The Secret Book of John

The Apocryphon (Secret Book) of John offers a Gnostic mythological story of the creation, fall, and salvation of humankind. The text exists in three versions translated from the original Greek into Coptic — two similar versions plus a shorter text found at Nag Hammadi. Another Coptic version from the original Greek was part of the Berlin Codex 8502.

The story is told from the point of view of the risen Christ to John, son of Zebedee. The cosmology is similar to Gnostic teachings known to early church fathers. As with other versions of the Gnostic creation myth, error occurs when Sophia, a light being, attempts to create without permission of the supreme deity or her consort. Sophia brings forth a creature known as Yaldabaoth, the creator of the material universe who has some of his mother's light/power. He then creates rulers for his world (angels). He and his attendants create man in the image of God with characteristics that each of them contribute. When Yaldabaoth is tricked into infusing man with some of his light/power, the man, Adam, comes alive.

Who was John, son of Zebedee?

John was the “Beloved Disciple” of the canonical New Testament, the authority for the Gospel of John, and author of Revelation. John, son of Zebedee and Salome and brother to James, was called “Boanerges,” meaning “Son of Thunder.” He was one of three disciples in Jesus' core group.

The manuscript declares that the struggle for the trapped light in humans is the catalyst for the ensuing struggle of the forces of light and dark, good and evil, which is the whole point of the text — the origin of evil and the means of escaping it. When woman is created, and man knows woman in sexual desire through their physical bodies, the light is kept trapped and escape becomes difficult, but not impossible. Christ comes into the world to broadcast the news that humans have forgotten their divinity. Those who renounce the material world and live ascetic lives return to the heavenly realm of perfection, but those who do not reincarnate.

The Apocryphon of John existed prior to A.D. 185 because Irenaeus referred to it in Against Heresies as among the writings possessed by unorthodox teachers. There are four versions of the text — three are Coptic versions from the ancient Greek found at Nag Hammadi and another version survives as part of the Berlin Codex 8502 found in Akhmim, Egypt.

John writes that at the temple one day, he encountered Arimanius, a Pharisee, who castigated him, telling him that Jesus was a deceptive Nazarene who had turned John away from his ancient Jewish traditions. John retreated to a solitary place where he grieved and prayed for answers to his questions about the Father God, Jesus the Savior, the realm of the imperishable ones, and the future.

He found himself suddenly in the middle of a divine visitation. Heaven opened and the world below could be seen. John observed a boy who changed into a man who then became like a servant. John explained it was a single being showing likenesses in three different forms. The being asked John why he had doubt and fear and explained that he was the undefiled and incorruptible Father, Mother, and Son who was going to teach John hidden mysteries about the immortal ones. John then received a detailed description of the Monad, the Invisible Spirit, as majestic Perfection that bestows knowledge, grace, life, blessedness, goodness, mercy, and redemption.

John was told that the Forethought of All, the first power of the Invisible Spirit, emerged as Barbelo (the Mother/Father, First Man, and Holy Spirit). From the Invisible Spirit and Barbelo, emerged Forethought, Foreknowledge, Indestructibility, Eternal Life, and Truth.

What is a visionary gospel?

Narrative accounts in ancient times evolved into the Christian gospel as a means for declaring their faith. Often they included visions, postresurrection stories, and miracles, such as healings. Other types of gospels are the sayings gospels, like Thomas and Q, which contain the sayings of Jesus.

The Apocryphon of John describes the five powers that emerged from the Invisible Spirit and Barbelo as androgynous emanations (although each is made up of a masculine and feminine Aeon). Therefore, ten Aeons make up the unknowable Divine Parent. From this beginning all others emerged, including Christ and Sophia.

Here again, the myth of the Gnostics stays true to the storyline of Sophia trying to create on her own without permission of the Invisible Spirit or her own consort, thus bringing forth Yaldabaoth, the arrogant one. He created many Aeons and then proclaimed himself ruler over them. His mother Sophia wept and repented and everyone in the Pleroma heard her. The Invisible Spirit allowed for Sophia to return to the ninth level, one above the Demiurge that she had created, until she could correct the deficiency her act had caused. In the meantime, the Secret Gospel of John states that Yaldabaoth called upon his powers to create a human being, Adam, starting with a variety of souls: bone soul, sinew soul, skin soul, blood soul, and so forth. In mind-numbing detail, the gospel lists every power involved in the creation of man's body parts as well as the seven powers in charge of the senses, and the demons of the whole body.

In great detail, the Apocryphon of John describes how Adam came into being and received the gift of light/life. Actually, it was three men (psychic, pneumatic, and hylic) that came into being in the body of one man who remained lifeless. Adam was imperfectly made, so the angels of the first archon told the Demiurge Yaldabaoth to breathe out the power of his own pneuma (the light power of his mother Sophia) into the Adam's face. When he did, Adam moved with life. But he was so strong and bright that the rulers became fearful and they cast him into the darkest regions of the physical realm. The pneuma seeds remained in Adam, but the powers of darkness no longer had complete control over them. Thereafter, the struggle ensued between the powers of light and the powers of darkness.

The most exalted deity found in the Apocryphon of John is synonymous with the Greek abstract idea or concept of perfection. From this impersonal being, who has no involvement in the material world, beings of light, including Christ and Sophia, emerge.

The risen Savior instructs John to write down the revelation about the mystery of the immovable race. John must keep it safe, for anyone trying to exchange the revelation for food, drink, or clothing will be cursed. Then John declares that he goes to the other disciples to tell them what has been revealed to him.

The beginning of the text explains how Christ emerged when the Invisible Spirit “gazed” upon Barbelo, who became impregnated with the pure light of the spark of the Invisible Spirit. The Invisible Spirit then anointed the Christ with “goodness.”

The Apocryphon of John seems to emphasize the importance of Barbelo and Christ asking and receiving permission from the First Parent before emanating others. Afterwards, the First Parent is praised. In contrast, Sophia did not seek permission or create with her consort (the established protocol) and, therefore her offspring was a monster created in error, and he, in turn, created an imperfect shadow world of the heavenly realm.

Christianity takes its name from the word “Christ.” The Greek word is Christos, which means “anointed one.” The ancient Hebrews anointed their sacred objects, such as vessels, and also their priests as an act of consecration. References to anointing of the high priest is found in Exodus 29:29 and Leviticus 4:3. The canonical gospels share accounts of the anointing of Jesus.

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