The Hypostasis of the Archons
Translated by Bentley Layton
On account of the reality of the authorities, (inspired) by the spirit of the father of truth, the great apostle – referring to the "authorities of the darkness" – told us that "our contest is not against flesh and blood; rather, the authorities of the universe and the spirits of wickedness." I have sent this (to you) because you inquire about the reality of the authorities.
Their chief is blind; because of his power and his ignorance and his arrogance he said, with his power, "It is I who am God; there is none apart from me." When he said this, he sinned against the entirety. And this speech got up to incorruptibility; then there was a voice that came forth from incorruptibility, saying, "You are mistaken, Samael" – which is, "god of the blind."
His thoughts became blind. And, having expelled his power – that is, the blasphemy he had spoken – he pursued it down to chaos and the abyss, his mother, at the instigation of Pistis Sophia. And she established each of his offspring in conformity with its power - after the pattern of the realms that are above, for by starting from the invisible world the visible world was invented.
As incorruptibility looked down into the region of the waters, her image appeared in the waters; and the authorities of the darkness became enamored of her. But they could not lay hold of that image, which had appeared to them in the waters, because of their weakness – since beings that merely possess a soul cannot lay hold of those that possess a spirit – for they were from below, while it was from above. This is the reason why "incorruptibility looked down into the region (etc.)": so that, by the father's will, she might bring the entirety into union with the light.
The rulers laid plans and said, "Come, let us create a man that will be soil from the earth." They modeled their creature as one wholly of the earth. Now the rulers [...] body [...] they have [...] female [...] is [...] with the face of a beast. They had taken some soil from the earth and modeled their man after their body and after the image of God that had appeared to them in the waters. They said, "Come, let us lay hold of it by means of the form that we have modeled, so that it may see its male counterpart [...], and we may seize it with the form that we have modeled" – not understanding the force of God, because of their powerlessness. And he breathed into his face; and the man came to have a soul (and remained) upon the ground many days. But they could not make him arise because of their powerlessness. Like storm winds they persisted (in blowing), that they might try to capture that image, which had appeared to them in the waters. And they did not know the identity of its power.
Now all these things came to pass by the will of the father of the entirety. Afterwards, the spirit saw the soul-endowed man upon the ground. And the spirit came forth from the Adamantine Land; it descended and came to dwell within him, and that man became a living soul. It called his name Adam, since he was found moving upon the ground. A voice came forth from incorruptibility for the assistance of Adam; and the rulers gathered together all the animals of the earth and all the birds of heaven and brought them in to Adam to see what Adam would call them, that he might give a name to each of the birds and all the beasts.
They took Adam and put him the garden, that he might cultivate it and keep watch over it. And the rulers issued a command to him, saying, "From every tree in the garden shall you eat; yet from the tree of recognizing good and evil do not eat, nor touch it; for the day you eat from it, with death you are going to die."
They [...] this. They do not understand what they have said to him; rather, by the father's will, they said this in such a way that he might (in fact) eat, and that Adam might <not> regard them as would a man of an exclusively material nature.
The rulers took counsel with one another and said, "Come, let us cause a deep sleep to fall upon Adam." And he slept. – Now the deep sleep that they "caused to fall upon him, and he slept" is Ignorance. – They opened his side like a living woman. And they built up his side with some flesh in place of her, and Adam came to be endowed only with soul.
And the spirit-endowed woman came to him and spoke with him, saying, "Arise, Adam." And when he saw her, he said, "It is you who have given me life; you will be called 'mother of the living'. – For it is she who is my mother. It is she who is the physician, and the woman, and she who has given birth."
Then the authorities came up to their Adam. And when they saw his female counterpart speaking with him, they became agitated with great agitation; and they became enamored of her. They said to one another, "Come, let us sow our seed in her," and they pursued her. And she laughed at them for their witlessness and their blindness; and in their clutches she became a tree, and left before them her shadowy reflection resembling herself; and they defiled it foully. – And they defiled the stamp of her voice, so that by the form they had modeled, together with their (own) image, they made themselves liable to condemnation.
Then the female spiritual principle came in the snake, the instructor; and it taught them, saying, "What did he say to you? Was it, 'From every tree in the garden shall you eat; yet – from the tree of recognizing good and evil do not eat'?"
The carnal woman said, "Not only did he say 'Do not eat', but even 'Do not touch it; for the day you eat from it, with death you are going to die.'"
And the snake, the instructor, said, "With death you shall not die; for it was out of jealousy that he said this to you. Rather your eyes shall open and you shall come to be like gods, recognizing evil and good." And the female instructing principle was taken away from the snake, and she left it behind, merely a thing of the earth.
And the carnal woman took from the tree and ate; and she gave to her husband as well as herself; and these beings that possessed only a soul, ate. And their imperfection became apparent in their lack of knowledge; and they recognized that they were naked of the spiritual element, and took fig leaves and bound them upon their loins.
Then the chief ruler came; and he said, "Adam! Where are you?" – for he did not understand what had happened. And Adam said, "I heard your voice and was afraid because I was naked; and I hid."
The ruler said, "Why did you hide, unless it is because you have eaten from the tree from which alone I commanded you not to eat? And you have eaten!"
Adam said, "The woman that you gave me, she gave to me and I ate." And the arrogant ruler cursed the woman.
The woman said, "It was the snake that led me astray and I ate." They turned to the snake and cursed its shadowy reflection, [...] powerless, not comprehending that it was a form they themselves had modeled. From that day, the snake came to be under the curse of the authorities; until the all-powerful man was to come, that curse fell upon the snake.
They turned to their Adam and took him and expelled him from the garden along with his wife; for they have no blessing, since they too are beneath the curse. Moreover, they threw mankind into great distraction and into a life of toil, so that their mankind might be occupied by worldly affairs, and might not have the opportunity of being devoted to the holy spirit.
Now afterwards, she bore Cain, their son; and Cain cultivated the land. Thereupon he knew his wife; again becoming pregnant, she bore Abel; and Abel was a herdsman of sheep. Now Cain brought in from the crops of his field, but Abel brought in an offering (from) among his lambs. God looked upon the votive offerings of Abel; but he did not accept the votive offerings of Cain. And carnal Cain pursued Abel, his brother.
And God said to Cain, "Where is Abel, your brother?"
He answered saying, "Am I, then, my brother's keeper?"
God said to Cain, "Listen! The voice of your brother's blood is crying up to me! You have sinned with your mouth. It will return to you: anyone who kills Cain will let loose seven vengeances, and you will exist groaning and trembling upon the earth."
And Adam knew his female counterpart Eve, and she became pregnant, and bore Seth to Adam. And she said, "I have borne another man through God, in place of Abel." Again Eve became pregnant, and she bore Norea. And she said, "He has begotten on me a virgin as an assistance for many generations of mankind." She is the virgin whom the forces did not defile.
Then mankind began to multiply and improve. The rulers took counsel with one another and said, "Come, let us cause a deluge with our hands and obliterate all flesh, from man to beast." But when the ruler of the forces came to know of their decision, he said to Noah, "Make yourself an ark from some wood that does not rot and hide in it - you and your children and the beasts and the birds of heaven from small to large – and set it upon Mount Sir."
Then Norea came to him, wanting to board the ark. And when he would not let her, she blew upon the ark and caused it to be consumed by fire. Again he made the ark, for a second time.
The rulers went to meet her, intending to lead her astray. Their supreme chief said to her, "Your mother Eve came to us." But Norea turned to them and said to them, "It is you who are the rulers of the darkness; you are accursed. And you did not know my mother; instead it was your female counterpart that you knew. For I am not your descendant; rather it is from the world above that I am come."
The arrogant ruler turned, with all his might, and his countenance came to be like (a) black [...]; he said to her presumptuously, "You must render service to us, as did also your mother Eve; for I have been given [...]." But Norea turned, with the might of [...]; and in a loud voice, she cried out up to the holy one, the God of the entirety, "Rescue me from the rulers of unrighteousness and save me from their clutches - forthwith!"
The (great) angel came down from the heavens and said to her, "Why are you crying up to God? Why do you act so boldly towards the holy spirit?"
Norea said, "Who are you?" The rulers of unrighteousness had withdrawn from her.
He said, "It is I who am Eleleth, sagacity, the great angel who stands in the presence of the holy spirit. I have been sent to speak with you and save you from the grasp of the lawless. And I shall teach you about your root."
(Norea apparently now speaking) Now as for that angel, I cannot speak of his power: his appearance is like fine gold and his raiment is like snow. No, truly, my mouth cannot bear to speak of his power and the appearance of his face!
Eleleth, the great angel, spoke to me. "It is I," he said, "who am understanding. I am one of the four light-givers, who stand in the presence of the great invisible spirit. Do you think these rulers have any power over you? None of them can prevail against the root of truth; for on its account he appeared in the final ages; and these authorities will be restrained. And these authorities cannot defile you and that generation; for your abode is in incorruptibility, where the virgin spirit dwells, who is superior to the authorities of chaos and to their universe."
But I said, "Sir, teach me about the faculty of these authorities – how did they come into being, and by what kind of genesis, and of what material, and who created them and their force?"
And the great angel Eleleth, understanding, spoke to me: "Within limitless realms dwells incorruptibility. Sophia, who is called Pistis, wanted to create something, alone without her consort; and her product was a celestial thing. A veil exists between the world above and the realms that are below; and shadow came into being beneath the veil; and that shadow became matter; and that shadow was projected apart. And what she had created became a product in the matter, like an aborted fetus. And it assumed a plastic form molded out of shadow, and became an arrogant beast resembling a lion. It was androgynous, as I have already said, because it was from matter that it derived.
Opening his eyes, he saw a vast quantity of matter without limit; and he became arrogant, saying, "It is I who am God, and there is none other apart from me". When he said this, he sinned against the entirety. And a voice came forth from above the realm of absolute power, saying, "You are mistaken, Samael" – which is, 'god of the blind'.
And he said, "If any other thing exists before me, let it become visible to me!" And immediately Sophia stretched forth her finger and introduced light into matter; and she pursued it down to the region of chaos. And she returned up to her light; once again darkness [...] matter.
This ruler, by being androgynous, made himself a vast realm, an extent without limit. And he contemplated creating offspring for himself, and created for himself seven offspring, androgynous just like their parent. And he said to his offspring, "It is I who am god of the entirety."
And Zoe (Life), the daughter of Pistis Sophia, cried out and said to him, "You are mistaken, Sakla!" – for which the alternative name is Yaltabaoth. She breathed into his face, and her breath became a fiery angel for her; and that angel bound Yaldabaoth and cast him down into Tartaros below the abyss.
Now when his offspring Sabaoth saw the force of that angel, he repented and condemned his father and his mother, matter. He loathed her, but he sang songs of praise up to Sophia and her daughter Zoe. And Sophia and Zoe caught him up and gave him charge of the seventh heaven, below the veil between above and below. And he is called 'God of the forces, Sabaoth', since he is up above the forces of chaos, for Sophia established him.
Now when these (events) had come to pass, he made himself a huge four-faced chariot of cherubim, and infinitely many angels to act as ministers, and also harps and lyres. And Sophia took her daughter Zoe and had her sit upon his right to teach him about the things that exist in the eighth (heaven); and the angel of wrath she placed upon his left. Since that day, his right has been called 'life'; and the left has come to represent the unrighteousness of the realm of absolute power above. It was before your time that they came into being.
Now when Yaldabaoth saw him (Sabaoth) in this great splendor and at this height, he envied him; and the envy became an androgynous product, and this was the origin of envy. And envy engendered death; and death engendered his offspring and gave each of them charge of its heaven; and all the heavens of chaos became full of their multitudes. But it was by the will of the father of the entirety that they all came into being – after the pattern of all the things above – so that the sum of chaos might be attained.
"There, I have taught you about the pattern of the rulers; and the matter in which it was expressed; and their parent; and their universe."
But I said, "Sir, am I also from their matter?"
"You, together with your offspring, are from the primeval father; from above, out of the imperishable light, their souls are come. Thus the authorities cannot approach them, because of the spirit of truth present within them; and all who have become acquainted with this way exist deathless in the midst of dying mankind. Still, that sown element will not become known now. Instead, after three generations it will come to be known, and it has freed them from the bondage of the authorities' error."
Then I said, "Sir, how much longer?"
He said to me, "Until the moment when the true man, within a modeled form, reveals the existence of the spirit of truth, which the father has sent.
Then he will teach them about everything, and he will anoint them with the unction of life eternal, given him from the undominated generation.
Then they will be freed of blind thought, and they will trample underfoot death, which is of the authorities, and they will ascend into the limitless light where this sown element belongs.
Then the authorities will relinquish their ages, and their angels will weep over their destruction, and their demons will lament their death.
Then all the children of the light will be truly acquainted with the truth and their root, and the father of the entirety and the holy spirit. They will all say with a single voice, 'The father's truth is just, and the son presides over the entirety", and from everyone unto the ages of ages, "Holy – holy – holy! Amen!'"
This translation was made by Bentley Layton, excerpted from The Nag Hammadi Library in English edited by James M. Robinson, and transcribed for online publication originally at the Gnostic Society Library (gnosis.org).
Source: The Hypostasis of the Archons at Early Christian Writings website.
While I have much reservation about Gnostic teachings, I think this one is the most important Gnostic Christian text for general understanding of the Gnostic philosophy and its key concepts. The concept of archons (i.e. 'rulers' or 'authorities') is especially widely borrowed into some segments of popular culture that draw inspiration from the esoteric traditions.