The Bible never mentioned Adam and Eve’s daughter by name, but Gnostic writings did. That name was Norea. Not only was she the primal couple’s first daughter, but she was also said to have burned down Noah’s Ark.
When I first came across Norea I wondered how it was I’d never heard of her. The more I read it soon became clear she was a Gnostic heroine. At least two Gnostic works bore her name, The First Book of Norea and The Thought of Norea. While I’ve never resonated with the gnostic belief that the material world is evil, I soon became fascinated with Norea’s feisty spirit. This is my attempt at piecing together her story.
The lengthiest account of Norea’s life is found in a Gnostic writing called The Reality of the Rulers. It was probably written before 350 CE. Since Gnostic writing can be obscure, I’ve paraphrased it and shaped it into a singular narrative that focuses only on Norea.
Norea and The Reality of the Rulers
After the terrible and murderous conflict between Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve made love. In due time, Eve gave birth to a boy. They named him Seth. Later, they made love again and Eve gave birth a daughter. They named her Norea.
When Eve saw her daughter she spoke with a prophetic voice. “God has given me a virgin to assist many generations to come. She is the virgin whom the Dark Forces will not defile.”
No more is said of her childhood. New generations populated the earth and fell into corrupt practices. All the while, Norea grew in wisdom and watched the actions of a man named Noah with interest.
The Gnostics valued wisdom and spirit above bodily pleasures. In their understanding, the impending destruction of the material world through the flood was an action of the true God. The being who instructed Noah to build the ark was the Dark Creator, who had brought the sinful material world into being.
Noah had nearly finished building his ark, believing to do so was God’s will. He didn’t realize he was following the advice of the Dark Creator. Before his sons, their wives and the animals had boarded it, Norea approached Noah. She asked to come aboard the ark.
As it happened, Noah refused her entry—the account does not explain just why. But gifted with the fire of the spirit, Norea blew that fire into the ark. She watched it as it was consumed in flame.
Noah was forced to build a second ark. In this way, the corrupted physical nature of humanity and the animal world would be protected from the flood. Gnostic sources disagree as to whether Noah and his sons were pure of heart or not.
The Dark Creator Moves Against Norea
The forces of darkness had seen to the creation of the physical world. They knew they had to stop Norea from destroying the ark a second time. The story goes that the Dark Creator sought to discourage her.
“Your mother came to us,” their leader told her, implying that Eve had offered her body freely to them and was thus impure.
But Norea wasn’t fooled. “It’s you who are impure. You never violated my mother. It was an illusion. Nor am I yours to threaten.”
The Dark Creator was not so easily dissuaded. “You will surrender your body to us, even as your mother did.”
It was then that Norea called out to the heavens. “Save me from the clutches of these Rulers of Darkness.”
And with that a great angel appeared before her, grander than any other. “Why do you call out to God?” the angel asked Norea. “How boldly you speak to the Holy Spirit.”
Norea was in awe. The Rulers of Darkness, including their leader, fled in the face of the Great Angel.
“Who are you?” Norea managed.
The Identity of the Angel Revealed
“I am Sagacity,” the angel declared. “I am Understanding, the one who dwells in the presence of the Great Spirit who none can see but all can know. I have come to speak to you and to save you from Darkness that threatens to engulf you. I am here to teach you about your Root.”
Root references Norea’s beginnings, her home in the World Above. But it also seems as if might equally reference the beginnings of a personal Tree of Knowledge.
The angel known as Understanding explained that, in the beginning of time, beneath the veil of the World Above, Shadow came into being. And from Shadow emerged an arrogant beast, the First of the Dark Forces. The name of the Dark Creator is finally given. It is Ialdabaoth, the creator of dark matter, the creator of corrupt flesh.
Sagacity explained how Ialdabaoth had arrogantly boasted in Zoe, one of the higher powers. “I am God of the entirety,” Ialdabaoth boldly and declared, deluded by his own power and arrogance.
But Zoe, whose name means Life, possessed the same power that Norea possessed. “You are mistaken,” Zoe told the beast. She breathed her fire in Ialdabaoth’s face. Her fire became a fiery angel. And the fiery angel bound Ialdabaoth and cast him into the depths of Hell. Unfortunately, he had not remained there.
The Angel’s Promise to Norea
Norea was deeply moved by what she heard. But she had many questions. “I have flesh. Am I part of the same matter they created?”
And the angel proclaimed that Norea and her offspring belonged to the one true God, coming from the World Above, made of light instead of darkness. The spirit of Truth was within her, and all who came to know this Truth would be immortal even in the midst of humanity who soon enough would die.
“In time, humankind will finally see the error of the Dark Creator.”
“But how much longer,” Norea wanted to know.
“When one who embodies Truth walks the earth and reveals that truth to the world. And then all will receive the balm of everlasting life. They will be free of blind thought, defying death to ascend into the light.
There the story ends. Norea isn’t told what she must do with this new knowledge, if she is to do anything at all.
Norea as Noah’s Wife
We can be thankful that a hostile historian, Epiphanius, provided further details about Norea. Writing circa 375 CE, he summarized information about what he viewed as the Gnostic heresy from a slightly different account. Epiphanius was writing about a Gnostic sect in Egypt, and referenced one of their works that no longer exists. It was called Norea and may be the same work referenced as The First Book of Norea.
In Ephiphanius’ critical account, Norea was referenced as Noah’s wife. He suggested that her name comes from nura, the Syrian word for fire. Ephiphanius noted that Noah didn’t want to allow Norea to enter his ark because it was Ialdabaoth’s plan to have her killed by the flood. And in the Egyptian account, Norea requested entry three times, was denied three times and subsequently burned down three different versions of the ark!
Norea is also given a specific mission in the Egyptian account. Just as Noah was to gather the male and female of every animal to save them in the ark, Norea was to gather up remnants of divine wisdom, stolen from the divine mother, Sophia. Ialdabaoth and other of his minions had stolen spiritual energy or wisdom from Sophia. Norea was to regain it by releasing the stolen wisdom through “the emissions” of human males and females. Whether these emissions were sexual emissions or releases of divine energy is not explained by Epiphanius. It is known the historian, regarded the Egyptian sect as a licentious one. What is known of other Gnostic stories, however, suggests another possibility.
Sophia’s Stolen Spirit
In Gnostic legend, Ialdabaoth created the world. He believed he was the one true God, but actually he was the deluded offspring of Sophia. This was a reoccurring Gnostic theme. But it is in The Secret Book According to John, written sometime before 180 CE, that we learn some more specifics. The Gnostics once again declare that Ialdabaoth stole energy from Sophia in his creation of the world. He could not have done what he did based on his own abilities. As a result, in much of creation, there is positive positive wisdom or pure spirit trapped inside the material shell of the Dark One’s creations.
As a result, The Secret Book tells the story of how seven positive powers came to be trapped in the material world from the spiritual energy stolen from Sophia. The names of these positive powers were kindness, forethought, intelligence, wisdom, divinity, authority, and zeal. The Secret Book declared that kindness was stored within the bones of men and women, wisdom in their marrow, forethought in connective tissue, divinity in flesh, authority in blood, intelligence in hair and zeal in skin. These were positive qualities locked into aspects of human physicality. Only the true nature of zeal was identified. It was fire. Norea’s fire?
The Secret Book doesn’t feature Norea as a character. But it does appear to explain what Norea was being called upon to recover. It seems likely her mission was to recover the seven types of positive spiritual energy stolen from Sophia.
Was recovering zeal from some human host(s) the first successful act of Norea’s recovery campaign? Was it the fire of that recovered zeal that allowed her to burn down her husband’s ark? It is certainly the zealots of the world who are willing to metaphorically burn down that which they see as unjust.
In any case, the specific story of how Norea recovered the other elements of Sophia’s stolen spirit is lost to us. Given the hostility mainstream Christianity had towards Gnostic practitioners, it is questionable whether Gnostics really suggested that Norea accomplished this through sexual means.
Norea’s Ascension into the World Above
The Thought of Norea is a brief piece of work found in James Robinson’s book. He thinks it was likely written in the late second century. In The Thought of Norea, the narrative picks up after Norea has called out to be rescued from the Dark forces that surround her. Once again I paraphrase the account in an attempt to clarify the often obscure style of Gnostic writing:
And Norea cried out to the powers in the World Above. And they received her and brought her to the World Above in order that she might inherit the First Mind and the Living Word and thus join the Ones who Never Die.
In this way, Norea gained the mind of the Invisible Spirit and could perceive the Truth of the all. And Norea has been given four helpers who will intercede on her behalf. Norea speaks of the two names who come together to make one name.
The Thought of Norea is especially esoteric. The text begs the question of who are the four helpers that can intercede on her behalf. Also, who are the two names to come together to make a single name? It is some of these questions I attempt to answer in an as yet unpublished novel I call Conversations with the Serpent.
A Few Remaining Details
In other sources regarding the Gnostics, Norea was identified as the wife of Seth (per Epiphanius’ account of the Sethians) or the wife of Noah’s son, Shem. Unfortunately, in these latter cases further details are lacking. A Gnostic book called On the Origin of the World (written circa 300 CE) refers to a work called The First Book of Norea, but says nothing about Norea herself. In pulling together these various details about Norea, I ignore the variant spellings of her name and have rendered them all Norea. For the record, they include Norea, Noria, Noraia, Orea, and Horaia. That said, all the variant names clearly refer to the same figure.
Whatever her relationships, the character of Norea represents a fascinating reversal of conventional Biblical lore, a narrative device of which the Gnostics were especially fond.
I am more interested in the quest aspects of her story, and the way in which she represents another powerful female character from extra-Biblical sources.
Barnstone, Willis, Ed. (1984). The Other Bible. San Francisco: Harper & Row, pp. 78-80.
Layton, Bentley (1987). The Gnostic Scriptures. New York: Doubleday, pp. 36-37, 39-40, 72-76, 178, 189-190, 202-204
Robinson, J. (1978). The Nag Hammadi Library. New York: Harper & Row, pp. 156-60, 164, 404-05, 487.