Esoteric Discourse and the Jerusalem Temple in the Gospel of Philip

In: Aries
Matthew Twigg Oxford University

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This article seeks to demonstrate the utility of the concept of “esotericism” for gaining insights into how ancient sources approach matters of identity, ritual, soteriology, and eschatology through discourses of secrecy and revelation. The article takes the Nag Hammadi Gospel of Philip (NHC II, 3) as a case study, analysing how the image of the Jerusalem temple (the heart of Jewish apocalypticism and mysticism) has been adapted for polemical purposes in order to create boundaries between perfect Christians on the one hand, and imperfect Christians and Jews on the other hand. By paying careful attention to how the text uses the language of esotericism, expressed via temple imagery, to rhetorically distinguish between these groups, new light is shed on both its doctrine of transformational soteriology, and how these distinctions are retained eschatologically. In concluding, it is suggested that by placing the concept of “esotericism” at the heart of our analysis, insights regarding the Gospel of Philip’s date and provenance are also possible.

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