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NAG HAMMADI CODICES- ASCLEPIUS , by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

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NAG HAMMADI CODICES

ASCLEPIUS 21–29 (VI,8)

by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

Introduced and translated by

James Brashler, Peter A. Dirkse, and Douglas M. Parrott

The Hermetic tractate Asclepius was composed in Greek but exists in complete form only in a Latin translation. It was originally called The Perfect Teaching. VI,8 is a Coptic translation of a large selection from the middle portion of the tractate. It differs from the Latin at many points, but is still recognizably from the same source as the Latin because of the similarity of contents and the way they are ordered. Two Greek passages from the middle section of Asclepius have survived, and VI,8 is stylistically closer to them than to the rather expansive and rhetorical Latin.

VI,8 has no title, either at the beginning or the end, which makes it unique in the codex. It has been suggested that a title might have been erased at the beginning of the tractate and replaced by the scribal note, which is found there, but close examination of the manuscript shows that to be unlikely. Since the scribal note suggests that The Prayer of Thanksgiving (VI,7) is the copyist’s insertion, it is possible that VI,8 may originally have been a continuation of VI,6 (Disc. 8–9). In that event, the now lost title of VI,6 could have served for it as well.

The tractate is in the form of a dialogue between an Hermetic initiate, Asclepius (two others, Tat and Amon, are mentioned in 72, 30–31), and the mystagogue, Trismesgistus (designated as Hermes in other Hermetic tractates). Asclepius as a whole was probably used in an instructional-cultic context (see introduction to VI,6). The contents are arranged in five general areas.

1) 65, 15–37. The mystery experience (here undescribed) is likened to sexual intercourse, in that it requires an intimate interaction between two parties in which (according to Trismegistus’ view) each receives something from the other.

2) 65, 37–68, 19. Discussion of the separation between the pious and the impious, with the former being distinguished by having learning and knowledge, and the latter, ignorance. Man needs learning and knowledge to restrain harmful passions and to become good and immortal. Indeed, with learning and knowledge man becomes better than the gods, since then he is both mortal and immortal.

3) 68, 20–70, 2. Trismegistus argues that men create gods according to human likenesses.

4) 70, 3. This marks the beginning of the apocalyptic section. It seems to extend only to 74, 6, in contrast to the Latin Asclepius, where it clearly continues through 331,11 (parallel to 74, 11). Here are described the woes that will come upon Egypt and the final action of the creator god to end them and bring the universe to birth. This section was probably originally independent. There are a significant number of parallels to Egyptian conceptions, which can be traced back to the Ptolemaic period and before. But parallels are also found to Plato, Stoicism, the Sibylline Oracles, and the New Testament. Some have held that the apocalypse was originally a Jewish writing, while others suggest that it was originally Egyptian because of the greater number and antiquity of these parallels. The two concepts need not be mutually exclusive in view of the large, ancient, and literarily active Jewish community in Egypt.

5) 74, 7–78, 42. Discussion of the ultimate fate of the individual. The restoration of the nature of the pious ones is founded upon the eternal will of God, which expresses itself in the design of the good universe. The plan of the universe is then described. The “heights of heaven” are controlled by God. Other areas, including the earth, are controlled by other gods. Every person must go to the city in the west (place of the dead?). The soul separates from the body and goes to “the middle of the air” to be judged by the great daimon, who determines reward or punishment.

The Latin Asclepius is one of a group of Hermetic tractates that stands between those Hermetic tractates that are pantheistic, and hence distinctively Hellenistic, and those that are dualistic. The tractates in this group contain a mixture of both emphases. In addition to Asclepius they are Corp. Herm. IX, X, and XII. The excerpt from Asclepius that is VI,8 has both pantheism and dualism. The pantheism is explicitly expressed in 75, 10–11 (“He [God] is in every place, and he looks out over every place.”). It can also be seen in the conviction that the universe is good (74, 33–36) and that the demiurge and the earth goddess are beneficent (75, 13–24), as well as in the panegyric on Egypt (70, 3–9). The dualism is found in the discussion of the two natures of man (66, 9–67, 34), but whether this should be attributed to Gnosticism, as some have thought, or is merely an expression of the dualism common in the Graeco-Roman world generally, is not clear.

The pantheism mentioned above, with its positive evaluation of the world, has presented a problem for those who assume that Codex VI, as a collection, had its origin among Gnostics. It has been suggested that perhaps the pantheistic parts were overlooked by the collector, who was interested in the dualism. The pantheistic elements, however, could not have been deleted. It seems better to suppose that the codex may not have had its origin among Gnostics. Among its eight tractates, it contains two other Hermetic pieces (tractates 6 and 7), a garbled selection from Plato’s Republic (tractate 5), a non-gnostic account of apostolic activity (tractate 1), and a tractate that has no clear indication of gnostic influence (tractate 2). Of the remaining two tractates (3 and 4), the first has been called questionably gnostic, and only the second seems to contain distinctively gnostic ideas. Thus, when the contents of the codex as a whole are considered, one has the impression of a miscellaneous collection of spiritual pieces without any clear ideological tendency running throughout. The one common theme may be the ultimate fate of the individual – the theme with which Asclepius 21–29, and therefore the codex as a whole, ends. There is probably no way to know how the codex found its way into a collection of predominantly gnostic works.

ASCLEPIUS 21–29

VI 65, 15–78, 43

“And if you (sg.) with too see the reality of | this mystery, then you should see the wonderful representation | of the intercourse | that takes place between | the male and the female. For when 20 the semen reaches the climax, it leaps forth. | In that moment | the female receives the strength | of the male; the male for his part | receives the strength of the female, while 25 the semen does this. |

“ Therefore the mystery of intercourse | is performed in secret, | in order that the two sexes | might not disgrace themselves in front of many who do not experience 30 that reality. | For each of them (the sexes) contributes its (own part in) begetting. | For if it happens in the presence of those who do not understand the reality, | (it is) laughable | and unbelievable. And, moreover, 35 they are holy mysteries, | of both words and deeds | because not only are they not heard | but also they are not seen.

“Therefore 66 such people (the unbelievers) are blasphemers. | They are atheistic and impious. | But the others arae not many; | rather, the pious who are counted are few. 5 Therefore | wickedness remains among (the) many, | since learning | concerning the things which are ordained does not exist among them. | For the knowledge of the things which are ordained 10 is truly the healing of the passions | of the matter. Therefore learning | is something derived from knowledge. |

“But if there is | ignorance, and learning 15 does not exist in the soul of man, | (then) the incurable passions persist in it (the soul). | And additional | evil comes with them (the passions) in the | form of an incurable sore. 20 And the sore constantly gnaws at the soul, | and through it the soul produces worms form | the evil and stinks. But God | is not the cause of | these things, since he sent to men 25 knowledge and learaning.” |

“Trismegistus, | did he send them to men | alone?”

“Yes, Asclepius, | he sent them to them (men) alone. 30 And it is fitting that we tell | you why to men | alone he granted | knowledge and learning, | the allotment of his good. 35

“And now listen! God | and the Father, even the Lord, created | man subsequent to the gods, | and he took him from 67 the region of matter. [Since] matter | is involved in the creation of [man] | of […], the passions are | in it. Therefore 5 they continually flow over his | body, for this living creature would not have existed | in any other way except that he had taken this | food, since | he is mortal. It is also inevitable 10 that inopportune desires, | which are harmful, dwell in him. | For the gods, since | they came into being out of a pure matter, | do not need 15 learning and knowldege. | For the immortality of the gods | is learning and knowledge, | since they came into being out of pure maatter. | It (immortality) assumed for them 20 the position of knowledge and learning. | By necessity he (God) | set a boundary for man; he placed him | in learning and knowledge. |

“Concerning these things (learning and knowledge), which we have mentioned 25 from the beginning, he perfected them | in order that by means of these things | he might restrain passions and evils, | according to his will. | He brought his (man’s) mortal existence into 30 immortality; he (man) became | good (and) immortal, just as | I have said. For he (God) created (a) two-fold nature | for him: the immortal and | the mortal.

“And it 35 happened this way because of the will 68 of [God] that men | be better than the gods, since | indeed [the] gods are | immortal, but men alone 5 are both immortal and mortal. | Therefore man has | become akin to the gods, | and they know the affairs | of each other with certainty. The 10 gods know the things of | men, and men | know the things of the gods. | And I am speaking about men, Asclepius, | who have attained learning 15 and knowledge. | But (about) those who are more vain than these, it is not fittingaaa | that we say anything base, | since we are divine and are | intaroducing holy matters. 20

“Since we have entered | the matter of the communion between the | gods and men, know, | Asclepius, that in which man | can be strong! 25 For just as the Father, the Lord of | the universe, creates gods, | in this very way man too, | this mortal, earthly, living creature, | the one who is not like 30 God, also himself | creates gods. Not only | does he strengthen, but he is also strengthened. | Not only is he god, but | he also creastes gods. Are you astonished, 35 Asclepius? Are you yourself | another disbeliever like the many?” 69

“Trismegistus, [I agree with] the words (spoken) | to me. [And] I believe you | as you [speak]. But I have also been astonished | at the discourse about [this]. And I have 5 decided that man is blessed, | since he has enjoyed this great power.” |

“And that which is greater than all these things, | Asclepius, is worthy of admiration. | Now it is clear to us 10 concerning the race of the gods, | and we confess it | along with everyone elso, that it (the race of the gods) have come into being | out of a pure matter. And | their bodies are heads only. 15 But that which men create | is the likeness of the gods. They (the gods) are from | the farthest part of the matter, | and it (the object created by men) is from the outer (part) of the being | of men. Not only 20 are they (what men create) heads but (they are) also all the other members | of the body and according to | their likeness. Just as | God has willed that the inner man | be creataed according to 25 his image, in the very same way | man on earth creates gods | according to his likeness.”

“Trismegistus | you are not talking about idols, are you?” | “Asclepius, you yourself are talking 30 about idols. You see that again you yourself, | Asclepius, are also a | disbeliever of the discourse. You say | about those who have soul and | breadth, that they are idols—these who 35 bring about these great events. | You are saying about these who give prophecies | that they are idols — these who give 70 [men sickness and] healing | that […] them. |

“Or are you ignorant, Asclepius, | that Egypt is (the) image 5 of heaven? Moreover, | it is the dwelling place of heavean and all the forces | that are in heaven. If | it is proper for us to speak the truth, our | land is (the) temple of the world. 10 And it is proper for you not to be | ignorant that a time | will come in it (our land | when) Egyptians will seem | to have served the divinity in 15 vain, and all their activity | in their religion will | be despised. For all divinity | will leave Egypt and will | flee upward to heaven. And Egypt 20 will be widowed; it will be abandoned by the | gods. For foreigners | will come into Egypt, and they will rule | it. Egypt! Moreover, | Egyptians will be prohibited 25 from worshipping | God. Furthermore, they will come | into the ultimate punishment, especially whoever | among them is found worshipping | (and) honoring God. 30

“And in that day the country | that was more pious than all countries | will become | impious. No longer will it be full | of temples, but it will be fill of tombs. 35 Neither will it be full of gods | but (it will be full of) corpses. Egypt! | Egypt will becomr like the | fables. And your religious objects 71 will be […] the marvelous things | and […], | and if your words are | stones and are wonderful. 5 And the barbarian will be | better than you, Egyptian, | in his religion, whether | (he is) a Scythian, or the Hindus, or some other | of this sort.

“And what is this that I say 10 about the Egyptian? For they (the Egyptians) will | not abandon Egypt. For (in) the time | (when) the gods have abandoned the land | of Egypt and haave fled upward to | heaven, then all Egyptians 15 will die. And Egypt will be | made a desert by the gods and the Egyptians. | And as for you, River, there | will be a day when you will flow | with blood more than water. And 20 dead bodies will be | (stacked) higher than the dams. | And he who is dead will not be mourned | as much as he who is alive. INdeed the latter will be | known as an Egyptian 25 on account of his language in | the second period (of time). Asclepius, | why are you weeping? He will seem | like (a) foreigner in regard to | his customs. Divine Egypt 30 will auffer evils greater | than these. Egypt, lover of God, | and the dwelling place of the gods, | schools of religion, | will become an example of 35 impiousness.

“And in that day | the world will not be marveled at, 72 […] and [immortality, | nor] will it be worshipped | […] since we say that it is | not good […]. It has become neither 5 a single thing nor | a vision. But it is in danger | of becoming a burden | to all men. Therefore, | it will be despised – the beautiful world 10 of God, | the incomparable work, | the energy that possesses | goodness, the many-formed vision, | the abundance 15 that does not envy, that is full | of every vision. | Darkness will be preferred to light | and death will be preferred to | life. No one will gaze 20 into heaven. And the pious man | will be counted as insane, | and the impious man will be honored | as wise. The man who is afraid | will be considered as strong. And 25 the good man will be punished | like a criminal. |

“And concerning the soul, and the things | of the soul, and the things of immortality, | along with the rest of what I have said 30 to you, Tat, Asclepius, | and Ammon, not only will they | be considered ridiculous, | but they will also be thought of as vanity. | But believe 35 me (when I say) that people of this kind will | be endangered by the ultimate danger | to their soul. And | a new law will be established. 73 […] 3 they will […] 5 good. [The] wicked angels | will remain among | men, (and) be with them | (and) lead them into wicked things | recklessly, as well as into 10 atheism, wars, | and plunderings, by teaching them | things contrary to nature.

“In those days | the earth will not be stable, | and men will not sail the sea, 15 nor will they know the stars in heaven. | Every sacred voice | of the word of God will | be silenced, and the air will be diseased. | Such is the senility of the world: 20 atheism, | dishonor, and the disregard | of noble words.

“And when these things had happened, Asclepius, | then the Lord, the Father and 25 god from the only first (God), god | the creator, when he looked upon | the things that happened, established his design, | which is good, | against the disorder. He took away 30 error, and cut off evil. | Sometimes | he submerged it in a great flood, | at other times he burned it in a | searing fire, and at still other times 35 he crushed it in wars | and plagues, until he brought 74 […] 5 of the work. | And this is the birth of the world. |

“The restoration of the | nature of the pious ones who are good | will take place in a 10 period of time that | never had a beginning. | For the will of God has no | beginning, even as his nature, | which is his will, (has no beginning). 15 For the nature of God is will. | And his will is the good.” |

“Trismegistus, | is purpose, then, will?” |

“Yes, Asclepius, since will 20 is (included) in counsel. | For <he> does not will what he has | from deficiency. Since he is | complete in every part, he wills | what he (already) fully has. 25 And he has every good. | And what he wills, he wills. | And he has the good | that he wills. Therefore he has | everything. And God 30 wills what he wills. | And the good world | is an image of the Good One.” |

“Trismegistus, | is the world good?”

“Asclepius, 35 it is good, as | I shall teach you. For just as 75 [… 3 of soul and] life | […] of the [world …] 5 come [forth] in matter, [those that are good], | the change of the climate, and [the] beauty | and the ripening of the fruits, and | the things similar to all these. Because of this, | God has control over the heights 10 of heaven. He is in every place and he looks out | over every place. And (in) his place there is neither | heaven nor star. And | he is free from (the) body.

“Now the creator | has control in the place that is 15 between the earth and heaven. He | is called Zeus, that is, | life. Plutonius Zeus | is lord over the earth | and sea. And he does not possess the nourishment 20 for all mortal living creatures, | for (it is) Kore who bears | the fruit. These forces | always are poowerful in the circle | of the earth, but those of others 25 are always from Him-who-is. |

“And the lords of the eaarth will withdraw themselves. | And they will establish | themselves in a city that is in | a corner of Egypt and that will be built 30 toward the setting of the sun. | Every man will go into it, | whether they come on the sea | or on the shore.” | “Trismegistus, 35 where will these be settled now?”

“Asclepius, | in the great city that is on the [Libyan] mountain 76 [… 3 it frightens … | as a] great [evil, 5 in] ignorance of the matter. | For death occurs, [which] is | the dissolution of the labors of the body | and (the dissolution of) the number (of the body), when it (death) completes | the number of the body. 10 For the number is the union of | the body. Now the body dies | when it is not able to support | the man. And this is death: | the dissolution of the body and the destruction 15 of the sensation of the body. | And it is not necessary to be afraid | of this, nor because of this, but because of | what is not known | and is disbelieved (one is afraid).”

“But what is 20 not known | or is disbelieved!”

“Listen, | Asclepius! There is a great | demon. The great God has | appointed him to be overseer 25 or judge over the souls | of men. And God has placed him | in the middle of the air between the earth | and heaven. Now, when | the soul comes forth from (the) body, it is necessary 30 that it meet this | daimon. Immediately he (the daimon) will surround | this one (masc.), and he will examine him in regard to the character that he has | developed in his life. And if | he finds that he piously performed 35 all of his actions | for which he came into the world, | this (daimon) will allow him 77 […] | turn him […]. | But [if he sees | …] in this one […] he brought 5 his life into [evil] deeds, | he grasps him, as he [flees] upward | and throws him down | so that he is suspended between heaven and earth | and is punished with a great punishment. 10 And he will be | deprived of his hope and | be in great pain.

“And that soul | has been put neither | on the earth nor in heaven. 15 But it has come into the open sea of the air | of the world, the place where there is a great | fire, and crystal water, | and furrows of fire, | and a great upheaval. The bodies 20 are tormented (in) various (ways). | Sometimes they are cast | upon raging waters; at other times | they are cast down into the fire | in order that it may destroy them. Now, I will not say 25 that this is the death of the soul, | for it has been delivered from evil, | but it is a death sentence. |

“Asclepius, it is necessary to believe | these things and to fear them 30 in order that we might not encounter them. For | unbelievers are impious and | commit sin. Afterwards they will be compelled | to believe, | and they will not hear by word of mouth only, 35 but will experience | the reality itself. For they kept believing that they would not endure these things. Not only 78 […]. | First, [Asclepius], | all [those of the earth die | and those who are of the] body [cease …] 5 of evil […] | with these of this sort. For those who are here | are not like those who are | there. So with the daimons who […] | men, they despite […] 10 there. Thus it is not the same. But | truly the gods who are here | will punish more whoever has hidden it here | every day.” |

“Trismegistus, what [is the] character of 15 the iniquity that is there?”

“Now you think, Asclepius, that when one takes | something in a temple, he is impious. | For that kind of a person is a thief and | a bandit. And this matter concerns 20 gods and men. | But do not compare those here with those of the other place. | Now I want to speak | this discourse to you confidentially; | no part of it will be believed. For the souls 25 that are filled with much evil will not come and go | in the air, but they will be put | in the places of the daimons, which | are filled with pain, (and) which are always | filled with blood and slaughter, and their 30 food, which is weeping, mourning, | and groaning.”

“Trismegistus, | who are these (diamons)?”

“Asclepius, they are the ones who | are called stranglers, and | those who roll souls down on 35 the dirt, and those who | scourge them, and those who cast | into the water, and those who cast into the fire, | and those who bring about the pains | and calamities of men. For 40 such as these are not from a | divine soul, not from a | rational soul of man. Rather, | they are from the terrible evil.”

( Parentheses indicate material supplied by the editor or translator. Although this material may not directly reflect the text being translated, it provides useful information for the reader.

| Small strokes above the line indicate line divisions. Every fifth line a small number is inserted in place of a stroke; the frequency of these numbers, however, may vary in tractates which are quite fragmentary. A new page is indicated with a number in bold type. When the beginning of a new line or page coincides with the opening of a paragraph, the line divider or number is placed at the end of the previous paragraph.

[ Square brackets indicate a lacuna in the manuscript. When the text cannot be reconstructed, three dots are placed within the brackets, regardless of the size of the lacuna; a fourth dot, if appropriate, may function as a period. An exception to this rule is the occasional use of a different number of dots to estimate the extent of the missing portion of a proper noun. In a few instances the dots are used without brackets to indicate a series of Coptic letters which do not constitute a translatable sense unit. A bracket is not allowed to divide a word, except for a hyphenated word or a proper noun. Other words are placed entirely inside or outside the brackets, depending on the certainty of the Coptic word and the number of Coptic letters visible.

< Pointed brackets indicate a correction of a scribal omission or error. The translator has either inserted letters unintentionally omitted by the scribe, or replaced letters erroneously inserted with what the scribe presumably intended to write.

Robinson, James McConkey ; Smith, Richard ; Coptic Gnostic Library Project: The Nag Hammadi Library in English. 4th rev. ed. Leiden; New York : E.J. Brill, 1996, S. 330

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