The term Demiurge (or Yaldabaoth, Yao, Bythos and several other variants, such as Ptahil used in Mandaeanism) refers in some belief systems to a deity responsible for the creation of the physical universe and the physical aspect of humanity. The word derives from the ancient Greek δημιουργός (démiourgos), meaning "artisan" or "craftsman". (This word in turn comes from δήμιος "official" which in turn comes from δῆμος "people" and έργον meaning "creation" or "piece of work".) The term occurs in a number of different religious and philosophical systems, most notably Platonism and Gnosticism. The precise nature and character of the Demiurge however varies considerably, from being the benign architect of matter in some systems, to the personification of evil in others.
Plato refers to the Demiurge frequently in the Timaeus as the entity who "fashioned and shaped" the material world. Plato describes the Demiurge as unreservedly good and hence desirous of a world as good as possible. The world remains allegedly imperfect, however, because the Demiurge had to work on pre-existing chaotic matter.
Gnosticism also presents a distinction between the overall "creator" and the Demiurge. However, in contrast to Plato, many systems of Gnostic thought present the Demiurge as antagonistic to the will of the Supreme Creator: this sort of Demiurge focusses solely on material reality and on the "sensuous soul". In this system, the Demiurge acts as a solution to the problem of evil. In the Apocryphon of John (in the Nag Hammadi collection), the Demiurge has the name "Yaltabaoth", and proclaims himself as God:
- "Now the archon who is weak has three names. The first name is Yaltabaoth, the second is Saklas , and the third is Samael. And he is impious in his arrogance which is in him. For he said, 'I am God and there is no other God beside me,' for he is ignorant of his strength, the place from which he had come."
Yaltabaoth literally means "Go, Child" in Hebrew. Gnostic myth recounts that after Sophia (the Aeon of wisdom, the Demiurge's mother) gave birth to the Demiurge, The Father (the divine source) called her over to him with these words. The Demiurge did not see her, nor anyone else, and thus concluded that only he himself existed, and that he had the name "Yaldaboath".
Saklas means "fool".
Catharism apparently inherited the idea of an evil creator-demiurge (equated with Satan) from Gnosticism.
The concept of the Demiurge does not reconcile easily with modern Christian philosophy. The Platonic interpretation seems to presuppose the pre-existence of matter (in a chaotic form) and this conflicts with the Judeo-Christian concept of an all-powerful creator who fashioned the universe out of nothingness (ex nihilo). While Christian literature has a well-defined concept of Satan, most Christian theologians reject the notion that Satan (or an equivalent being) could create the physical universe.
- The Nag Hammadi Library (see Nag Hammadi)