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.

3 thoughts on “The Borborites-Phibionites in the “books of Jeu”

  1. Good question, Roger. So far the only clear example I have seen of a text self-describing its author as a gnostic comes from Clement of Alexandria. He exists in a rather unique situation because he is also accepts the self-designation of a catholic. But there are lots of texts that speak about knowledge, perhaps the oldest Christian example being the letters of Paul. (The “self identifications” article at may be useful here.)

    It is indeed interesting that the author of this text distances himself from those who say ‘we have known the knowledge of the truth, and we pray to the true God.’

    The reference to the rather unique meal they eat reminds me of this article – – with its cryptic title warning, “Do not eat the cake of light!” I’m not sure if the practice is ancient or shows up only polemically, but someone has taken it literally.

  2. There are all sorts of interesting questions here; and I also thought of Clement of Alexandria. We’re in Egypt in both cases. There is also the fact that Graeco-Egyptian magic is around. The claim to have special knowledge is clearly attractive in their society.

    However I am fighting to prevent myself writing speculation, easy though it would be!

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