Books of Jeu and the Pistis Sophia: system, practice, and development of a religious group
Evans, Erin Michelle
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The primary objective of this thesis is to argue that the Books of Jeu (in the Bruce Codex) and the Pistis Sophia (the Askew Codex) are the product of a hitherto largely unrecognized religious group or community emerging from the dynamic religious climate of the first four centuries of the Common Era. It presents evidence that they have their own coherent system of theology, cosmology and soteriology, and demonstrates the strong ties that bind the individual tractates contained within these texts to one another. Chapter One provides a brief introduction to the history of the manuscripts, discusses methodology, presents definitions and a short thesis outline, and delivers a review of literature on the subject. Chapter Two examines each of the texts under consideration, giving a brief overview of their contents; arguments are presented for their chronological order, the exclusion of certain texts and fragments from the wider codices, and reasons these texts should be considered products of a religious group as opposed to being pure literary products of individual thinkers. Chapter Three traces the cosmology from the earliest to the latest of the texts, outlining shifts that take place and proposing explanations for these changes within an overall developmental framework. Chapter Four examines the roles of individual figures from the earliest to the latest texts; it demonstrates that although on the surface these roles may seem to change, their underlying nature remains constant, supporting the notion that they are the products of a group with a consistent underlying system. Chapter Five analyses the profusion of diagrams found in the two Books of Jeu, breaking them down into categories based on their nature and use as expressed by the texts. It further demonstrates that such images had a precedent in the religious and cultural atmosphere of Greco-Roman society. Chapter Six discusses potential outside religious influences present in these texts, and shows that while they are highly syncretistic, outside ideas are always incorporated within the existing framework of the group’s system: conflicting notions are subordinated to the existing theology and soteriology. The thesis concludes that these texts represent evidence of a practicing religious group that remained active over a period of time, producing multiple texts by multiple authors, adapting to a changing religious climate but maintaining the ideas that remained central to their underlying theological and soteriological system.