First Apocalypse of James

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The First Apocalypse[a] of James, is a Coptic language work regarded as part of the New Testament apocrypha. It was first discovered amongst 52 other Gnostic Christian texts spread over 13 codices by an Arab peasant, Mohammad Ali al-Samman, in the Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi late in December 1945. Another copy has more recently been found in the Codex Tchacos, where it is merely titled 'James'.

The text itself is remarkably well preserved for its age; it was reported that the cache of texts called the "Nag Hammadi library", when originally found, were sealed within a large terracotta vessel. They were secreted during the fourth century, in an effort to hide the texts from destruction by others.[1]

The form of the text is primarily that of a Revelation Dialogue/Discourse between James the brother of Jesus (James the Just) and Jesus, with a rather fragmentary account of the departure (possibly meaning martyrdom) of James appended to the bottom of the manuscript, connected to the remainder by an oblique reference to crucifixion. The first portion of the text describes James' understandable concern about being crucified, whereas the latter portion describes secret passwords given to James so that he can ascend to the highest heaven (out of seventy-two) after dying, without being blocked by evil powers of the demiurge. In the text, Jesus tells James "you are not my brother materially."[2]

Some of the framing background details about James given in the text are thought by academics to reflect early traditions; according to the text:

One of the most curious features of the First Apocalypse of James is that the range of dating of its original text, assigned to it by scholars, requires that it was written after the Second Apocalypse of James.


  1. ^ Greek: ᾿Αποκάλυψις, disclosure, revelation or vision.


  1. ^ Markschies, Christoph (trans. John Bowden), (2000). Gnosis: An Introduction. T & T Clark. See details at Nag Hammadi library.
  2. ^ The text begins "It is the Lord who spoke with me: "See now the completion of my redemption. I have given you a sign of these things, James, my brother. For not without reason have I called you my brother, although you are not my brother materially."


  • Online text of The First Apocalypse of James
  • James M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library, revised edition. HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1990.
  • Wilhelm Schneemelcher, ed., translation by R. McL. Wilson, New Testament Apocrypha : Gospels and Related Writings (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1992), pp. 313–326.