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Christopher Bailey on a Third-Century Find That Could Challenge Even The Da Vinci Code
The ruins of ancient Colocyntopolis (near modern al-q’Kh) went largely unnoticed until last year, when an itinerant spoon-sharpener fell through a hole in the ground and found himself in a third-century chamber or apartment, its furnishings preserved to a remarkable degree by the desert climate.
Since then, excavations made under the auspices of the Weekly World News have turned up a large number of fascinating objects. But of all the artifacts, none drew more attention than a nearly intact third-century birdcage. Upon examination, it was found to contain a nearly intact third-century bird and, lining the floor, the first few columns of a well-known Gnostic writing called the Pistis Sophia. You may recall the buzz of scholarly anticipation when it was announced that this manuscript differed in several significant details from the other known sources.
The official translation has at last been released to the public, and we need hardly say that we feel a tingle of excitement in reproducing it here. We fully expect that, like every other Gnostic document discovered in the past 150 years, it will completely revolutionize our understanding of early Christianity.
But it happened that after Jesus had risen from the dead he spent eleven years speaking with his disciples without pausing for breath. And he taught them only as far as the places of the first ordinance and as far as the places of the First Mystery, which is within the veil which is within the first ordinance, which is the 24th mystery outside and below, but the 45th mystery on Tuesdays, these which are in the second space of the First Mystery, which is before all mysteries the Father in the form of a dove. And Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come forth from that First Mystery which is the last mystery, namely the 24th, or the 45th on Tuesdays.”
And the disciples did not know and understand that there was anything within that mystery. So they used it to carry home their dry cleaning. But they thought that that mystery was the head of the All, and the head of all the things that exist. And they thought that it was something like a checking account, because Jesus had said to them concerning the mystery, that it surrounded the first ordinance and the five incisions and the great light and the five helpers and the whole Treasury of Light.
And moreover Jesus had not spoken to his disciples of the whole extent of the places of the great invisible one and the three triple powers and the 24 invisible ones (or 45 on Tuesdays) and all their places and their aeons and all their ranks, how they extend far into the suburbs—these which are the emanations of the great invisible one—and their unbegotten ones and their self-begotten ones and their begotten ones and their half-begotten ones and their luminaries and their incendiaries and their unpaired ones and their wallflowers and their archons and their powers and their lords and their archangels and their angels and their decans and their ministers and their sextons and their church secretaries and all the cozy little bungalows of their spheres and all the ranks and honorary degrees of each one of them.
And Jesus had not told his disciples of the whole extent of the emanations of the treasury, nor how far it was overdrawn. Nor had he told them which watcher is over each of the doors of the Treasury of Light, nor at what time the watchers left each of the doors to visit the doughnut shop. Nor had he told them of the place of the three amens, in which places they extend, and he had not told them in which places the five trees are spread, nor of the five chainsaws which fell the five trees, nor of the seven other amens, namely the seven voices, which their place is and how they extend, nor of the forty-five amens which speak on Tuesdays.
And Jesus had not told his disciples of what type are the five helpers, or how many of them it takes to light a lantern. Nor had he told them in what manner the great light extends, or in which places it is plugged in. Nor had he told them of the five incisions, when he had his appendectomy, into which places they were made. But he had only spoken to them in general, teaching them that they existed, and showing them the scars. But he had not told them their extent and the rank of their places according to how they exist.
Because of this they also did not know that other places existed within that mystery, nor that the names of those places are South Bend and Pawtucket. And he had not said to his disciples: “I came forth from such and such places until I entered that mystery, until I came forth from it,” because frankly he didn’t know it himself. But he had said to them as he taught them: “I came forth from that mystery over there, the one with the green blinds.”
Because of this they thought now of that mystery that it was the completion of all completions, and that it was the head of the All, and that it was the whole enchilada, since Jesus had said to his disciples: “That mystery surrounds the totalities of which I have told you all from the day on which I met you until today.” Because of this the disciples thought now that there was nothing existing within that mystery, so they picked up their nets and went fishing.
The manuscript unfortunately is very fragmentary from here on, this section having been folded on top and thus most directly exposed to the action of the bird.
It happened later that the disciples were sitting with one another upon the Mount of Olives. And they rejoiced with great joy, and they were very jubilant, and they said to one another: “We are blessed beyond […] on earth because the Savior has handed us these […] received the pergola and the whole enchilada.”
As they were saying these things to one another, Jesus […] after three hours all the powers of the heavens were disturbed, and they all […] against one another, they and all their aeons, and all their places and all their […] their poultry [?] and all their garments and […] moved with all that was within it. And all were agitated, and also […] all the powers which […] did not cease from their agitation […] and cloaks and mantles all moved against one another […] third hour unto the spin cy[…] [Cyclops? Cyrene?] And all the […] and all the powers of […] agitated, so that the things which were white […] and shone with a light beyond measure. And the things which were colored became as […].
Here the manuscript terminates, but archaeologists hold out some hope that eventually more fragments will be found. Even now a well-funded expedition is diligently combing the surrounding area for the remains of more birdcages. Meanwhile, the Gnostic Church of North America has accorded this manuscript “dual canonicity” alongside the more generally received texts of the Pistis Sophia.
Christopher Bailey , a Lutheran, writes about everything from Arthurian mythology to wireless networking. He spent a decade on the Upward Path in corporate America, but now must be counted among the backsliders.