Tuesday, September 04, 2007

REVIEW:John Lash's Book about Sophia Mythos

Not In His Image: Gnostic Vision, Sacred Ecology, and the Future of Belief
by John Lamb Lash, Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2006, 430 pages

This fascinating, well-written book about gnosis is scholarly yet understandable, while it contains more than one theory that some may find stretches credulity. John Lamb Lash’s research includes more respectful attention to Goddess materials than is common in many academic books, yet the central gnostic Sophia mythos Lash presents may not be entirely pleasing to Goddess feminists.

If you think that gnosticism is an early form of Christianity, think again! Lash sees the Gnostic view as growing out of classical Paganism, particularly in Greece and Egypt, and fed by earlier Paganism stretching back to the Neolithic. His Goddess and spiritual feminist sources include Riane Eisler, Marija Gimbutas. Barbara Walker, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Raphael Patai, and Merlin Stone. Of Gimbutas’ Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe (1974), Lash writes:

This single book provides the most complete and reliable framework for tracing the rise of patriarchy, and presents solid archeological evidence of widespread existence of human-scale Goddess-based societies millennia before the rise of urban civilization.
(p. 350)

Not in His Image will be especially appealing to ecofeminists and to people highly critical of Abrahamic doctrines and actions that suppressed (and still suppress) Goddess worship. Lash says that his primary reason for writing this book is that

Gnosis, taken as a path of experimental mysticism, and Sophianic vision, taken as a guiding narrative for coevolution, can provide a spiritual dimension for deep ecology independently of the three mainstream religions derived from the Abrahamic tradition.

Lash begins with the story of the murder in 415 CE of Hypatia, one of many highly educated Alexandrian Pagan noblewoman, but one of the few who drove her own chariot. Said to be beautiful and intelligent, she was a civic official who didn’t oppose prosecuting Christians who viciously attacked Pagan doctrines. One day in March, as she drove her chariot through the public square, a crowd of Christian converts, led by a fellow called Peter the Reader, blocked her path. Calling Hypatia a heretic and witch, the mob used her robes and scarf to pulled her down. The Christian crowd then pelted her with tiles, stripped her, beat her to death, tore off her limbs and continued beating her dead body, then scraped the flesh from her bones with oyster shells and burned her bones to ashes. Hypatia, head of the university mathematics department and also known for her expertise in philosophy, theurgy, and applied science (she invented to prototype of the astrolabe) is considered the last known teacher in Mystery Schools, which Lash says were sources of gnostic learning about the Sophia mythos. Lash writes that "historians have long regarded her death as the event that defined the end of classical civilization in Mediterranean Europe. It signaled the end of Paganism and the dawn of the Dark Ages." Lash defines Paganism as "the generic term for pantheistic religion in the Western classical world." (p. 5)

The ‘Redeemer Complex’
Lash maintains that Abrahamic faiths are based on the "redeemer complex," which has four components:

creation of the world by a father-god independent of a female counterpart;
the trial and testing (conceived as a historical drama) of the righteous few or "Chosen People";
the mission of the creator god’s son (the messiah) to save the world);
and the final apocalyptic judgment delivered by the father and son upon humanity.
(pp. 403-404)

These constructs, Lash says, result in a "victim-perpetrator bond" in society and comparable to the psycho-social family pattern in which abuse is perpetuated by those who have been abused.
According to Lash, the redeemer complex originated with a small extremist group of Jews that he traces back to the time of Abraham and calls the Zaddikim (or sometimes, Zaddikite). It should be noted (as he does) that this is his term, which he derives from the Hebrew zaddik, which is usually a complimentary term and means righteous or upright. (The -im is a Hebrew masculine plural ending.) It’s here that I started raising my eyebrows because as far as I know, there isn’t just one extremist group (he intimates this is, at least partially, a secret group) that can be identified beginning with Abraham’s time – although there may well be several different oppressive groups among the early Hebrews, Israelites, and Judeans. Certainly one of them can be identified as the Deuteronomists, whose suppression of Goddess culture is described in the biblical Deuteronomy. But this is a much later time historically than Abraham.

Lash also doesn’t hold back in his criticism of Christianity, whose (to him, destructive) salvationist doctrine he claims grew out of the Jewish Zaddikim views. Lash is no friend of Jesus, who he sees as a Zaddikim leader. But his criticism of Judaism is so strong that he apparently felt the need to devote a later chapter to telling us that it shouldn’t be taken as anti-semitic. I want to believe him, and I sympathize with the difficulty of expressing justified criticism of a persecuted group. This tenuous position makes it even more important that our facts be as pristine as possible. I will come back to this further down, but first I want to point out what I consider the strong points of this book, which include his clear explanation of the redeemer complex and victim-perpetrator bond, his clear explanation and distinction between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Library, and last but certainly not least, his clear and extensive explanation of the Sophia mythos.

Lash explains that the Dead Sea Scrolls were written in Hebrew and Aramaic on treated leather between 250 BCE and 70 CE by the "Zaddikite" (whom others call the Essenes). The authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls were concerned with what later grew into the Christian doctrine of salvationism and, consistent with the third and forth elements of the "redeemer complex," presented an apocalyptic program of final retribution. The scrolls were found in the ruins of a monastery at Khirat Qumran, about 30 miles east of Jerusalem, in 1948. Lash writes:

The Zaddikite sect of the Dead Sea presents the larval form of the global terrorist syndrome of today.
In contrast, the Nag Hammadi Library (NHL) has 13 leather-bound volumes containing 52 documents written mostly in Coptic by various sects between 150 and 350 CE. They were discovered in a red clay jar in a cave in the cliffs of Egypt in 1945. Lash disagrees with the common assumption that NHL is early Christian literature. He takes issue with Elaine Pagels’ calling them (in the title of her book) "Gnostic Gospels." Lash argues that the New Testament Gospels are written in a form called "Hellenistic romance, a novella full of miracles, supernatural signs, cameo scenes with stock characters plus aphorisms..." The the material in the NHL is not written in this form, rather the collection is written in various forms that are "wildly diverse, often presenting contradictory elements jumbled into a single document" and further, most of the documents reject and refute "the salvationist message of the Evangelists...in ruthless and often lacerating terms." (pp. 107-109)

The Sophia Mythos
Sophia is Greek for Wisdom. Lash writes:

The Universe already exists when Sophia’s story begins, and it has never not been there...nor will there ever be a moment when it ceases to be.
(p. 167)
His use of the term "singularity" in explaining the central gnostic mythos, or sacred story, is not the same as the singularity at the big bang. In gnosis, its meaning is closer to "emanation," which I wish he had used because using "singularity" is confusing, especially since he tries to tie in much of what he is propounding with science.

The central gnostic mythos, or sacred story, tells how the deity Sophia (deities are called Aeons in gnosticism), becomes the Earth. Lash feels this myth connects strongly with contemporary Gaia theory. Here is a summary of the 9 episodes of the Sophia Mythos, with parts of particular concern to spiritual feminists bolded:

(1) A singularity arises within the Divine that carries the potential for novelty in the Universe. It is called Anthropos and eventually includes humans.
(2) Aeons Sophia (Wisdom) and Christos (the Anointed One) configure the singularity. Lash explains the difference between Jesus Christ and the gnostic Christos:

..the hybrid God-man Jesus Christ is not a genuine Gnostic teaching and can never have been one....In Mystery teaching, the Christos is not a divine redeemer for humanity, but an intermediary whose intercessory act affects all the animal kingdoms on earth, not the human species exclusively.
Lash emphasizes that the gnostic Christos doesn’t incarnate in human form
(3) The singularity emanates from the Divine as a whole (called the Pleroma) into the realm of "outer chaos" so that it can unfold in emerging worlds.
(4) Sophia becomes fascinated with what might happen as Anthropos emerges into a world of its own. She is drawn into "dreaming," the cosmic process of emanation, which results in creation. But she is alone, without a male counterpart, in this creation process. In gnosis, this is inconsistent with the cosmic law of polarity. Consequently, dreaming Sophia drifts away from the cosmic center (Divine) and plunges into the outside realm of external chaos.
(5) Sophia’s fall from "the Godhead" unexpectedly produces inorganic beings called Archons, considered deviant entities that can hinder human development. The Archons gather around their central "deity," called the Demiurge, who mistakenly believes he is the creator of the Universe. He builds a "celestial habitat" for himself and the other Archons, which consists of all planets in the solar system, other than Earth.
(Lash and many other gnostics identify the Demiurge with the Abrahamic father-god.)
(6) Sophia challenges the Demiurge, telling him that the Anthropos (including humans) will be smarter than the Archons because Anthropos emanates from the Divine (whereas the Archons arose outside of the Divine cosmic core). The Sun, which has been part of the realm of the Demiurge, chooses to align instead with Sophia against the Archons. Sophia, whom Lash calls, "the fallen goddess," produces from herself "in her own likeness," the life force Zoe (the Moon), who unites with the Sun, now considered the "mother star" of our planetary system.
(7) Sophia becomes Gaia, aka the planet the Earth, which, though it’s organic is captured in the "inorganic system" of the Demiurge, which includes all the other planets in the solar system.
(8) Sophia’s emotions (grief, fear, and confusion) transform the Earth and biosphere; life arises on Earth. But Sophia is unable to manage the various species. The deities sense her difficulties and send the Aeon Christos to help her. In what is known as the "Christic intercession," he brings order to Sophia’s world, leaving "a kind of radiant afterimage in the biosphere, then recedes from Earth" and returns to the realm of other Divine beings.
(9) Sophia remains in the Earth she has "dreamed," as humanity emerges. As Gaia, she is synonymous with, and immanent in, the Earth. The goal, however, is reorientation of Sophia/Gaia to the "cosmic center"–that is reunion with other Divine beings. Whether this is successful may depend on how humans live out their "novelty." The story of Sophia is ongoing and she co-evolves with humanity.

Lash says that the Sophia mythos was central to the Greater Mysteries celebrated in autumn in the Near East, Egypt, Greece and elsewhere in Europe. The exact details of the Mysteries have long been considered, well, a mystery, but we do know that they included worship of various goddesses, and Great Mothers, emphasizing their identity with nature. In the period Lash is discussing, c. 320-30 BCE, he says the primary deity in the Mysteries was Sophia/Gaia and the initiation which occurred included the information that Sophia’s "primary body" is light and her "planetary body is Earth." Lash writes: "The practice of Gnosis was full-body illumination in the presence of Sacred Nature clothed in animated currents of white light."During the Mysteries, initiates received instruction from (or in) light, also referred to as Organic Light, Supernal light, Mystery light, Divine light, etc.

How does this sound to you? A female deity at the center of gnosis that is immanent in the Earth (making Earth literally a living being, similar to the contemporary Gaia hypothesis), who "co-evolves" with humanity. Sounds pretty good?

Perhaps it is "pretty good," but it could be better. First we need to understand that this mythos apparently emerged about 2000-2500 years ago during an era when patriarchy had established itself not only in Abrahamic faiths but in Pagan religions as well. The Ancient Near East, Greek and Roman myths of this time are full of goddesses whose power has diminished from earlier times to the point that it is derived from male gods, rather than there being an equal male-female pairing or, as in some cultures 3500 or more years ago, the female deity being primary. Some examples: In Greek mythology, we have Athena springing from the brow of Zeus, a reversal of the birth process. In what is generally considered the
earliest written myth, the Bronze Age Sumerian Inanna -Eriskegal myth ,the male god Enki must intervene before the Goddess Inanna can be rescued from the Inanna’s sister Goddess Eriskegal, Queen of the Underworld, and this is only accomplished when Inanna’s consort, Dumuzi, agrees to take her place in the Underworld for half the year. The mother-daughter bond in myth of Demeter/Persephone (Kore) was central to the the Eleusinian Mysteries. The best known version of this myth, in which the male god Hades rules the Underworld, involves abduction and rape of the Daughter. This apparently is a rewriting of an earlier myth, which doesn't contain abduction and rape, and in which both the Mother-Daughter bond, as well as the individual Goddesses, are stronger (See, for example, Christine Spretnak’s, "The Myth of Demeter and Persephone" in Weaving the Visions, ed. by Plaskow and Christ (1989). These mythologies are all from a time when cultures had undergone changes in which goddesses who once were primary even if they had consorts, transitioned to being goddesses who were required to share their power, and continued changing to goddesses whose derived their power from gods.

So we shouldn’t be surprised that although the Sophia mythos retains a Goddess and may remain close to nature, patriarchal assumptions have crept in. Do you see them?

If not, let me help ;-). In much earlier creation myths, including those involving Wisdom goddesses, female deities created parthenogenically, no problem! No one complained that they were bad girls because they hadn’t bothered to get a male partner before creating the Earth, the world, the Universe. It was logical to everyone that the initial creation would "emanate" from solely the Great Mother. (See, Asphodel P. Long’s In a Chariot Drawn by Lions.) In the Sophia mythos, Sophia gets so distracted by the "dreaming," (a creation process that doesn’t originate with her but rather from a "Godhead" or larger Divine, of which she is part) that she becomes part of the process, part of the "dreaming." She doesn’t bother to stop to get her male counterpart, Christos, with whom she earlier planned certain outcomes. Because she has the ovaries to continue the process on her own, she is separated from the whole of Divinity and "plunges" or "falls" into chaos. The bad guys of the Universe, the Archons, result from Sophia’s uppity activity and are led by the baddest guy of all, the Demiurge, who falsely asserts he created the Universe. (The existence of the Demiurge is also a result of Sophia’s creating without her mate.) Sophia continues to fall and becomes the Earth, and so paradoxically, if Sophia hadn’t illegitimately created on her own, the Earth would not be home to immanent divinity. Yet problems persist with Sophia/Gaia’s creation because she is overly emotional. Sophia recruits the Sun and creates the Moon, who are seen as female/feminine, to help her get it together, but she is still unable to properly direct what she has created. It’s not until Sophia’s male mate, Christos, intercedes that the species behave properly and humans emerge. After Christos straightens things out, he goes back to the Divine core, but Sophia remains immanent in the Earth as Gaia. Will she ever return to the Divine Core with the rest of the Aeons? Stay tuned for the rest of eternity to see. And remember, at least part of the results up to us humans, as we now co-evolve with Gaia/Sophia.

People familiar with Jewish Kabbalah and the later Hermetic Qabalah may see similarities between some of kabbalistic mythology and the Sophia mythos. Perhaps this is because Jewish Kabbalah developed in the same era as gnostic Sophia. It’s certainly not far-fetched, in fact I think likely, that there was some cross-pollination between gnosis and kabbalah. Or perhaps it occurred as part of
Jewish gnosticism (See Gershom Scholem , Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition,1965). Centuries later, participants in (non-Jewish) Hermetic Qabalah were acquainted with gnosticism as well as many other forms of mysticism. Lash mentions Kabbalah a few times, but oddly doesn’t mention these similarities and issues:

Shekhinah is synonymous with the emanation (sefirah in Hebrew) called Malkut in Jewish Kabbalah. Malkut is the sefirah closest to Earth and is considered the feminine part of the Godhead. The Shekhinah separated from the rest of the Godhead to dwell on Earth with humans and to accompany and protect Jews whenever they go into exile. Through a process called in Hebrew, tikkun olam, humans are supposed to take part in the repair of the Earth which also repairs the rift between the Shekhinah and the rest of the Godhead (or sometimes just the masculine part of God, or sometimes specifically the masculine sefirah called Tifaret, considered Shekhinah's mate in some versions of Kabbalah.) To me, Shekhinah and the gnostic Sophia have much in common. Both are part of a more extensive "Godhead," both separate from that Godhead, Shekhinah to dwell on Earth with humans, Sophia to be immanent in the Earth; both are involved with humans in repairing a cosmic catastrophe.

In Jewish mysticism, this "catastrophe" is perhaps best described in the doctrine of "Breaking of the Vessels" in Lurianic Kabbalah, a form of Kabbalah that emerged in the 16th century, and in which the 10 containers for the emanations (sefirot in Hebrew) are
seen as feminine because they are receptive and because they are located in the "cosmic womb." At the first attempt of creation (or first phase of creation, depending on your point of view) only the highest sefirah, Keter, is able to contain the emanation(s). The rest shatter and fall into the world of creation. This catastrophic event changes creation and creates the Adam Kadmon (primordial man). At a second attempt (or phase) of creation, bolstered by the Adam Kadmon, the first three vessels (Keter, Hokmah, Binah) are able to contain the emanations, but the vessels between Binah and Malkut (the lowest vessel) completely break. Malkut only partially breaks. (See also Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah, pp. 137-141). To me, this is reminiscent of the catastrophe that occurs when Sophia enters the dreaming (creative emanation). In the Sophia mythos, Sophia falls into chaos and then is unable to control what she has helped create on Earth. In Lurianic Kabbalah, the feminine vessels are inadequate to hold the emanations but do better when bolstered by the masculine Adam Kadmon. In the Sophia Mythos, Christos rescues creation when Sophia is unable to control it. In both the female/feminine is source of cosmic catastrophe.

Hermetic Qabalah coalesced in the late 19th century from Christian, Jewish, Egyptian, Greek and other metaphysical sources. In Europe, the foremost advocates of Qabalah were members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (GD), centered in Britain. In the GD rituals, the biblical Eve was often referred to as "Mother of all" and "the Great Goddess."
In the GD version of Qabalah, Eve is seen as "shirking" her duty to support pillars holding the sefirot when she is diverted by the serpent and apple. Eve’s diversion brings about "the Fall " (See R.G. Torrens, The Secret Rituals of the Golden Dawn, 1973.), in the Christian sense, original sin and the separation of humans (and the natural world) from the divine. This is a more familiar, more literal, and probably even more misogynistic version of the "female brings disaster" story we see in Lurianic Kabbalah and earlier in the Sophia mythos.

Other Questions & Quibbles
As long as we’re talking about Kabbalah/Qabalah (both different transliterations of the same Hebrew word), let me mention more about Hokmah, which is Hebrew for Wisdom and thus the equivalent of the Greek Sophia. Although Lash discusses Kabbalah briefly and mentions the sefirah Hokmah, I find it curious that he doesn’t mention what is to me the oddest aspect of Hokmah in Kabbalah: after being personified as female for centuries, including in the Hebrew scriptures, in Kabbalah Hokmah is personified as male! (For more about this and a full analysis of gender in Jewish and Hermetic Qabalah, see Judith Laura: Goddess Spirituality for the 21st Century).

Backtracking to the Shekhinah, in another oddity, Lash maintains that the Shekhinah was "excised from Judaism" (p. 145). I believe this is misleading. Though she wasn’t a Goddess in antiquity, Shekhinah has been a part of Judaism to the present day. In the bible the Shekhinah is understood to be the "presence" of God," sometimes described as a cloud or chariot. This "presence" is understood to be with the Jews whenever they are in exile, including the exile from Egypt in Exodus 26-28, where the
Shekhinah is called "glory." The description of Shekhinah as the "feminine face of God," or the "feminine aspect of God" is post-biblical, apparently beginning in the early centuries CE. Today, most Jews are familiar with the Shekhinah as the Sabbath Queen, for whom the doors of the synagogue are symbolically opened during the Friday night sabbath service and who is welcomed with the Hebrew song, "L’cha Dodi," written by a 16th century kabbalist.

But perhaps the most outrageous statement that Lash makes about Judaism is the first sentence of chapter 17: "Monotheism begins with a god who hates trees." Many Jews, who consider their religion to be very tree-friendly, are sure to take umbrage at this. The quote that Lash uses from Deut. 12, shows not a god who hates trees, but rather a god who hates the use of trees to represent the Goddess Asherah. Do you get the difference? The biblical God (whether you consider him a legit deity or the Demiurge), and more specifically, his priests and other representatives, order trees destroyed because they feel the trees and places where they grow have been sullied by Goddess worship; they hope that by removing the sites where Goddess worship occur, they will put an end to it.

Some example of Jewish tree-loving activities that persist to this day:
The New Year of the Trees : In Hebrew, this holiday is called Tu B’Shevat. It is celebrated on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, which falls in late January to early February in the Roman calendar (yes, around the same time as Brigid/Candlemas.) Originally it marked the fiscal year for tree taxes, but later developed into a day to honor trees. Beginnning in the 20th century, this was a day to plant trees, especially in the emerging State of Israel. More recently, particularly in the US, it has become a holiday with a wider environmental focus.

Menorah: In another misleading statement, Lash says that the "Jews invented the menorah to replace what they destroyed" (the trees and groves dedicated to Asherah). He calls the menorah a "schematic abstraction from nature," that distances it from the natural world it represents.(pp. 229-230). Yet we find that the original instructions for making the menorah in Exodus 25:31-40 speak of representing branches, flowers, and almonds. This, to me makes it questionable that the intent was to distance the menorah’s branched candelabra from nature. Today it is common to find the branches of the menorah, especially the Hanukah menorah, made as tree branches. (I was going to give you links for this, but there are so many I’m just going to advise you to click on "images" on Google and search for "menorah+tree".) What probably was intended was the retention of the tree symbol without the Goddess, with which it had previously been associated. Again, what we have is not a separation from Nature, but a separation from the Goddess Asherah and the use of trees to represent her.

Kabbalah: The central symbol of Kabbalah is the Tree of Life, a symbol also used non-kabbalistically in Judaism. Further, kabbalists at least as far back as the 16th century met in a grove of trees. This doesn’t sound like a tree-hating religion to me. But it does sound like a religion that has separated the original Tree symbol from the Goddess.

The Goddess community some years ago separated itself from substituting blaming Jews for "killing" Goddess for blaming Jews for "killing Christ." (See, for example, "On Not Blaming the Jews for the Death of the Goddess" in Carol P. Christ, Laughter of Aphrodite, 1987.) Did the Jews, or their forbears, suppress Goddess worship? Most certainly some Jews, especially those in power, did. We have a very clear picture of this in the Hebrew scriptures. But it’s because we have such a clear record of this suppression in the Bible that we know about it, not because the Israelites were the only culture – or even the first culture – to suppress Goddess worship. By now scholars have established that Goddess veneration was also being suppressed in many different cultures across at least the Middle East and Europe (see The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler, and the works of Marija Gimbutas.) Although Lash alludes to the Zaddikim being a small, extremist Jewish group, he doesn’t tell us what the rest of the ancestors of the Jews believed or practiced. A better approach to assessing what went on in the Ancient Near East (ANE) in general, and among Hebrews, Judeans, and Israelites, in particular, is to see them as among several indigenous ANE religions, and to understand that the traditions within this particular indigenous religion were varied. For example, the approach taken by
William Dever, whose work Lash references in other contexts, points out that the Goddess-suppressing described in Deuteronomy and elsewhere in the Hebrew scriptures, was carried out by about 1 percent of the people, who were participants in the "state" or "book" religion, while the other 99 percent were pursuing a "folk religion" that included Asherah worship (Dever, Did God Have a Wife? pp.69-73). Raphael Patai, whom Lash also references, points out that a statute of Asherah was "present in the Temple for no less than 236 years, two-thirds of the time the Solomonic temple stood in Jerusalem."(Patai, The Hebrew Goddess, 1990 [and earlier editions], p. 38) I think that Lash’s work could benefit from taking into consideration Patai’s and Dever’s approaches, allowing us to acknowledge that some of the practices of the 99% of the folks, such as closeness to nature in general and trees in particular, and the inclusion of feminine or female aspects of the divine, were brought forward into laterJewish practice and continue in Jewish practice today.

I am more convinced by Dever’s distinction between folk and state (or book) religion than I am by Lash’s assertion of a secret extremist sect going back before Abraham and forward to Solomon’s time or later.

In making his case for there being the secret Zaddikim sect, Lash discusses what he calls an enigmatic priesthood that included Melchizedek, the priest who "recruited the first patriarch [Abraham] and conferred on the community of Israel its identity as a ‘chosen people’," and Zadok (or the priest of Zadok) who was called to anoint Solomon. Lash maintains that neither of them belong to the "hereditary priesthoods of Benjamin, Aaron, and Levi." (p. 64) Since my biblical scholarship has its limitations, I consulted
Rabbi Jill Hammer ,who said she was not aware of a hereditary priesthood of Benjamin, and that the tribes of Aaron and Levi and are considered to be the only tribes that had hereditary priesthoods. Rabbi Hammer writes:
"Zadok is the high priest at the time of David, founder of a line of priests – this line is endorsed by the book of Samuel as the only proper line for the high priest, because Zadok was faithful to David during an attempted coup. (see II Sam. 20)." Rabbi Hammer points out that Zadok is considered to be in the line of the Aaron. Rabbi Hammer agrees that "Melchitzedek is somewhat mysterious: he is a priest who blesses Abraham; obviously not a Jewish priest, but a priest of El Elyon (God Most High) who is the priest-king of Salem (Jerusalem). He seems to have spiritual authority over Abraham but it's not clear why (see Gen. 14). The text does suggest that Abraham, like Moses, is tutored by spiritual leaders from other traditions."

And So I Conclude
As you can see, there is quite a bit of meat in this book. I’ve covered here just some of what I scribbled notes about, and I want to bring this to an end before those still reading this require eye doctor appointments.

Because of the misogyny inherent in a view that holds a Goddess responsible for messing up creation (or evolution), asserts that this "fall" is caused by her independence, and portrays her as needing rescuing by the male Aeon Christos, the Sophia mythos may not present a view that many of today’s Goddess feminists would want to adopt in its entirety. Nevertheless, In His Image is valuable for its clear explanation of gnosis in general and in particular of the metaphysical basis of gnosis as growing out of earlier Pagan thought, including Goddess traditions. It is also useful in giving us a picture of how one Goddess figure was incorporated into a tradition already changed by patriarchy and for pointing out the similarities between the Sophia mythos and Gaia theory. So if these things interest you, yes, I would recommend that you read this book.

For more about John Lamb Lash's views about gnosis, visit his website at

UPDATE, Sept. 8: See author John Lamb Lash's reply to this review in the "comments" below.
UPDATE, Sept. 10: See scholar Max Dashu's reply in the "comments" below. (To avoid confusion, the correct url for the the article on "Khokhmah and Sophia" that Dashu mentions in her comment is


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At Saturday, September 08, 2007 5:36:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Medusa,

Your careful and challenging review of my book made my day. Not the least because I have long wondered how the Sophianic vision of the Mysteries might be received by the ecofeminist community. I would like to respond to some issues you raise, especially concerning your evaluation of the Sophia myth, the heart of our common interest. As briefly as possible, I will respond both to your general assessment of the myth, and to a few misstatements in your long and well-written review. First, the minor points:

I won't go into a back and forth on the Zaddikim, or Kabbalah, etc. The fine points you raise regarding Judaism are valid, but they do not touch the essence of my argument. I commend you for not calling me anti-semitic. No religion is exempt from criticism, but criticism of beliefs is not condemnation of those who hold them. My analysis of the Judaic precedents of salvationism focuses on the extremist factor of apocalyptic messianism, not on moderate or mainstream Jewish faith. Any religion that demands its articles of faith be exempt from critical debate is imposing intolerance and oppression.

My profile of the Zaddikim is not invented but taken largely from Robert Eisenman. The Zaddikites were Palestinian "freedom-fighters" who used violent means against Roman occupation. There are about seven theories on the origin of the Dead Sea Scrolls, including the largely discredited Essene hypothesis. Conventional scholars do not recognize Eisenman, but I consider his views on the Zealot/Zaddikite movement to be the most historically plausible in DSS speculation.

You wrote that my use of "singularity" was confusing, and I should have used "emanation." Singularity and emanation are distinct terms in Gnostic writings. Every creative impulse from the cosmic center is an emanation (Gk aporria), but a singularity (Gk monogenes) is the particular spin of novelty within an emanation. See the Glossary in NIHI.

You wrote that by the "dreaming," I was describing "a creation process that doesn’t originate with her [Sophia] but rather from a "Godhead" or larger Divine, of which she is part." Not so. Sophia's unilateral dreaming originates in her, not in the Pleroma at large. I don't think I said otherwise.

You wrote that "The bad guys of the Universe, the Archons, result from Sophia’s uppity activity and are led by the baddest guy of all, the Demiurge, who falsely asserts he created the Universe. (The existence of the Demiurge is also a result of Sophia’s creating without her mate.) Sophia continues to fall and becomes the Earth, and so paradoxically, if Sophia hadn’t illegitimately created on her own, the Earth would not be home to immanent divinity."
My response: Gnostics did not claim the Archons were evil, but that they were agents of error (or deviance) which, when it goes uncorrected, leads to evil, to actions that run against life itself. The Archons arise in the kenoma, the outer realm of material chaos, not because Sophia dreamed alone, but because of her impact on that realm when her dreaming draw her outside the cosmic center. Sophia did not illegitimately create anything, she acted out of empathy and passion. Would the earth have been the home to immanent divinity otherwise? Well, I don't know. I don't have an alternative story that fits that proposition. But I ask you, could there not be material worlds in which divinity is not immanent? Also, bear in mind that the myth teaches not the general proposition that divinity is immanent in the cosmos, but that this particular divinity is the indwelling spirit of this world, our home planet.

You wrote that "this mythos apparently emerged about 2000-2500 years ago during an era when patriarchy had established itself not only in Abrahamic faiths but in Pagan religions as well." I did not date the Sophia narrative in this way, and I don't see how you can, either. What textual or archeological basis can you site to prove that the myth "apparently emerged" at that time? Surely the evidence of Gimbutas alone indicates that such a myth could have been circulating 6000 BC or earlier. I believe that the origins of the Sophia myth trace back to Paleolithic times.

To move on to your general assessment of the Sophia narrative, you wrote:

"Because of the misogyny inherent in a view that holds a Goddess responsible for messing up creation (or evolution), asserts that this "fall" is caused by her independence, and portrays her as needing rescuing by the male Aeon Christos, the Sophia mythos may not present a view that many of today’s Goddess feminists would want to adopt in its entirety."

I am astonished that you find misogyny in this narrative. You have written books on mythology yourself. You have written poetry and imaginative works that require intimate participation in mythmaking. Surely you know that although myths have to be framed in anthropomorphic language using gender, they cannot be assessed or judged by anthropomorphic or gender-based standards. You are talking about the Sophia mythos as if it were a tv movie with a misogynist vein in the plot. With all due respect, I suggest that you need to look deeper into the nature and dynamics of mythopoesis to appreciate the possible value of this myth for radical ecofeminists.

You may also want to listen to my interview with Joanna Harcourt-Smith in which I discuss problems I see with the reception of the Sophia mythos:


I follow the initiate Plutarch who protested the view that myths were merely allegories. He insisted that they are accounts of events that actually happened. Just so, I claim that the Sophia mythos, which I have recovered not invented, is an account of things that happened on a cosmic scale, events transpiring over vast epochs of time that determine the anomalies of our planet, including our involvement with an extrateresstrial cousin-species, the Archons, and our possible co-evolutionary role in Gaian symbiosis.

The myth implies, not that Sophia is responsible for "messing up creation," but for introducing the risk of novelty into the eternal patterns of the Aeons. Her fall is not a fall from grace or a sin against "the creator" (this itself being a concept alien to Gnostic mythmaking), but an opportunity for creative evolution uniquely provided by her impetuous nature. The wisdom goddess is not the single mother of a delinquent child who needs to be rescued by her perfect blond boyfriend. This is a sacred myth, not a soap opera.

You write: "Although the Sophia mythos retains a Goddess and may remain close to nature, patriarchal assumptions have crept in. "

I respect your caution here, but aren't you discounting the obvious and essential features of the myth? It does not merely "retain a Goddess." It recounts a goddess story from beginning to end. Sophia is the paramount actor in the narrative. You say it "may remain close to nature," which sounds a little condescending. The myth explicitly states that Sophia transformed herself into the elements of the natural world. Let's be clear about what's actually stated in the narrative.

I can see how you might regard certain plot factors, such as the Christic intercession, as patriarchal interpolations. But as a mythologist trained in assessing myth on its own terms, I defer strongly from that view. I wonder if the "patriarchal assumptions" you find here are not sexist connotations you are reading into the material. The mere presence of the plot factor "man rescues woman" does not signal a patriarchal narrative. In my book The Hero - Manhood and Power, I differentiate closely between the true hero, who is an ally and servant of the goddess, and the patriarchal champion who seeks to defeat and destroy the goddess: for example, Gilgamesh (champion) versus Enkidu (hero).

You write of the Sophia narrative as I have restored it, "Perhaps it is "pretty good," but it could be better." I do not claim that my recovery and restoration of the Sophia myth is either 100 percent correct or pitch-perfect in its language and tonality. I am not its author and not responsible for plot-factors. You detect patriarchal editing in this mother myth. I find in this myth a genuine artifact of transcendental memory derived by Pagan seers who empathically investigated the indwelling planetary presence of the Great Mother. (I am uncertain how, and to what degree, you validate mystical and illuminist investigation of nature, and how that consideration might factor into your critique, less of the narrative itself, than of its sources.) Do you want to change the story to suit preconceived criteria and make it pleasing to a certain lobby or interest group? Well, go ahead. If Goddess feminists don't like the Sophia myth as it is, in its entirety, they can go and invent their own - IF they are able to do so. But no genuine myth is of human authorship.

Finally, bear in mind the unique composition of this myth. While countless myths identify the earth and nature with a goddess, this is the only one (to my knowledge) that recounts in full detail how a feminine divinity of cosmic status became the earth and the indwelling spirit of nature. Heinrich Zimmer denied that such a myth was even possible, but there it is. You may want to look at a piece I submitted to Parabola Magazine called "Or Ever the Earth Was." It explains the uniqueness and participatory aspects of the Sophia myth with a few cues from Jewish mysticism and the sapiential literature. Parabola rejected it, so I put it on metahistory.org:


All critical quibbles aside, we are left to ask, What is the challenge of this rare sacred narrative? To rework it to fit feminist-critical standards? Or to take it as a catalyst for empathic and imaginative participation in the life of the earth?

Thanks to your review, which will bring the Sophia myth to the attention of many people involved with ecofeminism and Goddess spirituality, the choice is out there.


At Monday, September 10, 2007 3:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Medusa, for another penetrating review. Your observations about the shared approximate time-frame of Gnostic and Kabbalistic ideas, and the parallels between them, are especially interesting. You rightly call attention to important elements of the female Divine as preserved in the Judaic scripture and traditions, particularly the Shekhinah and the Tree, which have been written about at length by scholars such as Asphodel Long, Jenny Kien, Elie Sheva, Leah Novick, Tilde Binger, and actually too many writers to list by immediate recall.

Some thoughts based on your description and analysis and John Lash’s response:

I’d agree that Gnosticism grew out of Pagan mysteries, but they are not the only source. It is also heavily colored by Judaic and Persian ideas, and as Medusa notes, a Jewish Gnosticism existed as well. A massive syncretism was underway in late antiquity, a lot of which was happening in Egypt. I have some doubts about any monolithic portrayal of pagan mystery religions, some of which excluded women, and which others reflected ambient male dominance, but I haven’t read the book yet to get a clear picture of what is being said about this.

Re the four points of “the redeemer complex”: I share some of Lash’s criticisms around the authoritarian themes, but think he is wrong on some particulars. The “creator god’s son” is important for Christianity but not in Judaism or Islam. There is certainly a move toward a single male creator in the biblical account, but it is incomplete at the period when this was written down, and Medusa makes an important point about the difference between folk religion and state religion.

Also crucial: the participation of Khokhmah in the Genesis creation is a key element that Gnostics borrowed from Judaism. She is not called by the names of the pagan goddesses, except by Christian detractors, but by the primary name of the persistent Hebrew goddess. (Or she is called by other Greek names, some of which draw on Genesis such as Arche for Reshiit, Origin or Beginning, the first words of the Hebrew Bible being Be reshiit.

Medusa’s comparison of Sophia and Shekhinah is on the mark, because the Gnostic Sophia has undeniable (if outlandish in the most literal sense) Judaic roots, whatever the pagan, mystery school, neo-Platonist, and Persian elements in Gnosticism.

Lash is right to characterize the Zaddikites as freedom-fighters, and they can hardly be blamed for fighting the Romans, whose occupation was brutal. So to me they seem like a complex mixture, some authoritarian elements mixed with resistance to hegemonic authority. Yeshua of Nazareth fits as a Judaic resister to Rome, but did not advocate military means, and textual studies I think back this up.

The book appears to boil down the multifarious Gnostic narratives into one overarching narrative. To me this is problematic, because it loses the variation and especially the historic progression in these documents. Rose Arthur’s little-known The Wisdom Goddess contains an important feminist analysis that details the gradual christianization and patriarchalization in the Gnostic texts. I draw on her exegesis in my book Streams of Wisdom, which is now out of print, but the chapter on Judaic and Gnostic Wisdom Goddesses is on my website: http://www.suppressedhistories.net/articles/sophia.htm .

Where Medusa says “this mythos apparently emerged around 2000-2500 years ago,” it seems clear that she refers to the process of demoting the female divine, a development we can partially track through ancient Iraqi, Greek and other writings, and not to the Gnostic myth(s) specifically. This leads to the point where I disagree most strongly with Lash. In his comments posted above, he says, “Surely you know that although myths have to be framed in anthropomorphic language using gender, they cannot be assessed or judged by anthropomorphic or gender-based standards."

On the contrary, what I know is that myth is a crucial bearer of values as well as meanings, and so is subject to political changes and cultural shifts. In fact, it bears and encodes ideas about gender and other human relations – no kingly gods in egalitarian societies -- which we can track in the kinds of shifts that Medusa is referring to. I’m surprised that someone who cites Eisler and Gimbutas is a stranger to these concepts, and more so by a fall-back to higher authority (“as a mythologist trained in assessing myth on its own terms”).

The point is, the terms vary according to who is doing the telling, as attested by the example of high priests and prophets vs Israelite commoners (whose views come through as through a glass darkly, but they do come through, and they contrast markedly with those of the authorities). And the terms also change over time, as we can see going from the old Sumerian accounts of the creator goddess Nammu who made humans from the clay to the Enuma Elish where the serpent mother of the gods Tiamat is slain and hacked apart.

“Do you want to change the story to suit preconceived criteria and make it pleasing to a certain lobby or interest group?” I reply, The story itself has preconceived criteria. Don’t you see the justice in women’s objections to overarching narratives in which the female creative power is portrayed as faulty, fallen, caught in illusion?

The idea is not to change the story as a historical artifact, but to analyze what attitudes are embedded in it, and how those are used in political ways. To see the quite striking differences in gender attitudes across the range of Gnostic texts themselves, which are like a window into an ancient kulturkampf. And to go beyond the limitations imposed by some of these narratives—a transcendence which is fully compatible with an illuminist and mystical vision—as well as to be inspired by the liberatory impulse within others.

As to extraterrestrial cousin-species, I’m not going there.

Max Dashu

At Monday, September 10, 2007 10:54:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The url for Max Dashu's fine article is slightly wrong above (the ending is .html not .htm, as it appears).
Here it is again. Good article!


At Monday, November 28, 2011 9:29:00 AM, Blogger pasquale di rago said...

Hi Medusa,

I know this is a rather late entry and perhaps the time for leaving comments that will be read is long gone, but nonetheless, I feel that having read John's book and thought about some of it's implications, I need to say that I'm in agreement with John Lamb Lash.

There is something very wrong with our three Abrahamic Religions, and perhaps it has a lot to do with the source.

John's book does introduce many new elements into the fray, although of course they may have been around for centuries, but largley unknown untill the discovery of the NHC.

What's interesting is how the Mythos that both you and John give seems to tie together, so many pieces.

Anyway I found John's book a revelation and have also recommended it to those I know who take an interest.

That said I wish to express my thanks to all concerned for at least going beyond the standard party line and presenting a thought provoking ideas.

Cheers and Peace Profound

Pasquale Di Rago c/o pasqualedirago.blogspot.com

At Monday, August 13, 2012 9:55:00 AM, Blogger muzuzuzus said...

Although a fairly good critique I don't think it is strong enough. People who create myths, and if we don't feel comfortable with them, and we know the danger of such stories, then we must question and challenge intensely, and of course welcome same....This myth is a story made up. As simple as that. That is all myths are, stories made up from inagination. This doesn't mean of course they have no value, because a greater part of us is imagination in the deepest meaning of that term. BUT, it is important we look what are benign myth and which are what I call toxic myths. Toxic myths are divisive, and encapsulate all the--what I am calling--patriarchal solar mythological myths which blame women for the troubles mostly males are doing, and also claim that nature and the body is a trap.
Noone as far as I am aware, though I didn't real all of the comments, has shown a clear radical distinction between lunar mythos and solar mythos. What Lash's interpretation of Gnosticism represents (as does its most accepted version)is solar mythos--is the painting of the "universe" as a trap. it is the creation of a paranoid story, and most certainly not the same as the lunar mythos cosmography where ALL nature, including earth and heavens are sacred. But with Lash--despite his claims that HIS gnosticism is all about love for earth etc etc is really just transmitting the same old same old paranoia. if there is ONE woman who exposes this kind of New Age-ist pretense it is Monica Sjoo in her book, the MUST_READ Return of the Dark/Light Mother or New Age Armageddon? Towards a Feminist Vision of the Future She exposes the New Age and its roots, both 'recent' and ancient. We have no luxury to fuck about. Nature is under attack on all sided as a result of absurd stories we get told and internalize. Tome now to take the gloves off and EXPOSE stories that do not radically help the Web of Life.


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Judith Laura

More blogs about /goddess/feminist theology/spiritual feminism/pagan/feminist spirituality/.