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Eugnostos the Blessed

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Estimated Range of Dating: 50-150 A.D.

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Information on Eugnostos the Blessed

Madeleine Scopello writes, "The tractate Eugnostos the Blessed is preserved in two codices in the Nag Hammadi library, Codex III and Codex V, and the two versions show some differences. As the third treatise of Codex III, Eugnostos occupies pages 70,1-90,11. The first two lines of the text read, 'Eugnostos the blessed, to those who are his,' and the title at the end of the tractate is given as 'Eugnostos the Blessed.' For that reason the tractate is generally referred to as Eugnostos the Blessed. Still, the opening of the version of the text in Codex V (1,1-17,17), even if it is largely in lacuna, cannot be reconstructed in the same way, and the title at the conclusion of the document is merely 'Eugnostos.'" (The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, p. 273)

On this name, Scopello observes, "But who is Eugnostos, and what is the meaning of this name? In Greek, eugnostos is an adjective composed of eu, 'good' or 'well,' and gnostos, 'known,' and so Eugnostos means 'well known,' 'familiar' (cf. Plato Lysias, frag. 17.3) or even 'easy to understand' (cf. Plato Sophist 218e). The opposite of this term is agnostos, 'unknown,' a term commonly used in philosophy to indicate the supreme God (cf. Epicurus On the Nature of Things 28.5). This adjective also has an active meaning, 'the one who can know,' 'the one capable of knowing' (cf. Philo of Alexandria On the Creation of the World 154), so that it may be a synonym of the term gnostes ('the one who knows,' Acts 26:3). The link between gnostos and gnostes makes the name Eugnostos highly symbolic. Here in the title of our text, this adjective is treated as a proper name, indicating the name of the author of the tractate. The name Eugnostos also appears in another Nag Hammadi document, the Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit (NHC III,2; IV,2). In the final portion of this text (the colophon or copyist's note), the author introduces himself with his two names: Eugnostos, his spiritual name, and Gongessos, his ordinary, everyday name." (The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, p. 272)

Birger A. Person writes, "Two versions of the tractate Eugnostos the Blessed exist, the third tractate of Nag Hammadi Codex III and the first tractate of Codex V. The two versions are quite different from one another, and probably represent independent Coptic translations of a Greek original. The version in Codex III is usually taken to be an earlier version than the one in Codex V. In The Nag Hammadi Library in English the version in Codex III is the one chosen for translation, with mising or damaged portions supplemented by the version in Codex V." (Ancient Gnosticism, pp. 211-213)

On the genre of the text and the perspective of the author, Scopello writes (The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, pp. 272-273):

Eugnostos the Blessed is a philosophical treatise presented in the form of a letter written by Eugnostos. We do not know if this letter, which contains the name of the sender, greetings for the recipients, and a formal conclusion, was real or fictitious. This is not simply a letter, but a letter meant to transmit an authoritative teaching on God and his heavenly realm. Eugnostos follows a well-articulated plan that shows clarity in its doctrine and is inspired by techniques employed in the philosophical schools of the time. Anne Pasquier suggests that the tractate follows the rules of ancient rhetoric; it adopts the model of the dispositio, with a division of the text into four parts. Douglas M. Parrott, one of the first scholars to study Eugnostos, disagrees with this analysis. He believes that the tractate went through a number of stages of writing and rewriting, and that consequently it contains a wide variety of materials. The author of Eugnostos opens with a criticism of philosophical theories (an allusion to Stoics, Epicureans, and Babylonian scholars) and proceeds to focus on truth as a divine revelation, not a human construction. The author describes the divine realm inhabited by five beings, each having his own aeon and heavenly followers, angels, and deities. These five beings are the unbegotten or unconceived Father, the Human Father by himself, the immortal Human, the Son of Humanity, and the Savior.

The perspective of the author of Eugnostos is not emanational; rather, the author posits a continuous chain of beings. The highest God, the unbegotten Father, is described by means of both negative theology (he is ineffable, without name, infinite, incomprehensible, unchanging, imperishable, untraceable, and so on) and positive theology (he surpasses everything, and he is blessed, perfect, and the like; III 71,13-72,23). This way of approaching the notion of God, common in Middle Platonic schools, is also taken up in several other Nag Hammadi philosophical texts, for example, the Secret Book of John and Allogenes the Stranger, with which Eugnostos can be usefully compared. Fed by Greek philosophical speculation, Eugnostos focuses as well on mystical Jewish elements. A deep interest in theoretical angelology appears in the tractate. Nevertheless, this angelology does not show any particular preoccupation with angelic names and their pronunciation, as generally may be seen in Jewish pseudepigrapha or other Nag Hammadi treatises. Michel Tardieu concludes that Eugnostos "is a text which represents, for the history of thought, the first (in a temporal sense) expository treatise of revelation where metaphysics serves angelology and where angelology changes constantly into metaphysics."

Scopello comments on the historical context of the document, "The original Greek text of Eugnostos the Blessed was probably composed in Egypt as early as the end of the first century. From Egypt this tractate circulated in Syria, and it was known in the school of Bardaisan in the beginning of the third century." (The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, p. 274)

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