A Dictionary of Gnosticism is a scholarly yet accessible guide that covers the people, mythology, movements, scripture, and technical terms related to this pre-Christian Western religion. It contains nearly 1700 entries, from Aachiaram, an angel in the 'Secret Book of John to Zostrianos', a third-century Gnostic text, and is a reliable reference for the Nag Hammadi library and other Gnostic texts. An introduction explains who the Gnostics were and provides a whirlwind tour through the history of this captivating movement.
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About the Author
Andrew Phillip Smith was born and grew up in Penarth in South Wales in the United Kingdom and took his degree in computer science at the University College of Wales, Swansea. From 1987, Andrew worked in computing in London, including a two-year stint providing technical support for the publishers Harcourt Brace. From 1997-2007 Andrew lived in Northern California near the Sierra Nevada mountain range, where he began his writing career. In his time he busked on the streets of London playing a small harp, delivering leaflets, working as a security guard, as a letterpress printer, and as a librarian to a private library. He now lives in Dublin, Ireland, with his wife Tessa Finn and his son Dylan. In addition to writing, Andrew edits The Gnostic, a small press magazine devoted to Gnosticism in all its forms and runs Bardic Press, a small publishing company publishing reprints and niche works in the areas of Gnosticism and early Christianity, Celtic interest, Gurdjieff/Fourth Way and Sufi poetry. His interests include early Christianity and Gnosticism, esoterica, Welsh and other Celtic mythology, the Fourth Way, graphic novels, and poetry. He is learning to play the uilleann pipes, the irish bagpipes.
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A Dictionary of Gnosticism
By Andrew Phillip Smith
Theosophical Publishing HouseCopyright © 2009 Andrew Phillip Smith
All rights reserved.
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Aachiaram: In the Secret Book of John, an angel who governs the function of "arrangement" or integration.
Aariel/Ariael: (Hebrew, "lion of God") A name found along with the lion-headed Yaldabaoth on a Gnostic gem; also connected with Yaldabaoth in On the Origin of the World.
Aarmouriam: One of the seven angels governing all the other angels who create or animate the body in the Secret Book of John.
Abalphe: In an apocalyptic passage in the Paraphrase of Shem, a female wind that will come out of the mouth of a demon from the east.
Abatur/Abathur: In Mandaean myth, the Third Life emanated by Rba (the Great Life). Abatur is the "keeper of the scales" who determines which souls are worthy to enter the house of light. Sometimes called Bhaq Ziwa, he is the father of Ptahil and the uthras.
Abel: In Genesis, the second son of Adam and Eve, and the murder victim of his brother Cain. In the Secret Book of John, Eve is raped by Yaldabaoth and gives birth to Cain, also known as Eloim, and Abel, also known as Youe or Yave; Abel/Yave is described as righteous in contrast to his brother Cain. Also in the Secret Book of John, Abel is an archon of the seven heavens, associated with Monday. In the Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit, Abel is the seventh of the twelve archonic angels brought forth by Sakla and Nebruel.
Abenlenarchei: In the Secret Book of John, a power responsible for creating bone marrow.
Aberamentho: A name for Jesus in the Pistis Sophia.
Abgar Letters: (third century) An apocryphal exchange of letters between Jesus and the first- century King Abgar of Edessa in the kingdom of Osroene in Syria. Abgar's letter urges Jesus to come to Edessa because of his wonder-working reputation. In response, Jesus praises Abgar's faith and promises to send one of his disciples to Edessa.
Abitrion: In the Secret Book of John, an angel who created the right underarm.
Ablanathanalba: A palindrome used in Coptic and Greek magical texts, including Christian magical texts.
Abraham: The patriarch in Genesis. In the Gospel of Philip, Abraham's adoption of the rite of circumcision is seen as a example of asceticism, teaching that it is "right to destroy the flesh."
Abrana: In the Secret Book of John, an angel who animated the toes of the left foot.
Abrasax: In the Revelation of Adam, one of three angels, along with Sablo and Gamaliel, who will descend and rescue people from fire and wrath, probably from Sodom and Gomorrah. See also Abraxas.
Abraxas: An entity who has various roles in Gnostic and magical systems. The letters of the word Abraxas in Greek gematria, in which each letter of the Greek alphabet is given a unique value, add up to 365, which in the Basilidean system described by Irenaeus represents the 365 emanations from the supreme being. Abraxas appears frequently on engraved magical gems, usually depicted with a rooster head. The name might have originated from Hebrew Arba ("four," referring to the tetragrammaton, the divine name) Sabaoth, "lord of hosts." Abraxas is also a deity in C. G. Jung's Seven Sermons to the Dead.
Abrisene: In the Secret Book of John, one of the twelve powers begotten by Yaldabaoth.
Absolute: God, defined as that which exists in, by, and of itself without reference to anything else. Philosophies that posit an Absolute are usually transcendentalist.
Abu Jahl: (Arabic, "Father of Folly") A name for Azazi'il in the Mother of Books; also a traditional nickname for an opponent of Muhammad.
Abu Talib: Uncle of Muhammad and father of Ali, the founder of Shi'ite Islam; also an angelic figure in the Mother of Books.
Abydos: City in Upper Egypt, site of the central shrine to the mysteries of Osiris from the Sixth Dynasty onward.
Abyss: The underworld, either related to or equivalent to (for example, in the Tripartite Tractate) Chaos, Hades, and the outer darkness. The Abyss is often seen as preexisting the demiurge. In the Secret Book of John, five kings are set by Yaldabaoth to rule over the Abyss, which later shakes to its foundations when a voice issues from the heavenly realm. In the Three Forms of First Thought, the Son revealed himself to those in the Abyss. The non-Gnostic Nag Hammadi text Teachings of Silvanus associates the Abyss with punishment for sin and asserts that the spirit of evil may throw a person into the Abyss and that any person who is not pleasing to God will go down to the Abyss. In On the Origin of the World, the demiurge and the other beings in Chaos will be cast into the Abyss at the end of the age.
Achamoth: (From Hebrew hokhmah, "wisdom") An angel of Eden in Justin's Baruch. In Valentinian cosmology, Achamoth is the lower Sophia who is trapped outside the pleroma. See also Echamoth.
Achcha: In the Secret Book of John, an angel responsible for creating the uvula.
Achiel: In the Secret Book of John, an angel who created the right knee.
Acinetos: (Greek, "immovable") An aeon emanated from the aeons Sermo and Vita according to the Valentinian system in Tertullian's Against the Valentinians. Acinetos formed a pair with the aeon Syncrasis.
acosmism: A philosophy that denies reality to the created universe and attributes reality only to the Absolute. Gnosticism may be interpreted as acosmic, since only the spiritual world may be considered truly real.
Act of Peter: (BG 8502, 4) An apocryphal account of the apostle Peter, dated to around the end of the second century. Most scholars maintain that the Act of Peter is not a Gnostic text, but it is found with the Gospel of Mary, the Secret Book of John, and the Wisdom of Jesus Christ in the Berlin Gnostic Codex. The apostle Peter is criticized by someone in the crowd for healing many strangers but leaving his own virgin daughter paralyzed. Peter responds by restoring his daughter to health, and she promptly gets up and walks. But Peter returns her to her paralyzed state because her paralysis will protect her against sexual defilement. When she was ten years old, a man named Ptolemy had been planning to ravish her, but upon seeing that she was paralyzed he had relented and eventually made his way to Peter's house where he converted to Christianity. When Ptolemy died he gave his land to Peter, who sold it and passed on the money to the poor.
Acta Archelai: A fourth-century Christian polemical work written by Hegemonius, an otherwise unknown Christian, concerning Archelaus, a bishop in northern Mesopotamia, that attacks Manichaean beliefs and practices. The Acta Archelai was widely used and quoted by subsequent Christians who opposed Manichaeanism.
Acts of Andrew: (150–250) One of the most popular of the apocryphal acts, known throughout the Christian world up to the ninth century. Its Gnostic features are not as prominent as some of the other apocryphal acts, such as the Acts of John, but there is evidence it was used by Manichaeans and Priscillians. The Acts of Andrew is characterized by a succession of miracles performed by the apostle, who goes to the Greek province of Achaia after the resurrection of Jesus but travels also to other parts of Greece, Byzantium, and surrounding areas. He heals and raises the dead, causes an illegitimate fetus to be aborted, saves a boy from the incestuous attention of his mother, and is rescued by God from an earthquake. After a variety of adventures, including an imprisonment, Andrew is crucified and delivers a sermon on the cross that lasts for three days.
Acts of John: (150–200) The most Gnostic of the apocryphal acts, containing elements of docetic doctrine, which considers the body of Jesus unreal. Jesus was said to change shape, appearing as a small boy, as a handsome man, as a bald-headed man with a long beard, and as a youth. The Acts of John also contains the Round Dance of the Cross, or Hymn of Jesus, and a Gnosticized account of the crucifixion.
Acts of Paul: (150–200) The most popular of the ancient apocryphal acts, which contains the only known description of Paul, "a man small in size, with a bald head and crooked legs; in good health; with eyebrows that met and a rather prominent nose." It promotes celibacy yet features an important female companion of Paul named Thecla. The Acts of Paul was initially popular among orthodox Christians but was treated with suspicion once it was used by Manichaeans.
Acts of Peter: (150–200) One of the earliest of the apocryphal acts of the apostles, the Acts of Peter includes a magic contest between Simon Magus and the apostle Peter in Rome. It concludes with Peter's martyrdom and the famous Quo Vadis section, in which Peter, while fleeing Rome, sees Christ and asks him, "Quo vadis?" (Where are you going?). Christ replies that he is going to Rome to be crucified again, which Peter understands as an injunction to return to Rome and accept his own crucifixion.
Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles: (NHC VI, 1) An apocryphal account of the apostles, an allegorical Christian tale with no specific reference to Gnosis or to Gnostic cosmology. Peter and the disciples voyage to a city named Abide-in-Endurance, where they meet a stranger named Lithargoel, a pearl merchant. Lithargoel describes his city of nine gates, and the disciples undertake a hazardous journey to reach it. Later, Lithargoel returns as a doctor and identifies himself as Jesus. He gives the disciples a bag of medicine and instructs them to heal not only bodies but hearts as well.
Acts of Pilate: (150–400) A fictional account purporting to be the official records of the trial of Jesus, which seeks to exonerate Pilate and to put the burden of blame on the Jews; also known as the Gospel of Nicodemus.
Acts of the Apostles: (ca. 75–110) New Testament book written by the author of the Gospel of Luke that follows the fortunes of the apostles after the resurrection of Jesus and describes the conversion and subsequent ministry of Paul. Of particular interest to the study of Gnosticism is the episode in Acts 8 in which Simon Magus appears. Acts reflects the tendency to harmonize early divisions between Jewish and gentile Christians and presents an idealized history of the very early church.
Acts of Thomas: (200–225) An apocryphal act with strong Gnostic influence in parts and a tendency toward celibacy and asceticism. It tells the story of the apostles drawing lots to divide up the world for their missionary journeys and follows the fortunes of Thomas after he draws India. He resists the mission assigned to him, so Christ arranges for him to be sold as a slave to a merchant named Habban, who takes Thomas to India, where he works as a carpenter for King Gundaphorus. He performs miracles in India but is eventually condemned to death by King Misdaeus and his relation Charisius after Thomas converted their wives. In prison, Thomas sings the beautiful Hymn of the Pearl. The Acts of Thomas was used by Manichaeans as well as Catholic Christians.
Adaban: In the Secret Book of John, an angel who created the neck.
Ad abolendam: A papal bull of 1184 issued by Lucius III denouncing the Cathars and Waldensians in Italy in particular and urging priests to act against heresy in their parishes.
Adakas: Mandaean abbreviation for Adam Kasya, the spiritual Adam.
Adam: (Hebrew, "human being") The first man in Genesis. Adam fulfils several roles in Gnostic texts but is typically a botched creation who is succeeded by Seth. In Mandaean myth the physical Adam (Adam Pagria) has a spiritual counterpart (Adam Kasya) who inhabits Msunia Kusta, the spiritual counterpart of the material world, and whose children are the spirits of human beings. The physical Adam is the first man.
adamantine: A legendary strong material, often considered to be a metal or gemstone, referred to in a variety of myths and sometimes connected with the figure of Adam. In the Hymn of the Pearl, the prince's robe is decorated with gems, precious metals, and adamantine jewels.
Adamas: The heavenly Adam, or divine Anthropos, father of the heavenly Seth in Gnostic systems such as the Naasene. In Manichaean myth, in the Kephalaia, Adamas of Light is one of the five sons of the Living Spirit and is sent to help humanity. In the Books of Jeu, Adamas Sabaoth is the great tyrant.
Adamites: A North African Christian sect from the second to fourth centuries that allegedly practiced naturism and eschewed marriage, intending to return to the state of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. None of their writings survive, and the only accounts are hostile references by church fathers. They are referred to by Epiphanius, Theoderet, and Augustine of Hippo.
Adam Kadmon: In Kabbalah, the ideal, spiritual form of man, or the archetype of man.
Adatan: Along with Yadatan, one of a pair of spiritual beings in Mandaean myth who, according to the Ginza Rabba, sit at the gate of life and seek spirits and souls in the place of light.
Addai: Legendary founder of Syrian Christianity, sometimes considered to be identical to the apostle Thaddeus or to one of the seventy-two disciples sent out by Jesus. He is mentioned in the Abgar Letters, where he is sent by Thomas to Edessa. In the First Revelation of James, Jesus tells James to pass on his revelations to Addai, who will write about them. His legendary life was fully developed in the fourth century Doctrine of Addai.
Adelphius: (third century) A Gnostic mentioned by Porphyry, leader of a Sethian Gnostic school. In reaction to Adelphius, Aquilinus, and their pupils, Plotinus lectured against Gnosticism, which formed the basis for his tract Against the Gnostics.
Adnaut Hiia: ("Likeness-of-Life") In Mandaeanism, a female spirit mentioned in the Ginza Rabba and 'Niania, sometimes considered to be the mother of Yusamin.
Adonai: A Hebrew name for God, meaning "Lord." For the Mandaeans, Adonai was an evil god identified with the Sun and the god of the Hebrews. Variations on the name appear in Gnostic texts, e.g., Adonaios.
Adonaias: An archon created by Yaldabaoth and associated with Mars.
Adonaios: An angel of Eden in Justin's Baruch, also an archon or a name linked to the demiurge. In On the Origin of the World, one of the seven androgynous archons of Chaos, whose feminine name is "Kingship." In the Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit, also known as Sabaoth, the fifth of the twelve archonic angels brought forth by Sakla and Nebruel.
Adonaiou: See Adonaias.
Adonein: See Adonin.
Adonin: In the Secret Book of John, a monkey-faced archon associated with Friday and paired with Jealousy.
Adonis: (from Semitic Adon, "Lord") A dying and rising god at the center of a mystery cult. Originally of Semitic origin, he is linked to the similar figures of Osiris, Attis, and Tammuz and is mentioned as "thrice-lamented Adonis" in a hymn in the Naasene Sermon.
adoptionism: The belief that Jesus was born human and became divine only when he was adopted as God's son later in his life, usually at the time of his baptism by John or on the cross. Some scholars believe there are signs of an adoptionist approach in the letters of Paul and the Gospel of Mark, and Jewish Christian sects, such as the Ebionites, were generally adoptionist.
Advaita Vedanta: The nondualistic interpretation of the Hindu Vedas, in which the individual soul is identical with Brahman, the soul of the universe. Parallels have been drawn between Advaita and Gnosticism. Both teachings can be shown to have emanationist cosmologies and figures that represent the archetypal human being. The Gnostic doctrine that the human spirit is akin to the pleroma and thus to the true God has resemblances to the lack of distinction between the true human self and God in Advaita.
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A Dictionary of Gnosticism,