Gnostic Doctrine

Friday, 2 August 2019

A Study of The Soul in the Exegesis on the Soul

The Exegesis on the Soul 
an allegory of the history of Israel

Short study on the ancient text from the The Nag Hammadi Library called The Exegesis on the Soul.

The author and date are not certain, however is likely from between the 2nd century AD and the 4th century AD

The text is silent concerning the typical Gnostic cosmology, i.e there is no mention of the pleroma, aeons, Yaldabaoth, the Demiurge  

To interpret the text of the Exegesis on the Soul we should compare the text with itself like comparing scripture with scripture. We should try not to read into the text myths about the fall of Sophia  

On the historical context of the text's author, Scopello comments, "The attention given to the theme of marriage and the nuptial chamber in the Exegesis on the Soul, in which the soul and the Spirit ultimately come together in an androgynous union, leads us to situate the writer of the tractate in a Valentinian Gnostic context. The text also gives some attention to the sacraments, though not to the extent of other Valentinian texts within the Nag Hammadi scriptures. All these elements suggest that the Exegesis on the Soul was composed in Alexandria, at the beginning of the third century, by a writer with a cultivated, syncretistic background." (The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, p. 226)

From this we can conclude that the The Exegesis on the Soul is a Valentinian Gnostic text this important for our understanding of the Exegesis on the Soul.

The text quotes copiously from the Old Testament prophets, from the New Testament gospels, and from the epistles of Paul. Curiously, the text also quotes from Homer's Odyssey. These quotes indicate that the author viewed Greek legend and mythology as a type of scripture, just as the author also viewed large portions of the Old and New Testaments as scripture.

Its purpose is to teach that the soul is a woman which fell from perfection (Lamentations 2:1) into prostitution, and that the Father will elevate her again to her original perfect state.  

Now we need to ask ourselves what is the soul?

According to April D. DeConick in her book The Gnostic New Age "most Gnostics thought that the psyche, or soul, was mortal." 

This is true for the Jewish-Christian Gnostics like the Valentinians however some pagan Gnostics believed in the immortal soul.

Heracleon was a Gnostic who flourished about AD 175, probably in the south of Italy. He is described by Clement of Alexandria (Strom.iv. 9) as the most esteemed (δοκιμώτατος) of the school of Valentinus; and, according to Origen (Comm. in S. Joann. t. ii. § 8, Opp. t. iv. p. 66), said to have been in personal contact (γνώριμος) with Valentinus himself.

From Heracleon we learn that the Valentinian Gnostics reject the doctrine of the immortal soul

Fragment 40, on John 4:46-53 (In John 4:46, “So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose child was ill.) The official was the Craftsman, for he himself ruled like a king over those under him. Because his domain is small and transitory, he was called an “official,” like a petty princeling who is set over a small kingdom by the universal king. The “child” “in Capernaun” is one who is in the lower part of the Middle (i.e. of animate substance), which lies near the sea, that is, which is linked with matter. The child’s proper person was sick, that is, in a condition not in accordance with the child’s proper nature, in ignorance and sins. (In John 4:47, “When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his child , for it was at the point of death.”) The words “from Judea to Galilee” mean ‘from the Judea above.’. . . By the words “it was at the point of death,” the teaching of those who claim that the soul is immortal is refuted. In agreement with this is the statement that “the body and soul are destoyed in Hell.” (Matthew 10:28) The soul is not immortal, but is possessed only of a disposition towards salvation, for it is the perishable which puts on imperishability and the mortal which puts on immortality when “its death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:54) (Heracleon: Fragments from his Commentary on the Gospel of John.)

This is a Biblical view as both the Old and New Testament teach that the soul is mortal and can die and does die in death. 
The soul has many meanings in the Bible however it is never used as an eternal or immortal part of man in fact it is used in the opposite way always relating to mortal life which is destructible.
Collective Noun
The Scriptures contain examples of the use of a singular noun to refer to a collective group:

Israel All the descendants of Jacob, collectively, at any one time. (Ex 9:4; Jos 3:7; Ezr 2:2b; Mt 8:10) 

“The Amorite” appears among the list of the sons of Canaan, but elsewhere this term, always in the singular in the Hebrew text, is used collectively of the Canaanite tribe descended from the original Amorite. They were, therefore, a Hamitic race.—Ge 10:6, 15, 16; 1Ch 1:13, 14.

Also the soul is used collectively for a group of people in some parts of the Scriptures see Genesis 14:21 Genesis 23:8 Jeremiah 48:6

The soul is used collectively in some parts of the bible Genesis 14:21 Genesis 23:8

23:7 Thereupon Abraham got up and bowed down to the natives, to the sons of Heth, 
8 and spoke with them, saying: “If YOUR souls agree to bury my dead out of my sight, listen to me and urge E´phron the son of Zo´har for me, 
9 that he may give me the cave of Mach·pe´lah, which is his, which is at the extremity of his field. For the full amount of silver let him give it to me in the midst of YOU for the possession of a burial place.” (Genesis 23:7-9 NWT) 

NWT Footnote: Lit., "with your soul," used collectively. Heb., 'eth-naph·shekhem´; Gr., psy·khei´.

Gen 23:8  and spoke to them, saying, If it be your will that I should bury my dead from before me, hear me, and entreat for me Ephron the son of Zohar, (Derby)

Gen 23:8  And said to them: If it please your soul that I should bury my dead, hear me, and intercede for me to Ephron the son of Seor. ()

Gen 23:8  and he speaketh with them, saying, ‘If it is your desire to bury my dead from before me, hear me, and meet for me with Ephron, son of Zoar; (Youngs)

KJV translates nephesh (H5315) as "mind" here!

Gen 23:8  And he communed with them, saying it be your mind (H5315) that I should bury my dead out of my sight; me, and intreat for me to Ephron

The phrase "If it be your will" (Derby) or "you are willing" (NIV) indicates "will" is also involved in this translation of nephesh:

"If you are willing to let me bury my dead." - Gen. 23:8 - NIV; NEB

Soul in the text of the Exegesis on the Soul
Since the Exegesis on the Soul has many quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures we should look for a Judeo-Christian understanding of the soul in the text turning to Greek philosophy and mythology could lead to misinterpreting the text symbolically the text should not be understood literally but as a allegory..

The text seems to be referring to the nation of Israel or the Israel of God collectively has the soul which needs to repent this can be seen at the end of the document:

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 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 you who work at lawlessness, for behold the lord has heard the cry of my weeping and the lord has heard my prayer."

If we repent[we like Israel need to ask for forgiveness] truly God will listen us, he who is long suffering and abundantly merciful, to whom is the glory for ever and ever. Amen! (Exegesis on the Soul )

"Certainly Israel " The story of the fall of the soul begins at the start of the text but at the end of the book the meaning is given 

Here at the end of the text instead of speaking about the soul the writer speaks about the nation of Israel instead this is show that the soul is used has an allegory for the sons of Israel.

It is only here at the end of the text we find a clear understanding of who or what the soul is.

"Certainly Israel would not have been visited in the first place if it had not sighed to God and wept for the oppression of its labors.

The word repent is a Jewish or Hebrew term and would be understood by Jewish-Christian readers

"If we repent, truly God will listen us,"

The soul is used collectively for the nation of Israel and the church or the Israel of God. The author of the Exegesis on the Soul is using figurative language the soul is symbolic of a group of people

In the phrase "If we repent, truly God will listen us"  It is obvious "We" is the members of the Church or the spiritual Israel. It also shows the text is addressing a group of people calling them to repentance.

Thus these words here at the end confirm my understanding that the soul here is allegorical of the fall of Israel and are own repentance. 

When the text uses the word Israel it is talking about the nation of Israel used collectively as the soul in the rest of the text. 

Wise men of old gave the soul a feminine name. Indeed she is female in her nature as well. She even has her womb. (Exegesis on the Soul )

The word soul is used as a personification of a woman this female figure is the wife of God. Who has fallen into prostitution. In the Bible the same is recorded about Israel she is also personified as a women who again is the wife of God fallen into prostitution.

Therefore the personification of the soul is an allegorical interpretation of the falling away of Israel into sin, it is also compare to the fall of Sophia or Solomon who is wisdom personified.

The Text of The Exegesis on the Soul 

 Wise men of old gave the soul a feminine name. Indeed she is female in her nature as well. She even has her womb. (
The Exegesis on the Soul)

The soul in Hebrew, Coptic, and Greek is a feminine noun, here it is used as an allegory for Israel both the natural seed of Israel and the Israel of God the spiritual Israel or the Church. The word woman is sometimes used in the Bible to refer to a weak and helpless man (Is.:3:12; 19:16). 

There is a literal understanding to this when once a child had been conceived, the developing embryo or fetus was considered a soul. Action that resulted in killing a developing child in the womb was handled according to the rule “soul for soul.” (Ex 21:22, 23)  

Indeed she is female in her nature as well. She even has her womb.  (The Exegesis on the Soul)

The womb of the soul refers to sin. Sin is a Female Principle which comes from the desires of the soul in the Bible sinners are referred  to has giving birth see 
Psalm 7 and the lettter to James 

Psalm 7:14 Look! There is one that is pregnant with what is hurtful, And he has conceived trouble and is bound to give birth to falsehood

James 1:13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. 

Job 15:35 They conceive mischief and bring forth vanity, and their belly prepareth deceit. The wicked's iniquity is as his children: he nourishes them, and at last they turn on him.

Isa 59:4 None calleth for justice nor any pleadeth for truth : they trust in vanity , and speak lies; they conceive mischief , and bring forth iniquity.

Isa 59:5 They hatch cockatrice eggs , and weave the spider’s web : he that eateth of their eggs dieth , and that which is crushed breaketh out into a viper. 

Jas 3:15  This wisdom is not one, from above, coming down, but is earthly, born of the soul, demoniacal! The Emphasised Bible

The language of child-bearing in connection with lust and sin in Psalm 7 is echoed by James (Jam 1:13-15). So wicked men bring forth "children" (that is sin) after their own "likeness" (Gal 5:19-21; Rom 1:29-31; 1Co 6:9,10), and are thus known by their "fruits" (Mat 7:16,20). The melancholy litany of birth, procreation, and death in Gen 5 ("and then he died") is the result of Adam's "likeness" being distorted, in his descendants, into the likeness of the serpent.

Philo: Now the female offspring of the soul are wickedness and passion, by which we are made effeminate in every one of our pursuits; but a healthy state of the passions and virtue is male, by which we are excited and invigorated.

Philo: But the passions are female by nature, and we must study to quit them, showing our preference for the masculine characters of the good dispositions.  

As long as she was alone with the father, she was virgin and in form androgynous. (
.The Exegesis on the Soul)

Often the term “virgin” is used in connection with cities, places, or peoples. Reference is made to the “virgin” or “virgin daughter” of “my people” (Jer 14:17), as well as of Israel (Jer 31:4, 21; Am 5:2), Judah (La 1:15), Zion (2Ki 19:21; La 2:13), Egypt (Jer 46:11), Babylon (Isa 47:1), and Sidon (Isa 23:12).

The sense of this figurative use appears to be that the various peoples or locations thus referred to either had not been seized and ravished by foreign conquerors or at one time enjoyed an unsubdued state like a virgin.

So with this figurative use of the word virgin we can see how it has a symbolic use in the Exegesis on the Soul 

"and in form androgynous

Androgynous being both male and female in that the nation of Israel is referred to as the wife of God and it is also called the sons of Israel This also explains how the soul can conceive trouble within herself without the help of an external agent

"When she fell down into a body and entered this life, then she fell into the hands of thieves."

Falling from heaven is figurative of losing authority, e.g. it is used about the demise of the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14. Falling from heaven is also used of the nation of Israel in Lamentations 2:1 

O how Yahweh in his anger beclouds the daughter of Zion!
He has thrown down from heaven to earth the beauty of Israel.
And he has not remembered his footstool in the day of his anger.

Luke 11:23 And you, Capernaum, will you perhaps be exalted to heaven? Down to Hades you will come; because if the powerful works that took place in you had taken place in Sodom, it would have remained until this very day

Matthew Henry (18 October 1662 – 22 June 1714) the English Presbyterian minister in his Complete Commentary writes .

—(1.) There was a great earthquake. This may be taken in a political sense; the very foundations of the Jewish church and state would be terribly shaken, though they seemed to be as stable as the earth itself. (2.) The sun became black as sackcloth of hair, either naturally, by a total eclipse, or politically, by the fall of the chief rulers and governors of the land. (3.) The moon should become as blood; the inferior officers, or their military men, should be all wallowing in their own blood. (4.) The stars of heaven shall fall to the earth (v. 13), and that as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. The stars may signify all the men of note and influence among them, though in lower spheres of activity; there should be a general desolation. (5.) The heaven should depart as a scroll when it is rolled together. This may signify that their ecclesiastical state should perish and be laid aside for ever. (6.) Every mountain and island shall be moved out of its place. The destruction of the Jewish nation should affect and affright all the nations round about, those who were highest in honour and those who seemed to be best secured; it would be a judgment that should astonish all the world

From this we can see that Matthew Henry understands  figurative language to be political speeches this is how we should understand the Exegesis on the Soul 

So we can see that the falling of the soul should be understood to be figurative language for the Kingdom of Israel to be in spiritual and political apostasy but how should we understand that she the soul fall into a body? 

Well the word body Is used figuratively many times in the bible 

(2) "the temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 6:19);

(3) "temple" (John 2:21);

(4) "the old man," the flesh as the servant of sin or the sphere in which moral evil comes to outward expression (Romans 6:6; Romans 7:7; compare Paul's use of sarx, "flesh");

(5) the "church" as Christ's body, the organism through which He manifests His life and in which H is spirit dwells (Ephesians 1:23 Colossians 1:24);

(6) the spiritual "unity" of believers, one redeemed society or organism (Ephesians 2:16; a corpus mysticum, Ephesians 4:4);

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

A number of individuals spoken of collectively, usually as united by some common tie, or as organized for some purpose; a collective whole or totality; a corporation; as, a legislative body; a clerical body.

A number of things or particulars embodied in a system; a general collection; as, a great body of facts; a body of laws or of divinity.

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary 

A political body is seen in the valley full of bones in Ezekiel 37 Israel was in a death state politically. The Jews regarded the lands of their captivity and dispersion as their "graves"; their restoration was to be as "life from the dead" ( Romans 11:15 ). Before, the bones were in the open plain ( Ezekiel 37:1 Ezekiel 37:2 ); now, in the graves, that is, some of the Jews were in the graves of actual captivity, others at large but dispersed. Both alike were nationally dead.

So here in the Exegesis on the Soul we can see that when the soul fell down into a body it is to be understood that Israel and Judah loses her place of preeminence (cp Lam 1:1; Isa 14:12; Jer 51:53; Mat 11:23; Luk 10:18). And falls into a dead body or the body of sin (Romans 6:6; Romans 7:24).  a house of  prostitution 

The Exegesis on the Soul is figurative language  about the apostasy in Israel the text than quotes from the Old Testament  to establish this has fact 

Wise men of old gave the soul a feminine name. [the soul in Hebrew, Coptic, and Greek is a feminine noun, here it is used as an allegory for Israel both the natural seed of Israel and the Israel of God the spiritual Israel. The word woman is sometimes used in the Bible to refer to a weak and helpless man (Is.:3:12; 19:16). ] Indeed she is female in her nature as well. She even has her womb. [ Even men can give birth Psalm 7:14 Look! There is one that is pregnant with what is hurtful, And he has conceived trouble and is bound to give birth to falsehood. the natural Israel gave brith to the Saviour and thus the spiritual Israel being the Jerusalem above the mother of us all]
As long as she was alone with the father, she was virgin and in form androgynous. [androgynous being both male and female in that she is the wife of God and she is always called the sons of Israel] But when she fell down into a body [that is a body of sin, now the Greek word for body Strong’s 4983 can be translated slave and in the AVKJ bible it is translated slave some 146 times and the word body is used of a (large or small) number of men closely united into one society, or family as it were; a social, ethical, mystical body i.e. the church, and also that which casts a shadow as distinguished from the shadow itself and thus a shadow of the truth. so we could translate this however when shell descend from her higher place to a lower she became a "slave" or "servant" to sin or a house of sin] and came to this life [being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God], she fell down into this body and entered this life when she listened not to the commandments of God  then she fell into the hands of many robbers [Isa 42:22  But this is a people robbed and plundered; they are all of them snared in holes, and they are hid in prison-houses: they are for a prey, and none delivereth; for a spoil, and none saith, Restore.]. And these shameless men [Reabome, Ahab, Jezebel] passed her from one to another and they violated her. [in setting up the revival baal-worship] Some raped her, [in killing the true prophetess of god and the exiles] while seduced her with gifts. In short, they defiled her, and she lost her virginity. Israel “kept building for themselves high places and sacred pillars and sacred poles upon every high hill and under every luxuriant tree. And even the male temple prostitute [New World Translation Reference Bible, footnote, “effeminate men”] proved to be in the land. They acted according to all the detestable things of the nations whom Yahweh had driven out from before the sons of Israel. 

And in her body [as a slave to the house of sin ] she prostituted herself [here the soul or body of Israel is likened to an adulterous wife who prostituted herself ] and gave herself to one and all, considering each one she was about to embrace to be her husband. [Here the soul is guilty of spiritual adultery which is  unfaithfulness to Yahweh on the part of those who are joined to him in a covenant. Natural Israel in the Law covenant was, therefore, guilty of spiritual adultery because of false religious practices, some of which included sex-worship rites and disregard for the seventh commandment. (Jer 3:8, 9; 5:7, 8; 9:2; 13:27; 23:10; Ho 7:4) For similar reasons Jesus denounced as adulterous the generation of Jews in his day. (Mt 12:39; Mr 8:38) Likewise today, if Christians who are dedicated to Yahweh and who are in the new covenant defile themselves with the present age (aeon), they commit spiritual adultery.—Jas 4:4.] When she had given herself to shameless, unfaithful adulterers, [The Assyrians, the Egyptians and the Babylon . Frequent condemnation was made of the reliance placed upon such pagan nations by apostate Israel and Judah, like “a simpleminded dove without heart.” (Jer 2:18, 36; La 5:6; Eze 16:26, 28; 23:5-12; Ho 7:11) The disastrous results of such a course were vividly described. (Eze 23:22-27 ] 

Jer 23:10  For the land is full of adulterers forsakes of God, Israel‘s true Husband; for because of swearing the land mourneth; the pleasant places of the wilderness are dried up, and their course is evil, and their force is not right.] 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 to live with them and render service to them upon their bed, as if they were her masters. [The Assyrians, the Egyptians and the Babylon . Frequent condemnation was made of the reliance placed upon such pagan nations by apostate Israel and Judah, often vacillating between Egypt and Assyria, like “a simpleminded dove without heart.” (Jer 2:18, 36; La 5:6; Eze 16:26, 28; 23:5-12; Ho 7:11) The disastrous results of such a course were vividly described. (Eze 23:22-27 ] Out of shame she no longer dares to leave them, whereas they deceive her for a long time, pretending to be faithful, true husbands, 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 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, blind and sickly. They are feebleminded. 

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