Translation from the Coptic
Introduction by Daniel McBride
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.
wherever you are, I am there.
am sown in all: and you gather me from wherever you desire.
But when you gather me, it is yourself you collect.
passage from the Isis tradition:
wife and sister of King Osiris
she that is called goddess by women
assigned to Greeks and barbarians their languages
the beautiful and the shameful
distinguished by nature
Egypt, that nourished me!
Cyme, trans. Frederick C. Grant
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.
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
– 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."
Thunder: Perfect Mind
I was sent forth through the power
and I have come to those who contemplate me:
found by those who sought after me.
upon me, you who contemplate me
listeners, listen to me.
Those of you who pay heed to me, take me to yourselves.
not banish me from your sight,
and do not cause your voice to imprecate me,
Do not be ignorant of me (in) any place or (in) any time.
be ignorant of me.
am the first and the last:
the one who is honoured and the one who is scorned.
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.
the bride and the bridegroom
and my man
is the one who begot me.
the mother of my father,
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:
is the one who begot me,
prematurely, on a day of birth.
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
of my old age.
And that which he wishes befalls me.
I am the silence that cannot be apprehended
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
(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,
those who lied about me, tell the truth about me.
Those who understand me, be ignorant of me.
those who do not know me, let them know me.
For I am the Gnosis and the ignorance.
I am reticence
I am without shame, I am modest.
I am assurance and I am fear.
I am war and peace.
me: I am the one who is condemned
and the (one who is) great.
my poverty and my wealth.
Do not be arrogant with me when I am cast out upon the
and you shall find me among those who are coming,
do not view me on the dung-heap--
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
in the inferior places.
mock me nor cast me down among those brutally slain.
But I, I am merciful and I am cruel.
Do not loath my obedience and my self-control do not
In my weakness do not forsake me,
do not be afraid of my power.
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
foolish and I am wise.
have you hated me in your counsels--
I shall be silent among those who are silent?
appear and speak.
Because I am a barbarian among barbarians?
For I am the Sophia oFor I am the Sophia of
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.
the one called Law whom you called Anarchy.
I am the one whom you have pursued and
the one whom you have grasped.
I am the one whom you have scattered and you have
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
I am the one whom you have hidden from,
and you appear to me.
whenever you hide yourselves, I myself shall appear.
For whenever you [appear], I myself [shall be hidden] to
who have [...] by means of it
[...] in senselessness [...]
[...] understanding through suffering,
and bear me to yourselves through understanding and
bear me to yourselves from ugly places which are in ruin
seize from those even in disgrace.
shame accept me unto yourselves shamelessly;
and out of shamelessness and shame,
indict the parts of my being
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.
not turn away greatnesses in some portions from the smallnesses,
for the smallnesses are known from the greatnesses.
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
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
am the Nous of the
and the repose of [...]
I am the Gnosis of my quest,
and the discovery of those who seek after me,
the command of those who ask of me
and the power of the powers in my Gnosis
with the angels,
they who have been sent by my word
and the gods in their aeons by my design,
and the spirit of each man existing with me,
and of women existing within me.
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.
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;
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
and] on the day when I [am far beyond] you [I draw near]
[I am] [...] within.
[I am] [...] the inborn qualities.
the foundation of the spirits.
that which is asked for by the souls.
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
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.
in weakness, and be instructed by me in strength.
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.
the one who cries out, and it is I who listens.
appear and walk in a [...]
seal of my [...][...][...]
I am the one who is called "the Truth," and "Iniquity"
You esteem me and you whisper against me.
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
For what is within you is that which is outside you,
one who fashioned you on the outside
(also) shaped the inside of you,
that which you see on the exterior
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,
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.
(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.
however, shall speak his name.
then at his words and all the writings which have been completed.
Give heed then you auditors and for your part, the angels,
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.
many are the delightful forms which exist in numerous sins,
libertinisms, and condemned passions,
and transitory pleasures which are grasped until they
they ascend to their resting-place
and they shall find me in that place,
and they shall live,
they shall not die again.
male", possibly husband although the Coptic word for this is not used: it
was used earlier however on line 25.
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."
word melos refers to a limb, a member of the body. The translation
here accords with the larger sense of the passage.
"those who follow them." This would seem to refer to the primal Ogdoad, the
first group of aeons which generated all those that followed.
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
word here, Logos, is highly suggestive of the blurred role of
Sophia and the Logos (Son or Christ) in the Tripartite Tractate.
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.
suggests the figure of Isis/Sophia in her role as a controller of Heimarmene
is used twice in the tractate, the only difference being the substitution
here of "everything" for "everyone" in 19.21.
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