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The Hypostasis of the Archons or The Reality of the Rulers

  • Bentley Layton


The Manuscript. This extraordinary tale survives in a single Coptic manuscript from the Gnostic Library of Nag‘Ḥammadi. Acquired by the Coptic Museum of Old Cairo in 1956, the manuscript bears the inventory number 10544 and in current nomenclature is designated codex Cairensis gnosticus II (CG II). In earlier scholarship it was codex I (J. Doresse, Vig. Christ. 3 [1949] 133–134), codex III (H.-Ch. Puech, Coptic Studies…Crum [1950]), and codex X (Doresse, Les livres secrets des gnostique d'Egypte, vol. I [1958].



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1 The great importance of gnosticism in the history of early Christian thought was stressed by Nock, A. D. in the preface to Early Gentile Christianity and its Hellenistic Background (New York, 1964), now reprinted in his Essays on Religion and the Ancient World, ed. Stewart, Z. (Oxford, 1972). For provisional summaries of what is known about the obscure discovery and subsequent history of Nag' Hammadi manuscripts, the reader may refer to Robinson, J. M., The Coptic Gnostic Library Today, NTS 14 (1967) 356401 and the Introduction (issued as a booklet) to the Facsimile Edition of the Nag Hammadi Codices that is presently being published by E. J. Brill in Leiden (1972–). The circumstances through which the Library was preserved — and, indeed, whether ‘library’ is the correct term at all — cannot be understood until the site of discovery (a cemetery opposite Nag' Hammadi) has been excavated.

2 All the bibliography on these texts can be conveniently found in Scholer, D. M., Nag Hammadi Bibliography 1948–1969 (Nag Hammadi Studies 1), Leiden, 1971, with annual supplements in the autumn number of Novum Testamentum from vol. 13 (1971).

3 The two photographs (front and back of a single piece) were identified by Mr. Charles Hedrick; the whereabouts of the fragments themselves is now unknown. Enlarged reproductions of these photographs appear in the Plate at the end of this edition.

4 In the facsimile of the text edited here, splices occur on pages 89, 90, 91, and 92 (indicated by underlining in the Coptic text below). Through the kindness of Mr. James Brashler, technical editor of the Facsimile Edition of Codex II, I was able to examine a copy of the volume before finishing this Preface. On p. 91, at the end of line 27, the spliced Facsimile photograph is mysteriously inaccurate; the heavy black traces seen over the letter Nu are not to be found in the original negative. A reproduction of codex p. 94 (pl. 142 Labib) also appears in Cramer, M., Koptische Paläographie (Wiesbaden, 1964) pl. 30a; of p. 87 (pl. 135) lines 1–14, in ZPE 11 (1973) pl. 4c.

5 Giversen, S., Apocryphon Johannis (Acta Theologica Danica 5), Copenhagen, 1963, pp. 1929; simultaneously, appearing in 1963, Krause, M. and Labib, Pahor, Die drei Versionen des Apocryphon des Johannes (ADAIK, Kopt. Reihe 1), Wiesbaden, 1962, p. 13.

6 See also J. M. Robinson, Interim Collations in Codex II and the Gospel of Thomas, in Mélanges … Henri-Charles Puech, and The Construction of the Nag Hammadi Codices, to appear in Essays … Pahor Labib, ed. Krause, M. (Nag Hammadi Studies 6), Leiden, 1975.

7 Photographs, description, and bibliography may be found in the ARE-UNESCO Facsimile, pp. xi-xv and plates 1–8; a discussion of its “archaic” date in Giversen's preface (cf. note 5) and the literature that he cites; a description by B. van Regemorter in Krause-Labib (cf. note 5) pp. 32–33 and plates 6–9; and a further description in Robinson, The Construction of the Nag Hammadi Codices (n. 6 above).

8 I am depending here upon personal communications from the late Prof. John Barns, who was to publish these documents in the final volume of the AREUXESCO Facsimile series; upon a letter which I received from him shortly before his death; and upon his forthcoming contribution to Essays … Pahor Labib ed. M. Krause, which will appear in the series Nag Hammadi Studies (Brill, Leiden). The publication of the documents has now been entrusted to Prof. G. M. Browne.

9 Preface to the ARE-UNESCO Facsimile … Codex II, p. xv.

10 Again I am relying upon Prof. Barns' estimate, which he expressed to me in December 1973 at the Coptic Museum after lengthy examination of the manuscripts.

11 The join on p. 92 consists of two kollēmata with opposed fiber orientations, the page itself being →, but the overlapping join being ↑. This unusual feature, as Prof. Robinson has suggested to me, may be analogous to the join between a prōtocollon and what follows it in a papyrus roll. A convenient description of the manufacture of papyrus rolls and their kollēseis may be found in Turner, E. G., Greek Papyri, An Introduction (Oxford, 1968) p. 5.

11a The letter Nu may be taken as a standard of comparison. Same size as Nu: gamma, eta, kappa, omicron, sigma, hore, čima (effectively so since its tail overlaps the following letter). Larger, multiplying by a factor of 1⅕: pi. By 1¼: epsilon, theta, lambda, upsilon, khi. By 1⅓: alfa, mu. By 1½: delta, zeta, ksi, tau, janja (but janja varies between 1–2). By 1Ⅴ: omega, phi, šai, ti. By 2: psi. Smaller, by a factor of ⅕: iota. By ⅔: rho. By ¾: beta, fai. All measurements of lacunas expressed in the present edition take the width of Nu plus one average interliteral space as the arbitrary unit.

12 Particularly characteristic of this scribe in his frequent use of articulation marks, in the form of a grave accent, apostrophe, or high raised point, to mark the ends of words and grammatical forms. These marks were written quickly, and as an integral part of the word when it was copied. They have nothing to do with logical or rhetorical punctuation, and have been omitted in the present edition. The system that lies behind their use has been exhaustively described in my article, The Text and Orthography of the Coptic Hypostasis of the Archons, Zeits, Pap. Epigr. 11 (1973) 190–200.

13 scriptori in scriptura optima uersus no centum (denarii) xxv: sequentis scripturae bersuum no centum (denarii) xx: tabellanioni in scriptura libelli bel tabularum in uersibus no centum (denarii) x—Edictum Diocletiani de pretiis rerum uenalium, col. vii 39–41, ed. Mommsen (1893).

14 Provisional reference may be made to Turner's interpretation of the Edict in the introduction to his Greek Manuscripts of the Ancient World (Oxford, 1971). P. Herm. Rees 5, A.d. 325 (in Greek), with which he illustrates a ‘formal mixed’ book hand of class two (ibid. Plate 70), is noticeably similar to the work of our Coptic scribe. Much more investigation is needed, before suitable terms of comparison between Coptic and Greek handwriting can be confidently established.

15 Turner (cited n. 11) pp. 92–93.

16 This is borne out by the lack of prickings to aid the scribe in aligning the margins and lines.

17 Giversen, Apocryphon Johannis, p. 40.

18 Mid-third century at the latest: Doresse (Vig. Christ. 3, 1949, 132), joined by Puech (Studies … Crum, 1950, p. 104); Doresse later believed it to be a script of the last decades of the fourth century (Livres secrets, vol. II, 1959, p. 24); Leipoldt (ThLZ 1958, col. 481) held the extreme view that it dated to about the year 500 A.D.

19 The statistic “one fifth” takes no account of omitted subralinear strokes. Sir Herbert Thompson, commenting on two early manuscripts, viz. Budge's Acts (Brit. Mus. Or. 7595, ed. 1912) and the Subachmimic John (ed. Thompson 1923, Brit. Sch. Arch. Egypt 29), remarks that the frequency of their errors “is likely to be due to two causes, (1) the hurried preparation of the earliest translations to meet a rapid demand, (2) the imperfect knowledge and training of early [Coptic] scribes before the establishment of regular monastic scriptoria and the striking absence in early Coptic manuscripts of any systematic supervision capable of checking the tendency to corruption of texts. The diorthetes seems to be unknown. After the peace of the Church (313) the attention bestowed by the ecclesiastical authorities and scholars on the versions would naturally lead to a gradual purification of the text from errors, and we should expect to find the sixth century texts superior to those of the fourth in quality” (The Coptic Version of the Acts, p. xxi foll.).

20 In the Sahidic Bible etbe often renders π∈ρί ‘concerning’ as well as δι ‘because of’.

21 The titles are surveyed by M. Krause in Krause-Labib (cited in note 5), pp. 28–29 and 5–27; and in Krause-Labib, Gnostische u. hermetische Schriften aus Codex II u. Codex VI (ADAIK, Kopt. Reihe 2) Glückstadt, 1971, pp. 16–21.

22 The word ξουσἰα will then be anticipating the vocabulary of the loose quotation from Paul's letter to the Ephesians that follows. The author eventually uses this word interchangeably with ἄρχων.

23 One of the least expected discoveries in the Gnostic Library has been an excerpt from the climactic passage of Plato's Republic (IX 588 A–589 B); the Coptic version, which appears as tractate 5 in codex VI, is so bizarre that its identity completely escaped the original editors’ notice (Krause-Labib, cited in note 21). Three Greek fragments of the gnostic Gospel of Thomas, all from Oxyrhynchus, have been identified; they are studied in exemplary fashion by J. Fitzmyer, The Oxyrhynchus Logoi of Jesus and the Coptic Gospel According to Thomas, Theol. Studies 20 (1959) 505–560. A Coptic version of the prayer from the Hermetic Asclepius (CG VI, 7) has been compared with the Latin and Greek texts by J. P. Mahé in a recent number of ZPE (13, 1974, 40–60). A Greek fragment of the Sophia Jesu Christi (CG III, 4) is known from Oxyrhynchus (P. Oxy. 1081). There are numerous Greek testimonia to certain of the texts or to the ideas they express, scattered throughout the writings of the Church Fathers.

24 Discussed below with the Testimonia.

25 See Appendix C, Synopsis of Biblical Parallels, in loc.

26 Some examples: “after the pattern of the realms that are above, for by starting from the invisible world the visible world was invented” (§ 3; similarly 30 end); “since beings that merely possess a soul cannot lay hold of those that possess a Spirit” (4); “This is why ‘Incorruptibility looked down upon the region’: so that, by the Father's will, she might bring the Entirety into union with the Light” (5; other didactic expressions of providence at 6 begin., 7 end, and 30 end); the end of § 7; etc. These parenthetic, explanatory remarks by the author must be considered an essential part, indeed, the essential part, of the work as we have it.

27 There is a single reassertion of the pedagogical voice, at § 22.

28 Bibliography on this device is given in Explanatory Note 127 below [to appear in the following numberEd.].

29 Alexander Böhlig in the preface to A. Böhlig-P. Labib, Die Koptische Schrift ohne Titel aus Codex II von Nag Hammadi (AkWissBerlin, Inst. f. Orientforsch., Veröff. 58), Berlin, 1962; R. Bullard, The Hypostasis of the Archons (Patr. Texte u. Stud. 10), Berlin, 1970, p. 3; M. Krause, Zur ‘Hypostasis der Archonten’ in Codex II von Nag Hammadi, Enchoria 2 (1972) 1–20.

30 I must record my debt to the fine essay on the gnostic figure Norea by Prof. Pearson (see Scholarship on the Text below for the bibliographic details), where the material has all been collected. Prof. Pearson generously put a copy of this essay at my disposal in advance of its publication. The overall interpretation here of the evidence is my own; but many of the philological details were worked out by him.

31 But possibly two or three different books, for the spelling of the title varies in each case.

32 Cited in note 30.

33 While not the only possible meaning of Heb. na'amah, this interpretation of the name is attested by R. Abba b. Kahana in Midrash Rabba Gen. 4:22: “Naamah was Noah's wife; and why was she called Naamah? Because her deeds were pleasing” (trans. Freedman, London, 1939, apud Pearson, n. 27).

31 Pearson (with his footnote 9) compares a similar analogistic creation in the Armenian Gospel of Seth, ed. Preuschen, where “Noah's wife's name is given as No'emzara, a transparent combination of Na‘amah and 'Emzara (Jub. 4.33).”

30 Perhaps the name Na'amah was chosen because the Biblical Na‘amah of Gen. iv 22 was the sister of Tubal-Cain.

36 It is tempting to call (1) the Sethian Norea and (2) the Nicolaitan Norea because of the sects associated with them in the respective Testimonia.

37 The earliest apocryphal Na‘amah-Norea tradition probably began by attraction, too, when the sister of Tubal-Cain had her name taken for the sister of Cain; cf. supra with n. 35.

38 The theory of Pearson.

39 The Hebrew Fragments of Pseudo-Philo's Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum Preserved in the Chronicles of Jeraḥmeel, ed. and trans, by D. J. Harrington (Texts and Translations 3, Pseudepigr. Ser. 3), Soc. of Bibl. Lit., Missoula, Montana, 1974.

40 Pearson, with his footnotes 3 and 51.

41 This work is in large part parallel to the Hypostasis of the Archons, though its exact wording remains elusively out of phase with the latter, and clearly is of no value as a witness to the text. It may have been written with a knowledge of the Hypostasis; but the exact nature of this affiliation has not yet been studied.

42 hn t-šorp n biblos nnōraias (a Greek genitive in -as is preserved anomalously). Because n- (when not the Definite Article) can optionally reduplicate before an initial vowel in this dialect, we do not know whether to divide biblos n Nōraia(s) or biblos nn Ōraia{s); see my article cited in n. 12 for the grammatical details.

43 Text has hm p-šorp n logos nōraias: either understand logos n Ōraia(s), or logos n ‹N:ōraia(s) (emending with Böhlig), or even logos Nōraias = λόγος Nωραίας (with the whole phrase in Greek syntax).

44 Pearson, with his footnote 19. The upper case letter in Ωραία was suggested by Bullard (cited in n. 29) p. 98.

45 Parallel material cited by Irenaeus dates from before the end of the second century A.D. The Patristic evidence is collected in A. Hilcenfeld, Die Ketzergeschichte des Urchristenthums Urkundlich Dargestellt (Leipzig, 1884) ch. II (5), under the rubric Die Gnostiker. An English translation of this material by R. McL. Wilson may be conveniently found in W. Foerster ed., Gnosis, A Selection of Gnostic Texts, vol. I (Oxford, 1972) passim.

46 H.-M. Schenke has already issued a very good provisional study of “Das Sethianische System nach Nag-Hammadi-Handschriften” (no date, 6 pp.). This essay presently circulates in a private author's edition and is supplementary to his earlier monograph, Der Gott “Mensch” in der Gnosis (Göttingen, 1962). In Schenke's estimation the Sethian dossier includes only the following Nag Ḥammadi texts: Apocryphon of John, Hypostasis of the Archons, Gospel of the Egyptians, Apocalypse of Adam, Three Steles of Seth, Oracles of Zostrianus, Melchisedek, Thought of Norea, Trimorphic Protennoia.

47 H. Jonas, The Gnostic Religion, 2nd ed. (Boston, 1963) ch. 3 (o) on Gnostic allegory.

48 These parallels extend much farther than indicated above. I have in mind the topics of the cosmic veil (§ 22) and the installation of Sabaoth (27–29), in particular. I have benefitted greatly from a still unpublished essay on these topics by Prof. Ithamar Gruenwald; also from the Harvard dissertation of Dr. Francis Fallon, The Sabaoth Accounts in the Nature of the Archons and On the Origen of the World (1974, ined.), where parallels to §§ 27–29 are studied in detail. For the moment, the reader may refer to O. Hofius, Der Vorhang vor dem Thron Gottes (W. Unt. N. T. 14) Tübingen, 1972, and to scattered remarks by Bullard (cited in n. 29).

49 Lovejoy, A. O., The Great Chain of Being (Cambridge, Mass., 1936).

50 Nock, A. D., Gnosticism, in Harv. Theol. Rev. 57 (1964) 267.

51 Plotinus, Enn. II. 9. 6, discussed by E. Norden, Agnostos Theos (Berlin, 1923) p. 85.

52 Literary Subachmimic is almost exclusively a medium for dualist theology: the corpus consists of Manichean texts, gnostica, the Acta Pauli, and two copies of the Gospel of John, along with some letters concerning the Melitian schism. In the present text this affiliation is partly masked by the attempt to use Sahidic vocalization. Much useful information on this dialect has been assembeld by P. Nagel, Untersuchungen z. Grammatik d. subachm. Dialekts (diss. Halle, 1964).

53 Earlier studies, presupposing that the underlying dialect was Sahidic, have treated only the formal divergences from fifth-century Standard Sahidic and tabulated the results on a purely statistical basis. No distinction has been made between those forms that occur in paradigms (ahi- ‘I have’, pou- ‘their’) and ones that are unique lexical entities (bōk ‘servant’). No mention has been made of what does not occur. The fluctuation of forms (e.g. haf/hof ‘snake’) has been explained either as the imperfect attempt of a member of a Non-Sahidic speech community to write in the Sahidic prestige dialect (Ti'll), or else as the actual colloquial language (Umgangsprache) of a speaker who lived on the frontier of the Sahidic and Subachmimic speech communities and fluctuated in his rendering of the vocalization (Krause). NO one has yet doubted that the text is basically Sahidic.

54 Instances of this AA 2 construction occur in the Sahidic writer Shenute, especiall for negation of the Circumstantial Present or the Relative Present, e.g. in the great White Monastery codex published by Chassinat (Mém. Inst. Franç,. Arch. Or. Caire 23). Such exceptions must be explained as resulting from influence of the Achmimic dialect region adjacent to Shenute's monastery.

55 Even some ostentatiously Subachmimic texts, e.g., the gnostic De Resurrectione, do not go this far towards what is peculiarly AA 2 (De Res. consistently has n- … en).

56 Non-occurrence of Future III Affirm, is also found in the Sahidic writer Shenute, under Achmimic influence.

57 n-assimilates as follows: m- before p (optional), r- before r (opt.), b- before b? (poorly attested).

58 See below on the Supralinear Stroke, and my article The Text and Orthography of the Coptic Hypostasis of the Archons, in Zeits. Pap. Epigr. 11 (1973) 188.

59 Three peculiar deviations from Std. Sahid. phonology, as reflected in the spelling, are noted here. A more detailed treatment may be found in my article cited in n. 58 above. Further non-standard spelling features are catalogued by Krause in the preface to Bullard's edition of the text (1970).

60 In the manuscript it slightly overlaps the following letter as well; but its position has been adjusted in this edition. The occasional cases where two or three letters are linked by a stroke are transcribed exactly as they occur.

61 But s is treated like a Non-sonorant after the verbum IIIae liquidae jahm =, with an excrescent -e- appearing after the stem: 92:3 jahm-e-s ‘defile her’. The very few examples of -f with a supralinear stroke are probably analogistic errors (ouaatf, arējf).

62 See below with n. 65 for the exceptions.

63 This kind of division is purely practical and bears little resemblance to syllable structure; indeed the isolated lexical forms nn- and hnn- are unpronounceable by themselves.

64 When the assimilated form m- occurs before initial ‘p’, it can appear as mp- (clearest at 91: 8, cf. also 90: 10). This phenomenon has been noted in other manuscripts as well (Kahle, cited by Polotsky in OLZ 52, 1957, 223, and recently H. Quecke in Das Markusevangelium saïdisch, pp. 26 n. and 30 n.).

65 See above with n. 62.

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