In various Gnostic Christian myths, Sophia was the catalyst who gave rise to creation and the material realm. Sophia, the timeless being, or Aeon, who existed in the realm of perfection (Pleroma) as the archetype of Wisdom, felt inclined to manifest a creation of her own. But because she lacked the proper toolset or polarity, her creation was imperfect, and this imperfection caused an eruption in the Pleroma.
Sophia created Yaldabaoth (aka Saklas, Samael), an ignorant being hell-bent on crafting his own collection of inferior beings. This gave rise to the creation of the material realm, along with several (7, 12, or 365) princes (archons) who would subsequently rule this new realm. These ruling archons had heads of animals, and were often associated with fallen angels.
It was no coincidence that the number of archons were correlated to our calendar. As in other religions, these material rulers were synonymous with planets, stars, and celestial bodies.
Sophia’s first creation, Yaldabaoth, was the Demiurge. He was the craftsman responsible for design and creation of our universe. One intriguing implication in this matrix (pun intended) is that it solves the problem of evil because it spares the “most high” God the responsibility of our pain-ridden, cancer-filled, war-torn creation; rather, it was Sophia and her fall from grace which gave rise to our earthly woes. Despite her role in the eruption within the Pleroma, the Gnostics considered Sophia humanity’s mother, perhaps because she is humanity’s most direct connection to the Pleroma.
I see many aspects of Gnosticism as a collection of “modules”. One module which integrated well within Gnosticism was Platonism, particularly Plato’s forms. The Aeons in the Pleroma were Platonic forms, all manifested from the Monad, or the most high God. Other Aeons included Nous (mind), Aletheia (revealed truth), Anthropos (man), and Ecclesia (church) – indeed, these concepts were present in Plato’s day and philosophy. These aeons were archetypes for material phenomena, similar to Plato’s forms – they were the light which shone to create earthly shadows, as depicted in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. In this allegory, Socrates had the misfortune of receiving Gnosis by being dragged out of the cave. During this revelation, the protagonist realizes that the obfuscated shadows on the cave’s wall, were actually more concrete than he and his fellow prisoners had ever imagined. He was murdered by his contemporaries for sharing his insights.
Another module within Gnosticism was its integration with Judaism, specifically the creation story in Genesis.
Instead of the most-high God inventing Adam and Eve, it was really the Demiurge, which is why Genesis 1:26 has God speaking in the plural when he says “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”. The reason for the plural speech was because Yaldabaoth was speaking to his fellow archons.
Detecting Yaldabaoth’s mal-intent, Sophia delivered part of the divine spark to Eve, whose Spirit was then transplanted into the Tree of Knowledge. The serpent brought Adam and Eve forbidden fruit which concealed Gnosis and/or the Divine Spark. In contrast to Orthodox Judaism, the Gnostic story has the snake in the Garden of Eden as a heroic, salvific figure rather than an adversary of humanity or ‘proto-Satan’. Likewise, eating the fruit of Knowledge was the first act of human salvation from cruel, oppressive powers, rather than humanity’s first act of rebellion. In this light, it was the God of Genesis who seems the more likely prototype for Satan (in my opinion, Yaldabaoth was indeed the prototype for the eventual Orthodoxy’s picture of Satan).
One could spend much time puzzling over how such a heterodoxical view could have emerged out of the Judaism we understand today. This puzzle is solved easily enough when considering the variety of influences early Gnostics had, notably Platonic and Alexandrian influences. If we presume these Gnostics were Diaspora Jews living between Alexandria and Syria, this speculation is economical enough.
However, I have become skeptical of the notion that this Jewish Gnosticism was simply a fringe, cultish offshoot.
Rather, I believe the earlier version of Sophia was the Queen of Heaven, who was purged from Orthodox Judaism some 700 years earlier with King Josiah’s Deuteronomic Reform. The catalyst for Josiah’s reform was when the priest Hilkiah found a “Book of the Law” in the temple during the early stages of Josiah’s temple renovation – different versions of this story are found in 2 Kings 22-23 and 2 Chronicles 34-35. Among other things, the Book of the Law contained a large portion of extant Deuteronomy, and instructed its readers
Behold I have taught you the statutes and ordinances, as the LORD my God commanded me…Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples…And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars—all the heavenly array—do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the Lord your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven…You were shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God; besides him there is no other
A detectable theme was the contrast between earthly and heavenly wisdom. Where pre-Deuteronomic reform made concessions for a Spiritual wisdom emanated from the most high, Josiah’s version transferred such wisdom to Mosaic Law. Metaphorically, the Tree of Life was the Law, and the Tree of Wisdom was the wisdom which Josiah sought to purge.
Jeremiah 44:18-19 captures the lament of the Queen’s worshipers:
“But since we stopped burning sacrifices to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have met our end by the sword and by famine.”
Indeed, the Queen of Heaven, like Sophia, was Wisdom. The fact that both were female is not inconsequential.
As a result of Josiah’s Deuteronomic Reform, the Queen of Heaven returned to her place among the angels. She was replaced by unrighteousness – a new woman. This is described in 1 Enoch 42
Wisdom found not a place on earth where she could inhabit; her dwelling therefore is in heaven…But iniquity went forth after her return, who unwillingly found a habitation, and resided among them, as rain in the desert, and as dew in a thirsty land…[Chapter 43] I beheld another splendour, and the stars of heaven
Wisdom’s replacement on Earth, in my opinion, can be identified as the whore of Bablyon in the Book of Revelation (by extension, she was the 2nd Jewish temple):
There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns…And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I wondered with a great wonder. And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou wonder? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and the ten horns.
The woman sat on the same red dragon who attacked the woman clothed in the sun in Revelation 12:
A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.
The woman who was clothed in the sun was the Queen of Heaven. She was pregnant and ready to give birth to the messiah. Interestingly, messiah means “the anointed.” What was the messiah anointed with? The answer (obviously) is oil. But what oil? The oil from the Tree of Wisdom!*
*Note: I believe there was a point of contention here. Some pre-Christians believed the lady represented the Tree of Life, where others (probably those outside of Jerusalem) believed she represented the Tree of Wisdom
In Revelation, the child was born and was taken by God to heaven (Rev 12:5). There is a correlation between Revelation’s description of the Christ’s mother and the one described by Irenaeus (in reference to Valentinus):
Christ also was not produced from the Aeons within the Pleroma, but was brought forth by the mother who had been excluded from it, in virtue of her remembrance of better things, but not without a kind of shadow.
The mother who was excluded from the Pleroma was Sophia, and she gave birth to the Christ, just as in Revelation, which described the Queen’s role in the preliminary battle in heaven, the dragon who catalyzed the battle, and the subsequent war which would be fought, which would usher in a thousand year peace in the New Jerusalem (Rev 20:2, Rev 21:2).
An instance of a veiled Queen reference comes in John’s Gospel with 153 fish in John 21:11. Margaret Barker speculates in King of the Jews: Temple Theology in John’s Gospel that this is an instance of gematria, similar to 666 in Revelation, which was a reference to the Hebrew name Nero. In this case, Barker speculates that the 153 is a reference to “children of a queen”, which is
BNY MLK: B(2) + N(50) + Y(10) + M(40) + L(30) + K(20) + 1 = 153.
These children of the queen were referenced in Revelation 12:17, who the red dragon attacked after he could no longer pursue the Queen.
This lady is detectable in Apocrypha, as well. We glean insight from how her followers saw her in 2 Esdras 9-10, when Ezra encounters, in the field, a grieving woman with ashes in her hair. The lady was grieving because her son died in the bridal chamber when he was 30 years old. In 2 Esdras, the lady turns into the New Jerusalem, and her son is revealed to be Solomon’s temple.
This is a striking representation, because if this text has any relation to early Christianity, it means that the Christ was the male Spirit, who would exist in polarity with the feminine Spirit, and they would underlay the temple and the city, respectively. Consider 1 Corin 3:16 in this context: “Do you not know that you yourselves are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
Also consider Galatians 4:19: “My children, with whom I am again in pains of labor until Christ is formed in you”
For Paul, the Christ forms within the children, and those children are God’s temple, and they are surrounded by the Spirit – the community of Christians was the temple and the Christ and the spirit and the city. In this context, I think Paul was saying that he remembered his time before he was born, when he lived in a higher realm, sent by the unknowable God. Most conservative Christians would probably disagree with me on this point, though (then again, most people who have investigated these topics will disagree with me on almost everything).
There are other strange manifestations in other Apocrypha, as well. Consider The Gospel of Peter, where an animated Cross is described coming out of the recently emptied tomb:
And while they were relating what they had seen, again they see three males who have come out from they sepulcher, with the two supporting the other one, and a cross following them, and the head of the two reaching unto heaven, but that of the one being led out by a hand by them going beyond the heavens. And they were hearing a voice from the heavens saying, ‘Have you made proclamation to the fallen-asleep?’ And an obeisance was heard from the cross, ‘Yes.
Though this description of the walking Cross (along with the humongous men whose heads reached to heaven) is odd, I believe it is an artifact of an earlier Christianity, where there were Spirits which underlay the temple and the holy city, and those Spirits were prepared to manifest in the material realm when the time was right, and there would be male and female Paracletes who would encapsulate the Spirit and the Christ.
This might describe why the heretic Elxai (who used an apocalyptic text which described a war amongst angels in heaven – and which I presume to be a proto-Revelation), along with his Ebionite, Nazarene, and Nasarene followers, believed the Christ and the Spirit were 96 mile tall masculine and feminine Spirits in the sky. It is because they were. Elxai represents the earliest iteration of Christianity, and church fathers Hippolytus and Epiphanius unwittingly let the cat out of the bag, in terms of theological origins.