Apocrypha: The Exegesis on the Soul
The Exegesis on the Soul
Translated by Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer
This original translation of Exegesis of the Soul (Nag Hammadi Codex II, 6) is presented in the Gnostic Society Library by permission and under license from Dr. Willis Barnstone, who retains all copyright. Dr. Barnstone’s translations of the Nag Hammadi texts are published in The Gnostic Bible, © 2003, Willis Barnstone & Marvin Meyer.
Headings in bold type have been added to the text for clarity by the translators.
Virginity And Defilement
Sages gave the soul a feminine name. In nature she is also feminine. She even has a womb.
While she was alone with her father, she was a virgin and in an androgynous form. When she fell down into a body and entered this life, then she fell into the hands of thieves. Wanton men passed her from one to the other, used her, some by force, others by seducing her with a gift. They defiled her and took her virginity from her.
In her body she became a whore and gave herself to everyone, seeing each one she hugged as a husband. After she let herself be taken by lecherous, unfaithful adulterers, she sighed deeply and repented. But even when she turned her face from the adulterers, she ran to others, and they compelled her to live with them and make love with them on their beds as if they were her masters. Then, out of shame, she no longer dared leave them, while they double-crossed her, pretending to be faithful, true husbands, as if they respected her. After all these acts, they took off, abandoning her.
She became a poor desolate widow, helpless. In her affliction she had no food. From them she had gathered nothing but the defilements when they coupled with her. Her offspring from the adulterers are mute, blind, and sickly. They are disturbed. But when her father who is above looked down on her and saw her sighing, suffering and in disgrace, and repenting of her prostitution, then she began to call on him for help with all her heart, saying, “Save me, my father. Look, I will report to you, for I left my house and fled from my woman’s quarters. Restore me to yourself.”
When he saw her in this state, he thought her worthy of his mercy. She had many afflictions for having abandoned her house.
The Prostitution Of The Soul
Concerning the prostitution of the soul, the holy spirit prophesies in diverse places. The prophet Jeremiah said,
If a man divorces his wife, and she leaves him and takes another man, can she ever go back to him? Has such a woman not utterly defiled herself? “You have whored with many shepherds and you returned to me,” said the lord. “Lift up your eyes and see where you went whoring. Were you not sitting in the streets defiling the land with your whoring and vices? And you took many shepherds for a way of stumbling. You were shameless with everyone. You did not call on me as a companion or father or author of your virginity.”
It is also written in the prophet Hosea,
Come, go before the law with your mother, for she is not to be my wife nor I her husband. I shall remove her whoring from my presence and her adultery from between her breasts. I shall make her naked as on the day she was born, and desolate like a waterless land. I shall make her childless and long for children. I shall show her children no pity, for they are children of prostitution, their mother having whored and shamed her children. She said, “I shall be a whore to my lovers. They gave me my bread and water and garments and clothes and wine and oil and everything I needed.” Look, I shall shut them up so that she will not be able to chase after her adulterers. When she seeks them and doesn’t find them, she will say, “I will go back to my former husband, for then I was happier than now.”
Again in Ezekiel he said,
It happened that after much depravity, the lord said, “You built yourself a brothel and made yourself a beautiful place in the streets. You built whorehouses in every alley and you wasted your beauty, you spread your legs in every alley, and multiplied your acts of prostitution. You were a whore for the sons of Egypt, those who are your neighbors, men great of flesh.”
But what does “the sons of Egypt, men great of flesh” signify, if not the domain of the flesh and the perceptible realm and the affairs of the earth by which the soul is defiled here, receiving bread from them as well as wine, oil, clothing, and the other external nonsense surrounding the body—whose things she thinks she needs?
But as to this whoring, the messengers of the savior commanded, “Guard and purify yourself against it,” and not just the body’s prostitution but especially the soul’s. That is why the messengers write to the churches of god that such whoring might not go on here.
Yet the greatest struggle is the prostitution of the soul. From it comes the prostitution of the body. So Paul, writing to the Corinthians, said,
I wrote in my letter, “Do not associate with whores,” meaning not the whores of the world or the greedy or thieves or idol worshipers, since then you would have to leave the world.
Here he is speaking spiritually:
Our struggle is not against flesh and blood—as he said—but against the world rulers of this darkness and the spirits of evil.
Baptism Of The Soul
As long as the soul goes on running around everywhere sleeping with whomever she meets and defiling herself, she will suffer her deserved punishment. But when she perceives the troubles she is in, weeps before the father, and repents, then the father will pity her and make her womb turn from the external and turn inward again, and she will recover her proper character. It is not like this for a woman. The body’s womb is inside the body like the other internal organs, but the soul’s womb is turned to the outside like the male genitalia, which are external.
Therefore, when the womb of the soul, by the father’s will, turns itself inward, she is baptized and immediately cleansed of external pollution forced upon her, just as dirty clothing is soaked in water and stirred until the dirt is removed and it is clean. So the cleansing of the soul is to recover the freshness of her former nature and to become as she was.
That is her baptism.
Then she will begin to rage at herself like a woman in labor, writhing and screaming in the hour of delivery. But since she is female, she is powerless by herself to inseminate a child. So the father sent her from heaven her man, her brother, the firstborn. The bridegroom came down to the bride. She gave up her former whoring and cleansed herself of the pollution of adulterers, and she was renewed to be a bride. She cleansed herself in the bridal chamber. She filled it with perfume and sat there waiting for the true groom. She no longer goes about the marketplace, copulating with whomever she desires, but she waits for him, saying, “When will he come?” And she feared him, not knowing what he looked like. She no longer remembers, since she fell from her father’s house long ago.
She dreamed of him, by the father’s will, like a woman in love with a man.
Then, by the will of the father, the bridegroom came down to her in the bridal chamber, which had been prepared. And he decorated the chamber.
This marriage is not like carnal marriage, in which those who make love with each other become satiated in their lovemaking. And as if it were a burden, they leave behind the annoyance of physical desire. They turn their faces from each other. In this marriage once they join they become a single life. As the prophet said about the first man and woman,
They will become a single flesh.
They were originally joined to each other when they were with the father, before the woman led the man astray, who is her brother. This marriage brings them together again, and the soul joins her true love and real master, as the scriptures tell us :
The woman’s master is her husband.
Then gradually she recognized him and was again happy, weeping before him as she remembered the disgrace of her former widowhood. She adorned herself abundantly so he might be pleased to stay with her.
And the prophet said in the Psalms,
Hear, my daughter, and see me and bend your ear, and forget your people and your father’s house, for the king has desired your beauty, and he is your lord.
He has her turn her face from her people and the gang of her adulterers with whom she had mingled, to devote herself now to her king, her real lord, and to forget the house of the earthly father with whom things were bad for her, and remember her father in heaven. So Abraham was told,
Leave your country and kin and your father’s house.
Regeneration Of The Soul
When the soul had adorned herself again in her beauty, she enjoyed her beloved. He also loved her. And when they made love, she got from him the seed which is the life-giving spirit. By him she has good children and brings them up. Such is the great and perfect marvel of birth. This marriage is made perfect by the will of the father.
Now, it is right that the soul be regenerated and be as she formerly was. The soul stirred. Her divine nature and her rejuvenation came from her father so she might return to where she was before. This is resurrection from the dead. This is ransom from captivity. This is the ascent to heaven. This is the ascent to the father. As the prophet said,
Praise the lord, O my soul and all within me, praise his holy name. O my soul, praise god, who forgave all your sins, who healed all your sicknesses, who ransomed your life from death, who crowned you with mercy, who satisfies your longing for good things. Your youth will be renewed like the eagle’s.
When she becomes young again she will rise, praising the father and her brother who rescued her. Through rebirth the soul will be saved. And salvation will not be because of rote phrases or professional skills or learned books. Rather, it will come from the grace and gift of the merciful god. Such is the heavenly way. So the saviour cries out,
No one can come unless my father draws him and brings him to me. I myself will raise him on the last day.
Praying From The Soul
So it is right to pray to the father and to call on him with our soul—not externally with our lips but with the spirit, which is inside and comes from the depths, sighing, repenting for the life we led, confessing sins, recognizing the deception we were in as shallow; perceiving the empty zeal; weeping over how we lived in darkness and in the wave; mourning for what we were so that he might pity us; hating ourselves for what we still are.
The saviour said,
Blessings on those who mourn, for they will be pitied. Blessings on the hungry, for they will be filled.
And he said,
If one does not hate one’s own soul, one cannot follow me.
The beginning of salvation is repentance. So it says,
Before Jesus came John, preaching the baptism of repentance.
And repentance occurs in distress and sorrow. The father is good and loves humankind, and hears the soul that calls him and sends her the light of salvation. Through the spirit to the prophet he says,
Say to the children of my people, “If your sins extend from earth to heaven, if they become red like scarlet and blacker than sackcloth, and if you return to me with all your soul and say to me, ‘My father,’ I will care for you as for a holy people.”
So the lord, the holy one of Israel, says, “If you return and sigh, then you will be saved and will know where you were when you trusted what is shallow.”
Jerusalem wept profusely, saying, “Pity me.” He will have pity at the sound of your lamentation. And when he saw, he cared for you. And the lord will give you the bread of affliction and water of oppression. From now on those who deceive will not go near you. Your eye will spot those who would deceive you.
The Repentance Of Odysseus And Helen
So it is right to pray to god night and day, extending our hands toward him as do people sailing in the middle of the sea. They pray to god with all their heart and without hypocrisy. Those who pray hypocritically fool only themselves. Yes, it is to know who is worthy of salvation that god examines our inner selves and the bottom of our heart. No one is worthy of salvation who still loves the place of deception. So the poet writes,
Odysseus sat on the island weeping and grieving and turning his face from the words of Calypso and from her tricks, while longing to see his village and smoke coming forth from it. Had he not received help from heaven, he would not have been able to return to his village.
Again Helen says,
My heart turned away from myself. I want to return to my own house.
She sighed, saying,
Aphrodite deceived me and brought me out of my village. My only daughter I left behind me as well as my good, understanding, and handsome husband.
When the soul leaves her perfect husband because of the treachery of Aphrodite, who exists here in the act of conception, then the soul will suffer harm. But if she sighs and repents, she will be restored to her house.
The Repentance Of Israel
Israel surely would not have been visited by god and brought out of the land of Egypt and the house of bondage if it had not sighed to god and wept about its oppressive labours. Again in the Psalms it is written,
I was greatly troubled in my groaning. I will bathe my bed and my cover each night with my tears. I have become old in the midst of all my enemies. Depart from me, all you who work at lawlessness, for look, the lord has heard the cry of my weeping and the lord has heard my prayer.
If we repent, truly god will heed us, he who is long-suffering and abundantly merciful, to whom be glory forever and ever.