Gnostic Cross


The two manuscript discoveries fulfill the promise of the Second Coming because of their timing, both synchronized with the apocalyptic events of 1945, aptly foretold in Matt 24:27-28,27 For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
28 For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.
and content, the Scrolls from Qumran revealing the Essene roots of both Christianity and Sethian Gnosticism, the codices from Nag Hammadi revealing the gnostic Jesus, and the beliefs and practices of the Sethian sect, possibly of John the Baptist.

Included in the Nag Hammadi Library are several Sethian writings describing their most important ritual, the Baptism of the Five Seals, which involves a series of successively higher baptismal consecrations, culminating in the bestowal of Gnosis (Knowledge/Enlightenment) by Wisdom, descending from the Pleroma as the Goddess Protennoia ("First Thought" of the transcendent Father), conjured by the Baptist in the final act of the ceremony:

...and they took him into the light-[place] of his Fatherhood. "And [he received] the Five Seals from [the Light] of the Mother Protennoia, and it was [granted] him [to] partake of [the mystery] of knowledge, and [he became a Light] in Light."
  - NHC XIII, 48,29-35 (Translation by John D. Turner)

This baptism resembles the high consecrations of an early Tantric Buddhist initiation, though pre-dating the rise of Tantric Buddhism in India by several centuries.[1] In Tantric initiations conferring the highest consecrations, the properly prepared recipient experiences a spontaneous realization of enlightenment, becomes a Buddha, and acquires miraculous psychic powers. Preparation involves years of guided meditation in the sensory deprived environment of caves and remote hermitages, as great yogis, mystics and hermits have done throughout the ages.

The Gospel of Mark:

1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;
2 As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
4 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
5 And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.
6 And John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey;
7 And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.
8 I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.
9 And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.
10 And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him:
11 And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
12 And immediately the spirit driveth him into the wilderness.
13 And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.
14 Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God.
15 And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.
 - Mark 1:1-15 (KJV)

The "forty days" of verse 13 is symbolic of the 40 years the Israelites spent in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land (Numbers 14:34). Mark tells us Jesus lived as an ascetic in the Judean wilderness with John the Baptist from the time of his baptism until John's arrest, whereupon he began his ministry of teaching, healing and baptizing. He may have spent many years with John, even decades, living an ascetic life of prayer and contemplation.

According to the Gospel of John, Jesus and John baptized concurrently (John 3:22-26):

22 Jesus and his disciples went into the land of Judea; there he remained with them and baptized.
23 John also was baptizing at Ae′non near Salim, because there was much water there; and people came and were baptized.
24 For John had not yet been put in prison.
25 Now a discussion arose between John’s disciples and a Jew over purifying.
26 And they came to John, and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you bore witness, here he is, baptizing, and all are going to him.”
 - (RSV)

Jesus' first disciples were from John's sect (John 1:35-37):

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples;
36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”
37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
 - RSV

Jesus, comparing his ministry to John's (Luke 7:31-35):

31 “To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like?
32 They are like children sitting in the market place and calling to one another, ‘We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.’
33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine; and you say, ‘He has a demon.’
34 The Son of man has come eating and drinking; and you say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’
35 Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”
 - (RSV)



The Dead Sea Scrolls are the remains of an ancient library of a monastic community of Essenes, who lived at Wadi Qumran by the Dead Sea, from approximately 140 BCE - 68 CE. The Essenes of Qumran were contemplative ascetics, with apocalyptic visions and messianic expectations. They dwelt in tents and caves in the hills and cliffs surrounding their cult center, and shared their goods in common. Their scrolls compare closely with the New Testament in language, style and symbolism, and in the allegorical method used to interpret scripture, especially the book of Isaiah. The Essenes and Christians shared similar cult practices, including baptism and a ritual meal. Both emphasized salvation of the poor, with whom they identified, and were followers of the Way, founded on a New Covenant established by God through their Teacher. Jesus appears to have been speaking to an Essene audience when he preached the Sermon on the Mount, not espousing Essene doctrines, but delivering a new teaching. His audience was in keen expectation of a Messiah (or two) who, with the help of God, would rid them of their Roman oppressors and restore to them the land they had been promised. Moreover, at the time of the visitation, the world would be transformed into a new Eden, with evil and death banished forever, and the holy elders of their sect to pass judgment on the wicked. They prayed and waited for two hundred years; their hopes extinguished in 68 CE, when Roman soldiers attacked and destroyed the community of Qumran, forever to be forgotten but for the scrolls hidden in Cave 1.

In addition to their affinities with the New Testament, the Scrolls are notable for their similarity to the Sethian writings from Nag Hammadi (see THREE TEXTS COMPARED), suggesting Qumran may have provided the sapiential headwaters for Sethian Gnosticism, as some brothers, perhaps led by John the Baptist, pursued a gnostic trajectory of wisdom speculation, while others adhered to the more traditional concept of Wisdom = Torah, "the Law of the Most High". Both views are present in the Scrolls, along with the concept of salvation through spiritual knowledge (Gnosis), and an ethical dualism of Light and Darkness, reinterpreted in a metaphysical sense by the Sethians.

Blessed is the man who has attained wisdom,
He walks in the Law of the Most High.
and prepares his heart for her ways.
4Q525 2-3 II, 3-4
  - Translation by George Brooke

From the God of Knowledge comes all that is and shall be.... He has created man to govern the world, and has appointed for him two spirits in which to walk until the time of His visitation: the spirits of truth and falsehood. Those born of truth spring from a fountain of light, but those born of falsehood spring from a source of darkness. All the children of righteousness are ruled by the Prince of Light and walk in the ways of light, but all the children of falsehood are ruled by the Angel of Darkness and walk in the ways of darkness...
But in the mysteries of His understanding, and in His glorious wisdom, God has ordained an end for falsehood, and at the time of the visitation, He will destroy it forever. Then truth, which has wallowed in the ways of wickedness during the dominion of falsehood until the appointed time of judgment, shall arise in the world forever.
(1QS 3.15; 17-21; 4.18-20)

As for me,
my justification is with God...
For my light has sprung
from the source of His knowledge
my eyes have beheld his marvellous deeds,
and the light of my heart, the mystery to come....
My eyes have gazed
on that which is eternal,
on wisdom concealed from men,
on knowledge and wise design
(hidden) from the sons of men;
on a fountain of righteousness
and on a storehouse of power,
on a spring of glory
(hidden) from the assembly of flesh.
God has given them to His chosen ones
as an everlasting possession,
and has caused them to inherit
the lot of the Holy Ones.
He has joined their assembly to the Sons of Heaven
to be a Council of the Community,
a foundation of the House of Holiness,
an eternal Plantation throughout all the ages to come.
(1QS 11.2-8)

Thou hast revealed Thyself to me in Thy power
as perfect Light,
and Thou hast not covered my face with shame....
Through me Thou hast illumined
the face of the Congregation
and hast shown Thine infinite power.
For Thou hast given me knowledge through Thy marvellous mysteries,
and hast shown Thyself mighty within me
in the midst of Thy marvellous Council.
Thou has done wonders before the Congregation
for the sake of Thy glory,
that they may make known Thy mighty deeds
to all the living.
(1QH 4; Hymn 7)

And I shall shine in a seven-fold light
in [the Council appointed by] Thee for Thy glory;
for Thou art an everlasting heavenly light to me
and wilt establish my feet [upon level ground forever]
(1QH 7; Hymn 11)

I [thank Thee, O Lord],
for Thou hast enlightened me through Thy truth.
In Thy marvellous mysteries,
and in Thy lovingkindness to a man [of vanity,
and] in the greatness of Thy mercy to a perverse heart
Thou hast granted me knowledge.
(1QH 7; Hymn 12)

Thou hast caused [the straying spirit] to return
that it may enter into a Covenant with Thee,
and stand [before Thee forever]
in the everlasting abode,
illumined with perfect Light forever,
with [no more] darkness,
[for un]ending [seasons of joy]
and un[numbered] ages of peace.
(1QH 18; Hymn 25, Conclusion of scroll)

The Holy Spirit, also called Counselor or Spirit of Truth, first appears in the Dead Sea Scrolls[2], later becoming the third Person of the Christian Trinity:

I thank Thee, O Lord,
for Thou Hast upheld me by Thy strength.
Thou hast shed Thy Holy Spirit upon me
that I may not stumble.
(1QH 7; Hymn 11)

And I know that man is not righteous
except through Thee,
and therefore I implore Thee
by the spirit Thou hast given [me]
to perfect Thy [favors] to Thy servant [for ever],
purifying me by Thy Holy Spirit,
and drawing me near to Thee by Thy grace
according to the abundance of Thy mercies.
(1QH 16; Hymn 22)

  - Translations by Geza Vermes.

The Gospel of John:

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you...
Jn 14:26 (RSV)

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
Jn 16:13 (RSV)

The Community Rule:

For it is through the spirit of true counsel concerning the ways of man, that all his sins shall be expiated, that he may contemplate the light of life. He shall be cleansed from all his sins by the spirit of holiness, uniting him to His truth... And when his flesh is sprinkled with purifying water and sanctified with cleansing water, it shall be clean by the humble submission of his soul to all the precepts of God.
(1QS 3:6-9)

He will cleanse him of all wicked deeds with the spirit of holiness; like purifying waters He will shed upon him the spirit of truth (to cleanse him) of all admonition and falsehood. And he shall be plunged into the spirit of purification that he may instruct the upright in the knowledge of the Most High and teach the wisdom of the sons of heaven to the perfect of way. For God has chosen them for an everlasting Covenant and all the glory of Adam shall be theirs.
(1QS 4:21-23)

The Essenes also maintained a belief in bodily resurrection:

For the sake of Thy glory
Thou hast purified man of sin
that he may be made holy for Thee,
with no abominable uncleanness
and no guilty wickedness;
that he may be one [with] the children of Thy truth
and partake of the lot of Thy Holy Ones;
that bodies gnawed by worms may be raised from the dust
to the council [of Thy Truth],
and that the perverse spirit (may be lifted)
to the understanding [which comes from Thee];
that he may stand before Thee
with the everlasting host
and with [Thy] spirits [of holiness].
to be renewed together with all the living
and to rejoice together with them that know.
(1 QH 11; Hymn 17)

  - Translations by Geza Vermes

In this environment, founded on faith in the Teacher of Righteousness and his divinely inspired interpretation of scripture, with a fairly fluid belief system and no enforced dogma, it's not difficult to imagine a teacher arising with a new message and a new baptism, branching off to form a new sect.



The sect of John the Baptist continued after his death. Followers of John were present in Alexandria in the first century, and in Ephesus, where the Gospel of John is believed to have been written. Acts 18:24-26:

24 Meanwhile, a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.
25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.
26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
 - NIV

Near Alexandria, the area south of Lake Mareotis was inhabited in the first century by the Therapeutae, a semi-eremitic Jewish sect, possibly an Egyptian branch of the Essenes, described by Philo in The Contemplative Life. This area was later home to the early Christian semi-eremitic monastic center of Nitria (ca. 330 CE), which expanded to nearby settlements at Kellis and Scetis. St. Pachomius established the first cenobitic monasteries in the Thebaid (Upper Egypt) ca. 320-330 CE, the ruins of Chenoboskion being only 3.3 miles from where the Nag Hammadi Library was buried by Sethian monks later in the century, or early in the fifth. These foundations, along with Saint Anthony the Eremite, are traditionally regarded as the beginnings of Christian monasticism, conceived as an alternative to martyrdom. Yet clusters of eremitic and semi-eremitic contemplatives most likely inhabited the desert south of Lake Mareotis, and other remote areas, from Philo's time down through the fourth century and beyond, though in mostly orthodox form by the end of the fourth. The presence of Sethians in Egypt is well attested. In addition to the Nag Hammadi Library, the Bruce Codex, a collection of Gnostic manuscripts acquired in Upper Egypt in 1769 by James Bruce, a Scottish writer and adventurer, includes the Sethian Untitled Treatise; and the Berlin Codex (Papyrus Berolinenis 8502), discovered in Akhmin, Egypt and acquired in 1896 for the Berlin Museum, includes the Apocryphon of John, three copies of which were among the codices from Nag Hammadi.

Evidence of Sethian influence on the author of the Gospel of John may be found in a passage from the Trimorphic ProtennoiaI am the Word who dwells in the ineffable Voice. I dwell in undefiled Light and a Thought revealed itself perceptibly through the great Speech of the Mother, although it is a male offspring that supports me as my foundation. And it (the Speech) exists from the beginning in the foundations of the All.
But there is a Light that dwells hidden in Silence, and it was first to come forth. Whereas she (the Mother) alone exists as Silence, I alone am the Word, ineffable, unpolluted, immeasurable, inconceivable. It (the Word) is a hidden Light, bearing a fruit of life, pouring forth a living water from the invisible, unpolluted, immeasurable spring, that is, the unreproducible Voice of the glory of the Mother, the glory of the offspring of God; a male virgin by virtue of a hidden Intellect, that is, the Silence hidden from the All, being unreproducible, an immeasurable Light, the source of the All, the root of the entire Aeon. It is the foundation that supports every movement of the Aeons that belong to the mighty glory. It is the foundation of every foundation. It is the breath of the powers. It is the eye of the three permanences, which exist as Voice by virtue of Thought. And it is a Word by virtue of Speech; it was sent to illumine those who dwell in the darkness.
Now behold! I will reveal to you my mysteries, since you are my fellow brethren, and you shall know them all. (5 lines missing) I told all of them about my mysteries that exist in the incomprehensible, inexpressible Aeons. I taught them the mysteries through the Voice that exists within a perfect Intellect, and I became a foundation for the All, and I empowered them.
The Second time I came in the Speech of my Voice. I gave shape to those who took shape, until their consummation.
The Third time I revealed myself to them in their tents as Word, and I revealed myself in the likeness of their shape. And I wore everyone's garment, and I hid myself within them, and they did not know the one who empowers me. For I dwell within all the Sovereignties and Powers, and within the angels, and in every movement that exists in all matter. And I hid myself within them until I revealed myself to my brethren. And none of them (the Powers) knew me, although it is I who work in them. Rather, they thought that the All was created by them, since they are ignorant, not knowing their root, the place in which they grew.
I am the Light that illumines the All. I am the Light that rejoices in my brethren, for I came down to the world of mortals on account of the Spirit that remains in that which descended (and) came forth from the innocent Sophia. I came, and I delivered [...], and I went to ... (5 lines missing) ... which he had formerly, and I gave to him from the Water of Life, which strips him of the chaos that is in the uttermost darkness that exists inside the entire abyss, that is, the thought of the corporeal and the psychic. All these I put on. And I stripped him of it, and I put upon him a shining Light, that is, the knowledge of the Thought of the Fatherhood.
And I delivered him to those who give robes - Yammon, Elasso, Amenai - and they covered him with a robe from the robes of the Light; and I delivered him to the baptizers, and they baptized him - Micheus, Michar, Mnesinous - and they immersed him in the spring of the Water of Life. And I delivered him to those who enthrone - Bariel, Nouthan, Sabenai - and they enthroned him from the Throne of Glory. And I delivered him to those who glorify - Ariom, Elien, Phariel - and they glorified him with the glory of the Fatherhood. And those who snatch away snatched away - Kamaliel, [...]anen, Samblo, and the servants of great holy luminaries - and they took him into the light-place of his Fatherhood. And he received the Five seals from the Light of the Mother, Protennoia, and it was granted him to partake of the mystery of knowledge, and he became a Light in Light.
So now ... (5 lines missing) ... I was dwelling in them in the form of each one. The Archons thought that I was their Christ. Indeed, I dwell in everyone. Indeed, within those in whom I revealed myself as Light, I eluded the Archons. I am their beloved, for in that place I clothed myself as the son of the Archgenitor, and I was like him until the end of his decree, which is the ignorance of Chaos. And among the angels I revealed myself in their likeness, and among the Powers, as if I were one of them; but among the Sons of Man, as if I were a Son of Man, even though I am Father of everyone.
I hid myself within them all until I revealed myself among my members, which are mine, and I taught them about the ineffable ordinances, and (about) the brethren. But they are inexpressible to every Sovereignty and every ruling Power, except the Sons of the Light alone, that is, the ordinances of the Father. These are the glories that are higher than every glory, that is, the Five Seals, complete by virtue of Intellect. He who possesses the Five Seals of these particular names has stripped off garments of ignorance and put on a shining Light. And nothing will appear to him that belongs to the Powers of the Archons. Within those of this sort, darkness will dissolve and ignorance will die. And the thought of the creature, which is scattered, will present a single appearance and dark Chaos will dissolve and ... (6 lines fragmentary) ... until I reveal myself to all my fellow brethren, and until I gather together all my fellow brethren within my eternal kingdom. And I proclaimed to them the ineffable Five Seals in order that I might abide in them and they also might abide in me.
As for me, I put on Jesus. I bore him from the cursed wood, and established him in the dwelling places of his Father. And those who watch over their dwelling places did not recognize me. For I, I am unrestrainable, together with my seed; and my seed, which is mine, I shall place into the holy Light within an incomprehensible Silence. Amen.
The Discourse of the Appearance: Three
Trimorphic Protennoia, in Three Parts
A Sacred Scripture written by the Father with perfect Knowledge
  NHC XIII, 46,5-50,23
  - Translation by John D. Turner
, that has been compared to the
Johannine Prologue1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2. He was in the beginning with God;
3. all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.
4. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
5. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
7. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him.
8. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.
9. The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.
10. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.
11. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.
12. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God;
13. who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
14. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.
15. (John bore witness to him, and cried, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.’”)
16. And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace.
17. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
18. No one has ever seen God; the only Son,[b] who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.
  - Jn 1:1-18 (RSV)
, itself believed by Rudolf Bultmann to have been originally a hymn sung by followers of John the Baptist, and later adopted by the author or editor of the Gospel.[3]

Gesine Schenke was the first to comment on the similarities:

For the question of the scholarly value of our new text, especially interesting and perhaps of great significance is the third revelatory discourse of Protennoia, which… in large part presents actually a material parallel to the prologue of the Fourth Gospel. Quite unusually close is the affinity of many thoughts and expressions of this third discourse, and of corresponding parts of the two others, to those of the Johannine prologue. Both texts interpret each other, but it seems at first glance that the light falls more from Protennoia onto the Johannine prologue than the reverse… One has the impression that the relevant statements of Protennoia stand in their natural context, whereas their parallels in the Johannine prologue, as we find it in the Fourth Gospel, seem to have been artificially made serviceable to a purpose really alien to them.[4]

James M. Robinson:

Given the mass of Jewish literature available, why do we find the only concentrated cluster of parallels to the prologue in one text, Trimorphic Protennoia? We must try to use this fact in a more pointed fashion. I agree that the background is Jewish Wisdom literature. But these two texts shared in the same converging force that drew out from Jewish Wisdom a unique concentration. At this point I would speak of a "trajectory." We may never solve the question of whether the Wisdom tradition behind the prologue or the Trimorphic Protennoia was Gnostic. But to pose the question that way may result in blocking out the insight that the development of the Jewish Wisdom tradition towards Gnosticism was already at work in the background of the two documents. Otherwise one is unable to account for these two crystallizations. The historian's task is not to decide whether or not a given text is Gnostic but to locate the text within the development or trajectory from non-Gnostic Jewish literature to Gnosticism. The shadow land between Jewish Wisdom and Gnosticism must be accorded the status of an historical reality.[5]

George W. MacRae discusses possible Gnostic influences on the Gospel of John in his paper Gnosticism and the Church of John's Gospel, (abridged):


This presentation to the Working Seminar is a contribution to the discussion of "Primitive Christianity and Gnosticism." It focuses on issues in the scholarly discussion of possible Gnostic influences on the Gospel of John and Johannine Christianity, giving principal attention to points at which the Nag Hammadi Gnostic texts shed light on the issues. The Fourth Gospel has long been a pivotal text for investigating the interaction of Gnosticism and Christianity. This presentation does not aim at surveying the vast literature on the topic, nor at arguing in detail the case, which it espouses, for Gnostic influence. Instead it lists a number of areas, some based on previous research, others programmatic suggestions for further study, in which the issue of Gnostic influence warrants discussion...

The Revelation Discourse Genre

[Heinz] Becker [a student of Rudolph Bultmann] attempted to account for the major discourses of the Fourth Gospel by appeal to a (somewhat ideal) form of Gnostic discourse (Offenbarungsrede) consisting of self-predication ("Autodoxologie") in the "I-style," invitation or call to decision, and promise of reward or threat of punishment-all three elements loosely organized in repetitive or "spiral" form and set against a background of cosmic dualism. Though this style of discourse has its roots in the wisdom tradition, it nevertheless seems to be a distinctively Gnostic genre. It is represented in the Nag Hammadi collection in numerous works such as Thunder NHC Vl,2; the Trimorphic Protennoia NHC XIII,l; the longer ending of the Apocryphon of John NHC II,1:30,11-31,25, and others. It is noteworthy that some of these examples show either no Christian influence or at best a merely superficial Christianization.

That this discourse genre appears in the Fourth Gospel in numerous passages is quite clear (e.g., 6:35-5lb; 8:12-47; 10:7- 18). Frequently the Gospel examples show the revelation discourses embedded in dialogues, but the similarity to what Becker described and to what we find in many Nag Hammadi examples is clear. It should be noted that there is no suggestion here that the Fourth Evangelist used a Gnostic revelation discourse as a source for the discourses of Jesus, but only that in the composition of them he was influenced by the Gnostic genre.

The Patterns of Christology and Soteriology

The most widely discussed claim of Gnostic influence in the Fourth Gospel is in the area of Christology and soteriology, and in this survey we can only allude to the discussion. Since the work of Bultmann many have taken the Gnostic background of Johannine thought for granted, others have continued to emphasize the non-Gnostic elements of the Gospel. In any case, the Gospel portrays Christ as a pre-existent, in some sense divine, figure who descends from the world of the Father into the created world for the purpose of offering salvation to humanity by revealing the Father. Apart from the question of the origin of this type of thought, one must recognize the fact that it resembles nothing in the ancient world so much as the Gnostic revealer myth. The very concept of salvation as revelation to be appropriated by knowledge (John 17:3) is universally characteristic of Gnosticism and, in the New Testament, unique to the Fourth Gospel. Here there are no metaphors of redemption, reconciliation, justification, sacrifice, and the like, but only the word of revelation...

The Johannine Church

There is at least one further stage that one should investigate in the study of the relationship of the Fourth Gospel to the Gnostic tradition, namely the role of the First (and Second) Epistle of John in the subsequent history of the Johannine community. Without taking a clear position, I wish only to suggest some lines for further research. Everyone is agreed that the First Epistle rejects a docetic interpretation of the Gospel, but there remains disagreement about whether the interpretation of the Gospel among those Johannine Christians whom the Epistle opposes is already Gnostic or only tending in that direction. I am inclined to the former alternative – on the grounds that non-Gnostic docetism is difficult to identify in the early second century C.E. In my view, the Gospel itself clearly favors a Gnostic interpretation – and that was historically the case as we know from such Valentinian interpreters as Heracleon and Ptolemy. But whether the radical wing of the community itself was in fact Gnostic remains debatable.

Wisdom, Gnosticism, Johannism

It is clear from the foregoing survey that the root problem in identifying the background of the Fourth Gospel is the fact that the Jewish wisdom tradition can be used to account for much of what some interpreters regard as Gnostic. The real issue then becomes: is the Fourth Gospel an independent development from the wisdom tradition or is it part of a larger movement of speculation in which Gnosticism also reinterprets wisdom? I suggest that this remains the central issue in Johannine studies, and the weight given to specifically Gnostic adaptations of wisdom, in comparison with the Fourth Gospel, will be determinative of the history of religions question.[6]



One possible source for the Gnostic ideas and influences in the Gospel of John would be the Sethian sect, as once proposed by Hans-Martin Schenke:

I cannot avoid asking a very subtle but irresistibly suggestive question, although I feel unable to judge whether it warrants pursuit: is the relationship between Trimorphic Protennoia and the prologue of John only a specific example of a much more general relationship between Sethianism and the whole Gospel of John? This suggests that Sethianism could be understood as the gnostic background of (the discourses of) the Fourth Gospel. For the time being it seems as if this might explain several obscure aspects of the Fourth Gospel from one common root. These aspects are, above all, the following four:

1. The polemic against John the Baptist and his disciples. The rivals of the Johannine community would have been Samaritan baptists who considered their founder, John the Baptist, to have been an incarnation of the celestial Seth as the Logos. (italics mine)

2. The specific Johannine conception of the Son of Man. This "Son of Man" would be in principle the celestial Seth as the son of the celestial Adamas or his incarnation.

3. The Paraclete figure. The "other" Paraclete would be the next form in which the celestial Seth will assist his race.

4. The prominent role of the Samaritan motif in the Fourth Gospel (provided that Sethianism is actually rooted in Samaritanism).[7]



Enigmatic passages from Sapiential Work A, largest of the Qumran wisdom texts, may hint at the roots a Sethian breach with the Essene community. Believed to have been written sometime in the late first century BCE to early first century CE, multiple fragments recovered from Caves 1 and 4 have allowed scholars to reconstruct the text. Of great importance is the mystery to come (raz nihyeh), which is associated with the birth time of salvation:

Gaze upon the mystery to come and understand the birth time of salvation, and know who is to inherit the glory and trouble. Has not rejoicing been appointed for the contrite of spirit, and for those among them who mourn, eternal joy?
  - 4Q417 1i: 10-12

By day and by night meditate on the mystery to come and study it always. And then you will know truth and iniquity; wisdom and foolishness...
  - 4Q417 2i: 6-7

Fragment 2 from Cave 4 contains an admonition against the children of Seth:

And you, O understanding one, contemplate your reward, remembering the requital, for it comes. Engraved is the ordinance, and ordained is all the punishment. For engraved is that which is ordained by God against all the iniquities of the children of Seth. And written in his presence is a memorial of those who keep His word. And that is the vision of meditating on the book of memorial. And He gave it as an inheritance to Enosh, together with a spiritual people...

And you, O understanding one, gaze on the mystery to come and know the paths of everything that lives and the manner of his walking that is appointed over his deeds.
  - 4Q417 2i: 13-19

  - Translations by Daniel J. Harrington, S.J.

The "mystery to come" from Sapiential Work A envisions a future salvation consistent with Qumran apocalyptic expectations. The Sethians gave new meaning to the concepts of salvation, knowledge and truth, and brought the birth time of salvation into the present, for those able to receive it, by the Baptism of the Five Seals. For the brothers of Qumran, John was serving the wine before its time.

The eschatological controversy spilled over into Christianity, as can be seen in the letters of Paul:

Already you are filled! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you!
  - I Corinthians 4:8 (RSV)

Cf. Apocryphon of James[8][9]:

He [The Savior] said, 'Verily I say unto you, no one will ever enter the kingdom of heaven at my bidding, but (only) because you yourselves are full. Leave James and Peter to me that I may fill them.' And having called these two, he drew them aside and bade the rest occupy themselves with that which they were about.
  - NHC I, 2,29-40 (Translation Francis E. Williams)

John D. Turner proposed a chronology for the Sethian writings in his paper Sethian Gnosticism: A Literary History.[10] According to Turner, the earliest layer of tradition includes the hymn of Pronoia in the Codex II version of the Apocryphon of John, which was later expanded in the Trimorphic Protennoia. The later text describes three descents of Protennoia from the realm of light, first as Voice, then as Speech, and finally as Word, when She reveals the Baptism of the Five Seals:

The third time I revealed myself to them [in] their tents as the Word and I revealed myself in the likeness of their shape. And I wore everyone's garment and I hid myself within them, and they did not know the one who empowers me. For I dwell within all the Sovereignties and Powers and within the Angels and in every movement [that] exists in all matter. And I hid myself within them until I revealed myself to my [brethren]. And none of them (the Powers) knew me, [although] it is I who work in them. Rather [they thought] that the All was created [by them] since they are ignorant, not knowing [their] root, the place in which they grew.

[I] am the Light that illuminates the All. I am the Light that rejoices [in my] brethren, for I came down to the world [of] mortals on account of the spirit that remains [in] that which [descended] (and) came forth [from] the innocent Sophia....

And I put on him a shining Light, that is, the knowledge of the Thought of the Fatherhood.

The baptism of the five seals:

And I delivered him to those who give robes - Yammon, Elasso, Amenai - and they covered him with a robe from the robes of the Light; and I delivered him to the Baptists, and they baptized him - Micheus, Michar, Mnesinous - and they immersed him in the spring of the [Water] of Life. And I delivered him to those who enthrone - Bariel, Nouthan, Sabenai - and they enthroned him from the throne of glory. And I delivered him to those who glorify - Ariom, Elien, Phariel - and they glorified him with the glory of the Fatherhood. And those who snatch away snatched away - Kamaliel, [...]anen, Samblo, and the servants of the great holy Luminaries - and they took him into the light-[place] of his Fatherhood. And [he received] the Five Seals from [the Light] of the Mother, Protennoia, and it was [granted] him [to] partake of [the mystery] of knowledge, and [he became a Light] in Light.
  - NHC XIII, 47,13-48,36 (Translation by John D. Turner)

John D. Turner:

The spiritualized conception of baptism as a saving ritual of enlightenment reflected in the Sethian texts must have been current in the first century, to judge from the complex of ideas in Colossians 2:8-15, where circumcision (regarded as a stripping off of the body of flesh) is connected with a baptism conceived as a dying and rising, and Christ's death is interpreted as a disarming of the principalities and powers. To judge from the Sethian baptismal mythologumena, the Sethians, wherever they derived their original rite, must have developed it in close rapprochement with Christianity. They must have sustained their initial encounter with Christianity as fellow practitioners of baptism, indeed a baptism interpreted in a very symbolic and spiritual direction. For example, the Sethian name for their Living Water, itself a conception found also in Johannine Christianity (John 4:7-15), is Yesseus Mazareus Yessedekeus, which seems very much like a version of the name of Jesus into which Christians were baptized, perhaps in a threefold way.[11][12]



The Apocalypse of Adam narrates three descents of the illuminator of knowledge "from a great Aeon." On the third descent:

Once again, for the third time, the illuminator of knowledge will pass by in great glory, in order to leave (something) of the seed of Noah and the sons of Ham and Japheth - to leave for himself fruit-bearing trees. And he will redeem their souls from the day of death. For the whole creation that came from the dead earth will be under the authority of death. But those who reflect upon the knowledge of the eternal God in their heart(s) will not perish. For they have not received spirit from this kingdom alone, but they have received (it) from an [...] eternal angel. [...] illuminator [...will] come upon [...that is] dead [...] of Seth. And he will perform signs and wonders in order to scorn the powers and their ruler.
"Then the God of the powers will be disturbed, saying, 'What is the power of this man who is higher than we?' Then he will arouse a great wrath against that man. And the glory will withdraw and dwell in holy houses which it has chosen for itself. And the powers will not see it with their eyes, nor will they see the illuminator either. Then they will punish the flesh of the man upon whom the holy spirit has come.
  - NHC V, 76,8-77,18

Only the Sethians know the true origin and identity of the illuminator:

But the generation without a king over it (the Sethians) says that God chose him from all the aeons. He caused knowledge of the undefiled one of truth to come to be [in] him. [He said, '[Out of] a foreign air, [from a] great aeon, [the great] illuminator came forth. [And he made] the generation of those men whom he had chosen for himself to shine, so that they could shine upon the whole aeon.'
"Then the seed, those who will receive his name upon the water, will fight against the power. And a cloud of darkness will come upon them.
"Then the peoples will cry out with a great voice, saying, 'Blessed is the soul of those men because they have known God with the knowledge of truth. They shall live forever, because they have not been corrupted by their desire, along with the angels, nor have they accomplished the works of the powers, but they have stood in his presence in a knowledge of God like light that has come forth from fire and blood.
  - NHC V, 82,19-83,23

The Apocalypse of Adam concludes:

These are the revelations which Adam made known to Seth his son. And his son taught his seed about them. This is the hidden knowledge of Adam, which he gave to Seth, which is the holy baptism of those who know the eternal knowledge through those born of the word and the imperishable illuminators, who came from the holy seed: Yesseus, Mazareus, [Yesse]dekeus [the Living] Water.
  - NHC V, 85,19-32 (Translation by George W. MacRae and Douglas M. Parrott)



Verses from the Gospels of Thomas, Matthew and John:

Jesus said to his disciples, "compare me to someone and tell me who am I like."
Simon Peter said to him, "You are like a righteous angel."
Matthew said to him, "You are like a wise philosopher."
Thomas said to him, "Master, my mouth is wholly incapable of saying whom you are like."
Jesus said, '"I am not your master. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring which I have measured out."
And he took him and withdrew and told him
three things. When Thomas returned to his companions, they asked him, "What did Jesus say to you?"
Thomas said to them, "If I tell you one of the things which he told me, you will pick up stones and throw them at me; a fire will come out of the stones and burn you up."
Gospel of Thomas, NHC II 34.30-35.14 (saying 13)

Jesus said "Come unto me, for my lordship is mild, and you will find repose for yourselves."
Gospel of Thomas, NHC II 48.16-20 (saying 90)

Jesus said, "Blessed are the solitary and elect, for you will find the kingdom. For you are from it, and to it you will return."
Gospel of Thomas, NHC II 41.27-30 (saying 49)

Jesus said "He who will drink from my mouth will become like me. I myself shall become he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him"
Gospel of Thomas, NHC II 50.28-30 (saying 108)

Jesus said "The kingdom of the father is like a merchant who had a consignment of merchandise and who discovered a pearl. That merchant was shrewd. He sold the merchandise and bought the pearl alone for himself. You too, seek His unfailing and enduring treasure, where no moth comes near to devour and no worm destroys"
Gospel of Thomas, NHC II 46.13-22 (saying 76)

Jesus said, "I am the light which is above the all. It is I who am the all. From me did the all come forth, and unto me did the all extend. Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there."
Gospel of Thomas, NHC II 46.23-28 (saying 77)

  - Translations by Helmut Koester and Thomas O. Lambdin

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
  - Gospel of John 13:34 RSV

And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.
  - Gospel of Matthew 28:20 KJV



Photograph in header: © Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, Claremont, California

For an introduction to Tantric Buddhism, see: Snellgrove, David, Indo-Tibetan Buddhism: Indian Buddhists & Their Tibetan Successors, vol. 1 (Boston: Shambala Publications, 1987). Part III, Section 13 Initiations and Consecrations, pp. 213-43, provides translations from three Buddhist tantras: Manjusrimulakalpa (ed. Ganapati Sastri), Sarvatathagatatattvasamgraha (Symposium of Truth), and Sarvadurgatiparisodhana.
Charlesworth, James H, "The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Historical Jesus," in Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls (ed. James H. Charlesworth; New York, New York: Doubleday, 1992), 20-22: "The Qumran Essenes in the middle of the second century B.C.E. developed the concept of "the Holy Spirit" to substantiate their claims against the Temple priests and their choice to live in the desert. They claimed that "the Holy Spirit" had left the polluted Temple and accompanied them into the wilderness. There "the Holy Spirit dwelt in "the house of holiness."
Bultmann, Rudolf K., "The History of Religions Background of the Prologue to the Gospel of John," in The Interpretation of John (1923; ed. John Ashton; Studies in New Testament Interpretation (Edinburgh: T & T Clark 1928) 27-46. See also Bultmann, Rudolf K., The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Westminster: John Knox, 1971), 13-23.
4 Schenke, Gesine: Theologische Literaturzeitung 99 (1974), 733.
Robinson, James M., from the discussion following the presentation of his paper "Sethians and Johannine Thought: The Trimorphic Protennoia and the Prologue of the Gospel of John," in The Rediscovery of Gnosticism; Proceedings of the International Conference on Gnosticism at Yale, New Haven, Connecticut March 28-31, 1978. Supplement to Numen 41. Studies in the History of Religions 41. vol. 2: Sethian Gnosticism, (ed. Bentley Layton; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1981), 666.

"Gnosticism and the Church of John's Gospel" by George W. MacRea, in Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism and Early Christianity, edited by Charles W. Hendrick and Robert Hodgson, Jr., 1986 by Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts. pp. 89-96. Used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers.
"The Function and Background of the Beloved Disciple in the Gospel of John" by Hans Martin Schenke, in Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism, and Early Christianity, ed. Charles W. Hendrick and Robert Hodgson, Jr., 1986 by Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts. pp. 113-14. Used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers.
Translations of the Nag Hammadi Library, unless otherwise noted, are from The Nag Hammadi Library in English, 3rd edition (ed. James M. Robinson; San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1988).
Within translations from the Nag Hammadi Library, square brackets [ ] indicate a lacuna in a manuscript. When the text cannot be reconstructed, three dots are placed within the brackets regardless of the size of the lacuna; a fourth dot, if appropriate, may function as a period. Brackets also enclose the author's comments made within a quoted passage. Parentheses ( ) indicate material supplied by the editor or translator. Although this material may not directly reflect the text being translated, it provides useful information to the reader.
Turner, John D., "Sethian Gnosticism: A Literary History," in Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism, and Early Christianity (ed. Charles W. Hendrick and Robert Hodgson, Jr.; Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1986) pp.55-86. Used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers.
11 Ibid., 66.
In his later book Sethian Gnosticism and the Platonic Tradition, John D. Turner proposes a complex, four stage process in the development of Sethian Gnosis: A group developing a line of Gnostic wisdom speculation becomes Christianized and later merges with a group identifing themselves as descendants of Seth, whose heavenly counterpart, the great Seth, comes to be identified with Jesus. Later, middle and neo-Platonic influences are seen in the writings. See: Turner John D, "Sethian Gnosticism and the Platonic Tradition" (Louvain, Paris: Editions Peeters, 2006), pp. 255-300.