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THE THUNDER:  PERFECT MIND

 

 

Translation from the Coptic

and Introduction by Daniel McBride

Introduction

            The Thunder:  Perfect Mind is a difficult work to place historically.  Among the collection of Gnostic tractates found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945, this work is unique in a number of regards.  While the work is certainly Gnostic in many ways, its distinct allusiveness does not allow it to be linked with any particular Gnostic system; rather it seems to embody a wider appeal which stems from its basis in the Isis/Sophia traditions prevalent in Egypt from 300 B.C.E. to 300 C.E.  The use of a female first-person narrative is rare enough in ancient texts; the fact that there existed this tradition in Ptolemaic Alexandria three-hundred years prior to the rise of the Gnostic sects there, presents us with a strong case for historical connectedness. 

 

It is I who am yourself:  and it is you who are me.

And wherever you are, I am there.

And I am sown in all:  and you gather me from wherever you desire.

            But when you gather me, it is yourself you collect.[1]

 

with a passage from the Isis tradition:

 

I am wife and sister of King Osiris

I am she that is called goddess by women

I assigned to Greeks and barbarians their languages


 

I made the beautiful and the shameful

to be distinguished by nature

I overcome Fate

Hail, O Egypt, that nourished me!

 

Cyme, trans. Frederick C. Grant[2]

 

            The potency of the Isis tradition can be demonstrated by the fact that it penetrated as far north into the Roman empire as Germania and Hadrian's wall.  The link between the influence of Isis and the Hellenistic emancipation of women is an obvious connection to make here, and the development of Gnostic systems saw an even greater influence of women in religious matters in their roles as leaders and teachers.  This in fact was one highly objectionable facet of the Gnostic movement to the orthodox patriarchs of Rome.

            The Thunder: Perfect Mind above all alludes to the Gnostic Sophia myth, and appears to draw out the paradoxical unity of Sophia, manifested in her two aspects after her descent into the lower material realm.  The higher Sophia embodies the return to the Pleroma (lit. "fullness"), while the lower Sophia represents the carnal passage in life towards the reascent in Gnostic terms. 

This work clearly demonstrates its concern with paradox and language. It is also evident that the work self-consciously strives to transcend all dichotomy, and this is accomplished not by looking at dichotomy as an external reality, but in viewing it as existing within the duplicities of language, and therefore within the speaker herself who presents herself, in effect, as Rhetoric incarnate. The relentless insertion of paradoxical statements is obviously designed to make something “unexpected” happen in the reader. [3]  This something might be said to be the elicitation of an uncanny identification with the speaker who is “the word of many aspects”. Behind the ironic awareness of her own persuasiveness, behind the blandishments of rhetorical seduction with its wilfully alembicated welter of paradoxical terms, lies the enigma of a rhetorical personality[4] – this alone vaults Intelligibility onto the meta-rhetorical level; as such, the purpose underlying the antimonies of these verbal posturings uses the archetype of pure persuasion as a means, not as an end or obsession in itself – an ethical tautness in this confession saves it from such a fall. In effect the paradigm of good and evil existing in Sophia, very powerfully conveyed by the use of oxymorons (the master-trope of mysticism) and parallelisms, is held up as an existential mirror for the human condition:  "I am merciful, and I am cruel." 

 

The Thunder:  Perfect Mind

 

I was sent forth through the power

and I have come to those who contemplate me: 

I was found by those who sought after me.

Look upon me, you who contemplate me

and you listeners, listen to me.

Those of you who pay heed to me, take me to yourselves. 

And do not banish me from your sight,

and do not cause your voice to imprecate me, or your hearing.

Do not be ignorant of me (in) any place or (in) any time. 

Keep watch!

Do not be ignorant of me.

For I am the first and the last:

 

 

I am the one who is honoured and the one who is scorned.

I am the whore and the holy one.

I am the wife and the virgin. 

I am the mother and the daughter. 

I am the members of my mother. 

I am the barren woman whose sons are many. 

I am she of many weddings and I did not take a husband. 

I am the midwife and she who does not bear. 

I am the solace of my labour pains. 

I am the bride and the bridegroom

and my man[5] is the one who begot me. 

 

 

I am the mother of my father,

and the sister of my man and he is my offspring.

I am the servant of he who prepared me. 

I am the mistress of my offspring: 

but he is the one who begot me,

prematurely, on a day of birth. 

And in time he is my offspring

 and my power is from him. 

 

 

I am the staff of his power throughout his youth,

and he is the staff[6] of my old age. 

And that which he wishes befalls me. 

I am the silence that cannot be apprehended

and the idea that is often remembered.

I am the sound of the manifold voice,

and the word of many aspects. 

I am the story:  (I am) my name. 

Those who hate me--why do you love me

and (yet) hate those who love me?

Those who deny me, confess me,

  and those who confess me deny me. 

Those who speak truth of me, lie about me,

  and those who lied about me, tell the truth about me.

 

 

Those who understand me, be ignorant of me. 

And those who do not know me, let them know me.

For I am the Gnosis and the ignorance. 

I am reticence[7] and loquaciousness.

I am without shame, I am modest. 

I am assurance and I am fear. 

I am war and peace. 

Observe me:  I am the one who is condemned

  and the (one who is) great. 

Observe my poverty and my wealth.

Do not be arrogant with me when I am cast out upon the earth,

  and you shall find me among those who are coming,

  and do not view me on the dung-heap--

  do not go, do not leave me then, abandoned,

  and you shall find me in the dominions. 

Nor view me abandoned among those who are condemned

  and in the inferior places.

 

 

Do not mock me nor cast me down among those brutally slain.

But I, I am merciful and I am cruel. 

Be vigilant!

Do not loath my obedience and my self-control do not love. 

In my weakness do not forsake me,

  and do not be afraid of my power.

For why are you contemptuous of my fear and curse my pride?

But I am she who exists in all fears,

  and the security in insecurity. 

I am she who is weak and am made whole in a voluptuous place. 

I am foolish and I am wise.

Why have you hated me in your counsels--

  that I shall be silent among those who are silent?

I shall appear and speak.

 

 

Why then have  hated me?

Because I am a barbarian among barbarians? 

For I am the Sophia oFor I am the Sophia of the Knowledge

I am the judgement of the of the barbarians. 

I am the one whose image is great in Egypt

  and the one who has no image among the barbarians. 

I am the one who has been hated and loved in every place. 

I am the one called Life whom you called Death. 

I am the one called Law whom you called Anarchy.

I am the one whom you have pursued and

I am the one whom you have grasped.

 

 

I am the one whom you have scattered and you have collected together. 

I am the one before whom you have been ashamed,

  and you have been shameless to me. 

I am she who does not keep festival, and

I am she whose festivals are many. 

I, I am godless, and

I am the one whose God is many. 


 

I am the one whom you have reflected upon,

 and you have scorned me. 

I am unlearned, yet they learn from me. 

I am the one whom you have despised and you reflect upon me. 

I am the one whom you have hidden from,

  and you appear to me. 

But whenever you hide yourselves, I myself shall appear.

For whenever you [appear], I myself [shall be hidden] to you. 

 

 

Those who have [...] by means of it

[...] in senselessness [...]

Take me [...] understanding through suffering,

  and bear me to yourselves through understanding and suffering. 

And bear me to yourselves from ugly places which are in ruin

  and seize from those even in disgrace.

Out of shame accept me unto yourselves shamelessly;

  and out of shamelessness and shame,

  indict the parts of my being[8] in yourselves,

  and come into myself, those who (thus) know me,

  and those who know the parts of my being,

  and establish the great with the small first creatures. 

Come to childhood and do not abhor it

  because it is small and it is little.

And do not turn away greatnesses in some portions from the smallnesses,

  for the smallnesses are known from the greatnesses. 

Why do you curse me and esteem me?

You have wounded and you have had pity. 

Do not separate me from the first ones you have known

and do not cast anyone out, nor reject anyone

[...] [nor] return without knowing it.

[...] that which is mine.

It is I who knows the first ones and their descendants know me.[9]

 


 

But I am the Nous of the Promodial Time[...][10]

and the repose of [...][11]

I am the Gnosis of my quest,

  and the discovery of those who seek after me,

  and the command of those who ask of me

  and the power of the powers in my Gnosis[12] with the angels,

  they who have been sent by my word[13]

  and the gods in their aeons by my design,[14]

  and the spirit of each man existing with me,

  and of women existing within me. 

I am the one who is honoured and who is praised,

 and who is despised scornfully. 

I am peace and war comes to be because of me. 

And I am a foreigner and a citizen.

 

 

I am the substance and the one who has no substance. 

Those who exist together in my being are ignorant of me; 

 and those who exist in my substance are the ones who know me.

Those who have drawn near to me became ignorant of me,

  and those far beyond me are the ones who have known me. 

On the day I draw near to [you (pl)];  [you] are far beyond [me,

  and] on the day when I [am far beyond] you [I draw near] to you. 

 

 

[I am] [...] within. 

[I am] [...] the inborn qualities. 

[I am] the foundation of the spirits.

[I am] that which is asked for by the souls.

I am restraint and unrestraint.

I am in harmony with the dissolution. 

I am the abiding and I am the dissolution. 

I am the one below, and they come up to me. 

I am the judgement and the forgiveness. 

I, I am sinless and the root of sin comes from within me.

I am lust in (outward) appearance and abstinence exists within me. 

I am the utterance attainable to everyone

  and the speech which cannot be grasped. 

I am a mute who does not speak,

and great is my multitude of words. 

Hear me in weakness, and be instructed by me in strength.

I am she who cries out and I am cast forth upon the face of the earth.

It is I who prepares the bread and my mind inside. 

I am the Gnosis of my name. 

I am the one who cries out, and it is I who listens.

 

 

I appear and walk in a [...]

  seal of my [...][...][...]

I am attacker and the defence.

I am the one who is called "the Truth," and "Iniquity" [...][15]

You esteem me and you whisper against me. 

Those who are victorious, judge them before they pass judgement upon you,

  for discernment and partiality exists in you. 

If you are condemned in this way, who shall forgive you? 

Or, if you are forgiven through this, who shall be able to control you? 

For what is within you is that which is outside you,

and the one who fashioned you on the outside

(also) shaped the inside of you,

and that which you see on the exterior

you see on the interior:  it is revealed and is your garment.

Hear me you auditors,

and learn from my words those who know me. 

I am the hearing that is attainable to everything,[16]

I am the speech which cannot be grasped. 

I am the name of the sound and the sound of the name. 

I am the sign of the letter

and the manifestation of the division.


 

And I (lines 1-3 missing) [...] the light

  [...] and [...] auditors [...] to you [...]

  [...] the great power and the [...] shall not move the name

  [...] to the one who created me.

I, however, shall speak his name.

Look then at his words and all the writings which have been completed.

Give heed then you auditors and for your part, the angels,

  and those who have been sent,

  and the spirits who have arisen from the dead...

  that I am the one who exists alone,

  and I do not have anyone to judge me. 

 

 

For many are the delightful forms which exist in numerous sins,

  and libertinisms, and condemned passions,

  and transitory pleasures which are grasped until they become sober,[17]

  and they ascend to their resting-place

  and they shall find me in that place,

  and they shall live,

  and they shall not die again.


 

[1] Panarion XXVI,3.1

 

[2] Said to have been copied by Cyme from a stela dedicated to Isis in Memphis, Egypt, in the second century C.E.  The passage is excerpted.

[3]A number of oxymoronic pairs of qualities can be listed. These are used in the text following “I am...”:
                first/last                                 whore/holy one
                Gnosis/Ignorance                               reticence/loquaciousness
                shameless/modest                              assurance/fear
                war/peace                                           poverty/wealth
                merciful/cruel                                        foolish/wise
                hated/loved                                         Life/Death
                Law/Anarchy                                      scattered/collected
                godless/god (“fearing”)                     praised/despised
                foreigner/citizen                   substance/without substance
                restraint/unrestraint                             harmony/dissolution
                sin/sinless                                            lust/abstinence
                the one who cries out/the one who listens

[4]Patricia Cox Miller, “In Praise of Nonsense,” in Classic Mediterranean Spirituality, ed., A.H. Armstrong (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1986), 482: “Like Plotinus, Perfect Mind knows that her thundering riddles are the echoes of her reality in words, and it is those words that give her mystery a place in which to dwell in human consciousness... She identifies herself not only with the paradoxical images of language but with language itself. Perhaps the ultimate revelation is that this goddess is the very process of speaking that she uses to characterise herself.

[5] Lit. "my male", possibly husband although the Coptic word for this is not used:  it was used earlier however on line 25.

 

[6] The word is used to denote a wooden sounding board used to assemble congregations.

 

[7] The exact translation here is "shame" but the sense of the apposition requires the connotation of verbal utterance as held up against "loquaciousness"--the Greek term in this case means simply "freedom of speech."

 

[8] The Greek word melos refers to a limb, a member of the body.  The translation here accords with the larger sense of the passage.

 

[9] Literally, "those who follow them."  This would seem to refer to the primal Ogdoad, the first group of aeons which generated all those that followed.

 

[10] A very unfortunate lacuna here;  however, in gnostic texts the Nous, or Mind, always pertains to the thought of the Father.  It is Sophia who wished to know this thought.

[11] The sense of the entire passage here has displays a strong parallel with the Tripartite Tractate:  "He is rejoicing, he is repose;  that which he contemplates is that which he sees, that which he utters, that which he has as thought.  By him, all of Sophia (Wisdom) is raised up and is above Nous (Mind)."

 

[12] The actual Greek term is used here.

[13] The Greek word here, Logos, is highly suggestive of the blurred role of Sophia and the Logos (Son or Christ) in the Tripartite Tractate.

 

[14] The Coptic word TE, meaning age, time, or season, is taken to be the equivalent of the Greek aeon as the depiction of the gods here is consistent with the general Gnostic depiction of the aeons in their higher realm, and of their specific temporal function.  The "design" referred to here may pertain to Sophia Achamoth's role as ruler over the lower cosmic realm.

 

[15] This strongly suggests the figure of Isis/Sophia in her role as a controller of Heimarmene (Fate).

 

[16] This formula is used twice in the tractate, the only difference being the substitution here of "everything" for "everyone" in 19.21.

 

[17] Given the dichotomies presented elsewhere in the text it is assumed that this concluding passage does not represent an indictment of libertinism per se; rather, the sense is clearly that of transcendence through "transitory pleasures."

 

 
 
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