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The Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit

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Treatise
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(5/5) *****
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Greek
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Ancient Translations:
Modern Translations:

Estimated Range of Dating: 200-350 A.D.

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Although some refer to this text as the Gospel of the Egyptians (possibly causing confusion with a text of that name known through quotations), John D. Turner comments in this regard: "The two Coptic versions of the Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit (III,2; IV,2) are copies of independent translations of basically the same Greek text; both copies are heavily damaged, the one in Codex IV more than the one in Codex III, but enough survives in them to be able to reconstruct about 90 percent of the text. The actual title of the text is preserved as 'The Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit' in the subtitle and colophon of Codex III and in hte initial lines of each copy, although since the late 1940s it has become customary to refer to it inappropriately as the 'Gospel of the Egyptians,' a title based on the name given to it at the beginning of the colophon in III 69,16-17." (The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, p. 247)

On the purpose of the author, John D. Turner says, "the emphasis of the Holy Book seems to lie upon the well-defined ritual of baptism and the invocatory prayers that conclude the work (III 63,4-68,1; cf. IV 74,17-80,15), while the preceding sections seem to provide a mythological justification for them in the form of an elaborate theogony. In the second part, the three advents (parousiai) of Seth are summarized, namely, his descents at the flood, at the conflagration (of Sodom and Gomorrah), and at the judgment of the archons, to save his seed ('saints') who have gone astray in the world, a scheme of three descents similar to those of the illuminator in the Revelation of Adam. It is on his third descent that Seth is said to descend in a body begotten by the Word (Logos) and prepared for him by the 'virgin' (probably Barbelo), put on Jesus, and defeat the powers of the thirteen aeons." (The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, p. 247)

The text contains evidence concerning baptism, as Turner observes: "The account of this bestowal is followed by a lengthy list of various figures that are invoked in the course of the baptismal rite (III 64,9-65,26), which includes a multitude of new names, most of which show up in the baptismal sections of Zostrianos, alongside the more traditional ones, such as Micheus, Michar, Mnesinous, Gamaliel, and Samblo (in both the Revelation of Adam and Three Forms of First Thought), and Abrasax and Yesseus Mazareus Yessedekeus (in the Revelation of Adam), not to mention the Self-Generated and his companion Adamas, Seth and his companion Jesus, the seed of Seth, and 'the souls of the children,' who reside in the Four Luminaries Harmozel, Oroiael, Daveithe, and Eleleth, respectively (as in the Secret Book of John or Three Forms of First Thought). Thereafter follows the renunciation (of the world and the hostile powers of the thirteen aeons) and the receipt of those who receive them into the divine world (probably the ministers of the Four Luminaries). The concluding baptismal prayer (III 66,8-22) and postbaptismal profession (66,22-68,1) consist of two separate hymns of five strophes each, perhaps reflecting the Sethian baptismal tradition of the Five Seals known from the Secret Book of John and Three Forms of First Thought, which enumeration may also figure in the fivefold repetition of the doxologies demarcating the stages of the theogony in the first part of the Holy Book as well as the Pentad of being comprisng the Doxomedon aeon. ... Thus the Holy Book, in concert with Three Forms of First Thought and ritual materials in other Sethian treatises, gives evidence of a series of gestures and verbal performances capable of ritual enactment: renunciation, stripping, invocation and naming of holy powers, a doxological prayer to the living water, anointing, enthronement, investiture, baptismal immersion, and certain other manual gestures, such as extending the arms in a circle. Whether any of these acts, and if so, which ones, comprise the Five Seals is difficult to tell; certainly all these were frequently part of the baptismal rite in the wider Christian church as well." (The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, pp. 250-251)

Bentley Layton writes: "The author and place of composition of the [Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit, also called the Egyptian Gospel,] are unknown. The date of its composition must be sometime before A.D. 350, the approximate date of the MS. In mythic content the work resembles [the Apocalypse of Adam, Three Steles of Seth, Zostrianos, and Allogenes]. The language of composition was Greek." (The Gnostic Scriptures, p. 101)


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Kirby, Peter. "The Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit." Early Christian Writings. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/greatspirit.html>.