Hypostasis of the Archons

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The Hypostasis of the Archons or The Reality of the Rulers is an exegesis on the Book of Genesis 1–6 and expresses Gnostic mythology of the divine creators of the cosmos and humanity.[1]

Text's origin and content[edit]

The text was found among those included in The Nag Hammadi Library, in CG II, in 1945. It is tentatively dated in the third century CE[1][2] and is thought to originate from a transitional period in Gnosticism when it was converting from a purely mythological state into a philosophical phase. The beginning and conclusion to the document are Christian Gnostic, but the rest of the material is a mythological narrative regarding the origin and nature of the archontic powers peopling the heavens between Earth and the Ogdoad, and how the destiny of man is affected by these primeval happenings.[3]

The work is presented as a learned treatise in which a teacher addresses a topic suggested by the dedicatee of the work. The treatise begins with a fragment of cosmogony, which leads to a revisionistic "true history" of the events in the Genesis creation story, reflecting Gnostic distrust of the material world and the demiurge that created it. Within this narrative there is an "angelic revelation dialogue" where an angel repeats and elaborates the author's fragment of cosmogonic myth in much broader scope, concluding with historical prediction of the coming of the savior and the end of days.[4]

Although the etymologies and puns on Semitic names suggest the author's close contact with Jewish legends and interpretive traditions as well as knowledge of Greek mythology and Hellenistic cult practices, the myth is, according to Bentley Layton purposefully anti-Judaic (coining its traditional early rabbinic form, although no reason to placard it as anti-semittic).[5] In addition, arguably, the work contains no Christian anti-Gnostic characteristics.[6] As the original Greek text has not been discovered, the only known version is the Coptic translation from Nag Hammadi.[7]

Mythic characters[edit]

The Parent of the Entirety: The invisible virgin spirit
The Child: Presides over the entirety
The Four Luminaries: Eleleth and three others
The True Human Being
The Undominated Race
Wisdom: Sophia or Pistis Sophia
Zoe (Life): daughter of Sophia
Yaldabaoth: The chief ruler also called Sakla and Samael
Sabaoth: One of Yaldabaoth's first seven offspring
Adam: The first human being
Eve: Adam's wife and counterpart
Cain: Eve's son begotten by the rulers
Abel: Eve's son begotten by Adam
Seth: a son through god
Norea: Eve's daughter[8]


  1. ^ a b Meyer & Robinson 1977, p. 152.
  2. ^ Mills & Bullard 1990, p. 398.
  3. ^ Bullard in Robinson 162; Bullard 3
  4. ^ Layton (1995) 65
  5. ^ Layton (1995) 65
  6. ^ Layton (1995) 65
  7. ^ Layton (1995) 67
  8. ^ Layton (1995) 66


  • Bullard, Roger A. "The Hypostasis of the Archons." Berlin: De Gruyter, 1970.
  • Bullard, Roger A. Introduction to “The Hypostasis of the Archons”. In The Nag Hammadi Library in English, Revised Edition. Edited by James M. Robinson, 161–162. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988.
  • Fallon, Francis T. "The Enthronement of Sabaoth: Jewish Elements in Gnostic Creation Myths". Leiden: Brill, 1978.
  • Fallon, Francis T. "The Gnostics: The Undominated Race". Novum Testamentum 21.3 (1979): 271–88.
  • Gilhus, Ingvild Sælid. "The Nature of the Archons: A Study in the Soteriology of a Gnostic Treatise from Nag Hammadi (CGII, 4)". Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1985.
  • King, Karen L. “Ridicule and Rape, Rule and Rebellion: The Hypostasis of the Archons”. In Gnosticism and the Early Christian World: In Honor of James M. Robinson. Edited by James E. Goehring et al., Sonoma, California:Polebridge, 1990.
  • Layton, Bentley. The Gnostic Scriptures: A New Translation with Annotations and Introductions. New York: Doubleday, 1995; 1987.
  • Layton, Bentley. “The Hypostasis of the Archons”. Harvard Theological Review 67 (1974):351–425.
  • Layton, Bentley. “The Hypostasis of the Archons (Conclusion)”. Harvard Theological Review 69 (1976):31–101.
  • McGuire, Anne. "Virginity and Subversion: Norea Against the Powers in The Hypostasis of the Archons". In Images of the Feminine in Gnosticism. Edited by Karen L. King, 239–258. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988.
  • Meyer, Marvin W.; Robinson, James MacConkey (1977). The Nag Hammadi Library in English. BRILL. ISBN 9789004054349.
  • Mills, Watson E.; Bullard, Roger Aubrey (1990). Mercer Dictionary of the Bible. Mercer University Press. ISBN 9780865543737.

External links[edit]

Online texts