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The Three Steles of Seth

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Treatise
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Estimated Range of Dating: 200-230 A.D.

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Information on the Three Steles of Seth

John D. Turner writes, "In the Three Steles of Seth, which shows no traces of Christian influence, the traditional two steles, or tablets of stone and brick, on which Seth was said to have preserved from destruction by flood or fire the vast sum of astrological lore revealed to him (cf. Josephus Jewish Antiquities 1.67.1-71.5) have now become three steles recording doxological hymns. The hymns are addressed by Seth to, in ascending order, his own father, Pigeradamas (the heavenly Adam), and the three members of the Sethian trinity, the Self-Generated Son, the divine mother Barbelo, and the preexistent Father. These hymns of praise, anciently preserved for the elect 'living and unshakable generation' and supposedly discovered by Dositheos, the reputed founder of Samaritan Gnostic religion, constitute a virtual Sethian hymnal. After Seth's initial praise of his father Pigeradamas (as in the Secret Book of John, Zostrianos, and Melchizedek, the 'senior [heavenly, archetypal] Adam,' ho geraios Adamas, Hebrew Adam qadmon) and the divine Self-Generated One (regarded as Pigeradamas's parent) in the first-person singular, the doxologies directed to Barbelo and the supreme preexistent One are cast in the first-person plural, as if to be used during a communal ritual of celestial ascent practiced by a community considering themselves to be Seth's descendants. The hymns of the first stele, addressed to Pigeradamas, the Self-Generated One, and the male virginal Barbelo (addressed as masculine), are used as a prelude to the ascent through the Aeon of Barbelo in the second stele, where she is addressed in the feminine - except in 122,6-13 - as a threefold divine Intellect. The hymn of the third stele is used in the salvific ascent to the preexistent paternal nonbeing, addressed in the masculine. Once this spiritual acme is achieved, the worshipers enter into a silent act of praise tantamount to cognitive assimilation to the supreme Father, after which they descend through the three levels in reverse order. One is led to suppose that a mystagogue may have spoken these prayers in the presence of a group of contemplative practitioners, as a way of articulating the stages of mental abstraction and contemplation they undergo." (The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, p. 523)

John D. Turner writes, "The position of the Three Steles of Seth relative to the other three Platonizing Sethian treatises is more indeterminate, since the title does not seem to be echoed in any ancient testimonia, perhaps because it was an in-house liturgical text. If anything, it is closer in terminology and spirit to Allogenes the Stranger, yet, like Zostrianos, it seems to preserve more of the basic Sethian dramatis personae than does Allogenes, such as Pigeradamas and Emmacha Seth. Like Allogenes, the complete absence of baptismal motifs seems to represent a phase of Sethianism in which the ascensional rite has become detached from the older baptismal mystery in favor of a practice of contemplative ascent. It contains little of the profusion of aeonic beings evident in Zostrianos; it lacks the Triple-Male Child, Youel, and Ephesech triad that tends to disrupt the otherwise strictly triadic structure (Kalyptos, Protophanes, the Self-Generated One) of the Barbelo Aeon. Many of the beings produced in the course of the theogony of the Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit (upon which Zostrianos builds its aeonic structure) are never mentioned in the Three Steles of Seth, which reflects the ascensional praxis of Zostrianos and Allogenes, but without the transcendental baptismal schemata that one finds in Zostrianos. Of all four treatises, its portrayal of the emergence of Barbelo from the Invisible Spirit is extremely close to Moderatus's account of the emergence of Quantity within his Second 'One' (late first century; cf. Simplicius Commentary on Aristotle's Physics 230.34-231.26). On the whole, the Three Steles of Seth is probably contemporary with Zostrianos and Allogenes but earlier than Marsanes and the Bruce Codex, even though it seems to preserve a simpler and perhaps earlier version of the basic structure and fucntion of the Barbelo Aeon than do the other Platonizing Sethian treatises." (The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, p. 525)

Birger A. Pearson states that the text "can safely be assigned to early third-century Egypt" (Ancient Gnosticism, p. 86).

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Kirby, Peter. "The Three Steles of Seth." Early Christian Writings. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/steles.html>.