This post follows on from my earlier post on The Secret Book of John, possibly a Jewish pre-Christian work, as translated and annotated by Stevan Davies.
Stevan Davies’ translation of the Secret Book/Apocryphon of John is available online at The Gnostic Society Library.
The Prologue is said to be a Christian addition to an earlier non-Christian book. But what sort of Christianity interested the scribe who added this? The disciple John is said to see Jesus appearing variably as a child, an old man and a young man. I am reminded of Irenaeus’s belief that Jesus had to have been past his 50th birthday when he was crucified so he could experience all the life stages of humanity and thus be the saviour of all. One is also reminded of the letter of 1 John that addresses the “children, fathers and young men” in the church. Of related interest to me are some of the earliest Christian art forms that depict Jesus as a little child – in particular when he faces an elderly John the Baptist to be baptized. Christ crucified does not appear.
The same prologue has Jesus say “I am the Father, the Mother, the Son. I am the incorruptible Purity.” The Holy Spirit in the eastern churches was grammatically feminine and so the Holy Spirit itself came to be regarded as feminine.
The Christianity that is appropriating this originally non-Christian gnostic text was one that viewed Christ as not only a discrete personality who had been crucified and risen as a saviour, but one that also accommodated gnostic-like ideas of Christ being identified in the different forms of humanity. Or perhaps it is more correct to say that the range of humanity is a representation of the divine.
But enough of my ramblings and speculative asides. Back to the gnostic myth. Continue reading “The Gnostic Gospel (Apocryphon) of John – 2”
Recently I began a series on the pre-Christian Christ Gnosticism but have recently read a book that I think may throw more direct light on that question — The Secret Book of John: The Gnostic Gospel – Annotated and Explained by Stevan Davies. Several things about this Gnostic gospel particularly attracted my attention:
- The Apocryphon of John did not originate as a Christian Gnostic document; apart from a few annotations scattered in the main body itself the main Christian elements (those bits that present the work as a revelation by Jesus to his disciple John) were tagged on to the opening and closing of a much older text.
- A clarification explaining that there are two types of religious metaphors: those that compare the divine to social and political models on earth (God as king or father, etc) and those that compare the divine to mental or psychological processes (e.g. Buddhism, Gnosticism).
- A partial coherence with Walter Schmithals’ claim that Jewish Gnosticism is not strictly dualist — the material world is not a reality opposed to the higher world but in fact is not a reality at all.
- More complete coherence with Walter Schmithals’ that among the saving powers are Christ, Son of Man and Daveithi, a word that “possibly means ‘of David'”
- Coherence with Walter Schmithals with respect to the absence of an individual descending redeemer figure. Thus though there are descents they are not on the part of figures truly distinct from the one being saved.
- Adam was created in a “heavenly realm” before appearing in a physical and worldly Eden.
- Repeated emphasis that in mythology the modern mind should not expect consistent logical coherence.
Though I suspect Stevan Davies would recoil at the suggestion there is much here that overlaps with Earl Doherty’s arguments for the Christian Christ originating as a heavenly mythical figure. Schmithals himself argues that the false apostles and gospels Paul opposed were probably teaching something like this Gnostic Gospel. Nonetheless this text does help us understand another facet of the thought-world through which Christianity as we know it eventually emerged.
Oh, one more thing. I was not really aware before reading this book that the Apocryphon of John “is the most significant and influential text of the ancient Gnostic religion”. (But then I’m way behind many others in my knowledge of Gnosticism.) So for that reason alone it is worth close attention. Continue reading “The Gnostic Gospel of John (1)”