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1st Apocalypse of James

At a Glance
Apocalypse
Genre:
(2/5) **
Reliability of Dating:
(3/5) ***
Length of Text:
Coptic
Original Language:
Ancient Translations:
Modern Translations:

Estimated Range of Dating: 180-250 A.D.

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William R. Schodel writes (The Nag Hammadi Library in English, p. 260):

The manuscript names this writing The Apocalypse of James. We refer to it here as The (First) Apocalypse of James to distinguish it from the next writing (V, 4) which the manuscript also entitles The Apocalypse of James. Our apocalypse is an excellent example of a "revelation dialogue." The partners in the dialogue are the Lord and James the Lord's brother (though the latter is said to be the Lord's brother only in a purely spiritual sense). In the first part of the writing (20,10-30,11) James addresses questions to the Lord that reflect his anxiety at the suffering soon to overtake both himself and the Lord, and the Lord provides James consolation in terms of standard gnostic teaching about the place of man in the universe. An oblique and very brief reference to the crucifixion in 30,12-13 serves as the turning point in the account. After the reappearance of the Lord, the story is dominated by a series of formulae transmitted to James to enable him to meet the challenges of the hostile powers who will attempt to block his ascent to "the Pre-Existent One" after his martyrdom (32,23-36,1). These formulae represent a dramatized version of texts that appear elsewhere in the context of rites for the dying in the forms of Valentinian Gnosticism (Irenaeus, Haer. 1.21.5; Epiphanius, Pan. 36.3.1-6). It is worth noting, however, that at least one characteristic line that appears here ("I am an alien, a son of the Father's race") has a close parallel in the Corpus Hermeticum (13.3). Other interesting matters taken up in the second part of our apocalypse include the directions concerning the handing on of the teaching in secret (36,13-38,11), the comments about the value of women as disciples (38,15-41,18), the mention of James' rebuke of the twelve disciples (42,20-24), and the relatively lengthy account (now much mutilated) of James' martyrdom at the conclusion of the writing.

Wolf-Peter Funk writes (New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 1, p. 315):

If we are already reduced to conjectures with regard to the original language, this naturally holds also for the date of the translation into Coptic. It must have taken place at the latest in the first half of the 4th century, yet scarcely earlier than the second half of the 3rd. This still does not say much about the original formation of the document. Here we are reduced to conclusions which result from the content of the text. The Valentinian theologoumena utilised in it (cf. especially the doctrines of an upper and a lower Sophia, or of 'Sophia' proper and 'Achamoth', which also occur in the text outside the mystery formulae quoted: p. 36.5, 8) seem to presuppose the fully-developed Valentinian system, and therefore suggest the composition of the document at the earliest towards the end of the 2nd century. The rejection of a bodily fraternal relationship between Jesus and James (p. 24 15 f.), evidently already presupposed, points in a similar direction. It is however very probable that in the composition of the document older material (especially from the Jewish-Christian or the James tradition) was also used. If this older material however had the dimensions of a major (pre-Valentinian) literary Vorlage, then this Vorlage would have to be regarded as an independent entity, and not identical with 1 Apoc. Jas.

William R. Schoedel writes (op. cit., p. 260):

The designation of James as "James the Just" (32,2-3; cf. 43,19) indicates contact with Jewish Christian tradition (cf. Hegesippus, in Eusebius, H.E. 2.23.4,7; Gospel according to the Hebrews, in Jerome, De viris inl. 2; Gos. Thom., saying 12). The inclusion of Addai (36,15-24) in the list of figures who will hand on the teaching in secret points to contact with Syria and thereby possible also to a Semitic form of Christianity (cf. Eusebius, H.E. 1.13). Some scholars have argued that numerous other themes in our apocalypse betray the influence of Jewish Christian theology. But apart from the importance attributed to James the Just there is little in the writing that can with any confidence be attributed to the influence of Jewish Christianity in particular. There is a good possibility, then, that the figure of James was chosen by a circle of Gnostics as a convenient peg on which to hang their teaching.

Wolf-Peter Funk writes (New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 1, pp. 317-318):

Content and purpose: in the course of the dialogue in 1 Apoc. Jas. a whole series of points are touched upon, on which the answers of Jesus are sometimes very general, but sometimes also specific, and occasionally take up a critical position (e.g. 'twelve' instead of 'seven' hebdomads and criticism of the scriptures at p. 26.2-8; on the question of femaleness, pp. 24.26-31; 38.16-23; 41.17-19; and much more). The main theme of 1 Apoc. Jas. is, however, beyond doubt salvation in the sense of the liberation of the Gnostic from the torment of earthly existence, his return to his homeland beyond, and his reunion with the primal ground of being: 'Then you will no longer be James, but you are that one who is' (p. 27.8-10). Here redemption is understood in quite practical terms. If one wishes to escape from this present sphere, one is unavoidably confronted by border guards ('toll-collectors' and 'keepers'), who not only bar the way to the ascending soul but wish to lay hold of it for their own purposes. But these powers can be overcome with words - assuming that one knows the right words. The imparting of these 'passwords' stands at the centre of 1 Apoc. Jas., and forms the main content of the great revelation discourse of Jesus. They consist essentially of an appeal by the Gnostic, in frequently varied terms, to his otherworldly origin and his descent from him who was in the beginning. This is enough to confound the border powers, and escape from their dominion.

Thus, the 1st Apocalpyse of James provides us with information on the James tradition and the Gnostic redemption myth in the second or third century.


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