Excerpts of the Wisdom of Sophia

Toward the end of the novel, Sophia celebrates her 84th birthday at the great Serapeum. Three unexpected guests arrive separately and at different times in the evening to present her with a gift. One of these guests was the author Eunapius, author of the still extant “Lives of Philosophers and Sophists.” Somewhat comically, Eunapius presents Sophia with a small book comprised of a collection of sayings attributed to her over the years that he has collected and had copied and bound. Although the book itself, Η σοφία της Σοφίας (E sophia tes Sophias, or the Wisdom of Sophia) does not survive, the Appendix of The Secular Gospel of Sophia contains a reconstruction of some of the sayings Eunapius collected. The following are samples from the Appendix.

I am Sophia. I am not Sophia (Wisdom). Men have always projected onto me that which I am not and often cannot see what I am.What am I? I am a woman and not a very exceptional one, if truth is told. It is just that you men cannot look at a woman without your minds becoming engaged in deciding whether she would be a desirable mate and what she might look like under her robes. I think the inability of men to see what is directly in front of them and to understand, directly, what is said to them, explains most of the mysteries, magic, confusion and nonsense that comprise the religious ideas they generate. I mean, if men are incapable of understanding that babies born from the same womb, with the same number of arms, legs, fingers, toes, and eyes are their equals, but, think that women, by virtue of their superior genitalia, are inferior beings, then what hope is there that they might understand anything else of importance?The important questions of existence are never answered and never leave us alone. Rather, they are decided then undecided then decided again. Knowledge is gained and lost and rediscovered. We do not live long enough to remember what we have forgotten and we live too long to adhere to a belief once it is formed.

Among human attributes there is nothing more precious nor more pernicious than faith. Life without faith is unhappy and, ultimately, unlivable. Yet faith without reason is folly and faith without doubt is ignorance.

That which we come to know cannot be spoken for words leak knowledge like a wicker basket leaks water. Between the time that words are formed and sent on their way and the time that they are heard or read their intended meaning has mostly leaked out, leaving only the moist trappings of their intent. Sometimes this is enough. For the really important things it never is. Even when the author of those words reads or speaks them back to herself they are diluted and fail to convey their intended meaning, so much so that she must doubt that the knowledge she thought to express was ever in her possession at all.

Lucretius said it best but Lucretius got it wrong, as all men must. Or perhaps my Latin is insufficient. We are made of invisible stuff, procreant atoms he calls them. But there is no reason to stop there and presume that these atoms are not themselves made up of even smaller bits and those of smaller bits still. The important lesson of Lucretius is not whether or not he is right about the existence of atoms; it is the admonition to look to nature for answers and to fear not the gods. Whether or not you see a god’s hand at work in nature is entirely up to you.

We do not fear the death of our body or our soul, whatever that may be. We can abide the loss of a limb or an eye. We fear only the loss of our awareness, our consciousness or whatever it is that makes us aware of ourself as ourself. And this is a silly fear since we lose consciousness every night and count ourself blessed if the duration of that loss is extended beyond two or three hours.

Anguish over death is profoundly exacerbated by the hope that death might be avoided if only one discovers the magic formula.

Gods are like the dead heroes in Homer’s Hades: they require libations of blood to bring them to life. By this measure, Jesus has certainly been resurrected.

Most people, whatever their religion, know that on some level they do not fully understand the premises of their faith. And so their faith actually resides not in God, the gods or Jesus, but in learned men, such as priests and bishops, who have been appointed to have faith for them. The average person believes that the priest has more knowledge, in fact has actual knowledge of such things as salvation, life after death, and the nature of God. And while the priests play their part, they cannot actually possess knowledge of such matters because such matters are not available for inspection. The Greeks used to trust priests to tell them of the goings-on and intentions of the Gods on Mount Olympus. But men have since scaled that mountain and found nothing there save an extraordinary landscape. One day, perhaps, people will pierce the firmament and will find no heavenly angels there. What will the priests do then? No doubt they will find some other address for God.

As all creatures, we live temporally but exist eternally. Our existence is eternal because it exists, now and forever, in the exact temporal location where it occurred. But we live temporally because we pass each temporal location as ships pass an island in the sea. As the ships move, the island fades, then disappears over the horizon, but the island does not cease to exist. When we die, our temporal lives are over. Our existence continues, as the island remains. The great mystery is whether we retain any awareness of our existence, but it is frivolous to fight over this mystery, for the very reason that our concern centers upon retaining awareness of our temporal lives, which have ended, and not upon our eternal existence, which exists without memory or awareness. Our lives are sensate and our existence is insensate. By demanding immortality, what people really want is the perpetuation of temporal awareness, which is different than existence.

The Christian Gospel John states that in the beginning was the word and the word was God, as if God spoke the world into existence. This cannot be true. The world came into existence, then words were invented to describe and define it. But in the process of describing and defining the world, words inevitably circumscribe and limit what they describe and define. In this way, the word becomes God by setting boundaries on the boundless meaning of the world. God is not the word. Rather, the word is God. John also writes that the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. If Jesus was God’s word made flesh, then why do not the learned churchmen spend more time studying the words of Jesus, and less time arguing over his place in the firmament, which they can never discover?

It seems most unChristian to punish an eternal soul eternally for sins their inhabitants committed during a brief sojourn on Earth. Shouldn’t forgiveness be offered to all souls, regardless their corporeal status?

If Jesus has two natures, both human and divine, and the divine nature, as all agree, is unknowable, then why do the learned churchmen spend so much time arguing, fighting and killing over this issue? Why not simply study the human nature of Jesus, for it is not unknowable and there is much to be learned from him?

Jesus did not establish a religion, but a religion was established in his name. The Christians have created the very thing that drove him to the cross. But whereas the Romans are said to have crucified Jesus on a cross of wood, the Christians have crucified him on pages of paper, from which there is no resurrection because each word buries him deeper, obscures who he was more completely. Jesus did not come to be memorized and memorialized, but to be mimicked, to have his example followed. The more godlike he is made, the less possible it becomes to follow his example.

In the years since I started coming to the Serapeum I have heard more and more stories of philosophers for whom it is claimed, as proof of their wisdom and excellence, that they possess the power of miracles or divination and who have disciples who follow them around to witness their supernatural conduct. It is almost as if the pagans are in competition with the Christians and as if wisdom is too feeble to stand on its own legs, but must be supported by claims of divine powers. To my mind such claims diminish the philosopher’s discoveries.

The Jews and the Christians have created the worst kind of system. Imagine insisting upon giving all power to one god and denying the very existence of other gods that might have some power to temper, moderate or mollify an almighty deity, living alone and day by day, like a hermit, becoming more cranky, less hospitable, and less accepting of individual variation. Men are fools to entrust all power over them to a single, tyrant god.

It is error to think of people as God’s creations. Rather, we are aspects, parts of God. The Pleroma of Timaeus and the heaven of the Christians, if it exists at all, exists indivisible from ourselves. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he said the kingdom of God is inside of you and outside of you.

The world was a better place when people did not know they had religion. Once one realizes that her beliefs form a definable system, she becomes bound to think about its aspects and finds that none of it is certain and most of it is simply made up. It is better not to know such a thing.

It is true. I once worked in a fornicarium. But prostitutes, it turns out, are perfect Christians. They render unto any Marcus, Diophanes or Caesar what they pay for, they love their neighbors, they do unto others what they would have the others do unto them, usually without reciprocity, and they can always be counted on to turn the other cheek.

The concept of eternal life has always been strange to me? Eternity? What does that mean? For ever and ever knowing the same things, seeing the same things over and over, hearing the same songs played by the same angels on the same lyres. Imagine that. It is quite possible that most of us, perhaps all of us, given long enough, would choose mortality over immortality. At least with mortality you have something for which to live, something for which to look forward?

I sometimes think that I am a bigger fool than Athanasius because I am certain I know nothing and he is certain he knows everything. Since we are both certainly wrong, it is perhaps better to know you are right.

Uncertainty is the necessary ally of truth. The person who is certain of truth stops searching for it. There is comfort to be found in certainty, but the path to discovery is closed.

Humans show their limitation by insisting that God is a being. Since we are beings, we insist that God is a being. But what if God is not a being? Is that the same thing as saying God does not exist? And what if God was a being, perfect, complete and lonely and became bored and split herself into infinite fragments such that all the stars and sun and planets and moon and Earth and rocks and water and sand and creatures are but bits of a self-dismembered God? Would it make a difference to us if we knew this? Would we act differently toward each other if we realized we were all part of the same being, fragmented but longing for reconciliation?

Jesus aimed his message at the least among us, the marginal, the itinerant, the whores and the beggars. He had to be killed so the priests could adapt his message to suit the landlords and the lenders. Forgiveness of debts becomes forgiveness of trespasses. Living in poverty becomes being charitable. What Jesus taught could never have formed the basis for the official religion of the Empire because it did not suit the rich and powerful.

My first husband was a Christian Gnostic. He believed that Jesus taught about Sophia in the Pleroma and how to join Jesus in that realm. And he claimed to have found the Pleroma on at least one occasion. What I have always wondered is: What happens next? Timaeus did not stay in the Pleroma, but returned to this world, where he was killed. So, if entry into the Pleroma is based on knowledge, but the knowledge to find it is not sufficient to remain there, then what chance is there to join it later, when you are dead, and your knowledge is gone? In the end I believe it was the seeking, not the finding, that brought Timaeus his greatest joy.

The Mithrians, the Kemites, the Eleusinians, and many other such believers say that they have discovered mysteries that explain the meaning of existence, the secret of life and afterlife, and of the gods, but that can be told only in secret to initiates who have devoted years honoring the premises of their faith. It is good to keep such mysteries a deep secret, I think, since telling them to the wide world would likely expose them as equally absurd to and no more insightful than the explanations advanced by other, less mysterious faiths.


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