The Impediment of the Passions: The Testimony of Truth (nhc ix,3) as Deliberative Rhetoric Against the Teaching that the Confession of Faith and Baptism are Salvific without Celibacy

In: Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies

The fragmented nature of the Nag Hammadi treatise known as The Testimony of Truth (nhc ix,3) has seriously impeded our interpretation of this remarkable text, the only Nag Hammadi text in which opposing Gnostic Christian groups are identified by name. Nevertheless, in the past decade, this treatise has become an important reference to the early Christian debate about martyrdom. The question should be asked, however, whether the passages cited by scholars have been interpreted correctly, if we have not first understood the rhetorical strategy of the author and the Sitz im Leben of the text. As the speaker advises an audience seeking after the truth, this text is best read as deliberative speech, despite its many lacunae. Viewing the text rhetorically allows us to reconstruct the message of the text, and interpret its arguments accordingly. When this is done, it becomes clear that the author does not try to persuade his audience with respect to martyrdom, but rather with respect to the passions of the soul that could prevent the soul’s salvation. The Sitz im Leben of the text is the shared discussion among Christians in general and Gnostic Christians about the efficacy of testimony and baptism for salvation, and the acceptability of sex and procreation.

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  • 2

    Koschorke 197891–174in particular 123–7 on asceticism 134–7 on martyrdom and 142–8 on baptism.

  • 3

    Pearson 1981102–3.

  • 6

    E.g. King 20092013a 2013b; Burns 2014; Roukema 2014; Tite 2015. On baptism see Marjanen 2013.

  • 7

    Pearson 1981118.

  • 8

    Mahé and Mahé 1996page 49 add that the role of the snake in Clement’s description of Cassianus seems incompatible with the Testimony of Truth nhc ix3 47.6 48.17 and 49.3–10. But it is not altogether certain that Clement who refers to several opponents (including Cassianus Marcion and Valentinus) at the same time in his Stromataiii.102 has taken his remark about the snake from Cassianus in particular. Furthermore whereas Clement read a second century Greek text our present Coptic manuscript is from perhaps the fourth century CE and may be quite different from the versions that preceded it.

  • 9

    Pearson 1981.

  • 11

    Kennedy 198433–38.

  • 40

    Pearson 1981192 (note regarding 70.7–9).

  • 53

    See Van Os 2007 and 2013where I argue in favor of the hypothesis that the Gospel of Philip consists of condensed notes for baptismal instructions. There are structural markers that suggest a total twelve textual units (many with repetitive or chiastic compositions) that can be interpreted from the perspective of early Christian baptismal instructions: seven deliberative units leading the audience to their final decision to be baptized three mystagogical units in the middle and two exhortative units after initiation.

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