Gnostics lived in close contact with the vestiges of the
ancient Egyptian religion and also co-existed with Judaism
and with early Christianity. They honoured Osiris, the ancient
Egyptian god of rebirth, 'who stands before darkness as
a guardian of light'. By contrast they saw Jehovah, the
Old Testament god of the Jews and the Christians, as a dark
force, indeed as one of the 'world rulers of darkness' an
'Archon' whose purpose was to keep mankind chained for eternity
in spiritual ignorance. Although it comes as a shock to
Jews and Christians, the Gnostic account of the Old Testament
story of the 'temptation' of Adam and Eve in the garden
of Eden therefore depicts the serpent not as the villain
of the piece but rather as the hero and as a true benefactor
did God say to you?' the serpent asked Eve. 'Was it "Do
not eat from the tree of knowledge [gnosis]"?' She
replied: 'He said, "Not only do not eat from it, but
do not touch it lest you die," The serpent reassured
her, saying: 'Do not be afraid. With death you shall not
die; for it was out of jealousy that he said this to you.
Rather your eyes shall open and you shall come to be like
gods, recognising evil and good."
Adam and eve, the primordial human couple, had eaten of
the tree of knowledge, the Gnostics taught that they experienced
enlightenment and awakened to their own luminous and immortal
nature. This realisation, in itself, was not a guarantee
of immortality, but it was an essential precondition for
those who wished to 'eat of the tree of life'.
Archons were jealous and said:
Adam! He has come to be like one of us, so that he knows
the difference between the light and the darkness. Now perhaps
he also will come to the tree of life and eat from it and
become immortal. Come let us expel him from Paradise down
to the land from which he was taken, so that henceforth
he might not be able to recognise anything better....And
so they expelled Adam from Paradise, along with his wife.
And this deed that they had done was not enough for them.
Rather, they were afraid. They went in to the tree of life
and surrounded it with fearful things....and they put a
flaming sword in their midst, fearfully twirling at all
times, so that no earthly being might ever enter that place.