Gnostic Doctrine

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

The Gnostic Understanding of the Tabernacle

 The Valentinian Teachings on the Tabernacle 

Tabernacle (Hebrew: מִשְׁכַּן‎, mishkan), a transportable tent of worship used by Israel; at times also called “the tent of meeting.” (Ex 39:32, 40; .) In Hebrew it is called mishkan´ (residence; dwelling; tabernacle), ´o´hel (tent), and miqdash´ (sanctuary). In Greek it is referred to as skene´, which means “tent; booth; residence; dwelling place.”

Irenaeus provides evidence that the Valentinians envisaged the divine world as a complex structure resembling a series of temple rooms, with the ‘Pleroma’ (Fullness) as the holy of holies. According to the Valentinian myth which he relates, in the Pleroma is the invisible and incomprehensible First-Father, who is responsible for a series of emanations, or Aeons. For the Valentinians entry into the Pleroma is the ultimate stage of salvation for the ‘spiritual’.

For Valentinians there are multiple levels of interpretation when it comes to the temple or Tabernacle for example the Gospel of Philip understands the three structures or three rooms or chambers of the Temple to refer to baptism, redemption; and the bridal chamber:

There were three structures for sacrifice in Jerusalem. One opened to the west and was called the holy place; a second opened to the south and was called the holy of the holy; the third opened to the east and was called the holy of holies, where only the high priest could enter. The holy place is baptism; the holy of the holy is redemption; the holy of holies is the bridal chamber. (Gospel of Philip)

Here in the Gospel of Philip the Temple is divided into three sections "the holy place, the holy of the holy and the holy of holies" the holy place could refer to the Inner Court (1 Kings 6:36), or Court of the Priests (2 Chr. 4:9), outside the temple building were the brazen altar and Laver are located. 

It is possible that the porch or vestibule is counted here as a separate room. Philo also mentions three sections in Mos. 2. 101, but he describes the Tabernacle, not the Temple in Jerusalem, like the passage in the Gospel of Philip.

Heracleon understands the holy of holies to refer to the divine realm or Peroma: 

The sanctuary is the Holy of Holies, into which only the High-Priest enters, into which the spiritual go. The temple courtyard, where the Levites also enter, is a symbol of the animate ones who attain a salvation outside the Fullness (Pleroma). (Heracleon: Fragments from his Commentary on the Gospel of John)

The Testament of Levi recounts an ascent into the heavenly Temple comparable to 1 Enoch. Researchers have argued that earlier versions of this text rely on a cosmology of three heavens through which Levi journeys. Later versions have expanded the heavens to seven ( See RH. Charles, The Greek Versions of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (repr.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1960), p. xxviii; Kee, O T P , I, pp. 775-80 and 788-89 nn. 2d and 3a; )

Whoever belongs to the priestly order can go inside the curtain along with the high priest. For this reason the curtain was not torn only at the top, for then only the upper realm would have been opened. It was not torn only at the bottom, for then it would have revealed only the lower realm. No, it was torn from top to bottom. The upper realm was opened for us in the lower realm, that we might enter the hidden realm of truth. (Gospel of Philip)

Therefore, he says, it has a veil in order that the things may not be destroyed by the sight of it. And only the archangel enters it, and to typify this the high priest every year enters the holy of holies. From thence Jesus was called and sat down with Space, that the spirits might remain and not rise before him, and that he might subdue Space and provide the seed with a passage into the Pleroma. (Extracts from the Works of Theodotus)

According to Valentinians theologians, the divine Fullness (pleroma) corresponds to the Holy of Holies in the Temple (Herakleon Fragment 13). Like the Holy of Holies, the Pleroma is separated from the "outer tent" (i.e. the cosmos) by a boundary or Limit which is often described as a curtain or "veil". 

The Gospel of Philip compares the hidden nature of the Pleroma to that of the Holy of Holies: "At the present time we have access to the visible aspects of creation. We say that they are mighty and glorious, but the hidden things are powerless and contemptible. Are the hidden aspects of Truth like this? Are they powerless? Are they contemptible? No, rather it is these hidden aspects that are mighty and glorious. The mysteries of Truth are manifestly representations and images. Thus the bridal chamber (i.e. Pleroma) remains hidden. It stands for the Holy in the Holy." (Gospel of Philip 105)

In the Extracts from the Works of Theodotus. 38 the allegory of the Temple is related to the ascent of the pneumatics to the Pleroma. Jesus is identified with the High Priest who is allowed to enter into the Holy of Holies. Strikingly, the Holy of Holies does not depict the Pleroma, but the throne of the Demiurge, which has a veil so that the spiritual human beings are not destroyed by the sight of it. The task of the Savior is to subdue the flames and to provide an entrance for the pneumatics to the Pleroma. For the allegory of the Temple in the Gospel of Philip, see Ronald McL. Wilson, The Gospel of Philip. Translated from the Coptic Text, with an Introduction and Commentary (London: A. R. Mowbray & Co., 1962), 139-141.

The Heavenley Tabernacle

Gen 1:6 Then God said, "Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters."

expanse: the Hebrew word raqia sometimes translated "firmament" means, literally, an "expansion", and so indicates the Scriptural anticipation by many thousand years, of the modern scientists' "expanding universe". Raqah the verb is used by Jeremiah to speak of "silver spread into plates" (Jer. 10:9). Job speaks of Him "which alone spreadeth out the heavens" (Job 9:8), and who "stretcheth out the north over the empty place" (tohu, "without form" of Genesis 1:2), (Job 26:7). The stretched-out heavens are likened to a tent or tabernacle.

"That stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in" (Isa. 40:22).

"He that created the heavens, and stretched them out" (Isa 42:5).

"That stretched forth the heavens alone" (Isa. 44:24; 51:13; Zech. 12:1)

Not only is the firmament spoken of in language that reminds of the Tabernacle, there is a reference in Job, that suggests that the earth too, is looked upon as the ground upon which this tabernacle of the sky rests.

Psa 19:5 LXX (18:5) In the sun he has set his tabernacle; and he comes forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber: he will exult as a giant to run his course.

Hebrew 9:11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come, He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made by hands and is not a part of this creation.

Ex 25:9 According to all that I shew thee, [after] the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make [it].

Heb 8:5 Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, [that] thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount.

The tabernacle was built after the pattern that was shown to Moses in the mount.

XXXI. (95) Now, Bezaleel, being interpreted, means God in his shadow. But the shadow of God is his word, which he used like an instrument when he was making the world. And this shadow, and, as it were, model, is the archetype of other things. For, as God is himself the model of that image which he has now called a shadow, so also that image is the model of other things, as he showed when he commenced giving the law to the Israelites, and said, "And God made man according to the image of God."{46}{#ge 1:26.} as the image was modelled according to God, and as man was modelled according to the image, which thus received the power and character of the model. (Allegorical Interpretation, III)

The Zohar, a mystical text believed to have been written in the 13th century, saw the tabernacle as a reflection of the process of the creation of the universe. Indeed, the Zohar points out, the language used to describe how God created the universe in the Book of Genesis is identical to the language used to describe the artist Bezalel’s building of the tabernacle in the Book of Exodus.

The Building of the Tabernacle

The tabernacle is symbolic of inner purification

The setting up of the tabernacle means the establishing of a new state of perception within the mind.

"The tabernacle or the tent of meeting" means that a definite point shall be established in mind where we shall dwell in the spirit of the Divine Mind composed of archetype ideas, which moves as a tent wherever we go.

It was not that God needed a physical sanctuary on earth, but that each one of us is called to build a tabernacle for God in our hearts, preparing ourselves to become a sanctuary for God.

"The  tabernacle of Meeting" can also be said to symbolize the indwelling spirit in a believer 

Bestowal for Bestowal

The first step toward the building was the giving of gifts (Exod. 25:1-9). A great variety was called for. The gifts included jewels, gold, silver, brass, spices, oil, skins, linen, acacia wood, and help in preparing the materials for the tabernacle and its furnishings, and in erecting it. The gifts had to be a freewill offering from the heart (Exod. 25:2). We are here shown that we must give up the material things of value before we can build the spiritual. Back of these material ideas, however, is the substance that is converted into the new. Nothing is lost in the divine economy. Every experience leaves its form in the soul, and in the divine alchemy may be converted into gold for the tabernacle.

The freewill offering would refer to the aeon Theletos

The Tabernacle as a body

The Tabernacle is a tent this tent is symbolic of the human body:

2 Corinthians 5:1 For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

2 Peter 1:13 Yes, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance;

Exodus 26:6 New Living Translation
Then make fifty gold clasps and fasten the long curtains together with the clasps. In this way, the Tabernacle will be made of one continuous piece.

The phrase, "the Tabernacle will be one continuous piece" demonstrates that all its parts together form a single whole.

In man too, there are a number of different limbs, upper and lower. Some are on the inside [such as the brain, heart, liver etc.], and some are on the outside [such as the arms and legs]. Yet all together they form one composite body called a man.

The Talmud tells us (Tractate Makkot 23b) that there are 613 commandments (mitzvot) in the Torah; 248 Positive Commandments (do's) and 365 Negative Commandments (do not's).

the various parts of the Tabernacle, just like the 248 mitzvot and the 248 limbs of the human body, all form a composite whole that reflects the Divine Image in which man was created.

The tabernacle represents the temporal body:

From these slides above we can see the Tabernacle is made up of human body parts on a natural level it is symbolic of the church of God which is supposed to be a living Tabernacle joined together in fellowship. This is called the body of Christ or the multitudinous Christ

Next the Tabernacle is symbolic of Adam Kadmon the Cosmic Man in kabbalah the 10 Sefirot make up the body of Adam Kadmon

The anthropomorphic name of Adam Kadmon denotes that it contains both the ultimate divine purpose for mankind, as well as an embodiment of the Sefirot (divine attributes).

The tabernacle is symbolic of the human body. Yet it is not the natural body but the spiritual body this body is known to most people as Adam Kadmon the Cosmic Man the 10 Sefirot make the body of Adam Kadmon

There are ten Sefirot there are ten items in the Tabernacle which symbolize the sefirot as follows

The cherubs on the Ark - keter
The Ark - bina
The Curtain - chochma
The Menorah (Lampstand) - chesed
The Table - gevura
The Altar - tiferet with its connection to malchut
The Basin and Jug or Laver - netzach and hod
All in its Weight/shekel - malchut

Because of this [that all is included in its weight/shekel] Israel were commanded, "This [in Hebrew 'zeh'] they shall give…half a shekel according to the shekel of the Sanctuary." (Ex. 30:13)
The word 'zeh' hints at the sefira of malchut as in the verse "This [zeh] is the gate to God" (Psalms 18:20). We enter the realm of the spiritual through a properly rectified reality (malchut).

Note that malchut would correspond to the lowest aeon wisdom or Sophia 

The Pleroma is also described as a body: 

His members, however, needed a place of instruction, which is in the places which are adorned, so that they might receive from them resemblance to the images and archetypes, like a mirror, until all the members of the body of the Church are in a single place and receive the restoration at one time, when they have been manifested as the whole body, namely the restoration into the Pleroma. (The Tripartite Tractate)

The Aeons are also described as a body:

Just as the present aeon, though a unity, is divided by units of time and units of time are divided into years and years are divided into seasons and seasons into months, and months into days, and days into hours, and hours into moments, so too the aeon of the Truth, since it is a unity and multiplicity, receives honor in the small and the great names according to the power of each to grasp it - by way of analogy - like a spring which is what it is, yet flows into streams and lakes and canals and branches, or like a root spread out beneath trees and branches with its fruit, or like a human body, which is partitioned in an indivisible way into members of members, primary members and secondary, great and small. (The Tripartite Tractate)

Aeon=Age. Age= period. As a period of time is an accurate description of a interpretation of Aeon as applied to the Bible. However with Gnosticism Aeons are more complex Aeons are first aspects or attributes of the Father. For example, logos is an Aeon, Wisdom, hope, grace etc. Next aeons are spatial as well as temporal. They can be divine beings which have also emanated from the Father   

Body meaning: 

the use of the body domain to archetypal things that do not from the outset have anything to do with the human body, in other words, body metaphors. The body should be understood as a corporate being like the Body politic in Hobbes' Leviathan

Basically the pleroma is a body made up of the emanations of the Aeons 

The Aeons Make Up the Spiritual Tabernacle

According to Irenaeus in Against Heresies (Book I, Chapter 18) the Tabernacle is made up from the aeons or emanations. Irenaeus does not go into detail only a summary of the teaching. I believe the purpose of the Aeons in the Tabernacle was to show the levels of ascension in the divine realm. However Philo of Alexandria gives us some information on how we are to understand this: 

XXXIII. (132) But, if indeed one is to understand these things as said not of the tabernacle or altar of sacrifice which are visible, and which are made of inanimate and perishable materials, but of those objects of speculation which are invisible and perceptible only by the intellect, of which these other things are only the images perceptible by the outwards senses; he will all the more marvel at the explanation. (133) For since the Creator has in every instance made one thing a model and another a copy of that model, he has made the archetypal pattern of virtue for the seal, and then he has on this stamped an impression from it very closely resembling the stamp. Therefore, the archetypal seal is the incorporeal idea being a thing as to its intrinsic nature an object of the outward senses, but yet not actually coming within the sphere of their operations. Just as if there is a piece of wood floating in the deepest part of the Atlantic sea, a person may say that the nature of wood is to be burned, but that that particular piece never will be burnt because of the way in which it is saturated with salt water. XXXIV. (134) Let us then look upon the tabernacle and the altar as ideas, the one being the idea of incorporeal virtue, and the other as the emblem of an image of it, which is perceptible by the outward senses. Now it is easy to see the altar and the things which are on it, for they have all their preparations out of doors, and are consumed by unquenchable fire, so as to shine not by day alone, but also by night; (135) but the tabernacle and all things that are therein are invisible, (Philo of Alexandria, On Drunkenness)

Philo tells us to look upon the tabernacle and the altar as ideas. These incorporeal ideas are the archetypal pattern from which the tabernacle was made. These ideas as Philo refers to them are the aspects or attributes of the Father which are called Sefirot in Kabbalah and Aeons in Gnosticism.

 According to Philo this tabernacle is wisdom:

Do you not see that also when he received the tabernacle from God, and this tabernacle is wisdom, in which the wise man tabernacles and, dwells, he fixed it firmly and founded and built it up strongly, not in the body but out of it; for he likens this to an encampment, to a camp I say full of wars and of all the evils which war causes, and which has not portion with peace. "And it was called the tabernacle of Testimony;"{29}{#ex 33:7.} that is to say wisdom was borne witness to by God.

The Following is a taken adapted and amplified from Against Heresies (Book I, Chapter 18): 

The Triacontad

The outside length of the structure is calculated from the figures respecting the side boards in Exodus 26:16-18 which says each side contained 20 boards, each 1½ cubits wide, yielding 30 cubits overall for the Tabernacle’s outer side measurement.

Now the length of the holy tabernacle was thirty cubits; corresponds to the Triacontad.

The Triacontad is a group of 30 aeons

Each part of the Tabernacle is related to different Aeons. Each level has its emanations. it's Syzygies of male and female aeons. By level I mean the groups of the aeons which are referred to as the Tetrad, the Ogdoad, the Decad and the Dodecad 

Thirty is the sum total of the number of the Aeons the union of all these, which is called the Triacontad

Thirty is compounded of 6 χ 5 which is the number of flesh (6) blended with grace (5). That number was accepted of the angel.

Allowing thirty days to a month in a lunar year, the number of days totals 370. However, it is claimed that every alternate month in the Jewish calendar is limited to 29 days, making this period approximately 365 days, or a solar year.

The number 30 (2+4+6+8+10=30), which is also the total number of aeons in the Pleroma is called the Triacontad

triacontad: The group of thirty aeons divided into the ogdoad (eight), the duodecad (twelve), and the decad (ten). 

 the Dodecad (2+4+6) as well as the Triacontad (2+4+6+8+10=30)

The form of Valentinianism most familiar today espoused thirty aeons, the Triacontad. In this system, which seems to have been widespread and popular even then, the classical Ogdoad is expanded to include a Decad and a Dodecad. (

In the Valentinian Exposition from The Nag Hammadi Library refers to the Triacontad four times:

But the Decad from Word and Life brought forth decads so as to make the Pleroma become a hundred, and the Dodecad from Man and Church brought forth and made the Triacontad so as to make the three hundred sixty become the Pleroma of the year. And the year of the Lord (Valentinian Exposition)

Sometimes the Triacontad led to yet more aeons. In a variation of this extended system, the Ogdoad, Decad, and Dodecad are synthesized to get 360 (8 × 10 × 12), “the Pleroma of the year,” which is then linked to the year of the Lord (Isaiah 61.2). What role these 360 aeons played is unclear (

The Duodecad

As to the Duodecad, the twelve sons of Jacob, Genesis 35:22, Genesis 49:28 from whom also sprung twelve tribes — the breastplate of the high priest, which bore twelve precious stones and twelve little bells, — the twelve stones which were placed by Moses at the foot of the mountain, Exodus 24:4 

The Duodecad a group of twelve Aeons

A believer starts off in ignorance and error (See the Gospel of Truth) before entering the gate of the court 

The gate of the court would represent wisdom (Sophia) the last or the lowest aeon her partner is willed or Will (Theletos) a person has to will themselves into the outer court of the Tabernacle. 

Theletos meaning natural or free will,

This is the beginning of Ascension 

Upon entering the Tabernacle a believer becomes a Child of Ecclesia (Ecclesiasticus) and enjoys the Blessedness (Macariotes)

The Decad

The Tabernacle has ten curtains (Exodus 26:1, Exodus 36:8), and the gates measure ten cubits, all symbols of the Decad.

Exodus 36:21 Now the columns of ten cubits [high], and the ten sons of Jacob who were at first sent into Egypt to buy corn, and the ten apostles to whom the Lord appeared after His resurrection,--Thomas being absent,--represented, according to them, the invisible Decad.

Ex 26:1 Moreover thou shalt make the tabernacle [with] ten curtains [of] fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet: [with] cherubims of cunning work shalt thou make them.

Moses carefully enumerated the curtains as being ten, declaring these a type of the ten Aeons;

The length of the pillars as being ten cubits, with a reference to the Decad of Aeons.

The Decad is a group of ten aeons

The Ogdoad

Exodus 26:19 "You shall make forty sockets of silver under the twenty boards, two sockets under one board for its two tenons and two sockets under another board for its two tenons;

"And thou shalt make forty sockets of silver" — Forty represents eight multiplied by five. Eight is the number of a new beginning, being the day of Christ's resurrection: the eighth day, and the first at the same time.

Exodus 26:22 And for the sides of the tabernacle westward thou shalt make six boards.

"Thou shalt make six boards" —This is the number of flesh, but with two corner boards, the west required eight boards in all, the number of perfection. In association with the Most Holy, flesh is perfected.

Exodus 26:25 "There shall be eight boards with their sockets of silver, sixteen sockets; two sockets under one board and two sockets under another board.

"And they shall be eight boards"

The eight boards were made up of six conventional boards, and two corner boards, split in two, and set at right angles to form two angle boards. This made eight in all, the number of perfection

The Hebdomad

Ex 25:31 “Make a lampstand of pure gold. Hammer out its base and shaft, and make its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms of one piece with them. 32 Six branches are to extend from the sides of the lampstand—three on one side and three on the other. 33 Three cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms are to be on one branch, three on the next branch, and the same for all six branches extending from the lampstand. 34 And on the lampstand there are to be four cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms. 35 One bud shall be under the first pair of branches extending from the lampstand, a second bud under the second pair, and a third bud under the third pair—six branches in all. 36 The buds and branches shall all be of one piece with the lampstand, hammered out of pure gold. 37 “Then make its seven lamps and set them up on it so that they light the space in front of it.

What of the lamp-stand, which had seven branches and seven lamps these indicate the holy hebdomad

hebdomad a group of seven aeons it also represents the seven heavens and the seven archangels

The Tetrad

The tabernacle was made of four things, and the stones on the high priest’s robe were arranged in four rows of precious stones, indicates the Tetrad (Genesis 1:14–19; Exodus 26:1, 28:17).

Ex 27:16 And for the gate of the court [shall be] an hanging of twenty cubits, [of] blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen, wrought with needlework: [and] their pillars [shall be] four, and their sockets four.

The courts of the tabernacle constructed by Moses, being composed of fine linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, refer to the number of the Tetrad. 

Ex 28:17 And thou shalt set in it four rows of stones; in the first row will be a sardius, a topaz, and an emerald;

Now, the long robe of the priest coming down to his feet, as being adorned with four rows of precious stones, the precious stones arranged in four rows indicates the Tetrad; 

Tetrad a group of four aeons 

Bythos and Sige

Exodus 25:20 And the cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubims be.

brother (Exodus 25:20 37:9) and sister (Exodus 26:3) refer to the first syzygies Bythos (βυθός, "depth" Romans 11:33-36) and Sige ("silence Romans 16:25) 

The Archangels or Cherubims of Glory over-shadowing the Mercy Seat with their wings covering the mercy seat the two Cherubim represent Bythos and Sige. The top or lid of the Mercy Seat were the wings covering it represents the boundary between the One and the rest of the Pleroma


The Tabernacle is basically about ascension into the divine realm 

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