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The Paraphrase of Shem

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Treatise
Genre:
(5/5) *****
Reliability of Dating:
(5/5) *****
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Greek
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Modern Translations:

Estimated Range of Dating: 150-250 A.D.

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Michel Roberge writes, "The key to understanding the Paraphrase of Shem must be sought in its anthropology, and its most original feature lies in the devaluation of mind (nous) and the central place given to thought. According to this treatise, human beings consist of (1) a body originating from Darkness and Fire; (2) a soul (psukhe) brought forth through the defilement of the winds and the demons; (3) a particle of Mind, which was first Darkness's possession but was rescued by the Spirit and to whom the Savior granted a light called Faith (Pistis); and (4) a thought produced by the astonishment of the Spirit (pneuma). The combination of these four constituents defines three classes of people: (1) psychics (material people), who are ruled by the soul and belon gto Darkness (they have a body and soul); (2) noetics (mental people), who are ruled by the mind and belong to Faith (they have a body, soul, and mind); and (3) pneumatics (spiritual people), who are ruled by thought and belong to the Spirit (they have a body, soul, mind, and thought)." (The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, p. 437)

Birger A. Pearson writes, "The name Derdekeas is best understood as based etymologically on an Aramaic word, drdq', which means 'male child.' It may not be irrelevant here to mention that 'thrice-male child' is an epithet of Seth in the Gospel of the Egyptians (NHC III 62,2). It may be that Derdekeas is to be understood as a deliberately cryptic, esoteric name for the Gnostic revealer, Seth. We recall now that Hippolytus referred to a book used by people he called Sethians; the book was titled the Paraphrase of Seth. The paraphrase in that case is named for the revealer. The Paraphrase of Shem is named for the recipient of the revelation presumably given by the same revealer, Seth. What is especially interesting is that the three-principle system said by Hippolytus to be contained in the Paraphrase of Seth bears some striking resemblance to that of the Paraphrase of Shem." (Ancient Gnosticism, p. 203)

Michel Roberge writes, "The Paraphrase of Shem presents a very sophisticated cosmological and anthropological system, and its Gnostic terminology, which recalls Valentinianism, is quite expansive. It could have been written at a time when the main Gnostic systems were already constituted and the polemic against the great church was at its peak, perhaps in the first half of the third century. ... The author of the Paraphrase of Shem is unknown, but the text was probably written in Syria. The relationship between its creation myth and passages in the Aramaic philosopher Bardaisan (154-222 CE), its underlying encratism, and its polemical attitude against baptism all points to a common area of interaction traditions. The region that best meets this description appears to be eastern Syria, with Edessa as its center." (The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, p. 447)


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Kirby, Peter. "The Paraphrase of Shem." Early Christian Writings. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/shem.html>.