The Descent Of Ishtar, The Fall Of Sophia, And The Jewish Roots Of Gnosticism -- By: Edwin M. Yamauchi

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 29:1 (NA 1978)
Article: The Descent Of Ishtar, The Fall Of Sophia, And The Jewish Roots Of Gnosticism
Author: Edwin M. Yamauchi

The Descent Of Ishtar, The Fall Of Sophia, And The Jewish Roots Of Gnosticism

Edwin M. Yamauchi

I. The Fall Of Sophia

The Fall of Sophia is one of the most important elements in Gnostic mythology.1 The myth of the Fall occurs in many different versions among such groups as the Barbelo-Gnostics,2 and the Sethian-Ophites.3 The occurrence of non-Christian Sethian texts in the Nag Hammadi collection inclines G. W. MacRae to favour the Sethian-Ophite version as “the more original”.4

More elaborated versions of the Fall of Sophia appear in various Valentinian writings.5 In one version Sophia transgresses by acting presumptuously without her consort; in another version she attempts to imitate the creative power of the Father by generating without her consort. G. C. Stead, who has analysed the Valentinian materials, believes that both versions represent later elaborations of the teachings of Valentinus himself.6

Sophia’s fall ultimately and indirectly results in the creation of matter, evil, and death. According to some versions Sophia produces a “lower Sophia”, who in turn produces a demiurge who creates matter. Stead distinguishes five different Sophia figures, including a Sophia who falls and leaves the heavenly world but who is pardoned and restored.7

The Fall or Descent of Sophia is described or alluded to in many of the Nag Hammadi texts. Especially noteworthy is a long passage in The Apocryphon of John (CG II, 1; III,

1; IV,1; BG 8502,2) which describes how the aeon Sophia “wanted to bring forth a likeness out of herself without the consent of the Spirit”, and how she brought forth the demiurge Yaltabaoth (Yaldabaoth), an archon who is a caricature of the Old Testament God.8

Another reference is found in The Hypostasis of Archons (CG II, 4; 94, 29): “And immediately Sophia stretched forth her finger and introduced Light into Matter, and she pursued it down to the region of Chaos.”9 On the Origin of the World (CG II,5) sets forth a different relationship between Sophia and the androgynous Yaldabaoth, and also describes the creation of an an...

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