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Pistis Sophia

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Estimated Range of Dating: 200-255 A.D.

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Information on Pistis Sophia

The Pistis Sophia is preserved in the Codex Askewianus and has been known to scholars for nearly two centuries. Jack Finegan writes (Hidden Records of the Life of Jesus, p. 298), "The text of Codex Askewianus is divided into four sections."

H.-C. Puech, revised by Beate Blatz, writes (New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 1, p. 362): "following the analysis of K.R. Köstlin, the results of which were adopted and more precisely stated by C. Schmidt, it is today almost unanimously agreed that the four sections of the manuscript must be divided into two distinct groups. The first three sections correspond to the three books of one and the same work, probably composed between 250 and 300: the first book (pp. 1-81 of the Schmidt-Till translation) has neither superscription nor colophon; the second (pp. 82-162) has at the beginning the title (added later) 'The second book (tomos) of the Pistis Sophia', but is designated at the end as 'A part (meros) of the books (or rolls: teuche) of the Saviour (soter)'; the third (pp. 164.20-231.9), separated from the second by an independent fragment, the end of a lost book, is likewise entitled in the colophon 'A part (meros) of the books (or rolls: teuche) of the Saviour (soter)'. On the other hand the fourth section (232.1-254.8), which has no title, is in reality a distinct work, composed in the first half of the 3rd century and thus older than those which precede it. Accordingly only the work contained in the first three books merits the name 'Pistis Sophia'."

G. R. S. Mead writes (Pistis Sophia, pp. xxxvii-xxxix):

The earlier view ascribed the P.S. to Valentinus, who died probably about the middle of the 2nd century, or a decade later, or alternatively to an adherent of the Valentinian school. We may call it the 2nd-century theory. A succession of scholars were of tihs opinion, among whom may be mentioned Woide, Jablonski, La Croze, Dulaurier, Schwartze, Renan, Révillout, Usener and Amélineau. This earlier view can hardly be said to have been supported by any great show of detailed argument, except by the French Egyptologist and Coptic scholar Amélineau, who was its most stalwart supporter. Seven years prior to his translation of P.S. in 1895, Amélineau devoted 156 pp. of a voluminous essay (Bib. 19), in which he sought to prove the Egyptian origins of Gnosticism—a general thesis which can hardly be maintained in the light of more recent research,—to a comparison of the system of Valentinus with that of the P.S.

Meantime in Germany, shortly after the appearance of Schwartze's Latin version in 1851, the careful analysis of the system of the P.S. by Köstlin in 1854 gave rise to or confirmed another view. It abandoned the Valentinian origin, and pronounced generally in favour of what may be called an 'Ophitic' derivation. Köstlin plaecd the date of the P.S. in the 1st half of the 3rd century, and Lipsius (Bib. 15) and Jacobi (Bib. 17) accepted his finding. We may call this alternative general view the 3rd-century theory.

In 1891 Harnack, accepting Köstlin's analysis of the system, attacked the problem from another point of view, basing himself chiefly on the use of scripture, as shown in the quotations from the O.T. and N.T., and on the place of the doctrinal ideas and stage of the sacramental practices in the general history of the development of Christian dogma and rites. He pointed out also one or two other vague indications, such as a reference to persecution, from which he concluded that itw as written at a date when the Christians were 'lawfully' persecuted. These considerations led him to assign the most probable date of composition to the 2nd half of the 3rd century. Schmidt in 1892 accepted this judgment, with the modification, however, that Div. iv belonged to an older stratum of the literature, and should therefore be plaecd in the 1st half of the century. This general view has been widely adopted as the more probable. In Germany it has been accepted by such well-known specialists as Bousset, Preuschen and Liechtenhan; and in France by De Faye. Among English scholars may be mentioned chiefly E. F. Scott, Scott-Moncrieff and Moffat.

The only recent attempt to return to the earlier 2nd-century view is that of Legge in 1915 (Bib. 57), who roundly plumps for Valentinus as the author. In order to do this he thinks it necessary first of all to get out of the way Harnack's parallels in P.S. with the fourth gospel. They may just as well, he contends, be compilations from th synoptics. One clear parallel only can be adduced, and this may be due to a common source. I am not convinced by this criticism; nor do I think it germane to Legge's general contention, for it is precisely in Valentinian circles that the fourth gospel first emerges in history. In the Introduction to the first edition of the present work I registered my adhesion to the Valentinian hypothesis, but, as I now think, somewhat too precipitously. On general grounds the 3rd-century theory seems to me now the more probable; but, even if Harnack's arguments as a whole hold, I see no decisive reason why the P.S. may not equally well fall within the 1st half as within the 2nd half of the century.

Jack Finegan writes (op. cit., pp. 299-300): "In contrast with the fourth book in Codex Askewianus, where the revelation takes place immediately on the day of the resurrection, i.e., the third day after the crucifixion, here at the beginning of the first book (Chap. I, Page 1 in Till) we read that after Jesus was raised from the dead he spent eleven years with the disciples (mathetai), and in his discourses with them taught them only as far as the places (topoi) of the first commandment and as far as the places (topoi) of the first mystery (musterion)."

J. J. Hurtak writes (Pistis Sophia, p. xxvii): "The Pistis Sophia teaches us that humanity has inherited from the First Space of the Divine an indwelling divine power. The Savior is directed by the Ineffable to assist in the extension of the Divine powers into the human kingdom according to the desires of humanity, and to reveal the efficacy of the highest mysteries of salvation to humankind."

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