Treatise on the Resurrection

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The Treatise on the Resurrection is an ancient Gnostic or quasi-Gnostic Christian text which was found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt. It is also sometimes referred to as "The Letter to Rheginos" because it is a letter responding to questions about the resurrection posed by Rheginos, who may have been a non-Gnostic Christian.[1]

Background[edit]

The main message of the treatise is that Christians should consider themselves already resurrected in a spiritual sense and that the resurrection is real, not just a metaphor. It asserts that Jesus "lived as flesh" and was "both human and divine." These statements imply that the author rejected docetism, an idea frequently found among the Gnostics. The text also says that Jesus "displayed himself as the Son of God."

The treatise[edit]

Aside from these more Orthodox characteristics, the text is otherwise Gnostic, since it embraces typical Gnostic themes such as the restoration of the pleroma, multiple divinities, aeons, predestination, and respect for Paul whom it calls "The Apostle." As such, the text may have come from a quasi-Gnostic school which retained more orthodox interpretations concerning the nature of Christ.

The text is noticeably Christian in its tone, and is Jesus-centric to a greater degree than other texts found at Nag Hammadi. It alludes to the account of the Transfiguration found in Mark, saying, "Do you remember reading in the Gospel how Elijah and Moses appeared?" Hence, the text indicates that the author accepted Mark's synoptic gospel narrative as a sacred text.

Unlike many other texts found at Nag Hammadi, The Treatise on the Resurrection is not pseudepigraphal, since the author does not pretend to be a great apostolic figure who received a special revelation. The text is simply a letter to someone named Rheginos, and hence belongs to a genre more akin to the New Testament letters than to the apocryphon typical of Gnostic pseudepigrapha.

The treatise contains a mix of proto-orthodox and gnostic views. This mixture is apparent in an excerpt regarding who Jesus was and what his purpose in coming into this world was. The excerpt states: "Now the Son of God, Rheginos, was Son of Man. He embraced them both, possessing the humanity and the divinity, so that on the one hand he might vanquish death through his being Son of God, and that on the other through the Son of Man the restoration to the Pleroma might occur; because he was originally from above, a seed of the Truth, because this structure (of the cosmos) had come into being. In this (structure) many dominions and divinities came into existence." [2]

The concept that Jesus was both divine and human was part of the proto-orthodox view. However, the belief in the existence of many divinities and the Pleroma were both gnostic views that were rejected by proto-orthodox Christians. Accordingly, the idea that Jesus' purpose was to restore the Pleroma was also a gnostic belief.

The author also asserts that this world is an illusion and instructs Rheginos not to "live in conformity with the flesh", because the goal of gnostic Christians is to be "released from this Element" (released from the material world).[3]

The letter also contains statements that indicate that the author believed in predestination. One excerpt states, "Therefore, we are elected to salvation and redemption since we are predestined from the beginning not to fall into the foolishness of those who are without knowledge, but we shall enter into the wisdom of those who have known the Truth."[4] This excerpt also emphasizes the importance of knowledge for salvation, which is also a gnostic view.

Dating[edit]

The date of the text may have been early 2nd century. By the late 2nd century, Irenaeus and 2nd Timothy 2:18 had come to dominate Catholic and Orthodox thinking. Irenaeus insisted that the resurrection was not simply spiritual, but rather a literal restoration of the flesh, and Timothy insisted that the resurrection was still in the future, and that those who believed otherwise were heretics.

The author of the Treatise on the Resurrection, however, seems unaware of the exclusivism of their dogma, and says instead in the opening line of the letter that the question has not been answered. The author's failure to employ polemics against the Catholic/Orthodox consensus argues for a date prior to the existence of the consensus, which would place the date of the text in the early 2nd century. Yet this is an argument from silence, and although plausible, is not decisive. Also, the text never explicitly denies a fleshly resurrection in the future. It only asserts a spiritual resurrection in the present is a reality, and leaves open the possibility that the fleshly resurrection of the future is also a reality. Hence, the author may not have felt it necessary to challenge the Catholic/Orthodox consensus. Therefore, a date in the late 2nd or even 3rd century is still possible.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ehrman, Bart (2003). Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It into the New Testament. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 207. 
  2. ^ Ehrman, Bart (2003). Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It into the New Testament. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 208. 
  3. ^ Ehrman, Bart (2003). Lost Scriptures: Bookes That Did Not Make It into the New Testament. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 209–210. 
  4. ^ Ehrman, Bart (2003). Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It into the New Testament. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 209. 

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