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On the Origin of the World

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Treatise
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(5/5) *****
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(5/5) *****
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Greek
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Estimated Range of Dating: 270-330 A.D.

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Marvin Meyer writes, "On the Origin of the World, the fifth tractate in Nag Hammadi Codex II, is a long and thoughtful essay (97,24-127,17) that addresses questions about the creation of the world, the formation of humankind, and the end of the age. In addition to the complete Codex II version, the text is also known from a short fragment from Nag Hammadi Codex XIII and several fragments from a Coptic version housed in the British Library. The text is untitled in the extant manuscripts, and it has been given its present title on the basis of its contents. Elsewhere in the literature on the text, it is sometimes referred to with the unfortunate title 'Untitled Work,' 'Schrift ohne Titel,' and 'Écrit sans titre.'" (The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, p. 199)

Birger A. Pearson writes, "In broad outline, the tractate as we now have it is organized according to ancient rhetorical conventions, consisting of a prologue (exordium, 97,24-98,11), an exposition (narratio, 98,11-132,2), a confirmation (probatio, 123,2-31), and an extended epilogue (peroratio, 123,31-127,17). In terms of literary genre, however, it is hard to categorize, for it is essentially a compendium of Gnostic ideas taken from a variety of Gnostic sources, and from Jewish apocrypha, Jewish traditions of biblical exegesis, Christian ideals, Greek philosophical concepts, aspects of Greek mythology, magic and astrology, and Egyptian lore. Much of its mythology is based on early Sethian Gnostic literature. Especially notable is the material it shares in common with the Hypostasis of the Archons (NHC II,4). It also reflects the influence of Valentinian Gnosticism and Manichaeism. The way the tractate is put together, with apparent glosses and excursuses, leads us to believe that it has grown over time. An earlier work has been expanded with new additions to the text, possibly in several stages." (Ancient Gnosticism, pp. 221-222)

Marvin Meyer writes, "From the many parallels between the present text and the one immediately preceding it in Codex II, the Nature of the Rulers, it is obvious that there is a relationship between these two texts, though the precise nature of that relationship remains unknown. Louis Painchaud also sees similarities between On the Origin of the World and Eugnostos the Blessed. Further, the song of Eve, rehearsed in On the Origin of the World 114,2-24, is introduced in such a way as to recall the comments of Adam in Nature of the Rulersr 89,14-17, but the song itself closely follows lines from the poetry of Thunder 13,19-14,9 ... In addition to these parallels, the text of On the Origin of the World includes other features that help it inform and entertain. Within the text are numerous references to additionl literature that, according to the author, may be consulted for further reading, and these references function as viritual notes to the essay. Among these notes are references to two texts of Norea, the First Book of Noraia and the First Treatise of Oraia, and others attributed to Moses and Solomon. The connection, if any, between these texts of Norea and the second part of hte Nature of the Rulers (93,13-97,21), which features Norea, the Thought of Norea from Nag Hammadi Codex IX, and the works of Norea mentioned by Epiphanius (Panarion 26.1.3) is unclear. Another text noted in On the Origin of the World, the Archangelic Book of Moses the Prophet, is cited in the Greek magical papyri. The author of On the Origin of the World also incorporates etymological and other explanatory passages that seem intended to clarify the meaning of Gnostic points being addressed. Thus, the name Yaldabaoth, which ordinarily is thought by scholars to derive from the Aramaic for 'child of chaos' or, less likely, 'child of (S)abaoth,' is said, in On the Origin of the World 100,12-14, to mean 'Young man, move over here.' In a more lighthearted vein, it is claimed (100,29-101,23) that the names of the sons of Yaldabaoth - Yao, Eloai, and Astaphaios - come from the baby talk going on in Yaldabaoth's nursery. In one of the more exotic sections of the text, on phoenixes, water serpents, and bulls of Egypt (121,27-123,2), the author discusses these fantastic creatures as metaphors for Gnostic truths and then concludes, 'These great images have [appeared] only in Egypt, not in other lands, indicating that Egypt is like God's paradise.'" (The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, pp. 200-201)

Birger A. Pearson notes, "On the Origin of the World, as we now have it, is a highly developed tractate that can hardly be dated to a time before the end of the third century. As already noted, however, it may very well be based on an earlier writing, datable to sometime in the second century. It was certainly composed somewhere in Egypt, probably Alexandria." (Ancient Gnosticism, p. 225)


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