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The Greek Gospel of Egyptians

Links to Part 1,Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 of this series.

Series by Dr. Iwan Whiteley

Introduction

No manuscripts for the Greek Gospel of the Egyptians are known to have survived up to the present day. However, references to it are found in the form of quotes in other texts. The two most important sources are Clement (born cerca 150) of Alexandria's Stromata book III and Hippolytus (born cerca 170) of Rome's Refutation of all Heresies, book V chap. 2. The former is important because it contains the earliest reference to the work while the latter provides detailed background information. References to the text can also be found in Epiphanius (born cerca 310) Bishop of Salamis' Panarion. The lack of references to the gospel before 150 suggests that it became popular in the second half of the second century. It is reasonable to assume that Clement received the text early in its dissemination because he lived in Alexandria, Egypt, the probable area of its production.

What the Fragments say

Below are the strained out fragments of the Gospel of the Egyptians:

[The Saviour said to Salome,] 'I came to destroy the works of the female.' Clement, Stromata, book III, 63

[Salome said,] 'Until when shall man die?'... [Jesus answered,] 'As long as women bear children.' Clement, Stromata, book III, 64

[Salome said,] 'I would have done better had I never given birth to a child' ... [The Lord replies,] 'Eat of every plant, but eat not of that which has bitterness in it.' Clement, Stromata, book III, 65

[The Saviour said to Salome,] 'Death will reign as long as women bear.' Clement, Excerpts of Theodotus, 67

The Excerpts of Theodotus here is not to be mistaken with the Excerpts of Theodotus found in the Ante-Nicene Fathers vol. 8. There appears to be similarities between the Gospel of the Egyptians and the Gospel of Thomas, so the latter may provide a suitable framework for understanding the former.

While Clement is significant in that he provides quotations of the work, Hippolytus however goes into great detail into what he believes is its roots. In his Refutation of all Heresies book V, he provides information about a group called the Naassenes. He assumes that the Gospel of the Egyptians is somehow connected to them, in chapter 2 we read:

'...[the Naassenes] ask what is the soul, and whence, and what kind in its nature, that, coming to the man and moving him... they affirm that the soul is very difficult to discover, and hard to understand; for it does not remain in the same figure or the same form invariably, or in one passive condition, that either one could express it by a sign, or comprehend it substantially.

But they have these varied changes (of the soul) set down in the gospel inscribed "according to the Egyptians." They are, then, in doubt, as all the rest of men among the Gentiles, whether (the soul) is at all from something pre-existent, or whether from the self-produced (one), or from a widespread Chaos... For soul is cause of all things made; all things that are nourished, (the Naassene) says, and that grow, require soul. For it is not possible, he says, to obtain any nourishment or growth where soul is not present. For even stones, he affirms, are animated, for they possess what is capable of increase; but increase would not at any time take place without nourishment... Every nature, then, as of things celestial and (the Naassene) says, of things celestial, and earthly, and infernal, desires a soul.'

It is difficult in this passage to separate between what Hippolytus considers to be of Naassenic origin and what is found in the Gospel of the Egyptians. This may be because he considers the teachings of the latter to be in line with the beliefs of the former.

Part 2


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