INTERPRETATION OF KNOWLEDGE
The Interpretation of Knowledge (NAG HAMMADI LIBRARY, XI.1) is a homily with polemical content probably delivered before a Gnostic community. It is a good demonstration of the internal dissensions that upset Gnostic communities in the first centuries A.D. This treatise is not the only one to attack this problem. Comparison with other texts from Nag Hammadi, such as the Sophia of Jesus Christ (see EUGNOSTOS THE BLESSED) or the TESTIMONY OF TRUTH (Koschorke, 1978), may throw some light on this complicated piece of writing.
In his discourse, the author of the Interpretation of Knowledge emphasizes the negativity of the world and the body. He describes the former as “the place of unfaith and death” (XI.1. 37) and the latter as “a temporary dwelling which the rulers and authorities have as an abode; the man within, after being imprisoned in the vessel, fell into suffering and they compelled him to serve them and they constrained him to serve the energies” (XI.6. 31-38). The author mentions the slavery of the body as well as the slavery of the soul (XI.6. 20, 21); both body and soul are desired by the archons (hostile heavenly rulers), who oblige man to serve them. This passage recalls the AUTHENTIKOS LOGOS and the EXEGESIS ON THE SOUL. There could be sketched here behind these heavenly powers, as in the Authentikos Logos, the phantasm of earthly powers, ecclesiastical or secular.
Furthermore, the body is compared to a pit or a hole into which men have fallen. From this place below, a dark place, and from the body, a carcass, only Christ will be able to deliver those who wish deliverance: “I became very small so that through my humility I might take you up to the great height whence you had fallen. You were taken to this pit. If now you believe in me, it is I who shall take you above through this shape that you see. It is I who shall bear you upon my shoulders.” The means offered to man to escape from the negativeness of the world is a holy and pure faith that will oppose the “unfaith” of the world. Christ is, therefore, a Savior. The author presents him as a being clothed in humility, bearing humanity on His shoulders. After being crucified, says the text, He looked down toward hell so that those who were down there looked upward (XI.13. 25-30). Finally, He proclaimed the Father: “when the great Son was sent after his small brothers, he spread abroad the edict of the Father and proclaimed it, opposing the All and he removed the old bond of debt, the one of condemnation.”
Christ also communicates a teaching: “Do not call out to a Father upon the earth. Your Father who is in heaven is one. You are the light of the world. They are my brothers and my fellow companions who do the will of the Father. For what use if you gain the world and you forfeit your soul? For when we were in the dark, we used to call many “father’ since we were ignorant of the true Father. And this is the great conception of all the sins.”
The Gnostic must imitate Christ and with regard to his neighbor behave according to the example of Christ. The latter “answered her with humiliation since in this way he bore the suffering which he had suffered.” He also made himself very small in order to help humanity. From this injunction to imitation is derived a series of teachings concerning the conduct required of the Gnostic in the midst of his community. He must not know jealousy; he must share with the brethren the spiritual and prophetic gifts he possesses; he must rejoice, give thanks, and lift up his prayer to God. The Gnostic who is humble, who avoids all discord, and who has humility shows that he is attentive to the nous (mind), not to the world. Besides, the persecution of which the Gnostics are the object is pointless, for it is exercised against those who already have the Word. The LETTER OF PETER TO PHILIP runs in the same sense, proclaiming that persecution is apparent, as was Christ’s suffering on the cross.
- Koschorke, K. Die Polemik der Gnostiker gegen das kirchliche Christentum unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Petrusapokalypse und des Testimonium Veritatis. Nag Hammadi Studies 8. Leiden, 1978.
- Menard, J. E. “La Gnose et les textes de Nag Hammadi.” In Colloque international sur les textes de Nag Hammadi, pp. 3-17. Quebec, 1981.
- Turner, D. “The Interpretation of Knowledge.” The Nag Hammadi Library in English, trans. J. D. Turner, ed. J. M. Robinson, pp. 427-34. San Francisco, 1977.