The Gospel of Truth against Syzygy

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Peter Kirby
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The Gospel of Truth against Syzygy

Post by Peter Kirby »

The Gospel of Truth is not an anti-heretical tract, but I think I can see the author of the text attempting to controvert speculation about the Aeons and the concept of Syzygy. The Gnostic Society Library tells us that "The notion of the [male-female] pair or 'syzygy' is central to Valentinian thought," no doubt based on the description from anti-heretical works like the one attributed to Irenaeus, and this Irenaeus said that a "Gospel of Truth" was in use by "Valentinians." Irenaeus condemns the Gospel of Truth as containing objectionable things but doesn't describe its contents. If Irenaeus is familiar with the same text as the one we can read in the NHL, then in implying that the Gospel of Truth also reflected the kind of objectionable Valentinian system that he outlined, his account of his stated opponents is flawed and incomplete.

Often it is said that the Gospel of Truth represents an early stage in the development of "Valentinian" thought precisely because it does not contain the elaborate speculation believed to characterize later Valentinian texts. This idea is overturned if the Gospel of Truth is aware of such elaborate speculation and disagrees with it. The text can of course still be as early as the second century, but instead of witnessing to a linear development from simple to complex, it reflects a diversity of thought at an early stage instead.

It is notable here to remark that we need only look to Tertullian (Against the Valentinians 4) to find Irenaeus contradicted about "Valentinianism" because Tertullian claimed that Ptolemy, not Valentinus, introduced this speculation on the Aeons:

Ptolemæus afterwards entered on the same path, by distinguishing the names and the numbers of the Aeons into personal substances, which, however, he kept apart from God. Valentinus had included these in the very essence of the Deity, as senses and affections of motion.

The position that Tertullian here attributes to Valentinus is closer to what we find in the Gospel of Truth. Yet we can also perceive that the author of the Gospel of Truth seems to be aware of speculation on the Aeons (apart from God) and the concept of Syzygy, rejecting them both. While the text as a whole speaks frequently on the topic of that which is illusory and non-existent, there is a particular passage of interest here with respect to speculation on Aeons.

From this transcription and translation: https://www.academia.edu/35461016/The_G ... ranslation

It’s a great wonder that they were in the Father, not knowing him, and that they were able to come out by themselves, since they weren’t able to grasp and know the one in whom they were; because if it hadn’t come out from him – that is, his will – because he revealed it as knowledge in harmony with all of them – that is, emanations.

This is the knowledge of the living book which he revealed to the Ages at the end, letters from him revealing how they’re not vowels nor letters without sound, so that one might read them and think they’re vain, but they’re letters of the Truth – they speak and know themselves.

Each letter is a perfect <thought> like a book that’s perfect, since they’re letters written by the Unity, the Father having written them so that the Ages by means of his letters, might know the Father.

His Wisdom meditates on the Word,
his teaching speaks it,
his knowledge has revealed it,
his patience is a crown upon it,
his joy is in harmony with it,
his glory has exalted it,
his image has revealed it,
his rest has received it,
his love made a body around it,
his faith embraced it.

In this way, the Word of the Father goes out in the All, as the fruit [of] his heart and an expression of his will. But it supports the All. It chooses them and also takes the expression of the All, purifying them, returning them to the Father and to the Mother,

Jesus of the infinite sweetness. He reveals his bosom – that is, the Father; now his bosom is the Holy Spirit.

He reveals what’s hidden of himself – what’s hidden of himself is his Son – so that through the mercies of the Father they may know him and cease their labor – that is, the Ages – in search of the Father, resting in him, knowing that this is the rest. Having filled the deficiency, he dissolved its form. Its form is the world in which it served, because the place where there is desire and strife is deficiency, but the place where there’s Unity is perfect.

Since it came into being – that is, the deficiency – because they didn’t know the Father, then when they know the Father, it’ll no longer exist from then on – that is, the deficiency. Like the way ignorance of someone, when they come to knowledge, dissolve it – that is, the ignorance, and like the way the darkness dissolves when it appears – that is, the light, that’s also the way the deficiency dissolves in the perfection.

This part makes me think the author is aware of speculation about named aeons and of syzygy:

His Wisdom [ⲉϯⲥⲟⲫⲓⲁ -> ⲥⲟⲫⲓⲁ = σοφία] meditates on the Word,
his teaching [ⲉⲣⲉϯⲥⲃⲱ -> ⲥⲃⲱ = διδαχὴ] speaks it,
his knowledge [ⲡⲓⲥⲁⲩⲛⲉ -> ⲥⲟⲟⲩⲛ = γνῶσις] has revealed it,
his patience [ⲡⲓⲁⲥⲟ -> ⲁⲥⲟ = ἀνοχή*] is a crown upon it,
his joy [ⲉⲣⲉⲡⲓⲣⲉϣⲉ -> ⲣⲁϣⲉ = χαρά] is in harmony with it,
his glory [ⲡⲓⲉⲁⲩ -> ⲉⲟⲟⲩ = δόξα] has exalted it,
his image [ⲡⲓⲥⲙⲁⲧ -> ⲥⲙⲟⲧ = μορφή**] has revealed it,
his rest [ⲡⲓⲙⲧⲁⲛ -> ⲙⲧⲟⲛ = ἀνάπαυσις] has received it,
his love [ϯⲁⲅⲁⲡⲏ -> ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲏ = ἀγάπη] made a body around it,
his faith [ⲡⲓⲛⲁϩⲧⲉ -> ⲛⲁϩⲧⲉ = πεποίθησις] embraced it.

* This was the most difficult identification. I consider μακροθυμία and ὑπομονή also possible.
** Or εἰκών.

All of these Greek nouns are feminine. This follows from the statement that "He reveals his bosom," where "his bosom is the Holy Spirit," such that in the Unity, the All are returned "to the Father and to the Mother." This is the bosom of the Father that "Jesus [ⲓⲏⲥ] of the infinite sweetness [ϩⲗⲟϭ = γλυκύς]" reveals.

These feminine attributes of the Father can be arranged in themed pairs:

wisdom (σοφία) teaching (διδαχὴ) God's revelation
knowledge (γνῶσις) forebearance (ἀνοχή) God's salvation
joy (χαρά) glory (δόξα) God in himself
image (μορφή) rest (ἀνάπαυσις) God in his son
love (ἀγάπη) confidence (πεποίθησις) God through the incarnation

By referring to the "aeons" and "letters," naming attributes that are ten in number, making all of the attributes feminine, and listing them in pairs, the author shows awareness of speculation about the aeons, putting them in arrangements of a specific number, and presenting them in pairs. The author subverts the idea of a syzygy by making all of the attributes feminine, none of them masculine. This reflects the unity of the Father-Mother. To the author, the All, including the Aeons, have no true existence apart from God, only imagining their separation due to ignorance.

So the Gospel of Truth already is engaged in its own subtle effort to undermine the "Valentinian" system.
davidmartin
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Re: The Gospel of Truth against Syzygy

Post by davidmartin »

you might be right i noticed the GoT seems to downplay the role of the Spirit, or augment the son with what the spirit often goes around doing

instead of the syzygy's of the aeons, seems to be pointing to a grander syzygy/coupling of God's feminine attributes with the Logos
The Word is masculine so you could translate it with 'him'
His Wisdom [ⲉϯⲥⲟⲫⲓⲁ -> ⲥⲟⲫⲓⲁ = σοφία] meditates on the Word,
his teaching [ⲉⲣⲉϯⲥⲃⲱ -> ⲥⲃⲱ = διδαχὴ] speaks him,
his knowledge [ⲡⲓⲥⲁⲩⲛⲉ -> ⲥⲟⲟⲩⲛ = γνῶσις] has revealed him,
his patience [ⲡⲓⲁⲥⲟ -> ⲁⲥⲟ = ἀνοχή*] is a crown upon him,
his joy [ⲉⲣⲉⲡⲓⲣⲉϣⲉ -> ⲣⲁϣⲉ = χαρά] is in harmony with him,
his glory [ⲡⲓⲉⲁⲩ -> ⲉⲟⲟⲩ = δόξα] has exalted him,
his image [ⲡⲓⲥⲙⲁⲧ -> ⲥⲙⲟⲧ = μορφή**] has revealed him,
his rest [ⲡⲓⲙⲧⲁⲛ -> ⲙⲧⲟⲛ = ἀνάπαυσις] has received him,
his love [ϯⲁⲅⲁⲡⲏ -> ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲏ = ἀγάπη] made a body around him,
his faith [ⲡⲓⲛⲁϩⲧⲉ -> ⲛⲁϩⲧⲉ = πεποίθησις] embraced him.
It seems to me this way of perceiving God's nature through personified attributes (which Philo does, it's not Gnostic) contrasts with perceiving God's character through the accounts of the scripture. If the latter portrays a harsher deity than the former (philosopher's God) there can easily be an argument over God's nature going on. The Odes is also against the harsher view as apparently is the gospel Jesus. This is where I agree with ML (somewhat) - the later church plasters its harsher view onto what was previously presented, as does Paul in his contradictory, inconsistent manner. The irony - if correct then liberal Christians today are closer to the mark than the bible punchers.
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Re: The Gospel of Truth against Syzygy

Post by Peter Kirby »

davidmartin wrote: Tue May 30, 2023 1:58 am you might be right i noticed the GoT seems to downplay the role of the Spirit, or augment the son with what the spirit often goes around doing
Thanks, David. I appreciate how your perspective is well-informed by a reading of the texts.
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