News & Events
Gnosticism index page Introduction Origins Teachings Schools Search entire Site The Western Hermetic Tradition
Influences Glossary Books Links

The Apocryphon of John

One popular Gnostic text that describes - among other things - the sequence of Aeons is the Apocryphon of John. This is an early Sethian and probably secondarily Christianised work, four copies of which occur in the Coptic codexes that came to be known as the Nag Hammadi Library. The essence of the text dates from before Iranaenus' Against Heresies (185 C.E.), and it was still in use in eighth century Mesopotamia.

The Apocryphon of John is an important work of mythological Gnosticism, which uses the literary vehicle of a revelation delivered by the resurrected Christ to John the son of Zebedee to present an account of the origin of the Cosmos and the knowable godhead, and creation, fall, and salvation of humanity. As with many of these classical Gnostic texts, its mythology is developed on the basis of the early chapters of Genesis [Nag Hammadi Library, p.98], although the biblical account is inverted so that the Old Testament God becomes an anti-Divine being.

So when we consider this cosmology as a whole, we get the following schema:

                "Spirit" or "Father"
                Thought or Barbelo
      |            |            |          |         |
      Fore-     Indestruct-  Thought     Eternal   Truth 
      knowledge   ability       |          Life      |
        |           |           |           |
    First Aeon      |           |           |
  Celestial Adam    |           |           |
                    |           |           |
              Second Aeon       |           |
             Celestial Seth     |           |
                           Third Aeon       |
                        [Gnostic Souls]     |
                                      Fourth Aeon
      Realm of Light     [Psychic Souls lacking Gnosis]
      (Spiritual world)                    Sophia
      Realm of Darkness                 Evil Creator
      (The Universe)                          |
                                  Seven Planetary heavens
                                        Five abysses    

The Aeonology of the Apocryphon of John has parallels with other branching emanationist explanations of reality, such as the Indian Samkhyan system of tattwas (further developed in Kashmir Shaivism), and the Kabbalistic "Tree of Life" of ten sefirot (equivalent to the Gnostic Aeons) and 22 paths.


online text The Apocryphon of John (long version) - Translated by Frederik Wisse


The Sethian Gnostics | The Valentinian Cosmology | The Gnostic Dramaturgy - Creation and Redemption

Kheper Home | Gnosticism main page | Topics Index | New or updated | Search

Creative Commons License
Except where otherwise attributed or quoted, all text is licensed under a
Creative Commons License.

images not loading? | error messages? | broken links? | suggestions? | criticism?

contact me

validate this page

content by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 20 June 1999, last modified 6 June 2004
background from the Valentinus home page (no longer on-line)