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The Secret Book of John

The Secret Book (sometimes called “Apocryphon”) of John was one of the most remarkable discoveries of the Nag Hammadi Library (see p. 19), where it was found in multiple versions that differ from one another in some ways.1 Cast as a post-resurrection discussion of Jesus with his disciple, John the son of Zebedee, the book contains one of the clearest expositions of the Gnostic myth of creation and redemption, an exposition designed, ultimately, to explain the existence of evil in the world and the path of escape for those who recognize their plight.2 In intricate detail the account discusses the propagation of the divine realm from the one invisible, imperishable, incomprehensible God prior to creation, and the tragic mistake of the aeon Sophia, who produced an offspring apart from her divine consort. The result was the monster Creator God, whom Sophia named Yaltabaoth; this, in fact, is none other than the God of the Bible, who is portrayed here as a malformed and imperfect divine being, who out of ignorance proclaims “I am God, and there is no other God beside me” (Isa 45:5–6). Yaltabaoth is ultimately responsible for the creation of the world and humans; but he is tricked into breathing the breath of life into the human he has made, thus imparting the power of his mother, Sophia, to them, making them animate, with an element of the divine within. As with other forms of the Gnostic myth, a good deal of the Secret Book of John represents a creative exposition of the stories of creation found in Genesis 1–4. The tale continues with the appearance of Christ from above to provide the divine souls entrapped within mortal bodies the knowledge necessary for escape. Since this particular version of the Gnostic myth was known, in a slightly different form, to the late second-century church father Irenaeus, most scholars date the Secret Book of John sometime prior to 180 ce.


See further Ehrman, Lost Christianities, 123–25. see Ehrman, Lost Christianities, 122–25.


For a fuller explanation of Christian Gnosticism,

Translation by Frederik Wisse, in James Robinson, Nag Hammadi Library in English, 3rd ed. (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1988) 105–13; 116; 117–120; 123; used with permission.


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