First Apocalypse Of James


This Apocalypse of James is the first of two such apocalypses in the NAG HAMMADI LIBRARY, constituting the third of Codex V. It is a revelation containing a dialogue between the Lord Jesus and James, the Lord’s brother. Here, however, James is not the Lord’s brother “materially” (24.15-16).

The first part of the writing (24.10-30.11) is dominated by the fearfulness of James in the face of impending disaster. To encourage him, the Lord discusses various doctrines with him concerning Him- Who-Is, the seventy-two heavens existing under the authority of the twelve archons, the affinity of James with Him-Who-Is, and so forth, and then promises to reveal the way of redemption to him. Then “the Lord said farewell to him and fulfilled what was fitting” (30:12-13)—that is, Jesus is crucified.

After several days, the Lord comes to James and his disciples as they walk on Mount Gaugelan (possibly Golgotha; although there is a Mount Gaugela in Syria). The Lord first explains that he was not really harmed by those who put him to death. The heart of the following exchange is the revelation to James of various formulas that will enable him to escape the hostile powers, including three heavenly “toll collectors” who stand between him and the Preexistent One.

The text becomes increasingly fragmentary as it draws to a conclusion. But the following matters may be identified. First, the secret tradition is entrusted to James to hand on to Addai who is later to write it down (36:13ff.). Further particulars, now obscure, about the line of tradition are also given, involving, it seems, a certain Levi and his two sons.

Second, James is puzzled by the many women who are the Lord’s disciples (38.15ff.). The problem of womanhood occupies the background throughout. The question is abruptly raised near the beginning (24.26-27); the formulas handed on to James by the resurrected Lord include references to Sophia and Achamoth and the problem involved in the fact that the latter is “female from a female” (35.10-13); finally we learn that the female followers of the Lord are to be encouraged by James since “the perishable has [gone up] to the imperishable and the female element has attained to this male element” (41.15-18).

Third, James is the leader of the early Christian community. At one point he is presented as rebuking “the twelve” (42.21-22).

The last two pages (43-44) contain a much-mutilated version of James’s martyrdom. This event is probably regarded as the prelude to the fall of Jerusalem previously announced (36.16-19). The fate of Jerusalem and its inhabitants is apparently linked with the defeat of the cosmic powers that threaten James. For Jerusalem “is a dwelling place of a great number of archons” (25.18-19).

The Apocalypse of James is connected with Gnosticism, especially through the formulas revealed to James by the Lord after the resurrection. They are placed by Irenaeus (Schmidt, 1907, 1.21.5; cf. Epiphanius, Panarion 36.3) in the setting of the apolytrosis—a rite of extreme unction. One of the formulas is also echoed in the Corpus hermeticum 13.3: “I am an alien, a son of the Father’s race.”

The prominence of James and of other matters may owe something to Jewish Christianity (Böhlig, 1968). But reflections on James’s martyrdom and the fall of Jerusalem were also important in Catholic Christianity (cf. Hegesippus, Origen, Eusebius), and nothing else in the apocalypse is unequivocably Jewish-Christian (Brown, 1972). The references to Addai and, possibly, Mount Gaugelan point to a Syrian milieu of a character (cf. Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica 1.13) and perhaps thereby also to Jewish Christianity. The teaching about the seventy-two heavens is probably a fragment of esoteric Jewish doctrine (Schoedel, 1970; Sed, 1979).


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