THE SECRET BOOK OF JOHN
The Revelation of the Mysteries Hidden in Silence
The Secret Book of John is the opening tract of codices II, III & IV from the Nag Hammadi Library discovered in Egypt in 1945. It is the only text to appear three times and therefore considered to be the most important (no other text appears more than twice).
The Secret Book of John tells the story of the devolution of God from perfect Oneness to imprisonment into the material world.
The subtitle, The Revelation of the Mysteries Hidden in Silence, refers to there being no words to describe the nature of God – he is completely ineffable – too great to be expressed in words.
The opening words are:-
“The teaching of the saviour, and the revelation of the mysteries and the things hidden in silence, even these things which he taught John, his disciple.”
It starts with a narrative between John, son of Zebedee, and the ascended Jesus. It then moves into mythical form, describing the full development of the mind of God – the pleroma or ‘fullness’. One aspect of God’s mind, wisdom – Sophia – seeks to express herself within the playing fields of creation in the form of humanity.
Sophia’s individual effort has disastrous results.
Sophia creates an image which is not the full mind at all, but a being named Yaldabaoth (Demiurge).
The fallout from this cosmic error occupies the rest of The Secret Book of John. Yaldabaoth creates a world based on his inadequate corrupted knowledge of the higher realms of God’s mind; earth and all living beings on it. This is an artificial world, a bad imitation of the real world.
Yaldabaoth is a false God, who gnostics compare to the judgemental God of the Old Testament. Yaldabaoth also creates seven archons or rulers, demons who dominate this artificial world and imprison humanity in the material world.
To return Wisdom’s stolen power to God, a plan comes down from the pleroma. Yaldabaoth will be deceived so that he blows his power into a creature who will in turn restore that power to the higher realms. The divine realms are clearly revealed to Yaldabaoth and his demons, and they create a being based on that revelation. That being is Adam; he gains life and mobility only after Yaldabaoth’s power is blown into him.
The higher realms of God send down mental power symbolized as Eve to assist Adam; as this is a myth they are both symbolic beings and not real people. Yaldabaoth and his demons scheme to imprison Adam and Eve in the material world, but the higher realms send down revelation to assist them.
The book concludes with a three-part hymn wherein revelation, called Providence, comes into the world to release us from bondage, for we are all Adam and Eve. We are a living mythology..
Once again, as it is in mythological form, Providence is depicted as a person.
In effect, Providence is the self-knowledge or gnosis that leads people to freedom from this material world.
Possibly the most important sentence in the book is:-
“She taught Adam about the way he could ascend, which is the way he had descended.”
The ending is optimistic; we remain forgetful of our true nature, but the Holy Spirit will eventually descend to everyone in this life or in a life to come.
We will all be eventually restored to the pleroma, the whole and united mind of God from where we originated long ago.
Personally, when I first read the Secret Book of John three years ago, I struggled with understanding it. But a myth is more than a story, it is a statement made in symbols. A symbol speaks to the soul, even when the mind does not understand. When a symbol touches the soul, there is a change, whether you are conscious of it or not.
I was also fortunate enough to come across Stevan Davies’ book, ‘The Secret Book of John Annotated & Explained’ which gives a lot of background information on religious and magical practices prevalent at that time. I highly recommend it.
I recently returned to the Secret Book of John and my experience this time has been quite different. Layers of cynicism and resistance have fallen away, as I have come to appreciate the beauty and versatility of a myth to convey concepts way beyond language.
Scholars do not know who wrote the Secret Book of John, but as all four copies were found in Egypt, it is reasonable to assume it was written there.
#creation #egypt #gnostic #marymagdalene #sophia