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NAG HAMMADI CODICES- The Exegesis of the SOUL- by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz


Ripeness- The Exegesis of The SOUL 



by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

Introduced by

Maddalena Scopello

Translated by

William C. Robinson, Jr.

The Exegesis on the Soul is a short tale (ten pages of papyrus) narrating the gnostic myth of the soul from her fall into the world to her return to heaven. The soul, whose nature is feminine — she even had a womb — was virginal and androgynous in form when she was alone with her Father in heaven, but when she fell into the world and into a body she polluted herself with many lovers. These lovers are brigands and bandits who treat the soul as a whore, then abandon her. In her suffering, she seeks for other lovers who also deceive her, making her the slave of their sexual pleasure. Ashamed, the soul remains in slavery, living in a brothel, going from one market place to another. The only gift she receives from her lovers is their polluted seed: her children are dumb, blind, sick and feebl eminded.

The soul remains in this sexual and psychic captivity until the day she perceives her situation and repents. She asks help from the Father who has mercy on her. He performs two actions to help the soul: first, he makes her womb turn inward so that the soul regains her proper character: “the womb of the soul is around the outside like the male genitalia, which are external” (131, 19–27). This turning inward protects the soul from further sexual contaminations by her lovers. Secondly, the Father sends a bridegroom from heaven to the soul. The bridegroom is her brother, the firstborn of the house of the Father.

Renewed and purified, the soul adorns herself in the bridal chamber waiting for the fiancé. At his arrival, they love each other passionately. Their love, which is spiritual and eternal, is described with a vivid sensuality normally used for carnal intercourse. The fruit of this marriage are good and beautiful children (i.e., in allegory, the good, virtuous ideas: cf. Philo, Cher. 44). Finally the soul regenerates herself and returns to her former state.

In its main lines, the story of the soul in Exeg. Soul follows the Valentinian myth of Sophia, the last aeon who leaves the Pleroma searching for new horizons. From prostitution to repentance in tears and from repentance to her return to the house of the Father, the itinerary of the soul closely recalls Sophia’s journey.

Nevertheless, much of the originality of Exeg. Soul is to be found in the theatrical approach to the myth, now presented not in a philosophical and complex way but in a novelistic adaptation, capable of capturing the reader’s attention.

Two close literatures and traditions have certainly influenced the author in the composition of his treatise: Hellenistic and Jewish romance literature. Love and adventures are the chief ingredients of Hellenistic novels, love being the first cause of the action. These novels are governed by a single motif: the tragic separation of two lovers and their final reunion after thousands of misadventures (tricks, brigands, ambiguous figures tempting the soul’s chastity; cf. the Greek novels of Achilles Tatius, Chariton, Heliodorus, Longus, and Xenophon of Ephesus).

However, two features having no connection with the Greek novel can be observed in the gnostic story: first, the heroine in Exeg. Soul is unique. The fiancé has little part in the narration, while in the Greek novel the primary role is always given to a couple. Second, if Greek heroines are always chaste and pure, the heroine in Exeg. Soul (as in other gnostic novels) has led a life of prostitution. Only later will she attain virginity.

The Jewish influence is deeper. Exeg. Soul is a female story, the soul in fact is presented as a woman. This is quite rare in ancient literature. We find women’s stories in Jewish writings, however, especially in Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. The story of the soul from prostitution to virginity through repentance recalls the stories of Jewish sinners such as Rahab, Tamar, Ruth, and Bathsheba (cf., Joshua, Jubilees, Testament of Judah, Ruth, 2 Kings).

Exeg. Soul is not the only Nag Hammadi treatise consecrated to a female figure. Comparisons exist also with Auth. Teach, Thund., Norea, Trim. Prot., and with other gnostic texts recounting short women’s stories. Under the different names and physiognomies of all these women there is hidden one and only one personnage: soul searching for her heavenly origin. The common feature linking these female figures is the opposition, the polarity “virginity-prostitution.” Rehabilitation consists in recovering original purity which is essential to attain knowledge.

In Ereg. Soul emphasis on pollution shows how the author was influenced by Apocryphal Judaism. This intense focus on pollution is typical of Essenic psychology (cf., Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs and Qumran literature). In Exeg. Soul as well as in Essenic spirituality, purification and repentance are the only remedies for impurity. The turning inward of the womb is to be compared with spiritual circumcision; both express the will to abandon the outside, symbol of worldly temptations.

The author of Exeg. Soul illustrates the myth of the soul by a series of biblical quotations and two Homeric references. These quotations are part of the narrative and strictly linked to it: they even give the writer the occasion to develop themes related to the myth of the soul. Part of these quotations are grouped together in order to point out the three stages of the soul’s journey: prostitution, repentance, return to the Father. These groups of quotations were not gathered by the author but drawn from an anthology of which traces had been preserved by some Christian authors of Alexandria: Clement, Didymos and Origen.

This helps to determine the author’s milieu. He is dependent on an academic culture in which florilegia and anthologies formed an important part of an intellectual education.

The use of biblical as well as of Homeric references shows that Greek and Jewish wisdom had the same prophetical value for the author. Both of them expound the gnostic doctrine in a comprehensible way to a Christian, Jewish, or pagan public. These elements show that the gnostic author of Exeg. Soul was part of a cultivated, syncretistic milieu where Jewish and Greek scriptures were well known, probably Alexandria at the beginning of the third century C.E. Even though the author borrowed traditions from Judaism and, partly, from Christianity and Paganism, nonetheless he was able to reinterpret them in the light of a new message, the gnostic one.


II 127, 18–137, 27

The Expository Treatise on the Soul |

Wise men of old gave 20 the soul a feminine name. | Indeed she is female in her nature as well. | She even has her womb.

As long as | she was alone with the father, | she was virgin and in form androgynous. 25 But when she fell | down into a body and came to this life, then she | fell into the hands of many robbers. And | the wanton creatures passed her from one to another | and […] her. Some made use of 30 her [by force], while others did so by seducing | her with a gift. In short, | they defiled her, and she [… her] 128 virginity.

And in her body she prostituted herself | and gave herself to one and all, | considering each one she was about to embrace | to be her husband. When she had given herself 5 to wanton, unfaithful adulterers, | so that they might make use of her, then she sighed | deeply and repented. But even when she | turns her face from those adulterers, she runs | to others and they compel her 10 to live with them and render service to them | upon their bed, as if they were her masters. | Out of shame she no longer dares | to leave them, whereas they deceive | her for a long time, pretending to be faithful, true husbands, 15 as if they greatly respected | her. And after all this | they abandon her and go.

She then | becomes a poor desolate widow, | without help; not even a measure of food 20 was left her from the time of her affliction. | For from them she gained nothing except | the defilements they gave her while they had | sexual intercourse with her. And her offspring | by the adulterers are dumb, 25 blind, and sickly. | They are feebleminded.

But when | the father who is above visits her | and looks down upon her and sees her | sighing — with her sufferings and disgrace 30 — and repenting of the prostitution | in which she engaged, and when she begins to call | upon [his name] | so that he might help her, […] all | her heart, saying, “Save 35 me, my father, for behold I will render an account | [to thee, for I abandoned] my house and 129 fled from my maiden’s quarters. | Restore me to thyself again.” When he sees her | in such a state, then he will count | her worthy of his mercy upon her, for many are the afflictions 5 that have come upon her because she abandoned her house.

Now concerning | the prostitution of the soul the holy spirit prophesies in | many places. For he said | in the prophet Jeremiah (,3:1–4),

If | the husband divorces his wife and she 10 goes and takes another man, can she return to him after | that? Has not that woman utterly | defiled herself? “And you (sg.) | prostituted yourself to many shepherds and you returned | to me!” said the lord. “Take an honest 15 look and see where you | prostituted yourself. Were you not sitting in the | streets defiling the land with your acts of prostitution | and your vices? And you took many shepherds for a | stumbling block for yourself. You became shameless 20 with everyone. You did not call on me as | kinsman or as father or author of your | virginity.”

Again it is written in the prophet Hosea (2:2–7), |

Come, go to law with | your (pl.) mother, for she is not to be a wife to me 25 nor I a husband to her. | I shall remove her prostitution from my presence, | and I shall remove her adultery from | between her breasts. I shall make her naked | as on the day she was born, and 30 I [shall] make her desolate like a land without | [water], and I shall make her [longingly] childless. | [I] shall show her children no pity, for | they are children of prostitution, since their mother | prostituted herself and [put her children to shame]. 130 For she said, “I shall prostitute myself to | my lovers. It was they who gave me my | bread and my water and my garments and my | clothes and my wine and my oil and everything 5 I needed.” Therefore behold | shall shut them up so that she shall not be able | to run after her adulterers. And when she | seeks them and does not find them, she will say, | “I shall return to my former husband, for 10 in those days I was better off than now.” |

Again he said in Ezekiel (16:23–26), |

It came to pass after much depravity, said | the lord, you built yourself a brothel | and you made yourself a beautiful place 15 in the streets. And you built yourself | brothels on every lane, and you wasted | your beauty, and you spread your legs | in every alley, and you multiplied your acts of prostitution. | You prostituted yourself to the sons of Egypt, 20 those who are your neighbors, men great of flesh.

But what | does “the sons of Egypt, men great of flesh” mean | if not the domain of the flesh and the perceptible realm | and the affairs of the earth, by which the soul | has become defiled here, receiving bread from 25 them, as well as wine, oil, clothing, | and the other external nonsense | surrounding the body — the things she thinks | she needs.

But as to this prostitution the | apostles of the savior commanded (cf. Acts 15:20, 29; 21:25; 1 Th 4:3; 1 Co 6:18; 2 Co 7:1), 30

Guard yourselves against it, purify yourselves from it, | speaking not just of the prostitution of the | body but especially of that of the soul. For this reason | the apostles [write to the churches] of | God, that such [prostitution] might not 35 occur among [us].

Yet the greatest | [struggle] has to do with the prostitution 131 of the soul. From it arises the prostitution | of the body as well. Therefore Paul, | writing to the Corinthians (1 Co 5:9–10), said,

I wrote | you in the letter, “Do not associate with prostitutes,” 5 not at all (meaning) the prostitutes of this world | or the greedy or the thieves or the | idolators, since then you would have to | go out from the world.

here it is speaking | spiritually —

For our struggle is l0 not against flesh and blood — as he | said (Ep 6:12) — but against the world rulers | of this darkness and the spirits of | wickedness.

As long as the soul | keeps running about everywhere copulating with whomever 15 she meets and defiling herself, she exists suffering | her just deserts. But when | she perceives the straits she is in | and weeps before the father and repents, | then the father will have mercy on her and he will make 20 her womb turn from the external domain | and will turn it again inward, so that the soul will regain her | proper character. For it is not so with a woman. | For the womb of the body is | inside the body like the other internal organs, but the womb 25 of the soul is around the outside | like the male genitalia, which are | external.

So when the womb of the soul, | by the will of the father, turns itself inward, | it is baptized and is immediately 30 cleansed of the external pollution | which was pressed upon it, just as | [garments, when] dirty, are put into | the [water and] turned about until their | dirt is removed and they become clean. And so the cleansing 35 of the soul is to regain the [newness] 132 of her former nature and to turn herself back again. | That is her baptism.

Then she will | begin to rage at herself like a woman | in labor, 5 who writhes and rages in the hour of delivery. | But since she is female, by herself she is powerless to beget | a child. From heaven the father sent her | her man, who is her brother, | the firstborn. Then the bridegroom came 10 down to the bride. She gave up | her former prostitution and cleansed herself of the pollutions | of the adulterers, and she was renewed so as to be a bride. | She cleansed herself in the bridal chamber; she filled it with perfume; | she sat in it waiting 15 for the true bridegroom. No longer does she | run about the market place, copulating with whomever she | desires, but she continued to wait for him — | (saying) “When will he come?” — and to fear him, | for she did not know what he looked like: 20 she no longer remembers since the time she fell | from her father’s house. But by the will | of the father <…>. And she dreamed of him like | a woman in love with a man.

But then | the bridegroom, according to the father’s will, 25 came down to her into the bridal chamber, | which was prepared. And he decorated the bridal chamber. |

For since that marriage is | not like the carnal marriage, those who are to have intercourse | with one another will be satisfied with 30 that intercourse. And as if it were a burden | they leave behind them the annoyance of physical | desire and they [turn their faces from] | each other. But this marriage […]. | But [once] they unite 35 [with one another], they become a single life. 133 Wherefore the prophet said (Gn 2:24) | concerning the first man and the first woman, |

They will become a single flesh. |

For they were originally joined to one another when they were with the father 5 before the woman led astray the man, who | is her brother. This marriage | has brought them back together again and the | soul has been joined to her true love, her | real master, as it is written (cf. Gn 3:16; 1Co 11:1; Ep 5:23), 10

For the master of the woman is her husband.

Then gradually she recognized him, | and she rejoiced once more, weeping | before him as she remembered the | disgrace of her former widowhood. | And she adorned herself still more so that 15 he might be pleased to stay with her.

And the | prophet said in the Psalms (45:10–11),

Hear, | my daughter, and see and incline your ear | and forget your people and your father’s house, | for the king has desired your beauty, 20 for he is your lord.

For he requires her | to turn her face from her | people and the multitude of her adulterers, | in whose midst she once was, to devote herself | only to her king, her real | lord, and to forget the house of the | earthly father, with whom things went | badly for her, but to remember her father | who is in heaven. Thus also it was said (Gn 12:1) to Abraham,

Come out from your 30 country and your kinsfolk and from | your father’s house.

Thus when the soul [had adorned] | herself again in her beauty | […] enjoyed her beloved, | and [he also] loved her. And 35 when she had intercourse with him, she got 134 from him the seed that is the life-giving | spirit, so that by him she bears good children | and rears them. | For this is the great, perfect marvel 5 of birth. And so this marriage is made perfect | by the will of the father.

Now it is fitting that the soul | regenerate herself and become again as | she formerly was. The soul then moves of her own accord. | And she received the divine nature from the father 10 for her rejuvenation, so that she might be restored to | the place where originally she had been. This is | the resurrection that is from the dead. | This is the ransom from captivity. | This is the upward journey of ascent to heaven. This 15 is the way of ascent to the father. Therefore | the prophet said (Ps 103:1–5), |

Praise the lord, O my soul, and, all that is | within me, (praise) his holy name. My | soul, praise God, who forgave 20 all your sins, who healed | all your sicknesses, who ransomed | your life from death, who crowned | you with mercy, who satisfies your longing | with good things. Your youth will 25 be renewed like an eagle’s.

Then when she becomes young | again she will ascend, praising the father | and her brother, by whom she was rescued. | Thus it is by being born again that the soul will | be saved. And this 30 is due not to rote phrases | or to professional skills or to | book learning. Rather it [is] the grace of the […, | it is] the gift of the […]. | For such is this heavenly thing. 35 Therefore the savior cries out (Jn 6:44), 135

No one can come to me unless | my Father draws him and brings him to me; | and I myself will raise him up on the last | day.

It is therefore fitting to pray to the father and to call 5 on him with all our soul — not externally with the lips | but with the spirit, | which is inward, which came forth from the | depth — sighing; repenting for | the life we lived; confessing 10 our sins; perceiving the empty deception | we were in, and the empty zeal; | weeping over how we were | in darkness and in the wave; mourning for ourselves, | that he might have pity on us; hating 15 ourselves for how we are now. Again | the savior said (cf. Mt 5:4, 6; Lk 6:12),

Blessed | are those who mourn, for it is they who will be pitied; | blessed, those who are hungry, for | it is they who will be filled.

Again he said (cf. Lk 14:26),

If 20 one does not hate his soul he cannot follow | me.

For the beginning of salvation is | repentance. Therefore (cf. Acts 13:24),

Before | Christ’s appearance came John, | preaching the baptism of repentance. 25

And repentance takes place in distress | and grief. But the father is good and loves | humanity, and he hears the | soul that calls upon him and | sends it the light of salvation. Therefore 30 he said through the spirit to the | prophet (cf. 1 Cl 8:3),

Say to the children of my people, | “[If your] sins extend | [from earth to] heaven, and if they become | [red] like scarlet and 35 blacker than [sackcloth and if] 136 you return to me with all your | soul and say to me, | “My father,” I will heed you as a | holy people.”

Again another place (Is 30:15),

Thus says 5 the lord, the holy one of | Israel: “If you (sg.) return and sigh, | then you will be saved and will know where you were | when you trusted in what is empty.”

Again | he said in another place (Is 30:19–20),

Jerusalem wept 10 much, saying, “Have pity on me.” He will have pity on the sound | of your (sg.) weeping. And when he saw he heeded you. | And the lord will give you (pl.) bread of | affliction and water of oppression. | From now on those who deceive will not approach you (sg.) again. 15 Your eyes will see those who are deceiving | you.

Therefore it is fitting to pray to | God night and day, spreading out | our hands towards him as do people sailing in the middle | of the sea: they pray to God 20 with all their heart without hypocrisy. | For those who pray | hypocritically deceive only themselves. | Indeed, it is in order that he might know who is worthy of salvation | that God examines the inward parts and 25 searches the bottom of the heart. For no | one is worthy of salvation who still loves | the place of deception. Therefore it is written | in the poet (Homer, Odyssey 1.48–59),

Odysseus sat | on the island weeping and grieving and turning 30 his face from the words of Calypso | and from her tricks, longing to see | his village and smoke coming | forth from it. And had he not [received] | help from heaven, [he would] not [have been able to return] 35 to his village.

Again [Helen] <…> saying (Odyssey 4.260–261), |

[My heart] turned itself from me. 137 It is to my house that I want to return.

For she sighed, | saying (Odyssey 4.261–264),

It is Aphrodite who | deceived me and brought me out of my village. My only daughter | I left behind me, and my 5 good, understanding, handsome husband.

For when | the soul leaves her | perfect husband because of the treachery of Aphrodite, | who exists here in the act of begetting, then | she will suffer harm. But if she sighs 10 and repents, she will be restored to her | house.

Certainly Israel would not have been visited | in the first place, to be brought out of the land of Egypt, | out of the house of bondage, if it had not sighed | to God and wept for the oppression 15 of its labors. Again it is written in the Psalms (,6:6–9), |

I was greatly troubled in my groaning. I will | bathe my bed and my cover each | night with my tears. I have become old in the midst of all my enemies. | Depart from me, all 20 you who work at law lessness, for behold the | lord has heard the cry of my weeping and | the lord has heard my prayer.”

If | we repent, truly God will | heed us, he who is long suffering and abundantly 25 merciful, to whom is the glory for | ever and ever. Amen. |

The Expository Treatise on the Soul

| 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.

( 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.

< 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. 190


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