“The role of the gnostic savior or revealer is to awaken people who are under the spell of the demiurge—not, as in the case of the Christ of the emerging orthodox church, to die for the salvation of people, to be a sacrifice for sins, or to rise from the dead on Easter. The gnostic revealer discloses knowledge that frees and awakens people, and that helps them recall who they are. When enlightened, gnostics can live a life appropriate for those who know themselves and god. They can return back to the beginning, when they were one with god. Such a life transcends what is mundane and mortal in this world and experiences the bliss of oneness with the divine.
As noted, the demiurge or creator of this world is commonly distinguished from the transcendent deity in gnostic texts. The demiurge is ignorant, tragic, megalomaniacal. In the Secret Book of John he is depicted as the ugly child of Sophia, snakelike in appearance, with the face of a lion and eyes flashing like bolts of lightning. He is named Yaldabaoth, Sakla, Samael, and he is the chief archon and an arrogant, jealous god. In the Gospel of Judas he is given another name, Nebro, said to mean “rebel.”
In the Gospel of Truth error behaves like the demiurge, for it becomes strong and works in the world, but erroneously. Similar, too, are the actions of nature in the Paraphrase of Shem, Ptahil in Mandaean literature, the five evil archons in Manichaean literature, Azazi’il in the Mother of Books, and Lucifer or Satan among the Cathars.The gnostic revealer awakens people who are under the spell of the demiurge. Within a Jewish context the gnostic revealer is Seth, the child of Adam and Eve, or Derdekeas, probably Aramaic for “male child,” or the first thought or the afterthought or the wisdom of the divine. Within a Christian context the revealer is Jesus the anointed, within a Manichaean context Jesus of light, as well as others.”
“The gnosis sought by the authors of these texts is hardly ordinary knowledge. A text from the Nag Hammadi library, the Exegesis on the Soul (included in this volume), declares that the restoration of the soul to a state of wholeness “is not due to rote phrases or to professional skills or to book learning.” Indeed, mystics commonly have emphasized, in many books, that mystical knowledge cannot be attained simply by reading books. Other texts describe this sort of gnosis by listing questions that need to be addressed if one is to be enlightened by knowledge. In the Secret Book of John the savior or revealer announces that she or he will teach “what is, what was, and what is to come,” and in the Book of Thomas the revealer commands, “Examine yourself and understand who you are, how you exist, and how you will come to be.”
To attain this knowledge—to become a gnostic—is to know oneself, god, and everything. Or, in the words of the maxim from the ancient oracular center dedicated to Apollo at Delphi, Greece, a maxim cited frequently in the texts in this volume: gnothi sauton, “know yourself.” According to many of these sacred texts, to know oneself truly is to attain this mystical knowledge, and to attain this mystical knowledge is to know oneself truly. Gnostic knowledge, then, relies on lived mystical experience, on knowledge of the whole timeline of the world, past, present, and future, and on knowledge of the self—where we have come from, who we are, where we are going—and of the soul’s journey.”