And before anything came into being, it was the Father alone who existed, before the worlds that are in the heavens appeared, or the world that is on the earth, or principality, or authority, or the powers. […] appear […] and […] And nothing came into being without his wish.
He, then, the Father, wishing to reveal his wealth and his glory, brought about this great contest in this world, wishing to make the contestants appear, and make all those who contend leave behind the things that had come into being, and despise them with a lofty, incomprehensible knowledge, and flee to the one who exists.
And (as for) those who contend with us, being adversaries who contend against us, we are to be victorious over their ignorance through our knowledge, since we have already known the Inscrutable One from whom we have come forth. We have nothing in this world, lest the authority of the world that has come into being should detain us in the worlds that are in the heavens, those in which universal death exists, surrounded by the individual […] worldly. We have also become ashamed of the worlds, though we take no interest in them when they malign us. And we ignore them when they curse us. When they cast shame in our face, we look at them and do not speak.
For they work at their business, but we go about in hunger (and) in thirst, looking toward our dwelling-place, the place which our conduct and our conscience look toward, not clinging to the things which have come into being, but withdrawing from them. Our hearts are set on the things that exist, though we are ill (and) feeble (and) in pain. But there is a great strength hidden within us.
Our soul indeed is ill because she dwells in a house of poverty, while matter strikes blows at her eyes, wishing to make her blind. For this reason she pursues the word and applies it to her eyes as a medicine <opening> them, casting away […] thought of a […] blindness in […] afterwards, when that one is again in ignorance, he is completely darkened and is material. Thus the soul […] a word every hour, to apply it to her eyes as a medicine in order that she may see, and her light may conceal the hostile forces that fight with her, and she may make them blind with her light, and enclose them in her presence, and make them fall down in sleeplessness, and she may act boldly with her strength and with her scepter.
While her enemies look at her in shame, she runs upward into her treasure-house – the one in which her mind is – and (into) her storehouse which is secure, since nothing among the things that have come into being has seized her, nor has she received a stranger into her house. For many are her homeborn ones who fight against her by day and by night, having no rest by day or by night, for their lust oppresses them.
For this reason, then, we do not sleep, nor do we forget the nets that are spread out in hiding, lying in wait for us to catch us. For if we are caught in a single net, it will suck us down into its mouth, while the water flows over us, striking our face. And we will be taken down into the dragnet, and we will not be able to come up from it, because the waters are high over us, flowing from above downward, submerging our heart down in the filthy mud. And we will not be able to escape from them. For man-eaters will seize us and swallow us, rejoicing like a fisherman casting a hook into the water. For he casts many kinds of food into the water because each one of the fish has his own food. He smells it and pursues its odor. But when he eats it, the hook hidden within the food seizes him and brings him up by force out of the deep waters. No man is able, then, to catch that fish down in the deep waters, except for the trap that the fisherman sets. By the ruse of
food he brought the fish up on the hook.
In this very way we exist in this world, like fish. The adversary spies on us, lying in wait for us like a fisherman, wishing to seize us, rejoicing that he might swallow us. For he places many foods before our eyes (things) which belong to this world. He wishes to make us desire one of them and to taste only a little, so that he may seize us with his hidden poison and bring us out of freedom and take us into slavery. For whenever he catches us with a single food, it is indeed necessary for us to desire the rest. Finally, then, such things become the food of death.
Now these are the foods with which the devil lies in wait for us. First he injects a pain into your heart until you have heartache on account of a small thing of this life, and he seizes (you) with his poisons. And afterward (he injects) the desire of a tunic, so that you will pride yourself in it, and love of money, pride, vanity, envy that rivals another envy, beauty of body, fraudulence. The greatest of all these are ignorance and ease.
Now all such things the adversary prepares beautifully and spreads out before the body, wishing to make the mind of the soul incline her toward one of them and overwhelm her, like a hook, drawing her by force in ignorance, deceiving her until she conceives evil, and bears fruit of matter, and conducts herself in uncleanness, pursuing many desires, covetousnesses, while fleshly pleasure draws her in ignorance.
But the soul – she who has tasted these things – realized that sweet passions are transitory. She had learned about evil; she went away from them and she entered into a new conduct. Afterwards she despises this life, because it is transitory. And she looks for those foods that will take her into life, and leaves behind her those deceitful foods. And she learns about her light, as she goes about stripping off this world, while her true garment clothes her within, (and) her bridal clothing is placed upon her in beauty of mind, not in pride of flesh. And she learns about her depth and runs into her fold, while
her shepherd stands at the door. In return for all the shame and scorn, then, that she received in this world, she receives ten thousand times the grace and glory.
She gave the body to those who had given it to her, and they were ashamed, while the dealers in bodies sat down and wept because they were not able to do any business with that body, nor did they find any (other) merchandise except it. They endured great labors until they had shaped the body of this soul, wishing to strike down the invisible soul. They were therefore ashamed of their work; they suffered the loss of the one for whom they had endured labors. They did not realize that she has an invisible spiritual body, thinking, “We are her shepherd who feeds her.” But they did not realize that she knows another way, which is hidden from them. This her true shepherd taught her in knowledge.
But these – the ones who are ignorant – do not seek after God. Nor do they inquire about their dwelling-place, which exists in rest, but they go about in bestiality. They are more wicked than the pagans, because first of all they do not inquire about God, for their hardness of heart draws them down to make them their cruelty. Furthermore, if they find someone else who asks about his salvation, their hardness of heart sets to work upon that man. And if he does not stop asking, they kill him by their cruelty, thinking that they have done a good thing for themselves.
Indeed they are sons of the devil! For even pagans give charity, and they know that God who is in the heavens exists, the Father of the universe, exalted over their idols, which
they worship. But they have not heard the word, that they should inquire about his ways.
Thus the senseless man hears the call, but he is ignorant of the place to which he has been called. And he did not ask during the preaching, “Where is the temple into which I should go and worship my hope?”
On account of his senselessness, then, he is worse than a pagan, for the pagans know the way to go to their stone temple, which will perish, and they worship their idol, while their hearts are set on it because it is their hope. But to this senseless man the word has been preached, teaching him, “Seek and inquire about the ways you should go, since there is nothing else that is as good as this thing.” The result is that the substance of hardness of heart strikes a blow upon his mind, along with the force of ignorance and the demon of error. They do not allow his mind to rise up, because he was wearying himself in seeking that he might learn about his hope.
But the rational soul who (also) wearied herself in seeking – she learned about God. She labored with inquiring, enduring distress in the body, wearing out her feet after the evangelists, learning about the Inscrutable One. She found her rising. She came to rest in him who is at rest. She reclined in the bride-chamber. She ate of the banquet for which she had hungered. She partook of the immortal food. She found what she had sought after. She received rest from her labors, while the light that shines forth upon her does not sink. To it belongs the glory and the power and the revelation for ever and ever. Amen.
Selection made from James M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library, revised edition. HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1990.
THE GNOSTIC SOCIETY LIBRARY
The Nag Hammadi Library
The Book of Thomas the Contender
Translated by John D. Turner
The secret words that the savior spoke to Judas Thomas which I, even I, Mathaias, wrote down, while I was walking, listening to them speak with one another.
The savior said, “Brother Thomas while you have time in the world, listen to me, and I will reveal to you the things you have pondered in your mind.
“Now, since it has been said that you are my twin and true companion, examine yourself, and learn who you are, in what way you exist, and how you will come to be. Since you will be called my brother, it is not fitting that you be ignorant of yourself. And I know that you have understood, because you had already understood that I am the knowledge of the truth. So while you accompany me, although you are uncomprehending, you have (in fact) already come to know, and you will be called ‘the one who knows himself’. For he who has not known himself has known nothing, but he who has known himself has at the same time already achieved knowledge about the depth of the all. So then, you, my brother Thomas, have beheld what is obscure to men, that is, what they ignorantly stumble against.”
Now Thomas said to the lord, “Therefore I beg you to tell me what I ask you before your ascension, and when I hear from you about the hidden things, then I can speak about
them. And it is obvious to me that the truth is difficult to perform before men.”
The savior answered, saying, “If the things that are visible to you are obscure to you, how can you hear about the things that are not visible? If the deeds of the truth that are visible in the world are difficult for you to perform, how indeed, then, shall you perform those that pertain to the exalted height and to the pleroma which are not visible? And how shall you be called ‘laborers’? In this respect you are apprentices, and have not yet received the height of perfection.”
Now Thomas answered and said to the savior, “Tell us about these things that you say are not visible, but are hidden from us.”
The savior said, “All bodies […] the beasts are begotten […] it is evident like […] this, too, those that are above […] things that are visible, but they are visible in their own root, and it is their fruit that nourishes them. But these visible bodies survive by devouring creatures similar to them with the result that the bodies change. Now that which changes
will decay and perish, and has no hope of life from then on, since that body is bestial. So just as the body of the beasts perishes, so also will these formations perish. Do they not derive from intercourse like that of the beasts? If it, too derives from intercourse, how will it beget anything different from beasts? So, therefore, you are babes until you become perfect.”
And Thomas answered, “Therefore I say to you, lord, that those who speak about things that are invisible and difficult to explain are like those who shoot their arrows at a target at night. To be sure, they shoot their arrows as anyone would – since they shoot at the
target – but it is not visible. Yet when the light comes forth and hides the darkness, then
the work of each will appear. And you, our light, enlighten, O lord.” Jesus said, “It is in light that light exists.”
Thomas, spoke, saying, “Lord, why does this visible light that shines on behalf of men rise and set?”
The savior said, “O blessed Thomas, of course this visible light shines on your behalf – not in order that you remain here, but rather that you might come forth – and whenever all the elect abandon bestiality, then this light will withdraw up to its essence, and its essence will welcome it, since it is a good servant.”
Then the savior continued and said, “O unsearchable love of the light! O bitterness of the fire that blazes in the bodies of men and in their marrow, kindling in them night and day, and burning the limbs of men and making their minds become drunk and their souls become deranged […] them within males and females […] night and moving them, […] secretly and visibly. For the males move […] upon the females and the females upon the males. Therefore it is said, “Everyone who seeks the truth from true wisdom will make himself wings so as to fly, fleeing the lust that scorches the spirits of men.” And he will make himself wings to flee every visible spirit.”
And Thomas answered, saying, “Lord, this is exactly what I am asking you about, since I have understood that you are the one who is beneficial to us, as you say.”
Again the savior answered and said, “Therefore it is necessary for us to speak to you, since this is the doctrine of the perfect. If, now, you desire to become perfect, you shall observe these things; if not, your name is ‘Ignorant’, since it is impossible for an intelligent man to dwell with a fool, for the intelligent man is perfect in all wisdom. To the fool, however, the good and bad are the same – indeed the wise man will be nourished by the truth and (Ps. 1:3) “will be like a tree growing by the meandering stream” – seeing that there are some who, although having wings, rush upon the visible things, things that are far from the truth. For that which guides them, the fire, will give them an illusion of truth, and will shine on them with a perishable beauty, and it will imprison them in a dark sweetness and captivate them with fragrant pleasure. And it will blind them with insatiable lust and burn their souls and become for them like a stake stuck in their heart which they can never dislodge. And like a bit in the mouth, it leads them according to its
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