"Tis I, mother of my father" : the feminine principle and ancient Egyptian religious motifs in Gnosticism
Source document: Religio. 2020, vol. 28, iss. 1, pp. -72
ISSN1210-3640 (print)2336-4475 (online)
This essay argues that scholarship on gnostic texts could strongly benefit from taking into greater account elements of autochthonous ancient Egyptian religious concepts when interpreting gnostic intellectual and ritual systems. The central argument focuses on conspicuously similar roles and characteristics of female characters in both gnostic and ancient Egyptian symbolism, as witnessed especially within the Egyptian theological and ritual traditions of the so-called Great Goddesses (Isis, Neith, and Hathor). As these immensely popular cults were contemporaneous with the presumed development of various gnostic systems, this essay argues for a direct Egyptian – gnostic influence. The textual analysis focuses on a comparison of Chapter 30 of the Adversus haereses of Irenaeus of Lyon (with appropriate references to original gnostic concepts and texts) with an Egyptian cosmogonic myth located in the temple of Khonsu in Karnak, proceeding then to the analysis of select passages of NHC VI,2 (The Thunder: Perfect Mind). The essay argues that in both ancient Egyptian and gnostic sources, female characters are described as: (1) primordial deities, creators of elementary principles governing creation; (2) being in a mutual relationship of createdness with a divine male creative principle/the world; (3) androgynous/gynandrous, begetting through some type of autoerotic activity; (4) taking on primordial serpentine forms; (5) rulers of the created world; (6) mediators with the ability to connect opposing principles; (7) ambivalent and – from the androcentric optics of these symbolic systems – as possessing deeply troubling, creative/destructive abilities. These ancient Egyptian concepts would have been disseminated among Gnostics living in Egypt – for example, during the massively popular public festivals of the various Great Goddess cults at their ritual centres at Phylae, Dendera, Edfu, and Saïs.
- Tato práce vznikla za podpory projektu "Kreativita a adaptabilita jako předpoklad úspěchu Evropy v propojeném světě" (CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/16_019/0000734), financovaného z Evropského fondu pro regionální rozvoj, a dále za podpory programu Univerzitní výzkumná centra UK č. 204053.