ends in classic fashion (cf. Exegesis on the Soul 133.12-16), and the author underlines the joy of her reunion with her bridegroom, as well as the unity and reconciliation of the pleroma (39.30-35).

Finally, pages 40-44 of the Exposition are devoted to the sacraments of unction, baptism, and the Eucharist. They constitute for the community to which the author addresses himself and are put in the mouth of and presented as “the full content of the summary of knowledge which was revealed to us by our Christ.”

Two themes of Jewish origin deserve to be briefly singled out from the Exposition. At page 38.27-28 we read: “and there took place the struggle with the apostasy of the and mankind, those of the right with those of the left, and those in heaven with those on the earth, the spirits with the carnal and the devil against God. Therefore the angels lusted after the daughters of men and came down to flesh so that god would cause a flood.” The series of oppositions in which the first member is positive, the second negative, finds a parallel in the TRIPARTITE TRACTATE 38.14-22 and in the GOSPEL OF PHILIP, paragraph 40. The fundamental text for these speculations on the contraries is the on the two spirits in the scroll of the Qumran Rule (I QS III, 19-26).

More precisely the contrast of “right” and “left” (i.e., the way of good and the way of evil), for which the classic text, of clearly Jewish inspiration, remains the Shepherd of Hermas 9.9, is also found in the texts (Excerpta ex Theodoto 34.1; 43.1; 47.2 where earthly equals left and heavenly equals right; Irenaeus, Adversus omnes haereses Gospel of Truth 31.35-32.20; Tripartite Tractate 104.10; 105.7; 106.21, 108.14, 21-23 . . .; Pistis Sophia 128, 354, 361, 362, etc.). The author of the Valentinian Exposition recalls briefly the fall of the and their consummated with the daughters of men.

This myth, which had a considerable vogue in Jewish and later literature (Martin, 1906), was the object of attentive exegesis among the Gnostics (cf. of John II 29.17-30.11; On the Origin of the World 123.9-15; Tripartite Tractate 135.1-15; Gospel of the Egyptians 61.20-22; Testimony of Truth 41.1-5; Scopello, 1980).

The other passage of the Exposition that calls for comment concerns the “Day of Atonement.” The high priest’s entry into the holy of holies is placed on the level of the pleroma, and recalls the mystical exegesis of Philo of the day on Yom Kippur (Goodenough, 1935; cf. De gigantibus 52-55; De Mosis II, 99; Specialibus legibus 71-72; Quaestiones in Exodum 93ff.; cf. also the tractate Yoma, according to Mishna and Talmud; for Nag Hammadi, see the GOSPEL OF PHILIP, paras. 76, 125; see also Excerpta ex Theodoto 27.1; 38.2).

  • Festugière, A. J. La Révelation d’Hermés Trismégiste, Vols. 1-4, especially Vol. 2. Paris, 1942-1953.
  • Ginzberg, L. The Legends of the Jews, Vol. 7, p. 35. Philadelphia, 1946. On the fallen angels.
  • Goodenough, E. R. By Light, Light; The Mystic Gospel of Hellenistic Judaism, pp. 95-120. New Haven, 1935. Martin, F. Le Livre d’Hénoch, pp. 122-39. Paris, 1906.
  • Scopello, M. “Le Mythe de la chute des anges dans l’ de Jean de Nag Hammadi.” des sciences religieuses 54 (1980):220-30.