The Thunder, Perfect Mind

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The Thunder, Perfect Mind is an exhortatory poem discovered among the Gnostic manuscripts in the Nag Hammadi library in 1945.

For I am knowledge and ignorance.
I am shame and boldness.
I am shameless; I am ashamed.
I am strength and I am fear.
I am war and peace.

The Thunder, Perfect Mind [1]


For it is I who am acquaintance: and lack of acquaintance.
It is I who am reticence: and frankness.
I am shameless: I am ashamed.
I am strong: and I am afraid.
It is I who am war: and peace.

The Thunder – Perfect Intellect, Lines 26-31 from another translation.[2]

The Thunder, Perfect Mind (the title may alternately be translated The Thunder, Perfect Intellect) takes the form of an extended, riddling monologue, in which an immanent divine saviour speaks a series of paradoxical statements alternating between first-person assertions of identity and direct address to the audience. These paradoxical utterances echo Greek identity riddles, a common poetic form in the Mediterranean. Moreover, it is a non-epistolic, non-narrative unmediated divine speech.[3] There are some translations to the right from the same section of the poem. Line numbering is different in different translations.


As to dating, Anne McGuire writes: "Thunder, Perfect Mind exists only in the Coptic version found at Nag Hammadi (NHC VI,2:13,1-21,32). The author, date, and place of composition are unknown, but a cultural milieu like that of second- or third-century Alexandria is plausible. In any case, it is clear that the text was originally composed in Greek well before 350 C.E., the approximate date of the Coptic manuscript."[3]

Structure and language[edit]

The work as a whole takes the form of a poem in parallel strophes, and the author, it may be surmised, has drawn on a tradition of such poems in both Egyptian and Jewish communities, in which a similarly female divinity (Isis or aspect of the divine Sophia respectively) expounds her virtues unto an attentive audience, and exhorts them to strive to attain her. Patricia Cox Miller suggests that it is the "self-revelation of a powerful goddess".[4]

Some examples of the genre may be found in Old Testament, such as the Book of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, or apocryphal literature.[citation needed][clarification needed]

The riddles of the poem may presuppose a classical Gnostic myth, such as the one found in the Reality of the Rulers, or in the Secret Book of John.[citation needed] However, there have been some authors, such as George MacRae and Hal Taussig, that contend against Thunder's placement among gnostic literature.[5]

The original language of the poem was Greek, though only a Coptic version survives in the Nag Hammadi library; the manuscript resides in the Coptic Museum in Cairo.[citation needed]

Parallels in Mandaic scriptures[edit]

In Book 6 (also known as the "Book of Dinanukt") of the Right Ginza, Ruha addresses a speech to Dinanukht, which is similar to the Gnostic poem The Thunder, Perfect Mind (see the poem in the Dinanukht article).[6]


  1. ^ MacRae, George W. (tr.) (1990). "The Thunder, Perfect Mind". In Robinson, James M. (ed.). The Nag Hammadi Library. San Francisco: HarperCollins. ISBN 0060669357.
  2. ^ Layton, Bentley, ed. (1987). "The Thunder – Perfect Intellect". The Gnostic Scriptures. Doubleday. ISBN 0385174470.
  3. ^ a b McGuire, Anne, ed. (2000). "The Thunder: Perfect Mind". Diotima.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. ^ Patricia Cox Miller, "In Praise of Nonsense," in World Spirituality , Vol. 15: Classical Mediterranean Spirituality , ed. by A. Hilary Armstrong (New York: Crossroads/Continuum Press, 1986), pp.481-505
  5. ^ Taussig, Hal; Calaway, Jared; Kotrosits, Maia; Lillie, Celene; Lasser, Justin (2010). The Thunder: Perfect Mind. A New Translation and Introduction. Fifth Avenue, New York, NY, 10010: Palgrave MacMillian, a division of St. Martin's Press LLC. doi:10.1057/9780230114777. ISBN 978-1-349-29006-2.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  6. ^ Buckley, Jorunn Jacobsen (2002). The Mandaeans: ancient texts and modern people. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-515385-5. OCLC 65198443.