The Apocalypse of Paul (nhc v,2), a second-century Valentinian text, imagines Paul’s progression up to the tenth level of heaven. Not only is this a reference to the third-person account in 2 Corinthians, but also a clear indication of the baptismal liturgy in the Valentinian text as the audience joins Paul after the third heaven and ascends through the upper levels while reciting the visionary tale in the first person after their initiation. Ultimately, this paper shows how the second-century Valentinian memory of Paul is a coalescence of his mystical religiosity and authority and the imagistic ritual practices of the Valentinians. Methodologically, this paper follows a traditional historical and text critical approach, augmented with social memory theory and cognitive ritual studies. In this paper, it is argued that the Apocalypse of Paul integrates of the memory of Paul and his ascent according to 2 Corinthians with contemporary Valentinian ritual practices.
In the second century, as the Valentinian and formative Catholic churches began to separate, each group wrote intensely against the other, advocating their respective theologies, social practices, and liturgical behaviors. An important element of this exchange was the conflict over the authority of the apostolic figures, as each church argued fervently that Peter, Paul, and the other early Christian leaders were supporters of their beliefs. The Valentinians and the formative Catholics both looked to Paul for validation of their theologies and practices.1 In this paper I consider the personal religious experiences of the Valentinians as they are integrated with their memory of Paul in the Apocalypse of Paul. I show how their memory of Paul is used as a defense, or perhaps better, an expression of their out-of-body ascent and initiatory practices.2
I have divided my examination into four sections: in the first, the debate over the memory of Paul’s ascent between the formative Catholics and Valentinians; second, how the Apocalypse of Paul is a Valentinian liturgical text that imagines Paul as a mystagogue; third, how the text functions as a defense of the out-of-body ascent practices of the Valentinians; and fourth, how Paul is presented as a pneumatic figure who represents the Valentinian ideal. Ultimately, this work will show the ecstatic principles of Valentinian religiosity in the second century as they are integrated with the Valentinian memory of Paul.
Paul’s ascent in 2 Cor. 12:2–6 was a point of contention between the formative Catholics and Valentinians in the second and early third centuries. Both Irenaeus and Tertullian allude to Valentinian interpretations of the text and object to their understanding of the passage.3 Irenaeus considers the Valentinian perspective of the demiurge and pneumatic anthropology to argue that Paul could not be hindered by the demiurge and therefore should have ascended directly to the highest realm of the mother.4 Irenaeus argues:
Certainly, to learn the dispensation that is above the Demiurge, he would by no means have remained in the realm of the Demiurge—he had not even explored all of this yet; according to their explanation he still had four heavens before he would come near Demiurge and thus see the seventh, which was subject to him. However, he would perhaps have been taken all the way to the intermediate realm, that is, to the Mother, so that he might learn from her what is within the Fullness. Surely, it was possible for his inner self, since it was invisible, as they say, and spoke within him, to reach not only the third heaven but all the way to their Mother. For if they claim that they, that is, their inner selves, immediately pass beyond the Demiurge and go to the Mother, then certainly much more so would this have happened to the inner self of the Apostle. Demiurge would not have hindered him, since he himself is already subject to Savior, as they claim.5
Irenaeus’ critique is specifically targeted at the Valentinians’ theological understanding of divine ascent. The basic premise of his argument is that were Paul truly a pneumatic as the Valentinians understand him to be, he should not have ascended through the various heavenly realms but rather ascended directly to the mother and bypassed the lower realms. That Paul describes these other levels in any detail stands as a contradiction to their ascension model. Furthermore, because the Valentinians practice out-of-body ascents, Irenaeus argues that Paul’s confusion about his own shows it could not have been unembodied. He writes:
The Apostle adds: Whether in the body or out of the body … God knows, so that one would not think that the body did not partake of the vision, since it, too, would share in the things that he had seen and heard; and that one would not say that he was not taken higher because of the weight of the body. Surely, those who, like the Apostle, are very perfect in the love of God are permitted to be contemplators and to go there even without the body, to view the spiritual mysteries, which are the activities of God who made the heavens and the earth and fashioned man and placed him in paradise.6
Irenaeus intends to undermine the Valentinian extrapolation of Paul’s ascent by showing its incongruity with their own anthropology and unembodied ritual practices.
In a more basic rebuke, Tertullian undermines the Valentinian interpretation because it is predicated on Paul sharing knowledge he learned that was not meant for human ears. As Tertullian explains,
Now, although Paul was carried away even to the third heaven, and was caught up to paradise, and heard certain revelations there, yet these cannot possibly seem to have qualified him for (teaching) another doctrine, seeing that their very nature was such as to render them communicable to no human being. If, however, that unspeakable mystery did leak out, and become known to any man, and if any heresy affirms that it does itself follow the same, (then) either Paul must be charged with having betrayed the secret, or some other man must actually be shown to have been afterwards “caught up into paradise,” who had permission to speak out plainly what Paul was not allowed (even) to mutter.7
Tertullian is referring to Paul’s own description in 2 Cor. 12.4 where he writes that he “was carried into paradise and he heard sacred words which are not properly spoken to men (ὅτι ἡρπάγη εἰς τὸν παράδεισον καὶ ἤκουσεν ἄρρητα ῥήµατα ἅ οὐκ ἐξὸν ἀνθρώτῳ λαλῆσαι).” Tertullian then attacks the very nature of their interpretation as it would require either Paul or “some other man” to have broken the divine commandment to not utter these words to another human. Tertullian’s primary objection is over the very transmission of the story itself, as it stands in direct conflict with the scriptural injunction that these words are unutterable to humanity.
Central to the conflict between these two emerging churches, the Valentinians also claimed an apostolic connection to the original apostles.8 The Valentinians claim that Paul gave secret teachings to some followers (i.e., those who would become the Valentinians) and not to others (namely, the formative Catholics), and in so doing, challenge the apostolic authority of the formative Catholic church.9 The use of Paul as the central character of the Apocalypse of Paul is then understood as an explicitly transgressive action intending to contradict the developing Catholic memory of Paul by proposing an alternative apostolic lineage.
In book vii of his Stromata, Clement of Alexandria records the Valentinian claim that Valentinus was taught by Theudas, who was a colleague (γνώριµος) of Paul.10 While this pedagogical lineage is important for the Valentinians, the Apocalypse of Paul takes this connection even further and suggests that both Paul and Valentinus similarly experienced a heavenly vision from a small child. The narrative of the Apocalypse begins with Paul en route to Jerusalem where he meets a child and asks him for directions, to which the child replies, “I know who you are Paul.… And I am the Spirit who accompanies you. Let your mind awaken.”11 The child then guides Paul through the heavens, providing not only direction but support and knowledge throughout the journey.12
In the Refutation of all Heresies, Pseudo-Hippolytus records a similar account where Valentinus received a vision from a small child. As Pseudo-Hippolytus explains,
For in fact, Valentinus claims that he saw a child, an infant recently born (παῖδα νήπιον ἀρτιγέννητον). When he inquired who he was, the child replied that he was the Word (τὸν Λόγoν). Then, by adding a tragic myth, Valentinus wanted to establish from it his own trumped up heresy.13
According to Pseudo-Hippolytus, after his encounter with the small child, Valentinus added the story of his visionary experience to his “tragic” account of the origin of the universe in the hope of creating “his own trumped up heresy.”14 That Pseudo-Hippolytus derisively omits the vision speaks only to his heresiological intent to undermine the authority of Valentinus.15 What is significant, however, is that the Valentinians believed Valentinus had a vision under the guidance of a small child where he learned divine knowledge, and a similar trope is depicted with Paul in the Apocalypse of Paul.
The pattern of the small child as mediator would be a trigger in the Apocalypse for the audience to recall the revelation of Valentinus and map that authority onto Paul, which simultaneously reaffirms Valentinus. This is what Anthony Le Donne refers to as the refracting effect in the process of narrativization where “two concepts are set together to reinforce one another.”16 The example he provides is taken from Luke 7:27//Matt 11:10 where Jesus says that John “is the one about whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face who will prepare your way before you.’” In applying this quote from Malachi 3:1 to John, who is already understood as a prophet, Jesus goes further and equates John with Malachi. Anthony Le Donne writes,
If one takes Malachi 3.1 as a category of significance, Jesus’ application of this passage to John demands that the passage itself be reinterpreted in light of John’s significance. In Halbwachsian terms, we could say that John’s significance has been ‘localized’ within the framework of Malachi; conversely, the significance of Malachi has been ‘reinforced’ within the new perception of John the Baptist. In both of these ways, the previous categories of significance have been mnemonically synthesized (refracted).17
Using this model, we can see how the framework of Valentinus’ revelation is incorporated, or localized, into the audience’s mental space of Paul’s revelation, which allows the audience to equate the means of Valentinus’ vision with that of Paul. Therefore, the visionary practices and authority of Valentinus are validated, as they are not only transmitted from Paul through Theudas to Valentinus, but even more so because Valentinus received the vision through the same child mediator as Paul, and as such, it must carry the same authority as if from Paul himself.
In summary, both Irenaeus and Tertullian attempted to invalidate the Valentinian perspective of Paul’s ascent through theological and anthropological arguments. Tertullian even went so far as to deny the Valentinians’ right to read and interpret the passage at all because they are not properly permitted to share what knowledge they learned during their ascent. The Valentinians reject the formative Catholic viewpoint as well, and claim their own apostolic connection to Paul through Theudas and the child mediator typology.
Michael Kaler argues the Apocalypse of Paul should be understood as an appropriation of Jewish apocalypticism that has been melded with a gnostic cosmology for the purposes of conversion. As Kaler argues,
The goal of the work is to provide an explanation of Paul’s account of his ascension, and in so doing to promote a gnostic view of the cosmos, with ramifications in terms of soteriological, eschatological, and other beliefs of the author and her intended readership. To do this, the author of the work has utilized the ascension apocalyptic genre, an accepted one for discussions of cosmology and theology in antiquity, drawing on both its form and on stereotypical elements of its content (which are often reinterpreted or parodied).18
While Kaler is certainly correct in recognizing the apocalyptic motifs of the Apocalypse, he does not explore completely the liturgical dynamic of the text.19 In the Excerpts of Theodotus collected by Clement of Alexandria, Theodotus identifies the cross of Christ as a sign that has power over the archons: “The Cross is the sign (σηµεῖόν) of the Boundary in the Pleroma, for it separates the unfaithful from the faithful as that separates the world from the Pleroma. Therefore, Jesus through the sign (σηµείου) bears the Seed on his shoulders and guides them into the Pleroma.”20 Most significantly, Theodotus also states that this sign is transferred to humans through the baptismal sealing:
So long, then, they say, as the seed is yet unformed, it is the offspring of the female, but when it was formed, it was changed into a man and becomes the son of the bridegroom. It is no longer weak and subject to the cosmic forces, both visible and invisible, but having been made masculine, it becomes male fruit. He whom the Mother generates is led into death and into the world, but he whom Christ regenerates is transferred to life in the Ogdoad. And they die to the world but live to God, that death may be loosed by death and corruption by resurrection. For he who has been sealed by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is beyond the threats of every other power and by the three Names has been released from the whole triad of corruption.21
Following the description of Theodotus, the role of Paul in the Apocalypse suggests that he has been baptized and is now ascending through the heavens, having been sealed with the sign of the cross. April DeConick similarly observes an initiation ceremony of redemption and finds parallels in both the Gospel of Philip (nhc ii,3) and in the writings of Irenaeus.22 These initiatory aspects of the baptismal imagery resonate with the role of Paul, and suggest that the Apocalypse of Paul is best understood as an initiatory text for Valentinians, and its purpose was liturgical and used to guide the neophytes through the heavenly realms in the company of Paul.
The observation of Paul Connerton, a ritual memory theorist, that “images of the past and recollected knowledge of the past are conveyed and sustained by (more or less) ritual performances” is significant given the liturgical nature of this text.23 Profound esoteric episodes, such as what is seen in the Apocalypse of Paul, fall under the rubric of what Harvey Whitehouse describes as imagistic ritual practices, which operate through episodic memory and key in to the highly emotive nature of traumatic religious experience. Whitehouse, a cognitive scholar of ritual, identifies a spectrum of religious ritual in which the one end is doctrinal, and the other, imagistic.24
In his designations, the doctrinal end of religious experience is a more structured ritual that is performed primarily for social instruction. The meaning of the ritual is carefully monitored by the governing religious authorities and functions largely to instruct the community. These rituals are repeated frequently, almost to the point of routine, and rarely elicit a strong emotional response from the participants. In contrast with the doctrinal, the imagistic rituals are not structured for frequent repetition or instruction but rather to arouse a personal, emotional response.
Risto Uro has applied Whitehouse’s model and observed a tendency towards more imagistic practices by the Valentinians and a stronger use of doctrinal ritual practice among formative Catholics. In his analysis of the baptismal ritual in the Gospel of Philip as compared with the more traditional formative Catholic texts of the Didache, Justin Martyr, and the Apostolic Tradition, Uro concludes,
If the Gospel of Philip was used in the preparation for baptism, it hardly contributed to creating uniform ideas about the meaning of the sacraments in the minds of the catechumens. Instead, the gospel would probably have fostered an aura of secrecy and excitement with regard to the coming initiation. Equipped with impressionistic and rousing images, the neophytes would probably not end up having very similar religious experiences after the ritual either. The truth could then be more a matter of personal reflection on the shared ritual than a matter of confessing orthodox beliefs.25
I am not suggesting the Valentinians were exclusively imagistic. Rather that they emphasized the ecstatic religious experience over the more structured communal ceremonies of the formative Catholics. Uro argues that “although the level of frequency or the form of ritual does not change when we move from the communities of Irenaeus to those of his opponents, it is possible to argue that Valentinians strongly intensified the imagistic aspects of the early Christian initiation.”26 He highlights the secrecy and excitement of the ritual to show how it is different from the doctrinal baptism, especially in regard to the personal reflection over the orthodox instruction.
The imagistic aspects of the ritual in the Apocalypse of Paul are most readily seen in the shift to first person in the fourth heaven. This shift in person positions the audience as Paul ascending through the realms. In 2 Corinthians, Paul recounts his ascent to the heavens in the third person, “he was carried (ἡρπάγη) into paradise and he heard sacred words which are not properly spoken to men.”27 Yet in the Apocalypse, when leaving the fourth heaven Paul says, “Then I gazed upward (ⲁⲛⲟⲕ ⲇⲉ ⲁⲓⲱⲣⲙ̄ ⲉⲧⲡⲉ) and I saw (ⲁⲓⲛⲁⲩ) the spirit saying to me (ⲉϥϫⲱ ⲙ̄ⲙⲟⲥ), ‘Paul, come to me!’ Then as I went (ⲁⲛⲟⲕ ⲇⲉ ⲉⲓⲙⲟⲟϣⲉ) the gate opened and I went up (ⲁⲓⲉⲓ ⲉϩⲣⲁⲓ) to the fifth heaven.”28 No longer is the audience listening to the biblical account from a distant figure. The audience is now literally joining Paul in his ascent, as part of an imagistic ritual practice, and advancing themselves through the realms. This liturgical preparation would serve to instill the memory of Paul’s words in the audience and prepare them for their own initiatory ascent. Paul now assumes the role of guide and permits access, through his ascent, for the community to attain to the highest heavenly realm. One enters heaven through imitation of, and participation with, Paul.
The recognition of Paul as a spiritual leader and mystagogue is a common image in the Valentinian corpus. Clement of Alexandria records Theodotus’ identification of Paul in the same spiritual capacity as Jesus when he writes,
The followers of Valentinus say that Jesus is the Paraclete, because he has come full of the Aeons, having come forth from the whole. For Christ left behind Sophia, who had put him forth, and going into the Pleroma, asked for help for Sophia, who was left outside; and Jesus was put forth by the good will of the Aeons as a Paraclete for the Aeon which had passed. In the type of the Paraclete, Paul became the Apostle of the Resurrection. Immediately after the Lord’s Passion he also was sent to preach.29
Theodotus explains that just as Jesus was the Paraclete for the aeons, so does Paul function as a Paraclete for humans, both bringing knowledge and permitting divine access.
We might also consider the Valentinian Prayer of the Apostle Paul (nhc i,1). According to this prayer, Paul is the primary figure through which the devotee may access the divine. The prayer ends with the following lines:
In Bentley Layton’s analysis of this text, he concludes that the prayer “does not indicate that Paul is the author of the prayer.” Rather Layton characterizes it as a prayer that invokes Paul’s authority as “an early apostolic preacher of the gospel.”31 Madeleine Scopello similarly recognizes that the prayer is used to invoke the apostolic power of Paul in order that the one speaking may similarly assume authority to ascend into the divine realm and hear, see, and know what humans have not yet heard.32
The Apocalypse of Paul reimagines the role of Paul, mirroring what is depicted in both the Excerpts of Theodotus and the Prayer of the Apostle Paul as the means by which one may access the divine realm after being sealed by the sign of the cross. Paul is the paragon and guide for the Valentinians. That said, the Apocalypse of Paul elevates Paul even further when it identifies him as the leader of the apostolic contingent. In the Apocalypse, Paul describes his encounter with the Spirit in the fourth heaven,
And I looked up and I saw the spirit (ⲡⲛⲉⲩⲙⲁ) who spoke to me saying, “Paul, come! Pass through to me.” Then, as I moved the gate opened, and I went up to the fifth heaven and I saw (ⲁⲓⲛⲁⲩ) my fellow Apostles as they went through with me (ⲉⲛⲁϣⲃⲏⲣ ⲁⲡⲟⲥⲧⲟⲗⲟⲥ ⲉⲩⲙⲟⲟϣⲉ ⲛⲙ̄ⲙⲁⲓ).33
Paul alone is identified by the Holy Spirit to ascend to the fifth heaven and the disciples follow him. As the primary guide, Paul is actively engaged with the surroundings and interacting with the Holy Spirit, while the disciples appear to simply be there. It is only through the actions of Paul the entire group is able to proceed through the heavenly levels. Paul is the spiritual guide for both the Valentinian participants and the disciples.
Paul leaves the fifth heaven and again passes through the next level, and the apostles travel with him.34 Once in the sixth heaven, Paul is forced to engage an archontic power who intends to stymie his advance. Paul, upon seeing him and the brilliant light he casts over the heaven, says, “I spoke, saying, ‘Open to me and the Holy Spirit who is ahead of me.’”35 Remarkably, without any further comment, conversation, or even rejoinder from the presiding archon, Paul passes through the sixth heaven and up to the seventh. This abbreviated episode further emphasizes the power and authority of Paul as he is able to command the archons and guide his fellow travelers through the levels. This is an allusion to both the Pauline theology of salvation and to the internal reference of the text where the child identifies Paul as one who has power over the authorities and principalities.36 It is on the authority and guidance of Paul that the Valentinian community may ascend through the heavenly realms.
The final example of Paul guiding the audience is in his exchange with the demiurge. In this episode, Paul reveals how to bypass the authority of the demiurge and enter the highest heavenly realm. Upon entering the seventh heaven, Paul encounters the demiurge cloaked in white and sitting on the throne. The demiurge interrogates Paul about his journey and asks where he is going, to which Paul replies, “I will go to the place from which I came.”37 The demiurge then inquires where he is from and Paul explains to the audience, “I answered to him, saying, ‘I will go down to the world of those who are dead so that I will lead captive the captivity which was led captive in the captivity of Babylon.’”38 In a clearly exasperated reaction, the demiurge demands of Paul, “How are you able to escape from me? Look and see the Principalities, and Authorities?”39 At this point, the Spirit interjects and says, “Give to him the sign (ⲥⲏⲙⲓⲟⲛ) which you have, and he will open for you.” In the first person, Paul then continues the narrative stating, “I gave to him the sign (ⲥⲏⲙⲓⲟⲛ), he turned his head down to those who are his own authorities, and then, the seventh heaven opened and we came to the Ogdoad.”40
Note that Paul is defiantly engaging the demiurge. When asked where he is going, Paul replies that he will first descend to the world of the dead before returning to where he was from. This is a clear allusion to the Valentinian understanding of liberating gnosis. As April DeConick has noted regarding gnosticism generally, and for the Valentinians in particular, liberation is found in the knowledge of, and the return to, the light or fire whence humanity originated.41 As Theodotus has famously remarked, “but it is not only the washing that is liberating, but the knowledge of who we were, and what we have become, where we were or where we were placed, whither we hasten, from what we are redeemed, what birth is and what rebirth.”42 Paul’s use of the sign (ⲥⲏⲙⲓⲟⲛ) and declaration that he is returning to where he was from demonstrates the cosmic authority of Paul.
This is also a pedagogical moment in the text that demonstrates Paul’s commitment to bringing others into the divine realm and indicates the baptismal nature of the liturgy. As noted previously, Paul’s use of the sign (ⲥⲏⲙⲓⲟⲛ) is significant because it alludes to the ownership aspect of the Valentinian baptism. According to Theodotus, the mark of the Christ that is received at baptism serves as a stamp of divine ownership and permits one access to the higher realms, and thus, the sign that Paul shows to the demiurge is then a clear reference to the mark of Christ a Valentinian receives at baptism.43 That the child functions as the Holy Spirit who leads Paul through the heavens is what one would expect after a Valentinian baptism and anointing. There is a similar motif of the child as a revelatory figure in the Apocryphon of John short version of the Berlin Codex. However, in this case the child assumes a much great cosmic presence than the Holy Spirit, as he immediately changes form into an old man (ⲁϥϣⲃⲧϥ ⲇⲉ ⲉⲡⲉⲓⲛⲉ ⲉⲩϩⲗ̄ⲗⲟ) upon meeting John and then self-identifies, saying “I am the one who is with you always. I am the father, I am the mother, I am the son, I am the eternal one, the undefiled and uncontaminated one (ⲁⲛⲟⲕ ⲡⲉ ⲡⲉⲧϣⲟⲟⲡ ϣⲁ ⲉⲛⲉϩ ⲡⲓⲁⲧⲧⲱⲗⲙ ⲙⲛ ⲡⲓⲁⲧⲙⲟⲩϫϭ ⲛⲙⲙⲁϥ).”44 Regardless of the specific role assumed by the guide, the reference to the baptismal sealing is clear, and the Apocalypse of Paul assumes this to be a literal marking of the soul, and depicts Paul visibly showing this mark to the demiurge to advance.45 Once he does, the conversation ends, leaving the demiurge dejectedly gazing upon his inadequate creation. The narrative concludes with Paul greeting his fellow apostles and ascending, alone, to the tenth and final realm where the apostles are not permitted.46
The Apocalypse of Paul is an initiatory text that reflects the imagistic ritual practices of the Valentinians. The participants, through Paul’s first-person account, learn how to ascend through the heavens. In their performance of the text, they participate ritually in Paul’s ascent through the heavens, overcoming the demiurge and proceeding to the highest divine realm which was the entrance to the true supreme God of worship. The audience joins Paul and experiences the liberating knowledge of whence they came and where they must go following their baptism and sealing with the sign.
The intentional ritual for the reception of divine knowledge is a known aspect within both Gnostic and Valentinian circles. Madeleine Scopello notes a similar theme in both The Temptation of Allogenes (ct iv) and in the Excerpts of Theodotus in that both emphasize the ritual act designed for the reception of knowledge.47
As we have seen, the Apocalypse of Paul expands Paul’s ascent from 2 Corinthians to show that he ascended to the highest heavenly realm. In Paul’s biblical account, he remarks twice that he does not know the nature of his ascent: “Either in the body I do not know, or outside of the body I do not know, God knows.”48
For the Valentinians, this ambiguity is problematic for their ritual behavior so they tried to account for his ignorance. To address this concern, the Apocalypse re-imagines his ascent to show, unequivocally, that Paul ascended in an out-of-body form, at least as he ascends through the fourth to tenth heavens, which are not mentioned in the biblical account.49 Thus, once he is in the fourth heaven, Paul is instructed by the Holy Spirit to look down and see those who are beneath him on earth and “see your image (ⲉⲡⲉⲕⲉⲓⲛⲉ) upon the ground.”50 The translation of ⲉⲓⲛⲉ as “image” follows Crum who references its Greek equivalent as ὁµοῖσις, ὁµοίωµα, and ὁµοιότος, and suggests a specific likeness of Paul’s self in the text.51 The narrative in the Apocalypse emphasizes that Paul not only sees his image or body on the ground, but also the disciples. While in the biblical text, Paul did not know how he ascended, for the Valentinians there is no confusion. His ascent beyond the third heaven at least is incorporeal, associated with the mind.
In the narrative of the Apocalypse, after departing from the fourth heaven Paul observes another disembodied soul like himself. This one is carried by the angels out of the land of the dead.52 When faced with judgment, the soul cries out, “Bring witnesses! Let them tell you in what body I committed this unlawfulness.”53 The text here shows the separation of body and soul and identifies the corporeal with the earthly realm. The three witnesses all recount sins the soul committed while embodied on the natural earth, and after judgment the soul is expelled from the heavenly realm. Witnessing this episode, Paul remarks about its transmigration, “And the soul which had been cast down came into a body (ⲥⲱⲙⲁ) that had been prepared for it.”54 For the fifth time, the Apocalypse has described the ascent as taking place outside the body. First, Paul is given the path to a heavenly Jerusalem.55 Second, he ascends and sees himself and the apostles on earth.56 Third, a soul is taken from earth into heaven and accused.57 Fourth, the accused soul asks in what body the sins he committed occurred.58 And fifth, after judgment, the soul is expelled from heaven and thrown into another body.59 The realm of the heavens clearly is a place without physical or somatic bodies.
The blend of the second-century ritual practices of the Valentinians with the Pauline experience serves to reframe the memory of Paul’s ascent to include a definitive and legitimate disembodied ascent. As Paul Connerton explains, “We may note that images of the past commonly legitimate a present social order.”60 The text legitimizes the contemporary Valentinian ritual practice of disembodied ascent through the incorporeal heavens using the historical authority of Paul.
In what the social memory theorist Barbie Zelizer identifies as the usability of communal memory, she argues that “rather than be taken at face value as a simple act of recall, collective memory is evaluated for the ways which it helps us to make connections—to each other over time and space, and to ourselves. At the heart of memory’s study, then, is its usability, its invocation as a tool to defend different aims and agendas.”61 Applying Zelizer’s usability method, we can see that the text is situating Paul as an eminent figure in Valentinian tradition so that the invocation of this authority may prove to justify their practices.
The Apocalypse applies this authority and imagines Paul’s ascent in a disembodied form that validates the out-of-body ascent practices of the Valentinians. Werner Kelber argues that memory “operates selectively, seizing on, modifying, and contextualizing topics, events, and subjects of the past in order to feed the needs and define the aspirations of the group … [that] recognizes both a regressive gesture toward the past, seeking to retrieve as much of the past as seems appropriate, and an orientation toward the present (and future), preserving what is deemed to be useful at present.”62 The Apocalypse of Paul selectively reframes the biblical ascent of Paul by ridding the narrative of its ambiguity about the body. It significantly modifies the biblical narrative by recontextualizing the event to show that Paul ascended in a disembodied fashion that mirrored the Valentinians’ own practices.
In the Valentinian narrative, Paul’s ascent to the inner chambers of the temple in the heavenly Jerusalem presents him as a pneumatic, or spiritual person. His pneumatic status is important because it designates him exclusively as a Valentinian, simultaneously negating the formative Catholic connection to Paul and encouraging the Valentinians to imitate him. Paul is not only a mystagogue, he is a pneumatic, which is how Valentinians self-identified. The identification of Paul as a pneumatic suggests that other pneumatics—the Valentinians—would follow Paul’s ascent beyond the third heaven, all the way to the Holy of Holies.
To understand the significance of this pneumatic status, it is necessary to recall that the Valentinians understood anthropology in a tripartite scheme and that this scheme relates to various groups of people and their destinies. The human being consists of the pneumatic (spiritual), psychic (soulish or animal), and hylic (material) aspects, which also were associated with social groups: the Valentinians, the formative Catholics, and the pagans. A contemporary second-century writing, The Tripartite Tractate (nhc 1,5), explains the divisions of humanity into three categories, “the spiritual, the psychic, and the material,”63 and identifies the final end for each group:64
The spiritual race will receive complete salvation in every way. The material will receive destruction in every way, just as one who resists him. The psychic race, since it is in the middle when it is brought forth and also when it is created, is double according to its determination for both good and evil. It takes its appointed departure suddenly and its complete escape to those who are good.65
Heracleon goes into greater detail and identifies the physical locations in the gospel as allegories for the natural ends of particular natures.66 According to Origen, Heracleon identified Capernaum with the material realm, the outer court of the temple with the psychic, and the inner temple with the pneumatic. In commenting on John 2:12, Heracleon explains that Capernaum “means these most remote places of the cosmos, these material realms into which he descended. And because the place is alien, he is not said to have done or said anything in it.”67 Because the material realm is entirely foreign to the nature of Jesus, and this passage records no events taking place there, Heracleon interprets this passage as the departure and ascent of Jesus from the depths of the material realm.68
Heracleon continues this in his discussion of John 2:13–14, where Origen recounts Heracleon’s understanding of the psychic and pneumatic ends. Heracleon takes “the way up to Jerusalem” to mean “the ascent of the Lord out of the material realm to the spiritual realm, which happens to be an image of Jerusalem.” Origen continues:
For 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.69
Heracleon explicitly connects the temple with the Holy of Holies and states that only the pneumatics reside in this divine location.70 Pagels argues, “Heracleon intends to describe the present age, in which psychic believers and the pneumatic elect stand as distinctly different topoi in relation to God: the psychics remain in the forecourt ‘outside,’ while the pneumatics alone dwell within the ‘holy of holies.’”71
The question Paul asks the child mediator keys into the larger meaning of the Apocalypse because Jerusalem serves both as a physical location in the story and an allegorical reference to the highest order of the divine realm. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul writes about the heavenly Jerusalem and emphasizes how it is different from, and indeed better, than the current Jerusalem.72 Paul delineates these two covenants in order to show that the Jerusalem of the promise is liberating, the mother of all, and located in heaven where there is no flesh. In his Refutation of All Heresies, Pseudo-Hippolytus records a Valentinian interpretation that similarly explains the heavenly position and maternal nature of Jerusalem: “Wisdom, who is—according to them—‘Mother of all the living,’ emanated, together with the common Fruit of the Fullness, seventy rational minds, who are heavenly angels, living their lives in ‘The Jerusalem above, which is in heaven.’ This Jerusalem is the Wisdom outside, and her bridegroom is the common Fruit of the Fullness.”73 As in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, so here, too, Jerusalem is found in the highest order of heaven and the mother of all.
This connection is confirmed by Irenaeus who also records that the Valentinians associated Jerusalem as the Ogdoad, or Mother, in heaven. Referring to the Valentinians, he writes,
Demiurge imagines, they assert, that he made the totality of these things by himself…. His Mother, they say, was the cause of the false notion of this, because she wished thus to promote him as the head and beginning of her own substance and Lord over all affairs. This Mother they also call Ogdoad, Wisdom, Earth, Jerusalem, Holy Spirit, and Lord, in the masculine gender.74
As Kaler, Painchaud, and Bussières have observed, this Mother is similarly identified as the “home of the Apostles” in the Apocalypse of Paul, which demonstrates the heavenly position of the city.75 Although salvation and ascent are associated with the temple specifically, the connection to the temple in Jerusalem, the true Jerusalem, cannot be overstated. Jerusalem is actually understood as Sophia herself and this is a place of the aeons and angels, not a place of flesh. Origen quotes Heracleon’s second century Commentary on the Gospel of John, and explains that Heracleon takes the phrase, “the ascent [to] Jerusalem indicates the Lord’s ascension from material things to the psychic region which is an image of Jerusalem”76
Both Einar Thomassen and April DeConick evaluate the salvific aspects of the temple in the Valentinian economy. In analyzing the salvation scheme of the Gospel of Philip (nhc ii,3), Thomassen has demonstrated the connection between the temple and specific ritual practices and argues “the layout of the temple in Jerusalem is used to illustrate salvation as a sequence of stages.”77 Not only is Jerusalem a heavenly location, but within the temple reside further stages of heavenly advance. Similarly, DeConick has shown that the Valentinian ascent mirrors the Jewish apocalyptic ascent through the heavenly temple and details the path one takes through the temple to the divine location within the Pleroma.78 This dual use of Jerusalem in the Apocalypse of Paul is significant because it foreshadows Paul’s vision of heavenly ascent and signals to the audience that Paul will ascend through the heavens where there is no material body. He is a pneumatic headed for the heaven where the Supreme God resides.
The Valentinian Apocalypse of Paul reframes and expands the biblical ascent of Paul to legitimate Valentinian theology and practices. It situates Paul as the apostle who has the means of access to the highest heavens, and provides the community with a liturgical narrative that prepares them for divine ascent or assists them in its performance. The Valentinian memory of Paul witnessed in the Apocalypse of Paul is a functionally self-definitive coalescence of imagistic ritual practice, disembodied mystical performances, and apostolic and pneumatic authority that works to transgress the formative Catholic memory of Paul.
1 The Valentinians did rely on other apostles as well; however, given the intense focus on Paul seen in Ptolemy’s Letter to Flora, the Prayer of the Apostle Paul nhc i,1, the writings of Theodotus, and as will be shown here in Apoc. Paul nhc v,2, there is a clear emphasis on Paul more than any other figure. Scholarship on Pauline use in the second and third centuries has been dominated by what is known as the theory of Pauline Captivity model, which argues that Marcion and other gnostic groups had initially looked to Paul for authority and it was later through Irenaeus and others that the Catholic Church was able to “reclaim” Paul. The end result of this research positioned Paul not as a Catholic figure, but rather the apostle of the gnostic heretics. It was not until the recent work of scholars like Lindemann 1979, Pagels 1992, White 2014, and dissertations by Penny 1979 and Rensberger 1981, that this narrative has been challenged. Recent scholarship has accepted the prevalence of Paul in the early Catholic church, primarily through imagery and allusion rather than direct quotation.
2 There are only three explicit discussions of Paul’s ascent between the Valentinians and the Catholics from the second and early third centuries: Apoc. Paul nhc v,2, Irenaeus’ Adversus Haereses, and Tertullian’s De Praescriptione Haereticorum. While it is unlikely the authors of these three were aware of the others in the forms extant today, each suggests a familiarity with the positions expressed in the others, providing firm grounds for comparison. For a full discussion of the Valentinian nature of Apoc. Paul, see, Kaler 2008, 62–72.
3 My intention is not to show an explicit connection between the heresiologists and the extant text of Apoc. Paul, but rather to demonstrate the intensity of the debate between formative Catholics and Valentinians over the ascent of Paul. Additionally, I do not claim to construct definitive lines of allegiance or early Christian trajectories, I simply aim to show the debate over the ascent in the early Christian period between formative Catholics and Valentinians.
4 For a more complete treatment of Irenaeus and his understanding of Paul’s ascent, see Kaler, Painchaud, and Bussières 2004, 173–193.
8 While there is some variation in the exclusivity of Paul as the apostle for the Valentinians, there is a clear veneration of him as an important apostle throughout the Valentinian corpus. See in particular Ptolemy, Flor. 33.6.6; Exeg. Soul nhc ii,6 130.28–131.14; Heracleon’s Commentary on John, frag. 24; and Treat Res nhc i,4. One should also consider the more explicit Pr. Paul nhc i,1 and Clement of Alexandria’s Exc., which will be discussed in more detail below. For a more detailed consideration of the development of apostolic succession among Catholics, see Sullivan 2001 and Ehrhardt 1953.
9 Outside of perhaps Peter, Philip, John, and Mary, there are very few apostles who are recognized with any degree of regularity or reverence that is seen towards Paul—and even then, Paul far exceeds the others.
10 Strom. vii.17. “So too they report that Valentinus heard Theodas, who was a disciple of Paul.” (Hort and Mayor 1987, 188–189 and Le Boulluec 1997, 318–320). The Greek manuscript reads “Θεοδάδι ἀκηκοέναι,” however “eminent authorities (Bentley, Grabe, etc.)” altered the text to read “Θεοδᾶ (or Θευδᾶ) διακηκοέναι.” Coxe 2004a, 555n1.
11 Apoc. Paul nhc v,2 18.14–15, 21–22. ϯⲥⲟⲟⲩⲛ ⲙ̄ⲙⲟⲕ ⲡⲩⲗⲟⲥ…ⲁⲛⲟⲕ ⲡⲉ ⲡⲉⲡ̄ⲛ̄ⲁ̄ ⲉⲧⲙⲟⲟϣⲉ ⲛⲙ̄ⲙⲁⲕ. ⲙⲁⲧⲟⲩⲛⲟⲥ ⲡⲉⲕⲛⲟⲩⲥ. Coptic for all citations of this text is taken from MacRae 2000, 50. All translations of Apoc. Paul in this article are by the author.
12 This point will be developed further later but in short, the child functions as the Holy Spirit, who leads Paul through the heavens as one would expect after a Valentinian baptism and anointing.
13 Haer. 6.42.2 (Litwa 2016, 454–455).
15 For a detailed analysis of Hippolytus as a heresiologist, see Vallée 1981, 41–62.
16 Le Donne 2009, 68.
17 Le Donne 2009, 70.
18 Kaler 2008, 77.
19 Kaler 2008, 206–8.
20 Clement of Alexandria, Exc. 42.1–2 (Casey 1934, 68–69).
21 Clement of Alexandria, Exc. 80.1–3 (Casey 1934, 88–89).
22 DeConick 2001, 233–234. DeConick observes, “Through the baptismal ceremonies, which included anointing with holy oil, the initiate is reborn of the Holy Spirit and then is invested with this [holy] Spirit (64:23–27). Furthermore, the investment of the Holy Spirit through the initiatory rituals is connected to the investment with the redeeming Name of God. Indeed, in Philip the initiate not only gains the name of Christ through chrism (74:12–25), becoming a ‘Christian,’ but he now is transformed into ‘a Christ’ (67:29).” DeConick 2016, 185.
23 Connerton 1989, 37–38.
24 Whitehouse 2004.
25 Uro 2007, 130.
26 Uro 2007, 132.
28 Apoc. Paul nhc v,2 21.22–28 (MacRae 2000, 56).
29 Clement of Alexandria, Exc. 23.1–3 (Casey 1934, 58–59).
30 Pr. Paul nhc i,1 (Coptic from Mueller 2000, 8–10). All translations of this text are by the author.
31 Layton 1987, 303.
32 Scopello 2007, 16.
33 Apoc. Paul nhc v,2 21.22–30 (MacRae 2000, 56).
34 Apoc. Paul nhc v,2 22.11–15. (MacRae 2000, 58).
35 Apoc. Paul nhc v,2 22.17–23. (MacRae 2000, 58).
36 Apoc. Paul nhc v,2 19.1–7. (MacRae 2000, 52).
37 Apoc. Paul nhc v,2 23.9–10 (MacRae 2000, 60–61).
38 Apoc. Paul nhc v,2 23.12–17 (MacRae 2000, 60–61).
39 Apoc. Paul nhc v,2 23.19–22 (MacRae 2000, 60–61).
40 Apoc. Paul nhc v,2 23. 25–24. (MacRae 2000, 58–60).
41 DeConick 1996, 47–48.
42 Clement of Alexandria, Exc., 78.2 (Casey 1934, 88–89).
43 Clement of Alexandria, Exc., 86 (Casey 1934, 90–91).
44 Ap. John BG 21, 4–5; 21, 1–6 (Waldstein and Wisse 1995, 18).
45 Cf. Kaler 2008, 207–8.
46 Cf. Roig Lanzillotta 2016, 117–18.
47 Scopello 2013, 119–20.
49 Cf. Kaler 2008, 61.
50 Apoc. Paul nhc v,2 19.26–20.5. Coptic taken from MacRae 2000, 52.
52 Apoc. Paul nhc v,2 20.5 14 (MacRae 2000, 54).
53 Apoc. Paul nhc v,2 20.22–23. (MacRae 2000, 54).
54 Apoc. Paul. nhc v,2 21.19–21 (MacRae 2000, 56).
56 Apoc. Paul nhc v,2 19.27–20.4. (MacRae 2000, 50).
57 Apoc. Paul nhc v,2 20.8–11. (MacRae 2000, 54).
58 Apoc. Paul nhc v,2 20.14–15. (MacRae 2000, 54).
59 Apoc. Paul nhc v,2 21.18–21. (MacRae 2000, 54).
60 Connerton 1989, 3.
61 Zelizer 1995, 226.
62 Kelber 2013, 271–72.
63 Tri. Trac. nhc i,5 118.14–15. (Attridge and Pagels 2000, 306–7).
64 Quispel 1974, 29–42.
65 Tri. Trac. nhc i,5 119.17–27. (Attridge and Pagels 2000, 307–8).
67 Heracleon, frag. 11 (Brooke 2004, 66; Heine 1989, 266). One should note the alternative reading of Roig Lanzillotta, who considers Heracleon’s remarks in fragments 11, 13, and 20 to indicate not a rereading of Luke 10:30, but rather a reference to the demonic and dark aspects of the Jerusalem imagery as it connects to the demigod whom the Jews worshipped. In either case, we may recognize the decidedly negative depiction of the lower and earthly realms depicted in the Apoc. Paul nhc v,2. Roig Lanzillotta 2016, 114–16, esp. 115n38.
68 Pettipiece 2002, 75.
70 However, as Thomassen 2006, 112, observes, given its location within the psychic temple, Heracleon “must mean the psychic level of the cosmos where souls in general are located, including the souls of the spirituals.”
71 Pagels 1973, 72.
73 Haer. 6.34.3–4 (Litwa 2016, 426–27).
77 Thomassen 2006, 341.
78 DeConick 1999, 308–41.
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Le Donne 2009, 68.
Le Donne 2009, 70.
Kaler 2008, 77.
Kaler 2008, 206–8.
DeConick 2001, 233–234. DeConick observes, “Through the baptismal ceremonies, which included anointing with holy oil, the initiate is reborn of the Holy Spirit and then is invested with this [holy] Spirit (64:23–27). Furthermore, the investment of the Holy Spirit through the initiatory rituals is connected to the investment with the redeeming Name of God. Indeed, in Philip the initiate not only gains the name of Christ through chrism (74:12–25), becoming a ‘Christian,’ but he now is transformed into ‘a Christ’ (67:29).” DeConick 2016, 185.
Connerton 1989, 37–38.
Uro 2007, 130.
Uro 2007, 132.
Layton 1987, 303.
Scopello 2007, 16.
DeConick 1996, 47–48.
Cf. Kaler 2008, 207–8.
Cf. Roig Lanzillotta 2016, 117–18.
Scopello 2013, 119–20.
Cf. Kaler 2008, 61.
Crum 2005, 80B. See also Van den Broek 1986, 13. For a more detailed consideration of the use of the Coptic use of ⲉⲓⲛⲉ for ὁµοῖωσις, see Roig Lanzillotta 2013, 84n58.
Connerton 1989, 3.
Zelizer 1995, 226.
Kelber 2013, 271–72.
Quispel 1974, 29–42.
Heracleon, frag. 13 (Brooke 2004, 68–69; Heine 1989, 302). Heracleon’s position is detailed below.
Heracleon, frag. 11 (Brooke 2004, 66; Heine 1989, 266). One should note the alternative reading of Roig Lanzillotta, who considers Heracleon’s remarks in fragments 11, 13, and 20 to indicate not a rereading of Luke 10:30, but rather a reference to the demonic and dark aspects of the Jerusalem imagery as it connects to the demigod whom the Jews worshipped. In either case, we may recognize the decidedly negative depiction of the lower and earthly realms depicted in the Apoc. Paul nhc v,2. Roig Lanzillotta 2016, 114–16, esp. 115n38.
Pettipiece 2002, 75.
Heracleon, frag. 13 (Brooke 2004, 68; Heine 1989, 302).
However, as Thomassen 2006, 112, observes, given its location within the psychic temple, Heracleon “must mean the psychic level of the cosmos where souls in general are located, including the souls of the spirituals.”
Pagels 1973, 72.
Heracleon, frag. 13 (Brooke 2004, 68; Heine 1989, 302).
Thomassen 2006, 341.
DeConick 1999, 308–41.