Pistis Sophia

H. repeats, from his detailed study (above, 24a), his reasons for assigning the contents of P.S. Divv. i.-iii. to the latter half of 3rd cent. He says that Liechtenhan’s final opinion (above, 41) on ‘The Questions of Mary’ problem is not far from his own view. Why H. assigns the treatises of the Bruce Codex to the 5th or 6th cent. (!) is not set forth.

1904. Liechtenhan (R.). Art. ‘Ophiten,’ in Schaff-Herzog’s Real-encycl. f. protest. Theologie, 3rd ed., vol. xiv.

L. (p. 405) includes the P.S. among a score of sects which he brings together under this too general heading of ‘Ophites.’

(A shortened form of the above appears in The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopaedia of Religious Knowledge (New York), 1910, vol. viii.)

1904. Granger (F.). Art. ‘The Poemandres of Hermes Trismegistus,’ in The Journal of Theological Studies (London), v. 395-412.

G. (p. 401) questions whether the P.S. is a translation from the Greek; but the only reason he advances is the hazardous statement that: “The Egyptian Gnostic writings of the third century exhibit the same qualities of style as the Coptic biographies and apocalypses of the fourth and following centuries.”

1905. Schmidt (C.). Koptisch-gnostische Schriften. Bd. I. Die Pistis Sophia. Die beiden Bucher des Jeu. Unbekanntes altgnostisches Werk (Leipzig), xxvii + 410 pp.

Bd. II. is to contain the three unpublished works of the Berlin Codex entitled: (1) The Gospel of Mary; (2) The Apocryphon of John; (3) The Wisdom of Jesus Christ. (See

[p. lxiv]

my Fragments of a Faith Forgotten, 2nd ed., London, 1906, pp. 579-592, for a summary of Schmidt’s notice of the Codex, published in Sitzungsber. der Konigl. Preuss. Akademie

lost famous writing of Valentinus so entitled?

d. Wissensch., Berlin, 1896 pp. 839 ff., entitled ‘Bin vorirenaeisches gnostisches Original-werk in koptischer Sprache.’) This long-expected second volume has not yet seen the light. The contents are of great value, for The Apocryphon of John, in its original Greek form, lay before Irenaeus, and in an appendix to Schmidt’s notice Harnack ventures the query: Can The Wisdom (Sophia) of Jesus Christ possibly be the

In the Introduction (pp. ix-xviii) S. sums up the results of his prior studies. The Translation of the P.S. occupies pp. 1-254, and is deserving of the highest praise.

1905. Crum (W. E.). Catalogue of the Coptic MSS. in the British Museum (London), p. 173.

The B.M. official description of the Askew Codex.

1907. Schmidt (C.). Art. ‘Irenaus and seine Quelle in Adv. Haer. I. 29,’ in
Philotesia. Paul Kleinert zum LXX. Geburtstag dargebracht von Adolf Harnack, u.s.w., pp. 317-336.

This is a very important study, in which S. again treats of The Apocryphon of John in the unpublished Coptic Gnostic Berlin Codex, on which he had already specially dwelt in reporting for the first time the contents of the Codex to the Prussian Academy in 1896. The Greek original is early, and a copy of it lay before Irenaeus. We are thus in a position to estimate the nature of the Church Father’s method of quotation and summarizing, and it is clearly proved to be unreliable. S. definitely assigns this special document to a Sethian circle in Egypt, and brings its aeon-lore into close touch with Valentinian ideas. He says nothing, unfortunately, of how this document and the other two of the Codex–namely, The Gospel of Mary and The Wisdom of Jesus

Christ–bear on the line of descent of the doctrines of the P.S. Doubtless he is reserving his treatment of the subject for his long-expected edition of the whole Berlin Codex, which for the first time will give us first-hand knowledge of

second-century Gnosticism, and, judging by what little S. has already disclosed to us, throw a brilliant light on some of the most puzzling obscurities in the history of the development of Gnostic doctrine.

1907. Bousset (W.). Hauptprobleme der Gnosis (Gottingen), 398 pp.

This is a study of the greatest value from the comparative [p. lxv]

standpoint. Though Lipsius (above, 20) had already drawn attention to the point, B.

goes further by showing in detail the close connection between some main notions of the Manichaean religion and some features of the P.S., whereas Schmidt (1892, pp. 375, 404, 417, 564) had previously drawn attention to isolated parallels only. In dealing with the system of the P.S. (pp. 346-350) B. writes: “There can be no doubt at all on the affinity between the two systems. The only possible question which remains is whether in the P.S. and II. Jeu direct dependence on the Manichaean system comes up for discussion, or whether a common source underlies both systems. The latter appears to me provisionally to be the more probable hypothesis. Many of the kindred ideas appear in the P.S. in their more original and purer form, the figure of the Virgin of Light has in the P.S. meaning and great importance, whereas in the Manichaean system she is a shadowy form by the side of the Third Envoy. If the latter supposition proves correct, Mani would have far less right of claim to originality for his system than has hitherto seemed to be the case.”

1909. Rendel Harris (J.). The Odes and Psalms of Solomon, now first published from the Syriac Version (Cambridge). The editio princeps of the now recovered 42 Odes; previously only the five in the P.S. were known.

R. H. devotes pp. 16-35 to treating of the use of the Odes in the P.S. On p. 35 he writes: “The Pistis Sophia, in which the Odes are imbedded, dates from the third century, and the author of the Pistis had, as we have shown, the Odes bound up with his Canonical Psalter; at the time intimated there was no Coptic [Thebaic] Bible from which the extracts could have been made; so we may be sure the Odes were taken from a Greek

Bible, and, with almost equal certainty, that the Pistis Sophia itself was a Greek book.” For R. H.’s change of opinion see below, 60.

York), vol. vi.

1909. Arendzen (J. P.). Art. ‘Gnosticism,’ in The Catholic Encyclopaedia (New

P. S. is summarily and inadequately dealt with on p. 600.

1910. Bousset (W.). Art. ‘Gnosticism,’ in Encyclopaedia Britannica (London), 11th ed. B., following the prevailing German view, assigns P.S. to the 2nd half of 3rd cent.;
he, however, thinks that both treatises of the Bruce Codex are later than P.S., but does not argue this important question.

[p. lxvi]

1912. Bousset (W.). Arts. ‘Gnosis’ and ‘Gnostiker,’ in Paulys Real-Encyklopadie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft (ed. Wissowa-Kroll, Berlin).

B. here, in section 10, treats of the P.S. and the C.B. as belonging to the period when Gnosticism had got out of hand or was running wild (‘Die Verwilderung der Gnosis’). He does not, however, repeat his view of the later date of C.B., and says that the eschatology of the P.S. is strongly reminiscent of Valentinian speculations.

1912. Worrell (W. H.). Art. ‘The Odes of Solomon and the Pistis Sophia,’ in The Journal of Theological Studies (London), xiii. 29-46.

An interesting study. Gives translations of the five Odes from the Coptic and Syriac and seems to blame R. Harris for using Schwartze’s Latin version instead of Schmidt’s more modern rendering in his quotations from the P.S.

1913. Scott (E. F.). Art. ‘Gnosticism,’ in Hastings’ Encycl. of Relig. and Ethics (Edinburgh), vi. 231-242.

“There can be little doubt that the Coptic writings (Pistis Sophia, etc.) present a variety of the Barbelo-Gnosis” (p. 239a). P.S. was written in Egypt at close of 3rd cent. (p. 241b). This is by no means certain; we must wait for Schmidt’s full translation and commentary on The Apocryphon of John before any definite conclusion can be reached.

1913. De Faye (E.). Gnostiques et Gnosticisme: Etude critique des Documents du Gnosticisme chretien aux IIe et IIIe Siecles (Paris). Pt. iii. ‘Ecrits gnostiques en Langue copte,’ pp. 247-311.

D. F. agrees with Harnack and Schmidt as to the most probable date being the 2nd half of the 3rd cent. (p. 254). He thinks that Div. iii. is the lost Little Questions of Mary, favouring Harnack against Schmidt, whom he blames (p. 266) for abandoning this view in the Introduction (p. xviii) to his Translation (above, 45), after first adopting it in his earlier work. He thinks that Schmidt has made out his case for the two Jell Books against the reservations of Preuschen and Liechtenhan (p. 291). D. F. is strongly opposed to the hypothesis of a Valentinian origin (p. 251); he is also very critical of the general Ophite theory (p. 327) and of the special Severian theory of Schmidt (p. 355). He has no precise view of his own as to origin; but, in keeping with his general thesis, which would make most, if not all, of the anonymous and pseudonymous systems later and degenerate

[p. lxvii]

forms of the more metaphysical views of a Basilides, a Valentinus and a Marcion, he is content to leave the P.S. to a later, period of degeneration. His general metaphysical test can hardly be said to be a criterion for history. Metaphysic does not come first; philosophizing is a secondary stage, and this is certainly the case in the general development of the Gnosis which starts in a strongly mythological and apocalyptic circle of ideas.

1913. Scott-Moncrieff (P. D.). Paganism and Christianity in Egypt (Cambridge), pp. 148-182, ch. vii., ‘Some Aspects of Gnosticism: Pistis Sophia.’

After a review of contents and literature, with regard to place of origin the author writes (p. 175): “But if of Syrian origin the scheme betrays here and there marked signs of Egyptian influence, and the fact that the work was sufficiently important to be translated into the native tongue shows without doubt that the sect which inspired it was an Egyptian branch who dwelt in Egypt.” This is of course generally evident. S.-M. thinks, however, that the question of translation may be pressed too much. Without attempting any justification of his opinion, he asserts that “the Coptic text is at the earliest a fifth-century work when Gnosticism was fast dying out and could

only be practised furtively.” Surely the author is here confusing the probable date of the Askew Codex copy with the question of date of the original?

‘The System of the Pistis Sophia and its Related Texts.’

1915. Legge (G. F.). Forerunners and Rivals of Christianity: Being Studies in Religious History from 330 B.C. to 330 A.D. (Cambridge), 2 vols., ii. 134-202, ch. x.,
Divv. i. and ii. presuppose belief in a system resembling those of the Ophites and of Valentinus (p. 135). Divv. iii. and iv. are probably Marcosian in origin (p. 173), in any case later (!) than Divv. i. and ii. (p. 184). In this L. partially revives Bunsen’s rejected theory (above, 11). He accepts translation from a Greek original, and continues (p. 177): “We must . . . look for an author who, though an Egyptian and acquainted with the native Egyptian religion, would naturally have written in Greek; and on the whole there is no one who fulfils these requirements so well as Valentinus himself. The fact that the author never quotes from the Gospel according to St. John indicates that it had not come to his knowledge.” L.’s criticism (pp. 161 f.) of Harnack’s parallels from this Gospel (above, 24a), however, does not seem

[p. lxviii]

to me satisfactory. The first commentary on the Fourth Gospel was made by a Valentinian. L.’s view of authorship of the P.S. revives the Valentinian hypothesis in its most radical form. The two books of the Bruce Codex, which Schmidt calls ‘The Books of Jeu,’ are not the books referred to in the P.S. “which therefore remains the parent document” (p. 194).

1918. Moffat (J.). Art. ‘Pistis Sophia,’ in Hastings’ Encycl. of Relig. and Ethics (Edinburgh), x. 45-48.

This is a useful, if brief, summary of contents and prior opinions. M. takes up a moderate position when he says that, though the P.S. is to be assigned to some Gnostic circles in Egypt, its particular type of Gnosticism cannot be identified. He thinks, however, on the whole that the occurrence of the name Barbelo assigns our miscellany “to some circle more or less allied to the pious theosophists of the 2nd cent. whom we know as the Ophites collectively, and as the Nicolaitans, Simonians and

Barbelo-Gnostics specifically.” H. thinks the Yew Books mentioned in the P.S. can hardly be the books of C.B. I.

1919. Schmidt (C.). Gesprache Jesu mit seinen Jungern nach der Auferstehung. Ein katholisch-apostolisches Sendschreiben des 2. Jahrhunderts nach einem koptischen Papyrus des Institut de la Mission Archeolog. Francaise au Caire, enter Mitarbeit von Herrn Pierre Lacau . . . General Director d. Agpt. Mus. Ubersetzung des athiopischen Texts von Dr Isaak Wajnberg (Leipzig). (T. u. U. Bd. xliii.)

The external form of this interesting and important document is an Epistle, resembling that of the Catholic Epistles of the N.T. But within, it passes into the form of an apocalypse, and that too of Discourses between Jesus and his Disciples after the Resurrection. This latter characteristic is otherwise not found in Catholic documents; it is a Gnostic peculiarity, of which the P.S. is a classical example, the other instances being what Schmidt calls the ‘Two Books of Jeu’ of the Bruce Codex and of The Gospel of Mary and of The Wisdom of Jesus Christ of the Berlin Codex. The Questions of Mary, The Great and The Little, of Epiphanius’ ‘Gnostici’ were also of this

post-resurrectional type of discourses (p. 206).

S. does not re-discuss the question of date of the P.S. by the light of this new find, but it is clearly of importance, seeing that with regard to the new document he concludes

[p. lxix] [paragraph continues] (p. 402): “The Epistola Apostolorum is written by a representative of the Catholic Church with the intention of attacking the Gnostic heresies, especially Docetism. The country of origin is Asia Minor, and the date is the second half of the second century, more precisely 160-170 A.D.”

1920. Rendel Harris (J.) and Mingana (A.). The Odes and Psalms of Solomon,
re-edited for the Governors of the John Rylands Library (Manchester), 2 vols. Text, 1912; Tr. and Notes, 1920.

trouble of making a fresh translation, there is a strong presumption that the P.S. is a

Here R. H. entirely changes his view of P.S. being a translation from the Greek. He now thinks that (p. 117): “Unless . . . the P.S. has substituted the Sahidic [Bible] version for some other version which lay before the author, of which he has avoided the

genuine Coptic book, and not a rendering of some other work (Greek or Syriac) into Coptic.” He rejects (p. 183) Worrell’s theory (above, 53) of a Gnostic Hymn- and

Psalm-book, and criticizes (pp. 186 f.) Rahlfs’ discovery of two versions of the Psalms (above, 40). He is accordingly opposed to the general view of translation from the Greek, and suggests (p. 186) that the matter needs some further elucidation. It cannot, however, be said that his argument is in any way convincing.

As to the Odes of Solomon themselves, which have produced so large and instructive a literature since the first edition was published, their lucky discoverer and able editor, in reviewing the whole question, thinks we cannot go far wrong if we conclude that they were written at Antioch in the 1st century (p. 69).

Pistis Sophia, by G.R.S. Mead, [1921], at sacred-texts.com [p. 1] [THE FIRST BOOK OF]



1.IT came to pass, when Jesus had risen from the dead, that he passed eleven years discoursing with his disciples, and instructing them only up to the regions of the First Commandment and up to the regions of the First Mystery, that within the Veil, within the First Commandment, which is the four-and-twentieth mystery without and

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