The Borborites-Phibionites in the “books of Jeu”

I have already mentioned a passage in the Pistis Sophia, found in the codex Askewianus, that refers to Borborite practices.

But there is also a reference in the texts known as the “Books of Jeu” (the name is modern), in the so-called Bruce codex.  This was obtained by the Scottish traveller James Bruce ca. 1769, who bought it at Medinet Habu near Luxor in Egypt while on his journey to Ethiopia.  It is today in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, where it has the shelfmark Ms. Bruce 9.  It has suffered damage since it arrived there, and a transcription by C. G. Woide is of great value, as preserving a number of leaves now lost.

The Bruce codex contains two works, to which the first editor, Schmidt, gave the name of the First and Second books of Jeu, plus an untitled work.  Schmidt presumed that a reference in the Pistis Sophia to “two books of Jeu” referred to these books.  The actual title found in the manuscript at the end of the “first book” is The book of the Great Logos corresponding to Mysteries.  No other title is present in the manuscript.[1]

These works were probably composed in the first half of the third century AD.[2]

In the Second book of Jeu, chapter 43,[3] it says:

43. But when he [Jesus] had finished saying these things, he said to them once more: “These mysteries which I shall give to you, guard them and do not given them to any man except he is worthy of them. Do not give them to father, or mother or brother, or sister, or relative, or for food or for drink, or for a woman, or for gold, or for silver, or for anything at all of this world. Guard them and do not give them to anyone at all for the sake of the goods of this whole world. Do not give them to any woman or to any man who is in any faith of these 72 archons, or who serves them. Neither give them to those who serve the eight powers of the great archon, who are those who eat the menstrual blood of their impurity and the semen of men, saying : “We have known the knowledge of truth, and we pray to the true God.” However, their God is wicked.

Emphasis mine.  Note the reference to the the cultists talking about “knowledge of truth”, i.e. gnosis.  Did they call themselves Gnostics, we might ask?

  1. [1]V. Macdermot, p.xi-xii.
  2. [2]Stephen Benko, “The libertine gnostic sect of the  Phibionites according to Epiphanius”, Vigiliae Christianae 21 (1967), 113.
  3. [3]V. Macdermot, “The books of Jeu and the untitled text in the Bruce codex”, Nag Hammadi Studies XIII (1978), p.100.

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.