BAR 34:03, May/June 2008
Gnosticism 101: The Apocryphon of John
The Gospel of Judas is a tractate of “Classic” or Sethian” Gnosticism, so named because Biblical Seth, the son of Adam, plays a prominent role.
The most important tractate of the Sethian version of Gnosticism is the Apocryphon (“Secret Book”) of John.1 Versions of it are included in three of the Nag Hammadi codices (as well as in the Berlin Codex).
In the Apocryphon of John, the risen Christ reveals secrets to his disciple John, son of Zebedee. A basic and somewhat elaborate myth is presented as a dialogue between the two. In my view this myth arose in Jewish circles, but it has been Christianized by editorial additions and revisions.
The myth begins with the description of the primal Father, a Monad (sole unity) above and beyond everything. From him, as Mind thinking, comes his “First Thought,” a feminine figure called Barbelo; from her comes a son called Autogenes (“self-begotten”). The myth thus begins with a primal divine triad of Father, Mother and Son. From them come many other emanations, including four “luminaries” presiding over Perfect Man (a projection of Biblical Adam), heavenly Seth, the “seed of Seth,” and the souls of those who come late to repentance. From these, 12 other heavenly entities, or aeons, are projected: personifications of virtues and divine attributes such as Grace, Truth, Peace, etc.