Apocryphon Of John (NHC II, 1; III, 1, IV, 1; Bg, 2)


A “secret book” of Gnostic revelations attributed to the risen Savior (Jesus Christ) given to his disciple John, son of Zebedee. Apocryphon of John is preserved in four Coptic versions, representing a shorter recension (NHC III, 1; BG, 2) and a longer one (NHC II, 1; IV, 1). The title is preserved at the end of all four versions. The revelations are presented in two parts: a revelation discourse on the unknown God and the heavenly world, and the creation of the cosmos; and a revelation dialogue between the Savior and John, who poses a series of questions answered by the Savior. The creation of the world is attributed to a being called Ialdabaoth, abortive son of the fallen Sophia, a parody of the biblical Creator. The revelation dialogue consists for the most part of Gnostic commentary on Genesis 1-7.

The first part is almost identical to teachings of certain “Gnostics” as presented by Irenaeus in his treatise Against Heresies 1.29. Apocryphon of John is the most important source we have for the basic mythology of “Sethian” or “classic” Gnosticism. Its core material, originally composed in Greek, dates to the second century, earlier than ca. 185, when Irenaeus wrote his treatise.

There is reason to think that the basic material, without the frame story and the artificially composed questions attributed to John, represents an originally Jewish version of Gnostic mythology only secondarily Christianized by the addition of the frame story and the questions. Jesus Christ takes the place of an originally feminine revealer figure. The Christianized version we now have probably dates to the end of the second century or the beginning of the third. A Syrian provenience is likely, at least for the original core material.


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