Translated by Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer
This original translation of The Reality of the Rulers (also known as The Hypostasis of the Archons, Nag Hammadi Codex II, 4) is presented in the Gnostic Society Library by permission and under license from Dr. Willis Barnstone, who retains all copyright. Dr. Barnstone's translations of the Nag Hammadi texts are published in The Gnostic Bible, © 2003, Willis Barnstone & Marvin Meyer.
Headings in bold type have been added to the text by the translators.
Because of the reality of the authorities, inspired by the spirit of the father of truth, the great messenger referring to the authorities of the darkness told us that “our contest is not against flesh and blood, rather, the authorities of the universe and the spirits of wickedness.” I have sent you this because you inquire about the reality of the authorities.
Their chief is blind. Because of his power and his ignorance and his arrogance he said, with his power, “I am god; there is no other but me.”
When he said this, he sinned against all. This speech rose up to incorruptibility. Then there was a voice that came forth from incorruptibility, saying, “You are wrong, Samael,” that is, god of the blind.
His thoughts became blind. And having expelled his power—that is, the blasphemy he had spoken—he pursued it down to chaos and the abyss, his mother, at the instigation of Pistis Sophia. She established each of his offspring in conformity with its power, after the pattern of the realms that are above, for by starting from the invisible world the visible world was invented.
As incorruptibility looked down into the region of the waters, her image appeared in the waters, and the authorities of the darkness became enamored of her. But they could not lay hold of that image which had appeared to them in the waters, because of their weakness, since beings that merely have soul cannot lay hold of those that have spirit. For they were from below, while it was from above.
THE CREATION OF ADAM AND EVE
This is the reason why incorruptibility looked down into the region, so that, by the father’s will, she might bring all into union with the light.
The rulers laid plans and said, “Come, let us create a human that will be soil from the earth.” They modeled their creature as one wholly of the earth.
The rulers have bodies that are both female and male, and faces that are the faces of beasts. They took some soil from the earth and modeled their man, after their body and after the image of god that had appeared to them in the waters.
They said, “Come, let us lay hold of it by means of the form that we have modeled, so that it may see its male partner and we may seize it with the form that we have modeled,” not understanding the partner of god, because of their powerlessness. And he breathed into his face, and the man came to have a soul and remained on the ground many days. But they could not make him rise because of their powerlessness. Like storm winds they persisted in blowing, that they might try to capture that image which had appeared to them in the waters. And they did not know the identity of its power.
Now, all these events came to pass by the will of the father of all. Afterward the spirit saw the man of soul on the ground. The spirit came forth from the adamantine land. It descended and came to dwell in him, and that man became a living soul. And the spirit called his name Adam, since he was found moving upon the ground.
A voice came forth from incorruptibility for the assistance of Adam. The rulers gathered together all the animals of the earth and all the birds of heaven and brought them in to Adam to see what Adam would call them, that he might give a name to each of the birds and all the beasts.
The rulers took Adam and put him in the garden, that he might cultivate it and keep watch over it. They issued a command to him, saying, “From every tree in the garden shall you eat, but from the tree of knowledge of good and evil don’t eat, nor touch it. For the day you eat from it you will surely die.”
They said this to him, but they did not understand what they said. Rather, by the father’s will, they said this in such a way that he might in fact eat, and that Adam might not regard them as would a man of an exclusively material nature.
The rulers took counsel with one another and said, “Come, let us cause a deep sleep to fall on Adam.” And he slept. Now, the deep sleep that they caused to fall on him, and he slept, is ignorance. They opened his side, which was like a living woman. And they built up his side with some flesh in place of her, and Adam came to be only with soul.
The woman of spirit came to him and spoke with him, saying, “Rise, Adam.” And when he saw her, he said, “It is you who have given me life. You will be called ‘mother of the living.’ For she is my mother. She is the physician, and the woman, and she has given birth.”
ADAM AND EVE IN THE GARDEN
The authorities came up to their Adam. When they saw his female partner speaking with him, they became very excited and enamored of her. They said to one another, “Come, let us sow our seed in her,” and they pursued her. And she laughed at them for their foolishness and blindness. In their clutches she became a tree and left before them her shadowy reflection resembling herself, and they defiled it foully. And they defiled the seal of her voice, so that by the form they had modeled, together with their own image, they made themselves liable to condemnation.
Then the female spiritual presence came in the form of the snake, the instructor, and it taught them, saying, “What did he say to you? Was it, ‘From every tree in the garden shall you eat, but from the tree of recognizing evil and good do not eat’?”
The woman of flesh said, “Not only did he say ‘Don’t eat,’ but even ‘Don’t touch it. For the day you eat from it, you will surely die.’”
The snake, the instructor, said, “It is not the case that you will surely die, for out of jealousy he said this to you. Rather, your eyes will open and you will be like gods, recognizing evil and good.” And the female instructing power was taken away from the snake, and she left it behind, merely a thing of the earth.
And the woman of flesh took from the tree and ate, and she gave to her husband as well as herself, and those beings, who possessed only a soul, ate. And their imperfection became apparent in their lack of knowledge. They recognized that they were naked of the spiritual, and they took fig leaves and bound them around themselves.
Then the chief ruler came, and he said, “Adam, where are you?”—for he did not understand what had happened.
Adam said, “I heard your voice and was afraid because I was naked, and I hid.”
The ruler said, “Why did you hide, unless it is because you have eaten from the tree from which alone I commanded you not to eat? You have eaten!”
Adam said, “The woman you gave me gave me fruit and I ate.” And the arrogant ruler cursed the woman.
The woman said, “The snake led me astray and I ate.” They turned to the snake and cursed its shadowy reflection, so it was powerless, and they did not comprehend that it was a form they themselves had modeled. From that day, the snake came to be under the curse of the authorities. Until the perfect human was to come, that curse fell on the snake.
They turned to their Adam and took him and expelled him from the garden along with his wife, for they have no blessing, since they too are under the curse.
Moreover, they threw human beings into great distraction and into a life of toil, so that their human beings might be occupied by worldly affairs and might not have the opportunity of being devoted to the holy spirit.
EVE BEARS CHILDREN
Now, afterward she bore Cain, their son, and Cain cultivated the land. Thereupon he knew his wife. Again becoming pregnant, she bore Abel, and Abel was a herdsman of sheep. Cain brought in from the crops of his field, but Abel brought in an offering from among his lambs. God looked upon the votive offerings of Abel, but he did not accept the votive offerings of Cain. And fleshly Cain pursued Abel his brother.
God said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?”
He answered, saying, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
God said to Cain, “Listen! The voice of your brother’s blood is crying up to me. You have sinned with your mouth. It will return to you: anyone who kills Cain will let loose seven vengeances, and you will exist groaning and trembling upon the earth.”
And Adam knew his partner Eve, and she became pregnant and bore Seth to Adam. And she said, “I have borne another man through god, in place of Abel.”
Again Eve became pregnant, and she bore Norea. And she said, “He has produced for me a virgin as an assistance for many generations of human beings.” She is the virgin whom the forces did not defile.
Then humankind began to multiply and improve.
The rulers took counsel with one another and said, “Come, let us cause a flood with our hands and obliterate all flesh, from man to beast.” But when the ruler of the forces came to know of their decision, he said to Noah, “Make yourself an ark from wood that does not rot and hide in it, you and your children and the beasts and the birds of heaven from small to large—and set it upon Mount Sir.”
Then Orea came to him, wanting to board the ark. When he would not let her, she blew upon the ark and caused it to be consumed by fire. Again he made the ark, for a second time.
NOREA BATTLES THE RULERS
The rulers went to meet her, intending to lead her astray. Their supreme chief said to her, “Your mother Eve came to us.”
But Norea turned to them and said to them, “It is you who are the rulers of the darkness; you are accursed. You did not know my mother. Instead it was your own female that you knew. For I am not your descendant. Rather, it is from the world above that I am come.”
The arrogant ruler turned with all his might, and his countenance was like a blazing fire. He said to her presumptuously, “You must service us, as did also your mother Eve. . . .”
But Norea turned with power and, in a loud voice, she cried out up to the holy one, the god of all, “Rescue me from the rulers of unrighteousness and save me from their clutches—at once!”
The great angel came down from the heavens and said to her, “Why are you crying up to god? Why do you act so boldly toward the holy spirit?”
Norea said, “Who are you?”
The rulers of unrighteousness had withdrawn from her. He said, “I am Eleleth, sagacity, the great angel who stands in the presence of the holy spirit. I have been sent to speak with you and save you from the grasp of the lawless. And I shall teach you about your root.”
THE REVELATION OF ELELETH
Now, as for that angel, I cannot speak of his power. His appearance is like fine gold and his raiment is like snow. No, truly, my mouth cannot bear to speak of his power and the appearance of his face.
Eleleth, the great angel, spoke to me. “It is I,” he said, “who am understanding. I am one of the four luminaries who stand in the presence of the great invisible spirit. Do you think these rulers have any power over you? None of them can prevail against the root of truth, for on its account he has appeared in the final ages, and these authorities will be restrained. And these authorities cannot defile you and that race, for your abode is in incorruptibility, where the virgin spirit lives, who is superior to the authorities of chaos and to their universe.”
But I said, “Sir, teach me about these authorities. How did they come into being? By what genesis, and out of what material, and who created them and their power?”
The great angel Eleleth, understanding, spoke to me: “Incorruptibility inhabits limitless realms. Sophia, who is called Pistis,wanted to create something, alone, without her partner, and what she created was celestial.
“A veil exists between the world above and the realms below, and shadow came into being beneath the veil. That shadow became matter, and that shadow was projected apart. And what she had created came to be in matter, like an aborted fetus. It assumed a shape molded out of shadow, and became an arrogant beast resembling a lion. It was androgynous, as I have already said, because it derived from matter.
“Opening his eyes he saw a vast quantity of endless matter, and he turned arrogant, saying, ‘I am god, and there is no one but me.’
“When he said this, he sinned against all. And a voice came from above the realm of absolute power, saying, ‘You are wrong, Samael,’ that is, god of the blind.
“And he said, ‘If any other thing exists before me, let it become visible to me!’ Immediately Sophia pointed her finger and introduced light into matter, and she pursued it down to the region of chaos. And she returned up to her light. Once again darkness returned to matter.
“This ruler, by being androgynous, made himself a vast realm, an endless precinct. And he contemplated creating offspring for himself, and created seven offspring, androgynous like their parent.
“And he said to his offspring, ‘I am the god of all.’
“Zoe the daughter of Pistis Sophia shouted, saying to him, ‘You are wrong, Sakla’ (for which the alternate name is Yaldabaoth). She breathed into his face, and her breath became a fiery angel for her; and that angel bound Yaldabaoth and cast him down into Tartaros, at the bottom of the abyss.
“Now, when his offspring Sabaoth saw the strength of that angel, he repented and condemned his father and his mother matter.
“He loathed her, but he sang songs of praise up to Sophia and her daughter Zoe. And Sophia and Zoe found him and put him in charge of the seventh heaven, below the veil between above and below. And he is called ‘god of the forces, Sabaoth,’ since he is up above the forces of chaos, for Sophia placed him there.
“Now, when these events had come to pass, he made himself a huge four-faced chariot of cherubim and harps and lyres and an infinity of angels to act as ministers.
“Sophia took her daughter Zoe and had her sit at his right to teach him about the things that exist in the eighth heaven, and the angel of wrath she placed at his left. Since that day, his right has been called life, and the left has signified the unrighteousness of the realm of absolute power above. It was before your time that they came into being.
“Now, when Yaldabaoth saw him in this great splendor and at this height, he envied him, and the envy became something androgynous, and this was the origin of envy. And envy engendered death, and death engendered his offspring and gave each of them charge of its heaven. All the heavens of chaos became full of their multitudes.
“But it was by the will of the father of all that they all came into being, after the pattern of all the things above, so that the sum of chaos might be attained.
“There, I have taught you about the pattern of the rulers and the matter in which it was made visible, along with their parent and their universe.”
But I said, “Sir, am I also from their matter?”
“You, together with your offspring, are from the primeval father. Their souls come from above, out of the incorruptible light. Therefore, the authorities cannot approach them, since the spirit of truth resides in them, and all who have known this way exist deathless in the midst of dying people. Still, the offspring will not become known now. Instead, after three generations it will come to be known and free them from the bondage of the authorities’ error.”
Then I said, “Sir, how much longer?” He said to me, “Until the moment when the true human, within a modeled form, reveals the existence of the spirit of truth that the father has sent.
“Then he will teach them about everything. And he will anoint them with the unction of life eternal, given him from the generation without a king.
“Then they will be free of blind thought. And they will trample on death, which comes from the authorities. And they will ascend into the limitless light where this offspring belongs.
“Then the authorities will relinquish their ages. And their angels will weep over their destruction, and their demons will lament their death.
“Then all the children of the light will truly know the truth and their root and the father of all and the holy spirit. They will all say with a single voice, ‘The father’s truth is just, and the child presides over all.’ And from everyone, till the ages of ages, ‘Holy, holy, holy! Amen!’”