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The Thunder, Perfect Mind

At a Glance
Treatise
Genre:
(5/5) *****
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(5/5) *****
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Greek
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Estimated Range of Dating: 100-230 A.D.

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Paul-Hubert Poirier comments, "Thunder takes the form of a discourse, composed for the most part of self-predications in the first-person singular (Coptic anok pe/te, Greek ego eimi) interspersed with exhortations and reproaches addressed to an unidentified audience. The speaker remains unnamed, but many features in the text show that the person or entity speaking is a feminine being. This characteristic explains why the tractate was at first compared with the Isis aretalogies - the self-proclamations in which the goddess Isis presents herself and lists her feats - or with the public addresses of female Wisdom in the Jewish scriptures (Proverbs 8:4-36; Sirach 24:3-22), but these parallels remain only partial." (The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, p. 367)

Bentley Layton writes, "The Thunder - Perfect Intellect ('Thunder, Perfect Mind') is a riddlesome monologue spoken by the immanent savior, here represented as a female character and identifiable as 'afterthought,' a manifestation of wisdom and Barbelo in gnostic myth. In gnostic myth the role of afterthought - also known as 'life' (Zoe), the female instructing principle, and the holy spirit - is to assist both Adam and all humankind, in order to recollect the power stolen by Ialdabaoth (BJn 20:14f) and now dispersed in the gnostic race. She is immanent in all gnostics who have the holy spirit (BJn 25:20f). Although the monologue consists almost entirely of self-descriptions and exhortations directed to the reader, three short passages refer to the mythic setting of the savior's words: (1) she has been sent from 'the power' or Barbelo (cf. BJn 4:26f) and is immanent within humankind (13:2f); (2) she continues in her mission to 'cry out' and summon members of the gnostic race (19:28f); (3) souls that respond will gain liberation from the material world and ascend to a place in the metaphysical universe where the speaker herself resides, and will not suffer reincarnation (21:27f). These allusions to the gnostic myth (however ambiguous), the identification of the speaker as 'afterthought' (14:10F), and the resemblance of the work to The Gospel of Eve read by the gnostic sect ([Epiphanius, Panarion] 26.3.1) all suggest that [The Thunder, Perfect Intellect] should be considered a part of gnostic scripture and understood in the context of such works. Further support for this reading comes from [The Hypostasis of the Archons] 89:14f, where Adam uses similar words to address the female spiritual principle, i.e. afterthought, who is resident in Eve: the passage may be an allusion to [The Thunder, Perfect Intellect]. Nevertheless, some scholars have doubted that [The Thunder, Perfect Intellect] bears any relation to gnostic myth." (The Gnostic Scriptures, p. 77)

Birger A. Pearson writes, "Two of her pronouncements in this section provide clues as to the speaker's identity. The first one, 'It is my husband who begot me' (13,29-30), fits the figure of Eve in the Bible, born from her husband's rib (Genesis 2:21-23). The second one suggests a heavenly projection of Eve: 'I am the silence that is incomprehensible and the reflection (epinoia) whose remembrance is frequent' (14,9-11). Silence and Epinoia are designations for Barbelo and Sophia in Gnostic mythology, and both should be understood as heavenly projections of Eve. Epinoia is also specifically associated with Eve. In the Apocryphon of John, a heavenly Eve comes as a 'helper' to Adam, 'a luminous reflection (epinoia) who comes out of him, who is called "Life"' ... The identification of the speaker in Thunder: Perfect Mind with Eve-Sophia is made all the more plausible when we compare a passage in the treatise On the Origin of the World. Eve is referred to as 'the first virgin, the one who without a husband bore her first offspring.' She then makes several poetic 'I am' pronouncements similar to those in Thunder: Perfect Mind: 'mother,' 'wife,' 'virgin,' 'midwife,' and so forth (II 14,4-15). ... In sum, Thunder: Perfect Mind is a piece of Gnostic literature that is quite unique and difficult to classify. Its author is completely unknown, as is the date of its composition (second century?). As to where it was composed, Egypt is a strong possibility, for at one point in the text the speaker says, 'I am the one whose image is great in Egypt' (16,6-7). She thus identifies herself with the Greco-Egyptian goddess Isis, to whom is credited a number of 'I am' pronouncements found in stone inscriptions in various parts of the Greco-Roman world." (Ancient Gnosticism, pp. 235-237)

Paul-Hubert Poirier writes, "The style of the tractate is to be compared with what pagan philosopher Celsus terms 'the most perfect type of prophecy among people of Phoenicia and Palestine' [Origen, Against Celsus 7.9] ... In both Celsus and Thunder, we have a divine envoy who calls to conversion and claims to bring about salvation. ... It would not be too daring an assumption to suppose that the Gnostics who gathered the Nag Hammadi tractates included Thunder because they saw in its feminine speaker an evocation of Barbelo as she appears in Three Forms of First Thought or the Three Steles of Seth. ... As to the place and date of composition, we are left with no positive indications. The mention of Egypt in Thunder 16,7 points towards an Egyptian milieu, perhaps Alexandria, but this remains hypothetical. The comparison with the excerpt from Celsus cited above suggests that the Greek original of Thunder might have been composed around the end of the second century or the beginning of the third. The philosophical background we have evoked hints in the same direction." (The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, p. 370)


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