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The Hypostasis of the Archons

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Estimated Range of Dating: 200-300 A.D.

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Information on the Hypostasis of the Archons

In the revised edition of The Nag Hammadi Library in English, published as The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, the "Hypostasis of the Archons" received the less intimidating title "The Nature of the Rulers." Others have suggested "The Reality of the Rulers." However, the title "Hypostasis of the Archons" continues to be preferred as a way to refer to the text in English.

Marvin Meyer writes, "The Nature of the Rulers is a Gnostic treatise classified by scholars as representing Sethian thought, which the author claims is being sent to an undisclosed recipient in order to clarify who the archons, or world rulers, are and how the struggle with the archons is to be carried out. In its present form, the Nature of the Rulers is a Christian text, but most of the material in the text is reflective of Jewish thought, with the typical Hellenistic flourish. The author of the text, whose identity, like that of the recipient, is unknown, says that he or she is sending the text in response to certain questions that have been raised: 'I have sent you this writing because you have asked about the real nature of the authorities' (86,26-27). Preserved as the fourth tractate in Nag Hammadi Codex II (86,20-97,23), the Nature of the Rulers is copied just before On the Origin of the World, another Gnostic text to which the Nature of the Rulers stands in some relation." (The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, p. 187)

Birger A. Pearson writes, "The tractate consists of two main parts, preceded by a brief introduction. The introduction sets forth the subject matter of the tractate, the real nature (Greek hupostasis) of the authorities or archons, and the great apostle (Paul) is quoted in that connection (Colossians 1:13; Ephesians 6:12). The first main part consists of a commentary on Genesis (86,27-93,13), reflecting considerable material in common with Ap. John. The commentary begins with the vain claim of the Creator, Samael ('blind god'), followed by a brief mention of the creation of the world (86,27-87,11) and an extensive treatment of the creation of Adam and Eve (87,11-89,17). The authorities try to rape the spiritual Eve, but she turns into a tree and leaves only a shadowy reflection of herself for them to defile (89,17-31)." (Ancient Gnosticism, p. 76)

Bentley Layton writes, "The Reality of the Rulers ('Hypostasis of the Archons') recounts the gnostic myth from the creation of Ialdabaoth down to Noah and the flood and concludes with a prediction of the final advent of the savior, the destruction of demonic powers, and the victory of the gnostics. In the first half of the work the story line intertwines with the wording of Genesis in the Septuagint Greek version, tacitly calling attention to discrepancies between the myth and canonical scripture. Of special importance is an unusual account of the rebellion of Sabaoth against his satanic father Ialdabaoth and his eventual installment as lord of the seventh heaven, i.e. as the god of Israel (?). Learned etymologies and puns on Semitic names suggest close contact with a Jewish or Jewish-Christian milieu, despite the anti-Jewish intention of the myth. Apart from the opening paragraph, no elements clearly characteristic of non-gnostic Christianity occur in the work. The author's theological perspective stresses the activity of divine providence ('the will of the parent') even in the deeds of the demonic rulers, probably thus altering to some degree the original intent of gnostic myth." (The Gnostic Scriptures, p. 65)

Birger A. Pearson writes, "In his revelation, Eleleth tells of the fall of Sophia and the production of her ugly offspring Samael, also called Yaldabaoth, who is thrown down into Tartaros by a powerful angel (94,4-95,13). The text moves next to an account of the repentance and enthronement of Yaldabaoth's son, Sabaoth, which is an interesting passage that has a parallel in On the Origin of the World (II 103,32-106,18). Sabaoth repents and condemns his father Yaldabaoth and his mother, 'matter.' Sophia and her daughter Zoe snatch him up and put him in charge of the seventh heaven. Up there he has a 'four-faced chariot of cherubim' and innumerable ministering angels. Sophia has Zoe sit at his right hand, giving him instruction about the eighth heaven, and the 'angel of wrath' is seated at his left hand. This passage (95,13-96,3) is built of themes taken from Jewish traditions featuring the God of Israel, including aspects of an early form of Jewish throne mysticism. In Hyp. Arch. the God of Israel is further split into two lower deities: he is not only Yaldabaoth the creator, but as Sabaoth he is given partial rehabilitation." (Ancient Gnosticism, p. 77)

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Kirby, Peter. "The Hypostasis of the Archons." Early Christian Writings. <>.