Esoteric Discourse and the Jerusalem Temple in the Gospel of Philip

in Aries
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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.

Esoteric Discourse and the Jerusalem Temple in the Gospel of Philip

in Aries




TurnerThe Gospel According to Philip255–256; cf. Schenke ‘Das Evangelium nach Philippus’ 33; van Eijk ‘The Gospel of Philip’ 104.


WilsonThe Gospel of Philip188; cf. Janssens ‘L’Évangile selon Philippe’ 132; Ménard L’Évangile selon Philippe 6; Buckley ‘Conceptual Models’ 4168–4169; Thomassen ‘How Valentinian is the Gospel of Philip?’ 279.


Buckley‘Conceptual Models’4168; Pagels ‘Ritual in the Gospel of Philip’ 280–281.


LundhaugImages of Rebirth153–399; cf. Iricinschi ‘If You Got It Flaunt It’ 264: ‘the Gospel of Philip is still in need of a thorough analysis of its mechanisms of self-definition strip[p]ed of any “gnostic” “East-Valentinian” or “heretical” academic preconceptions.’


E.g. PhiloSpec. 1.66; Jos. Ant. 3.180–182; Clem. Alex. Strom.; 5.6.32–40. See Hofius Der Vorhang 4–27; Levenson ‘The Jerusalem Temple’ 51–53; Janowski ‘Die heilige Wohnung des Höchsten’; idem ‘Der Tempel als Kosmos’; for later Jewish tradition see Rowland and Morray-Jones The Mystery of God 328–330.


PhiloMos. 2.109–135; Spec. 1.84–87; QE 2.51–124; Jos. Ant. 3.151–187; J.W. 5.184–237; Clem. Alex. Strom. 5.6.37–38. For analysis and comparison of these allegorical interpretations see van den Hoek Clement of Alexandria 116–147.


PhiloSomn. 2.189 231 (trans. Colson and Whitaker Philo: Volume V 275).


AttridgeHebrews97–103; 244–266; Koester The Dwelling of God 26–40.


Stökl Ben EzraThe Impact of Yom Kippur on Early Christianity237.


See SchenkeDas Philippus-Evangelium404; van Os ‘Baptism in the Bridal Chamber’ 189; for an alternative schematic see Schmid Die Eucharistie ist Jesus 119. However Schmid also suggests that ‘vermutlich hat der Philippusevangelist keine konkrete Architektur vor Augen’.


SchenkeDas Philippus-Evangelium407.


LundhaugImages of Rebirth385–394; cf. Wolfson ‘Becoming Invisible’ 116–120.


LundhaugImages of Rebirth338–341 385–386; Lundhaug perceptively suggests that this is an allusion to Jewish matrilineage whereby one’s Judaism is inherited from one’s mother alone. Cf. 77.19–20 which reads ⲧⲙⲁⲁⲩ ⲧⲉ ⲧⲁⲗⲏⲑⲉⲓⲁ ⲧⲅⲛⲱⲥⲓⲥ ⲇⲉ ⲡⲉ ⲡⲧⲱⲧ which translates literally as ‘The Mother is Truth knowledge is the mingling.’ Several commentators emend ⲧⲱⲧ to ⲡⲉⲓⲱⲧ (e.g. Isenberg and Layton ‘The Gospel according to Philip’ 196; Schenke Das Philippus-Evangelium 64) and translate something like ‘The Mother is Truth the Father is knowledge’ which if correct would be an allusive parallel given that the initiates are said to have become free via ‘knowledge of the Truth’.


SchmidDie Eucharistie ist Jesus113–115.


WilsonThe Gospel of Philip179; Wilson makes the same observation only characterises the distinction as being between ‘material men’ ‘the psychics’ and ‘the Gnostics’; cf. Schenke Das Philippus-Evangelium 492–493.


See DunderbergBeyond Gnosticism191–195.


Thus StroumsaHidden Wisdom32–38; Williams ‘Secrecy Revelation and Late Antique Demiurgical Myths’ 35–37; Kaler ‘Those Sneaky Valentinians’; Burns ‘Ancient Esoteric Traditions’.


DunderbergBeyond Gnosticism193.


Trans. Pietersma and Wright (eds.)A New English Translation of the Septuagint304. See also Exod 25:16–21; 38.1–8; 1Kgs 8:7; 1Chr 28:18; 2Chr 5:7–8; Heb 9:4–5; see Haran ‘The Ark and the Cherubim’.


DeConick‘The True Mysteries’256–257.


TertullianBapt. 8.17–25; Cyprian of Carthage Unit. eccl. 6; Ep. 69.2; 74.11; 75.15; Augustine Serm. 264.5; Catech. 20.32 34; cf. Justin Martyr Dial. 138.2–3; see Jensen Living Water 267–269. Ap. JohnBG 72.14–73.12 (= NHC III 37.16–38.5; NHC II 28.34–29.12; NHC IV 44.22–45.9) also equates Noah’s Ark with the Ark of the Covenant making it the place of salvation for ‘the immoveable race’ (ⲧⲅⲉⲛⲉⲁ ⲉⲧⲉⲙⲁⲥⲕⲓⲙ) where the Flood is the work of the chief Archon.


Cf. OrigenComm. Jo. 10.210–215; Origen describes the Valentinian Heracleon’s interpretation of John 2:13–16 in the following words: ‘he considers the holy of holies to be the temple which the high priest alone may enter. He says I think that the pneumatics advance to that place. The forecourt of the temple where the Levites too are found he considers to be a symbol of the psychics who attain salvation outside the pleroma’ (trans. Heine Commentary on the Gospel according to John 302).


Segelberg‘The Antiochene Background’; Isenberg and Layton ‘The Gospel According to Philip’ 134; Siker ‘Gnostic Views’288; Thomassen Spiritual Seed 350; Iricinschi ‘If You Got It Flaunt It’ 256–261; Schmid Die Eucharistie ist Jesus 14; cf. Layton The Gnostic Scriptures 325; Schenke Das Philippus-Evangelium 5 who prefer Edessa.


Siker‘Gnostic Views’288.


LundhaugImages of Rebirth357–358.


Isenberg and Layton‘The Gospel According to Philip’134; van Os ‘Was the Gospel of Philip Written in Syria?’ 88; Lundhaug Images of Rebirth 361–362.


ThomassenSpiritual Seed398–401; Lundhaug Images of Rebirth 359–361.


Bradshaw‘Baptismal Practice’92–98; Johnson Liturgy in Early Christian Egypt 15.


ThomassenSpiritual Seed400–401.


LundhaugImages of Rebirth360–361.





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