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The Concept of Our Great Power

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Treatise
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Greek
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Estimated Range of Dating: 150-360 A.D.

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Madeleine Scopello observes, "The Concept of Our Great Power is a tractate that exists only in the Coptic version of Nag Hammadi Codex VI. Translated from an original Greek text, it is twelve pages in length (36,1-48,15), and it has a few short lacunae. The Coptic employed by the translator is Sahidic, with a few dialectical characteristics in portions of the treatise, and this distinguishes it from the other texts of the same codex. The title at the beginning of the tractate ('Intellectual Perception of Understanding; The Concept of the Great Power') is different from the ttile at its end ('The Concept of Our Great Power'). The first title may be a later insertion of an editor who is trying to suggest an interpretation that helps to capture the meaning of the shorter title at the end. The terms 'perception' (aisthesis) and 'intellectual' and 'understanding' (dianoia) belong to philosophical language and shed some light on the 'concept' (noema) of 'our great power.' The Coptic term 'power' (com) is the equivalent of the Greek word dunamis, a technical term in Gnostic texts. The 'perception' is to be understood not as sensory perception but as a mental perception." (The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, p. 391)

Birger A. Pearson writes (Ancient Gnosticism, pp. 237-238):

The tractate opens with an invitation to the readers (or hearers) to come to a knowledge of "our great Power" (36,3-37,5). This is followed by an account of the creation. The Great Power, identified as fire, enters chaos and sets in motion the qualities of which the universe is composed: spirits, soul, and flesh (37,6-38,9). History after the creation is divided into two aeons: the "fleshly aeon" and the "psychical [or 'soul-endowed'] aeon." The fleshly aeon begins with the giants, the offspring of fallen angels (compare Genesis 6:1-4). The Flood takes place as a judgment of them, but Noah and his sons are preserved (38,9-15). The psychical aeon is the current age, into which all sorts of sin and impurity have come. The final conflagration will bring an end to all earthly wickedness (38,16-40,23).

The text is interrupted here with a Christian addition (40,24-43,2), featuring a description of "the man who knows the Great Power," that is, Christ. This section features the ministry of Christ, his victory over death, and the mission of the church. A passage that appears to be a continuation of the non-Christian writing (43,3-11) is then followed by a series of Christian additions. These additions feature prophecies of the troubles that will precede the final consummation (43,11-45,27). They include a war brought about by the archons (43,29-44,10), the career of an anti-Christian "archon of the west," who is the forerunner of the Antichrist (44,13-31), and the reign of the Antichrist (44,31-45,27). It has been suggested that the "archon of the west" is the emperor Julian "the Apostate," who died in 363.

The non-Christian material resumes with a description of the consummation and the final aeon. The universe will be burnt up after the Great Power and the souls who know him withdraw from the earth. The fire will burn for fourteen hundred and sixty-eight years (45,27-46,33). The judgment process will then come to an end, and the souls of the pure, those who have maintained celibacy, will achieve their rest. The souls of the impure wlil apparently spend eternity in penitence (47,27-48,13).

Scopello writes, "The place of composition of the Concept of Our Great Power could be Asia Minor, if we take into account the reference to the east as 'the place where the word (logos) first appeared' (44,3). As to the date, if the 'ruler of the west' is to be identified with Emperor Julian, as Williams has suggested, the last version of the tractate could have been written shortly after 360. If we understand the term nianhomoion at 40,7 to refer to the Anomoean heresy of the fourth century (see the note to the translation), that would confirm this fourth-century date. In any case, some portions of the document have certainly been composed earlier, probably during the second century." (The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, p. 393)


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