SECOND TREATISE OF THE GREAT SETH. This—the second treatise of Codex VII of the NAG HAMMADI LIBRARY—presents a familiar theme to readers of Gnostic literature: Christ teaches his disciples about creation, the origin of souls, and the future blessedness of believers. Christ describes his role in the council of the incorruptible gods "before the foundation of the world when the whole multitude of the Assembly came together," and "the whole house of the father of truth rejoiced" that Christ would descend and reveal the truth "to my kindred and my fellow spirits." Christ briefly describes the creation of the physical universe by Sophia and then offers a docetic interpretation of his incarnation and crucifixion. According to this document, the incorruptible Christ descended from above and appropriated his physical form from the mortal who had first inhabited it. But he vacated his borrowed body just before the Passion (as in the APOCALYPSE OF PETER and elsewhere), thus remaining totally undefiled: "I did not die in reality but (only) in appearance."
Christ then explains how all this affects the disciples, those whose souls originated in the upper world where "the wedding of the wedding garment" and "the bridal chamber of the heavens" are. They will be freed from the world below and endowed with nobility. "They will pass by every gate without fear and will be made perfect in the third glory" (cf. 2 Cor. 12:2).
In common with much other Gnostic literature, The Second Treatise of the Great Seth teaches the doctrine of preexistence of souls. According to this document, the souls of believers originated in the world above ("our home") and descended into this world to inhabit physical bodies. Believers do not remember their preexistent state because "the fleshly cloud overshadows" them. In the material world, these spiritual beings from above are subjected to the enmity of ignorant mortals and of the malicious and ignorant archons whom most mortals serve. However, as a result of the ministry of Christ, in some unspecified way, the souls of believers are released from this world and rise again to the realm above. Thus, Resurrection is interpreted in this document in terms of souls trapped in the material world "rising" to the spiritual realm.
The supreme God of the incorruptible world is repeatedly referred to as "the Man," thus facilitating a Gnostic interpretation of the Jewish title "Son of Man" as applied to Christ, that he is the son of the heavenly Man, the supreme God of the upper, incorruptible world. The Second Treatise of the Great Seth also rejects the moral perspective of Judaism and "orthodox" Christianity. As elsewhere in gnosticism, the God of the Old Testament is here identified with an inferior being, and those who serve him or observe his Law, including Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Moses, and the other prophets and John the Baptist, are called laughingstocks.
It is likely that The Second Treatise of the Great Seth was written early in the third century, perhaps in Alexandria. The original language would have been Greek (Painchaud, 1982). The composition polemicizes against the "orthodox" Christian view of the origin of the soul; the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Christ; and the nature of the church (Painchaud, 1981).
STEPHEN E. ROBINSON
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