A further reference to the Borborites-Phibionites in the Codex Askewianus

A 4-5th c. Coptic manuscript now in the British Library (Ms. BL. Addit. 5114), acquired under unknown circumstances by a Dr Askew, contains a gnostic text which bears the title of the Pistis Sophia.  Another copy was found in a 5th century codex unearthed at Akhmim in 1896 also containing three other texts (now P.Berol. 8502).  The text of the Pistis Sophia was translated from the first copy by G.R.S Mead in the late 19th century.

In the Pistis Sophia, chapter 147, on p.381, l.6-20 of Schwartz’s edition (Copenhagen, 1925)[1] appears a condemnation of a Borborite practice recorded by Epiphanius.  It appears in a list of sins and penances to be endured in the afterlife.  Here is Mead’s translation.

Thomas said: “We have heard that there are some on the earth who take the male seed and the female monthly blood, and make it into a lentil porridge and eat it, |387. saying: ‘We have faith in Esau and Jacob.’ Is this then seemly or not?”

Jesus was wroth with the world in that hour [p. 322][ and said unto Thomas: “Amēn, I say: This sin is more heinous than all sins and iniquities. Such men will straightway be taken into the outer darkness and not be cast back anew into the sphere, but they shall perish, be destroyed in the outer darkness in a region where there is neither pity nor light, but howling and grinding of teeth. And all the souls which shall be brought into the outer darkness, will not be cast back anew, but will be destroyed and dissolved.”

Or as Tardieu puts it:

For the sacrilegious gnostic … there is neither instruction nor judgement; he is sent directly into the exterior darkness to be destroyed.

The ascetic gnostic does not care much for the libertine gnostic, it seems.

UPDATE (6/12/13): I have corrected some misunderstandings about the contents of the manuscript and added more detail, and a note about the Berlin copy.

  1. [1]I have been unable to access this.  My knowledge of it comes from Tardieu Michel. Conférence de M. Michel Tardieu. In: École pratique des hautes études, Section des sciences religieuses. Annuaire. Tome 87, 1978-1979. 1978. pp. 311-316.  Here.

5 thoughts on “A further reference to the Borborites-Phibionites in the Codex Askewianus

  1. But beans as a “spirit” food that should either be eaten or avoided because of its connection with breath/air, ghosts, or souls — that’s pretty common the world over.

  2. I don’t know that lentils usually have any occult or pagan religious significance elsewhere. It’s usually red beans, black beans, or beans that look like they have writing on them.

    But of course the rest of it is well within the range of things that people will admit to doing on Facebook, or will do as a health fad — much less as a sexual, religious, or occult fad. If Gnostic opponents made this stuff up, they probably made it up from the pool of Things That Really Happen.

    OTOH, since menstruation seems to have been something that female Platonic philosophers (ie, Hypatia) were not above using to gross out Greco-Roman men and teach them a lesson, it’s probably gross enough in that culture’s eyes to use as an initiation ordeal or a cult indoctrination/bonding meal (after which you would have blackmail material on people). It also sounds like some of the guilt-causing meals in Greek mythology, which of course were part of the background to urban legends about the Christian agape meal.

  3. I agree. An age that includes modern California can hardly say “people won’t do that”. But of course the question is not what people will do, but what the ancient evidence is as to what people did.

    I’m going to do more on this, because the context is reviewing Bart Ehrman’s comments on Epiphanius; but have been sidetracked by a hunt for a sermon by “chrysostom” or whoever.

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