(Nag Hammadi Codex IX, 3). The Testimony of Truth is a Christian Gnostic tractate whose purpose is to define and uphold the “truth” against other versions of Christian faith deemed by its author to be false and heretical. The title of the work has been editorially assigned on the basis of content (“the word of truth,” 31.8; “the true testimony,” 45.1). A title may have occurred at the end, but the last pages (75-76) are lost. The tractate is preserved in fragmentary condition; the best-preserved material is from the first half of the document (pp. 29-45).
The first part of the tractate (29.6-45.6) consists of a homily in which a number of themes are addressed, with polemical attacks against those who hold “false” doctrines: (1) rejection of the “Law,” understood as summarized in the command to marry and procreate (Gn.1:28; 2:24; etc.), in favor of a strict encratism (29.6-31.22); (2) polemics against those who willingly embrace martyrdom for the faith (31.22-34.26); (3) a “spiritual” interpretation of the resurrection centered upon “knowledge” (gnosis), and polemics against those who uphold the doctrine of the corporeal resurrection (34.26-38.27); (4) reiteration of emphasis on strict encratism and virginity (38.27-41.4); and (5) an account of the paradigmatic career of the gnostic man, who is saved by his knowledge of himself and God (41.5-45.6). It is clear that the doctrines opposed in this section of the document are those of emergent ecclesiastical orthodoxy.
The second part of the tractate (45.6-74.30 . . .) consists of miscellaneous blocks of material: (1) the “mystery” of Jesus’ virginal birth (45.6-22); (2) a Midrash on the serpent of the paradise story in Genesis 3, wherein the serpent is credited with saving knowledge and “God” is regarded as a villain (45.23-49.10); (3) contrasts between life in Christ and death in Adam (49.10-50.28 . . .; very fragmentary material); and (4) polemics against schismatics and heretics, of whom (surprising for a Gnostic document) Valentinus, Basilides, Isidorus, and others are mentioned by name (55.1-74.30 . . .), but among whom are also representatives of ecclesiastical Christianity, especially in a section denouncing those who observe water baptism (69.7-32).
The Testimony of Truth contains numerous references to the person and work of Christ; its use of a (Johannine) “Son of Man” Christology is especially noteworthy. The author makes liberal use of the New Testament canon, but also of noncanonical apocryphal traditions. The most noteworthy examples of its use of the Old Testament are the aforementioned Midrash on the serpent, a similar Midrash on David and Solomon’s consorting with demons (70.1-23), and an allegory on the sawing asunder of Isaiah the prophet (40.21-41.4).
The Gnostic character of the Testimony of Truth is evident from beginning to end. Despite its anti-Valentinian polemics, it exhibits numerous points of contact with Valentinian doctrines. This, coupled with its radical encratism, has been taken (Pearson, 1981, pp. 118-20) to suggest the possibility that the document was written by an ex-Valentinian encratite known to CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA, namely, Julius Cassianus (cf. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata I.101; III.91, 93, 95, 102). A time and place for the tractate might accordingly be suggested: Alexandria or its environs, around the turn of the third century. An alternative suggestion for the authorship of the Testimony of Truth has also been proposed, namely, HIERACAS OF LEONTOPOLIS, a contemporary of PACHOMIUS (Wisse, 1978, pp. 439-40).
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BIRGER A. PEARSON