Date: Wed, 17 Mar 1999 01:17:19 -0500 (EST)
To: Crosstalk-L
Subject: Franzmann on the HJ in Nag Hammadi

Dear Crosstalkers,

Here's an essay I wrote dealing with how certain events in the life of the
Historical Jesus were seen in NH writings, based on Franzmann. 

Best wishes,


Majella Franzmann: how the HJ was seen in Nag Hammadi gospels

AUTHOR: Franzmann, Majella, 1952-                          
TITLE: Jesus in the Nag Hammadi writings                   
PUBLISHED: Edinburgh : T & T Clark, 1996.                  
DESCRIPTION: xxv, 293 p.                                   
NOTES: Includes bibliographical references (p. 215-246) and
ISBN: 0567085260

This is a very stimulating work that deals with many much neglected
subjects and source material in the history of early Christianity.

In Chapter 1, Franzmann observes that, in spite of some quite unconvincing
disclaimers, still far too few NT scholars are taking non-canonical
materials seriously when dealing with early Christian literature,
traditions, and beliefs. This is what has been described by some as "the
tyranny of the canon" that is still very much with us.

She notes that there are far too few scholars in N. America indeed, with
few exceptions like James Robinson and Crossan, who are giving appropriate
consideration to non-canonical materials.

Franzmann's work is devoted to a detailed consideration of what insights
about Jesus we can gain from Nag Hammadi writings. I have found in it
substantial amounts of material that would seem to support the view that
the earliest post-Easter Christian faith was Adoptionist. According to
this view, Jesus was basically a mortal man, albeit a very remarkable man
in many respects, until the time when he was crucified unjustly by the
Romans. At the moment of his death, he was adopted by God as his son, and
the Messiah of Israel. His return to earth and full vindication were
believed to be imminent, and were eagerly awaited by the earliest
generation of Christians. Also, it was believed that his return will bring
about the End of the Old World, punishment of evildoers, the reward for
the just, and a complete cosmic transformation of society -- all in
accordance with the Jewish Scriptures.

In this article I would like to consider certain passages in Nag Hammadi
gospels, as analysed by Franzmann, that portray some key events in the
story of Jesus. I will consider here the passages reflecting the earthly
origins of Jesus, and the crucifixion. In another article, I will also
review how the baptism of Jesus is viewed by NH gospels according to

Of course the texts of NH, while often dissenting from catholic positions
on many issues, do not always agree with each other either. These texts
are clearly sectarian, and they evidently belonged to a number of
movements, each having their own distinct theology. Quite a lot of
material in these texts seems rather late, and a product of considerable
theological development in various directions. But what makes them
especially valuable is that a lot of these gospels seem to preserve some
very early statements of belief.


Some NH texts presuppose quite clearly that Jesus had two natures, one
human, and one divine. This is in line with Adoptionist theology.
According to early Adoptionists, Jesus had a normal human birth, and was
fully human until the crucifixion.

The Gospel of Philip.

Franzmann writes about this gospel,

	"The concept of dual parentage occurs clearly in Gos. Phil. 
	where the virgin Mary is named as mother (55.23-24; 59.7). 
	In clear polemical reinterpretation of the tradition found 
	in the canonical scriptures, the text states that she did not 
	conceive by the Holy Spirit, for women do not conceive by 
	other women (55.23-27; the Holy Spirit or Sophia Achamoth is
	clearly a female character in the text)." (p. 49)

	" Gos. Phil. we have a concept of two sets of parents, 
	the earthly parents Mary and Joseph, and the heavenly parents, 
	the Father of All and the Holy Spirit, which double parentage 
	of course could serve as a basis for teaching about the two 
	natures." (p. 52)

The Testimony of Truth.

	"Testim. Truth also presents a concept of dual entry into the 
	earthly realm for the Jesus figure. In this case the first 
	entry by human birth involves only one human parent, and the 
	second entry that takes place at the Jordan is not described 
	explicitly in parenting imagery." (p. 52)

So it seems like a dual entry of Jesus into the world, quite an early
theological concept, is portrayed here. But it needs to be noted that also
some elements of later theology are apparently intermingled in these
accounts, i.e. a Virgin Birth. 

I don't think the Virgin Birth concept really was introduced into the
canonical gospels before the end of the first century. It seems like it
became an accepted part of faith sometime towards the middle of the second
century only. So, in so far as the NH texts talk about "only one parent
for Jesus", they seem to bear the mark of a later theological development.

The Testimony of Truth gospel also contains much polemics against both the
catholics and the other gnostics. For example, martyrdom is condemned, as
well as placing too much reliance in baptism. (p. 189) "The Father, the
God of Truth, does not want human sacrifice." (32.19-22) Also, the
Resurrection on the Last Day is condemned. (34.26-35.4) Paul is also
condemned, presumably, as his Gal 1:8 seems to be in sight in 73.17-22. 

To summarise, a very early Adoptionist understanding of Jesus having been
born fully a mortal man, and living his life as such previous to his death
and Adoption is reflected in these texts to a certain extent.


Many very early Adoptionist ideas are clearly present in these NH texts
dealing with crucifixion. Specifically, they seem to reflect
Resurrection-Adoptionist theology, which appears to be the earliest
Christian faith.

The Paraphrase of Shem.

At least one scholar is of the opinion that this text portrays the
Resurrection of the Saviour directly after his death on the Cross.

	"Roberge speaks at one point of the ascent of the Saviour 
	"on the occasion of the crucifixion"." (p. xviii)

But the question is rather complicated, since there is a lack of clarity
about this text, and who exactly is being crucified. Franzmann doesn't
think the Crucifixion of Jesus is being portrayed. She also thinks that

	"...the work is at basis non-Christian Gnostic (see 
	Wisse 1970, 140; Bertrand 156; and Sevrin 
	1975,88)." (p. xix)

Trimorphic Protennoia.

This gospel portrays a direct ascension of Jesus from the Cross.

	"Trim. Prot. 50.12-15 states that the Word puts on 
	Jesus and bears him from "the cursed wood" and 
	establishes him in the dwelling places of his 
	Father." (p. 150)

This, it seems to me, is very important testimony, since it indicates that
this text was composed as part of the earliest Resurrection-Adoptionist

The Apocryphon of James.

This text features a very interesting version of the burial:

	"The passion includes abuse, unjust accusation, 
	being shut up in prison, unlawful condemnation, 
	crucifixion [without] reason, and burial in the 
	sand..." (p. 151)

No tomb burial here, in other words. This also seems like a very early

The Gospel of Truth.

In this text, curiously, the Cross is portrayed as the "Tree of Knowledge"

	"Jesus is nailed to a tree and becomes a fruit of 
	the knowledge of the Father. Eating of this fruit 
	causes enlightenment and mutual knowing 
	between those enlightened and the one who 
	enlightens." (p. 151)

There's little mention of death on the Cross. Rather, the Cross seems to
be portrayed as _both_ the Tree of Knowledge, and the Tree of Life.

The Apocalypse of Peter.

This is the text that features the "Laughing Saviour".  Jesus himself is
not crucified, but some sort of a substitute is crucified instead. "The
living Jesus" is laughing at the resulting spectacle, and at the ignorance
of the persecutors. The sense here is that, instead of Jesus, the material
world, itself, had been crucified. (p. 156)

The concept of someone substituting for Jesus, and taking his place on the
Cross, was common among a number of Christian gnostic groups, and some of
these traditions may be quite early. Some echo of such a substitution is
found in the canonical gospels of Mk, Mt, and Lk, where Simon is selected
to bear the Cross for Jesus. (Of course the question may be asked if the
gnostics "misappropriated" Simon of Cyrene for their own nefarious
purposes, or, perhaps, Simon was included in the gospels because the
tradition of such a substitution on the Cross already existed previously.  
Neither possibility should to be dismissed a priori, in my view.)

This text also seems to feature some anti-Pauline invective. (Pp. 188,
190) A certain "evil craftsman" is condemned (possibly a reference to Paul
as tent- maker).

The Concept of our Great Power.

This text (42.18-19) features the ascension of Jesus after

	"...the cosmic struggle against the ruler of Hades 
	and the archons..." (p. 159)

So it can be assumed that this text also portrays the ascension directly
after the death on the Cross.

The Gospel of Philip

According to this text, resurrection must come before death. (p. 194) Many
other texts state that the complete salvation has already occurred for the
gnostic. (p. 195)  This is clearly the concept of the "spiritual

While most of the Nag Hammadi gospels are clearly rather late in the
versions in which we see them, and date possibly from the second and third
centuries, many of them also seem to have incorporated some very early
texts and theologies. These early elements make NH gospels a very
important witness to earliest beliefs and earliest theological conflicts
in the movement. All this casts considerable light on the formation of
early Christian canon. It is unfortunate that so few NT scholars seem to
be working with this important material.

Yuri Kuchinsky || Toronto
The goal proposed by Cynic philosophy is apathy, which is
equivalent to becoming God -=O=- Julian                  

Click here to go one level up in the directory.