Judeans and others: The Gospel of Philip (before the fourth century CE)

Citation with stable link: Maia Kotrosits, 'Judeans and others: The Gospel of Philip (before the fourth century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 5, 2024, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=9682.

Author: Unknown author, The Gospel of Philip 51:29-52:25 and 62:26-34, from the sole remaining manuscript among the Nag Hammadi codices (link to full translation).

Comments (by Maia Kotrosits): This late ancient text, written in Coptic, is comprised of a collection of sayings philosophizing on a variety of themes, including the initiation rite of baptism, creation, appearances versus reality, enslavement, sexuality/virginity, and naming. The text moves back and forth between these different themes, speaking mostly figuratively, and cites both Mosaic writings and texts that would later be housed in the New Testament. The following passages suggest that one dimension of its philosophizing is questions of belonging and becoming: who can become what, who truly “exists” and in which ways. In particular, they show an interest in generating cosmic meanings, such as who has access to true living, from social and ethnic markers. The second passage lists “Christian” among a set of social categories, and a category which is unsettling even when spoken. It is not clear in the text what is so unsettling about hearing the name “Christian.”


(51:29-52:25) A Hebrew makes another Hebrew, and such a person is called a new arrival (proselytos). But a new arrival does not make another new arrival. [Beginning of sentence missing in the manscript] just as they . . . and make others like themselves, while others . . . simply exist.

The enslaved one seeks only to be free, but he does seek the inheritance of his enslaver. But the son is not only a son; he lays claim to the father’s inheritance. Those who are heirs to the dead are also dead, and they inherit what is dead. Those who are heirs to what is living are alive, and they are heirs to both what’s alive and what’s dead. The dead are heirs to nothing. For how can someone dead inherit? If someone dead inherits what is living he won’t die, but he who is dead will be even more alive.

A foreigner (ethnikos) does not die, since he has never lived in the first place. Someone who has believed in the truth is alive, but this one is in danger of dying, because he is alive. Since Christ came the world has been created, the cities made beautiful, the dead carried out. When we were Hebrews we were orphans and had only a mother, but when we became Christians we had both a father and mother.


(62:26-34) If you say, “I am a Judean,” no one will be moved. If you say, “I am a Roman,” no one will be disturbed. If you say, “I am a Greek, a barbarian, an enslaved person, a free person,” no one will be troubled. [If] you [say], “I am a Christian,” the [. . . missing text in the manuscript] will shake. If only I could [ . . . ] like that – someone whose name [. . .] cannot bear to [hear].


Source of the translation: Translation by Maia Kotrosits.

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