The Apocryphon / Secret Book of John: a summary (series on Gnosticism, part 1)
The text in question is a second-century Sethian Gnostic Christian text of secret teachings. It was known to the church father Irenaeus, so it must have been written before around 180 CE. The book portrays Jesus as appearing to the Apostle John and providing him unique, secret revelation. Below are some notes summarizing its content:
-Applies a Platonizing cosmology, roots in Platonizing cosmology, especially that of the Timaeus. Applied as a mystical re-interpretation of the first couple of chapters of the book of Genesis; consists of the initial chapters of Genesis twice, first with respect to the origin of the transcendent divine realm, and then again to articulate the Demiurge’s fabrication of the inferior, material world.
-The text explains the origin of multiplicity in the transcendent realm, by describing the One (Father) gazing into his own reflection in the light-water, generating Barbelo, Pronoia, “the Mother.” The Mother gives birth to Sophia / Epinoia / Wisdom. The Mother is thus produced from the self-reflective knowledge of the Father rather than ex nihilo.
-The fatherless Yaldabaoth (the Gnostic term for the Yahweh of the Old Testament), a demented and arrogant deity who believes himself to be the origin of all things, is produced by Sophia’s disobedience. He creates several minions as servants and repeatedly attempts to dominate a spiritually superior humanity. Yalda-boath is said to copulate with Aponoia (“Madness”) to generate his angelic minions.
-The image of the perfect human appears as light on the water below. The Demiurge creates his own being (Adam) in the image of the perfect human and their own likeness.
-Christ persuades Yaldabaoth to breathe Sophia’s spirit into Adam. Mother-Pronoia sends female savior Epinoia to hide in Adam and act as his teacher. The ruling minions of the Demiurge tempt Adam and try to deceive him with beauty, food, and eventually, sexual desire. Epinoia leads Adam to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, protecting him from the trap of the Demiurge.
-Mother-Pronoia also sends down the female savior Epinoia to hide in Adam and instruct him. The rulers then try to tempt Adam and deceive him with food, beauty, wealth and sexual desire, but Epinoia leads Adam to eat of the Tree of Knowledge so that he escapes these traps.
-The rulers perceive Epinoia and try to capture her by bringing a trance over Adam and surgically removing a part of the Mother-Sophia’s power from him and placing it in the shape of a human woman (Eve), modeled after Epinoia. Yaldabaoth (Yahweh) rapes Eve, producing Cain and Ebel, but Adam sees his own likeness in the divine essence of Eve — he immediately recognizes his divine essence in Eve, and this causes their sexual intercours eto produce a spiritually superior humanity and it is said that it is on the basis of this perception that they become one flesh.
-Seth becomes the archetype of the spiritual superior humanity. The rulers try to destroy humanity with a flood and deceive them with a counterfeit spirit, but the Mother-Pronoia sends her Spirit to save humanity.
-The initial Trinity consists of Father / Mother / Son, and these create several generations following from them hierarchically, with the lower world an imitation of this ideal, that appears as Adam, Eve and Seth (as above, so below).
-Yaldabaoth tries to dominate humanity through the production of sexual desire, generated through the lower rulers. The serpent is villainous for teaching Adam and Eve about sexual desire, including marital intercourse, which is described as wicked and polluting. Nevertheless, this plan backfires because humans are wiser than Yaldabaoth.
-The highest Deity as “It” or as “He” shifts depending upon whether God is characterized as the One (the Invisible Spirit, prior to explicit sex/gender
differentiation) or as Father. Barbelo is described with both male and female pronouns and descriptors, such as the first Human (m.), the Mother, the Mother-Father, and Pronoia (f.).
-The Savior alternately appears to John as an old man, a child and (in the
shorter version of BG ) a woman, stating “I am the Father, I am the Mother, I am the Son” (I don’t know if this reveals some kind of modalism or what). The Savior urges humanity to discover and cultivate its fundamental spiritual nature, as made in the Image of the First Human and filled with the Spirit of the Mother. Christ (the Son) sometimes describes himself as “the perfect Pronoia” and likewise sometimes identifies with Epinoia.
-The demigods created by the Demiurge are likewise regarded as androgynous but in a degenerate way that ultimately repudiates the patriarchal family (which, despite its gender ‘fluidity,’ is regarded as ultimately positive and ideal, as opposed to the androgyny of Yaldabaoth and his creations).
-Yaldabaoth is ultimately created by a disobedient divine Sophia who tries to create a likeness of herself without the consent of the Spirit or participation of male counterpart, which disrupts the harmony of the patriarchal divine household. Wisdom/Sophia’s role as “revealer” and “teacher” are nevertheless likewise ascribe to Pronoia, Epinoia and Christ. In any case, her disobedience produces a fundamentally different kind of offspring that is evil. Yaldabaoth is a kind of personificaton of Sophia’s disobedience.
-Eve is created in the image of the divine Epinoia, who speaks through Eve, and she also possesses the Spirit of the Mother-Sophia, stolen by Yaldabaoth.
-The birthing of Seth recapitulates the misguided autonomy of Sophia and rectifies this error, and restores the divine lineage (it is for this reason that Adam calls Eve “the mother of the living” — Sophia’s deficiency will be rectified through her). This overcomes the Chief Ruler’s use of sexual intercourse, motivated purely by lust, to produce likenesses in a counterfeit spirit that would be subject to his rule.