In The Cavity of a Rock

In The Cavity of a Rock
Father Lehi

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Pistis Sophia and the Book of Mormon

The Pistis Sophia is a Gnostic document that surfaced in 1773 and was purchased by the British Museum in 1795.  It is part of the Askew Codex named after Anthony Askew.  It was originally written between the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D.  It was written in Coptic but would have been a copy of an original text still missing written in Greek.  The text is broken into four sections and relates the teachings of Jesus to his disciples which included his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene and Martha during an 11 year time period after his resurrection.  The teachings cover the mysteries of descending and ascending through the different levels and hierarchies of Heaven, important figures in the Gnostic cosmology and the Gnosticism aspect of Sophia a female divinity which ties to many capacities including a mother on high, revealer of perfect mysteries and even the Holy Spirit itself.  I know it sounds interesting…and it is but this post will be focused on the correlations of the teachings and dealings of Jesus to his disciples found in the Pistis Sophia and the Book of Mormon.  
According to Pistis Sophia 3, there was, at the time of Jesus' ascension into heaven, a great earthquake that lasted for three hours. An alternate view given in the manuscript is that the earthquake lasted from the third hour on the fifteenth day of the month Tybi until the ninth hour the following day. This accords with the statement in 3 Nephi 8:19 that "the quakings of the earth . . . did last for about the space of three hours; and it was said by some that the time was greater."For three days after the earthquake and other agitations of nature, the Nephites were "howling and weeping" in the darkness and lamenting the destruction of the people in a number of cities (3 Nephi 8:23-25; 10:8). In Pistis Sophia 4, we read that "the disciples sat together in fear and were in exceedingly great agitation and were afraid because of the great earthquake which took place, and they wept together, saying: "What will then be? Peradventure the Saviour will destroy all regions?' Thus saying, they wept together." During this time, the heavenly host "all sang praises . . . so that the whole world heard their voices" (Pistis Sophia 3). Among the Nephites, after the quaking had stopped, "all the people of the land" heard the voice of Christ (3 Nephi 9:1-10:8).

Christ descending in the Americas
On the day following the earthquake, according to Pistis Sophia 4, as the disciples "wept together . . . the heavens opened, and they saw Jesus descend, shining most exceedingly . . . so that men in the world cannot describe the light which was on him." Joseph Smith used similar terminology to describe the brilliant light that surrounded the Father and the Son when they appeared to him in the Sacred Grove in the spring of 1820 (Joseph Smith-History 1:16-17). We are also reminded of Joseph Smith's description of Moroni on the night of his first appearance, 21/22 September 1823: "his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person" (Joseph Smith-History 1:32). The gradients of light are features shared by both Jesus and Moroni. Of Moroni's departure, Joseph Smith wrote, "I saw the light in the room begin to gather immediately around the person of him who had been speaking to me, and it continued to do so until the room was again left dark, except just around him; when, instantly I saw, as it were, a conduit open right up into heaven, and he ascended till he entirely disappeared, and the room was left as it had been before this heavenly light had made its appearance" (Joseph Smith-History 1:43).

In Pistis Sophia 6, the apostles, unable to withstand the brilliant light, asked Jesus, "withdraw thy light-glory into thyself that we may be able to stand. . . . Then Jesus drew to himself the glory of his light." The opening of the heavens and the drawing of the light to the person of the heavenly visitor is a feature shared by both stories.

Part 2

The Book of Mormon does not say that Jesus was surrounded by light when he descended from heaven to visit the Nephites after his resurrection, but it is significant that he introduced himself by saying "I am Jesus Christ. . . . I am the light and the life of the world" (3 Nephi 11:10-11). The Book of Mormon text notes that Jesus appeared to the Nephites "after his ascension into heaven" (3 Nephi 11:12), while in Pistis Sophia 3-4 the reappearance of Christ to his apostles occurred the day following his ascension. The apostles were frightened, so Jesus reassured them by saying, "Take courage. It is I, be not afraid" (Pistis Sophia 5). To the Nephites, who had fallen "to the earth" (3 Nephi 11:12), he said, "Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet. . . . And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet" (3 Nephi 11:14-15). In Pistis Sophia 6, "all the disciples took courage, stepped forward to Jesus, fell down all together, adored him, rejoicing in great joy."

In both stories, Jesus then teaches the people, though the contents of his teachings are not identical. To the Nephites, he delivered the sermon he had previously given to his disciples in the Old World. To the apostles of Pistis Sophia 6-7, he told of the preexistent world from which they had come and of his return to his Father after the resurrection to receive his heavenly garment. One passage is of particular importance because it, too, has a parallel in the Book of Mormon. Jesus told the twelve apostles, "when I set out for the world [from the preexistence], I brought from the beginning with me twelve powers, as I have told you from the beginning which I have taken from the twelve saviours of the Treasury of the Light, according to the command of the First Mystery [i.e., God]. These then I cast into the womb of your mothers, when I came into the world, that is those which are in your bodies today" (Pistis Sophia 7).

This scene is like one from Lehi's vision, in which "he saw the heavens open, and . . . God sitting upon his throne," then "he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day. And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament. And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth" (1 Nephi 1:8-11). The brilliance of Christ and his twelve apostles, as described by Lehi, reminds us that, in the Pistis Sophia, they are said to have come forth from "the Treasury of Light."

Nephi, having asked to see what his father had seen in vision, was also shown Christ and his twelve apostles (1 Nephi 11:27-29). Like Lehi, he "saw the heavens open" and was shown Jesus' mother Mary, "a virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins," who became "the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh" (1 Nephi 11:14-21). Similarly, in Pistis Sophia 8, Jesus, speaking of the preexistence, says, "I looked down on the world of mankind and found Mary, who is called "my mother' according to the body of matter," into whom his spirit was then placed when the spirits of the apostles were placed inside their mothers.

Part 3

Christ and his Disciples in America
A number of Latter-day Saint practices and beliefs introduced by Joseph Smith are also found in the Pistis Sophia. In one scene (Pistis Sophia 136), the apostles and their wives stand around Jesus dressed in linen as he prays for them at the altar, reminiscent of the prayer circle. The words spoken by Jesus are unintelligible and are hence merely transliterated (and not translated) in the English text. This reminds us that, in the Book of Mormon, when Jesus prayed for the Nephites, his words were so great that they could not be recorded (3 Nephi 17:15-17). In Pistis Sophia 141-43, as the apostles stand around Jesus with the "cipher" of "the name" in their hands, Jesus tells them about the power he has given them to seal on earth and in heaven, so they can perform the mysteries for men, and mentions anointing and the mystery that leads into the Holy of Holies, in  connection with the ciphers and names. In several passages of the Pistis Sophia (128, 130, 146-47), Jesus talks about baptism for the dead and indicates that the living must perform for them that which they can no longer do for themselves. Did Joseph Smith get his ideas for the temple from this ancient document that was unknown in his day?
There are other parallels as well. In Pistis Sophia 7-8, Jesus speaks of the "soul of the rulers" in the premortal existence, in terms reminiscent of Abraham 3:23 in which, in the premortal world, God stood among a group of spirits and declared, "These I will make my rulers." The following is an interesting comparison between part of a revelation received by Joseph Smith and a section of the ancient Coptic text:

D&C 18:15-16--
And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father! And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the
kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!

Pistis Sophia 104 (Mead's translation)--
Amen, amen, I say unto you: He who shall keep in Life and save only one soul, besides the dignity which he possesseth in the Light-kingdom, he will receive yet another dignity for the soul which he hath saved, so that he who shall save many souls, besides the dignity which he possesseth in the Light he will receive many other dignities for the souls which he hath saved.

1 comment: