The Forty Day Teachings of Christ in the Books of Jeu and the Pistis Sophia: A Gnostic Endowment

By David Wiley; originally published online circa 1994 at www.marshall.edu/~wiley6/

The New Testament informs us that after Christ's resurrection, He spent forty days among the disciples, "speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God."(1) What exactly did the Lord say to His disciples during this time? Why is this passing mention all we have of His visit? Did the authors of the New Testament not feel that these teachings were important enough to include with the rest of His words?

The scriptures contain several accounts of Jesus instructing his disciples to keep things "secret." For example, on the Mount of Transfiguration, the Lord told His disciples to "tell the vision to no man"(2) until it became appropriate to do so. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are not unfamiliar with subjects that are to be kept "sacred" and not discussed openly. We can see this idea represented in latter-day scripture as well. For example, the closing verse of the Book of Moses' first chapter translated by the Prophet Joseph Smith read:

(These words were spoken unto Moses in the mount, the name of which shall not be known among the children of men. And now they are spoken unto you. Show them not unto any except them that believe.Even so. Amen.)(3)
Legend holds that there was an entire body of knowledge, which came to be called gnosis, which the Lord imparted to His disciples after His resurrection during this forty day period. Not too many years later, as the ancient Christian church began splitting up into sects, each of them claimed to have this gnosis, or "secret knowledge," which the Lord had taught to only a select few. Hugh Nibley quotes Clement and comments:
"To James the Just and to John and Peter after the resurrection the Lord conveyed the gnosis, these handed it on to the rest of the Apostles and in turn to the Seventy." So we have a true gnosis, a certain knowledge, entrusted to the general authorities of the church after the resurrection and, as far as we know, to no one else. This was precisely the knowledge which the so-called Gnostics later claimed to have. From the titles and contents of recently found Gnostic writings it is plain that their special boast was to possess "What Christ taught to the Apostles after the Resurrection."(4)

Within the last several years, translations of these "recently found Gnostic writings" have become available to the public. These are the records of those who claimed to have the gnosis. When I first started studying these books, I believed that no matter how distorted and scattered, fragments of the Lord's true teachings would be recognizable by their resemblance to truths restored in modern times. Now, it is not my intention in writing this paper to deal with everything each of these books claim the Lord taught. My intention is to give Latter-day Saints interested in (yet unfamiliar with) these writings exposure to a sampling of their teachings. Specifically, I will focus on the books of First and Second Jeu and the Pistis Sophia.

Violet MacDermot, to whom I am indebted for her outstanding English translations, describes the manuscripts in her introductions to the Books of Jeu and the Pistis Sophia as

compilations. . . .This method of composition gives rise to repetitions in the narrative, and to a lack of overall continuity. Thus [some chapters] appear to be variant accounts of what has already been given in [previous] chapters(5)

Accordingly, as I attempt to which will hopefully be interesting to the LDS reader, I will jump around the text quite a bit; as different accounts of the same event occur in several places. We know from our study of the many scriptures we have been blessed with that details included in one account of an event are often slightly different or clearer in another. For example, from Genesis 1 we learn about the creation of Earth and the things on/near it, but would know nothing of spiritual creation were it not for the account recorded in the Book of Moses.

People and Clothes

In dealing with what the Lord "taught His disciples" after the resurrection, the first note of interest is who is being taught. The Pistis Sophia records that it is not only the disciples that the Lord has gathered to teach, but "the disciples and women" to whom He is giving this heavenly instruction.(6) Given prevalent attitudes toward women, as those found in the writings of Paul, it is noteworthy that women be invited to participate in these goings-on.(7) All three books also specify the participants' manner of dress during the period of instruction. Each states that they are clothed "in linen garments."(8) First Jeu even records that they were wearing a hat or cap of some kind made of myrtle.(9) The mention of the specific types of clothing they are wearing would suggest that the author thinks it worth mentioning; i.e., there is something significant about being dressed in a specific way with respect to what they are doing. In fact, the role of ritual clothing in the "mysteries" is expounded upon a great deal in much of the extra-canonical literature.(10)

Curiously enough, the Pistis Sophia account of the Lord's teachings begins with a record of things the Lord has not taught the disciples prior to this visit. Especially interesting among these are references to "watchers" who guard the doors of "the Treasury of Light," which we will discuss later, and to a variety of angel which the author calls the "unpaired ones."(11) "Unpaired ones" seems an odd way to designate an angel, but compare the 132nd section of the Doctrine and Covenants in which we learn that to achieve the highest degree of glory in the celestial kingdom, we must enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. Those who do not abide the Lord's law of marriage

cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever.(12)

A Seal, a Cipher, and A Name

First Jeu is dominated by the Lord teaching the disciples three things time and time again: a seal, a cipher, and a name.(13)

When you come to this place, seal yourselves with this seal: . . . ,while the cipher 70331 [?] is in your hand. Furthermore say this name. . . three times, and the watchers and the veils are drawn back, until you go into the place of their Father and he gives (you his seal and name) and you cross over (the gate into his treasury).(14)

The Gnostics believed they had something secret and precious, which they wanted to keep to themselves and their initiates. Ms. MacDermot's renderings of yhfoz, sfragixein, and sfragiz as "cipher," "to seal," and "seal" help preserve that aura of secrecy and mystery. However, for our purposes, a translation which is clearer, as opposed to one which better preserves atmosphere, will enhance our understanding of exactly what is going on. I found that some work with a few lexicons and context clues went a long way toward blowing away the fog of mysticism.

First consider the word Ms. MacDermot has translated "cipher," yhfoz. One lexicon(15) defines it as a "pebble. . .used in voting, in juries and elsewhere; a black one for conviction, a white one for acquittal." A second(16) gives "a pebble used for reckoning," "a counter," and "a pebble used in voting." Still a third(17) renders yhfoz "a pebble variously employed" and "a pebble or stone probably given as a token." The meaning now becomes clearer. The Lord is giving His disciples something, which is "in the hand," which will be a token of their "acquittal," or their having received the necessary ordinances and instructions the Lord is giving them. Recognition of this by the watchers will be a essential step in the process of passing the watchers and going through the veil into the place of the Father. Although "cipher," which Ms. MacDermot has chosen, does create a certain atmosphere, for clarity I will use "token" as yhfoz throughout the rest of this paper.(18)

Next let us turn to the words rendered as "to seal" and "seal," sfragixein and sfragiz. Our first lexicon(19) gives the following for sfragixw: to "mark (with a seal) as a means of identification... so that the mark which denotes ownership also carries with it the protection of the owner." Again, to "provide with a mark of identification." The second(20) gives to "authenticate a document with a seal," and to "certify an object after examination by attaching a seal." And our third lexicon(21) renders it as "to mark distinctively as invested with a certain character." The same lexicons, on the same pages, also define sfragiz as a "seal. . .sign or stamp of approval," "impression of a signet-ring, seal," and "a seal, distinctive mark. . .a token, proof." Once again, the meaning begins to clear up. I feel safe in suggesting that Christ isn't stamping His celestial signet-ring on the fore heads of the disciples. What He is doing is giving them a sign by which they can authenticate or identify themselves as having received the ordinances and instructions to the watchers, and perhaps even to other initiates. Again, I think the words "identify" and "sign" are more easily understood than Ms. MacDermot's readings. Applying our new understanding, the passage most recently quoted would read

When you come to this place, <identify yourselves by this sign>:. . ., while the <token> 70331 is in your hand. Furthermore say this name . . . three times, and the watchers and the veils are drawn back, until you go into the place of their Father and he gives (you his <sign> and name) and you cross over (the gate into his treasury).(22)

The prophet Brigham Young described similar events:

Let me give you a definition in brief. Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell.(23)

Using the tokens, names, and signs which the Lord has taught the disciples,(24) the receiver is allowed to approach the innermost area of the Treasury of Light, where he will be taught a new series.

Again you will pass in to their interior to the rank of the veils which are drawn before the great ruler (king) of the Treasury of the Light. They will give to you their great mystery and their <sign> and the great name of the Treasury of the Light. And they will be drawn back until you cross over and pass into them, until you reach the great Man, he who is the ruler (king) of this whole Treasury of Light, whose name is Jeu.(25)

By employing the newly learned names, etc. the recipient will be enabled to pass through "until [he] reach[es] the great Man, he who is ruler of this whole Treasury of Light. . . ." Equating the ruler of the Treasury of Light and our Heavenly Father is natural, but the reference to God Himself being a great Man is rather unusual.(26) However, it has a familiar ring to those acquainted with the words of the prophet Lorenzo Snow, "as man is, God once was; as God now is, man may be."(27) President Snow explained of this couplet:

Now, how is it that God proposes to confer this mighty honor upon us and to raise us to this condition of glory and exaltation? Who are we that God should do all this for us? Why, we are just beginning to find out that we are the offspring of God, born with the same faculties and powers as He possesses, capable of enlargement through the experience that we are now passing through in our second estate. Let me illustrate. Here is an emperor sitting upon his throne, governing and controlling his empire wisely and properly. He has an infant son that sits upon the knee of its mother. That son he proposes to one day set upon his throne, to govern and control his empire. Here is that infant, perfectly helpless, not knowing how to sustain its own life, not able to walk alone, without any knowledge; and here is this mighty emperor sitting upon his throne and governing his vast empire. Who would believe that he could raise that infant up to such a condition as to make it suitable to be placed on his throne? No one would, unless he had seen such things accomplished in his experience; seen the infant develop into boyhood, and then to manhood, possessing all the powers, faculties and possibilities of its father. Now, we are the sons and daughters of God. He has begotten us in His own image. He has given us faculties and powers that are capable of enlargement until His fulness is reached which He has promised -- until we shall sit upon thrones, governing and controlling our posterity from eternity to eternity, and increasing eternally. That is the fact in regard to these matters.(28)

To summarize, the process outlined in the first section of teaching includes:

  1. being stopped by angels and tested for certain knowledge
  2. identifying ourselves using a special sign
  3. verifying ourselves by a token in the hand
  4. giving a name as a kind of password
  5. coming to a veil
  6. learning new information from the Father
  7. passing through the veil into the presence of the Father
  8. God is an exalted man

A Peculiar Prayer

The next occurrence of interest to us is the special manner in which Christ teaches the disciples and women to pray. This also is recorded in several places:

(Jesus) placed his disciples behind him, all robed in linen garments, while the cipher of the name of the Father of the Treasury of Light was in their hands. He cried out thus saying: "Hear me, my Father. . . ."(29)
[T]he disciples and women were standing behind Jesus. But Jesus was standing before the altar. And Jesus cried out as he turned to the four corners of the world with his disciples, and they were all robed in linen garments, and he said: "iaw, iaw, iaw."(30)
And he caused all his disciples to be clothed with linen garments. . . .He placed the cipher of the first amen: 530, in their hands. They placed their feet together. They remained before the incense which he had offered. Jesus sealed his disciples with this seal... he again beside the incense which he had offered. He spoke the prayer, saying thus: "Hear me, my Father...." When he and his disciples had said this prayer, saying it to the four corners of the whole world, he sealed them all with the seal of the two amens.(31)

Gathering up all the bits and details from these varying accounts makes for an interesting picture. However, some of the more obscure phrases beg interpretation. The phrases "the four corners of the earth" and "placed their feet together" suggest facing all directions, or being in a circle. For the disciples to stand with their feet together would require them to all be side by side, or in a circle. "Jesus sealed his disciples with this seal. . ." of course meant that He identified all of them by their knowledge of the special sign He had previously taught them. So, He has the disciples and women form a circle, and after receiving the signs, instructs them to have the tokens He has taught them in their hands. He then prays at the altar. His prayer opens in two different ways in the accounts; once in a special "coded" language, where the same word or phrase is repeated three times, and once in vernacular, with the words "Hear me, my Father." Finally, the phrase "When he and his disciples had said this prayer. . ." suggests that those in the circle may have also said the prayer, or that they may have repeated the words of the prayer after their Master.

So to clarify:

  1. All are "robed" in linen garments
  2. They are standing in a circle
  3. Jesus receives the special sign from the disciples and women
  4. He has those in the circle have in their hands one of the special tokens
  5. Jesus is before an altar
  6. He opens His prayer with a coded word or phrase which He repeats three times
  7. The opening of Jesus' prayer, translated, is "Hear me, my Father"
  8. Those in the circle repeat the words of the prayer

The Final Ordinance

After completing their peculiar prayer, the Lord still has one "mystery," which means ordinance,(32) to give to His disciples. It is the mystery of the forgiveness of sins, and is so important that

every man who will believe in the Son of the Light must receive the mystery of the forgiveness of sins, so that he will be completely perfected and completed in all mysteries.. every sin which you have committed knowingly, and those which you have commited unknowingly, [they] will all be erased....(33)

What is this ordinance? An ordinance which will purge the receivers of all sin, and make them "clean every whit," or clean from the blood and sins of their generation. The Lord states that this is the last ordinance they are to receive, or that after it they will be "perfected and completed in all mysteries [ordinances]."(34) The Lord also describes where the ordinance is performed, and the blessings which await those which faithfully receive it.

[I]t is the great mystery which is in the treasury of the innermost of the innermost. And it is the whole salvation of the soul. And all those who receive that mystery will surpass all gods. . . when you come forth from the body, you will become pure light. And you will hasten upwards. . . until you reach the Treasury of Light.(35)

This ordinance is performed only in a specific place, the "innermost of the innermost." Receiving this ordinance not only ensures the recipient a place in "Heaven," but also promises that they will "surpass all gods." The Doctrine and Covenants 132nd section uses similar language to describe those who enter into and faithfully live by the new and everlasting covenant.

[A]nd they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever. Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.(36)

Conclusion

There is obviously an extensive body of teaching preserved in these Gnostic traditions.(37) These two accounts tell us that the Lord gathered together the disciples and women secretly after His resurrection and taught them certain things. He taught them the knowledge required to enter the "Treasury of Light" after this life. These things included tokens in the hand, certain signs by which to identify themselves, and names which would also act as kinds of keywords to enable them to pass by the watchers, or angels, stationed as guards outside. Once they had successfully passed them, they would come to a veil, where the Father, a "great Man" would teach them a new name and sign, and then part the veil, admitting them into His presence.

He taught them a new manner of prayer; one in which all who participated were "robed" in linen garments (including a cap of some kind), and standing in a circle around an altar at which Jesus would offer the prayer. Before the prayer, they identified themselves via the signs He had taught them, and held the tokens in their hands during the prayer. Jesus begins the prayer by crying out three times an encoded statement which means: "Hear me, my Father." And those in the circle possibly repeated the words of the prayer.

He taught them of a new ordinance, one which would cleanse them from all sin and stain, and would guarantee their place in Heaven. He taught that this ordinance is performed only in "the innermost of the innermost," and that those who receive it will eventually "pass all gods."

Joseph Smith, the first Prophet, Seer, and Revelator of this dispensation, stated that in founding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he was simply restoring the Church of Christ with precisely the same organization, doctrines, and ordinances that had existed previously. Granted no amount of evidence can ever "prove" anything spiritual, but the contents of these texts are strong witnesses to Joseph Smith's claim. This paper represents only two of hundreds of texts of this kind which are now coming to light and being published every year. I encourage the interested reader to further search the source material for themselves.


Endnotes

1. Acts 1:3

2. Matthew 17:9

3. Smith, Joseph. The Pearl of Great Price. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1989. Moses 1:42. Italics are mine.

4. Nibley, Hugh. The World and the Prophets. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company. 1988. pp.65-66.

5. MacDermot, Violet. The Books of Jeu and the Untitled Text in the Bruce Codex. Leiden: E. J. Brill. 1978. p. XIII. (Hereafter cited as 1J or 2J).

6. MacDermot, Violet. Pistis Sophia. Leiden: E. J. Brill. 1978. p. 353. (Hereafter cited as PS). Perhaps the women are the disciples' wives.

7. At least the author feels it is important enough to make specific mention of the presence of women.

8. PS. p. 353.

9. PS. p. 353, 1J. p.114

10. For example, in the Shepherd of Hermas, we are instructed that with out putting on the garment, the rites are of no use to us: "no man can otherwise be found in the kingdom of God, unless these shall clothe him with their garment; for if thou receive only the name, but receive not the garment from them, thou profitest nothing." (Shep. Hermas 13[90]:2) Similar references are frequent throughout the text. Also, in the Gospel According to Philip we read, "In this world those who put on garments are more precious than the garments. In the Kingdom of Heaven the garments are more precious than those who have put them on." (Gospel of Philip 3:32-33)

11. PS p. 2.

12. Smith, Joseph. Doctrine and Covenants. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1978. 132:17. Italics are mine.

13. 1J. pp. 84, 85, 86, 91, 92, 109, 113, 118, etc.. All make similar references to coming to a special place and holding a cipher in the hand, sealing one's self with a seal, and saying a name. To quote all of the occurrences would be needlessly redundant.

14. 1J. p. 83.

15. Bauer, Walter. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Second edition of the fourth revised and augmented edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1979. p. 892.

16. Liddel, Henry G. and Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon. Clarendon Press: Oxford. 1968. pp. 892.

17. The Analytical Greek Lexicon. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975. p. 442. (Hereafter cited as TAGL).

18. Interestingly enough, this same word "yhfoz" is the word translated "white stone" in Rev. 2:17. " He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth [it]." Read the verse again, substituting "token" in place of "white stone." With the token one receives not only a name, but a "new name."

19. Bauer. p.796.

20. Liddel and Scott. p. 1742.

21. TAGL. p. 394.

22. Text in <> is my rendering. The name is important to know as well, as in The Gospel of Philip "If one does not acquire the name for himself, the name Christian will also be taken from him. . .[for he who receives the name] is no longer a Christian but a Christ."

23. Widstoe, John A.. Discourses of Brigham Young. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company. 1954. p. 416. Italics are mine.

24. "Be patient and I will say it to you." Response like this to the disciples' requests to be taught greater and greater mysteries show that the ordinance itself involved oral instruction.

25. 2J. p. 122.

26. Unusual to modern Christians, perhaps, but not an uncommon theme in the literature of the time. These people understood that as children of God, we have incredible potential within us as well. Consider these quotes from the Gospel of Philip: "A horse sires a horse, a man begets a man, a god brings god." We are literally children of our Father in Heaven, or gods in embryo. What adult was there who never was a child?

27. Snow, Lorenzo. Teachings of Lorenzo Snow. Bookcraft, 1984. p. 2.

28. Ibid, p. 2-3.

29. PS. p. 370. Italics are mine.

30. PS. p. 353. Italics are mine.

31. 2J. pp.114-116. Italics are mine.

32. Bauer. p. 350. mnsthrion--"secret rite, secret teaching, mystery"

33. 2J. p. 117. Italics are mine.

34. 2J. p. 117.

35. 2J. pp. 117-118. Italics are mine.

36. Doctrine and Covenants 132:19-20. Italics are mine.

37. There are an enormous amount of sources which I encourage the interested reader to review for themselves.