Coptic Apocalypse of Paul

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The Coptic Apocalypse of Paul (Sahidic Coptic: ⲧⲁⲡⲟⲕⲁⲗⲩⲯⲓⲥ ⲙ̄ⲡⲁⲩⲗⲟⲥ)[1] is a Gnostic apocalyptic writing.[2] It is the second of five treatises in Codex V of the Nag Hammadi library texts, taking up pages 17–24 of the codex's 85 pages.[3] The text describes a Gnostic cosmogony and interpretation of Pauline epistles via its portrayal of Paul the Apostle as an apocalyptic hero.[4] The content of the text can be divided into three parts: an epiphany scene, a scene of judgment and punishment, and a heavenly journey in which Paul ultimately ascends to the tenth level of heaven.[2] The basis of the ascent narrative is Paul's own writing in 2 Corinthians 12.[5] The ideas presented in the text are consistent with Valentinianism.[6][7]


The text was discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945[8] as one of the 51 total treatises transcribed into the 13 codices that make up the Nag Hammadi library.[9] The codices had been buried around 400 AD.[10] The writing is a Coptic translation of a Greek original.[11] Scholars disagree on the date of authorship of the original Apocalypse of Paul text, ranging from the late-second century[12] to the fourth century.[13]

The first 12 lines of the text are either missing or extensively damaged.[14] There are also gaps at the top and bottom of each page, but some of the text can be reconstructed.[2]

Along with the rest of the works in the Nag Hammadi library, the text was translated into English and published in The Nag Hammadi Library in English in 1977.[15] The publication was part of the work of the Coptic Gnostic Library Project, which began in 1966 at Claremont Graduate University.[8] George W. MacRae and William R. Murdock translated the text to English.[16] Michael Kaler presented an additional English translation in 2008.[17] The text has also been translated into French, German, and Spanish.[18]


Paul asks a little child for directions to Jerusalem.[19] The child requests Paul's name to show him the way.[20] The child knows who Paul is and wants to find an excuse to talk more.[21] The child reveals that Paul is blessed and has been called to Jerusalem to meet his fellow apostles.[22] The child claims to be the accompanying Spirit and urges Paul to awaken his mind.[23] The child concludes the speech by mentioning powers, authorities, and demons.[24] The child instructs Paul to acknowledge that he is standing on the mountain of Jericho.[25] Then the child guides Paul to the twelve apostles who greet him.[26]

The Holy Spirit lifts up Paul to the third and fourth heavens.[27] Paul looks down and sees individuals on Earth,[28] and the twelve apostles are at his sides.[29] In the fourth heaven, Paul witnesses angelic beings resembling gods.[30] The angels bring a soul from the realm of the dead and whip it.[31] The soul questions the reason for its suffering.[32] A toll collector responds by condemning its lawless actions.[33] The soul challenges the toll collector to present witnesses and evidence of its deeds.[34]

Three witnesses arrive.[35] The first witness claims to have caused the soul anger and envy.[36] The second witness accuses the soul of murder.[37] The third witness claims to have granted darkness so the soul could sin.[38] The soul feels sorrow and is cast down.[39] It inhabits a prepared body as the witnesses conclude.[40] The Spirit calls Paul to proceed, and the gate opens to the fifth heaven.[41]

In the fifth heaven, a great angel holds an iron rod.[42] Three other angels are also present, competing with each other and wielding whips to urge souls towards judgment.[43] Paul proceeds with the Spirit, and the gate opens for him.[44] Paul advances to the sixth heaven.[45] He sees his fellow apostles while being led by the Holy Spirit.[46] A radiant light shines upon the sixth heaven.[47] Paul addresses the toll collector in the sixth heaven and requests access, and the toll collector opens for him.[48]

In the seventh heaven, Paul encounters an old man who has a throne that surpasses the Sun's brightness by sevenfold.[49] He addresses Paul as the blessed and chosen one and asks about his destination.[50] Paul says that he is going to the place from which he came.[51] The old man asks where he is from, and Paul responds that he is going down to the world of the dead to release captives from Babylon's captivity.[52] The old man questions how Paul will escape him.[53] The Spirit advises Paul to show the old man a sign.[54] Paul gives the sign, and the old man turns his face downward toward his creation and authorities.[55]

The seventh heaven opens, and Paul goes up to the Ogdoad.[56] He sees the twelve apostles who greet him, and Paul ascends to the ninth heaven.[57] Paul greets everyone there and continues to the tenth heaven, where he greets his fellow spirits.[58]


Saint Paul
Saint Paul painting by Bartolomeo Montagna

Theology professor Lautaro Roig Lanzillotta examines the cosmological framework of the text.[59] The text divides the cosmos into the material world, the celestial realm (up to the seventh heaven), and the divine realm (the Ogdoad, ninth heaven, and tenth heaven).[60] Roig Lanzillotta believes that the apostles accompany Paul only to the top of the celestial realm, since Paul is portrayed as a higher Gnostic authority than they are.[61] The apostles' authority is limited to serving the demiurge, who appears in the text as the old man in the seventh heaven.[62] The neutral description of the old man indicates that he represents the God of Judaism and non-Gnostic Christianity, but he is considered an inferior creator deity by Gnostics.[62] The text's description of the divine realm is minimal because its importance comes from its hierarchical position, placing the intellect above the passions.[63]

In a study comparing Valentinianism in the text with the First Apocalypse of James, Eirini Bergström outlines the role of the toll collectors.[64] She notes that while the toll collectors act as both judge and gatekeeper, Paul is allowed to pass through the fourth and fifth heavens as an observer before speaking with the toll collector in the sixth heaven.[65] Gatekeepers in Egyptian mythology guarded the doors to the underworld and punished souls.[66] Souls had to provide correct words to pass.[66] Bergström states that the toll collectors are ignorant rather than evil since they incorrectly believe that the demiurge whom they serve is the true God.[67]

In the text, Paul stands on the "mountain of Jericho," which does not exist.[68] Researcher Jean-Marc Rosenstiehl hypothesizes that it is Mount Nebo (near the city of Jericho), based on an unrelated Egyptian apocryphon that also makes reference to a "mountain of Jericho."[69] Professor Michael Kaler considers Rosenstiehl's idea extremely speculative.[70] Dr. Matthew Twigg rejects Rosenstiehl's theory and proposes instead that the "mountain of Jericho" is an allegory for overcoming the devil of the material world.[71]

Professor Jacques van der Vliet questions scholarly consensus on the basis, doctrine, and dating of the text.[72] While he accepts the obvious intertextuality with 2 Corinthians 12, he believes Galatians 1–2 must also be considered as primary intertext.[73] This interpretation shifts the focus to Paul's mission and relationship with the apostles.[73] Van der Vliet likewise acknowledges the Valentinian ideas in the text but considers them residual traces of the movement rather than definitive proof of being written in the second century.[74] Van der Vliet instead believes the text dates to the fourth century, based on the interest in apocalyptic literature and Paul at that time.[75]

Van der Vliet's writing is partially in response to the views of Michael Kaler.[76] Kaler argues that the text takes the Valentinian side of a debate between Christians, whereas Against Heresies (written c. 180 AD by Irenaeus) takes the anti-Valentinian side.[77] According to Kaler, the sides disagreed about the nature of the heavenly realms, and both sides sought to use the authority of Paul to legitimize their respective viewpoints.[78] Since Paul mentions only the third heaven in 2 Corinthians 12,[79] the Gnostics would have to show that Paul ascended higher.[80]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ van der Vliet 2022, p. 129.
  2. ^ a b c Murdock, William R.; MacRae, George W. (1979). Nag Hammadi Codices V, 2-5 and VI with Papyrus Berolinensis 8502, 1 And 4. Boston: Brill. pp. 47–48. ISBN 9789004438859. Retrieved 20 February 2023.
  3. ^ Meyer & Robinson 1977, p. XIV.
  4. ^ Kaler, Michael (5 November 2008). Flora Tells a Story: The Apocalypse of Paul and Its Contexts. Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press. ISBN 978-1-55458-282-2. Retrieved 23 June 2023.
  5. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 239.
  6. ^ Twigg, Matthew (11 April 2022). The Valentinian Temple: Visions, Revelations, and the Nag Hammadi Apocalypse of Paul. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-000-56868-4. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  7. ^ Domeracki, Michael S. (17 July 2017). "The Apocalypse of Paul (nhc v,2) as a Valentinian Baptismal Liturgy of Ascent". Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies. 2 (2): 212–234. doi:10.1163/2451859X-12340037. Retrieved 22 June 2023.
  8. ^ a b Meyer & Robinson 1977, p. IX.
  9. ^ van den Broek, Roelof (24 January 2013). Gnostic Religion in Antiquity. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 19. ISBN 978-1-107-03137-1. Retrieved 22 June 2023.
  10. ^ Meyer & Robinson 1977, p. 2.
  11. ^ Kaler 2008, p. 59.
  12. ^ Kaler 2008, p. X.
  13. ^ van der Vliet 2022, p. 146.
  14. ^ Twigg 2022, p. 117.
  15. ^ Meyer, Marvin W.; Robinson, James MacConkey (1977). The Nag Hammadi Library in English. Brill Archive. ISBN 978-90-04-05434-9. Retrieved 1 June 2023.
  16. ^ MacRae, George W.; Murdock, William R. (March 1981). The Nag Hammadi library in English. San Francisco: Harper & Row. pp. 239–241. ISBN 9780060669294. Retrieved 22 June 2023.
  17. ^ Kaler 2008, p. 1–11.
  18. ^ Kaler, Michael (19 January 2017). "Apocalypse of Paul (Coptic)". NASSCAL. e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha. Retrieved 23 June 2023.
  19. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 239. 18:3–5. "And he spoke to him, saying, "By which road shall I go up to Jerusalem?"
  20. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 239. 18:6–8. "The little child replied, saying, 'Say your name, so that I may show you the road.'"
  21. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 239. 18:8–11. "The little child knew who Paul was. He wished to make conversation with him"
  22. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 240. 18:16–19. "You are he who was blessed from his mother's womb. For I have come to you that you may go up to Jerusalem to your fellow apostles."
  23. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 240. 18:21–23. "I am the Spirit who accompanies you. Let your mind awaken, Paul"
  24. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 240. 19:3–5. "...among the principalities and these authorities and archangels and powers and the whole race of demons"
  25. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 240. 19:11–13. "...see that this mountain upon which you are standing is the mountain of Jericho"
  26. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 240. 19:15–18. "Now it is to the twelve apostles that you shall go, for they are elect spirits, and they will greet you."
  27. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 240. 19:20–25. "Then the Holy Spirit who was speaking with him caught him up on high to the third heaven, and he passed beyond to the fourth heaven."
  28. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 240. 19:29–31. "And he looked down and saw those who were upon the earth."
  29. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 240. 20:1–3. "...he gazed upward and saw that the twelve apostles were at his right and at his left"
  30. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 240. 20:6–8. "I saw the angels resembling gods"
  31. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 240. 20:8–12. "...the angels bringing a soul out of the land of the dead. ... And the angels were whipping it."
  32. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 240. 20:13–15. "The soul spoke, saying, 'What sin was it that I committed in the world?'"
  33. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 240. 20:18–20. "It was not right to commit all those lawless deeds that are in the world of the dead."
  34. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 240. 20:22–23. "The soul replied, saying, 'Bring witnesses! Let them show you in what body I committed lawless deeds.'"
  35. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 240. 20:25–26. "And the three witnesses came."
  36. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 240. 20:30; 21:1–2. "I rose up against you until you fell into anger and rage and envy."
  37. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 240. 21:7–9. "And behold, then, now I charge you with the murders you committed."
  38. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 240. 21:13–14. "I gave you darkness until you should accomplish your sins."
  39. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 240–241. 21:15–18. "When the soul heard these things, it gazed downward in sorrow. And then it gazed upward. It was cast down."
  40. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 241. 21:19–22. "The soul that had been cast down went to a body which had been prepared for it. And behold its witnesses were finished."
  41. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 241. 21:25–28. "'Paul, come! Proceed toward me!' Then as I went, the gate opened, and I went up to the fifth heaven."
  42. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 241. 22:2–5. "And I saw a great angel in the fifth heaven holding an iron rod in his hand."
  43. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 241. 22:5–10. "There were three other angels with him, and I stared into their faces. But they were rivalling each other, with whips in their hands, goading the souls on to the judgment."
  44. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 241. 22:11–12. "I went with the Spirit and the gate opened for me."
  45. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 241. 22:13. "Then we went up to the sixth heaven."
  46. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 241. 22:14–16. "I saw my fellow apostles going with me, and the Holy Spirit was leading me before them."
  47. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 241. 22:17–19. "I gazed up on high and saw a great light shining down on the sixth heaven."
  48. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 241. 22:21–23. "'Open to me and the Holy Spirit who is before me.' He opened to me."
  49. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 241. 22:25–30. "...I saw an old man ... His throne, which is in the seventh heaven, was brighter than the sun by seven times."
  50. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 241. 23:2–4. "Where are you going, Paul, O blessed one and the one who was set apart from his mother's womb?"
  51. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 241. 23:9–10. "I am going to the place from which I came."
  52. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 241. 23:10–17. "And the old man responded to me, 'Where are you from?' But I replied, saying, 'I am going down to the world of the dead in order to lead captive the captivity that was led captive in the captivity of Babylon.'"
  53. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 241. 23:18–20. "The old man replied to me, saying, 'How will you be able to get away from me?'"
  54. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 241. 23:22–25. "The Spirit spoke, saying, 'Give him the sign that you have, and he will open for you.'"
  55. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 241. 23:25–28. "And then I gave him the sign. He turned his face downwards to his creation and to those who are his own authorities."
  56. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 241. 23:29–30; 24:1. "And then the seventh heaven opened and we went up to the Ogdoad."
  57. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 241. 24:1–4. "And I saw the twelve apostles. They greeted me, and we went up to the ninth heaven."
  58. ^ MacRae & Murdock 1981, p. 241. 24:4–8. "I greeted all those who were in the ninth heaven, and we went up to the tenth heaven. And I greeted my fellow spirits."
  59. ^ Roig Lanzillotta, Lautaro (11 July 2016). "The Apocalypse of Paul (nhc v,2): Cosmology, Anthropology, and Ethics" (PDF). Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies. 1 (1–2): 110–131. doi:10.1163/2451859X-12340007. ISSN 2451-8581. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  60. ^ Roig Lanzillotta 2016, p. 114.
  61. ^ Roig Lanzillotta 2016, p. 117–118.
  62. ^ a b Roig Lanzillotta 2016, p. 118.
  63. ^ Roig Lanzillotta 2016, p. 119–121.
  64. ^ Bergström, Eirini (2019). "A comparative study of the Apocalypse of Paul (NHC V, 2) and the First Apocalypse of James (NHC V, 3 & TC 2)" (PDF). Mid Sweden University: 1–78. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  65. ^ Bergström 2019, p. 52.
  66. ^ a b Bergström 2019, p. 53.
  67. ^ Bergström 2019, p. 55.
  68. ^ Twigg, Matthew (16 September 2015). "The Mountain of Jericho in the Nag Hammadi Apocalypse of Paul: A Suggestion". Vigiliae Christianae. 69 (4): 422–442. doi:10.1163/15700720-12341219. ISSN 1570-0720. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  69. ^ Twigg 2015, p. 426–427.
  70. ^ Kaler 2008, p. 9.
  71. ^ Twigg 2015, p. 442.
  72. ^ van der Vliet, Jacques (17 August 2022). "Paul and the Others: Rereading the Gnostic Apocalypse of Paul (NHC V, 2)". Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies: 127–150. doi:10.1163/2451859X-00702001. S2CID 251784294. Retrieved 23 June 2023.
  73. ^ a b van der Vliet 2022, p. 135.
  74. ^ van der Vliet 2022, p. 133.
  75. ^ van der Vliet 2022, p. 145–147.
  76. ^ Kaler, Michael; Painchaud, Louis; Bussieres, Marie-Pierre (2004). "The Coptic Apocalypse of Paul, Irenaeus' Adversus Haereses 2.30.7, and the Second-Century Battle for Paul's Legacy". Journal of Early Christian Studies. 12 (2): 173–193. doi:10.1353/earl.2004.0024. hdl:20.500.11794/365. S2CID 55606637. Retrieved 23 June 2023.
  77. ^ Kaler, Painchaud & Bussieres 2004, p. 189–191.
  78. ^ Kaler, Michael (2005). "Contextualizing the Apocalypse of Paul" (PDF). Laval théologique et philosophique. 61 (2): 241–245. doi:10.7202/011815ar. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  79. ^ 2 Corinthians 12:2
  80. ^ Kaler 2008, p. 61.

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